Brazil’s Election
On October 30, 2022, Brazil’s presidential race between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and ‘Lula’ da Silva came to a close, with Lula narrowly edging out a victory with 50.9% of the vote. As news agencies, foreign leaders and millions of people all over Brazil accepted the results of Brazil’s election, one figure remained notably silent: President Bolsonaro. Though he did not expressly concede, Bolsonaro half-heartedly signaled that the transition process could begin. Prior to the election result, Bolsonaro made baseless claims of electoral fraud, stirring up unrest among his supporters. However, Brazil still expects a smooth presidential transition.

Post-Election Protests

Soon after the election, pro-Bolsonaro supporters began protesting against the election results and demanded military intervention. Protesters then blocked Brazil’s major highways with barricades, with some policemen encouraging the blockades. Breaking his silence on the Tuesday after the election, President Bolsonaro “tacitly backed the protestors,” saying the “current popular movements are the fruit of indignation and a feeling of injustice about how the electoral process played out,” the Guardian reports.

In Paranagua, a commercially critical city in Brazil’s south, the port authority said vehicles transporting grain exports could not access the port due to protester blockades. Other blockades of trade routes across the nation also impacted the transportation of agricultural exports such as soybean, corn, fertilizer and meat. This has ignited concerns for Brazil’s fragile economy.

In a relieving turn of events for Brazil’s democracy and economy, officials and everyday citizens have helped to restore order following the elections. Brazil’s highway police cleared more than 600 of the barricades within three days of the election, easing fears of shortages across the country. Local soccer fans, some inspired to defend their democracy and others wanting to get to their games, also played an important part in clearing roads.

Fragility in Brazil

Brazil’s stability is of paramount importance as the world economy threatens to enter a recession. Although world inflation could rise substantially through 2022, inflation in Brazil started to ease in August 2022. Food and supply shortages could significantly raise the price of everyday goods, sending the country’s economy into a tailspin. According to the World Bank, 28.4% of Brazil’s population lived in poverty in 2021 and a political struggle with economic damage could exacerbate poverty levels in the country.

A New Presidency Brings Hope

President Bolsonaro’s successor, Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, promised to prioritize poverty during his previous four years in office. During his presidency from 2003 to 2010, Lula created one of the most successful conditional cash transfer programs in modern history, Bolsa Familia. By making welfare conditional on health checkups and children’s school attendance, the program reduced extreme poverty by about 25%. This made Lula immensely popular among Brazil’s poor, with most of his support coming from the two poorest regions in Brazil: the north and northeast.

Although President Bolsonaro kept a modified version of Bolsa Familia under the name Auxilio Brasil, his efforts have seen significantly less success. In 2019, Bolsonaro reduced the number of program beneficiaries, precisely when impoverished citizens needed aid the most, during the COVID-19 pandemic. President-elect Lula put this issue at the forefront of his campaign and victory speech, promising an end to hunger and an increase in the minimum wage.

Looking Ahead

Brazil’s Defense Ministry also published its own report on November 9, 2022, which “did not point to the existence of any fraud or inconsistency in the electronic voting machines and 2022 electoral process.” The report did, however, bring to the forefront shortcomings in the electoral process and outlined suggestions to strengthen it.

The end of Brazil’s election drama comes as a comforting conclusion for the country, especially given the many issues it still has to contend with. Still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, a prolonged political struggle would stretch the economy to the limit while exacerbating tensions that the election has laid bare. Despite the temporary scare, the rapid response of Brazil’s institutions and people to the protests reassures outside observers of the country’s commitment to democracy. Due to his past successes, President Lula’s reign brings hope of reduced hunger, lower inequality and decreased poverty.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty in Brazil
On October 3, 2022, the first round of the Brazilian presidential election ended with no candidate having received a majority of the votes. Two radically opposed candidates will ultimately dispute the race: incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva. Although both have made promises to curb poverty amid Brazil’s economic woes, Bolsonaro’s rhetoric regarding the issue has noticeably increased in an attempt to garner votes ahead of the runoff election in Brazil on October 30, 2022. Through a mix of policy and speeches, Bolsonaro has sought to reinvent himself as the candidate for citizens living in poverty in Brazil, a role that Lula traditionally held.

About Auxilio Brasil

Bolsonaro’s primary poverty relief program, Auxilio Brasil, is actually a modified version of Lula’s famous Bolsa Familia Program. Auxilio Brasil gives the poorest 17 million Brazilian citizens the equivalent of $71 per month, provided parents ensure their children are vaccinated and in primary school. This was nearly double the amount that Bolsa Familia, the original version of the social welfare program that Lula created, gave Brazilians. In doing so, Bolsonaro can not only claim to represent the fight against poverty in Brazil but co-opted one of his adversary’s most significant works of public policy.

With the election in Brazil looming, Bolsonaro’s anti-poverty program has moved to the forefront of his campaign. After the contest between him and Lula went to a second round, the incumbent said that he would be moving Auxilio Brasil payments scheduled for the end of the month to the first two weeks of October. In addition, he temporarily increased the amount of money given by the program from R$400 to R$600 while giving citizens a gas voucher. Both Lula and impeached President Dilma Rousseff have called the payments a blatant manipulation of public funds, but the Supreme Court has upheld Bolsonaro’s decision.

Bolsonaro and Poverty in Brazil

Bolsonaro has also made poverty in Brazil a key point in his campaign speeches as he attempts to portray himself as a defender of Brazil’s poorest citizens. Visiting Duque de Caixas in Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro spoke of the increase in funds under Auxilio Brasil, low gas prices and “no corruption… and high economic growth for the 12th week in a row.” His point, while on the surface praise of his good governance, is also a jab at Lula, who went to jail for his involvement in Brazil’s infamous ‘Lava Jato’ corruption scandal before the annulment of his sentence.

The Fight Between Bolsanaro and Lula

Presenting a strong economy is key to Bolsonaro’s handling of poverty in Brazil, as the economy has suffered greatly during his term. The President’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic left nearly 700,000 people dead, and temporary quarantines hampered the Brazilian economy. In 2020, Bolsonaro saw Brazil’s poverty rate increase from 4.5% to more than 12%, with nearly 9.6 million people sliding into poverty. Lula’s platform has taken advantage of this, promising a total overhaul of Brazil’s welfare system and a debt forgiveness program. Bolsonaro struck back, saying Lula’s program of giving “a barbecue to every Brazilian” was “simply impossible … a lie.”

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide whether Bolsonaro has made a convincing argument for why he is the best choice to tackle poverty in the election in Brazil on October 30. The country’s poorest region, the northeast, is the part of the country which voted for Bolsonaro the least, indicating campaigning on the topic of poverty is still vital if he wants to overcome Lula. Currently trailing in the polls, only time will tell if his election strategy will earn him a second term in office.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Unsplash

Boric’s Election
Following a highly polarized election, Chile elected Gabriel Boric, aged 35, as Chile’s youngest president in December 2021. Running as a fierce advocate for poverty and inequality reduction, Boric has pledged to overhaul the country’s economy and society to become more inclusive and prosperous for all Chileans. Winning 56% of the people’s votes, Boric’s election means he has achieved the mandate needed to push through such transformative policies. Through these policies, Chile can become a model for more inclusive economic development that promises adequate living standards for all in a country nonetheless deeply divided over the direction Boric is proposing to take.

Democracy is Critical to Reducing Poverty in Chile

Boric has led to commitments to protect Chilean democracy and avoid the paths taken by other autocratic regimes in Latin America, such as those of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, in pursuit of socio-economic equality. Boric says that poverty in Chile can only reduce by protecting the institutions that safeguard democratic regimes, such as rule of law, freedom of the press, free and fair elections, constitutional government and support for human rights.

Overhauling Chile’s Economy to Reduce Poverty and Inequality

Between 2019 and 2020, Chile saw a wave of national protests over increased transportation fees that catalyzed into general protests over socio-economic inequality and corruption throughout the country. This allowed the political environment for Boric to thrive to emerge.

After Boric’s election, he pledged to overhaul an economy in one of the most unequal countries in the world to benefit all Chileans and reduce poverty in Chile. Boric has much work to do as 1% of Chileans control 25% of the nation’s wealth. Chile also has a 44.9 Gini index ranking as of 2020, indicating a high level of wealth inequality.

Boric proposed a series of sweeping reforms that include reducing the 45 hour-workweek to 40, expanding pensions and universal health insurance, investing in renewable energy and raising tax rates on corporations historically favored in Chile’s economy to fund investments in infrastructure, education and health care.

Such policies promise to transform Chile’s economy and reorient it to focus on poverty reduction and higher living standards for all Chileans rather than economic growth alone. Boric’s proposals could also address a troubling national problem. About one in five Chileans live in multidimensional poverty as of 2017, a measurement by the World Bank that takes into account “additional deprivations experienced by the poor in addition to the extreme poverty threshold of $1.90.”

These policies could also reduce Chile’s unemployment rate following Boric’s election. Unemployment in Chile as of 2021 stands at 9.1%, indicating that the economy is still struggling with the destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic where Chilean unemployment peaked at 11.2% in 2020 and stood at 7.3% at the pre-pandemic 2019 level.

Boric’s election offers hope for a better quality of life through investments in infrastructure, education, health care and housing to raise living standards for all Chileans and stimulate the economy at the same time.

Gender Equality: A Critical Component of Reducing Poverty in Chile

Another major strategy of Boric to reduce poverty in Chile is to increase the role of women in the Chilean economy. Boric announced a goal of creating 500,000 new jobs for women over the course of his presidency. Boric intends to prioritize women, who constitute about 50% of Chile’s population, to ensure higher living standards for all Chileans and reduce poverty in Chile in the process. Currently, female labor participation in Chile stands at 41.3% as of 2021. This statistic indicates that there is significant potential for Chilean women to contribute to the economy and reduce poverty if given the equal opportunities Boric pledges to create.

One can also see Boric’s attempts to empower Chilean women in the unprecedented level of representation in his cabinet as 14 out of 24 ministers are women, making Boric’s cabinet the first female majority cabinet in Chile’s history. This unprecedented level of female representation in Chile’s government signals that Boric intends to politically and economically empower Chile’s historically excluded female population. Female economic participation results in dual-income earners, which will help strengthen the economy and build a middle-class society.

Every Citizen Can Play a Role in Reducing Poverty in Chile

Boric’s story itself inspires hope in Chileans that anyone can play a role in reducing poverty in Chile. Boric started out as a student activist from 2011-2013, leading protests for more affordable education opportunities. In 2013, Boric was “elected to congress for Magallanes as an independent.” He then became Chile’s youngest president, inaugurated in 2022.

Boric’s story shows how everyday people can play a role in fighting for equal opportunities and effecting change in Chile and beyond. Given his age, Boric’s election presents the potential for youths to play a part in reducing poverty and achieving a better world for future generations.

Chile is a country that has experienced mass upheaval in recent years due to impoverishment and inequalities that have lingered beneath the surface of its stable economic growth relative to other Latin American countries. Boric offers solutions both for addressing this poverty and demonstrating to a nation hungry for socio-economic security that everyday people have a role to play. Boric’s election serves as an inspiration to the youth of all countries, encouraging them to undertake grassroots activism to address poverty and effect change.

– John Zak
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Nigeria’s 2023 Election
Although Nigeria’s 2023 election is a while away, political parties have already nominated their preferred candidates. The two spearheading candidates are Bola Tinubu from the All Progressives Congress, current president Muhammadu Buhari’s party and Atiku Abubakar from the opposing People’s Democratic Party. Additionally, the less popular Labour Party picked Peter Obi as their candidate. Nigeria’s election and future rest in their hands.

Nigeria’s Current Issues

The next Nigerian president is bound to have a wide array of issues to address. One issue to address is the rising poverty and unemployment. As of June 2021, Nigeria ranked as the country with the third-highest number of unemployed people. From the second to the fourth quarter of 2020, the West African nation experienced a 6.2% increase in the unemployment rate. The year ended with 33.3% of Nigeria unemployed.

As of March 2022, up to 40% of Nigerians live below the country’s poverty line. Incumbent Nigerian President Buhari received criticism for failing to find a solution to the issues.

Banditry is another large issue in Nigeria. The conflict has been ongoing since 2010, resulting in more than 12,000 deaths. It is concentrated in the northwestern region of the country. The bandits travel armed on motorcycle or horseback when invading towns and villages, usually before conducting a kidnap. In 2019, four unidentified gunmen kidnapped Musa Umar, the district head of a northern Nigeria town called Daura.  Daura is also the hometown of current president Buhari, who, at the time of the kidnapping, was in London.

Banditry-related deaths in Nigeria have been on the rise in recent years. More than 2,600 civilian deaths occurred in 2021 which is more than a 250% increase from 2020. Whichever candidate wins the 2023 election will have to combat his country’s worsening bandit crisis.

Bola Tinubu

When Tinbu polled 1,271 votes and won the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu promised to “make Nigeria the best home for its citizens.” The former governor of Lagos State also said he would “change the face of the national economy” through accelerated progressive reform. Nigeria’s economy has been struggling since Buhari took power. Living standards have decreased and inflation has increased, with prices shooting three times higher than before.

In April 2022, Tinubu addressed a large gathering of young Nigerians, declaring that a country free of banditry was possible.

Tinubu also plans to lower Nigeria’s dependence on imports by growing manufacturing through a deep seaport installation in the south of the country and furthering oil and gas exploration.

Atiku Abubakar

Atiku Abubakar is currently on his third presidential campaign. Similar to his political opponent, Abubakar pledged to end Nigeria’s violence issue. The former Vice President of Nigeria was once committed to privatizing state-owned oil and revitalizing investment in private infrastructure.

In his campaign, Abubakar has promised to end the lack of security in Nigeria and strengthen the flailing economy, alongside a pledge to restore unity. After Abubakar secured his position as the People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, he accused Tinubu’s party of being the reason for division in Nigeria and the country’s economic struggle.

Whichever candidate wins Nigeria’s 2023 election will have to combat banditry, inflation, poverty and general insecurity. Nigeria’s 2023 election and future hold uncertainty that only Bola Tinubu or Atiku Abubakar can make clear.

Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

Colombian Presidential Candidate’s Plan
Gustavo Petro was a candidate in the 2022 Colombian presidential election and a founder and leader of the Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) party, ultimately winning the presidency. As a former mayor of Bogotá and longtime congressman, Petro advocates against corruption and inequality. Petro ran against 77-year-old Rodolfo Hernández, an independent affiliated with the League of Anti-Corruption Rulers, who has gained notoriety by campaigning through TikTok. Hernández had ambitious plans of tackling governmental corruption in his country. The two went head to head in the final round of the election on Sunday, June 19, which led to Colombia electing Petro as its president. Here is some information about Gustavo Petro as well as the Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Gustavo Petro’s Career

Gustavo Petro is from the Cordobá region of northern Colombia. In his youth, Petro became a member of M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril/April 19 Movement), a now inactive guerilla group known for stealing Simón Bolívar’s sword and kidnapping drug traffickers. In 1981, during his time in M-19, Petro held elected posts. Petro was the Ombudsman of Zipaquira in 1981 and the city’s councilor in 1984. Petro ended up in prison due to his involvement in the group just one year later, although he never met violence and advocated for peace in the organization. In 1991, he ceased participation with the group and became a member of Colombia’s House of Representatives. Petro lost his seat three years later and left the country before returning in 2002.

Petro ran for president of Colombia for the first time in 2010, placing fourth. The candidate achieved electoral success in 2012 when Bogotá elected him their mayor. The candidate succeeded further in the presidential bid in 2018, making it to the second round and surviving an assassination attempt.

Poverty in Colombia

Colombia has had a rocky relationship with poverty levels. The country’s poverty rate lowered by 3.2% from 2020 to 2021, after a 7% increase from 2019 to 2020. Food deficiency and poverty interconnect; Colombia’s poor often has trouble finding nourishment. A lack of peace and job security also allows for poverty to increase.

Poverty in Colombia is typically caused by poor infrastructure and authority while demands for better living conditions are often left unanswered. Additionally, the war in Ukraine has led to inflation and more poverty in the South American nation.

The Colombian President’s Plan

Gustavo Petro has many ambitious plans for his country’s potential future. The Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty involves expanding social programs and guaranteeing work and a basic income. Petro believes Colombia can prosper without reliance on oil and have a production-based economic structure. He believes that raising taxes on Colombia’s wealthy and printing money can fund anti-poverty programs. Petro likely received political support from citizens who were dissatisfied with former president Iván Duque’s policies, in addition to poverty and the wealth gap.

Regardless of whether Petro comes out of the 2022 Colombian election victorious or not, he and other individuals with his poverty-combatting ideals have the potential to lead Colombia to a brighter future.

Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

Poverty reduction in Peru
Peru, a small country of 32 million located on the western coast of South America, has made significant reductions in poverty in the 21st century. Over the last 20 years, Peru’s GDP quadrupled and its poverty rate decreased by nearly 30% by 2019. Peru’s rapidly growing economy, combined with substantial social welfare programs, resulted in a drastic increase in quality of life for poor and middle-class Peruvians. But notably, these gains largely concentrate in urban areas. While the Peruvian economy was not exempt from a COVID-19 induced recession, expectations have determined that it could rebound in 2021. Here is a review of how things stand in regard to eliminating poverty in Peru.

Eliminating Poverty in Peru

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peru experienced 14 consecutive years of poverty reduction. Its economy ranks as one of the 21st century’s fastest-growing economies due to the high demand for its natural resource exports of copper, petroleum and zinc. While Peru’s middle class enjoys substantial growth due to its booming economy, inequality persists, especially in rural areas. A web of social welfare programs has been integral to Peru’s successful war on poverty as well as increased access to education and financial institutions. Previous administrations successfully balanced growth and poverty reduction in Peru, but more work is necessary.

Rural Poverty in Peru

Despite Peru’s strong growth and successful anti-poverty initiatives, much of the rural population still suffer material deprivation. In 2014, Peru’s rural poverty rate was nearly 50% with an estimated 15% of rural children suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Past administrations created several initiatives to expand welfare access in rural areas. However, Peru’s diverse geography and mountainous rural terrain make them difficult to implement. Rural Peruvians experience limited access to social programs and high transaction and transportation costs. Additionally, they enjoy far less economic opportunity or connection to growing markets than their urban peers.

Rural poverty concentrates most widely among the indigenous population, who often live in geographically isolated areas. Exacerbating the urban-rural cleavage are conflicts between the government and indigenous rights groups over mining and energy projects in the Andes. This conflict highlights the friction between extractive policies that constitute the base of Peru’s growing economy and the lived experience of rural Andeans who bear the cost of these industrial initiatives.

Peru’s New President

Pedro Castillo of the socialist Free Peru party won the June 2021 election. His election marked a paradigm shift in Peru’s political landscape. The former teacher and son of rural peasants, Castillo won a close election against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peruvian dictator Albert Fujimori who ruled the country from 1990 to 2000. Fujimori claimed that election fraud was responsible for Castillo’s victory, but the Peruvian election authorities ultimately dismissed her claims. Representing his rural constituency, Castillo declared that “Votes from the highest mountain and farthest corner of the country are worth the same as votes from San Isidro and Miraflores” in response to the baseless claims of election fraud.

Castillo promises to aggressively fight poverty and increase the state’s role in the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Castillo’s posture as an anti-establishment populist will make his economic revolution difficult in the face of elite opposition. However, Peru’s difficult year increased the appetite for radical reforms to the neoliberal economy. Peru has experienced the highest deaths per capita of any country in the world and has seen its poverty rate increase due to the 2020 recession. Castillo’s five-year term will be a new chapter for a country that has not seen a truly left-wing president in a generation.

Snowballing Success in Eliminating Poverty in Peru

Peru has made impressive gains against poverty in recent decades. However, a multitude of factors has prevented these gains from undergoing equal distribution among urban and rural Peruvians. COVID-19’s impact led to the election of a socialist president who has pledged to take aggressive steps toward poverty reduction, especially in rural areas. While Peru’s poverty rate is less than half of what it was two decades ago, there is still a long road ahead to ameliorate the material deprivation that nearly 7 million Peruvians experience.

– Will Pease
Photo: Flickr

Chile’s electionOver the weekend of May 15-16, 2021, a very unique election took place in Chile. Chileans voted for mayors, governors and city councilors. The distinctive part of Chile’s election was the vote for 155 representatives who will make up the Constitutional Convention responsible for drafting the new constitution of Chile.

The Need for a New Constitution

Back in 1973, Augusto Pinochet came into power as an authoritarian military dictator. Pinochet drafted a constitution that was reflective of his rule. Since then, Chile has been making the transition to democracy through several presidential administrations, the current being that of President Sebastián Piñera. Pinochet’s 1980 constitution has been a point of contention because many Chileans perceive it as favoring corporations over citizens.

Additionally, the constitution does not even mention indigenous people who account for more than 1.5 million Chileans. Chileans generally want to move away from the old constitution, which symbolizes the move from a transitional period into a full embrace of democracy. A new constitution would allow this to happen. Chile’s election decides who participates in the drafting of this monumental document.

Protests in Chile

Public disapproval came to a head in October 2019 when massive protests swept the South American country. Major cities like Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción experienced riots, looting and several casualties as a result. An increase in subway rates initially triggered the demonstrations. The riots continued over concerns of extreme economic inequality and poor public health and education systems. One of the demands of the protests was to rewrite the constitution. A new constitution was seen as a solution to address the root of all the issues.

In October 2020, Chile’s government held a referendum in response to the protests. The referendum asked Chileans if they would want a new constitution, and if so, Chileans were to specify the type of body they would task with drafting this new constitution. Chileans responded with a majority of more than 78% of the country voting in favor of a new constitution to be drafted by a group elected by popular vote.

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is the first in the world to have a gender parity requirement. Because of the election, 50% of legislative seats will belong to women. Another milestone is the inclusion of Chile’s indigenous people. Indigenous representatives will account for 17 of the 155 convention seats. Seven of these seats go to the Mapuche, the largest Indigenous community. In recent years, industrial deforestation has wiped out much of the Mapuche lands, greatly harming the community.

In addition, six out of the 155 representatives will come from the LGBTQ+ community. Although the nation is facing great troubles, the achievements of Chile’s election should not be overlooked. The built-in diversity and representation should be cause for global celebration. The majority of seats have gone to independent and opposition candidates. This goes against the right-leaning coalition that is currently in power under President Piñera. Since the “government-backed candidates” now take up only about a quarter of the seats, they are left unable to pass legislation or block dramatic changes.

The Goals of a New Constitution

One of the primary goals of the leftward shift is fighting poverty in Chile, but not in the traditional sense. In terms of GDP per capita, Chile is considered the wealthiest country in South America, but the wealth is distributed very unequally. Chilean’s want the country’s wealth to be distributed equally, which should be reflected in better housing, education and healthcare for all.

Whether through indigenous rights, equitable educational services or the taxation of the wealthy, the Constitutional Convention will figure out how to make Chile a more equitable place. A well-structured and democratic constitution has the potential to bring lasting change to the country and reduce extreme poverty, which is why Chile’s election is such a significant moment in the country’s history.

Lucy Gentry
Photo: Flickr

Mostar's Election
More than 25 years ago, the Bosnian War ended. Today, the country is still working to repair the damage the divisions of people within its borders caused. In 2008, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitutional court declared that the city of Mostar’s election rules were discriminatory toward more than half of its population. In the past 12 years, no elections occurred within the city. The two major political parties of the country, the Bosniak and Croat parties, have not agreed on new election rules. As a result, the same mayor did not run Mostar for the period. He has had no local council and has been solely responsible for allocating the city’s budget of 230 million euros.

With little accountability, the institutions of the city have slowly disbanded. As a result, the city has been crumbling, with trash piling up in the streets. Both the Croats and the Bosniaks started to leave the country to find better opportunities abroad.

The Efforts of Irma Baralija

Realizing that the city was only worsening, while the division amongst political officials was never going to result in a proper democratic vote, Irma Baralija sued the government through the European Court of Human Rights. Barajila, a local philosophy teacher, sued because the country had deprived her and the other 100,000 citizens of the right of voting in her district.

In October 2019, Barajila won her case. This resulted in the European Union and the United States officials working with Bosniak and Croats to set election rules by June 2020. With the rules specified in time, the first democratic vote occurred in December 2020, where the citizens had a say in local policies and officials for the first time in more than a decade.

Barajila is proud of the accomplishment within her home city. She stated that hopefully, other citizens would see the impact individuals can have in seemingly party-driven and group-oriented politics. She hoped that people followed her lead by voting in Mostar’s election on December 20, 2020.

The Outcome of Mostar’s Election

The results of the election caused different feelings. On the one hand, citizens were able to express their opinions. On the other, the two parties that have divided the country still are heavily running the show and causing conflict. In particular, both parties have claimed fraud and asked for a recount in specific districts.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to express one’s opinion is as important as ever. How a country decides different issues regarding healthcare and economic openings can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives. Regardless of the controversial outcome of the election, the realization of Mostar’s election can be a major achievement in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s development.

– Aidan Farr
Photo: Flickr

Tanzanian GovernmentOn October 23, 2020, Senator Mendez issued S. Res. 756, urging the Tanzanian Government to protect democracy in the wake of its upcoming election. The text outlines multiple infringements on the media since President John Magulifi was elected for the first time in 2015. Repressive laws such as the Media Services Act of 2016 and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations Act of 2020 have curbed expression in the country.

Such laws have translated into multiple arrests and penalizations for journalists and bloggers who publish information deemed “biased” by the Ministry of Information. Headlines were made last year when two independent journalists, Erick Kabendera and Joseph Gandye, were arrested after opening reports into corruption in the government.

Tanzanian Government’s Coronavirus Response

The repression of free speech has become even more alarming during the pandemic. “Access to information is an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, yet the Tanzanian government is choosing to censor journalists and media outlets who report on the disease,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, the Tanzanian Government has not reported a single case of Coronavirus since April. North Korea is the only other country that has not provided data. Back in June, the President spoke of the power of prayer in eliminating the virus at a Church Service. “Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” said Magufuli. Since the beginning of the virus, the President has fired health officials who issued warnings, suggested against the use of masks. Furthermore, he has supported an unproven herbal drink from Madagascar as a cure. The International community was quick to criticize the Tanzanian Government for denying the spread of the virus.

In July, journalist Ruud Elmendorp reported from inside the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Elmendorp spoke with multiple locals who believed that there was no virus in Tanzania. He even visited graveyards, surprised to see there was no surge of activity for new gravesites. According to Elmendorp, the city was conducting business as usual. “The shops are open, there are street markets and there are men seated on the street having their conversations. There are the people with sewing machines, the street food kiosks, all connected by the hooting of passing cars and tuk-tuks,” Elmendorp reported.

Magufuli Re-Elected

A week after Senator Mendez issued S.Res. 756, President Magulifi was re-elected with a landslide vote of 84% in his favor. His opponent, Tundu Lissu, said his party’s agents were prevented from entering polling stations. The United States will now look at the question of election fraud. The Senate bill will task lawmakers with considering a review of the U.S. assistance to Tanzania “for the purposes of reprioritizing such assistance should neutral observers determine that the October 2020 polls do not meet internationally accepted standards for credible elections.” Among considerations, would be targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on actors involved in humans rights abuses.

The situation in Tanzania faces disputes over handling the virus, the role of the media and the vitality of electoral systems. The Tanzanian Government will be under further scrutiny if S.Res. 756 passes.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Flickr

election in malawiThe people of Malawi went to the polls in May 2019 eager to make their voices heard.  Due to some electoral static, however, the world only recently received their message. Marred by allegations of impropriety and delayed by legal challenges, a resolution came in June 2020 when the country repeated the election. On June 27, 2020, 13 months following the initial vote, the election in Malawi resulted in Lazarus Chakwera becoming the nation’s next president. Thanks to courageous actions from Malawi’s top court, a nation imperiled by electoral dysfunction has achieved a peaceful transition of power.

The Election in Malawi

Shortly following the initial presidential election in Malawi on May 21, 2019, President Peter Mutharika won by a narrow margin. However, rumors of irregularities in the vote tallies began to cast doubt on the outcome. Of the 5.1 million votes cast, Mutharika won 38.6% of the vote, compared to 35.4% and 20.2% for his closest competitors. The opposition candidates, Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party and Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement, filed a lawsuit. This prompted an investigation of the Malawi Electoral Commission’s (MEC) handling of the election in Malawi. Additionally, the angst from the controversy spilled into the streets, where thousands of citizens engaged in peaceful protests.

Following a protracted investigation, the nation’s constitutional court invalidated the results of the election in Malawi, citing “widespread, systematic and grave” anomalies. In a voluminous report, the five-judge panel cataloged a panoply of suspicious behavior. This ranged from mathematical errors to the use of correction fluid on tallying forms. There were mixed reactions to the court’s surprising decision, as Mutharika retained power while the inquiry took place. In addition, Mutharika decried the decision as “a great miscarriage of justice.” However, others lauded the decision as a powerful demonstration of judicial independence and a hallmark of a functioning democracy.

A Second Chance

The constitutional court’s decision ordered that a new election take place within 150 days of their announcement, which came in February 2020. In June 2020, the Parliament set election day for June 23. Justice Chifundo Kachale oversaw the re-run. Kachale replaced Jane Ansah as chairperson of the MEC following Ansah’s role in the initial vote. Despite the court’s stern ruling, the extent of potential election malfeasance in the initial vote remains unclear.

Leaders of the opposition claimed that correction fluid inflated the vote totals of the incumbent. In their lawsuit, the leaders implicated the MEC. Conversely, the MEC argued the fluid had only been used to alter procedural information, not the vote totals. Luke Tyburski of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center inspected the actual results sheets, which citizens can access online. Tyburski’s analysis suggests “human error instead of malicious tampering” likely caused the alterations. However, Tyburski suggests that this “does go a long way toward discrediting much of the sensational rhetoric surrounding the vote.” Whether malice or simply human error caused the error, Malawi’s top court felt compelled to clean the slate with a re-run.

Poverty and the Election in Malawi

The judiciary’s choice has broader implications than simply who serves as Malawi’s president. For one, it fortifies the people’s faith in the rule of law. Elections with contested outcomes are not new to Africa. Many leaders hold shambolic votes with impunity, while other electoral disputes cause a descent into chaos or even civil war. What makes the election in Malawi unique is the willingness of its high court to assert itself when warranted. It would have been easy to simply sanctify the initial elections in accordance with the wishes of the president. But the court chose otherwise. Although needing the courts to intervene in the democratic process is far from ideal, it may be necessary to restore the public’s confidence in free and fair elections.

As Malawi relies heavily on foreign assistance, this show of sound governance can only serve as reassurance for Malawi’s benefactors. These include the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Additionally, the court’s decision demonstrates to potential trading partners that the nation can be a stable ally. Despite a GDP growth rate of 4% in 2019, the nation’s extreme poverty rate is still around 20%. As such, the international community must see Malawi as deserving of investment and assistance to help lift its people out of poverty. The result of the re-run can do just this.

Looking Forward

When Malawians returned to the polls on June 23, 2020, the international community had a keen eye on the proceedings. This deterred potential bad actors from any hijinks and ensured that the MEC did its due diligence in properly tallying the votes. Chakwera won convincingly, garnering nearly 59% of the vote, and became president. As a result, the people of Malawi won, and democracy was victorious. This is a positive step toward garnering international aid for Malawi and reducing the poverty its citizens face.

Brendan Wade
Photo: Flickr