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Showing posts for "Democracy"

Can Malaysia’s Opposition Survive Anwar’s Jail Term?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks at a rally on the eve of the verdict in his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy in Kuala Lumpur, February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (MALAYSIA - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW) Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks at a rally on the eve of the verdict in his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy in Kuala Lumpur on February 9, 2015 (Olivia Harris/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to jail for the second time in his life on charges of sodomy. Anwar’s jail term was set by Malaysia’s highest court at five years, and the opposition leader likely will never be able to hold a position in Malaysian politics or government again. Amidst outcry by the opposition, as well as international rights groups, about the Anwar trial and decisionHuman Rights Watch called the verdict “politically motivated proceedings under an abusive and archaic law”some in the three-party opposition alliance also worry that the coalition will face challenges holding together with the charismatic Anwar gone. Read more »

What the Delhi Elections Mean for Indian Foreign and International Economic Policy (Not Much, Yet)

by Alyssa Ayres
Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hold portraits of AAP chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, during the celebrations outside their party office in New Delhi on February 10, 2015 (Anindito Mukherjee/Courtesy: Reuters). Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hold portraits of AAP chief and its chief ministerial candidate for Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, during the celebrations outside their party office in New Delhi on February 10, 2015 (Anindito Mukherjee/Courtesy: Reuters).

Delhi voters just elected—by a landslide—the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to lead their state assembly. What’s more, the chief minister will again be quirkily charismatic Arvind Kejriwal, who led the new anti-corruption party to a strong showing in Delhi in December 2013 but abandoned governance for street sit-ins and staged public protests. He then quit government after forty-nine days and plunged the state into a long period of uncertainty. Despite this, wielding brooms and wrapping a scarf (“muffler” in India, hence his nickname “Mufflerman”) around his head during winter, Kejriwal campaigned aggressively to root out corruption and provide free water, half-rate electricity, and a better jobs deal for the poor. It worked. Read more »

The U.S.-Burma Human Rights Dialogue: Frank Criticism but No Action

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Sinnuyar Baekon, 25, sits in front of her hut at a refugee camp outside Sittwe, the capital city of the Rakhine state June 9, 2014. Baekon is among many Rohingya Muslims living in squalid camps in Myanmar after being displaced by religious unrest. Baekon is from Rakhine state, where her family home was burned down in religious riots that broke out in June 2012. Baekon ended up in a refugee camp, where she is still living now. Her husband left her before she gave birth to twins, and she is struggling to feed them. June 20 is World Refugee Day, an occasion that draws attention to those who have been displaced around the globe. In the run-up to the date, Reuters photographers in different regions have photographed various people who have at some point fled their homes. Picture taken June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS RELIGION CIVIL UNREST) Sinnuyar Baekon, 25, sits in front of her hut at a refugee camp outside Sittwe, the capital city of the Rakhine state, on June 9, 2014 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski, U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell, and a group of other U.S. officials from State, Defense, and USAID were in Myanmar for the second U.S.-Burma Human Rights Dialogue. The dialogue came at a time when Myanmar’s rights record is backsliding, more than one-hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims remain internally displaced in Myanmar, and there are concerns, both within Myanmar and among outside countries, that this year’s critical national elections will be waylaid, not allowing the vote to go on freely and fairly. Read more »

Sri Lanka’s Victory for Democracy

by Alyssa Ayres
Sri Lanka's newly elected president, Mithripala Sirisena, waves at media as he leaves the election commission in Colombo on January 9, 2015 (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy: Reuters). Sri Lanka's newly elected president, Mithripala Sirisena, waves at media as he leaves the election commission in Colombo on January 9, 2015 (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Courtesy: Reuters).

In a stunning upset today, Sri Lanka’s Maithripala Sirisena defeated ten-year incumbent strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sirisena is a former member of President Rajapaksa’s cabinet who defected, with more than twenty other members of parliament, to lead an umbrella opposition coalition just two months ago. Rajapaksa conceded with the vote count still underway; at the time of his concession early on Friday morning, the election results posted showed a nearly 52 percent lead for Sirisena against almost 47 percent for Rajapaksa. Read more »

How the Pivot Is Adding to Democracy’s Woes in Southeast Asia

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-may-protest-3 A protester against military rule holds a sign in front of soldiers deployed to the Victory monument in Bangkok where protesters gathered on May 26, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

Throughout much of the 1990s and early 2000s, Southeast Asia was one of the world’s bright spots for democracy. Even Myanmar, long one of the most repressive nations in the world, seemed to be changing. In 2010 and 2011, the xenophobic leadership of the Myanmar army, which had ruled the country since 1962, began a transition to civilian government by holding elections that ultimately helped create a partially civilian parliament. The country seemed poised for free elections in 2015 that would solidify its democratic change. Since the early 2010s, however, Southeast Asia’s democratization has stalled and, in some of the region’s most economically and strategically important nations, it has even reversed. Over the past decade, Thailand has undergone a rapid and severe democratic regression and Malaysia’s democratic institutions and culture have regressed as well. While less drastic, there have also been troubling developments in a number of other countries. Read more »

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick
malaysia lawyer protest march Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite president in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”) Read more »

The U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: Part of a Trend of Weakness on Democracy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
hong kong occupy central People walk near a blocked area outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on October 6, 2014. Pro-democracy protests in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong subsided on Monday as students and civil servants returned to school and work after more than a week of demonstrations, but activists vowed to keep up their campaign of civil disobedience (Carlos Barria/Courtesy: Reuters).

As protests have mounted in Hong Kong, with a possible violent resolution in sight, the U.S. Consulate in the SAR has done little more than issue tepid statements on the demonstrations, which had been largely peaceful and orderly until the past two days. “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support and particular individuals or groups involved in it,” the consulate’s most notable statement said. The statement’s anodyne weakness basically suggested that the United States did not care whether the democracy movement succeeded in Hong Kong, or whether Hong Kong people were granted the real universal suffrage and political rights promised them under the 1984 handover agreement. And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, when President Obama briefly met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week, they discussed a wide range of issues to be examined during Obama’s upcoming trip to Beijing; Hong Kong appeared to be just an afterthought for Obama and clearly would be an afterthought in Obama’s conversations in Beijing. Read more »

What Beijing Should Do About Hong Kong

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Joshua Wong, a 17-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong September 26, 2014. Hundreds of children joined students demanding greater democracy for Hong Kong on Friday, capping a week-long campaign that has seen a large cut-out depicting the territory's leader as the devil paraded through the city and calls for him to resign. The Chinese characters on the background read "Fate". REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST) Joshua Wong, a seventeen-year-old who heads the group leading a pupils' protest, Scholarism, addresses a rally in Hong Kong on September 26, 2014. (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters)

Hong Kong is not Beijing, 2014 is not 1989, and Civic Square is not Tiananmen Square. Still, the images of tens of thousands of Hong Kong Chinese demonstrating in the streets for democratic reform cannot help but bring back memories of a quarter century ago. Like the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing, those in Hong Kong are spearheaded by extraordinarily passionate, articulate, and inspiring young leaders. Both movements include Chinese people from all walks of life. And both movements, while at heart represent a call for fuller democracy and more direct political participation, also engage issues of economic well-being and inequities within the system. Read more »

Indonesia’s Democracy Takes a Hit

by Joshua Kurlantzick
joko widodo-swearing in Indonesia's president-elect and current Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo looks up as he leaves a swearing-in ceremony of new local legislators at the city council in Jakarta on September 26, 2014. Indonesia's parliament on Friday approved a measure ending direct elections for governors and mayors, a move Widodo criticized as a "big step back" for democracy in the country. Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Widodo being the best-known example (Darren Whiteside/Courtesy: Reuters).

Last week, I warned that the passage of a proposed law by Indonesia’s parliament that would end direct elections of local officials would be a major blow to Indonesian democracy. The legislation had been championed by the most retrograde elements in Indonesia, and in particular by the party of the losing presidential candidate in this past July’s election, Prabowo Subianto. Direct election of local and provincial officials had been a critical post-Suharto reform, a major part of Indonesia’s decentralization process, and a vital element of political empowerment. Direct elections had helped create a new group of younger Indonesian political leaders who actually had to serve their local publics or—horrors!—risk being booted out of office, and it also (somewhat) shifted the political balance of power away from Jakarta and out across the archipelago. Such a process of decentralization only made sense in a vast and diverse country.  Allowing for more local and provincial elections did increase the possibility of graft in holding more polls, as I noted in my book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline in Representative Government. But, for most Indonesians, this was a reasonable price to pay to (generally) get more responsive local government. And in any event, earlier methods of selecting local leaders—basically, they were hand-chosen by Suharto and his allies—still had led to enormous amounts of rent-seeking. Read more »