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  • Author: H. H. Michael Hsiao, Alan H. Yang
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The elections in January 2020 marked a new era for Taiwan, clearly demonstrating citizens’ resistance to China. The results showed that incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was re-elected with a landslide victory of 8.17 million votes (57.1%) which is higher than the previous record high of 7.65 million votes obtained by the Kuomintang (KMT) President Ma Ying Jeou in 2008. Michael Hsiao and Alan Yang, Chairman and Executive Director, respectively, of the Taiwan‐Asia Exchange Foundation in Taiwan, explain that “The Taiwanese people firmly defended Taiwan’s sovereignty and cherished democracy through free and open elections.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sovereignty, Elections, Democracy
  • Political Geography: China, Taiwan, Asia
  • Author: Mariette Hagglund
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: A key issue dominating Iran’s foreign policy agenda is the future of the Iran nuclear deal with regard to the next US president. Non-state armed groups mark the core of Iran’s leverage in the region, but Iran is currently looking into diversifying its means of influence. Although Iran considers its non-aligned position a strength, it is also a weakness. In an otherwise interconnected world, where other regional powers enjoy partnerships with other states and can rely on external security guarantors, Iran remains alone. By being more integrated into regional cooperation and acknowledged as a regional player, Iran could better pursue its interests, but US attempts to isolate the country complicate any such efforts. In the greater superpower competition between the US and China, Iran is unlikely to choose a side despite its current “look East” policy, but may take opportunistic decisions.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Elections
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Iran, Middle East, Asia, North America
  • Author: Jyrki Kallio
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Speculation is rife that China could take advantage of the potential confusion during the US presidential election and invade Taiwan. Although China has never relinquished the military option for resolving the Taiwan issue, there are sound reasons to downplay the risk of a military confrontation at the present time.
  • Topic: War, Military Strategy, Elections, Conflict
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Taiwan, Asia, North America
  • Author: Alexandra Brown, Erica Shein, Katherine Ellena
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Foundation for Electoral Systems
  • Abstract: After decades of power centralized in the executive, the Maldives’ 2008 Constitution introduced separation of powers and created “independent institutions to monitor the three branches of power and safeguard human rights.” The Election Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and other independent institutions must have sufficient autonomy to operate effectively and carry out their mandates without susceptibility to undue influence. However, they are not immune from corruption, poor leadership or partisan behavior, and still require oversight to ensure accountability. Finding the correct balance between accountability and autonomy can be challenging, but it is essential to ensure that the institutions appropriately fulfill their mandates. In response to a request from Parliament, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted an extensive literature review, analyzed comparative practices and consulted stakeholders to develop a set of recommendations for effective parliamentary oversight of independent institutions. The resulting paper, Parliamentary Oversight of Constitutional Bodies in the Maldives, explores how parliamentary tools and mechanisms can be effectively tailored to provide the appropriate level of oversight. The paper has recommendations and lessons that are broadly applicable outside the Maldivian context, and helped inspire the development of IFES’ Autonomy and Accountability Framework. Because constitutional bodies have a unique role to play in bolstering good governance, any improvement to their performance will improve the quality of democracy as a whole and help prevent corruption, improve service delivery and increase transparency and rule of law. IFES’ Autonomy and Accountability Framework helps countries achieve this in practice.
  • Topic: Elections, Democracy, Constitution, Transparency, Autonomy, Parliamentarism
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Asia, Maldives
  • Author: Adhi Priamarizki, Dedi Dinarto
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: This paper examines the Prosperous and Justice Party (PKS)’s strategy in the 2019 Indonesian general elections. Among the Islamic-based political parties, PKS gained the most significant increase in votes. We aspire to understand the breakthrough by looking at the party’s strategy. On the one hand, our findings confirm the existing studies that correctly noted the moving of Indonesian political parties towards a “catch-all” direction by which they aim to garner wider support beyond a specific type of voter base. On the other hand, our research notes that PKS has started to exploit the phenomenon of rising Islamic conservatism in Indonesia. Despite solely maintaining an inclusive electoral strategy, this research asserts that the party has adjusted its campaign strategy to fit in with the trend of rising Islamic conservatism while concurrently exploiting the anti-incumbent president (Joko Widodo) sentiment. This paper aims to enhance discussion on Indonesian politics as well as Indonesia’s political parties, particularly the PKS.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Elections, Domestic politics, Conservatism
  • Political Geography: Indonesia, Asia
  • Author: Ashok Gulati, Devesh Kapur, Marshall M. Bouton
  • Publication Date: 08-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for the Advanced Study of India
  • Abstract: Following an overwhelming election victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government has a golden opportunity to bring about historic reforms in the agricultural sector to improve farmer livelihoods and national food security. The sector affects the economic well-being of half the Indian population and the access to affordable and nutritious food for all Indians. Fundamental reforms can achieve sustainable and broadly distributed agricultural growth that will add to India’s GDP, increase export earnings, help conserve increasingly scarce resources of land and water, and enable the more orderly movement out of agriculture and into other productive sectors. Reforms in four areas should be the priority if Prime Minister Modi’s bold goal of doubling farmer incomes is to be accomplished in the coming years. First, the focus of agricultural policies must shift from production per se to farmers’ livelihoods. Second, policies to improve the allocation and efficiency of land and water are essential if the critical resources of water and land are to be conserved. Third, reforms are needed to help farmers cope with the growing risks of weather and price volatility. Fourth, agricultural markets must be opened to greater competition and provided with better infrastructure if farmers are to realize better returns for produce while ensuring nutritional security for low-income consumers. Agriculture is a state subject but where the Central government has had—and will continue to have—a large role. Reforms can only succeed if the Central and state governments work closely together in a spirit of “cooperative federalism.” Many of the important levers of change—water, power, irrigation, extension, agri-markets, etc.—are controlled by the states. Going forward, it would be helpful if the government created an Agri-Reforms Council on the lines of GST Council for a somewhat longer term than is currently done (for two months). The focus for the Government of India will need to be twofold: actions that it can unilaterally take to raise agricultural incomes; and second, actions to influence state government efforts to improve agriculture with its sustainability at the core. The steps listed should be thought of as a package, which will have an impact if most are implemented and not one or two in isolation.  Reduce cereal procurement and keep MSP price increases for rice and wheat below inflation, and not exceeding border prices, while encouraging the private sector to develop robust markets in less water intensive crops like pulses and oilseeds by removing controls on stocking, trading, exports, etc. This will also have a beneficial impact on depleting water tables in certain regions, notably in north-west and southern India.  Implement income transfers scheme for farmers in tandem with reductions in the subsidies for power, water, and fertilizer that distort incentives and hinder change. This will have large positive environmental effects and help toward better natural resource management. Keep the real prices of subsidized grains under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and link them to the MSP to incentivize the production and consumption of non-cereals.  Scrap the Essential Commodities Act and other laws designed fifty years ago for conditions of scarcity. Those conditions of scarcity have long since disappeared. India is trying to cope more with the problems of surfeit than scarcity.  Focus on income from livestock to help marginal farmers (<1 ha). Change laws and more importantly the political and social climate that have been so detrimental to the livestock sector lately.  Eliminate or reduce dramatically export restrictions and export taxes on agricultural products. Trade policies that have been arbitrarily and pro-cyclically imposed (increasing tariffs and import restrictions when world prices come down, and imposing export bans and taxes when domestic prices rise)—must become stable and predictable by setting “trigger levels” well in advance.  Accelerate the effort to create a single agricultural market by introducing assaying, grading, setting standards, bringing “Uber-type” logistical players on e-platforms to move goods from one region to another, and setting dispute settlement mechanisms so that farmers and farm organizations can transact with any buyer, anywhere in India, and at any time of their choosing.  Support the creation of public mandis as a viable alternative to private trade. Most importantly, across the board, increase marketing options available to farmers while subsidizing market infrastructure improvements.  End support for the rehabilitation of inefficient urea plants and create a plan for closing the most inefficient plants.  Incentivize the passing of state laws to allow easy leasing/renting of agricultural land and relax restrictions on conversion of agricultural land for other purposes. At present, these restrictions keep the value of agricultural land low and raise the barriers to exit from agriculture. Finally, even as these reforms are undertaken, it needs to be recognized that growth and employment opportunities outside agriculture are critical for long-term improvements in farmers’ incomes. Relentless population pressures have meant that most Indian farms are too small to provide viable incomes. The long-term future of Indian farmers fundamentally depends on getting many people out of farming. Ironically, that future will come about more reliably if policies to improve agricultural production and incomes are pursued today.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Reform, Elections, GDP
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Toni Alaranta
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: After 17 years of the Islamic-conservative AKP’s electoral hegemony, the secular-nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) achieved significant success in the recent municipal elections on March 2019, and is now increasingly challenging President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The secular-nationalist political discourse has traditionally advanced the idea of making Turkey a modern nation-state closely attached to the West, yet the West is also seen as a potential threat. The CHP identifies itself as a social-democratic party, and is now trying to build a wide pro-democratic platform based on a social market economy and fundamental rights. The party’s strong secularist and Turkish nationalist core has made it difficult for the CHP to gain support among the Kurds and religious conservatives, and this remains challenging. Strong nationalism and suspicion about the West are deeply ingrained in Turkey’s political culture. On the other hand, in order to be inherently coherent, the secular-nationalist vision requires an ideological attachment to the Western world. Stemming from these premises, under the CHP’s government, Turkey’s foreign policy would likely prioritize good relations with the West, and re-invigorate the country’s EU prospect.
  • Topic: Nationalism, Hegemony, Elections, Local
  • Political Geography: Europe, Turkey, Asia
  • Author: Pranav Kuttaiah, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: Pranav Kuttaiah and Neelanjan Sircar discuss the complexities of the Karnataka election before vote counting the following day.
  • Topic: Government, Elections, Ethnicity, Class, Caste
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia, Karnataka
  • Author: Kyle Lemargie, Silja Paasilinna
  • Publication Date: 11-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Foundation for Electoral Systems
  • Abstract: In response to a recent study by Max Grömping entitled The Integrity of Elections in Asia: Policy Lessons from Expert Evaluations, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) produced a briefing paper with some examples of policy lessons applied in practice across Asia. IFES has worked in Asia for the past three decades supporting election management bodies, civil society and other electoral stakeholders in their efforts to promote electoral integrity.
  • Topic: Law, Elections, Transparency, Campaign Finance
  • Political Geography: Asia
  • Author: Ashish Ranjan, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 12-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: After 22 years in power, the BJP is feeling the heat this year in Gujarat's election campaign. This paper analyses the reasons for this sudden frustration with the BJP – with a particular focus on caste mobilisation, urban-rural division, and emerging class politics in Gujarat.
  • Topic: Politics, Urbanization, Elections, Class, Rural, Caste
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Athanasios Manis
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Middle East Research Institute (MERI)
  • Abstract: There is no doubt that the Turkish referendum of 16 April 2017 marks a sea change for Turkey’s political system. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have narrowly won the referendum that turns his de facto hegemonic presidency into de jure. 51.28% of Turkish citizens approved the 18 proposed constitutional amendments, while 48.72% opposed them. However, the provisions of the constitutional amendments and the statements made by the main political protagonists and antagonists give little hope that the referendum result will bring political stability or economic prosperity; or allow Turkey’s leadership to play a constructive role in Syria and Iraq - at least in the short-term. Furthermore, it is unlikely to enhance the level of cooperation with the EU and the US over the war against the Islamic State (IS) and the refugee crisis.
  • Topic: Elections, European Union, Democracy, Geopolitics, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: United States, Europe, Turkey, Asia
  • Author: Silja Paasilinna, Sue Palmer-Wetherald, Megan Ritchie
  • Publication Date: 04-2017
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Foundation for Electoral Systems
  • Abstract: Women in Bangladesh are uniquely impacted by pervasive violence in the country’s electoral process, as voters, candidates, political party supporters and activists. To explore the effect of electoral violence on women’s meaningful participation, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) convened seven focus groups of Bangladeshi women in 2013 and 2015 to discuss electoral violence they have experienced both in the home and in the public sphere. Under the “Bangladesh Election Support Activities” (BESA) Program, IFES has worked through two key channels to engage interested stakeholders in preventing electoral violence, sharing information on the causes of conflict and promoting peaceful political processes:
  • Topic: Gender Issues, Elections, Women, Gender Based Violence , Participation
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, South Asia, Asia
  • Author: Bhanu Joshi, Ashish Ranjan, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 05-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: In 2011, Mamata Banerjee and party, Trinamool Congress, stormed to power in West Bengal under the simple slogan poriborton (change). In this piece, Bhanu Joshi, Ashish Ranjan, and Neelanjan explore how Mamata went about demonstrating this change to the West Bengal, as well as the architecture of Trinamool Congress’ thumping victory in the 2016 state election.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Governance, Elections, Social Policy
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Bhanu Joshi, Ashish Ranjan, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 05-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: Muslims comprise 34 percent of Assam’s population, and this population may play a large role in the outcome of Assam’s election. In this piece, CPR researchers Bhanu Joshi, Ashish Ranjan, and Neelanjan Sircar examine the complex contours of the Muslim vote in Assam, with a particular focus on the Lower Assam region where seven of the thirteen districts have a majority of Muslims. They argue that there is no discernible Muslim “vote bank” and any understanding of the role Muslims will play in this election requires a significant amount of nuance.
  • Topic: Government, Islam, Politics, Elections
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Ashish Ranjan, Bhanu Joshi, Neelanjan Sircar
  • Publication Date: 04-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: We were warned not to take the bus from Silchar to Guwahati. Unfortunately, the train was fully booked, so we had no other option. As soon as we left the city limits of Silchar, we began to make our way through the soggy, bumpy mess that was supposedly the route to Guwahati. We could only discern that this was intended to be a road by the fact that a few other buses, trucks and cars were similarly trying to maneuver through this muddle. A fellow traveler offered, “Roads in Sikkim and Meghalaya have improved in the last five years; here we still search for a pucca road.
  • Topic: Government, Migration, Politics, Infrastructure, Elections
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia, Assam
  • Author: Neelanjan Sircar, Gilles Verniers
  • Publication Date: 03-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: The 2015 Bihar election represented a stunning reversal of fortune for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the 2014 national election, the NDA won 172 out of 243 assembly constituency (AC) segments. But in the 2015 Bihar election, just 18 months later, the NDA won only 58 ACs. In this piece, we investigate electoral data from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to provide a nuanced picture of the shift in Bihar. We argue that poor party coordination within the NDA, in addition to campaign dynamics, account for the magnitude of the NDA’s defeat. Prior to 2014, the JD(U) and the BJP were in alliance together under the NDA banner, but the JD(U) left the coalition over the choice of Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate and decided to contest the 2014 election alone. In 2014, without the JD(U), the NDA won 31 out of 40 parliamentary constituencies, with the JD(U) winning just two seats. In the 18 months between the 2014 and 2015 election, once bitter foes, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, and their respective parties, Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), joined forces along with the Congress to form the mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance to defeat the NDA. The NDA, comprised of the BJP, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) in 2014, stayed intact and added a new party, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), to its ranks. In the election post-mortem, many have offered explanations for the NDA’s reversal of fortune. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has argued that the NDA’s poor performance was due to the “social arithmetic” of caste and less about the its message or campaign strategy (1). Observers of the Grand Alliance have pointed to campaign manager Prashant Kishor’s effective campaign strategy and coordination across all parties in ticket distribution and voter mobilization (2). Our data analysis suggests that the outcome of these elections was less about caste arithmetic and more about the poor coalition strategy of the BJP. In particular, the ways in which the BJP treated its allies contributed to the magnitude of the NDA’s defeat. At the same time, we find that although the parties in the Grand Alliance coordinated their efforts better than the NDA, they did not attract more voters than in 2014.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Elections
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Michelle Nicholasen
  • Publication Date: 11-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: During the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump claimed he had more foreign policy experience than any of the GOP contenders. In fact, he has traveled widely to meet with presidents, prime ministers, financiers, and developers over the past decade as part of his highly profitable business of licensing the Trump name to large real estate developments around the world. On the campaign trail, Trump’s provocative statements about foreign policy have become part of the public record. From pressuring NAFTA members to bombing ISIS, his pledges have caused a stir in the arena of foreign relations. Publicly, candidate Trump threatened to close borders to Mexicans, slap tariffs on Chinese goods, restrict Muslims in the United States, among other vows. Without a record of public service to draw on, it is difficult to know how these declarations might translate into a Trump foreign policy. To understand what lies ahead for the new president, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked its Faculty Associates in international relations to comment on the challenges and opportunities that await in five regions of the world: Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Latin America, Europe, and China.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Elections, ISIS, NAFTA
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States, China, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, North America
  • Author: Zhang Fan
  • Publication Date: 06-2016
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for American Progress - CAP
  • Abstract: American presidential elections have an impact that goes far beyond U.S. national borders. People around the world follow the campaign for the U.S. presidency with great interest, and many feel that they have a stake in the outcome. People in China pay particularly close attention because China, almost more than any other nation, regularly becomes a key topic in U.S. presidential debates. During this particular campaign season, candidates of both major political parties have frequently mentioned China. However, what’s more noteworthy in this election cycle is that the Chinese populous is not focusing solely on how their homeland is bandied about by the candidates, but even more so on the entire American electoral process as a whole. Certainly, some Chinese are tuning in primarily for entertainment value; but many others are trying to figure out exactly what this election will mean not only for the United States but for the entire world—including China. Regardless of what motivates individual Chinese election-watchers, the 2016 U.S. presidential election is popular in China. Zhang Fan, a Visiting Fellow on a Ford Foundation Global Travel and Learning Fund Program exchange, has spent the past five months at the Center for American Progress, studying the U.S. presidential election and Chinese reactions to it. She recently shared her views during a question-and-answer session with Blaine Johnson, China and Asia Policy Research Associate at the Center.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Elections, Democracy, Election Observation
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • 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
  • Author: Neelanjan Sircar, Bhanu Joshi, Ashish Ranjan
  • Publication Date: 11-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Policy Research, India
  • Abstract: The exit polls are out in Bihar, and we are none the wiser. It is seemingly a photo finish between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Janata Dal United [JD(U)]-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress Grand Alliance. The Bihar election is ending as it began, full of theatre and intrigue. We can only guess how it ends. We were making our way to East Champaran; we didn’t realise Narendra Modi’s rally would be in Gopalganj district that day. The rally was over, but traffic had stopped moving 2 km from the rally site; we would be stuck at the same spot for the next few hours. Nowhere else to go, we got out of the car and started chatting with rally-goers. An exuberant BJP supporter exclaimed, “We have 8-10 lakh people today!” This was clearly an overestimate, but the crowd was bigger than we had seen elsewhere. We stopped in at a roadside stand where 4-5 men were being served their thalis and asked from where they had come to attend the rally. “Dewaria,” responded one man (Dewaria is in Uttar Pradesh (UP), not Bihar). He went on, “None of us are from Bihar. People are coming from Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Allahabad. The Party gives us enough money to eat lunch as well.” The Muslim shopkeeper who was cooking for them, the only person there who would actually be voting in Bihar, was clearly supporting the Grand Alliance, but he was happy for the extra money generated from the rally. The real reason for the traffic bottleneck then became clear. The road had narrowed to a single lane. While we headed further into Bihar, bus after bus, each with a “UP” license plate, was headed the other way. We analysts often mistakenly use rallies to gauge the hawa for a party. But, ultimately, rallies are about theatre and spectacle, while elections are won on the strength of the ground-level campaign. Privately, a section of BJP workers have been telling us that they can now see the NDA losing in this election, not something we heard in the first couple of weeks of the campaign. In our previous piece, using available data, we argued that the NDA would have to do very well in the third and fourth phases of this five-phase election if it is to win, something that even BJP leaders have now said publicly. Given that the NDA was well ahead in 2014, the NDA might still pull off this victory. It is clear, however, that the Grand Alliance has run a stronger ground campaign than the NDA, and that the campaign has had a major impact on changing voters’ minds. The NDA now seems unlikely to get near the 172 assembly constituency (AC) segments it won in 2014. In the remainder of this piece, we assess the structure of the Grand Alliance, how it shaped the campaign, as well as how the campaigns, for both NDA and the Grand Alliance, conducted themselves during this election.
  • Topic: Government, Politics, Elections
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India, Asia