Elections Worth Dying For?

ifes election_worth_dying_for_001The book Elections Worth Dying For? A Selection of Case Studies from Africa examines the roots of violence within election processes in Africa from a variety of perspectives. Using recent case studies written by leading specialists in electoral processes in Africa, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) shows how electoral violence and prevention efforts fit within the context of the entire electoral cycle.

The forthcoming series of case studies examines how violence and its rate of incidence are affected by electoral management bodies, election technology, political finance, the media, women, youth and, importantly, political parties, among others. IFES believes the lessons taken from this study can support the prevention of electoral violence and encourage free and fair elections in Africa, and around the world.

Join IFES for a special book launch. IFES’ event, taking place during the week of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, underlines the importance of engaging in questions of potential election violence and how to bet mitigate it through a series of broad-ranging case studies.

Featured speakers: 

Michael Yard, Chief of Party, Kenya, IFES

Staffan Darnolf, Director of Program Development and Innovation, IFES

Elizabeth Côté, Chief of Party, Nepal, IFES

Gabrielle Bardall, Trudeau Foundation Scholar and Researcher

With opening remarks by IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney 

The event will be moderated by IFES Regional Director for Africa Almami Cyllah (above).

When: August 7th, 12:00 p.m.

Where:1850 K Street NW, Suite 500

Click here to RSVP

You can watch the live webcast here. Lunch will be served. Learn more about IFES’ work on election security.

Iraq’s first poll since US withdrew unlikely to bridge sectarian divide


IRAQ SECTARIANThere is heavy security across Iraq as the country votes in its first parliamentary elections since US troops withdrew three years ago, the BBC reports:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping to win a third term in office amid a growing insurgency in the west of the country. Iraq is experiencing its worst unrest since 2008, with 160 people killed in the past week alone. Some 22 million Iraqis are registered to vote, with almost 50,000 polling stations open across the country.

Following 2006 parliamentary elections, President George W. Bush’s ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, helpedselect Maliki to become prime minister, notes analyst Raymond Tanter. After Khalilzad’s intervention, Sunni and Kurdish politicians endorsed Maliki’s candidacy, and within three months, he became Iraq’s prime minister.

Mr. Maliki, who rarely smiles and lacks any outward signs of charisma, has distinguished himself from other Iraqi politicians by keeping long hours, often leaving the office at 1 a.m. or later, The New York Times reports:

He also rarely leaves the country and has kept his family here, while many other politicians have moved their families abroad. And, by all accounts, he shows no outward affinities for wealth and the trappings of power.

“He didn’t worry about protocol issues,” said Khalilzad, [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] in an interview. “He had no problems coming to my residence or office,” he tells the Times: 

Mr. Maliki does worry, though, Mr. Khalilzad said, about the possibility that former Baath Party officials might mount a coup.

It was Mr. Khalilzad who encouraged Mr. Maliki to seek the prime minister’s post in 2006, after concluding that his predecessor, Ibrahim Jaafari, was ineffectual and overly sectarian. In 2010, Mr. Maliki secured a second term with the backing of American officials, who thought he was likely to prevail anyway and appeared to be the most acceptable candidate to the fractious Shiite majority.

In an effort to bridge the political and sectarian divide in Iraq and guard against Mr. Maliki’s growing authoritarianism, the Obama administration had sought to persuade Mr. Maliki to share power with his bitter rival, Ayad Allawi, who was the leader of a bloc with broad Sunni support. But the effort failed, and Mr. Maliki never developed the inclusive government the White House had hoped for.

Mr. Maliki’s character, shaped by his decades in the political underground working to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, has largely defined his governing style. In exile, in Iran and Syria, Mr. Maliki was in charge of military operations inside Iraq for the Shiite Islamic Dawa Party, a life experience that has instilled a lasting sense of paranoia that is deepened by the constant threat of assassination he lives under now.

“I think the very core of his problem is his fear,” said Maria Fantappie, Iraq analyst at the International Crisis Group. “He sees enemies everywhere. It can be the Kurds, the Sunnis, even his own advisers.”

Iraq today is a product of the divisions deeply embedded since 2003′s Iraqi Governing Council appropriated power-sharing based on sectarian, religious and ethnic quotas, according to Firas Al-Atraqchi, an Iraqi political analyst and an associate professor at the American University of Cairo.

“The success of the election itself cannot be measured by numbers of voters and percentage points but by the tangible socio-political changes it brings about,” he tells Al-Jazeera. “Iraq’s democratic process will be little more than a mirage if national reconciliation is not made the next government’s strategic priority.”

Iraq’s elections are often followed by periods of intense haggling that stretch on for months while security deteriorates, the FT’s Borzou Daragahi writes:

Analysts fear the process of forming a government could drag on even longer this time. The Shia majority from where Mr Maliki’s draws his support is more fragmented than ever, with rival coalitions headed by clerics and former politicians.

Sunnis are also fragmented, with at least three major groupings vying for votes from Sunni voters and allied secular Shia nationalists, including Iyad Allawi’s Wataniya list, a coalition led by parliamentary speaker Usama Nujaifi, and a list led by deputy prime minister Saleh Mutlaq.

Ethnic Kurds, running under a unified list, are sure to use the disarray among other factions to make maximum demands in exchange for the one-fifth or more seats in parliament they will probably control. From their northern enclave, Iraqi Kurds have been in a bitter dispute with Mr Maliki to secure more control over oilfields near Kirkuk and Mosul.

Maliki has kind of undertaken just a series of very dramatic changes, not just aimed at increasing the power of the Shiites and of his sect, but also of increasing his own personal power, New Yorker analyst Dexter Filkins tells NPR:

I mean he’s set about to basically dismantle any check on his power, whether it’s parliament, which no longer has the right to initiate legislation, they can only vote on legislation that the prime minister writes, but whether it’s shutting down the parliament or any government agency that could – or the judiciary, any government, branch of government that could block him, he’s basically neutralized them.

Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert at the Atlantic Council, said: “Maliki is not a democrat. He’s not a nationalist or sectarian ideologue. His ideology and doctrine are grounded in survivalism.

“In many ways Maliki is a typical Arab ruler: paranoid and conspiratorial,” he told The Times.

Should Maliki emerge weakened on April 30, Iran will do all it can to bolster him within reason, but would accept an alternative in his place, says Michael Stephens, the Deputy Director of the Royal United Services Institute, (RUSI) Qatar:

The entry of Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq into the Iraqi political scene will help to bolster Maliki at the expense of other Shia rivals (particularly the Sadrists), even if it is only by a handful of seats.

Like the US, Iran would not readily encourage a fragmentation of Iraq’s battered polity, for now it is better to play for time and (much like Saudi Arabia in Yemen) keep Iraq held together while simultaneously playing off its competing factions to prevent it from growing too strong.

Whether the elections provide Maliki with his third term or throw up a surprise that leads to rival Shia parties taking the post, little is likely to change in the immediate future. The problems in Iraq cannot be fixed overnight, and both the country’s Kurds and Sunnis will struggle to feel part of a political sphere dominated by a heavily Shia government.



Indonesia wrestles with poll logistics, presidential hopefuls jostle for supremacy


National Democratic Institute

National Democratic Institute

Sixteen years after the fall of long-ruling dictator Suharto, Indonesia has developed into a thriving, boisterous democracy, where structural problems such as corruption and inequality persist but are freely discussed, Ben Bland writes for The Financial Times:

Indonesia is preparing to hold one of the world’s most complicated elections at a crucial juncture for the third-biggest democracy after India and the US. Indonesians will choose a new parliament on April 9 and then vote for the presidency in July, with a run-off election in September if no presidential candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Fears about vote buying and poll manipulation are widespread as Indonesia prepares to hold one of the world’s most complicated elections at a crucial juncture for the third-biggest democracy after India and the US, he adds:

With more than 50m voters under the age of 30, Titi Anggraini, the executive director of Perludem, an independent election watchdog, hopes that young, tech-savvy activists can help to keep wayward politicians and officials in check through social media.

“The level of transparency from the KPU is far better than previous elections and I believe this openness will be followed by participation from young voters and others,” she says.

On April 9, Indonesians will elect members of the national level legislatures and sub-national legislatures in what is one of the most complex electoral events globally, IFES adds:

There are 4 million election officials in over 545,000 polling stations across a country of 17,000 islands, managing 775 million ballot papers in 2,450 different designs to get 19,699 candidates elected for 532 legislatures at national and sub-national level.

To help you understand this multifaceted electoral process, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) provides Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Elections in Indonesia: 2014 National Legislative Elections. IFES FAQs include:

What is the election management body? What are its powers?

How are the legislative bodies structured?

What is the legal framework for elections?

What technology will be used?

Download IFES’ FAQs on Elections in Indonesia: 2014 National Legislative Elections.

Corruption fears over Indonesian polls



As Indonesia prepares to elect a new parliament and president in the coming months, Deutsche Welle examines how political graft is undermining the Southeast Asian country’s democratic and economic achievements of the past decade.

Many analysts regard Indonesia’s accomplishments after the overthrow of longstanding authoritarian ruler Suharto in 1998 as remarkable. The world’s largest Muslim democracy with more than 250 million people has not only managed to expand its economy at an average rate of 5.5 percent over the past decade.

It has also undertaken “one of the most ambitious institutional reform programs attempted anywhere,” by rapidly decentralizing power, creating a constitutional court and a powerful anti-corruption commission,” according to the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI). …..

NDI Senior Program Officer David Caragliano argues in a recently published article on that with no clear presidential front-runner and a higher parliamentary threshold for parties to enter the national legislature, the elections could be the most closely contested in the nation’s history. Therefore, he argues, “the incentives for increased electoral manipulation, vote buying and fraud are clear, at a time when the independence and competence of electoral administrative bodies are increasingly under question.”


Salvador and Costa Rica polls: Central America ‘turning left’?

Credit: The Economist


Leftist candidates did surprisingly well in yesterday’s elections in El Salvador and Costa Rica, The Economist reports:

Though not well enough to avoid second-round run-offs in the next few months, the results are likely to rattle the conservative bastions of Central America.

The almost ten-point lead that Salvador Sánchez Cerén (pictured left), a former guerrilla of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, took over his right-wing rival was well beyond the margin of victory expected by most pollsters. However, his 48.9%, with almost all votes counted, was just shy of the 50% plus one vote he needed for a first-round victory.

Even more of a shock was the wafer-thin lead that political outsider Luis Guillermo Solís (pictured right) took in Costa Rica, after focusing his campaign on government corruption. Polls had mostly put the former diplomat in fourth place in the run-up to the elections, constantly below another left-leaning candidate, José Maria Villalta. Mr Villalta came in third, but if their supporters unite they could oust the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate in the run-off. Mr Solís had 31%, the PLN’s Johnny Araya 29.6% and Mr Villalta 17.1%.

The candidates will head to a second round later this spring after the leading contenders failed to get enough votes to win outright, in contests that tested the power of incumbent parties, Randal C. Archibold reports for the New York Times:

El Salvador and Costa Rica, put incumbent parties to the test on Sunday in what were expected to be closely fought presidential elections that focused less on ideology than on unease over unemployment, corruption and crime.

In El Salvador, the left-leaning Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, known as the F.M.L.N., sought to hold on to the presidency, which it won for the first time in 2009. … In Costa Rica, Johnny Araya — a former mayor of San Jose, the capital, and the candidate of the incumbent, centrist National Liberation Party — fought a surge in polls by José María Villalta, a young left-leaning lawmaker who capitalized on voters’ anger about unemployment, crime and corruption scandals that have put President Laura Chinchilla’s approval ratings among the lowest in Latin America.

Conservatives in El Salvador “no longer say Venezuela or Cuba are going to rule El Salvador, like they said five years ago,” said José Maria Tojeira, a former rector at the Universidad Centroamericana who closely follows Salvadoran politics. “The fear of ideological extremism has ended.”

“The most important thing for the Salvadoran people right now is security,” said Luis Gonzalez, 58, a federal worker who said he had voted for Mr. Saca. “People are dying indiscriminately from such a big wave of violence.”

The wide field in Costa Rica was a sign of the fragmentation of parties and ideologies, said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice president who is now political secretary at the Organization of American States.

“Party loyalty has all but dissolved,” Mr. Casas-Zamora said. “The feeling is there is a desire to reject the status quo, less of a commitment to ideology.”

The political fragmentation will make it hard to pass laws through a legislature where no party has a majority, said Bruce Wilson, a professor at the University of Central Florida.

“That is an even bigger mess,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a mass mandate, from the polling data. If Congress is so fractious, to get your agenda through will be very difficult.”

Perhaps a partnership of sorts between Mr Saca and the FMLN could act as a mild restraint on Mr Sánchez Cerén’s Bolivarian leanings, The Economist suggests:

That would be positive. It’s one thing for a poverty and violence-afflicted region to want a leftist president with programs that focus on the poor, and a good anti-corruption record. It would be another if the region lurched to the populist left, in the mould of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, just as such leaders in Venezuela and Argentina are beginning to pay for their follies with severe economic crises.