For all we could have done; And all that could have been

November 17, 2010 § 19 Comments

Firstly an apology. Lots on my plate recently, and so the frenetic pace this blog started at has dipped a little of late. Also Chad, Chile and China are all really complicated and so it’s taking ages.

In the meantime we’ve had two elections (not four) and we have eight elections in the next ten days. Burma and  Jordan have been. The Cook Islands, Egypt, Madagascar, Cote D’ivoire, Burkina Faso, Tonga, Haiti and Chad to come. Click on the tags on the right for links to articles I’ve written previously on the background to some of these elections (Burma, Jordan, Egypt, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire).

So let’s dive in.

Burma was perhaps the most predictable. Elections sadly didn’t even live up to the low expectations of the international community with intimidation, bribery, fraud and gerrymandering rife. In actual fact it is hard to tell how fair elections were – or indeed anything about them at all – as there is no independent coverage. India and China ratified the elections as being free and fair but this had more to do with diplomacy than fact.

The results were a predictable landslide for the pro Junta USDP (National Unity clearly not being the preferred pro-junta party this time). Results have only been released in dribs and drabs: of the 219 (from 330) seats announced thus far in the lower house the USDP has 190; of the 107 (from 168) seats announced thus far in the upper house, the USDP has won 95. Most of the rest seem to have gone to independents or to National Unity. The Democratic Party said it had won only 5 seats in total, and that most of them were in regional assemblies and the National Democratic Force only 16 – again most of them in regional assemblies rather than the federal parliament.

With superb timing for maximum distraction the junta then released Aung San Suu Kyi. Whilst the outside world (apart from regional allies) didn’t really buy their “we have free elections and we’ve let her go – what more do you want?” shtick, it did draw coverage away from the election results. That said, her release can only be a positive thing if it allows her to give more interviews like this:

At the risk of sounding fawning it is an absolutely spellbinding tour-de-force of an interview. She combines the quiet, powerful, dignity of Edward Murrow with the genius for positioning of Karl Rove – and then ads little sprinkles of MLK style rhetoric for the centuries.

She says nothing which, no matter how out of context it is taken, could give the junta an iota of an excuse to brand her seditious or a threat. Yet a threat to them she clearly is, as her every sentence drips with the logic of the impossibility of their position. She even gives the junta a face-saving route out. It’s just stunning, it really is.

Sadly the grip of the junta remains as tight as ever and – as always happens when democracy fails to deliver – there is now a violent insurrection in full swing with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army having apparently changed sides once again and are now violently opposing the state. Given the total information blackout we don’t really know what’s going on: some of the more hysterical media reports of all out civil war seem highly far fetched, but the official contention that nothing is happening cannot be believed either.

As well as the tags to the right, there is more background on my Burma page

Jordan’s elections provided the planned walkover for “non partisans”. The Muslim Brotherhood decided at the last minute to boycott the elections — so badly were they going – and as a result turnout was low: around 50%. Only 2 seats went to political parties. The leftist Hashed party won one of the seats reserved for women by being the highest placed female loser and Wafa Bani Mustafa (loosely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood) defied the boycott and likewise won a seat for women. For the first time ever a women (Reem Badran, the daughter of the former Prime Minister) won a seat outright – meaning there are now 13 women in the Jordanian Parliament.

Again failures in the system led to violence on the streets although it appears there were no deaths. The royal family have so far been quiet on the elections, preferring to watch Barca in the Nou Camp:


Egypt’s elections have been moved to the 28th – or maybe they always were on the 28th. I’m not entirely clear. Anyway everything I said when I thought they were on the 10th remains the case (access through tag on the right).

Similarly Haitian elections are now happening on the 28th despite the cholera outbreak. I’m sure the first round of the presidential was supposed to be on the 10th but that is now on the 28th too (again you can access the preview through the tag on the right). One latest poll has Charles Baker on 24%, Mirlande Maigat on 18% and Jeune Leon (who?) on 15%. Another has Célestin on 30% with Maigat on second with 21%. I think its fair to say that no-one knows what’s going on.

The Cook Islands (a dependency of New Zealand) are having parliamentary elections and a referendum today (the 17th). The result should be tight between the liberal Democratic Party and the nationalist Cook Islands Party. However, as elections are under first past the post and there are only 24 seats, small wins can produce big majorities.

The referendum is to further reduce the number of seats as – even with only 24 members – the legislative is thought to be unwieldy. If 66% vote yes, then the government will set up a committee to decide how large a reduction to make. It is thought 75% of the population are in favour.

Madagascar is also having a referendum today. It doesn’t sound that contentious, but it is. The referendum is to decide whether to lower the minimum age at which one could be president from 40 to 35. The reason this matters is that a former DJ  – Andry Rajoelina, 36 and Africa’s youngest head of state – seized power in a coup last year and so this measure, if passed, could be taken to legitimise his rule and could allow him to run in the next elections. It will certainly further deepen Madagascar’s constitutional crisis if it fails – and for this reason will probably succeed. Meanwhile Presidential elections (due on the 26th) have now been postponed to May 4th of 2011

Burkina Faso has the first round of its presidential elections on the 21st. As I discussed on the Burkina Faso page, Compaoré will almost certainly win on the first round. The constitutional courts could intervene and point out that he has wildly exceeded his term limit – but they won’t

Tonga has parliamentary elections on the 25th. It is the first time elections will be held under first past the post (top up PR having previously being used) and it is the first time the number of elected seats will be substantial (17 of 26 seats will be elected, as opposed to 7 of 30). The other nine are elected by the hereditary nobles or chiefs. This should mark the end of Tonga’s rocky road towards democracy: a series of constitutional crises throughout the decade have moved Tonga from an almost absolute monarchy to an almost powerless monarchy in a democratic state.

It is thought that for the first time, reformist pro democracy groups such as the Human Rights and Democracy Movement and its splinters the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands and the Peoples Democratic Party, will win an outright majority. In the past traditionalist independents and nobles loyal to the ling have always held power – largely through their monopoly of the unelected seats. That said, the HRDM already hold the Prime Minister-ship as a result of riots in 2008.

The rape law is proving another major issue, as this election broadcast shows:

The Cote d’Ivoire will have its very exiting second round election on the 28th. No one really knows what’s going to happen but I expect rebel backed northerner Outarra to beat president Gbagbo. It’s well worth reading about the elections. World elections has a piece, and I’ve written about it three times (access through the tag on the right).

And finally Chad has the first round of its parliamentary elections on the 28th. That means all of its 130 multi member seats will be elected and there will be round one voting for its two-round single member seats. Chad, which could well win the prize for the world’s most fooked country, is not a model democracy, and forces loyal to president Déby will certainly triumph. The remaining seats will go to parties whose names contain words like “national”, “renewal”, “rally”, “democracy”, “development”, and “progress. I wrote about Chad at length here, I hope there won’t be any hanging Chads (boom boom).


A nimiety of elections

November 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

I don’t know what the collective noun for elections is so I’ve made one up. I like the way it sounds like enmity and means “way too much” in Latin. Anyway we have five fascinating elections in the next five days.

On the seventh we have Burma and Azerbaijan

Burma has been written about at length elsewhere – here’s Chatham House on the subject – and I’ve written about it myself here. There’s not much to add to what I said there: on the one hand the elections will be a  farce and will be swept by pro-junta parties, on the other the fact that there is a process at all is a positive development, a natural progression of the Saffron revolution, and there might just be some democratic change via the National Democratic Force.

Similarly Azerbaijan’s election is reasonably predictable but still interesting, and I have written about the background before. The elections are Parliamentary: Aliyev himself will not be up for election for another 3 years. I expect that Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party will walk it, most of the other seats will go to “non partisans”  – or Aliyev supporters in disguise – and elections to the Nakhchivan Parliament will be insultingly rigged.

However the extent to which elections will be free, and how united the opposition will be, could prove very interesting. Flawed elections in the post-Soviet space have often been the catalyst for colour revolutions – leading to regime change on the streets in Yugoslavia in 2000 (bulldozer – not strictly a colour), Georgia in 2003 (rose), Ukraine in 2004 (orange), and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010 (tulip one and two). Early reports suggest that these elections are going to be even more contentious than the 2005 ones, with 279 candidates already having been refused registration.

The two main opposition parties – the Popular Front and Mussavat – have again agreed to work together. Meanwhile two newish parties: the Civic Solidarity Party and the Party of Hope have both claimed to have massively grown in support in recent years – it will be interesting to see how true that is.

Jordan has elections on the 9th. These are deeply contentious. Jordan’s king, Abdullah, is in executive control but he rules with the support of an elected parliament – although it had been seen as a bit of a rubber stamp exercise. Last year, Abdullah took everyone by surprise by dismissing the assembly and calling for a totally new system, ostensibly to broaden political representation. These are the first elections under the new system.

The reforms are fairly minor. There had been vocal opponents of the system who objected to the way single non transferable vote  was used to ensure independents were elected under tribal lines and stymie the development of political parties. Reformers have called for a system of PR, or single member districts, to allow the development of parties.

Instead the system has been kept largely the same: the hugely unpopular single non-transferable vote was kept, albeit it is now done in a slightly different way. Each of the 45 districts will hold a number of FPTP elections  (usually two or three) and voters can choose to vote in one – but only one – of them. This was kind of clever, the Government can claim to have introduced single member districts, as per the reformers’ demands, whilst still retaining the essence of SNTV. However, precisely nobody has been fooled

The number of seats will be increased from 110 to 120 (the extra seats largely going to the cities – dominated by Palestinian refugees and historically under-represented). The system whereby some extra women are elected by the electoral commission awarding seats to the highest preforming unsuccessful female candidates has been retained – but the number of seats thus awarded has doubled to twelve, and a new rule has been stipulated whereby only one woman can be elected in such a manner from each of the twelve regions (three of the regions are actually not geographical places but groupings of nomadic Bedouin tribes who wonder through the nine geographically based regions). In addition nine seats are reserved for Christians and three for Cirassians via reserved constituencies.

It all appears to be designed to encourage tribal voting and ensure the elections of non partisans who will support the monarchy. This is not surprising given that the system was masterminded by the King’s chosen interim Prime Minister Samir Rifai – a powerful and deeply conservative member of the aristocracy – and his deputy Rajai Muasher, a vocal opponent of reform. It all seems to suggest that reformers have been losing the king’s ear of late and conservatives gaining it.

If any political party does make a breakthrough it will be the Islamic Action Front who area  group of reasonably liberal and moderate Islamists who tend to act as an umbrella group for all democratic opposition

At this point I’m including a picture of Queen Rania. It helps break up the text and it’s not totally irrelevant.

Queen rania

Then on the 10th we have elections in Egypt. Again it is only a legislative election – President Mubarak is not up for election until next year – and there is a feeling that the poll lacks credibility: “Hosni Mubarak awaits his managed landslide” reads one headline.Mubarak’s National Democratic Party will win almost all the seats, they have allegedly done some deals with minor opposition parties to allow them to win some seats in exchange for not opposing Mubarak too strongly.

Meanwhile the main real opposition are the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood; indeed it was the rise in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early noughties which led to Mubarak’s crackdown on democratic representation. The Muslim Brotherhood are banned, but last time 20 members managed to get in as independents to become the largest opposition group. They are trying to do so again, and already 57 candidates have been found out and barred. It will be interesting to see how many sneak past this time.

Finally, also on the 10th, Haiti will elect 10 if its 30 senators by first past the post, all of its 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies by runoff first past the post. They will also elect a President. This man:

will not be running, having been disqualified on reasonably fair residency grounds. However the electoral commission’s rather trigger happy approach to disqualifying candidates has concerned many.

President René Preval cannot run again, and it is thought his chosen successor from their left wing Lespwa party -Jude Celestin – is the frontrunner. However he may suffer from splits in his support: Preval had previously endorsed former PM Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who is also running.

Another strong candidate is Mirlande Manigat, the wife of former President Leslie Manigat – who won a military backed election in 1987 on a 10% turnout. Not much is known about her politics but we can assume she is an authoritarian.

Then there is Charles H. Baker, a rich businessman who ran for election last time and has attempted to build a support amongst poor rural peasants.

Another musician, Michel Martelly (Sweet Mickey):

is running. Opinion is divided as to how serious a candidate he is. Some think he could actually win, based upon his popularity with the young, others regard him as a joke who could never be taken seriously given that in the past he has performed concerts wearing dresses, wearing nappies, and wearing nothing at all. Not much is known about his politics.

Then there is Jean Henry Céant who is thought to be popular with the creole speaking poor and supporters of former President Aristide. The last credible candidate is Chavannes Jeune, who is backed by the evangelical Protestant churches. Then there are 12 others, 8 of whom have been government ministers.

There’s not much in the way of polling so no-one really knows what’s going to happen. Whilst most commentators thought it would be Celestin vs Alexis the one poll that has been published says:

Manigat 23%

Baker 17%

Celestin 8%

Which of course leaves 52% of the electorate split amongst minor candidates or undecided.

No one knows what will happen in parliament: party formation is pretty fluid despite the FPTP system – parties have too small a following and come and go too quickly. Currently there are a dozen parties in the Chamber and almost as many (and not all the same) in the Senate. No one has more than 20 seats. Expect a fresh crop of new small parties, and then for the winning President to cobble together a coalition.

This study really is excellent.

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