Burmese support democracy, country’s trajectory but US optimism ebbs over reforms

burmabuddhistterrorTwo years after the United States announced the normalization of diplomatic relations with Myanmar [aka Burma], optimism in Washington over the nation’s embrace of democracy is waning and concern over the plight of minority Muslims is growing, Associated Press reports:

What has been viewed as a foreign policy success story for the Obama administration, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, faces a rocky road ahead as the pace of political reform slows and U.S. congressional criticism intensifies.

While the United States says it remains hopeful the constitution can be amended so Suu Kyi can run, congressional aides say the administration is pessimistic about that happening before the national elections at the end of 2015, a key staging post in Myanmar’s transition from five decades of repressive army rule. Constitutional reforms would also be required to dilute the political power of the military and meet ethnic minority demands for autonomy. The aides weren’t authorized to discuss that matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

burma IRIWhether Burma will become a democracy after parliamentary elections late next year rests not only on the integrity of that vote, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond writes for The Atlantic. “It also depends on what parliament does—or fails to do—to amend blatantly undemocratic provisions in the country’s current constitution,’ he adds.

”But the most pressing concern for the U.S., and the one on which the Obama administration and lawmakers have been most outspoken, is communal violence between majority Buddhists and Muslims, and the rising tide of Buddhist nationalism that many expect to intensify in the run-up to the election,” AP’s Matthew Pennington reports:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee called last week for an end to persecution of stateless Rohingya Muslims in one of the strongest congressional criticisms yet of Myanmar’s reformist government. The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, questioned whether the U.S. should embrace diplomatic reconciliation with Myanmar while human rights deteriorate.

A U.S.-funded poll released Thursday by the International Republican Institute [one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy] found that 88 percent of respondents sampled across Myanmar thought things in the country were heading in the right direction, and 57 percent thought their economic situation was going to improve in the coming year. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Study will help coordinate democracy support in Somaliland

Somaliland_0A new analysis is expected to help international donors to coordinate future democracy-support programs to Somaliland, reports suggest.

The Somaliland International Democratization Support Strategy, produced by the International Republican Institute and commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, identifies opportunities for international support to Somaliland, and highlights areas where priorities of the international community and Somaliland stakeholders converge, including:

  • More support to address structural issues, including voter registration and legal framework, related to the conduct of elections;
  • Programs that provide technical assistance to political parties in creating clear and distinct national party identities and issue-based platforms;
  • Programs that will increase the presence of political parties between elections, including promoting collaboration between political and development institutions…………..

IRI’s former Vice Chairman and former US Special Envoy to Sudan, the late Ambassador Rich Williamson said, “Somaliland is a shining light of the evolution of democracy in Eastern Africa, and something its neighbors can benefit from watching and learning from and…deserves international support.”

The Somaliland International Democratization Support Strategy was a joint initiative of IRI’s Africa division and office of monitoring and evaluation.  IRI has worked in Somaliland since 2002, with funding from the United States Agency for International DevelopmentNational Endowment for Democracy and DFID, to support the development of a robust civil society, well-organized and representative political parties and a modernized legislature that engages in issue-based policy making.


As pro-Russians, Crimea Tatars clash, four forward steps for Ukraine

UkraineFLAGDivisions between the Ukrainian-speaking west and center and the pro-Russia east and south are straining the country’s unity after the nation’s bloodiest week since World War II toppled Viktor Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed regime. Tensions flared in the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea as several thousand demonstrators pushing for a referendum on joining Russia clashed with members of the Tatar ethnic minority, Bloomberg reports:

Divisions between the Ukrainian-speaking west and center and the pro-Russia east and south are straining the country’s unity after the nation’s bloodiest week since World War II toppled Viktor Yanukovych’s Kremlin-backed regime. While the European Union has urged leaders to preserve Ukraine’s integrity, Crimea, part of Russia until 1954 and home to its Black Sea fleet, has become the focus of ethnic tension.

“This is what’s happening under the guise of protecting compatriots who allegedly are being threatened,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, the head of political research at the Kiev-based Razumkov Center [a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy]. “This isn’t an issue for Crimean society but for Crimean politicians. Most of the Crimean population don’t support this scenario.”

Now is the time for the Parliament of Ukraine to take four forward steps to ensure that the country moves into Europe instead of sliding back into infighting and gridlock, as happened after the 2004 Orange Revolution, Kiev-based consultant Brian Mefford (formerly a Resident Program Officer for the International Republican Institute) writes for the Financial Times:

  • Abolish quotas in government. One of the big mistakes of 2004 was enforcing a quota system to distribute government posts among the three coalition partners. … Leadership is about having the courage to make tough choices and sometimes telling your friends “no”. The opposition leaders can get Ukraine into Europe only if they choose the “best and brightest” to lead rather than the most loyal party apparatchiks.
  • Maintain the 50/50 single mandate and party list system. The biggest mistake of 2004 was the switch to the world’s largest, closed party list system for parliamentary elections. This ripped power out of the hands of the people and concentrated it in the hands of the party bosses in Kiev. …. Essentially, the party list system caused the regions outside the capital to get the shaft as power was concentrated in Kiev. In contrast, members from districts are forced to be connected and accountable to their constituents – if at a minimum for election time. On the other hand, party list deputies have no incentive to be accountable to voters in the districts, only to the party bosses in Kiev. ……
  • Re-instate the direct election of governors. ….. While some will argue that electing governors could lead to separatism, the army and police are controlled by the president and not the governors. What’s more, even Vladimir Putin’s Russia allows the direct election of regional governors. Finally, having a locally elected governor can only strengthen and empower the local population’s stake in the country as a whole, since funding still originates from the capital. Thus each region should have its own leader who will be judged based on his or her ability to lobby for the region’s interests in Kiev.
  • Enact a permanent law on mayoral vacancies. Mayoral vacancies should be filled within 60 days of the opening of a vacancy. Currently, six regional capital cities including Kiev and Odessa (both of which have more than a million residents) lack elected mayors because parliament has not set election dates. Why should the parliament in Kiev decide when local people can elect their mayors? ……

“Some will say these reforms put too much power into the hands of the Ukrainian people and, given the country’s proximity to Russia, could lead to separatism. However, empowering people only strengthens democratic institutions by giving everyone a true stake in the nation as a whole,” argues Mefford, formerly an adviser to former president Victor Yushchenko.