Anatomy of na­tional elec­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Anum­ber of coun­tries, some of which face se­ri­ous do­mes­tic prob­lems, have held or will hold elec­tions to choose new gov­ern­ments. Will the elec­tions in­stall gov­ern­ments that can solve the do­mes­tic prob­lems of these coun­tries and help im­prove re­gional and global se­cu­rity?

The gen­eral elec­tion in In­dia, whose re­sult will be known onMay 16, has spe­cial im­por­tance for China. The newIn­dian prime min­is­ter will, no doubt, ac­cord pri­or­ity to boost­ing the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth and fight­ing cor­rup­tion. If theNa­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance led by the op­po­si­tion Bharatiya Janata Party wins the elec­tion, it will adopt poli­cies (in­clud­ing for­eign pol­icy) to serve In­dia’s in­ter­ests and strike a bal­ance be­tween China and theUnited States.

TheWestern me­dia have high­lighted the pos­si­bil­ity of un­easy ties be­tween the US and In­dia if the BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­draModi is elected head of the govern­ment. Modi was de­nied a US visa in 2005 for his al­leged com­plic­ity in the 2002 ri­ots in Gu­jarat prov­ince (where he was chief min­is­ter) in which more than 1,000 Mus­lims were killed. The Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, started soft­en­ing is stance again­stModi in Fe­bru­ary, when the US am­bas­sador met with him. Of­fi­cials in­Wash­ing­ton have since said that who­ever is elected In­dia’s next prime min­is­ter would be wel­come to the US.

The Ukrainian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, sched­uled forMay 25, will be dif­fer­ent from the In­dian gen­eral elec­tion, be­cause it could es­ca­late the Ukraine cri­sis. Clashes be­tween the tran­si­tional govern­ment and pro-Rus­sia forces in the east­ern part of Ukraine have es­ca­lated with out­side pow­ers wrestling against each other.

Rus­sia ques­tions the “le­git­i­macy” of Ukraine’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and be­lieves con­sti­tu­tional re­form is the pri­or­ity. Also, Rus­sia has been hold­ing large-scale mil­i­tary ex­er­cises along its bor­der with Ukraine and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has warned Kiev of the “con­se­quences” of de­ploy­ing troops against its own people. The po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in Ukraine can be seen as a new“Color Revo­lu­tion” un­der sub­ver­siveWestern pow­ers. With the pro-West and pro-Rus­sia forces locked in a tug of war, Kiev seems to have lost con­trol over the fast chang­ing sit­u­a­tion.

The Afghan pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, on the other hand, is likely to en­ter a sec­ond round and be­come a pro­longed ex­er­cise. The elec­tion was held on April 5 to re­place in­cum­bent Pres­i­den­tHamid Karzai. But a sec­ond round has to be held be­cause nei­ther leading can­di­dates — the op­po­si­tion party’s Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah and for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai— could get more than half the votes. Al­though in­di­ca­tions are that Ab­dul­lah could be the ul­ti­mate win­ner, there is un­cer­tainty over the sign­ing of the Afghan-US bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment with­out a new pres­i­dent in of­fice.

Afghanistan faces a fu­ture full of un­cer­tain­ties. Obama has an­nounced that the US will with­draw­most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, but with­out the sign­ing of the se­cu­rity agree­ment, the scale of Amer­i­can troops to be sta­tioned in the coun­try re­mains un­clear.

An­other big prob­lem is that, us­ing the “po­lit­i­cal show” that the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion ac­tu­ally is, the Tal­iban is stag­ing a come­back in Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the newAfghan govern­ment will face se­vere chal­lenges, es­pe­cially the Tal­iban’s coun­terof­fen­sive, on the se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal fronts. It is thus ques­tion­able whether the new­gov­ern­ment can gain a firm foothold with­out the sup­port of NATO forces. Is this what the US wanted Afghanistan to be­come when it launched its “war on ter­ror”?

The Egyp­tian pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be held onMay 26-27, and till now only for­mer army chief Ab­del Fat­tah El-Sisi and left­ist lead­erHamdeen Sabahy are in the run­ning for the coun­try’s top post. El-Sisi, who re­signed as army chief be­cause the newE­gyp­tian Con­sti­tu­tion bars mil­i­tary of­fi­cers from con­test­ing elec­tions, is widely ex­pected to win the elec­tion.

Egypt has faced one po­lit­i­cal cri­sis af­ter an­other since the 2011 “Arab Spring”. Af­ter the ouster of two pres­i­dents, the mil­i­tary has re­turned to the cen­ter stage and en­joys overwhelming pop­u­lar sup­port be­cause most people are des­per­ate for sta­bil­ity. But theMus­lim Brother­hood, whoseMo­hamedMorsi was ousted as pres­i­dent, is not ex­pected to take things ly­ing down.

Syria is an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent story. Al­though the coun­try is still in the grips of a civil war that broke out in 2011, Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad has called for pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on June 3, which he is likely to con­test for a third term in of­fice. But with about 150,000 people killed in the civil war and a third of the Syr­ian people forced to flee their homes, UN-Arab League peace me­di­a­tor Lakhdar Brahimi has said the elec­tion will un­der­mine Syria’s po­lit­i­cal process and dam­age the prospects of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of the Syr­ian cri­sis.

As­sad may have en­dured— even gained the up­per hand in— the “pro­tracted war” launched byWest-backed op­po­si­tion forces, but he still faces stub­born anti-govern­ment forces and aWest that is adamant on see­ing his ouster.

Given that the coun­tries that have gone, or will go, to the polls face in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tions, it would be too op­ti­mistic to ex­pect their new­gov­ern­ments to turn around the volatile do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tions and help im­prove re­gional and global se­cu­rity.

There is also the fear that some of the elec­tions could add fuel to the flames if they do not yield ba­sic po­lit­i­cal agree­ments. More­over, multi-party elec­tions have their share of prob­lems, in­clud­ing par­ti­san­ship, ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tion, so­cial un­rest and even po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion. Only by copy­ingWestern-style elec­tion cam­paigns, a party can­not re­store so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, or en­sure bet­ter liveli­hood and liv­ing stan­dards for the people. The au­thor is deputy di­rec­tor ofWorld Pol­i­tics Re­search In­sti­tute, af­fil­i­ated to the China In­sti­tutes of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.

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