Information and news about politics.

Africa's_democratic_transition
In 1991, political scientist Samuel Huntington hypothesized three historical waves of democratization across Europe and the Americas. Now, it is the African continent’s turn to create a fourth wave of democratic elections.

It started on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian produce seller, set himself on fire in front of a municipal building.

Bouazizi’s act ignited protests against the oppressive authoritarian regime all over Tunisia. In 2011, the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, stepped down from power and fled the country.

In the following three years, Tunisia held its first democratic elections, rewrote its Constitution and saw peaceful transitions of power.

In 2011, similar transitions occurred in the North African countries of Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Along with uprisings in the Middle East, this movement is collectively called the Arab Spring.

The changes in government in these countries have yet to resemble the democracies in North America and Western Europe. But while transitioning from long-standing authoritarian rule to full-fledged democracy does not happen overnight, the Arab Spring undoubtedly sent a message rippling all over the African continent.

The message? The voices of the impoverished and oppressed can be heard.

Last May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria and witnessed an incredible hand-off of power after President Goodluck Jonathan lost the general election.

Surprising critics who believed that Jonathan would not resign, Jonathan willfully stepped down and even congratulated his successor. This marked the first peaceful transition of power in Nigeria’s history.

This year, Kerry traveled back to Nigeria to emphasize Nigeria’s increasingly important position to help with security and development in Africa. He also reminded the new government of the precedent and example they set, as this year is becoming a crucial year for democracy in Africa.

Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mauritius, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia are all set to have elections this year.

These elections could turn out to be a critical turning point for countries like Chad, where the same leader has been in power for 24 years.

Some staples of democratic transition include a move to transparent elections, term limits, freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement.

Transparency and term limits are important in the election process because, without both, an authoritarian regime can stay in power for decades. Fraudulent elections are often the main reason why people refrain from voting in the first place.

When authoritarian regimes remain in power for decades, repeated policy mistakes stifle the economic development and empowerment of a country. Change can only come when those in power are committed to the needs of their constituencies.

Freedom to publicly support any candidate and voter enfranchisement are also very important steps for an African democratic transition.

When media is censored or run by the government, speaking out against the incumbent is often illegal and can even lead to dangerous consequences.
This is also a problem because, in many African countries, less than half of eligible voters are registered to vote, and many minority groups do not have the right to vote at all.

When it comes to poverty, these four aspects of democracy are key. When marginalized groups take part in policy-shaping, a country can grow together and mitigate inequality. Furthermore, when every voice is involved in decision making there is less chance for discontentment and violent revolt.

As Kerry points out, “A free, fair and peaceful presidential election does not guarantee a successful democracy, but it is one of the most important measuring sticks for progress in any developing nation.” The coming months’ elections will be a giant leap toward democracy and development in Africa.

Celestina Radogno

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, The Brookings Institute, The Guardian, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Wikimedia

Saudi_Women
Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections will be held on December 12 and for the first time women will be allowed to vote for municipal council leaders.

Municipal council elections occur every four years in Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of the council members must be voted in and the Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs must appoint the other third.

The late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud granted women the right to vote as well as run as candidates in 2011. Approximately 70 women are intending to register as municipal council leader candidates. Another 80 women are planning on registering as campaign managers.

The Baladi (My Country) campaign is a political campaign run by Saudi women activists. The campaign was planning to bring in teachers and trainers from different Arab countries as well as the United Nations for campaigning workshops.

The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs stopped Baladi from holding the training workshops in an attempt to unify the election programme.

Women and men will have separate polling centers for voting. In Makkah there will be 40 polling centers with 14 set aside for women.

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have gradually increased and a royal decree issued by Abdullah in 2013 required the Consultative Council to be at least 20 percent women. The Consultative Council is an advisory body that is royally appointed.

Although these rights have made improvements for women in Saudi Arabia, the women are still far from equal. A male guardian must accompany the women when they travel or go to school. They are not permitted to drive.

Voter registration for the municipal council elections began on August 22 and will end on September 14. Candidate registration runs from August 30 until September 17.

Iona Brannon

Sources: Al Arabiya News, Al Jazeera 1, Al Jazeera 2, CNN, Saudi National Portal, Time
Photo: Google Images

Mounting Anger over Trash Build-up in Beirut
In early August 2015, protesters stood outside Beirut’s government building, demanding that officials deal with the thousand tons of trash piling up on the city’s streets. The most frustrated of the crowd accused the government of acting like a regime ignoring the city’s demands for change.

Beirut’s former public landfill was based in the village of Naameh. It opened in 1997 and was only built to withstand a few years and about 2 million tons of rubbish. After 18 years and 10 million tons of trash, Beirut officials shut down Naameh.

The current issue is because the government failed to build a new one. “Everyone knew for the last six months that the landfill would close, but the government did nothing about it,” says one resident. With nowhere to dump it, trash collection for Beirut and its suburbs just stopped.

The city and its surrounding neighborhood generate 2,000 to 3,000 tons of trash each day and it is now cumulating into mounds on the streets. Many people have started wearing face masks. Others are setting fire to the filth, creating pillars of foul smoke and causing temperatures to climb above 90 degrees.

Lebanon rules with a very laissez-faire attitude. In lieu of recent unrest in the Middle East and problems within the country, the government has been unable to elect a new president and remains without a political figurehead that can pass legislation and finalize laws.

The Cabinet is reportedly near collapsing. Terms in office are being extended and elections for new leaders are put off. “The political deadlock is a huge contributing factor to the issue because there is no strong central government who can look at the options and find the most feasible one,” speculates Lama Bashour who is the director of an environmental consultancy agency called Eccocentra.

Residents claim that the government’s latest decisions have been undemocratic and unconstitutional, and have just exacerbated the country’s problems. “I’m angry, not just this, but at the general dysfunction of the country,” explains one of the city’s entrepreneurs. Some speculate that only radical actions could push the government to rule more effectively. All of the frustration and outrage surrounding this latest trash issue might be enough.

Some trash in rural areas has been removed but people report that it was just dumped somewhere else nearby. Sahar Atrache is an analyst that works for the International Crisis Group. She says that this half-hearted attempt is characteristic of Lebanon’s current government.

It is true that Lebanon’s resources and political power have been strained lately with the 1.3 million refugees estimated to pour into the country as a result of the Syrian crisis. The ICG recently published a report called Lebanon’s Self-Defeating Survival Strategies that explains, “Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction.”

The city has been trying to deal with the matter on its own and has been starting to compost and recycle to keep waste build-up down. Some residents have begun their own local trash-pick up service.

Lillian Sickler

Sources: NPR, Crisis Group, UNHCR, LA Times, WSJ, ABC News, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: NPR

G.O.P._debate

While the potential Republican presidential candidates wasted no time discussing illegal immigration and the Clinton Administration at this Thursday’s GOP debate, one topic was noticeably absent from the table: global poverty.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the United States alone there are around six million more people living below the poverty line than there were in 2008. Forty-five million Americans are registered as poor—around 15 percent of the country’s total population.

On a more global scale, according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die worldwide every day due to poverty-related causes. In 2014 alone, 98,000 died in India due to a lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and nutrition. In 2014, over 82 million people in China lived on less than $1 a day.

Still, even in the face of such pressing issues, the GOP candidates chose to spend their allotted speaking time by further alienating women, immigrants and the poor. According to The Huffington Post, the words “immigration” and “illegal” were spoken around 40 times during the debate, while “poverty” and “poor” chalked up only three and four mentions, respectively.

Presidential campaign debates should be a platform for discussing the country, and the world’s, most prominent issues. If this GOP debate was any indication, the current Republican Party presidential candidates care little about the world’s poor.

Alexander Jones

Sources: Deutsch, McCoy, Redden
Photo: Flickr

Cruelest_Dictators

10. Vladmir Putin

Putin is the current president of Russia and has been in power since 1999. He spent four years as Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012, though most experts believe he was still calling the shots. Putin is a strong man and one of the cruelest dictators, ruling Russia with a fierce grip. His presidency has been lamented by human rights groups and Western governments. Putin maintains a terrible domestic civil rights policy and viciously puts down political dissention and free speech. Not to mention, under his command Russia has engaged in military action in Georgia, Chechnya, and most notably the invasion and annexation of Crimea, thus violating Ukrainian sovereignty.

9. Robert Mugabe

Now in his seventh term of office as president of Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe. Many political scientists and experts have cited massive electoral fraud and rigging in Mugabe’s favor during the 2013 election. According to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Mugabe’s government systematically violates the right to shelter, food, freedom of movement and political expression. In addition Mugabe made all acts of homosexuality illegal in Zimbabwe.

8. Muammar Gaddafi

Self proclaimed “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” of Libya for more than 50 years, Gaddafi was, at first, a widely supported leader after he led the September Revolution in 1969. However, as he consolidated power his regime became more authoritarian. His calls for Pan-Africanism were greatly overshadowed by his pitiful human rights record. During the Arab Spring, Gaddafi ordered his forces to fire on unarmed protesters calling for his resignation. The UN Human Rights council called for an investigation into war crimes. Gaddafi was deposed and killed at the end of the Libyan Civil War.

7. Idi Amin

Amin’s paranoid administration was marred by rampant violence to his political enemies. UN observers estimate that 100,000 to 500,000 were persecuted and killed in Uganda under his reign. Amin’s victims were originally his direct political opponents and those who supported the regime that he fought to overtake. However, extrajudicial killings began to include academics, lawyers, foreign nationals and minority ethnic groups within the country.

6. Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il continued his father’s fearsome policy of official party indoctrination. North Korea currently ranks as one of the poorest nations on the planet, with millions facing starvation, disease and lack of basic human needs. Under Kim’s reign, North Korean military spending quadrupled, yet he refused foreign aid and did not invest in his country’s farms, thereby indirectly killing millions. Kim’s policy of mass internment through the use of labor camps and virtually no political debate makes him on of history’s worst despots.

5. Pol Pot

Pot was the dictator of Cambodia for 20 years from 1961 to 1983 as the leader of the Khmer Rouge government. His regime is characterized by the Cambodian genocide and the infamous “killing fields.” Pol Pot began a program of severe nationalization whereby he forced millions from urban areas into the countryside to farm and work on forced labor projects. Due to the forced labor, poor food and medical conditions, and the addition of massive amounts of state-sponsored killings, nearly 25 percent of Cambodia’s population died under Pol Pot’s rule.

4. Bashar al-Assad

As the current president of Syria, Assad’s authoritarian regime was called into question during the Arab Spring, and cited for numerous civil rights violations including suppression of free speech, corruption and political freedom. Assad ordered massive crackdowns and thus triggered the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Government forces only grew more violent toward protesting Syrian citizens, and there have been allegations of chemical warfare. Assad has been accused of numerous human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3. Joseph Stalin

Stalin was the second leader of the Soviet Union. Though part of the orginal seven Bolshevik leaders, Stalin quickly consolidated sole power and became a tyrant. In the 1930s he pursued a policy of political upheaval known as “the Great Purge.” From 1930 to 1934, millions of Soviet citizens were imprisoned, exiled or killed. Stalin also pursued a policy of massive economic reforms that led to the deaths of millions due to famine and forced labor in Gulag camps.

2. Mao Zedong

Zedong was the first chairman of the Communist Party of China, and in terms of numbers of deaths during his reign, he tops the list. Nearly 70 million Chinese died during his rule. Zedong systematically broke down Ancient Chinese culture, and near ended political dissent and freedom in China. His revolutionary economic policies during “the Great Leap Forward” resulted in one of the worst famines in modern history. In addition Mao also implemented forced labor and public executions.

1. Adolf Hitler

Hitler was the Fuher of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945. Hitler tops the list of cruelest dictators because of his disturbingly systematic genocidal policies. A total of 5.5 million Jews and other “unwanteds” were deliberately targeted and executed in sanctioned ghettos, work camps and extermination camps. Hilter’s foreign policy and unrelenting desire to give the German people “room to live” was the major cause of World War II. Hitler also put down political dissenters and enemies as well as banning non-government sanctioned art, film, literature and teaching methods.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Forbes, List 25, The Atlantic
Photo: Flickr

South_Sudan
Representative Thomas Rooney of Florida recently introduced the South Sudan Peace Promotion and Accountability Act of 2015, urging U.S. leaders to recognize their leadership failure in the war-torn nation.

Specifically, the bill states that the United States will recognize that there has been a failure of leadership in South Sudan that has left the country’s civilians in a state of suffering, and will urge all parties to find a peaceful resolution. The bill furthers calls for the President of the United States to submit to Congress a strategy for further engagement with South Sudan.

South Sudan, a ascent nation that arose in 2011 from the civil unrest that had divided Sudan for years, has been plagued by conflict since it gained independence. In 2013, tensions between new political leaders sparked a civil upheaval that killed tens of thousands, displaced an estimated two million people, and left nearly five million needing food and other humanitarian assistance.

In 2005, the United States helped broker the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which would ultimately set the framework for South Sudan establishing their independence. Since the separation, the United States, along with the United Nations, has worked to help the new nation establish itself.

However, despite the outpouring of international support and its integral role in the new nation, in 2015, the government of South Sudan expelled the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in charge of overseeing the massive humanitarian effort in the country. Since then, the South Sudanese government has continued to place restrictions on foreign aid workers in the country, calling for the majority of humanitarian aid to come from within the country.

The South Sudan Peace Promotion and Accountability Act of 2015 urges the administration to prioritize promoting peace and human rights, as well as establishing freedom of association and expression.

Gina Lehner

Sources: Congress, Wikipedia
Photo: UN Multimedia

American_PovertyWith the 2016 Presidential election approaching rapidly, candidates are beginning to differentiate themselves from the competition by advocating for unique platforms. While some candidates have built a large portion of their campaign around illegal immigration, one candidate has made it clear that he will focus on an issue here at home. Bernie Sanders has emerged as the champion for reducing poverty here in the United States.

Sanders uses the increasing disparity between the wealth classes in America to illustrate his point on the problem of American poverty. Continuing to hammer his point home, Sanders then puts the blame on Wall Street’s influence over economic poverty, unfairly favoring those with more income. Sanders is directly quoted as saying, “There are a lot of great public servants out there, great economists who for years have been standing up for the middle class and the working families of this country, who know that it is an international embarrassment that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth.” Sanders makes a bold claim with this statement, but one that is shockingly valid.

Sanders’ campaign website lists some alarming figures about overall U.S. poverty as well as child poverty on an international scale. According to the site, 46.5 million Americans live below the poverty line making that figure the largest in U.S. history. In addition to this number, Sanders’ website cites a 21.8 percent child poverty rate, the “highest of any major country on earth.” It is important to distinguish here that by “major country,” he is referring to all countries part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).

In March of 2014 Sanders organized a subcommittee to examine in depth the differences in life expectancy across the United Sates as a direct result of varying poverty levels. Some of the findings reported that almost as many people die from poverty as from lung cancer. Life expectancy was also shown to have decreased over the past 20 years in 313 U.S. counties, and the United States has 6 million more people in poverty today than it did in 2004.

Poverty is as crucial an issue as any from presidential hopefuls this elections. Senator Bernie Sanders has made it one of his top campaign priorities to reduce this number drastically if elected, by working vigorously to improve the system of the American economy and reduce the vast gap between wealth classes in America.

Diego Catala

Sources: PolitiFact, Senate
Photo: Bernie Sanders

Hillary-Clinton-Women's-Health

In April of this year, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president. As a strong democratic nominee with a lot of political capital, she has the power to raise big money and advocate for issues on her platform.

According to her website and her voting record, she is an advocate for small business and defining America’s core values. Many see her as a strong candidate for the election next year.

However, unlike her last campaign, Clinton seems to be focusing more on women’s issues.

In 1995, Clinton gave a speech in Beijing entitled, “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” to the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women. At the time, Clinton was First Lady of the United States. In the speech, Clinton spoke of the continual rape of women during armed conflicts and the act of silencing women and girls around the world. She declared that women’s rights must now be seen as human rights and solved.

Since the 90’s, Clinton has seemed to not focus on women’s issues or place them at the focal point of her 2008 election.

However, this round, she seems to be doing the opposite. Before announcing her candidacy in a speech at Georgetown, Clinton told the audience that women’s rights are not only a responsibility for women, but also men.

At her first major campaign event in June of this year, Clinton seemed to emphasize her support for women’s issues. She supports a women’s right to choose and have easier access to contraceptives.

Clinton has proved herself to be an advocate for women domestically, but what about abroad?

Clinton does not seem to shy away from economic aid to developing countries. In 2012, Clinton visited Africa, promising U.S. assistance to revitalize African economies. Although many attacked her for attaching so many contingencies onto the package, she does want to help.

Combining her commitment to providing assistance to impoverished nations and her advocacy for women’s rights, she would be a tremendous help to women’s health abroad.

Under her watch, we could see a real attempt to repeal the Helms amendment and provide access to family planning tools. Because of her commitment to women domestically, she would support women’s access to education abroad.

Although the campaign trail is long, her commitment to women and impoverished nations would mean great things for women being affected by the lack of access to a proper education, birth control and water.

– Erin Logan

Sources: Hillary Clinton, American Rhetoric, The Guardian, Slate, LA Times, New York Magazine
Photo: Illinois Review

Scott_Peters
I am embarrassed to admit that before interning for The Borgen Project, I did not have any idea who my Congressman was. I spend most of my time going to school out of state, so I am not too in touch with the politics of my hometown. However, no matter what state I am in, it matters who is representing my interests, so I have done a little research on my House hero.

I live in San Diego, which is in California’s 52nd Congressional district. The Representative for this district is none other than Democrat Scott Peters. Have not heard of him? Not to worry, here are some quick facts on this West Coast politician.

Peters was actually born in Ohio and raised in Michigan, but he has spent the entirety of his political career serving the people of San Diego. He received his Bachelor of Arts at Duke University, and went on to graduate from law school at New York University. Peters then moved to the Golden State, and after a 15 year career as an environmental lawyer, was elected to San Diego City Council. He later became the city’s first City Council President.

I am extremely proud of my beautiful city. Little did I know that I can attribute much of this to Peters, who helped lead the $2 billion redevelopment of downtown San Diego and the widespread cleanup of the beaches and bays.

After a storied City Council tenure, Peters was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012. He currently serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, and previously served on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. He is a member of the House Democratic Caucus, the New Democrat Coalition and the No Labels Caucus.

Peters is listed as the fourth most independent Democrat in Congress and is a known problem solver. He often brings people together in order to resolve complex issues. His office is very responsive to constituent recommendations and requests, and I have been pleased with the in-depth emails I have received.

As a resident of San Diego for 21 years, I finally figured out who my voice in Congress is, and I encourage all of you to find out for yourself what distinguished individual is making your case on the Hill.

– Katie Pickle

Sources: US House of Representatives, Scott Peters
Photo: Times of San Diego

soft_power
What is it?

Soft power is a term that was coined in the late 1980s by Joseph S. Nye Jr., an American political scientist. As Foreign Affairs states, soft power refers to the ability of a country to influence and persuade others to do what it wants without the use of force or coercion. It’s the opposite of hard power, in which a country uses coercion and military strength in order to influence other countries. Soft power relies on economic or cultural influences rather than military strength.

Soft power is an indirect way to exercise power and control. A country with a large amount of soft power can convince other countries to adopt some of its morals, values and prominent institutions. Essentially, a country exerting a large amount of soft power can persuade other countries to want the same things it wants and therefore use soft power to advance its own political agenda. Soft power is getting the outcome one wants through persuasion rather than coercion.

Where does soft power come from?

Power is the ability to get others to do what you want, and soft power is an essential form of power. Nye states that soft power can come from three resources:

  1. A country’s culture (where it’s attractive to others)
  2. A country’s political values (where it lives up to them at home and abroad)
  3. A country’s foreign policies (where they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)

Why is it important?

Soft power is important because, according to Foreign Affairs, it can be used to gain supporters and partners. For example, United States companies, institutions, churches, foundations and other institutions of civil society all play a part in projecting soft power, and the cultures and values that the United States have are a form of soft power that allows the U.S. to gain allies. Even things that one may not view as important, like Hollywood movies and American pop culture, are forms of soft power that can help shape other countries attitudes’ and choices in the long-run.

BBC discusses how soft power can be exerted in one of their articles, in which they talk about a woman named Iryna Olova who grew up in Kiev in the Soviet Union. Olova talks about how fascinated she was with movies such as the Wizard of Oz as a child, and states that movies made her feel that America was a happy and sunny place. She eventually left Ukraine and moved her family to America. Even though parts of American culture, like movies, may seem inconsequential to International Relations, according to Nye and the theory of soft power, they are anything but. Some political scientists even say that soft power helped the United States win the Cold War.

What are the limitations of soft power?

According to Nye, the limitations of soft power are that it is not easily channeled toward a specific outcome and that it can have diffuse effects on the outside world.

What are some other examples of soft power?

In his book, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics,” Nye gives some examples of soft power, including the high number of foreign students enrolled at United States Universities and the prominent consumption of American media products worldwide.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Foreign Policy 1, Foreign Policy 2 BBC, Diplomacy Education Oxford Dictionary 1, Oxford Dictionary 2 Foreign Affairs
Photo: Flickr