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  • Publication Date: 02-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On 5 January, the first anniversary of the deeply contested 2014 elections, the most violent in Bangladesh's history, clashes between government and opposition groups led to several deaths and scores injured. The confrontation marks a new phase of the deadlock between the ruling Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) opposition, which have swapped time in government with metronomic consistency since independence. Having boycotted the 2014 poll, the BNP appears bent on ousting the government via street power. With daily violence at the pre-election level, the political crisis is fast approaching the point of no return and could gravely destabilise Bangladesh unless the sides move urgently to reduce tensions. Moreover, tribunals set up to adjudicate crimes perpetrated at the moment of Bangladesh's bloody birth threaten division more than reconciliation. Both parties would be best served by changing course: the AL government by respecting the democratic right to dissent (recalling its time in opposition); the BNP by reviving its political fortunes through compromise with the ruling party, rather than violent street politics. With the two largest mainstream parties unwilling to work toward a new political compact that respects the rights of both opposition and victor to govern within the rule of law, extremists and criminal networks could exploit the resulting political void. Violent Islamist factions are already reviving, threatening the secular, democratic order. While jihadi forces see both parties as the main hurdle to the establishment of an Islamic order, the AL and the BNP perceive each other as the main adversary. The AL and its leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, emphasise that the absence from parliament of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her BNP make them political non-entities. Yet, concerned about a comeback, the government is at-tempting to forcibly neutralise the political opposition and stifle dissent, including by bringing corruption and other criminal cases against party leaders, among whom are Zia and her son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman; heavy-handed use of police and paramilitary forces; and legislation and policies that undermine fundamental constitutional rights. The BNP, which has not accepted any responsibility for the election-related vio-lence in 2014 that left hundreds dead (and saw hundreds of Hindu homes and shops vandalised), is again attempting to oust the government by force, in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is alleged to have committed some of the worst abuses during that period. The party retains its core supporters and seems to have successfully mobilised its activists on the streets. Yet, its sole demand – for a fresh election under a neutral caretaker – is too narrow to generate the public support it needs to over-come the disadvantage of being out of parliament, and its political capital is fading fast as it again resorts to violence. The deep animosity and mistrust between leaders and parties were not inevitable. Despite a turbulent history, they earlier cooperated to end direct or indirect military rule and strengthen democracy, most recently during the 2007-2008 tenure of the military-backed caretaker government (CTG), when the high command tried to re-move both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia from politics. Rather than building on that cooperation, the two leaders have resorted to non-democratic methods to undermine each other. In power, both have used centralised authority, a politicised judiciary and predatory law enforcement agencies against legitimate opposition. Underpinning the current crisis is the failure to agree on basic standards for multi-party democratic functioning. While the BNP claims to be the guardian of Bangladeshi nationalism, the AL has attempted to depict itself as the sole author and custodian of Bangladesh's liberation. The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), established by the AL in March 2010 to prosecute individuals accused of committing atrocities during the 1971 liberation war, should be assessed in this context. While the quest to bring perpetrators to account is justifiable, the ICTs are not simply, or even primarily, a legal tool, but rather are widely perceived as a political one, primarily for use against the government's Islamist opposition. In short, the governing AL is seen to be using the nation's founding tragedy for self-serving political gains. The AL needs to realise that the BNP's marginalisation from mainstream politics could encourage anti-government activism to find more radical avenues, all the more so in light of its own increasingly authoritarian bent. Equally, the BNP would do well to abandon its alliances of convenience with violent Islamist groups and seek to revive agreement on a set of basic standards for multiparty democracy. A protracted and violent political crisis would leave Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia the ultimate losers, particularly if a major breakdown of law and order were to encourage the military to intervene; though there is as yet no sign of that, history suggests it is an eventuality not to be dismissed. The opportunities for political reconciliation are fast diminishing, as political battle lines become ever more entrenched. Both parties should restrain their violent activist base and take practical steps to reduce political tensions: the AL government should commit to a non-repressive response to political dis-sent, rein in and ensure accountability for abuses committed by law enforcement entities, reverse measures that curb civil liberties and assertively protect minority communities against attack and dispossession of properties and businesses; the AL should invite the BNP, at lower levels of seniority if needed, to negotiations aimed at reviving the democratic rules of the game, including electoral reform. It should also hold mayoral elections in Dhaka, a long-overdue constitutional requirement that would provide opportunities to begin that dialogue; and the BNP should commit to non-violent political opposition; refrain from an alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami that is enhancing the Islamist opposition's street power with little political return for the BNP; and instead demonstrate willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations with the AL to end a crisis that is undermining economic growth and threatening to subvert the political order.
  • Topic: Democratization, Political Activism, Elections
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Asia
  • Publication Date: 07-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The accelerating deterioration of Venezuela’s political crisis is cause for growing concern. The collapse in 2014 of an incipient dialogue between government and opposition ushered in growing political instability. With legislative elections due in December, there are fears of renewed violence. But there is a less widely appreciated side of the drama. A sharp fall in real incomes, major shortages of essential foods, medicines and other basic goods and breakdown of the health service are elements of a looming social crisis. If not tackled decisively and soon, it will become a humanitarian disaster with a seismic impact on domestic politics and society, and on Venezuela’s neighbours. This situation results from poor policy choices, incompetence and corruption; however, its gravest consequences can still be avoided. This will not happen unless the political deadlock is overcome and a fresh consensus forged, which in turn requires strong engagement of foreign governments and multilateral bodies.
  • Topic: Democratization, Development, Health, Food, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Latin America
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is longterm and characterised by sporadic surges of violence against a backdrop of state disintegration, a survival economy and deep inter-ethnic cleavages. Armed groups (including the anti-balaka and the ex-Seleka) are fragmenting and becoming increasingly criminalised; intercommunal tensions have hampered efforts to promote CAR’s national unity and mend its social fabric. Unfortunately, the roadmap to end the crisis, which includes elections before the end of 2015, presents a short-term answer. To avoid pursuing a strategy that would merely postpone addressing critical challenges until after the polls, CAR’s transitional authorities and international partners should address them now by implementing a comprehensive disarmament policy, and reaffirming that Muslims belong within the nation. If this does not happen, the elections risk becoming a zero-sum game.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Arms Control and Proliferation, Democratization, Ethnic Conflict, Political Economy, Fragile/Failed State
  • Political Geography: Africa
  • Publication Date: 10-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Somaliland’s hybrid system of tri-party democracy and traditional clan-based governance has enabled the consolidation of state-like authority, social and economic recovery and, above all, relative peace and security but now needs reform. Success has brought greater resources, including a special funding status with donors – especially the UK, Denmark and the European Union (EU) – as well as investment from and diplomatic ties with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), though not international recognition. It is increasingly part of the regional system; ties are especially strong with Ethiopia and Djibouti. Given the continued fragility of the Somalia Federal Government (SFG), which still rejects its former northern region’s independence claims, and civil war across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen, Somaliland’s continued stability is vital. This in turn requires political reforms aimed at greater inclusion, respect for mediating institutions (especially the professional judiciary and parliament) and a regional and wider internationally backed framework for external cooperation and engagement.
  • Topic: Democratization, Governance, Elections
  • Political Geography: Africa, Somaliland
  • Publication Date: 10-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president of Afghanistan on 29 September, under difficult circumstances. He inherited a government that is running out of money and losing ground to a rising insurgency. His ability to confront those problems and other challenges as foreign troops withdraw will be shaped by the aftermath of the political contest that brought him to power. Forming a national unity government with his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesiveness. Yet, it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul, which could undermine urgently needed reforms. Given the international role in developing the agreements that have created this new partnership, and the absence of mechanisms to resolve internal differences, the international community should serve as a guarantor of Kabul's new political order and, if necessary, mediate any serious disputes that arise.
  • Topic: Corruption, Democratization, Islam, Governance
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Central Asia
  • Publication Date: 12-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: On 22 May, for the twelfth time in Thailand's history, the army seized power after months of political turbulence. This is not simply more of the same. The past decade has seen an intensifying cycle of election, protest and government downfall, whether at the hands of the courts or military, revealing deepening societal cleavages and elite rivalries, highlighting competing notions of legitimate authority. A looming royal succession, prohibited by law from being openly discussed, adds to the urgency. A failure to fix this dysfunction risks greater turmoil. The military's apparent prescription – gelding elected leaders in favour of unelected institutions – is more likely to bring conflict than cohesion, given a recent history of a newly empowered electorate. For the army, buyer's remorse is not an option, nor is open-ended autocracy; rather its legacy, and Thailand's stability, depend on its success in forging a path – thus far elusive – both respectful of majoritarian politics and in which all Thais can see their concerns acknowledged.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Democratization, Ethnic Conflict, Governance, Authoritarianism
  • Political Geography: Asia, Thailand
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: As the presidential election approaches in 2014, with the security transition at the year's end, Afghan women, including parliamentarians and rights activists, are concerned that the hard-won political, economic and social gains achieved since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001 may be rolled back or conceded in negotiations with the insurgents. Afghanistan's stabilisation ultimately rests on the state's accountability to all its citizens, and respect for constitutional, legal and international commitments, including to human rights and gender equality. There will be no sustainable peace unless there is justice, and justice demands that the state respect and protect the rights of women, half its population.
  • Topic: NATO, Democratization, Development, Gender Issues, Peace Studies, War, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Central Asia
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Something is brewing in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is not so much that protests have been spreading since 2011; the country has experienced these before and so far they remain relatively small. It is, rather, who is behind them and from where dissatisfaction stems. East Bankers – Jordanians who inhabited the area before the arrival of the first Palestinian refugees in 1948 – have long formed the pillar of support for a regime that played on their fears concerning the Palestinian-origin majority. That pillar is showing cracks. The authorities retain several assets: popular anxiety about instability; U.S. and Gulf Arab political and material support; and persistent intercommunal divisions within the opposition. But in a fast-changing region, they would be reckless to assume they can avoid both far-reaching change and turmoil. Ultimately, they must either undertake the former one or experience the latter.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Civil Society, Democratization, Regime Change, Political Activism
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Arabia, Jordan
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Since it assumed power after Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the performance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been, at times, head-scratching. Extolled in the wake of the uprising as the revolution's protector, many have come to view it as an agent of the counter-revolution. It often has been obstinate, before abruptly yielding to pressure. It values its long ties with Washington, from which it receives much assistance, but seemed willing to jeopardise them by targeting U.S.-funded NGOs. Suspected by Islamists of seeking to deprive them of opportunity to govern and by non-Islamists of entering a secret pact with the Muslim Brotherhood, it finds itself in the worst of both worlds: an angry tug-of-war with liberal protesters and a high-wire contest with Islamists. It displays little interest in governing, wishing instead to protect privileges, but erratic behaviour threatens even that. On the eve of presidential elections that have become a high-stakes free-for-all, the SCAF should take a step back and, with the full range of political actors, agree on principles for a genuine and safe political transition.
  • Topic: Democratization, Development, Islam, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Arabia
  • Publication Date: 04-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: One year into the new semi-civilian government, Myanmar has implemented a wide-ranging set of reforms as it embarks on a remarkable top-down transition from five decades of authoritarian rule. In an address to the nation on 1 March 2012 marking his first year in office, President Thein Sein made clear that the goal was to introduce “genuine democracy” and that there was still much more to be done. This ambitious agenda includes further democratic reform, healing bitter wounds of the past, rebuilding the economy and ensuring the rule of law, as well as respecting ethnic diversity and equality. The changes are real, but the challenges are complex and numerous. To consolidate and build on what has been achieved and increase the likelihood that benefits flow to all its citizens, Myanmar needs the international community to come closer, seeking opportunities for greater engagement rather than more reasons why sanctions should be sustained.
  • Topic: Democratization, Economics, Human Rights, Law Enforcement
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia
  • Publication Date: 05-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Dans un contexte arabe marqué par des transitions bâclées ou sanglantes, la Tunisie fait encore figure d'exception. Depuis le 14 janvier 2011, ce n'est pas seulement la tête de l'ancien régime, symbolisé par l'ancien président Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, qui est tombée. C'est tout un système qui se trouve bouleversé, principalement dans le cadre d'un consensus relativement large. Mais les défis qui pourraient menacer ces progrès existent. Parmi ceux-ci, deux en particulier sont étroitement liés : restaurer la sécurité et mener une véritable lutte contre l'impunité. Pour le nouveau gouvernement d'union, dénommé Troïka et emmené par le mouvement islamiste An-Nahda, la clé demeure dans un dialogue large, permettant de réformer les forces de sécurité sans trop les provoquer, rendre justice aux victimes de la dictature sans céder à la chasse aux sorcières, et garantir une justice efficace tout en tenant compte des limites du système judiciaire en place.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Development, Government, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Arabia, North Africa
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Dans un contexte arabe marqué par des transitions bâclées ou sanglantes, la Tunisie fait encore figure d'exception. Depuis le 14 janvier 2011, ce n'est pas seulement la tête de l'ancien régime, symbolisé par l'ancien président Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, qui est tombée. C'est tout un système qui se trouve bouleversé, principalement dans le cadre d'un consensus relativement large. Mais les défis qui pourraient menacer ces progrès existent. Parmi ceux-ci, deux en particulier sont étroitement liés : restaurer la sécurité et mener une véritable lutte contre l'impunité. Pour le nouveau gouvernement d'union, dénommé Troïka et emmené par le mouvement islamiste An-Nahda, la clé demeure dans un dialogue large, permettant de réformer les forces de sécurité sans trop les provoquer, rendre justice aux victimes de la dictature sans céder à la chasse aux sorcières, et garantir une justice efficace tout en tenant compte des limites du système judiciaire en place.
  • Topic: Corruption, Democratization, Economics, Regime Change, Labor Issues
  • Political Geography: Arabia, North Africa
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Bangladesh could face a protracted political crisis in the lead-up to the 2013 elections unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government changes course and takes a more conciliatory approach towards the political opposition and the military. In December 2008, following two years of a military-backed caretaker government, the Awami League (AL) secured a landslide victory in what were widely acknowledged to be the fairest elections in the country's history. The hope, both at home and abroad, was that Sheikh Hasina would use her mandate to revitalise democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, ending the pernicious cycle of zero-sum politics between her AL and its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Three and a half years on, hope has been replaced by deep disillusionment, as two familiar threats to Bangladesh's democracy have returned: the prospect of election-related violence and the risks stemming from an unstable and hostile military.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Political Violence, Democratization
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, Asia
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: International, particularly U.S., military and civilian aid has failed to improve Pakistan's performance against jihadi groups operating on its soil or to help stabilise its nascent democracy. Lopsided focus on security aid after the 11 September 2001 attacks has not delivered counterterrorism dividends, but entrenched the military's control over state institutions and policy, delaying reforms and aggravating Pakistani public perceptions that the U.S. is only interested in investing in a security client. Almost two-thirds of U.S. funding since 2002 ($15.8 billion) has been security-related, double the $7.8 billion of economic aid. Under an elected government, and with civilian aid levels at their highest in decades, the U.S. and other donors can still play a major part in improving service delivery, supporting key reforms and strengthening a fragile political transition vital to internal and regional stability. Re-orientation of funding from military security purposes to long-term democracy and capacity building support is the best way to guarantee the West's and Pakistan's longterm interests in a dangerous region. But aid policies must be better targeted, designed and executed.
  • Topic: Democratization, Terrorism, Foreign Aid, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, South Asia
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Uncertainty over President Hugo Chávez's health adds to Venezuela's fragility in the run-up to October's presidential election. Amid deep polarisation, his illness overshadows the campaign, while the personalised nature of his rule, weakened institutions, and high levels of criminal violence bode ill for stability even beyond the polls. Brazen violation of the constitution would probably require army support, which not even the president can bank on; regional powers, too, would eye such action warily. But with much at stake, upheaval, even a violent political crisis, remain dangerous possibilities. Political leaders should condemn violence and pledge publicly to respect the constitution – whatever lies ahead. Venezuela's partners in the region should press for international observation and signal clearly they will not condone unconstitutional acts.
  • Topic: Democratization, Political Economy, Regime Change
  • Political Geography: Latin America, Venezuela
  • Publication Date: 06-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: After May's parliamentary elections, Armenia is preparing for a pivotal presidential vote in 2013 that will determine whether it has shed a nearly two-decade history of fraud-tainted elections and put in place a government with the legitimacy needed to implement comprehensive reform and resolve its problems with Azerbaijan. President Serzh Sargsyan has a brief opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship before he again faces the voters in what is likely to be a competitive contest. Sargsyan has demonstrated some courage to promote change, but like his predecessors, he has thus far failed to deal effectively with serious economic and governance problems, including the debilitating, albeit low-intensity, Nagorno-Karabakh war. Another election perceived as seriously flawed would serve as a further distraction from peace talks and severe economic problems. The likely consequences would then be ever more citizens opting out of democratic politics, including by emigration.
  • Topic: Civil War, Democratization, Development, Economics, Financial Crisis, Governance
  • Political Geography: Armenia, Azerbaijan
  • Publication Date: 07-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Myanmar has embarked on an ambitious program of sweeping reforms to end its isolation and integrate its economy with the global system. Closely entwined with its dramatic political transition, the end of longstanding Western sanctions is supporting this reconfiguration. If the reforms are done well, many across the country stand to benefit, but those who profited most from the old regime's restrictions and privileges will lose access to windfall profits and guaranteed monopolies. The crony businessmen, military and party elite will still do well but will need to play by new rules, meet domestic and foreign competition and even pay taxes. Perhaps recognising the opportunities a more vibrant economy in a fast-growing region will bring for all, there is no major pushback to these changes, rather attempts to adapt to the new economy. The challenges and risks are numerous for a government with little experience juggling the many changes required, but it cannot resist the pent-up political pressure for change it has already unleashed.
  • Topic: Democratization, Economics, Globalization, Government, International Trade and Finance, Politics
  • Political Geography: Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: At a distance, Syria's conflict can resemble a slow, painful slog, punctuated by intermittent accelerations and apparent tipping points, influenced by international activity. Zoom in, and one can cast such impressions aside. Diplomatic manoeuvrings have ended up being little more than inertia masquerading as motion. The West used them to pretend it was doing more than it was; Russia exploited them to feign it backed the Syrian regime less than it actually did. Meanwhile, in Syria, one sees neither deadlock nor abrupt transformation; virtually everything has been changing but at a steady pace: the shape of the conflict; civil society dynamics; sectarian relations; and the very nature of the regime the opposition seeks to depose.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Armed Struggle, Regime Change, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Syria
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Nepal's peace process was to end with a new constitution. Yet, after four years of delays and disputes, the country's main political parties were unable to agree on federalism, a core demand of large constituencies. On 27 May 2012, the term of the Constituent Assembly, which also served as parliament, ended without the new constitution being completed. The parties must now decide what to do next: hold an election for a new assembly or revive the last one. This will be hard. Obduracy on federalism, bickering over a unity government, a changing political landscape and communal polarisation make for complex negotiations, amid a dangerous legislative vacuum. The parties must assess what went wrong and significantly revise the composition and design of negotiations, or risk positions hardening across the political spectrum. Talks and decision-making need to be transparent and inclusive, and leaders more accountable. The public needs much better information. None of this will necessarily mend the deep social rifts, but it would reduce space for extremists and provocateurs.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Peace Studies, Politics
  • Political Geography: South Asia
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: The peace process and stalled constitution writing exercise, in particular the debate about federalism, have expanded Nepal's political matrix. Identity politics is a mainstream phenomenon and new ethnic-based and regional political forces are coalescing. Actors who want a federal structure that acknowledges Nepal's many identities have allied, overcoming other political differences. The Maoist party has split. Once centrist forces have moved to the right. All parties are grappling with factional and ideological divisions. Old monarchical forces are more visible. How these political shifts will settle depends on the parties' decisions on resuming constitution writing and future electoral calculations. The Constituent Assembly has been dissolved after failing to deliver the new constitution on the 27 May deadline. The constitution was to establish federalism and address the demands of marginalised groups. Social polarisation over these issues compounds constitutional uncertainty and the legislative vacuum. The tensions around federalism and fluid political equations threaten to provoke volatile confrontations.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Peace Studies, Politics
  • Political Geography: South Asia