Editor’s note: This article was originally published by IPI’s Global Observatory on 25 March 2014.
It is widely accepted that elections do not make a democracy, but they are generally viewed as a key first step in that direction. As the campaign for legislative and presidential elections kicked off in Guinea-Bissau last Saturday, it was clear that hopes for this first step may be overstated.
Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest nations, and the West African country of 1.7 million people has been plagued with political problems over the last several years. No president has ever fully completed his term. And though the late 2000s were marked by a modest yet cautious increase in international confidence in the country, the most recent period of unrest was triggered by the March 2009 assassination of the head of the armed forces and the apparent revenge killing of the president shortly afterwards. Three years later, the military carried out a coup in April 2012 as a new government was being formed, removing the front-runner for the presidency, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior. » More
Presidential election workers in Afghanistan’s Nawa District, courtesy of US Marine Corps/wikimedia commons
NEW DELHI – With street protests roiling democracies from Bangkok to Kyiv, the nature and legitimacy of elections are once again being questioned. Are popular elections an adequate criterion by which to judge a country’s commitment to democracy? Beginning next month, elections in Afghanistan and India will throw this question into even sharper relief.
Afghanistan will hold a presidential election on April 5. But a smooth electoral process is far from guaranteed – especially given that US President Barack Obama has already informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the United States and NATO have no choice but to withdraw their troops by the end of this year. » More
Photo: Gwenael Piaser/flickr.
Anyone looking at North Africa and the Middle East today would be forgiven for thinking that the Arab Spring has rapidly turned into a bitter winter. The revolutionary road embarked upon by a number of countries looks ever more precarious. Syria is still being torn apart by civil war, in Libya the government is struggling to impose its authority and Egypt appears to be experiencing a reversal of the democratic gains it had made as the ‘deep state’ consolidates its position. Yet, within this overwhelmingly gloomy picture, recent developments in Tunisia are cause for optimism.
Tunisia provided the spark for the Arab uprisings three years ago with the self-immolation of Mohamad Bouazizi in Tunisia’s neglected interior. As the transition got underway, hopes were high for this small North African country. Tunisia’s domestic situation seemed to augur well for the transition process. The country’s largely Arab and Muslim population was well-educated and traditionally orientated towards moderation. Indeed, promising first steps were made toward democratic transition, with free and fair elections, and the establishment of a transitional government tasked with drafting a new constitution. Economically, the country’s lack of natural resources seemed to be compensated by its vibrant tourist industry. » More
Flag of Kosovo. Source: Cradel/Wikimedia Commons.
The local elections that took place in Kosovo towards the end of 2013 were celebrated by the international community as a historic event and a turning point in the conflict over the status of the former Yugoslav province. They were also hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a milestone for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and a clear sign that the Serb-dominated north of the disputed territory was finally prepared to become part of the Kosovar political system. Alongside the encouragement of ethnic Serbs to participate in the elections, Belgrade also committed to abolish its parallel political institutions. In return, Serb majority municipalities were granted the right to create a community with autonomy in areas such as economic development, health, education, urban and rural planning. Such initiatives helped to allay fears that the Serb minority would be dominated by an overwhelming Albanian majority.
Less than perfect conditions
However, the elections were far from being smooth, especially in the northern part of Kosovo. Voter turnout in Serb dominated municipalities was low and hovered between 15% and 20% of the electorate. The first round of elections had to be repeated in three polling stations after they were stormed by masked men. In the second round, ballots were transported to Kosovo Polje for no obvious reason instead of being counted at the polling station. In all rounds, employees of Serbian state-run enterprises were practically “ordered” to the polls. Whereas these circumstances would have warranted a critical assessment elsewhere, there seemed to be no appetite to engage in a prolonged discussion about the legitimacy of the elections – as long as they produced a result that everybody could live with. » More
Opposition protests in Tbilisi. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Georgia braces for more political and economic uncertainty as it prepares for the upcoming October 27th Presidential election. This just a year after the October 2012 parliamentary elections which left the powerful Rose Revolution government of Mikheil (Misha) Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM, now in opposition) defeated.
The political developments during the past few years in Georgia have been a lot more turbulent and unpredictable than during the “golden years” from 2004 up until November of 2007 when police and security forces dispersed opposition protests in the capital Tbilisi using excessive force—to include reports of the police physically clashing with the media. On a broader scale this was the first important incident since the UNM came to power in 2004, displaying just how far the government had gone in order to maintain its power. » More