Showing posts tagged as "elections"

Showing posts tagged elections

18 Jul
Haiti Déjà Vu
Borrowing from Yogi Berra, when it comes to elections in Haiti, it is déjà vu all over again. The country’s political elite is embroiled once more in a controversy that has delayed parliamentary elections for three years, still arguing over the composition of its electoral council (CEP) and the content of an electoral law.
Secretary of State John Kerry just pulled off a compromise to save Afghanistan’s elections from yielding widespread violence. He might considering doing the same in Haiti. Here’s why.
The terms of one third of the 30-member Senate were up three years ago and the Senate has been crippled ever since. The second ten Senators’ terms will end by the end of this year. So too the terms of the 99-member Chamber of Deputies as well as the 142 mayors and members of local councils. The latter are functioning extra-constitutionally because they should have faced election more than three years ago.
As Crisis Group warned a year ago in its report, Haiti is now facing the specter of an elected president ruling by decree next January because everyone else’s terms will have ended. That would not be very democratic and donors will argue that their funds cannot flow to Haiti if that situation occurs.
Who is to blame? The political and economic elite bear a share of the blame. They are the ones who either lead parties, finance candidates, hold office or call the shots from behind the scenes. They have declined to carry out commitments made in more than one church-sponsored dialogue for a compromise CEP and a required electoral law. Some of the current parliamentarians may rightfully fear that they will lose their seats once elections are held.
But they are by no means alone. President Martelly has not been willing to make the compromises required to ensure an election occurs. Some of his coterie seem to be relishing the thought of ruling by decree come next January. The business elite, which finally seems to be coming together to do more than lament the current situation, has allowed the situation to fester.
In the absence of parliament passing an electoral law, President Michel Martelly has gone ahead and set the election date for 26 October by executive decree and the still not fully constituted CEP has set dates for parties and candidates to register. But four of the country’s major political movements with perhaps the largest number of supporters refuse to participate arguing that the agreement on a consensus CEP has not been met. They charge that new members named by the President to the CEP have not been the product of a political consensus.
The international community supports a 10-year old UN peacekeeping force and still finances substantial earthquake reconstruction aid for Haiti whose economy and government institutions were fragile even before the earth opened on January 12, 2010. Yet it has failed to harness its political resources to convince Haiti’s leaders to hold the required elections.
A civil society and church-managed negotiation — or more accurately the most recent such effort — achieved a breakthrough on 19 March when an agreement was reached between President Martelly and a portion of the opposition. However, the agreement did not include the signatures of key opposition parties including Inite, the party of former President Rene Preval; Lavalas, the party of former President Jean Bertrande Aristide; or the traditional opposition parties of OPL and Fusion.
A key point of the El Rancho agreement was the formation of a balanced CEP and its absence is now being argued by the opposition as the justification for abstention. Yet, those parties also seem committed to an illusion that the international community will move to oust Martelly if the opposition does not participate in the elections. That is not going to happen.
High-level US, UN, French, Canadian, and Brazilian leaders, public and private, need to come together again to urge the president and the opposition to agree now on a consensus, balanced CEP and an electoral law. And Secretary of State John Kerry might carry that same message on a visit to Port-au-Prince, which thankfully is a lot closer than Kabul.
Otherwise, there will be no elections in 2014, a president will be ruling by decree in January, street protests and violence will follow, and for the long-suffering people of Haiti, it will be déjà vu all over again.
Mark L. Schneider is Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group and Special Advisor for Latin America and Tim Carney, former Ambassador to Haiti and Executive Vice President of the now-dissolved Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
Huffington Post
Photo: European Parliament/Flickr

Haiti Déjà Vu

Borrowing from Yogi Berra, when it comes to elections in Haiti, it is déjà vu all over again. The country’s political elite is embroiled once more in a controversy that has delayed parliamentary elections for three years, still arguing over the composition of its electoral council (CEP) and the content of an electoral law.

Secretary of State John Kerry just pulled off a compromise to save Afghanistan’s elections from yielding widespread violence. He might considering doing the same in Haiti. Here’s why.

The terms of one third of the 30-member Senate were up three years ago and the Senate has been crippled ever since. The second ten Senators’ terms will end by the end of this year. So too the terms of the 99-member Chamber of Deputies as well as the 142 mayors and members of local councils. The latter are functioning extra-constitutionally because they should have faced election more than three years ago.

As Crisis Group warned a year ago in its report, Haiti is now facing the specter of an elected president ruling by decree next January because everyone else’s terms will have ended. That would not be very democratic and donors will argue that their funds cannot flow to Haiti if that situation occurs.

Who is to blame? The political and economic elite bear a share of the blame. They are the ones who either lead parties, finance candidates, hold office or call the shots from behind the scenes. They have declined to carry out commitments made in more than one church-sponsored dialogue for a compromise CEP and a required electoral law. Some of the current parliamentarians may rightfully fear that they will lose their seats once elections are held.

But they are by no means alone. President Martelly has not been willing to make the compromises required to ensure an election occurs. Some of his coterie seem to be relishing the thought of ruling by decree come next January. The business elite, which finally seems to be coming together to do more than lament the current situation, has allowed the situation to fester.

In the absence of parliament passing an electoral law, President Michel Martelly has gone ahead and set the election date for 26 October by executive decree and the still not fully constituted CEP has set dates for parties and candidates to register. But four of the country’s major political movements with perhaps the largest number of supporters refuse to participate arguing that the agreement on a consensus CEP has not been met. They charge that new members named by the President to the CEP have not been the product of a political consensus.

The international community supports a 10-year old UN peacekeeping force and still finances substantial earthquake reconstruction aid for Haiti whose economy and government institutions were fragile even before the earth opened on January 12, 2010. Yet it has failed to harness its political resources to convince Haiti’s leaders to hold the required elections.

A civil society and church-managed negotiation — or more accurately the most recent such effort — achieved a breakthrough on 19 March when an agreement was reached between President Martelly and a portion of the opposition. However, the agreement did not include the signatures of key opposition parties including Inite, the party of former President Rene Preval; Lavalas, the party of former President Jean Bertrande Aristide; or the traditional opposition parties of OPL and Fusion.

A key point of the El Rancho agreement was the formation of a balanced CEP and its absence is now being argued by the opposition as the justification for abstention. Yet, those parties also seem committed to an illusion that the international community will move to oust Martelly if the opposition does not participate in the elections. That is not going to happen.

High-level US, UN, French, Canadian, and Brazilian leaders, public and private, need to come together again to urge the president and the opposition to agree now on a consensus, balanced CEP and an electoral law. And Secretary of State John Kerry might carry that same message on a visit to Port-au-Prince, which thankfully is a lot closer than Kabul.

Otherwise, there will be no elections in 2014, a president will be ruling by decree in January, street protests and violence will follow, and for the long-suffering people of Haiti, it will be déjà vu all over again.

Mark L. Schneider is Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group and Special Advisor for Latin America and Tim Carney, former Ambassador to Haiti and Executive Vice President of the now-dissolved Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Huffington Post

Photo: European Parliament/Flickr

25 Apr
"The CNDD-FDD leadership is so power-hungry and insecure that it wants to reduce the political space as much as it can before the 2015 elections"

—Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Project Director for the International Crisis Group on Burundi’s upcoming election, Al Jazeera

14 Apr
Guinea-Bissau votes in watershed elections | AFP
Guinea-Bissau held watershed presidential and parliamentary elections Sunday aimed at ushering in a new era of stability in a country plagued by drugs and upended by a military coup.
The polls cap four decades of chaos marked by a series of mutinies since the west African nation won independence from Portugal, and commentators have called for the new regime to finally bring the military into line.
The impoverished country has been stagnating for two years under the rule of a transitional government backed by the all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and cocaine trafficking fuelling corruption.
Interim president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who is not a candidate, told AFP he “hoped and wished to turn the page to stability”. 
"The problem of Guinea-Bissau is political and military, and everyone must work together in mutual respect," he said.
FULL ARTICLE (Agence France-Presse)
Photo:  Free Grunge Textures/flickr

Guinea-Bissau votes in watershed elections | AFP

Guinea-Bissau held watershed presidential and parliamentary elections Sunday aimed at ushering in a new era of stability in a country plagued by drugs and upended by a military coup.

The polls cap four decades of chaos marked by a series of mutinies since the west African nation won independence from Portugal, and commentators have called for the new regime to finally bring the military into line.

The impoverished country has been stagnating for two years under the rule of a transitional government backed by the all-powerful military, with the economy anaemic and cocaine trafficking fuelling corruption.

Interim president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who is not a candidate, told AFP he “hoped and wished to turn the page to stability”. 

"The problem of Guinea-Bissau is political and military, and everyone must work together in mutual respect," he said.

FULL ARTICLE (Agence France-Presse)

Photo:  Free Grunge Textures/flickr

8 Apr
Voter anger, parties’ disarray could bring change in Bissau | Bate Felix and Alberto Dabo
Disarray in Guinea-Bissau’s political parties and frustration among voters could open the way for a Harvard-educated political outsider to win a presidential election next week aimed at turning the page on years of coups and crime.
Guinea-Bissau - a transit route for South American cocaine into Europe which has been dubbed Africa’s first ‘narco-state’ - was plunged into chaos two years ago when soldiers stormed the presidential palace days before an election for that post.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: Gabor Basch/Flickr

Voter anger, parties’ disarray could bring change in Bissau | Bate Felix and Alberto Dabo

Disarray in Guinea-Bissau’s political parties and frustration among voters could open the way for a Harvard-educated political outsider to win a presidential election next week aimed at turning the page on years of coups and crime.

Guinea-Bissau - a transit route for South American cocaine into Europe which has been dubbed Africa’s first ‘narco-state’ - was plunged into chaos two years ago when soldiers stormed the presidential palace days before an election for that post.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: Gabor Basch/Flickr

Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?
Brussels  |   8 Apr 2014
Guinea-Bissau’s elections are an important first step, but to address its economic and political fragility, the country needs strong international help, as well as political and military will for reform.
In its latest briefing, Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?, the International Crisis Group examines the bumpy road to the 13 April 2014 elections and the challenges a new government will face. Redistributing power and resources in a country where participation in government has been the main method for acquiring wealth will threaten a fragile balance of forces.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
International pressure and a crippled economy have finally forced the military and its political allies – two years after the April 2012 military coup – to hold legislative and presidential elections. But much like in 2012, they are concerned with a potential hegemony of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). They could be tempted to resort to violence again, should their access to the formal and informal benefits associated with power be removed.
Peaceful elections and, more broadly, the fate of the ongoing transition, will depend largely on the leverage of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has supported the transition authorities from the start but is tired of paying the bills for a regime that is close to bankruptcy.
The elections are only the first stage of a long-term effort to solve problems that have undermined progress for years. Given the country’s fragility, the political stakes in play, a suspicious military and a weak economy, real transformation will only be possible with strong international involvement, political and financial.
The international community should closely monitor the crucial post-elections period. It should use the lifting of individual sanctions on coup makers as an incentive to cooperate. Donors should be ready to help the government pay immediate expenses, including public sector wages, provide long-term funding for development programs and push for improved economic governance.
The new authorities will need to promote consensus as well as ethnic and political pluralism. This includes passing the proposed amnesty law for the coup makers agreed during the transition.
“The new government will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by senior military officers and carefully resume the security sector reforms that prompted the army to stage the coup” says Vincent Foucher, West Africa Senior Analyst. “This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army”.
“The election winners will face numerous challenges”, says Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director. “Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for a new generation of politicians, who are more willing to compromise internally and internationally and are able to manage the country well enough to allow the re-legitimisation of the state and convince the military to consent to the modernisation needed”.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?

Brussels  |   8 Apr 2014

Guinea-Bissau’s elections are an important first step, but to address its economic and political fragility, the country needs strong international help, as well as political and military will for reform.

In its latest briefing, Guinea-Bissau: Elections, But Then What?, the International Crisis Group examines the bumpy road to the 13 April 2014 elections and the challenges a new government will face. Redistributing power and resources in a country where participation in government has been the main method for acquiring wealth will threaten a fragile balance of forces.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:

International pressure and a crippled economy have finally forced the military and its political allies – two years after the April 2012 military coup – to hold legislative and presidential elections. But much like in 2012, they are concerned with a potential hegemony of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). They could be tempted to resort to violence again, should their access to the formal and informal benefits associated with power be removed.

Peaceful elections and, more broadly, the fate of the ongoing transition, will depend largely on the leverage of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has supported the transition authorities from the start but is tired of paying the bills for a regime that is close to bankruptcy.

The elections are only the first stage of a long-term effort to solve problems that have undermined progress for years. Given the country’s fragility, the political stakes in play, a suspicious military and a weak economy, real transformation will only be possible with strong international involvement, political and financial.

The international community should closely monitor the crucial post-elections period. It should use the lifting of individual sanctions on coup makers as an incentive to cooperate. Donors should be ready to help the government pay immediate expenses, including public sector wages, provide long-term funding for development programs and push for improved economic governance.

The new authorities will need to promote consensus as well as ethnic and political pluralism. This includes passing the proposed amnesty law for the coup makers agreed during the transition.

“The new government will have to call into question the privileges enjoyed by senior military officers and carefully resume the security sector reforms that prompted the army to stage the coup” says Vincent Foucher, West Africa Senior Analyst. “This time round, the government should proceed with caution and seek compromise to avoid a violent reaction from the army”.

“The election winners will face numerous challenges”, says Comfort Ero, Africa Program Director. “Nonetheless, this is an opportunity for a new generation of politicians, who are more willing to compromise internally and internationally and are able to manage the country well enough to allow the re-legitimisation of the state and convince the military to consent to the modernisation needed”.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

13 Jan
Thailand: Conflict Alert
Bangkok/Brussels  |   13 Jan 2014
The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military? 
Since 2005, political and structural tensions have animated a conflict centred on self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won enduring support from majorities in the north and north east newly conscious of their electoral power. Thaksin challenged institutions that draw legitimacy from traditional sources of authority, including the military, judiciary, palace network elements and watchdog bodies collectively known as “independent agencies”. Beginning with a 2006 military coup, and in concert with the Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from the south and Bangkok, these institutions have tried and failed to eliminate Thaksin’s influence.
Anti-government protesters have staged mostly-peaceful rallies in Bangkok for two months, but also occupied government buildings, attacked pro-government Red Shirt activists, disrupted election registration and occasionally clashed with police. Gunmen have targeted protest sites. At least eight people have been killed and more than 450 injured in protest-related violence.
There is no clear way out. But there are ways to render a bad situation potentially catastrophic. Denying the chance to vote is one. So is the propensity of some leaders to achieve by mass action – often violent – what they cannot by popular mandate or negotiation. As much as elections, Thailand needs leadership to generate the truly inclusive national dialogue required to set it on a stable path.
As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban, are determined to unseat the caretaker government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also aim to derail the election they fear will reinstall Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. Thaksin-aligned parties have won every poll since 2001, a record that has eroded his enemies’ faith in elections. The PDRC considers Thaksin uniquely corrupt and malevolent. It attributes his electoral success to vote fraud and the susceptibility of poorer, less educated citizens to unethical, unsustainable populist policies. 
The PDRC insists that extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy, are required to “uproot the Thaksin regime”. Citing ambiguous constitutional provisions to justify ousting the elected government, the PDRC proposes to eradicate “Thaksinism” via an unelected People’s Council – 100 “good people” whom it would appoint and 300 others chosen as functional representatives – to govern for up to eighteen months and implement reforms. The reform agenda is only broadly outlined and includes decentralisation, elected governors, stronger anti-corruption laws and police reform. 
After Pheu Thai’s 2011 election victory, Yingluck cultivated relations with Thaksin’s opponents in the senior ranks of the military and Privy Council. Small anti-government protests lacked traction until October, when parliament passed an ill-judged blanket amnesty that would have erased Thaksin’s 2008 abuse-of-power conviction. It would also have absolved ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep, for ordering the 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok that killed more than 90, as well as army officers who implemented the order. The bill galvanised Thaksin’s opponents and sparked sustained protests that attracted growing numbers of middle-class Bangkokians. Faced with overwhelming opposition, including from Red Shirt allies, the government withdrew support.
Even before the Senate rejected the bill on 11 November, protest leaders shifted their goal to ousting the government. Several Democrats, including Suthep, resigned from the party to lead the street protests. After Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December, and the government acquired caretaker status. As demanded by the constitution, the February election was scheduled and endorsed by royal decree. The Democrat Party resolved to boycott the election, as it did in 2006, and support the protests. 
The PDRC plans to paralyse Bangkok to eject the government and force cancellation of the election. There is immediate risk of violence designed to instigate a coup. The army chief, General Prayudh Chan-ocha, has not ruled out the possibility. The army has mounted eighteen successful and attempted coups since 1932 and suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations with lethal force in 1973, 1992 and 2010. It has never intervened on behalf of a Thaksin-aligned government. 
There are other potential triggers for unrest. If the election is delayed without government consent or results are nullified, many who saw their representatives expelled from office in 2006 and 2008 too, may see no recourse other than violent resistance. The combination of street protests and judicial intervention to unseat elected government is familiar; in 2008, the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied Government House for months and closed Bangkok’s airports before the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party, a Pheu Thai predecessor. Many perceive the Constitutional Court as biased, and the “independent agencies” – mandated by the 2006 coup makers’ 2007 constitution – as compromised because their members were appointed by committees dominated by judges and officials not themselves democratically accountable. 
The election faces multiple pitfalls. The Democrat Party decision to boycott might provide a pretext to challenge the poll’s legitimacy. The Election Commission appears reluctant to perform its duties and has called for the election to be postponed. Protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 constituencies in the Democrat Party’s southern stronghold. The Election Commission should take remedial action, but this is uncertain. On 7 January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission pressed misconduct charges against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers who supported an amendment to create an all-elected senate. Many are candidates and could be disqualified if impeached by the Senate. If less than 95 per cent of the 500 seats are filled on 2 February, by-elections will be required before the new parliament can meet. 
The détente of the last few years masked fundamental, unresolved tensions. Today’s crisis has greater scope for serious, protracted violence than earlier episodes not least because there is neither evident middle ground nor protester appetite for compromise. 
A deal to postpone the election could buy time for negotiation but would be only a stopgap without a comprehensive, broadly accepted agreement on the future political order. Thailand is deeply polarised, and the prospects for such an agreement are dim. Still, a counsel of despair is not an option. All need to understand that violence will not advance more responsive and transparent government. An election alone will also not resolve basic disagreements about how political power should be acquired and exercised, but the following should be borne in mind as a way out of the impasse is sought:
there is no obvious route to a peaceful resolution that does not respect the voice of a majority of voters. Imposition of an appointed government without consent of the electorate would invite violence;
the Democrat Party should recommit to the electoral process;
all should commit to pursuing political change non-violently and with due regard for others’ rights; 
the military could best respond to the current crisis by an unequivocal commitment to the democratic process and express support for dialogue between the opposing camps; and
Thailand needs to confront how it is governed, including the decentralisation question and reform of key state institutions, but these issues should be discussed nationally – not presented as the agenda of one side – and take place in parallel to and beyond, not in place of, the constitutionally-required electoral process.
If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found. It is a slim reed on which to float hopes, but in Bangkok there is little else available.
Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias

Thailand: Conflict Alert

Bangkok/Brussels  |   13 Jan 2014

The campaign by anti-government protesters to derail the 2 February election raises prospects of widespread political violence, and scope for peaceful resolution is narrowing. Protests may aim to provoke a military coup, or encourage a judicial coup. If protesters succeed in their bid to delay the poll and replace the elected caretaker government with an appointed council, others who demand to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise are likely to resist. Competing Thai elites – with mass backing – disagree fundamentally about how political power should be acquired and exercised. The election, and the opposition to it, crystallises the dilemma in reaching a new consensus on Thailand’s political order: will government be legitimised by voters or by traditional institutions such as the monarchy and the military? 

Since 2005, political and structural tensions have animated a conflict centred on self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won enduring support from majorities in the north and north east newly conscious of their electoral power. Thaksin challenged institutions that draw legitimacy from traditional sources of authority, including the military, judiciary, palace network elements and watchdog bodies collectively known as “independent agencies”. Beginning with a 2006 military coup, and in concert with the Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from the south and Bangkok, these institutions have tried and failed to eliminate Thaksin’s influence.

Anti-government protesters have staged mostly-peaceful rallies in Bangkok for two months, but also occupied government buildings, attacked pro-government Red Shirt activists, disrupted election registration and occasionally clashed with police. Gunmen have targeted protest sites. At least eight people have been killed and more than 450 injured in protest-related violence.

There is no clear way out. But there are ways to render a bad situation potentially catastrophic. Denying the chance to vote is one. So is the propensity of some leaders to achieve by mass action – often violent – what they cannot by popular mandate or negotiation. As much as elections, Thailand needs leadership to generate the truly inclusive national dialogue required to set it on a stable path.

As anti-government protesters intensify actions, the risk of violence across wide swathes of the country is growing and significant. The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, led by former Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban, are determined to unseat the caretaker government of Thaksin’s sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They also aim to derail the election they fear will reinstall Thaksin’s Pheu Thai Party. Thaksin-aligned parties have won every poll since 2001, a record that has eroded his enemies’ faith in elections. The PDRC considers Thaksin uniquely corrupt and malevolent. It attributes his electoral success to vote fraud and the susceptibility of poorer, less educated citizens to unethical, unsustainable populist policies. 

The PDRC insists that extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy, are required to “uproot the Thaksin regime”. Citing ambiguous constitutional provisions to justify ousting the elected government, the PDRC proposes to eradicate “Thaksinism” via an unelected People’s Council – 100 “good people” whom it would appoint and 300 others chosen as functional representatives – to govern for up to eighteen months and implement reforms. The reform agenda is only broadly outlined and includes decentralisation, elected governors, stronger anti-corruption laws and police reform. 

After Pheu Thai’s 2011 election victory, Yingluck cultivated relations with Thaksin’s opponents in the senior ranks of the military and Privy Council. Small anti-government protests lacked traction until October, when parliament passed an ill-judged blanket amnesty that would have erased Thaksin’s 2008 abuse-of-power conviction. It would also have absolved ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy, Suthep, for ordering the 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok that killed more than 90, as well as army officers who implemented the order. The bill galvanised Thaksin’s opponents and sparked sustained protests that attracted growing numbers of middle-class Bangkokians. Faced with overwhelming opposition, including from Red Shirt allies, the government withdrew support.

Even before the Senate rejected the bill on 11 November, protest leaders shifted their goal to ousting the government. Several Democrats, including Suthep, resigned from the party to lead the street protests. After Democrat Party MPs resigned en masse, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December, and the government acquired caretaker status. As demanded by the constitution, the February election was scheduled and endorsed by royal decree. The Democrat Party resolved to boycott the election, as it did in 2006, and support the protests. 

The PDRC plans to paralyse Bangkok to eject the government and force cancellation of the election. There is immediate risk of violence designed to instigate a coup. The army chief, General Prayudh Chan-ocha, has not ruled out the possibility. The army has mounted eighteen successful and attempted coups since 1932 and suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations with lethal force in 1973, 1992 and 2010. It has never intervened on behalf of a Thaksin-aligned government. 

There are other potential triggers for unrest. If the election is delayed without government consent or results are nullified, many who saw their representatives expelled from office in 2006 and 2008 too, may see no recourse other than violent resistance. The combination of street protests and judicial intervention to unseat elected government is familiar; in 2008, the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied Government House for months and closed Bangkok’s airports before the Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Power Party, a Pheu Thai predecessor. Many perceive the Constitutional Court as biased, and the “independent agencies” – mandated by the 2006 coup makers’ 2007 constitution – as compromised because their members were appointed by committees dominated by judges and officials not themselves democratically accountable. 

The election faces multiple pitfalls. The Democrat Party decision to boycott might provide a pretext to challenge the poll’s legitimacy. The Election Commission appears reluctant to perform its duties and has called for the election to be postponed. Protesters prevented candidates from registering in 28 constituencies in the Democrat Party’s southern stronghold. The Election Commission should take remedial action, but this is uncertain. On 7 January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission pressed misconduct charges against 308 mostly Pheu Thai lawmakers who supported an amendment to create an all-elected senate. Many are candidates and could be disqualified if impeached by the Senate. If less than 95 per cent of the 500 seats are filled on 2 February, by-elections will be required before the new parliament can meet. 

The détente of the last few years masked fundamental, unresolved tensions. Today’s crisis has greater scope for serious, protracted violence than earlier episodes not least because there is neither evident middle ground nor protester appetite for compromise. 

A deal to postpone the election could buy time for negotiation but would be only a stopgap without a comprehensive, broadly accepted agreement on the future political order. Thailand is deeply polarised, and the prospects for such an agreement are dim. Still, a counsel of despair is not an option. All need to understand that violence will not advance more responsive and transparent government. An election alone will also not resolve basic disagreements about how political power should be acquired and exercised, but the following should be borne in mind as a way out of the impasse is sought:

there is no obvious route to a peaceful resolution that does not respect the voice of a majority of voters. Imposition of an appointed government without consent of the electorate would invite violence;

the Democrat Party should recommit to the electoral process;

all should commit to pursuing political change non-violently and with due regard for others’ rights; 

the military could best respond to the current crisis by an unequivocal commitment to the democratic process and express support for dialogue between the opposing camps; and

Thailand needs to confront how it is governed, including the decentralisation question and reform of key state institutions, but these issues should be discussed nationally – not presented as the agenda of one side – and take place in parallel to and beyond, not in place of, the constitutionally-required electoral process.

If the sides can agree on the need to avoid violence and for a national dialogue built on a shared agenda, a solution might just possibly be found. It is a slim reed on which to float hopes, but in Bangkok there is little else available.

Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias

12 Nov
Will Madagascar’s elections end the perennial crisis? | Brian Klaas and Piers Pigou
The first round of voting in Madagascar’s post-coup election has finally come to an end. The polling was largely peaceful. Observers quickly called it “free and fair” — despite large numbers of would-be voters being excluded due to problems with the electoral lists — and hailed it as a major step on the path back to democracy.  A group of losing candidates who had been supported by former presidents Albert Zafy and Didier Ratsiraka have called for the results to be nullified, but they will have to route their complaints through the relevant election courts, which are unlikely to uphold them.
Grave risks remain, however. First round provisional results show Jean-Louis Robinson has won the first round (with 21.1 per cent of the vote) followed by Hery Rajaonarimampianina (approximately 15.9 per cent). Barring a major change in the certification of provisional results, these two candidates will advance to the second round on 20 December.
That will almost certainly heighten tensions. Robinson is the proxy candidate for the mouvance Ravalomanana, the organisation of former President Marc Ravalomanana, who hoped to run himself but remains in exile in South Africa. Rajaonarimampianina is the proxy for Andry Rajoelina, the former radio disc jockey who took power in a 2009 coup with the Malagasy army’s help.
Even if the original protagonists are not on the ballot, the proxy candidates represent four years of bottled up frustration and bitter rivalry. With the first round past, the stakes are now much higher. Defeat for either candidate could mean exile or political irrelevance, and economic marginalisation.  Added to this is growing public discontent. Since 2009, self-interested politicians have repeatedly put their own interests before those of the general populace. Madagascar has become increasingly isolated from the international community, with dire consequences for economic growth, development and human security. Lawlessness and deteriorating faith in the criminal justice system manifest in growing vigilantism. In September, a spate of minor bomb attacks in Antananarivo by the Defenders of National Sovereignty, ostensibly protesting the international community’s role in blocking the candidacies of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, increased fears of instability.
Four years of growing tensions – and an election
Tensions between Rajoelina’s and Ravalomanana’s movements are the product of four years of bad-faith negotiations over the latter’s return. He is now also under South African investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, for which he has been convicted in absentia in Madagascar. Ravalomanana has deliberately turned down an amnesty process that was initiated as part of the transitional roadmap to elections. Although actual prosecution is unlikely, South African courts have effectively grounded him (taking his passport) and scuppered his intentions to return; in so doing, they have enabled the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to renege on its previous demand for his immediate repatriation. But even if SADC had not been involved, the Rajoelina regime was determined to prevent Ravalomanana’s return at all costs, fearing revenge and arguing his presence would be destabilising.
In January, both men agreed to an internationally brokered pledge not to stand as candidates and to accept a “cooling off” period for the good of the country. But at the same time, Ravalomanana brokered a deal through SADC to allow his wife, Lalao, to return to care for her ailing mother. Once back in the country, she announced her presidential candidacy, prompting Rajoelina to claim the “ni-ni” (“neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina”) deal was off and that he would be running.
Surprisingly, both Laloa Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were approved as candidates by the electoral court, along with former president Didier Ratsiraka, even though none met the eligibility criteria; neither Ratsiraka nor Ravalomanana had been resident for six months prior to submitting candidate registration papers, and Rajoelina submitted his application after the deadline. In response, the international community withdrew its support—and critically, its election funding—to protest this clear electoral law violation. They demanded the candidates withdraw or that there be a new ruling by the court.
Nothing happened as the timeline for elections in June drew near and passed, with elections rescheduled for August. Then an International Contact Group for Madagascar meeting, in Addis Ababa in late June, witnessed an unprecedented push behind African Union and SADC efforts. (Critics claimed Madagascar’s sovereignty was being violated: SADC’s criticism of the electoral court appeared much more stringent than its more diplomatic positioning on Zimbabwe’s controversial constitutional-court decision to fast-track polls there.) As we described in October, The reconstituted electoral court re-convened and issued a surprise ruling disqualifying Ravalomanana, Rajoelina, former president Didier Ratsiraka and three minor candidates.
The principals’ exclusion resulted in a showdown between proxy candidates. To cynics, this is old wine in new bottles. To optimists, it is an opportunity for new political growth, without the emotional attachments that have become so palpable in the four year-long Ravalomanana-Rajoelina showdown.
Despite a smooth first round, there are no institutional guarantees or candidate pledges to accept the runoff results. Lip service continues to be paid to the interests of ordinary Malagasies, but it is the dynamics within and between the political and business elites and the security services that will ultimately determine the outcome.
On to the second round
Madagascar has a history of large-scale protests when power is at stake. Street-level protests culminated in the 2009 coup, and a similar series of events could sprout from a manipulated or just badly managed election. Furthermore, even if the runoff proceeds smoothly there is a high risk the loser will call on supporters to turn to the streets or ask allies within the military to step in.
The Defenders of National Sovereignty attacks make matters worse. While it is unclear whether the group backs a particular candidate or mouvance, the crude explosive devices (they caused minimal damage and one bombmaker accidentally killed himself) have exacerbated the insecurity. Understandable fears could keep voter turnout in the second round low and thus reduce the legitimacy of the result.
All in all, the chance of a smooth second round acceptable to all Malagasies as legitimate is remote.  How they respond to irregularities will determine whether the country is plunged back into crisis. The logistical problems of holding a vote on a large island with poor infrastructure heighten this risk. Many ballots must be transported overland, an enormous logistical exercise—in the first round, provisional results were not announced until 8 November, two full weeks after voting. Some ballot boxes will have to be left unguarded, as there are not enough security personnel to oversee the almost 20,000 polling locations. Only about one in five stations will have security.
The international community in general should insist that, whatever happens after the second round, the rights of the losing candidate are respected.  Madagascar’s last two transfers of power have involved forced exile. Were defeated candidates to know they would be allowed to stay in Madagascar and might even have a voice in the new government, the electoral temperature would be lowered.
The international community should also use its influence to calm the military, which has acted as an interventionist kingmaker and could again. While a takeover appears unlikely, the 2009 coup was sparked by a minor mutiny by mid-level soldiers that prompted the involvement of more senior officers. Similar dynamics could arise again, particularly if mass protests get out of control and deteriorating security justifies intervention. Such a scenario is unlikely to result in a military regime — the army historically has conferred power on its preferred civilian –  but would most likely lead to further international isolation and continued crisis.
These concerns are hard to manage and tricky to mitigate. Yet the international community must engage and attempt to prevent a post-electoral crisis. The December vote represents a genuine opportunity for a more hopeful and inclusive political order. This is only possible if support continues beyond the elections and translates into genuine efforts to build responsive, accountable state institutions and promote political and economic policies that spread benefits beyond the narrow elite. It’s a tall order in a country where political fault lines and poor governance are entrenched. But there is still hope that Madagascar’s elections will herald a new chapter in the country’s troubled history.
FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group Blogs)
Photo: Reuters

Will Madagascar’s elections end the perennial crisis? | Brian Klaas and Piers Pigou

The first round of voting in Madagascar’s post-coup election has finally come to an end. The polling was largely peaceful. Observers quickly called it “free and fair” — despite large numbers of would-be voters being excluded due to problems with the electoral lists — and hailed it as a major step on the path back to democracy.  A group of losing candidates who had been supported by former presidents Albert Zafy and Didier Ratsiraka have called for the results to be nullified, but they will have to route their complaints through the relevant election courts, which are unlikely to uphold them.

Grave risks remain, however. First round provisional results show Jean-Louis Robinson has won the first round (with 21.1 per cent of the vote) followed by Hery Rajaonarimampianina (approximately 15.9 per cent). Barring a major change in the certification of provisional results, these two candidates will advance to the second round on 20 December.

That will almost certainly heighten tensions. Robinson is the proxy candidate for the mouvance Ravalomanana, the organisation of former President Marc Ravalomanana, who hoped to run himself but remains in exile in South Africa. Rajaonarimampianina is the proxy for Andry Rajoelina, the former radio disc jockey who took power in a 2009 coup with the Malagasy army’s help.

Even if the original protagonists are not on the ballot, the proxy candidates represent four years of bottled up frustration and bitter rivalry. With the first round past, the stakes are now much higher. Defeat for either candidate could mean exile or political irrelevance, and economic marginalisation.  Added to this is growing public discontent. Since 2009, self-interested politicians have repeatedly put their own interests before those of the general populace. Madagascar has become increasingly isolated from the international community, with dire consequences for economic growth, development and human security. Lawlessness and deteriorating faith in the criminal justice system manifest in growing vigilantism. In September, a spate of minor bomb attacks in Antananarivo by the Defenders of National Sovereignty, ostensibly protesting the international community’s role in blocking the candidacies of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, increased fears of instability.

Four years of growing tensions – and an election

Tensions between Rajoelina’s and Ravalomanana’s movements are the product of four years of bad-faith negotiations over the latter’s return. He is now also under South African investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, for which he has been convicted in absentia in Madagascar. Ravalomanana has deliberately turned down an amnesty process that was initiated as part of the transitional roadmap to elections. Although actual prosecution is unlikely, South African courts have effectively grounded him (taking his passport) and scuppered his intentions to return; in so doing, they have enabled the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to renege on its previous demand for his immediate repatriation. But even if SADC had not been involved, the Rajoelina regime was determined to prevent Ravalomanana’s return at all costs, fearing revenge and arguing his presence would be destabilising.

In January, both men agreed to an internationally brokered pledge not to stand as candidates and to accept a “cooling off” period for the good of the country. But at the same time, Ravalomanana brokered a deal through SADC to allow his wife, Lalao, to return to care for her ailing mother. Once back in the country, she announced her presidential candidacy, prompting Rajoelina to claim the “ni-ni” (“neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina”) deal was off and that he would be running.

Surprisingly, both Laloa Ravalomanana and Rajoelina were approved as candidates by the electoral court, along with former president Didier Ratsiraka, even though none met the eligibility criteria; neither Ratsiraka nor Ravalomanana had been resident for six months prior to submitting candidate registration papers, and Rajoelina submitted his application after the deadline. In response, the international community withdrew its support—and critically, its election funding—to protest this clear electoral law violation. They demanded the candidates withdraw or that there be a new ruling by the court.

Nothing happened as the timeline for elections in June drew near and passed, with elections rescheduled for August. Then an International Contact Group for Madagascar meeting, in Addis Ababa in late June, witnessed an unprecedented push behind African Union and SADC efforts. (Critics claimed Madagascar’s sovereignty was being violated: SADC’s criticism of the electoral court appeared much more stringent than its more diplomatic positioning on Zimbabwe’s controversial constitutional-court decision to fast-track polls there.) As we described in October, The reconstituted electoral court re-convened and issued a surprise ruling disqualifying Ravalomanana, Rajoelina, former president Didier Ratsiraka and three minor candidates.

The principals’ exclusion resulted in a showdown between proxy candidates. To cynics, this is old wine in new bottles. To optimists, it is an opportunity for new political growth, without the emotional attachments that have become so palpable in the four year-long Ravalomanana-Rajoelina showdown.

Despite a smooth first round, there are no institutional guarantees or candidate pledges to accept the runoff results. Lip service continues to be paid to the interests of ordinary Malagasies, but it is the dynamics within and between the political and business elites and the security services that will ultimately determine the outcome.

On to the second round

Madagascar has a history of large-scale protests when power is at stake. Street-level protests culminated in the 2009 coup, and a similar series of events could sprout from a manipulated or just badly managed election. Furthermore, even if the runoff proceeds smoothly there is a high risk the loser will call on supporters to turn to the streets or ask allies within the military to step in.

The Defenders of National Sovereignty attacks make matters worse. While it is unclear whether the group backs a particular candidate or mouvance, the crude explosive devices (they caused minimal damage and one bombmaker accidentally killed himself) have exacerbated the insecurity. Understandable fears could keep voter turnout in the second round low and thus reduce the legitimacy of the result.

All in all, the chance of a smooth second round acceptable to all Malagasies as legitimate is remote.  How they respond to irregularities will determine whether the country is plunged back into crisis. The logistical problems of holding a vote on a large island with poor infrastructure heighten this risk. Many ballots must be transported overland, an enormous logistical exercise—in the first round, provisional results were not announced until 8 November, two full weeks after voting. Some ballot boxes will have to be left unguarded, as there are not enough security personnel to oversee the almost 20,000 polling locations. Only about one in five stations will have security.

The international community in general should insist that, whatever happens after the second round, the rights of the losing candidate are respected.  Madagascar’s last two transfers of power have involved forced exile. Were defeated candidates to know they would be allowed to stay in Madagascar and might even have a voice in the new government, the electoral temperature would be lowered.

The international community should also use its influence to calm the military, which has acted as an interventionist kingmaker and could again. While a takeover appears unlikely, the 2009 coup was sparked by a minor mutiny by mid-level soldiers that prompted the involvement of more senior officers. Similar dynamics could arise again, particularly if mass protests get out of control and deteriorating security justifies intervention. Such a scenario is unlikely to result in a military regime — the army historically has conferred power on its preferred civilian –  but would most likely lead to further international isolation and continued crisis.

These concerns are hard to manage and tricky to mitigate. Yet the international community must engage and attempt to prevent a post-electoral crisis. The December vote represents a genuine opportunity for a more hopeful and inclusive political order. This is only possible if support continues beyond the elections and translates into genuine efforts to build responsive, accountable state institutions and promote political and economic policies that spread benefits beyond the narrow elite. It’s a tall order in a country where political fault lines and poor governance are entrenched. But there is still hope that Madagascar’s elections will herald a new chapter in the country’s troubled history.

FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group Blogs)

Photo: Reuters

21 Oct
An Uncertain Future | Louise Arbour
As Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghan security forces’ ability to contain the Taliban insurgency relies on a reasonable degree of political stability in Kabul, which next year’s presidential elections could jeopardize. In fact, Afghanistan’s political transition could prove as challenging as the military one.
Presidential contenders have been registering with the election commission for several weeks now. There was talk that Afghan elites might arrive at a consensus and back a single presidential ticket, which would sweep the elections and perhaps take some of the sting from the campaign. The sheer number of presidential candidates (27), however – and the fact that different tickets represent different factions – suggests this has not happened, though horse-trading before the vote may well reduce the field.
FULL ARTICLE (The Mark News)
Photo: The U.S. Army/Flickr

An Uncertain Future | Louise Arbour

As Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghan security forces’ ability to contain the Taliban insurgency relies on a reasonable degree of political stability in Kabul, which next year’s presidential elections could jeopardize. In fact, Afghanistan’s political transition could prove as challenging as the military one.

Presidential contenders have been registering with the election commission for several weeks now. There was talk that Afghan elites might arrive at a consensus and back a single presidential ticket, which would sweep the elections and perhaps take some of the sting from the campaign. The sheer number of presidential candidates (27), however – and the fact that different tickets represent different factions – suggests this has not happened, though horse-trading before the vote may well reduce the field.

FULL ARTICLE (The Mark News)

Photo: The U.S. Army/Flickr

10 Oct
“In Guinea, ethnicity is a significant factor influencing voters and ethnic communities all have a strong sense of victimhood. Restoring trust in the electoral system is crucial to defusing intercommunal tensions.”
- Vincent Foucher, Senior Analyst for West Africa at Crisis Group
Read the Full Commentary here
Photo: Nicoletta Fabbri/Flickr

In Guinea, ethnicity is a significant factor influencing voters and ethnic communities all have a strong sense of victimhood. Restoring trust in the electoral system is crucial to defusing intercommunal tensions.”

- Vincent Foucher, Senior Analyst for West Africa at Crisis Group

Read the Full Commentary here

Photo: Nicoletta Fabbri/Flickr

7 Oct
Guinée: Il faut (encore une fois) sauver les élections | Vincent Foucher
Le 28 septembre, les Guinéens ont voté dans le calme pour élire leurs députés. Dans la capitale Conakry au moins, la participation paraissait significative. Parfois dès six heures du matin, les gens se pressaient pour voter, patientant dans de longues queues. Face à des problèmes organisationnels considérables et dans des conditions matérielles difficiles, membres des bureaux de vote et délégués des partis se débattaient et débattaient avec gravité et sérieux, le code électoral à la main. En ville sans doute plus que dans les campagnes, et à Conakry sans doute plus que dans les régions, observateurs nationaux et internationaux, experts électoraux et journalistes ont pu relayer les multiples problèmes au fil de la journée, et bien des conflits ont pu être ainsi désamorcés. Au soir du scrutin, la fierté et le soulagement étaient palpables.
Lire tout l’article (allAfrica) 
Photo: United Nations Development Programme/Flickr

Guinée: Il faut (encore une fois) sauver les élections | Vincent Foucher

Le 28 septembre, les Guinéens ont voté dans le calme pour élire leurs députés. Dans la capitale Conakry au moins, la participation paraissait significative. Parfois dès six heures du matin, les gens se pressaient pour voter, patientant dans de longues queues. Face à des problèmes organisationnels considérables et dans des conditions matérielles difficiles, membres des bureaux de vote et délégués des partis se débattaient et débattaient avec gravité et sérieux, le code électoral à la main. En ville sans doute plus que dans les campagnes, et à Conakry sans doute plus que dans les régions, observateurs nationaux et internationaux, experts électoraux et journalistes ont pu relayer les multiples problèmes au fil de la journée, et bien des conflits ont pu être ainsi désamorcés. Au soir du scrutin, la fierté et le soulagement étaient palpables.

Lire tout l’article (allAfrica) 

Photo: United Nations Development Programme/Flickr