By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. You can follow him @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
Last Saturday, three people were killed and more than 30 injured when two bombs exploded near the headquarters of the Muttahida Quami Movement, or MQM, a leading political party in Karachi, Pakistan. It was yet another tragic incident in a campaign season plagued by violence that has seen dozens killed. As the country prepares for this weekend’s elections, the Taliban has significantly stepped up its attacks. And no matter which party emerges victorious from the May 11 poll, it will have to answer to a public that is increasingly worried about the threat extremism poses to the Pakistani state.
Pakistani fears about extremism had actually been on the wane over the last few years. The high mark of concern was 2009, when the Taliban gained control of the Swat Valley and neighboring areas within 100 miles of the nation’s capital Islamabad. In a spring 2009 Pew Research Center poll, 57 percent of Pakistanis described the Taliban as a very serious threat to the country. But after the Pakistani military forced a Taliban retreat, fears declined, and by 2012 a little more than a third of Pakistanis held this view.
GPS readers ask William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and currently a senior scholar on the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, about the implications of upcoming elections, terrorism and ties with America.
“Elizabeth Shanaz” asks on Facebook whether you see anything undermining a smooth election and transfer to power?
No. Elections in South Asia always have a few rough patches, but I see nothing that will undermine the election or prevent a peaceful transfer of power. It’s likely, of course, that neither major party will win an overall majority of seats in the National Assembly, and the party with the greater number of seats will need to form a coalition to govern. This might require an extended period of time as often there’s a good deal of bargaining and haggling necessary to get a coalition together.
“Bonnie Geffen” asks what the differences are between the leading candidates?
In a sense the leaders of the two major parties are more alike than different, and their political parties are the same, grouped around one family or clan, based mainly on patronage. These parties are neither ideological nor issue oriented. Their goal is political power for its own sake. The leaders of the two major parties are both the scions of rich and powerful families. There are a few smaller regional based parties that are structured similarly, but the dynastic character of Pakistani politics remains intact.
Still, some parties have broken out of this mold. The first has drawn much attention in the past year, the PTI, of former cricket star Imran Khan. Last year, Khan caught a lot of media attention by drawing immense crowds to rallies, partially because of his celebrity, but mainly because of his effective attacks on the government for its corruption and especially for its foreign policy of cooperation with the U.S. on counter-terrorism and for its seeming acquiescence in the U.S. drone campaign. However, his crowds have dwindled this past year, and it’s now unclear how much popular support he really has. There’s often a large gap between the candidate Pakistanis say they like best and the one they vote for.
By Mark P. Jones, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and the Chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University in Houston. The views expressed are his own.
Hugo Chávez was a great unifier. Not of all Venezuelans, as even the most casual observer of Venezuela realizes, but rather of the two polar political camps into which Venezuela divided during Chávez’s 14 year reign.
Within the Bolivarian movement he created, Chávez was the unquestioned leader, bringing together the disparate factions that together made up the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Cliques, distinct ideological groups, varied regional-based interests, and a new wealthy business class (the Boliburguesía, whose members experienced a rise from rags to riches due to their ties to the government) were all united by their support – both principled and self-interested – for Chávez.
On the opposition side, the one common thread that tied together a heterogeneous opposition alliance (the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD) was the goal of removing Hugo Chávez from power. This vibrant and often passionate opposition to Chávez provided the glue that held together such diverse actors as socialists, conservatives, state-based parties, recently established parties, and parties linked to the country’s discredited pre-Chávez political system.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Beppe Severgnini, a columnist with Italy’s ‘Corriere della Sera,’ about last week’s Italian elections and what the deadlock means for the country.
Does it matter that nobody is running Italy? The line in Italy has always been, the government sleeps and the economy grows.
Well, it does matter, to be honest. It does matter a lot. But we're not worried. You shouldn't be worried. I think things will be sorted out…But don't panic. I remember I was in Aspen for the Aspen Ideas Festival, late June, 2012. A panel about Europe. Everybody was talking about doomsday, you know, everything is over. And I told them, keep quiet. Let's see what happens. And, in fact, it turned out that things got better. So before we decide that it is over – I think the expression, it's not over until the fat lady sings, it comes from opera. Opera is Italian, don't forget that.
But let me ask you, Beppe, why did the Italians do this? It's one thing to reject austerity and things like that. But, you know, you've elected either one or two clowns, depending on one's estimation of Silvio Berlusconi. What are the Italians saying?
Out of four Italians, one didn't vote, one voted for Berlusconi, one voted for the center left, one voted for Grillo. So that's why we are in a stalemate. Beppe Grillo is a kind of wrecking ball for Italian politics. And to be honest, some of the Italian political buildings needed to go down. Political parties asked for it. The question is, will we be able to build up something to replace what we pulled down?
By Anna Borshchevskaya, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Borshchevskaya, assistant director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, was an IREX grant recipient in Armenia. The views expressed are her own.
On February 18, Armenians will cast their ballots for president. Although eight candidates have registered, victory and a new five-year term for incumbent Serzh Sargsyan are a foregone conclusion. Still, this election is not meaningless.
The conduct of this poll is important, as will be Sargsyan’s choices after the poll. If the international community gives the election a clean bill of health, it will increase Sargsyan’s legitimacy. He will have the opportunity to enact much needed reforms in order to move closer to the West or, perhaps as likely, avoid tough reforms and move Armenia – already broadly sympathetic to Russia – further into Moscow.
Upon first winning the presidency in February 2008, Sargsyan faced a legitimacy crisis. Some have claimed that he has used his position and connections – he was sitting prime minister and had served previously as secretary of the national security council and defense minister – to rig the election against Levon Ter-Petrossian, a former president. At least ten died in the ensuing protests.
By Nino Evgenidze and Manana Kochladze, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nino Evgenidze is the executive director of the Economic Policy Research Center. Manana Kochladze is the executive director of Green Alternative, an environmental advocacy group. The views expressed are their own.
Georgians replaced their government through the ballot box for the first time in the country’s history in October. United in their demand for social justice and transparency, Georgians voted against the United National Movement’s closed-door approach to governance, which often led to the abuse of official powers – as epitomized by a recent prisoner abuse scandal.
The new government is prosecuting former officials, and some donors and Western supporters are treating these prosecutions as revenge. But the truth is that for decades, Georgian government positions have been viewed more as an entitlement than as a responsibility. The prosecutions are being spurred by ordinary Georgians who feel that they got no justice under the previous government, and the new government is responding by investigating the alleged wrongdoing. It is essential to see the investigations through, and ensure that no one stands above the law.
By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu and an Adjunct Fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.
On December 16, Japan will hold elections for its House of Representatives. The current ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is expected to lose. Polls indicate the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will win the most seats, but not a majority. An LDP victory will mean the return of LDP President, and former Premier, Shinzo Abe. Unfortunately for Japan, there are reasons to be pessimistic for the Abe redux.
Abe is seen as a strong voice in Japan’s conservative camp. His past administration of 366 days over 2006-2007 was largely a failure as he focused on a conservative agenda that did little to address voters’ concerns over the economy. Instead, he promoted a jingoist concept of a Beautiful Japan, opposed amending the Imperial Household Law to allow female succession, and failed to continue the economic reforms that his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi worked hard to attain. In the end, he led his party to defeat in the House of Councilors election and abruptly resigned, citing a stomach ailment. Today, the ailment is gone and his LDP has released a 54-page document outlining policies. From this and speeches made by Abe about his vision for foreign and economic policies, it is possible to envision what an Abe Administration would look like.
By Global Public Square
For more What in the World watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
Imagine a country on election day where you know the results the instant the polls close. The votes are counted electronically, every district and state has the same rules and the same organized voting procedure. It is managed by a non-partisan independent body. Sounds like the greatest democracy in the world, right? Try Mexico. Or France, Germany, Brazil. Certainly not the United States of America.
America has one of the world’s most antique, politicized and dysfunctional procedures for its elections. A crazy quilt patchwork of state and local laws with partisan officials making key decisions and ancient technology that often breaks down. There are no national standards. American voters in more than a dozen states, for example, don’t need ID. But even India, with a GDP just 12 percent that of ours, is implementing a national biometric database for 1.2 billion voters. The nascent democracy in Iraq famously dipped voters’ fingers in purple to ensure they didn't vote again. Why are we so behind the curve?
Fareed Zakaria speaks with New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg about how the two campaigns steered people to vote in this week’s presidential election. For the full interview, watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
"One of the things that the campaigns have done is they’ve tried to vacuum up everything that they can, " Charles Duhigg tells Fareed Zakaria. "It used to be that when someone was running for office, they would get into the voter file, right? And it would say someone’s name, where they lived and their party affiliation and whether they ever have before.
"Now, each campaign has literally thousands of data points on you. They know what magazines you subscribe to. They know if you've ever declared bankruptcy or gone into foreclosure. They know how many kids you have. They know if you ever bought a boat, what type of insurance you own, where you send your kids to school.
By Ravi Agrawal, CNN
Editor’s note: Ravi Agrawal is a senior producer on Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter @RaviAgrawalCNN
At the start of the year, GPS billed 2012 as “the year of elections.” It was to be a rare alignment of the electoral stars: the year China, Russia, France, and the U.S. would elect new leaders. Together, these four countries represent 80 percent of the U.N. Security Council and account for 40 percent of global GDP. There were also elections scheduled in Venezuela, Mexico, and Egypt. Unlike 2011 – which unleashed the sudden churn of the Arab Spring – 2012 was meant to bring a different kind of people power: planned change.
Democracy at its core is about the rule of the people; it is about free and fair elections. Yet democratic countries fall under a fairly broad spectrum – some proudly enshrine a range of freedoms, others impose restrictions. One would think the world is moving inexorably towards the freer end of this spectrum, but the data shows the opposite. Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey scores countries on the political rights and civil liberties they offer. In each of the last six years, more countries have seen declines in their ratings than gains. On average, for every two countries that see an improvement, three fall back. Why is this happening? In part, it is because of the disproportionate importance we ascribe to elections. Fareed Zakaria predicted this trend in a 1997 Foreign Affairs essay, when he described illiberal democracy as a growth industry. “In the end,” he wrote, “elections trump everything. If a country holds elections, Washington and the world will tolerate a great deal from the resulting government … Elections are an important virtue of governance, but they are not the only virtue.”
By Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost
“If Obama is re-elected, we will move more and more toward one world,” said Bonnie Re, an election worker in Boca Raton, Florida.
The prospect did not excite the co-chair of the Boca Raton chapter of the Romney Express, an organization dedicated to helping the former Massachusetts governor become president of the United States.
America is special, she emphasized, and did not need to interact with other countries on the basis of equality. One act of Barack Obama’s really stuck in her craw.
By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.
For a brief moment last week, a few started to believe the impossible: that after 14 years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would lose an election to a unified opposition led by a young, energetic former governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski. But when the results were announced on Sunday night, Chávez had won, again.
This time, though, the victory was more about Chávez as a personal figure than his self-named Bolivarian Revolution over a fractured, discredited (and smeared) opposition. For the first time, the Venezuelan opposition made the election a referendum on Chávez’s record, rather than – as it had too often in the past – on his personality. With a record as governor of Miranda state and as a fresh face, the 40-year-old Capriles separated himself from the shadow of the corruption and mismanagement that preceded Chávez, instead focusing on the dismal record of the Bolivarian Revolution.
And there is a lot to focus on: in the last 14 years, Caracas – with a murder rate of about 67 per 100,000 residents – has become one of the most violent cities in the world; profligate public spending has led to an inflation rate that topped 27 percent last year (again one of the highest in the world), and reliance on oil and the capricious expropriation of business has led to one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region, registering a flaccid 4.2 percent last year compared to 6 percent for Chile and 6.9 for Peru.