Anatomy of national elections
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.