Retired international soccer star George Weah won the Liberian presidential election on December 26, 2017, succeeding Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The election marked the first peaceful transfer of power in Liberia since 1944.

President-elect Weah defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai, 73. Weah, internationally known for earning the African, European and World Player of the Year in 1995, has served as a senator since 2015. Weah, 51, received the most votes in the first round of the presidential election in October 2017.

Liberty Party nominee Charles Brumskine, who received less than 10 percent of the vote, delayed the final round of voting by accusing election fraud in a case that went to the Liberian Supreme Court. Multiple bodies, including the National Election Commission, found the election was fair. The U.N. Security Council and the White House delivered public statements commending the peaceful transfer of power in Liberia and praising the Liberian people and government.

Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves, has experienced decades of civil war, and the 2014 Ebola epidemic killed more people in Liberia than anywhere else in the world. The West African nation is currently facing extreme poverty and issues stemming from it.

Liberia has the seventh-highest maternal mortality rate, female genital cutting affects more than two-thirds of women and girls and less than 50 percent of the population older than 15 can read and write. Moreover, 60 percent of the population is under 25. Nevertheless, the U.N. reduced its troop presence in Liberia in July 2016, and the country has the highest annual reduction rate in infant and child mortality in Africa.

In his victory speech, Weah applauded the Liberian people and said, “[T]he best way to celebrate Liberians is to improve their lives…through public governance.” He encouraged investors to come to Liberia and stressed the importance of private investment in rebuilding the economy.

Weah also thanked his predecessor, Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first elected female African head of state in 2005. “We promise to follow your footsteps in protecting the rights of Liberians and providing even greater freedoms,” Weah said.

Weah’s Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor sat next to him during his victory speech. Howard- Taylor’s ex-husband is serving a 50-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity. However, she proved to have vastly different policy ideas than her previous partner during her tenure as a senator.

While Weah certainly will face obstacles during his administration, the global community is hopeful that progress will continue in Liberia. Democratic leaders have a renewed sense of optimism for the country after this peaceful transfer of power in Liberia.

– Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr

Search for a President in Haiti
The Haitian government would have an arguable point to debate with the U.S. regarding their humanitarian assistance. Before they negotiate, however, Haitians must complete the search for a president.

Contentions are rising over a joint project between the USDA and UN World Food Programme (WFP) that is providing 500 metric tons of peanuts to the Haitian people. The “Stocks for Food Program”, as it is called, is distributing these peanuts to school-aged children.

But over 60 NGOs agree that it might as well be dubbed “the great peanut dump.”

In the poorest country in the Americas, the economic shock created by such a program could negatively impact Haiti’s 150,000 peanut farmers. “We’re talking about small, very poor farmers that are very dependent on a single crop,” says Dr. Louise Ivers, senior policy advisor at Partners in Health.

Yet in Port-au-Prince, politicians are distracted by the search for a president in Haiti. Without a leader since February, party officials are busy organizing the next round of elections, scheduled for October 9.

Haiti is currently led by interim President Jocelerme Privert, who received a 120-day mandate after Michel Martelly completed his term. That mandate expired this June and is beginning to alarm the foreign governments that finance Haiti’s elections.

The EU has announced the withdrawal of its electoral observation mission because Haiti’s 2015 elections were “generally in line with international standards.” The U.S. followed suit and canceled its $33 million in electoral funding to Haiti last month.

According to State Department spokesman Mark Toner, “The Haitian people deserve to have their voices heard, not deferred.”

Toner’s comment resonates in a country where over 80 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Haiti’s medical system is in shambles and depends on foreign doctors to function. This is especially true given its recent experience with cholera, a disease that has now killed 10,000 and affected 800,000 more.

In fact, cholera victims sued the U.N. in 2011 for allegedly causing the outbreak of the disease. Bases for the Haitian stabilization mission, MINUSTAH, were suspected of improperly treating their wastewater.

Over $40 billion in damages were sought, though the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals found the case to be “without merit.”

Nevertheless, the search for a president in Haiti continues. Among the candidates are favorite Juvenel Moise, along with runner-up Jude Celestin.

Objectors include the Tet Kale, or “Bald Head” Party, which has not accepted the schedule proposed for the repeat election.

With so many troubles at hand, Haiti would do well to expedite the election process to find a leader.

However, the U.S. should also remain cognizant of its impact through humanitarian aid. After all, destabilizing half a million people who live off the peanut trade is hardly the way to assist Haiti’s democratic governance system.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Flickr

What is Happening with Haiti’s Delayed Presidential ElectionsThe presidential election in Haiti was postponed indefinitely due to recent violent protests and government fraud. The election was originally set for Dec. 27, 2015, then pushed to Jan. 24, 2016 and finally canceled without a new date announced.

The eight Haitian presidential candidates refused to participate because of the irregularities that occurred in the first round of elections. An official audit including 78 tally sheets from the first round of presidential elections found irregularities in all sheets, the Hill reports. Haiti’s electoral council, the CEP, did not conduct a further investigation.

The irregularities in the electoral process include Jovenel Moise, President Michel Martelly’s chosen successor, being reported to the CEP as being in first place in the election but an exit poll found that only six percent of respondents voted for him, according to the Hill. This, along with many other examples of government-backed fraud has instigated Haitians to respond with violence.

In a poll executed in October 2015 by an independent research group in Brazil, 82 percent of Haitians agreed with the statement: “As far as I can see, this election is fair, there is no fraud,” the Hill reports. However, when the same poll was conducted after the irregularities came out, almost 90 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement.

According to the Hill, the United States, the U.N. and the Organization of American States are pushing for presidential elections to take place as soon as possible so that Haiti can reestablish order. Though filling the presidential position is desired, it could also be perceived as a positive that Haiti now has more time for the election. More time to select a proper candidate would allow Haiti to restore faith in the electoral process.

Fortunately, lawmakers chose the country’s Senate leader, Jocelerme Privert, as provisional President of Haiti on Feb. 14, 2016, as reported by the New York Times. Privert’s chief task will be to smooth political divisions that have left the people of Haiti without an elected president properly chosen by the voters themselves.

Privert is also working on how and when to go about the formal presidential election and has said they will be held as soon as possible. Former President Martelly departed from office as well, as he was barred from a consecutive term. Privert’s leadership and Martelly’s departure will hopefully help in easing violent outbreaks and tensions.

Kerri Whelan

Sources: The Hill, NY Times
Photo: Flickr

Voting Elections
With the presidential election coming up in November of this year, it is important to focus on the issues that matter most and remember the value of the vote. Every vote counts and determines the future direction of the U.S. and the world.

With that said, here are some of the best quotes from several well-known and influential figures to inspire you this election:

  1. “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
    – John Quincy Adams
  2. “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
    – Emma Goldman
  3. “A man without a vote is a man without protection.”
    – Lyndon B. Johnson
  4. “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”
    – Lyndon B. Johnson
  5. “People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.”
    – Walter H. Judd
  6. “Do the unexpected. Take 20 minutes out of your day, do what young people all over the world are dying to do: vote.”
    – Rick Mercer
  7. “That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything.”
    – Lou Henry Hoover
  8. “Voter apathy was, and will remain the greatest threat to democracy.”
    – Hazen Pingree
  9. “Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights. ”
    – Thomas Jefferson
  10. “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
    – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Mayra Vega

Sources: Goodreads, Intentblog, Politico, Cafemom
Photo: Glamour

Democratic Growth in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso’s recent presidential election marks a turning point for the West African country, which has been locked in a power struggle for decades.

November 29 marked the first truly democratic election in Burkina Faso in 30 years. Roch Marc Christian Kabore won the presidential election in a significant statement of democratic promise for the long-suffering country.

However, the election did not go off without a hitch. Presidential guard forces, led by General Gilbert Diendéré, staged a coup in September by taking the transitional president and prime minister hostage, pushing the election back two months. Fortunately, the popular movement successfully shut down the attempt according to U.N. Dispatch.

Newly elected President Kabore founded the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), a social democratic party that opposes former president Compaore’s Congress for Democracy and Progress party (CDP).

This election brings much-needed change that will lift Burkina Faso out of its period of civil strife. Between power struggles and economic downfall, this country has seen it all in the past few decades.

“A poor country even by West African standards, landlocked Burkina Faso has suffered from recurring droughts and military coups,” the BBC said.

Poor, indeed, Burkina Faso ranks 181 out of 187 in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2014 Human Development Index.

The election not only brings the promise of democratic growth, but also socio-economic growth in the country. Ethiopia is another country which is benefitting from socio-economic and democratic transformation, as Sudanese government officials reportedly commended its federal system for guaranteeing sustainable peace and economic development.

“The Sudanese delegates said the Ethiopian federal system was the foundation for stability and socio-economic development achieved following the constitutional-based introduction of the system,” the Sudan Tribune said.

Now that democratic rule has been established in Burkina Faso, President Kabore can focus on building the country’s economy and a sustainable future.

Ashley Tressel

Sources: UN Dispatch 1, UNDP, UN Dispatch 2, Reuters, BBC, Sudan Tribune
Photo: Flickr

According to an article by the New York Times, the Independent Election Complaints Commission said that the Afghan presidential election this time around appears to be cleaner than the one in 2009.

Nader Mohseni, the commission’s spokesman, said that fraud was less prevalent in the 2014 elections compared to other elections in the past. Unlike the 2,842 complaints that the commission recorded in 2009, only 1,573 were counted this year.

“Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small,” said Mohseni. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.”

Setting the election aside, the year 2014 is an important year for Afghanistan. Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, said that President Obama told Afghan president Hamid Karzai that his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement gave the U.S. no choice but to withdraw its military from the country.

“Keeping on 5,000 troops and some equipment at a handful of small bases will not be difficult if Karzai’s successor decides to sign the SOFA,” Cole said.

But is it necessary for U.S. troops to keep their presence in Afghanistan after more than a decade of combat in the country?

Around the time Cole made these remarks the Taliban has been involved in several violent campaigns that made Pakistani officials question whether Kabul can ultimately stay in control of the situation and confront the group.

“Whether the Afghanistan National Army can stand up to the Taliban is one question,” Cole said. “Another is, if Afghans still can’t stand up to the Taliban after a decade of US aid, when exactly would the billions poured into the country finally bear fruit?”

According to journalist Patrick Cockburn, the current situation in Afghanistan is not looking good at all.

While visiting Kabul a few years back, Cockburn realized “the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government.”

“It does not matter how many NATO troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population,” he explained. “Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo.”

Cockburn also believes that this year’s election will not be a success and will be more fraudulent considering Karzai is no longer able to run for a third term.

“The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18,” he said.

Cockburn also reveals that election-monitoring institutions, such as the one Mohseni represents, are under the control of the government.

As a result, if the Afghan government controls the Independent Elections Complaints Commission, there is no guarantee that the New York Times article is correct for claiming that the 2014 elections are in fact cleaner.

– Juan Campos

Photo: DW
The New York Times, Counterpunch, Z Magazine

Luis_Solis_Wins_Costa _Rican_Election
The dominating two-party system in Costa Rica has finally been broken. Luis Solis, of the center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), has won the presidential election handily. With most of the votes counted, he won 1.2 million votes, or approximately 78% of the vote.

Even though the other candidate, Johnny Araya, had pulled out of the campaign following a University of Costa Rica poll suggesting a large lead by Solis, his name remained on the ballot and he received 22% of the vote. This win comes despite 43% of the electorate abstaining from voting in the elections, a record figure.

Solis beat Araya in all seven provinces and even beat Araya in his own hometown of Palmares by a ratio of two to one.

The PAC party was founded in 2000 as a center-left party focusing on reducing corruption and promoting civic participation in Costa Rica. Solis ran his platform on building up infrastructure, improving universal health care and pension programs, and promote environmental stewardship. He also focused his campaign platform on his desire to revamp the tax system to include a more progressive tax policy.

Meanwhile, Araya’s campaign was marred by allegations of corruption alongside President Chinchilla after he flew on a private jet owned by the MECO Corporation, which had just won a $65 million contract from the government. Some regional experts have been calling this election a clear mandate against the current administration ruled by the National Liberation Party (PLN) headed by the current President Laura Chinchilla.

One other important fact to observe is the PAC’s current standing in Congress. Despite winning the presidency, the PAC only has 13 out of 57 seats in Congress, while the PLN has 18 out of 57 seats. Although the PLN has sworn to support the PAC in Congress where they can, this might change given the PAC’s stated commitment to cracking down on the corruption of the current administration.

President-elect Solis will be sworn in on May 8.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Tico Times, BBC, Blogging by Boz, Tico Times

Egypt ended its flirtation with democracy and completed its turn back towards a military-dominated political order this week, as the country’s armed forces chief resigned and announced that he would stand for president. The move by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister and military chief, came in the same week that a court sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the recently outlawed Islamist movement, to death in a case that underscored the governments authoritarian nature since the coup that ousted Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically president.

Sisi, who spearheaded the coup that toppled Morsi, announced in his resignation as armed forces chief in a nationally televised speech Wednesday, saying that he, “will always be proud of wearing the uniform of defending my country.” Moments later, Sisi announced his presidential bid, characterizing his decision to run for Egypt’s highest offices as, “answering the demand of a wide range of Egyptians who have called on me to run for president, to attain this honor.”

After leaving his post as armed forces commander-in-chief on Wednesday, Sisi tendered his resignation as defense minister during a Thursday cabinet meeting in which General Sedki Sobhi was named as Sisi’s replacement for both the military chief and defense minister posts.

Sisi’s widely expected announcement that he would stand for president in an election he is expected to easily win seemed to complete Egypt’s turn back toward the military-led political order that characterized the six decades of Egyptian governance after King Farouk was toppled in a 1952 coup spearheaded by Mohammad Naguib and Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Nasser would go on to serve as president from 1956 until his death in 1970, only to be replaced by another military man, Anwar el-Sadat. After Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists in October 1981, Hosni Mubarak, the former commander of the air force, became president, continuing the post-1952 trend of presidents drawn from the armed forces. Mubarak went on to serve as president for close to three decades, ruling until massive demonstrations forced him from power in February 2011.

After 16 months of military rule following Mubarak’s removal, Morsi, an Islamist backed by the Brotherhood, was elected president, becoming Egypt’s first freely elected leader and the only president in the country’s history who did not serve in the military. Morsi, who was a member of the Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group, at the time of his election, was also modern Egypt’s first Islamist president.

In the lead up to the July 3 popularly-backed coup that ousted Morsi, severe fuel shortages caused long lines at gas stations across Egypt, enraging motorists, as a sharp decline in the Egyptian Pound led to skyrocketing domestic prices. Meanwhile, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves, which the country’s central bank uses to prop up the pound, had fallen to about $15 billion, down from $36 billion when Mubarak was toppled.

Massive demonstrations in late June and early July led the military to step in and seize power. Since the July coup, the military has unleashed a brutal crackdown targeting the Brotherhood, which has now been outlawed and designated as a terrorist organization. The Islamist groups’ assets have been seized, while its leaders, including Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, have been imprisoned.

Egypt’s post-Morsi authoritarian state began to take shape in late November, when the country’s military-backed government promulgated a new law imposing draconian restrictions on demonstrations, including giving the Interior Ministry, an institution known for its aversion to civil liberties, blanket authority to ban, postpone or move protests. And then in January, Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that grants the military wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint the defense minister for the next eight years. The new charter, drafted by a constituent assembly whose composition the military helped to shape, mandates that the defense minister must be an active member of the armed forces and creates a legal framework for trying civilians in military courts.

With the announcement that the country’s now former military chief will run for president in an election that he is likely to easily win, Egypt’s turn towards authoritarianism seems to have transformed into a headfirst leap.

-Eric Erdahl

Photo: Ed Week
BBC News 1, BBC News 2, BBC News 3, BBC News 4, BBC News 5, Carnegie Endowment for Internatinal Peace

Indonesia’s upcoming presidential election, currently slated for July 9, gained a great deal of attention when the National Commission on Human Rights refused to examine the human rights records of any of the presidential candidates.

Since the announcement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has given questionnaires to all of the candidates in order to demonstrate that the candidates want to improve Indonesia’s human rights record. As of now, HRW has distributed the questionnaire to Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Aburizal Bakrie for the Golkar Party, Prabowo Subianto for the Gerindra Party, Wiranto for the Hanura Party, Rhoma Irama for the National Awakening Party, as well as to the parties who have not yet decided on their presidential nomination.

The questionnaire asks how committed the candidates will be in improving areas where a large amount of religious violence is occurring. These areas include Aceh, Banten, East Java, West Java and West Sumatra.

Additionally, the HRW is asking candidates if they plan to comply with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) recommendation to allow foreign journalists to enter into Papua and if they will release political prisoners.

The HRW should receive responses by May 16 and will publish their findings in early June, prior to the presidential election.

However, the record of Prabowo Subianto, the candidate for the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerinda Party) has recently come under scrutiny. Human rights groups are questioning Prabow’s actions from when he started as an officer in the military to his actions as a three-star general.

Human groups are calling for an investigation regarding Prabowo’s actions in East Timor in the 1980s following allegations that he ordered a massacre of over 300 civilians. Additionally, these groups are claiming that Prabowo was “responsible for the abduction and torture of 23 pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998, and for orchestrating riots in May 1998” which ultimately resulted in “more than 1,000 deaths and the rapes of at least 168 women.”

In 2006, the National Commission on Human Rights issued a report with the names of 11 people, including Prabowo, who they thought should be prosecuted in the abductions of those 23 activists.

Prabowo’s military career ended because of the abductions case, where he accepted responsibility for the torture of 9 of the activists, but said that he was not responsible for ordering the abductions or torture and said nothing about the other 14 activists.

In regard to the emphasis on human rights in the upcoming election, HRW’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kine has said, “Indonesia’s next president will inherit serious human rights problems requiring leadership and commitment.” Kine went on to say, “Indonesian voters should insist that presidential candidates make explicit their plans to promote and strengthen human rights in the country.”

The winner of the election will serve as the second Indonesian president to be directly elected by the public. Whether or not the human rights records of the candidates have a strong impact on who is elected will be determined in July.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, The Huffington Post, The Jakarta Post
Photo: The Asia Foundation