It's open season in Tehran: For five days beginning on May 7, presidential hopefuls are registering to run for president in the country's June 14 presidential election. And the number of entrants into the rough-and-tumble world of Iranian politics is staggering, with more than 200 candidates signed up as of Thursday.
So the race must be wide, wide open, right? Not exactly. While nobody's quite sure who the frontrunners are yet, they will most likely be largely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the Associated Press points out.
That's because the country's 12-member Guardian Council will vet the vast array of candidates between May 12 and May 17, applying a rigorous set of standards to narrow the field way down. In 2009, for instance, only four of 475 names made it through the lightning round. So what, exactly, does the Guardian Council look for in whittling down the candidates? Presidential hopefuls can be disqualified for failing to meet a host of criteria enumerated in Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution.
Like its U.S. counterpart, the Iranian Constitution stipulates that a viable candidate must have Iranian citizenship. Not only does the presidential hopeful need to be a citizen (I found no mention of an age limit), but he also must be of "Iranian origin." Candidates who aren't Shiite Muslims or "religious and political personalities" need not apply.
Some of the constitution's conditions read more like a help-wanted ad. A viable candidate, for instance, must have "administrative capacity and resourcefulness" and no criminal record (incidentally, the latter is not a prerequisite to hold the highest office in the United States). The candidate must demonstrate "trustworthiness and piety" and must have a firm "belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Those are high bars to clear -- particularly when compared with the low bars to registering. And that means we won't see much more of some of the more colorful aspirants who have already registered or have been floated as candidates .
On Tuesday, for example, Razieh Omidvar became the first woman this year to throw her hat into the ring. While it is often reported that the constitution explicitly forbids women from running for president, the language is, in fact, a bit more ambiguous. In 2009, the spokesman for the Guardian Council said it "has never announced its opinion on whether a registrant is a man or a woman," suggesting that it is open to interpreting the constitution's language in favor of both male and female participation. Still, Omidvar shouldn't get her hopes up. The spokesman was quick to add, "[w]henever a woman has been disqualified, it has been because she's lacked general competence."
Then there's Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist politician who was disqualified by the Guardian Council in 2009 and also registered on Tuesday, even picking green as his campaign color in homage to the Green Movement that arose after the country's disputed presidential election four years ago. While his persistence is admirable, Kavakebian is just as unlikely as Omidvar to make the cut a second time around.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's current chief of staff, may be one of the more high-profile contenders. But conservatives in the country, who are locked in a power struggle with Ahmadinejad, predict he will also be knocked off the slate. Though he has yet to register, Ahmadinejad has been grooming Mashaei to take over in what the Guardian describes as a "Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle."
Meanwhile, Ali Rahimi, a 59-year-old surgeon who graduated from the University of Kentucky, does not seem deterred by the many factors that could keep him out of the running. "I am extremely overqualified,'' he told the Washington Post after registering, "so I want to see what sort of reason they come up with for refusing my candidacy.''
If there's a sure bet in this election, it's that Iranian authorities will find one.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
The kind of electoral fraud Malaysia's newly reelected Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has been accused of seems too elaborate to be true.
The opposition is alleging that BN brought in foreigners -- mainly from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia -- to supplement the party's vote counts. In addition to these so-called "phantom voters," the opposition has accused BN of flying voters from its eastern strongholds of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to vote in mainland states where victory was less assured. (BN leader and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied the accusations.)
The plot is certainly convoluted: It involves complicit airline companies and suspicious groups of foreigners arriving on chartered flights prior to the election. But even if the accusations turn out to be rooted in paranoia, there's good reason for them: Malaysia -- and BN in particular -- has something of a spotty history when it comes to importing votes from abroad.
A Malaysian Royal Commission of Inquiry, for instance, is currently investigating so-called Project IC, a notorious program in which the BN -- which gets the bulk of its support from the ethnically Malay, Muslim population -- allegedly provided Muslim immigrants -- mainly from the southern Philippines and Indonesia -- in Sabah with identity cards in exchange for votes. These immigrants, already ethnically similar to Malays, were assimilated, and Sabah -- once a non-Malay majority state where BN faced electoral threats -- has been something of a party fortress ever since.
As John Pang recently wrote in the New York Times:
In one of the most brazen examples of manufacturing ethnic identity for political gain, Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister from 1981 to 2003, imported about 700,000 Muslim immigrants from the southern Philippines into the Malaysian state of Sabah. They were secretly issued Malaysian citizenship in order to create a "Malay" Muslim vote base for Mr. Mahathir's party.
Pang's description may be a bit premature, as the inquiry is still ongoing. But several members of the UMNO, the ruling Malay party at the time, were detained for their involvement in falsifying identity cards in the late 1990s, with one former member of the project claiming that in 1985 alone, 130,000 illegal immigrants received identity cards.
Accusations of bringing in Bangladeshis by the thousands to cast votes certainly go beyond your standard ballot-box stuffing. But in Malaysian politics, stranger things have happened.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images
In India, elephants are revered as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh -- but that doesn't mean Indians want the huge animals showing up at voting booths. State elections are slated to take place across the country this year, and the Hindu reports today that 68 polling stations are thought to be "vulnerable for elephant attacks."
To address the proble, the country's election commission has enlisted the help of the Forest Department, whose buses will cart election staff to "areas where man-elephant conflict is rampant" -- mainly polling stations in Alur, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpur. The department will also teach officials and police officers the "dos and don'ts" of avoiding an elephant encounter in the region.
The Forest Department has been protecting poll-goers in this manner ever since the big mammals began disrupting elections in the 1990s. In April 2009, for instance, the department sent guards to the northeastern region of Meghalaya to protect voters after a rampaging elephant killed four people there the month before, according to the Times of India. The guards were armed with "self defense weapons" -- drums, cymbals and even some elephants of their own.
Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
With the papal conclave expected to convene early next week, the Vatican has torn a page out of the Chinese playbook for stifling dissent, blocking access to a prominent website, bishopaccountability.org, that documents cases of clergy abuse.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, access to the site, which has become an invaluable resource for journalists covering the sex abuse scandal, is restricted on the Vatican's Internet servers. And when one tries to access the site through the Holy See's network, a message notes that it is blocked because of "hate/racism." That's certainly one way to describe an effort that has posted more than 8,500 pages of documents describing clergy abuse.
As we've written earlier, much of the pre-conclave jockeying plays out in the media, where candidates can be floated and reputations attacked in order to best position one cardinal or another for the papacy. By blocking access to one of the chief sources of information about this dark chapter in the church's history, the Holy See may be seeking to reassert a degree of control over the mud-slinging process in the media.
The NCR says it has filed a request to have the site unblocked. (Hey, it could happen!) We'll keep you updated.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
The tally of the Eastleigh by-election in Britain this week is in, and the results are ugly for David Cameron's Tories. The Conservatives got absolutely hammered, falling 14 percent in the polls as the Lib Dems miraculously held on to a seat they have controlled since 1994. The culprit behind the Tory slide is the UK Independence Party, an anti-EU, anti-austerity protest movement that gained 24 percent at the polls to notch a narrow second-place finish.
Understandably, Cameron's Tories are currently in crisis mode -- a position that was all too clear on the face of the losing Tory candidate in Eastleigh, Maria Hutchings, earlier today. In the bizarre video below, she is escorted from the election hall, wordlessly refusing to answer questions with a rigor-mortis smile that may very well become the enduring symbol of the crisis in British conservative politics.
Watch for yourself. It's almost too good to be true:
Hutchings has been compared by some observers to Sarah Palin -- a characterization that she dismisses. But the fact that the ruling party's candidate in a crucial by-election can be compared to the American politician Europeans love to hate speaks volumes about the state of the Conservative party. Recent polling shows Labour with a 12 percent lead over the Conservatives, and David Cameron's recent efforts to distance himself from a pro-European agenda appear to have paid scant dividends. Cameron has promised an in-or-out referendum on UK membership in the European Union by 2017 after extracting concessions from Brussels.
If the Eastleigh results are to judge, Brits aren't buying it.
It was a year ago yesterday that Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was formally made president of Yemen in a national referendum. He succeeded the three-decade rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who finally yielded to international pressure to step down amid a popular uprising, and Hadi's accession was meant to usher in a two-year transition to a more representative government. Yemeni politicians and U.N. officials have spent much of the past year organizing a National Dialogue, including representatives of many of the country's overlapping and competing factions, divided along tribal, political, and religious lines, to discuss constitutional reforms and, possibly, a more decentralized government.
But yesterday, three representatives from the country's restive south withdrew from the National Dialogue committee in protest of continued suppression of the "Hirak," or Southern Movement, which has called for stronger representation for Yemen's south or secession. Protesters in Aden -- which until 1991 was the capital of an independent South Yemeni state -- gathered to protest Hadi's reluctance to address southern grievances. They were met with gunfire from the military, which positioned soldiers on rooftops overlooking the protest (recalling the carnage caused by rooftop snipers just less than two years ago in one of the uprisings catalyzing moments); at least four protesters died (maybe eight now) and 40 more were wounded. On the anniversary of the referendum, Yemen's halfway revolution appears as stalled now as ever before.
The delays to the National Dialogue were expected -- six months before Saleh stepped down, when the transition plan was still a proposal, Chatham House fellow Ginny Hill said,
I see hurdles at every stage. I think it's going to be a contested process, but it's going to be a contested process that Yemen needs to go through. And I think it will be good if it's contested, because in that process -- if it can be contained within a genuinely political space, if it doesn't turn into a violent process -- the scope for forging more legitimate political structures potentially lies in this process.
The transition was always going to be messy, but it is increasingly returning to a state of affairs last seen during the uprising's tensest moments in 2011, a race to find an inclusive agreement before the country unravels.
And it is unraveling. Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued a resolution singling out Saleh and his long-exiled southern rival, Ali Salem al-Beidh, as spoilers in the peace process. Last month, a large weapons shipment, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, was intercepted en route to Yemen, possibly from Iran; previous to the captured shipment, rumors of other shipments to insurgents had persisted for months. As news came out of Aden, Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge, tweeted:
You really had to have your head in the sand to miss what is starting to kick off in #Yemen - pretty sad.— GregorydJohnsen (@gregorydjohnsen) February 20, 2013
In the worst days of the popular uprising, secessionist tribal groups carrying the old South Yemeni flag seized a military base in the southern province of Yafai, prompting retaliatory airstrikes. If southern politicians refuse to participate and the National Dialogue collapses, this could well occur again on a much larger scale. Will Picard, head of the Yemen Peace Project, wrote last night about the potential for a renewal of Yemen's 1994 civil war. "More violence is certain," he concluded. "Little else is."
Reddit was once a site by, for, and about the concerns of "internet people." But in the past year, it has seen its popular AMA (ask me anything) sub-forum has become a popular way for celebrities, scientists, politicians and others to gain legitimacy with the online masses. Even President Obama did one.
The latest aspiring leader to allow Reddit users to ask him anything is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, a long-shot candidate for the Iranian presidency. Amirahmadi is a professor at Rutgers who left Iran for the United States in 1975 because of the political situation. He registered as a candidate for the 2005 presidential election but allegedly was disqualified by the Guardian Council for his joint U.S. citizenship.
Here are some of the highlights from yesterday's session:
In 2005, I put my name down as a candidate, but it was not really serious. I entered the race about one month before the election day and my purpose was not really to stay the course, but rather to make a statement. Much of Iran's intelligentsia was boycotting that election and I was afraid that by boycotting, we are going to get someone elected that will not be hospitable to democracy and human rights. History proven me right.
In my administration there will be no restriction on any type of media. I believe in free speech.
The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and laungages. I can easily build trust between the two countries. particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years.
Why is he doing this? Well according to Amirahmadi:
At this point, no candidate (not me, not Messrs. Ghalibaf, Velayati, etc.) is allowed to publicly campaign in Iran. In that sense, all candidates are in the same boat. No candidate can publicly campaign until he gets the approval of the Guardian Council, which will be delivered in late-May. So far, my campaign has been very active campaigning in the United States, Dubai, and the United Kingdom. We will be travelling to Iran in March, but not for public campaigns. With your help, we want to take our message of peace around the world.
Several Iran watchers, expatriates and Iranians (using proxies to gain access to Reddit) came out claiming that many of Amrahmadi's proposals aren't even within the scope of presidential power, even if he manages to obtain permission from the Guardian Council to run. They're still waiting for a response.
Amirahmadi has promised another AMA on February 12 starting at 6 PM EST. Iran's election is scheduled for June 14, 2013. I suppose an Ahmadinejad AMA might be too much to hope for.
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
With general elections potentially on the horizon, a new party has burst onto the Israeli political scene. On Wednesday, the Pirates party, which according to Haaretz "champions ‘the freedom to copy' and ‘the pirating sector,'" applied for recognition as an official political party. Despite its name, the group, led by former Green Leaf party member Ohad Shem-Tov, does not belong to the Pirate Parties International (PPI) movement, which already has an established Israeli chapter. Though the party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, its goals apparently "range from the radical to the delirious," including "the freedom to divide and copy" and social justice.
Shem-Tov is best known for forming the Green Leaf Graduates party before the 2009 following his expulsion from the original Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. During the general elections that year, the Green Leaf Graduates forged an unlikely alliance with the Holocaust Survivors Party, running advertisements espousing a hybrid pro-cannabis, pro-survivors benefits platform.
The Pirate creed is not new to the region. In 2011, PPI member Slim Amamou joined the new Tunisian cabinet as State Secretary of Youth and Sports. PPI also made significant inroads in May, when it won 8 percent of votes in Schleswig-Holstein during German general elections, in addition to 8.9 percent in Berlin and 7.4 percent in Saarland. Israel's Pirate party stands somewhat of a chance, since the election threshold for the Knesset is just 2 percent, but whether it asks the Jewish state to recognize the Church of Kopimism is more of a gamble.
Libya will face a laundry list of challenges following its national elections, originally set for June 19, which were postponed to July 7. They key issue, said American-Libyan Council president Fadel Lamen at a panel discussion hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy on Tuesday, is a lack of central power:
"One of the most important things about Libya is that the revolution started at a very local level, and that is the root of how we should look at the country. The country, no matter how many layers there are at the top level, is still run by local elections."
Though Lamen emphasized the importance of a partnership between the central and local levels, it is unclear whether local militias, which have been responsible for a number of recent attacks, will cooperated. As Manal Omar, director of the Iraq, Iran, and North Africa program at the United States Institute for Peace, explained:
"Even as institutions do begin to grow over the next year, these groups have tasted power. They're going to have little incentive -- even once they are reassured -- to give it up."
Omar added that she anticipates the civil society sector will experience a post-election contraction:
"A lot of institutions that we've seen may actually dissolve because their heads are going to become government leaders."
While it is guaranteed that issues such as arms and economics will dominate Libya's post-election conversation, POMED director Stephen McInerney said the atmosphere surrounding the elections themselves is one of general and genuine confusion, citing a lack of reliable public opinion polling, single non-transferrable voting, and unorganized political parties unaware of campaigning rules.
"In terms of the political process, there's a lot of confusion regarding the electoral system."
Legislative elections in Egypt and Tunisia may have produced a Muslim Brotherhood majority, and it's clear that Libya is headed in the same direction, but hopefully the poster child for armed resistance will come out of elections with an effective government.
Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
KHALED ELFIQI/AFP/Getty Images
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has just finished a two-day state visit to the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The trip signifies growing ties between the two Black Sea states regarding joint energy and export projects. And as a token of this political rapprochement, Borisov was presented with honorary Georgian citizenship and a symbolic gesture of a Georgian passport.
But receiving Georgian citizenship isn't so easy for everybody. In October 2011, the government revoked the citizenship of billionaire and opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, just days after he publically announced his plans to create a new political party for the October 2012 parliamentary elections. (Ivanishvili was granted Georgian citizenship in 2004, but, according to the government, it was revoked due to his acquisition of French citizenship afterwards.) Citizenship is required in order to run for public office and create a political party. Since then, he and President Mikheil Saakashvili have been locked in an on-going feud over legitimacy. Members of Saakashavili's United National Movement have associated Ivanishvili (who made his fortune in Russia) as having close ties to the Kremlin.
In a Washington Post op-ed published on January 30, 2012, Ivanishvili referred to the government and its encroachment as having "a super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance." Throughout March 2012, the government has also been accused of intimidation against members of Ivanishvili's political group, "Georgian Dream," during a political financing investigation.
Ivanishvili challenged the loss of his citizenship in court, but the case was defeated in December 2011. He applied to reinstate his citizenship on January 5, 2012, and according to law, the authorities must respond within 3 months. The deadline expiring this week on Thursday, it's only a matter of time until we learn what's next in this Georgian (political) drama.
In the meantime, Ivanishvili (and the rest of us) might be forgiven for wondering what allows the prime minister of Bulgaria to fast-track through the citizenship process.
UPDATE: A letter from the Georgian Ambassador to the United States, Temuri Yakobashvili, has requested a correction in this story. The letter clarifies that Borisov "was handed a Georgian passport as a symbolic gesture while visiting one of our new Justice Halls. He was not granted Georgian citizenship."
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.
The latest candidate to jump into the 2012 French presidential race has quite a background - once a beauty queen and au pair, later a muckraking prosecutor, and now a member of the European Parliament for the Green-Europe Ecology party. But the most striking part about 67-year-old Eva Joly's past may be a citizenship record that would make Donald Trump's hair spin. From the Guardian:
Born in a working-class suburb in Norway, she came to Paris as a young au pair to finance her legal studies and ended up marrying the son of the bourgeois family she was posted to, despite their disapproval. She now holds joint Norwegian-French nationality and will be the first dual national to run for the French presidency.
This April, we explored how, in many countries worldwide, it's perfectly legal for individuals who were not native-born or who have dual citizenship to serve in the country's highest offices. For instance, Thailand's Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is also a British citizen, which reportedly could put him in legal trouble for alleged human rights abuses from last year's Red Shirt protest movement. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, forced out of office by a Hezbollah-backed uprising in January, has Lebanese and Saudi citizenship.
Joly's dual citizenship should create an interesting side story during election season in France, whose government was a key proponent of the changes in the Schengen agreement this summer targeted at restricting illegal immigration into Europe. She probably won't get elected, but, with a reputation for speaking her mind, she'll at least make for some fireworks.
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
After two weeks of stalemate, the political controntation in Cote D'Ivoire is finally moving -- in the very, very wrong direction. Last month, opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won a presidential election -- but incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to leave. In recent days, the two have set up rival headquarters, named rival cabinets, and claimed rival military forces for their protection. Now it seems, the stage is set for a showdown.
Earlier today, troops loyal to Gbagbo surrounded Ouattara's headquarters at a local hotel. Now, Ouattara has set a date -- Dec. 17 -- on which his own loyal forces will attempt to take the government offices away from Gbagbo.
Ouattara is likely trying to put pressure on Gbagbo to step down -- something that the international community has also been trying for the last two weeks. The European Union, for example, today announced sanctions on Gbagbo's government. Cote D'Ivoire has already been kicked out of the African Union and the regional economic grouping ECOWAS, until the crisis is resolved.
Unfortunately, Gbagbo remains unyielding. Most every news report has been reminding readers about just how volatile the country remains, and just how real the possibility is that it could slip back into war. It looks more and more like this is not a case of crying wolf.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
It's all the rage. Got a contested election in a fragile African country? Send in the elderly statesmen, make the warring parties sit down, and force them both into an uncomfortable but face-saving unity government. It happened in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe now shares power with the real vote-winner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. It happened in Kenya, where incumbant President Mwai Kibaki was force-married with Prime Minister and rival Raila Odinga. And now, it's in danger of happening again in Cote d'Ivoire.
The mayhem in Cote d'Ivoire is serious. The country's presidential election was delayed repeatedly since 2005. When it finally took place, the results were delayed until international pressure came sufficiently to bear. The opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara is believed to have won and has been endorsed by international observers. But both he and the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo have now held swearing-in ceremonies.
So the temptation arises for a coalition. Le Monde has already floated the possibility, and African Union meditor (and former South African President) Thabo Mbeki has already flown to Abidjan. How else can we get both sides peacefully to come to some sort of agreement? But Zimbabwe and Kenya should be evidence enough of why not. Both pacts have ended in stagnation, infighting, and political deadlock. Ending the short-term crisis has come at the cost of sacrificing long-term political development.
Just take Zimbabwe, where the unity government may well have simply delayed the crisis. After months of being sidelined from Mugabe's unilateral decision-making, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has repeatedly boycotted his own government. He has been forced to sacrifice his entire reform agenda in favor of focusing all his political capital on a single goal: another election. There's no reason to believe another vote will go any differently that the last, when Mugabe lost and still claimed victory. Kenya has likewise proved troublesome; the president and prime minister are rumored to have gone months without talking. And so great was mediator Kofi Annan's frustration with the government's inability to push reforms and prosecute perpetrators of the 2008 election violence that he referred the names of the offenders to the International Criminal Court himself.
Now to Cote d'Ivoire, where the situation has more in common with Kenya and Zimbabwe than just its potential for turmoil. Here, as in those two countries, the two political rivals aren't just political foes but personal ones who are not likely to work well together (if the current standoff isn't evidence enough.) Incumbent Gbagbo, who lost, blames Ouattara for imprisoning him when the former was a rebel leader long ago. Ouattara, meanwhile, can't possibly feel fondly toward Gbagbo, having been barred from previous elections for his supposed non-Ivorian roots tracing to Burkina Faso.
It would be great if these two could get along. But the stakes are too high to let them try while running a country. Cote d'Ivoire's government is already suffering. And tensions have left more than a dozen dead in rival protests. Reconciliation is great and much needed -- but probably not best handled within the country's top office.
SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images
It's not strictly accurate to say there was no international observation of Sunday's Burmese election:
The newsreader said Myanmarese had voted "freely and happily," noting the election had been witnessed by foreign diplomats, including some from North Korea, Vietnam and China, as well as the "Foreign Correspondents' Club of Rangoon."
Compared to those three countries, all of which have elections in which only the ruling Communist party participates, Burma, which at least has multiple military-backed parties disagreeing on small points of policy, may actually be the most democratic. Perhaps they were ensuring that international standards for rigging and suppression were met.
The big surprise out of yesterday's Brazilian election was the surprisingly strong showing of Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who beat the projections by picking up 19 percent of the vote and forced a runoff between the two leading candidates. Brazil's Greens, who haven't decided which of the remaining candidates to support yet, are in a pretty good mood:
Sirkis said the record vote meant the Green party would be able to force debate on crucial environmental issues in the lead up to the second round. Such issues included controversial changes to Brazil's forestry code, which environmentalists claim will further damage the Amazon rainforest, and Brazil's commitments on climate change in Copenhagen.
The O Dia newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, where Silva came second with 31.52% of the vote, described a "green tsunami" in its front-page headline.
"Marina Silva's face will not be on the ballot on October 31 but her electoral ghost will decide the second round," the newspaper said. "She has become the central figure in this campaign," said Altino Machado, an Amazon journalist and blogger who has known Silva since the late 1970s.
Silva resigned with quite a bit of publicity as Lula's environment minister in 2008 over the government's unwillingness to implement her anti-deforestation agenda. In addition to an embrace of Silva's compelling personal story -- she is the child of rubber-tappers from the Amazonian state of Acre and was illiterate until the age of 14 -- the Green's success shows the increasing political salience of environmental issues in Brazil, where 85 percent of the population views global climate change as a major problem. (Only 37 percent of Americans feel that way.)
It would be nice to think that Silva's success -- along with the recent collapse of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government over broken climate change promises -- is a sign that voters are starting to take environmental issues seriously at the ballot box. But it's probably a bit premature, and I somehow doubt we'll be seeing a "green tsunami" rolling across the American heartland in November.
It's a big primary election day today here in the United States, but bear with me. Because I'm going to take you to another country with upcoming elections: Going to the polls is a tricky matter for a young democracy.
Let's take a trip to Guinea, a small country in West Africa that happens to be the world's largest bauxite exporter. The country's long-time strongman president died in 2008, and a coup followed. There was a somewhat miraculous transition to a civilian-led government, and now presidential elections are in the works. But Guinea had a serious bad-luck streak this week. On September 10, the country's courts jailed two top officials from the electoral commission for misconduct in the first round of polls in June. Violence broke out on the streets, leading the police to break up riots with tear gas. And now, one of the convicted officials has died. Nearly everyone suspects that this second round ballot is bound to be delayed.
But the political hooplah really isn't the only, or even the most important, reason that the vote will likely be delayed. It's because Guinea is utterly unprepared. There are no voter cards or ballots across much of the country. It's rainy season, and the country's dilapidated infrastructure has further thwarted efforts to get the supplies out. As AP nicely summed up:
"even if the trucks carrying voting materials were to leave Guinea's capital first thing Tuesday, they most likely will not reach the rain-soaked interior of the country in time for Sunday's vote, where major towns are several days by road and some remote polling stations can only be reached on foot."
But here's the thing: There's really nothing unexpected or disgraceful about this. It's really really hard to hold elections. And it's a lot harder when you've never done it as a democracy. Ever. Rainy season is also nothing to scoff at in West Africa; good luck driving election materials over the pothole-laden roads on any sort of timeline. Even the best planning would have suffered setbacks.
More broadly, what Guinea demonstrates is that democratic elections, however beneficial, are also risky for a volatile country just emerging from a long history of repressive politics. They open a lot of wounds. The two top candidates in Guinea, for example, are from historically clashing ethnic groups. Under the strongman rule of the former president, elections were always rigged; why should Guineans believe they won't be this time? And in a country (and region) where political power is wielded through patronage, most everyone believes the stakes are high. If their guy loses, it could mean a presidential term of poverty. This is not easy to stomach for a society that is divided and still recovering from conflict. Have elections too soon, and they risk doing as much harm as good.
That's not to say that Guinea's vote, or any other, should not go forward. They should. There is something incredible about democracy that saw a 64 percent voter turnout at the polls on the first round. But this is a perfect example of how elections don't fix volatility; they often exacerbate it. The real solutions will have to come from whoever Guinea elects.
CELLOU diallo/AFP/Getty Images
With presidential elections a year away and parliamentary elections around the corner, the political scene in Egypt is heating up quickly.
The most recent developments have Mohammad ElBaradei, Nobel Laureate, opposition leader and potential presidential candidate, calling for a boycott of November's parliamentary elections. "Anyone who participates in the vote, either as a candidate or as a voter, goes against the national will," said ElBaradei. The former IAEA chief threatened to launch a campaign of civil disobedience if certain demands are not met, such as lifting legal constraints on independent presidential candidates.
It is not so clear how credible these threats are given the factional nature of the Egyptian political opposition. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have put forward different strategies on approaching the elections and opposition within the state in general; the BBC reports that while the Brotherhood supports ElBaradei they are still likely to put forward their own candidates.
Of course, this story would not be complete without mud-slinging. Earlier this week, ElBaradei's daughter, Laila, was caught in an awkward situation as pictures and information allegedly taken off of her Facebook page (sigh) were widely published. The pictures showed alcohol being served at her wedding and Laila in a bikini. Needless to say, it probably will not float well with Egypt's conservative Muslim society and her father has already accused the government of publishing the pictures for political gain.
With a year to go until presidential elections, one can only imagine the drama to come.
Last weekend's inconclusive Australian election has produced the country's first hung parliament in 70 years. But as Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics points out, the Australian result also marks another, albeit wonkier, milestone:
For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government.
Besides Australia, the "Westminster model" countries Dunleavy refers to are India (governed by a Congress-led 18 party coalition), Britain (governmed by an unlikely Conservative-Liberal partnership), New Zealand (where no party has held a majority in parliament since 1996), and Canada (ruled by a minority government.)
Thanks to its "first-past-the-post" voting rules, where the largest vote-getter in each district picks up its seat, the Westminster System traditionally favors larger parties and majority governments, unlike, say, Germany where coalition governments are the norm.
So why has it become so hard for parties to produce majority governments, even in electoral systems specifically designed to encourage them? I would suspect it has something to do with the shrinking ideological differences between the parties in these systems -- India being an obvious exception -- but it's certainly a quesiton worth pondering.
Though before reform efforts get too rash, citizens of parliamentary democracies should keep in mind that there's plenty of potential for obstructionism and dysfuntction in a government with only two parties as well.
Hat tip: The Monkey Cage
Do you have a whole list of killer Dilma Rousseff jokes you just can't wait to try out on Brazilian television audiences? You're out of luck:
With the first wave of on-air political ads starting Tuesday, Brazil's comedians and satirists are planning to fight for their right to ridicule with protests in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday.
They call the political anti-joking law - which prohibits ridiculing candidates in the three months before elections - a draconian relic of Brazil's dictatorship era that threatens free speech and is a blight on the reputation of Latin America's largest nation.... Making fun of candidates on air ahead of elections is punishable by fines up to $112,000 and a broadcast-license suspension.
Only a few fines have ever been handed out. But Tas and others say that has been sufficient to cause TV and radio stations to self-censor their material during elections. The law holds that TV and radio programs cannot "use trickery, montages or other features of audio or video in any way to degrade or ridicule a candidate, party or coalition."
Let me get this straight. In Brazil it's legal for candidates to run under names like DJ Saddam, Chico bin Laden, Kung Fu Fatty, and Second King of the Prawns, but not legal for comedians to make fun of them? Interesting.
Anyone know any good Brazilian politics jokes? Leave them in the comments.
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
Almost a year and a half since protests spurned a coup that removed democratically-elected President Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar's political crisis continues to drag along. The government remains paralyzed and isolated, and formal development is reeling, with hundreds of millions of much-needed aid dollars frozen by donors.
Yesterday, the interim government, led by former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital and largest city, President Andry Rajoelina, who also has the backing of the country's military, reached an agreement with nearly 100 smaller political parties for new election dates. The accord is set to be adopted tomorrow, but it looks to have little impact: The three main opposition parties are boycotting discussions. These parties say they will only take part in elections that they help orchestrate, not just one organized by Rajoelina's government.
The accord sets presidential elections for the middle of next year, with a vote on a constitutional referendum on November 17. Originally, the referendum was supposed to be held this month and presidential elections in November, but opposition parties balked at these too. Earlier power-sharing negotiations, conducted in South Africa, also failed to bring all parties to an agreement.
This news does not bode well for the Malagasy people, of whom about 70 percent live below the poverty line. The EU, World Bank, and USAID have blocked development aid. Also in peril is the island nation's delicate and extraordinarily unique environment, famous for endemic species like lemurs and baobab trees. Instability caused by the coup has created an illegal logging crisis in Madagascar's national parks. Loggers plunder rosewood trees, while lemurs have been hunted for bushmeat. This month, UNESCO's World Heritage committee added Madagascar's tropical forests to its Danger List of threatened ecosystems.
"What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid," Conservation International head Dr. Russell Mittermeier told Mongabay. "Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people."
In a surprisingly positive twist, a World Bank report (with the cautiously optimistic title: "Why has the Malagasy economy not yet collapsed?") published last month said Madagascar had largely avoided financial disaster thanks to a strong informal economy, which has grown an estimated 13 percent since 2009, and good weather. Rice yields have hit record levels after two years without cyclones.
GREGOIRE POURTIER/AFP/Getty Images
What do you call a political rally where citizens-turned-automatons stand silent and unmoving without signs, literature, or adornment of any kind? No real political rally at all -- or, permissible dissent in Burma.
The iron-fisted Burmese junta -- led by military general Than Shwe -- has repeatedly framed this year's upcoming elections as fair and democratic, dismissing the critics who claim it is merely a design to cement five decades of uninterrupted military rule. But the despotic regime's recent ban on essentially any public, recognizable political expression -- on marching, chanting, making speeches, brandishing flags, distributing publications, or making disturbances near any offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals, and religious meetings (read: anywhere on solid ground) -- likely won't win over any disbelievers.
Today the ruling junta published a 14-point directive in state-run newspapers to explain what constitutes a recognized party and exactly what that party can -- or much more thoroughly, can not -- do. To attain party status, a group must be registered by the (state-run) Election Commission and then amass a minimum of 1,000 members in the three following months. To hold a rally, the party must be approved and then must obtain permission to hold the rally from that same committee. It is worth noting first that the majority of the 38 currently registered groups (a mere sixth of the number registered in the most recent election … back in 1990) support the ruling party; second, that campaigning comes with its own laundry list of restrictions; and third, that any participants in a political rally must adhere to the aforementioned restrictions or face a crackdown from local authorities. The end result? Any political body espousing real opposition is unlikely to materialize, and any political rally is whittled down to what most closely resembles a silent rave -- minus the headphones and the fun.
The other conditions of the elections only make prospects grimmer: No election date has been specified, over 2,000 "political prisoners" are barred from the voting booths, and what is arguably the only party capable of posing a real challenge to the junta, the National League for Democracy, is effectively defunct. The party's leader and rightful winner of the last Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, is most likely skeptical as she awaits the arrival of this elusive election -- all from the decrepit lake house where she remains under a 20-year-long house arrest.
TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty Images
A few months back, I had a pleasant lunch at a Turkish restaurant in Dupont Circle with representatives of a nascent Turkish political party, TDH. The party billed itself as a Western-oriented alternative to the ruling AKP party -- and also as more dynamic and forward-looking than the CHP, the opposition party that has been the traditional home of secular Turks. It turned out to be a short-lived venture: Today, party leader Mustafa Sarigul announced that he was abandoning his plans to establish TDH as an independent political party, and would throw his support behind the CHP is Turkey's 2011 general election.
Sarigul suggested that international and domestic developments -- a reference to Prime Minister Erdogan's vociferous criticism of Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla disaster and the recent flare-up of Turkish-Kurdish tensions -- were the reason TDH leaders had to "act as statesmen and unite" with opposition groups. The real reason, however, probably has more to do with changes in the CHP, and within Turkey's political climate. After the resignation of CHP leader Deniz Baykal following a sex scandal, his replacement, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has mended bridges with Baykal's old rivals -- including Sarigul.
Just as importantly, the Turkish opposition seems to have gained new life. Two recent polls found that the CHP was polling at its highest level in years, now receiving the support of approximately 30 percent of Turks. There are a variety of possible reasons for this improvement in the party's fortunes: the new leadership of Kilicdaroglu, Turkish anger that the AKP's much-celebrated "Kurdish opening" failed to achieve results, discontent over Erdogan's Middle East adventurism, and double-digit unemployment in a job market that still has not turned the corner following the international recession. Whatever the reason for the CHP's revival, its newfound strength makes it unlikely that there would be political space for a nascent party such as TDH to establish a foothold.
The 2011 election is still a year away -- a lifetime in politics. But it looks like the Turkish opposition is going to enter campaign season unified and energized in a way that must have Erdogan sweating.
SAYGIN SERDAROGLU/AFP/Getty Images
We all know that it's shaping up to be a bad election cycle for incumbent politicians in the United States. But the opposition insurgents, Republican or Democratic, who are eventually swept into office this year shouldn't forget that they owe their victories, not least, to America's two-party system. The voters' recession-fueled outrage is inevitably mitigated by the ballot's structured "either-or" choice.
For a sense of the potential fallout from a more open election, America's political class might want to take a peek at Iceland, one of the countries hardest hit by the global financial crisis. This weekend, the capital city of Reykjavik is set to hold city council elections that will determine the next mayor and according to current polls, the prospective winner will be the simply-named "Best Party," a grouping formed only seven months ago by Jon Gnarr, one of Iceland's best-known comedians.
Gnarr insists that the party intends to seriously govern, but large stretches of the campaign manifesto -- in which Gnarr promises a polar bear at the city zoo and a Disneyland at the airport -- suggest that he hadn't originally expected to become mayor.
One only wonders what the U.S. Congress would end up looking like if there were credible third parties running advertisements as effective as the Best Party's four-minute campaign music video (with English subtitles and set, naturally, to Tina Turner's "We're Simply the Best".) Maybe the Tea Party should consider adopting into its platform some of the Best Party's more anodyne positions -- "Topnotch stuff as a general rule," for example?
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.