Winds of Change.NET’s weekly democracy briefings present a survey each week of the most important trends and events in democratization around the globe. Today's weekly Democracy Briefing is brought to you by Patrick Belton, co-editor of OxBlog and president of the Nathan Hale Foreign Policy Society.
- Local Palestinian elections announced: on May 10, the PA cabinet announced it would begin a year-long process of local elections this summer, with Jericho holding elections first in August. Local elections have not been held in thirty years in the West Bank, and forty in the case of Gaza. In a policy shift, the cabinet announced an Israeli withdrawal is not a prerequisite for local elections, though it would continue to be for legislative and presidential elections. Analysts attributed the new flexibility to PM Qurei's desire to shore up the Palestinian leadership’s international standing in advance of meeting with Condi Rice in Berlin next week, and Arafat yielding to internal pressure to address the chaos and corruption currently plaguing many Palestinian towns.
- Greater Middle East Initiative: following criticism from Arab governments and prior to the June meeting of the G-8 in Sea Island, Georgia, the United States is revising its proposals to assist Middle Eastern democracy. Current proposals center around a literacy corps, a microfinance fund, a ‘foundation for democracy’ to fund civil society programmes, and a democracy assistance group to coordinate G-8 and EU reform efforts. Critics say the programme has been gutted after meeting with Arab criticism; Senators Hagel, Lieberman, and Lugar have introduced separate legislative proposals to create a public-private Trust for Democracy funded with $1 billion a year for five years. Arab League foreign ministers have drafted a counterproposal, which will be taken up at a summit this week in Tunis.
Other Topics Today Include: Diplomats boycott Burmese ‘democracy’ conference; Kuwait announces it will allow women to vote; Malawi to elect a new president and parliament on Thursday; US warns Ukraine to hold fair elections later this year; UK and South Africa discuss promoting democracy in Zimbabwe; and Surprise developments in India - the world’s largest democracy.
- Burma: Diplomats have boycotted a meeting sponsored by Burma’s ruling junta which was to unveil a draft for a new Constitution. The junta had not invited the head of the Democratic Movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, currently under house arrest, and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Kofi Annan, has asked the countries of Southeast Asia to place pressure on the Burmese junta to release the Nobel peace prize winner so she could attend the meeting. Speculation has increased that, in any event, a release of Suu Kyi is imminent.
- Kuwait: In a surprise move, the cabinet of Kuwaiti PM Sheikh Sabah has approved a bill to allow women to vote and stand as candidates in parliamentary elections. The bill still must garner parliamentary approval. A similar proposal by Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah was defeated narrowly in 1999 by Islamist and conservative assembly members, who remain significant in the 50-member legislature.
- Malawi: On Thursday, Malawi votes for both a new president and parliament. The election campaign has been fought largely over AIDS, and despite widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s policies, a fragmented opposition is expected to result in a victory for the ruling UDF. Apart from minor disputes over the dropping of double-counted names from the voter rolls, the election is expected to be free and fair.
- South Africa: The UK minister for Africa, Chris Mullin, visited South Africa today to discuss policy toward Zimbabwe with the government in Pretoria. The two governments agreed that both sought to bring about democracy in Zimbabwe, and that their disagreements lay only in the realm of tactics.
- Ukraine: With Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma stepping down after two terms, upcoming elections in October will pit currently favoured pro-western opposition leader Victor Yushchenko against current prime minister Victor Yanukovych. 38 percent of Ukrainians—over one-third—believe the results of the upcoming election will be falsified, while only 14 percent believe the elections will be free and fair.
- American Ambassador John Herbst called on the government to hold free and fair election, or threatened that the country’s relations with the United States would suffer as a result.
- In a massive upset, Congress routed the BJP, only for leader Sonia Gandhi to step aside in favour of former finance minister, and respected economist, Manmohan Singh. Singh is to be India’s first Sikh prime minister.
- Singh, while in government service before, has always described himself as a technocrat, and there are concerns about whether his political skills are adequate to the task of maintaining a governing coalition in the Lok. More significant are worries that the BJP, after campaigning on an ‘India Shining’ campaign of economic growth (combined with aggressive whispers about Sonia Gandhi’s Italian birth and Roman Catholicism), will draw the lesson that it should return to its electoral roots in fomenting communal discord.