Tag Archives: Election

Venezuela Elections: On the Front Lines

Last week I was invited by the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) in Venezuela to serve as an election observer in the presidential elections where Hugo Chavez was seeking reelection after 14 years in office against the opposition candidate, the young, marathon-running  Henrique Capriles Radonski. By the time Sunday dawned, there were high hopes that the Capriles candidacy could make great strides in obtaining votes, and perhaps win the election.

On Sunday morning, October 7, my international group of observers was ready to set out. We had received our credentials from the MUD office, but the government electoral authority (CNE) did not recognize our electoral observer status. Only observers from friendly countries of the UNASUR pact were allowed: no Carter Center, no European Union, and no Organization of American States delegations were permitted full observer status. My group was hoping that the local polling stations would be open and friendly enough to allow us in, despite our compromised status.

That was a big assumption, given that we were headed to one of the biggest Chavez supporting areas of Caracas, La Vega, which also is very poor and sometimes violent. My group of Spaniards, Argentines and me, the lone American, were ready to take on our assignment. But we did not know what to expect.

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Democracy triumphs in Senegal

A woman displayes her inked finger after voting in Senegal's run-off election (Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday’s presidential election made many follow the news from Dakar with concern – and eventually with great relief. It was the run-off in a tense campaign that pitted incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade against Macky Sall, a former prime minister who worked with Wade for years but nonetheless offered an awaited opportunity for change after more than a decade of Wade’s rule.

The run-off made observers nervous given the unrest that followed the controversial ruling in January that allowed the president to run for the third term despite the constitutional two-term limit. The high court’s argument was that the Constitution changed during Wade’s first term in office and therefore that term did not count toward the allowed total. But many Senegalese were not satisfied with that explanation and violent protests followed, leaving several people dead and over 100 injured.

Aside from the constitutional question, the reasons for popular discontent were many. Wade, 85, was becoming increasingly out of touch with the needs of the country where 60 percent of the population are under 25. Crucially, he failed to deliver when it comes to providing economic opportunity for the country’s youth. In the capital Dakar more than 43.9 percent of young people aged 15–24 work in the informal sector, with many trying to illegally immigrate to Europe or forced into the life of crime. In this context, the president’s decision to spend $26 million on the African Renaissance Monument – a gigantic 164-feet-high bronze statue unveiled on the outskirts of Dakar in 2010 – felt like a vanity project draining funds that would have been better spent on pressing social issues. The image of this venture was further tarnished when Wade casually remarked that that 35% of all tourism revenue from the Monument should go to him.

His popularity also suffered after an incident involving the president handing an IMF official a suitcase with $200,000 as a “parting gift,” which he later claimed to be a mistake by an over-zealous aide. And he was widely perceived to be grooming his son, Karim, already in charge of powerful government posts, as his successor.

All this baggage did not bode well for the Sunday elections, with many fearing that Mr. Wade had embarked on the path of “imperial presidency” – a well-known pattern in Africa – and would contest the results in order to stay in power even if it meant throwing Senegal into civil unrest. Yet, to the widespread relief both domestically and internationally, he promptly acknowledged his electoral defeat, calling to congratulate Sall a few hours after the polls closed.

In the end, Wade acted like a statesman mindful of his legacy, turning what many feared would be the day of chaos into a triumph of democracy. Senegal’s democratic traditions stretch back 900 years to the Waalo kings who held elections in contrast with most other African chiefdoms where the power was passed from father to son. And while most other countries on the continent only began experimenting with democracy in the post-colonial era, Senegal had already held regular elections since the mid-1800s when it began to elect a deputy to the French parliament. Since the independence in 1960, Senegal has been one of the most democratic and stable countries in West Africa – the only one in the region that has never experienced a military coup.

The Sunday vote reaffirmed the country’s democratic credentials, and a peaceful presidential election certainly is welcome news, especially coming just days after the coup in neighboring Mali overthrew its democratic government.  As sociologist Hadiya Tandian put it, “It shows that the Senegalese believe in their voter IDs, that a voter card can change something, can make a difference. It shows that our long democratic heritage continues to live in us day by day.”


“Toward an Afghan Democracy? Exploring Perceptions of Democratization in Afghanistan”

The latest developments in the controversial Afghan election bring new urgency to the question: what do Afghans think about democracy? CIPE’s Feature Service article, based on a recent study conducted by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), sheds light on this timely issue. The study indicates that there is a decreasing level of acceptance of the current democratization process for a number of reasons. Key among them is widespread disillusionment with the Afghan democracy in its current shape due to an expected but lacking improvement in rule of law and economic development, combined with deteriorating security situation.

At the same time, AREU’s interviews reveal that there is a clear and widespread desire among ordinary Afghans for a public role in the political process. In spite of challenges, this augurs well for the future of democracy in Afghanistan, provided that it can deliver better governance and economic opportunity to its people.

Article at a Glance

  • Despite extensive democratization efforts, Afghan perspectives on democracy remain largely unexplored.
  • According to the recent Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) study, Afghans want public participation in government but fear the imposition of foreign values under the “democracy” label.
  • The future of democratization in Afghanistan depends on redefining the concept of democracy according to Afghan perspectives.

Iran Goes Green

To many in Iran this was supposed to be an election of firsts: the first time candidates engaged in vigorous debates on television, the first time a candidate’s wife became such a dynamic voice in a campaign, and what many were hoping – the first time an incumbent President was elected out of office. During the two-week campaign season, there was a buzz and excitement about the elections not seen in years. The urban elite had grown disillusioned with Iranian politics after witnessing the limits of change under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who ruled from 1997 until 2005. Voter malaise set in as they came to view the presidential elections as only a nominal change in leadership with power ultimately in the hands of the clerical establishment.

However, the widespread repercussions of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s populist, hard-line policies proved that, to a certain degree, elections do matter. With increased repression at home, a reeling economy, and an excessively confrontational stance on the world stage, many segments of Iranian society were ready for change. Their hopes were personified in Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was a veteran of the 1979 Revolution, but had stayed out of politics for the last 20 years. In the final days of the campaign, millions of Iranians took to the streets, many sporting green ribbons that became a symbol for Mousavi, and many declaring their determination to vote for the first time. It seemed odd that a bland technocrat such as Mousavi, who was Prime Minister from 1980 to 1989 and responsible for the purging of political dissidents, would become the voice for the reformist camp.

Yet it is precisely because of Mousavi’s competent management of the economy during the Iran-Iraq war and his ability to bridge the conservative-liberal divide through a return to the true principles of the Revolution, that he was seen as a viable candidate.  With a surge of support among women, youth, and the urban middle class (groups that would normally stay home on election day but felt they had a large stake in this election) it looked like Mousavi had a real chance of defeating Ahmadinejad. The excitement led to record turnout of 85 percent, a factor that should have allowed for a Mousavi victory or at the very least for a second-round runoff. But like all things in Iran’s opaque political structure, the outcome proved to be unpredictable.

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A Victory for Democracy

In a region where autocracy is the rule, Kuwait is a remarkable exception, with a powerful and truculent elected parliament that determines the ruling emir’s salary and is the state’s sole source of legislation. With women gaining the right to vote and run for office only two years ago, the country continued down the path toward change and democracy by electing four women to the parliament for the first time in the country’s history. An election that saw Islamic fundamentalist groups lose ground presented an opportunity for two US-educated professors, a former cabinet minister, and an economist to win seats in the Kuwaiti parliament, breaking a glass ceiling that is hoped will be heard in other Gulf countries. Despite being overshadowed by its dynamic monarchial neighbors such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Qatar, Kuwait has continued its efforts towards democratic and economic reform, with attempts to overhaul its welfare system, privatize the national airline and parts of the oil sector, and attack instances of corruption—two years ago, popular pressure forced a change in the electoral districting law making it harder to buy votes.

Indeed, one could even argue Kuwait is the most democratic country in the Arab world, comparable to only Lebanon, which is limited by a sectarian system of power-sharing.

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Afghanistan’s Presidency: Setting the Scene for the 2009 Election

Hamid Karzai’s presidency seems to be failing, and some polls show that his support is flagging. Karzai is perceived to be ineffective in reducing corruption weak on the Taliban, and making moves that question his democratic credentials. Several Afghans I spoke to in Kabul believe that the Taliban attack against a military parade on April 27 marked a turning point in public opinion against Karzai as he made the culturally unacceptable decision to flee the scene rather than lead his security forces. The result was a chaotic scene and there is much talk here in Kabul about firing those high officials in charge of security. The Taliban have claimed that they purposely spared Karzai’s life, and this would appear to be true as a sniper could have easily killed the president from the vantage point of the attack. This was a propaganda coup for the Taliban and seems to be having a negative impact on morale in the country, while generating anger against the president.

Karzai’s ineffectiveness in dealing with corruption and the Taliban has been well established in the minds of too many Afghans. Meanwhile, recent trends against democracy (initiating and supporting bans on media content, and attempting to shut down Tolo TV, which has been critical of his government), recent statements against NATO’s conduct in the war, and conciliatory moves towards the Taliban are disturbing. Many believe he is losing support from Britain and the US as well.

With all this discontent many are wondering who could replace Karzai in a Fall 2009 election bid. The names that carry weight as potential presidential contenders at the moment are former US ambassador Khalilzad and Ali Ahmad Jalali. These two are close allies and it is unlikely that they would run against each other. Jalali seems like the more likely candidate as Khalilzad says he is not interested in the position. Jalali is an Afghan American, currently a professor at the National Defense University and former VOA journalist. He has a strong reputation for his work as a top military planner with the Mujahedin and an honest and effective Interior Minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to September 2005. He is a member of the Ghilzai Pashtun tribe, which may give him greater legitimacy to negotiate with the Taliban than the Karzais, who are Durrani Pashtuns. Taliban leadership has been made up largely of Ghilzai Pashtuns.