By Global Public Square staff
Imagine if we had national elections this week. There would be no shortage of big debates over: the deficit, taxes, Obamacare, the size of government... you name the big topic, and our two parties will have a big disagreement.
Contrast that with another major country which actually is at the polls Sunday. The hot topics there are: whether or not to have one day of the week set aside for vegetarianism ... whether or not mothers should pick subsidized childcare over keeping their kids at home ... or get this one: whether or not foreign motorists should pay tolls. Seriously? Where in the world is this wondrous country with no real problems?
Well, it's one of the world's largest economies, and Europe’s largest: Germany.
Part of the reason why Germans are debating mundane issues is because, unlike in the rest of Europe or indeed much of the world, the overall picture is quite rosy.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of the global economic attitudes project at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
Japanese voters head to the polls on Sunday to elect half of the members of the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s Diet, the national legislature. The ballot is shaping up as a referendum on the seven-month tenure of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.
Abe is riding high in the polls, and pre-election public opinion surveys show the ruling Liberal Democratic Party prevailing in the upper house vote. Victory will enable the prime minister to pursue his domestic economic reform agenda, dubbed Abenomics, which entails monetary and fiscal stimulus and regulatory reform to improve Japan’s competitiveness.
But an LDP victory would also bring high expectations. After more than two decades of economic turmoil and political transition in Japan, the public’s mood is on the upswing. Satisfaction with Japan’s direction is at its highest level since the Pew Research Center began regular surveys of the country in 2002. Economic sentiment in Japan, for example, has improved 20 percentage points in just the last year, while optimism about the nation’s economic trajectory over the next 12 months is second only to that found in the United States among publics in advanced economies. This may help explain why about seven-in-ten Japanese have a favorable opinion of Abe.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with CNN about the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, how he compares with outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who really holds power in the country.
Beyond the rhetoric, how different are these two as far as their actual beliefs and approach to the nuclear program that Iran has launched?
They’re quite different. They're different in tone – you can see that. They're also different in that Ahmadinejad was a layperson, whereas Rouhani comes out of the clerical establishment. It makes him probably more capable of navigating.
The problem, however, is there's a deep structural contradiction within the Iranian system. The president doesn’t have much power on these core foreign policy and national security issues. Those are held by the supreme leader. Remember, the last two presidents of Iran have, by the end of their terms, fallen afoul of the supreme leader completely. Mohammad Khatami did start out as a reformist. He's now under a form of house arrest.
Ahmadinejad started out in some ways as an opponent of the clerical system. He's discredited. The supreme leader doesn't like him. So the real question is will the supreme leader look at the results? And now you have 20 years of polling where the Iranian people are basically saying, we want conciliation, we want reconciliation with the West, we want to join the modern world.
By Yasmin Alem, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Yasmin Alem is an analyst on Iranian elections and domestic politics and author of Duality by Design: the Iranian Electoral System. The views expressed are her own.
Much of the Western media might already have crowned Saeed Jalili the likely winner of Iran’s presidential election on June 14. But his presumed frontrunner status isn’t necessarily based on the political realities on the ground, a close reading of the Iranian press, or the country’s opinion polls. Indeed, Western commentators may well be putting the cart before the horse as they handicap this race.
The hype surrounding Jalili’s candidacy isn’t new. Numerous reports over the past year have suggested that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary forces – known collectively known as the Basij – plan to endorse Jalili’s nomination. As early as last May, a number of websites in the Persian blogosphere announced their support for the candidacy of the “living martyr.”
Then, last month, Iran’s most important “voter,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described his ideal candidate as someone who is “brave and fearless in the international arena and in the face of arrogant powers, and who has planning, wisdom and foresight in the domestic arena, and believes in the resistance economy.”
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is the director of global economic attitudes for the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
With the September general election rapidly approaching, domestic polls show the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard trailing the opposition by a growing margin, despite the fact that Australians are among the most satisfied publics in the world, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of economic sentiment in 39 countries.
A poll in The Australian newspaper earlier this month showed the opposition coalition with a 16-point lead over Gillard’s Labor Party, with regional polls suggesting heavy losses for the ruling party.
And yet, after a generation without a recession, Australians are happier with the state of their economy and their personal finances than most people in advanced, emerging or developing economies. They have relatively high hopes for Australia’s and their own economic futures. And they are among the least worried about inequality and unemployment.
By Dwight Bashir, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dwight Bashir is Deputy Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. You can follow him @DwightBashir. The views expressed are his own.
This week, in one arbitrary swoop, Iran’s Guardian Council shrunk the list of presidential candidates for next month's election from 686 to eight eligible individuals. It should come as no surprise that all of the serious contenders are loyalists to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Still, the decision did hold some surprises, not least the disqualification of former two-term President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The exclusion of Rafsanjani, 78, speaks to something greater than his age. If we learned anything from the stolen June 2009 election, it was that the regime would do anything to maintain its stranglehold over the country. The last election highlighted a regime fighting for its life by invoking its repressive religious ideology to stifle a tidal wave of dissent and protest, and the banning of Rafsanjani is the first clear sign during this election cycle that Khamenei will do anything to avoid a repeat of 2009. The reality is that since then, Rafsanjani has become a greater adversary of Khamenei and a favorite of the reformist Green Movement. To allow him to run would be tantamount to giving pro-reform Iranians a rallying icon.
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.
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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.