Tag Archives: elections

Democratization in Myanmar

Although results have yet to be confirmed, Sunday’s election in Myanmar appears to be headed to transferring power to Nobel Peace Laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy. The elections marked the first democratic ballot after nearly 50 years of military rule. Although final results are still more than a week away, Suu Kyi’s party was already won 256 of the 299 seats declared and the military has already declared it has lost more seats than it has won.

The constitution of Myanmar, developed by the country’s military government in preparation for the transition to democracy, still places considerable limits on the new government. Suu Kyi will be a member of the parliament but is ineligible to serve as the country’s president. Further, the military retains control of key government operations, including the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs. It is also guaranteed at least 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Nevertheless, there have been high expectations that the election represents a significant step forward in the democratization of Myanmar.

What do you think? What comes next in Myanmar’s democratization? Will the process continue or will it suffer setbacks as the nation moves forward? Why? And what lessons, if any, does Myanmar hold for other countries transitioning to democracy?

Parliamentary Elections in Egypt

Parliamentary elections in Egypt will take place beginning this weekend, with more than 5,000 candidates running for 448 seats through single-member districts. An additional 120 seats will be allocated by proportional representation lists, and 28 will be appointed by the country’s president.

The military ousted the country’s elected President, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013, leading to a period of instability in Egypt. In 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, protestors overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for nearly 30 years. His pro-Western military regime was replaced by more pro-Islamic parties, leaving the military in an uncertain role. Many hopes now rest on Sunday’s elections, which will fill the country’s House of Representatives. Delegates to the House will also be charged with reviewing laws passed by the caretaker government when the House was not in session.

What do you think? Will this weekend’s elections help facilitate Egypt’s path back towards a fully functioning democracy? What challenges does Egypt face in its path? And what, if anything, should the United States and/or the European Union do to help facilitate this process?

Elections in Nigeria

Elections are taking place in Nigeria this weekend, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.  As is often the case in Nigerian politics, the election highlights some of the sharp internal divisions in the country. Jonathan is a Christian from the southern part of the country, while Buhari is a Muslim from the north. Overlaying the election, Nigeria has faced ongoing unrest, particularly in the north, where the terrorist organization Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked villages, kidnapped civilians, and attempted to destabilize the regime and impose its own system of rule. The government’s response has been sharply criticized by many in the country—particularly those in the north—as entirely insufficient.

The election this weekend is expected to be close, and the government has imposed a strict voter identification system employing identification cards and biometric scans in an effort to stem fraud. But critics contend that the system itself is being employed to make it more difficult for critics of the regime to vote.

What do you think? Is the government of Nigeria taking sufficient steps to ensure that all citizens can vote? Is the voter identification system—and accompanying rulings limiting the ability of internally displaced person in the country to vote—an effort to retain control in a sharply contested election? Or is it an effort to ensure the integrity of the voting process? Why?

The Next European Parliament

EU-Flags_2907981bElections for the European Parliament were held earlier this week, and with the exception of Spain, the far-right performed very well in the elections across Europe. In Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) bested both the Labour and Conservative Parties, capturing the plurality of the country’s seats (28%). The Liberal Democrats, who are currently in a coalition with the Conservatives ruling the country, lost all but one of their seats in the European Parliament. In Britain, the election results are being described as a “political earthquake.”

France and Denmark also saw “unprecedented” victories for far-right parties, and overall, approximately one-quarter of the seats held in the European Parliament are now held by parties whose platforms oppose the European Union—often called “euroskeptics.”

The long-term fallout of the election remains unclear. While some have suggested that the language of “tidal waves” and “earthquakes” overplays the real degree of change, high ranking officials across Europe are viewing the election results and urging the European Parliament to rethink its role. After the election, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs, and not try to do so much.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte similarly called for “fewer rules and less fuss from Europe, and focusing Europe on where it can add value to things.”

In an interview with UKIP MEPs, Nigel Farage, the head of UKIP, noted that the EU’s “massive mistakes,” namely, the creation of the Eurozone and the expansion of the European Union into the former Soviet bloc countries, have facilitated the “growth of euroskepticism” and called into question the future of the European Union itself.

What do you think? I Nigel Farage correct? Do the most recent elections represent the fundamental failure of the European Union? What will the long-term impact of the 2014 elections be?

The Changing Face of Indian Politics


Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister elect.

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister elect.

Nation-wide elections concluded last week in India, the world’s largest democracy. In total, more than 530 million votes were cast, and while the final votes are still being tabulated, it is clear that voters gave Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a majority in the country’s parliament.

The results representing a sharp defeat for the ruling Congress Party, which has been a central force in Indian politics since independence from Britain in 1947. The results also suggest that the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, which dominated Indian politics since 1947, may have reached its end.

The elections were remarkable for a number of reasons. First, last week’s elections boasted the highest turnout in Indian history. More than 130 million new voters cast their ballot this year, meaning that the number of new voters in India was about the same as the total number of voters in the 2008 US presidential elections.  Voter turnout in India was also quite high, with more than two-thirds of eligible voters casting ballots.

But the results were also fascinating. The election represents the first time in Indian history that a single party—other than the Congress Party—has captured an outright majority in the national parliament. This majority will make it much easier for the BJP to push through policies, as it will not need to rely on coalition partners for their support.

The election results were also interesting insofar as the head of the BJP and India’s newest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be the first Indian Prime Minister born after the country achieved independence. For his supporters, this suggests that Modi will bring a new vision to India’s government. As a center-right Hindu nationalist party, the BJP has supported opening the Indian economy and pursuing a neoliberal program of economic development. This message resonated with many young voters, who view economic development as a key political objective and who had grown tired of the Congress Party’s inability to deliver on promises of jobs.

It’s important to remember, though, that while capturing an outright majority of the seats in parliament, the BJP received only about one-third of the popular vote. This is because India’s single-member district system—a system similar to the one used in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States—tends to exacerbate the margin of victory. As an editorial in the Washington Post points out, the BJP will capture a majority of the seats in the parliament despite winning just 31 percent of the popular vote.  Unlike a proportional representation system which allocates seats in the parliament based on the proportion of the vote received, a single-member district election sends one representative to parliament for each district, with no requirement that that candidate receive a majority of the vote. When multiple parties contest the seat, it makes it increasingly possible (indeed, increasingly likely) that the winging party will capture the seat with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote.

So with an outright majority in parliament, the BJP appears well positioned to enact its agenda. At the same time, the unique nature of this year’s elections—particularly dependent on the strong showing of various regional parties which helped to fracture the vote in individual states—raise the question of whether or not the BJP will be able to hold on to its gains in the next national election.

Afghan Elections

Elections in Afghanistan took place this weekend, with turnout reportedly high. The Taliban threatened to disrupt the elections, in which eight candidates are vying to succeed outgoing President Hamid Karzai.  But despite the threats, more than 12 million Afghanis cast ballots.

The ballot is widely seen as key to determining the future of Afghanistan. Among the eight candidates, two are seen as the leading contenders. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah—generally seen as a reformer—is the leader of the National Coalition and a long-time opponent of outgoing President Hamid Karzai. Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, is running as an independent but has come out in support of a strategic partnership with the United States. And finally, Zalmai Rassoul was Minister of Foreign Affairs and is a close ally of President Hamid Karzai. If no candidate wins a majority of the ballot—an outcome that seems likely given the large number of candidates running and the three-way division among frontrunners—a runoff election would be scheduled for May 28.

Did Climate Change Bring Down the Australian Government?

The ruling Labour Party was handed a stinging defeat in national elections in Australia today, with Kevin Rudd’s center-left party losing soundly to a center-right coalition headed by John Abbott. Interestingly, climate change policy—or more specifically, a carbon tax—was one of the central issues at stake in the election. The ruling Labour Party, which had seem three separate leadership changes as a result of its support for a controversial tax on carbon output, was pummeled in the polls. This video, produced by The Guardian’s Environmental Network, highlights some of the issues.

There are obviously a number of issues at play here, and it’s difficult to pin the election outcome solely on the Labour Party’s climate change policy. But the election outcome does suggest that Australian voters, at least in the present, are not supportive of a carbon tax.

What do you think? Would you support a tax on carbon emissions in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? What lessons might American political parties draw from the Australian experience? Does this election make addressing climate change more difficult? Why? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Politics of Diplomatic Recognition

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn into office on Friday.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn into office on Friday.

The U.S. government last week announced it would not validate the results of Venezuela’s contested presidential election,  in which Hugo Chavez’s former Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, narrowly defeated challenger Henrique Capriles. Capriles’s campaign has called for a recount, but Maduro has refused. And while the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has called for an emergency meeting to address the situation in Venezuela, many South American states, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, have already recognized Maduro’s new government.

It’s important to note that recognition here is not the same as formal diplomatic recognition, though media reports make it difficult to understand the difference. Diplomatic recognition refers to the formal recognition of states and their governments. States will often use diplomatic recognition as a tool to promote or punish particular actions. The most notable examples of this include Taiwan, which the United States recognizes but China does not.

Diplomatic recognition can also take de facto or de jure forms. De facto recognition refers to the informal recognition of a new country. In this sense, Taiwan has de facto recognition by China in so far as China engages in negotiations with the Taiwanese government. But it does not give de jure, or legal, recognition. There is no Chinese ambassador to Taiwan. Similarly, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Great Britain and the United States offered de facto recognition well before they engaged in the de jure exchange of ambassadors.

So if the United States’ decision via-a-vis Venezuela is not referring to diplomatic recognition, what exactly is it referring to? Here, we’re considering whether or not the United States considers the outcome of the election to be reflective of the will of the people? Were Venezuela’s elections, in other words, free and fair? The United States is effectively asserting they were not, and the government that resulted from them thus lacks legitimacy (and by extension, recognition).

What do you think? Should the United States withhold recognition of the new Venezuelan government? Are Venezuela’s most recent election results reflective of the will of Venezuela’s people? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Israeli Elections and the Challenge of Parliamentary Democracy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote on Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote on Tuesday.

Elections were conducted in Israel on Tuesday, and the results paint an interesting picture for the future of Israeli politics as well as for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Pre-voting polling suggested that the ruling center-right coalition would be returned to power. But that was not to be. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party won a plurality of seats in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), their right-wing coalition partners suffered sharp setbacks, and progressive center-left parties had an unexpectedly strong showing.

Two questions emerge. First, who will form the coalition. While suffering a sharp setback, it appears that Netanyahu should be able to retain control of the government, albeit the composition of that government remains unclear. Like many parliamentary systems, post-election negotiations are required to form a majority in the government. In these negotiations, parties trade positions and policy promises, all with the hope of influencing decisions by the new government in their favor. The defeat of Netanyahus’s current coalition partners means that he will likely have to find common ground with more centrist parties to form a government.

Two parties performed far better than had been projected in pre-election polling. The center-left Ysh Atid Party came in a surprising second, with 19 seats, while the Labour Party came in third with 15 sets. Any coalition between Likud and the center-left parties would require a radical rethinking of Likud’s platform, particularly around the question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the status of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Given the difficulty of these questions, it seems likely that such a coalition would focus on domestic issues rather than tackle the more difficult foreign policy questions.

What do you think? Will the new Israeli government be more or less inclined to pursue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Follow-Up: Confronting Iran in an Election Year

Is Israel more likely to strike Iran because of the election campaign in America?

An interesting follow-up to a previous blog post on how domestic politics and world politics are intertwined:

In a January 8 post, I quoted Michael Cohen in Foreign Policy arguing that the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign and its associated rhetoric may constrain not only the Republican candidates’ future foreign policies (if elected) but President Obama’s current options:

“Moreover, all the tough talk on Iran will also limit Obama’s ability to open negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program if the opportunity presents itself. Considering the increasingly desperate economic and political situation there, this might not necessarily be so far-fetched.”

An insightful news analysis in the New York Times this weekend entitled “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections” extends these arguments further and provides a scenario in which the Obama administration will be pulled into a war against its will due to an ally’s (Israel’s) manipulation of American domestic political dynamics:

“[Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s government may calculate that if Israel is going to attempt a strike, doing so during the presidential campaign, when it would have the sympathy of many American voters, is the only way to avoid a major backlash from Mr. Obama, with whom Mr. Netanyahu has a tense relationship. Elliott Abrams, President George W. Bush’s hawkish Middle East adviser, wrote recently that if Israel attacked “Mr. Obama would be forced to back it and help Israel cope with the consequences. It might even help the president get re-elected if he ends up using force to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and Israel safe.””

In other words, an American president during a re-election campaign cannot afford to publicly break with an ally who has strong support among key segments of the American electorate and powerful friends in Washington, and this reality could embolden that ally to take risky actions and assume unconditional U.S. support.  Furthermore, this scenario only scratches the surface of the myriad links between electoral politics and foreign policy.  For example, foreign adversaries may avoid confrontations with any president who is running for re-election and is under criticism by domestic opponents for being “soft” on foreign threats.  Such a leader is under pressure to demonstrate his hardline credentials, and foreign adversaries would do well to avoid giving him an opportunity to do so.

Do you think Israel or other countries will use Obama’s domestic constraints against him in this election year?  What kinds of foreign policy decisions by the current administration (if any) are more or less likely given the criticism that Obama is facing from Republican contenders and other political opponents?  Is there any way to insulate foreign policy from domestic political considerations, or is this an inevitable byproduct of democracy?