2008 World Elections: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

This weekend elections in Ghana (a second round run-off) and in Bangladesh will mark the end of the 2008 world election cycle. In sum, national elections were held in 33 countries plus regional and referenda in about a dozen more. On balance, the world is a more democratic place at the end of 2008 than it was at the start and that's a good thing. And while all democratic outcomes should be celebrated, I'd like to highlight two landmark changes and for the better in the world's political landscape.

The Maldives
In the first open elections in the Islamic Republic of the Maldives, the opposition led by 41 year old Mohammed Nasheed won his country's Presidency ousting Asia's longest-serving President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in power 30 years having never previously permitted contested elections. Mr. Nasheed, a former political prisoner known as the Nelson Mandela of the Maldives, won in the run-off phase after the first round saw no candidate win a majority. It's a stunning development for the small Indian Ocean archipelago best known for its coral atolls and world-class scuba diving and luxury resorts. It's significant because the Maldives becomes just one of four Islamic democracies. The election in Maldives helps to dispel the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible.


"Women and girls, who used to have no inheritance rights, now inherit equally with men. Rape, once rarely prosecuted, now is commonly punished with sentences of up to 15 years in prison. And if a girl drops out of school, social workers now show up at the family home to try to get her back in class. We are having a kind of revolution." - Senator Odette Nyiramilimo, head of the Rwandan Senate’s committee on social affairs and human rights

In September 2008, Rwanda became the first and only country in the world with a female majority in Parliament, with women winning 56% of parliamentary seats (45 out of 80) up from 48% in the previous parliament.

The rise of women in power is in part due to the country's electoral quota (30% of the seats are reserved for women), and partly a consequence of the gender imbalance in the wake of the country's 1994 genocide that left the country 70% female.  Today women comprise 55% of the Rwandan population as a whole so overall Rwanda's Parliament reflects the country's gender divide.

The Bad
Most elections in 2008 were "clean, free, fair and transparent," some were clearly less than perfect. Voting irregularities reared their ugly head most acutely in the Georgian legislative elections and in the Mongolian legislative elections. But perhaps the bad award goes to autocrats closer to home in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Daniel Ortega's rule in Nicaragua is nothing short of a dictatorship. The recent regional and municipal elections were simply put a travesty. The Transparency International chapter in Nicaragua, said it had "recorded irregularities in 32 percent of the polling places it monitored" and the group was denied access to all polling places outside of Managua. Prior to the elections, Ortega's government banned two leftist parties prompting a nationwide strike which failed to move Ortega. In addition, Ortega refused to allow international election monitors "because they are financed by outside powers."

In Venezuela, the mercurial Hugo Chávez took a different tact to his opposition in November's regional and municipal elections. The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), Venezuela's electoral council, simply declared over 400 members of the opposition including the leading candidate for one of Caracas' four mayorships ineligible pending unspecified corruption charges.  Still, the elections themselves can be defined as "credible."

The Ugly
But whatever the limitations and  failings of elections in Georgia, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, none compare to the bleak situation in Zimbabwe. There Robert Mugabe, the last of the old lions, has made a mockery of Zimbabwe's election refusing to yield to the will of the Zimbabwean people. Mr. Mugabe has since April held the world community at bay promising to share power but only usurping it further all the while terrorizing the population.

Mr. Mugabe, 84, who has ruled the country since 1980, lost March presidential elections to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Official results said Tsvangirai did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff, held in June and widely denounced as neither free nor fair. Zimbabwe has simply ceased to function with an inflation rate that is no longer calculable; it's somewhere in the quadrillions. Cholera rages with a death toll now surpassing 1,200. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe faces mass starvation with 70% of country now down to one meal a day.

Recently Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, wrote a powerful letter in The Observer on the need to remove by force Robert Mugabe from in Zimbabwe. Here's a portion of that letter:

Mugabe and his corrupt regime must go. Lord Acton said: 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' How can anyone share power in a thoroughly corrupt regime?

The sterility of the power-sharing agreement can be seen through this broken land where its people die from eating anthrax-infected cattle or from starvation. Where sewers are open and there is no running water in towns hospitals any longer. A place where there is no electricity to operate the most basic services. A land where cholera is claiming more lives by the day.

The time has come for the international community to recognise that the power-sharing deal signed in September is dead. The impasse within the South African-sponsored negotiations between the MDC and Zanu PF has been sustained by a Mugabe regime which is unwilling to give up power and refuses to recognise the rule of law.

The time for any negotiated settlement which leaves Mugabe and his regime in power is over. Mugabe has had the opportunity to share power and to restore the land that he brought to ruin. Instead, that path of ruination has become a slope falling away into a humanitarian disaster.

Where are the African governments or leaders with the courage of Julius Nyerere, the former President of Tanzania, who ousted Idi Amin after recognising that his neighbour had become a tyrant and who marched an army into Uganda to bring an end to the killing fields? In Uganda, we were beaten, tortured, abused and hundreds were murdered, but never did we starve to death or see the level of suffering which is to be found in today's Zimbabwe. We went into exile but not by the millions as Zimbabweans have.

We look for leaders of resolution and courage to lead the people of Zimbabwe out of their suffering. The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: 'We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.'

Mugabe may well brand anyone who criticises him as a 'colonialist' or an 'imperialist' for any action they take, but the people of Zimbabwe look to the international community, especially the SADC, to heed the cries of their suffering and the voices of our own conscience.

More than 20 years ago, Joshua Nkomo gave an address at the funeral of Lookout Masuku who had been imprisoned for an alleged plot to overthrow Mugabe. Nkomo's words need to be heard afresh, not least by the President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Mugabe's neighbours.

Nkomo said: 'We cannot blame colonialism and imperialism for this tragedy. We who fought against these things now practise them. Our country cannot progress on fear and the false accusations which are founded simply on the love of power. There is something radically wrong with our country today and we are moving, fast, towards destruction. There is confusion and corruption and, let us be clear about it, we are seeing racism in reverse under the false mirror of correcting imbalances from the past. In the process, we are creating worse things. We have created fear in the minds of some in our country. We have made them feel unwanted, unsafe. We cannot condemn other people and then do things even worse than they did. We cannot go on this way.'

The time has come for Mugabe to answer for his crimes against humanity, against his countrymen and women and for justice to be done. The winds of change that once brought hope to Zimbabwe and its neighbours have become a hurricane of destruction with the outbreak of cholera, destitution, starvation and systemic abuse of power by the state.

As a country cries out for justice, we can no longer be inactive to their call. Mugabe and his henchmen must now take their rightful place in the Hague and answer for their actions. The time to remove them from power has come.

I have to ask must a people and a country be reduced to nothing because of the intransigence of one petty dictator before the world acts?

And if you're looking forward to 2009, elections are scheduled to be held in Israel, the United Kingdom, India, Uruguay, South Africa and Somaliland (a breakaway region in northern Somalia). The EU will also elect a new Parliament.

Tags: rwanda, The Maldives, World Elections 2008, Zimbabwe (all tags)



Africa is scary with respect to elections.

 Maybe the British should have maintained the colonies for longer, and given them order. But I look forward to Israeli, British, Indian, EU, and German elections. I hope Israel throws out the wicked Likud party, and replaces it with a more peaceful government. In the UK, I'm conflicted, as I like Labour's ideology, but still have trouble forgiving them on Iraq, and giving international credibility to it, or attempting to do so, and making English speaking countries look bad too, tho that was the least of my concerns. I wonder about Germany too. Angela Merkel is pretty popular in Deutschland, but her party is conservative, the CDU.

by Lakrosse 2008-12-27 05:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Africa is scary with respect to elections.

"Maybe the British should have maintained the colonies for longer, and given them order."

Think long and hard about that quote. I hate to think that you really meant what it says. You think maybe the British should have held on to the American colonies some more too? Give them some more order too?

by newms 2008-12-27 07:19AM | 0 recs
we didn't have constantly warring tribes

like they do in some of those countries in Africa. And don't try to read any special meaning into it, because there is none. We all pretty much knew what we wanted, and were united. Thats not the case in some of these African countries.

by Lakrosse 2008-12-27 08:10AM | 0 recs
Re: we didn't have constantly warring tribes

I'm not trying to read special meaning to it. The point is no people wants another foreign country 'giving them order' especially when that country treats your citizens like dirt. Part of the reason that there are warring tribes in these African countries is because of the 'order' that the colonial powers gave them when they split up the land into 'countries' that were defined by the foreign powers' geographical conquest and not by the nations of people that lived there.

Part of the reason many African countries are in the state that they are in is colonialism itself. When many of them gained independence, some the locals who became heads of those countries continued ruling as the European 'overlords' did and in some cases became even worse. Much like the novel 'Animal Farm'. One set of self-serving overlords replaced by another.

So no, I don't think that many African countries would be better off if Europe had continued ruling them. Many of them need international assistance now, but ultimately if they are going to succeed as countries, they are going to have to depend on their own people - on what makes every other successful nation in this world successful. The will, talent, decency and ingenuity of their own people.  

by newms 2008-12-27 08:55AM | 0 recs
Re: we didn't have constantly warring tribes

The British created these countries by grouping together enemy tribes and splitting the land of other tribes. Whatever you think of the benefits of British colonization, they created just as many problems.

by X Stryker 2008-12-27 12:59PM | 0 recs
Muslim democracy

The question to be asked, though, is whether the country, having bought into a religious government, will be run with superstition laden religious laws.  Democracy is garbage if it oppresses those who are non-believers.  I would rather see a benevolent dictator than a hierarchical religious tyranny.

by candideinnc 2008-12-27 07:11AM | 0 recs
Re: 2008 World Elections: The Good, The Bad and T

Don't forget about Canada in 2009!

Harper can't get anything done, so look for the Liberals under their new leader to make a run for a majority after no confidence is declared. The country may just vote the Grunts in just because they finally ousted Dion and because of the Tories lack of accomplishments. If the Bloc in Quebec puts up another weak showing the Liberals have a good shot.

by ctman1638 2008-12-27 07:30AM | 0 recs
Re: 2008 World Elections: The Good, The Bad and T

I wonder if the UK will wait until '10 for their elections. It doesn't look good at the moment in Israel at all right now.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-12-27 11:32AM | 0 recs
No mention of Nepal???

Why didn't you mention Nepal, which probably had the most interesting election of all this year?

by Liberaltarian 2008-12-27 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: No mention of Nepal???

You're right, I should have said a word or two on Nepal and  on Bhutan as well. I suppose in the end I focused on the Maldives because there the transition came about peacefully and because it's an Islamic country. Nepal's transition is noteworthy, don't get me wrong, but if I had to pick a country that's turned the corner it would be the Maldives and not Nepal.

I also thought about framing this in a left versus right format but apart from Spain and Slovenia, it was pretty bad year for the left. Helen Clark's tenure in NZ came to an end but that's nothing compared to the surge of the right in Austria.

by Charles Lemos 2008-12-27 08:08PM | 0 recs


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