Technology has failed Kenyans in the 2013 general election. Over the past few months, election officials and their friends in the media have raised public hopes for a fair election by hyping measures to modernize the voting system. But it's possible that these new reforms could instead become the cause of increased tensions.
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When Hugo Chávez first became president of Venezuela I was sixteen years old and just coming into my political consciousness. Now I am in my thirties. Through all that time I can think of no political opinion, no vote, no broad social view that has not been affected -- even defined -- by this singular man and his unstoppable vision. And now he is dead. Officially dead. The enormity of that one fact is such that the myriad uncertainties this news bring with it, for now, seem somehow unimportant.
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Hugo Chávez died as he lived: shrouded in mystery, creating chaos and commotion, and leaving an indelible mark. His death leaves a void in the hearts of his many followers, but it also leaves his opponents in a daze. Chávez has been such a central part of our lives, of my life, that this is a blow to us as well.
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Civil war has plagued Burma for over sixty years now. At a number of times throughout that period, the ethnic rebel groups fighting for autonomy from the central government attempted to join forces. But their common foe, the Burmese military, consistently refused to have any dealings with alliances that tried to bring together all the restive minorities into a common front. The reason for this was simple: The generals always understood that ethnic rebels tend to be a fractious bunch, and that it's only too easy to incite defections by playing to a particular group's sectional interests (whether it be the offer of a favorable deal or the threat of a harsh crackdown). As a result, the Burmese army developed considerable expertise in the subtleties of divide and rule.
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The March 4 general election in Kenya is being touted as a potentially transformative moment. The violence that killed over 1,000 people in the wake of the country's last election in 2007 shocked the world, confirming, for many outsiders, the stereotype of an incurably dysfunctional Africa. Now many will be watching to see whether the spate of sweeping reforms undertaken since 2007 can carry Kenyans peacefully through this historic poll and reaffirm the country's position as the region's most stable state.
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On Thursday, a Bangladeshi tribunal found Delwar Hossain Sayeedi guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The tribunal condemned him to death -- in stark divergence from their ruling in the case of his political colleague, Abdul Quader Mollah, who received a life sentence from the same court. In response to the Sayeedi verdict, Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist party in which both Sayeedi and Mollah hold prominent positions, stepped up its protests against the tribunals. The result was a spate of violence that has now left more than fifty people dead.
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Libya is approaching yet another important threshold in its efforts to come to terms with the legacy of the Muammar Qaddafi dictatorship. Next week, Libya's interim legislature is preparing to vote on the draft of a law designed to ban politicians and officials who had close links with the old regime from high public office in the new Libya.
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RABAT, Morocco – Yegor Talikov, a street musician, was playing his saxophone on the Hotel Balima plaza in Rabat. Some passersby slowed down without stopping, but a few did gather around, occasionally making song requests that the musician was happy to oblige.
Photo by Mohamed El Dahshan
In last week's post, I mentioned how Libyans were planning to use the second anniversary of their revolution to exercise their democratic right to peacefully protest and hold their elected government accountable. For the record: There was no second revolution, no apocalyptic violence, and no jihadi takeover.
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Even his staunchest enemies will not dispute the fact that Hugo Chávez is a great communicator. Throughout his political career, his skill at spinning stories has been remarkable. When bad things happened, it was always the fault of an enemy (the "empire" or the "bourgeoisie"). When good things happened, it was all an accomplishment of the Revolution, powered by the people. Whenever elections approached, it was all about "love" and the "fatherland." Once elections were over, it was back to trashing, expropriating, and drawing battle lines.
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There is one tradition that Muslims and Jews in the West agree on: They both like to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. It's a way of marking a day that both acknowledge to be special and joyful, but without the big family dinner and all the attendant hoopla. It's a gesture that contains just the right hint of detachment: "I'm happy, but it's not really my day to celebrate."
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Libya is gearing up to observe the second anniversary of its revolution this week. Everyone is expecting nationwide protests against the current authorities, who are widely seen as making insufficient progress. In anticipation of the Libyan revolution's anniversary on February 17, the authorities are calling for vigilance and restraint. Just to be on the safe side, though, they're also implementing a broad array of security measures. De facto President Mohammed Magarief actually staged a military parade through Tripoli to demonstrate the government's resolve.
The arrest last week of the top leader of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) on corruption charges is a reminder of the precarious financial situation that all Indonesian political parties face. Operating with limited financial resources, parties may have gotten a little too creative in raising funds for the likes of the country's anti-graft commission.
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The video has no sound, just several minutes of footage shot on a busy street in the sallow sulfur glow of Vientiane streetlights. Two blurry figures approach the passenger's side of a jeep stopped at the curb. A man gets out of the driver's side, walks around the jeep and onto the darkened sidewalk. Another man dressed in black arrives by motorbike, ducks into the shadows, then gets inside the jeep and drives away. Three minutes later a pickup truck stops, people get in, and the vehicle leaves.
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What happens when you are the head of a poor household -- so poor that there is only a single room for you, your spouse, and your three children, ages 15 to 20 -- and suddenly, as you protest near the presidential palace, you become the victim of an abhorrent injustice that thrusts you into the national limelight? Or, to be precise, your naked body is being kicked by the police, hit with batons, and dragged from the limbs across the cold asphalt, all caught by a television camera and broadcast live to millions of homes.
"Bloodsuckers," "monkeys," and pigs" -- that's how Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy refers to Jews. Just two weeks ago, Morsy offended a group of U.S. Senators by claiming that Jews control the international media. Morsy also belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the group whose leader Mohammed Badie was ranked by The Simon Weisenthal Center as the "biggest anti-Semite" on the planet.
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When I left Burma sixteen years ago, the last place where I stayed was the Rangoon home of my friend Thet Win Aung. We got up at three in the morning and said goodbye to his parents as monsoon rain poured down outside. Then we got in a car and headed for the Thai-Burmese border. Little did I know how much was to happen before I would be able to return to my homeland.
Hugo Chávez's health status is unknown but all indications suggest that he is dying. If Chávez dies, Venezuela's opposition would face a presidential election -- the second in less than a year, this time against Chávez's vice president. Will they confront this new challenge united? Or will old divisions among the wildly diverse group surface once more?
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Editor's note: Democracy Lab reported last year on the case of Jalila Khamis Koko, the Sudanese oppositionist imprisoned by the government in Khartoum for her non-violent protest against the continuing war in South Kordofan. On Sunday, after ten months in jail, she was finally released. We asked Sudanese blogger Maysoon Al Noujomi to comment on the meaning of the verdict.
Jalila Khamis is free. Just how extraordinary and exhilarating that statement is only becomes clear when you consider its context. She has spent the past ten months in jail in Sudan, one of the world's most repressive countries. Given her own background, there seemed to be little prospect that she would ever see justice. First, she is a woman in a country that pays little regard to women's rights. Second, she is a schoolteacher, a profession that carries little social weight here. And third, she is a Nuban, a member of an ethnic minority that is concentrated in the province of South Kordofan. The Sudanese government has been waging all-out war against South Kordofan for years.
Video Grab from Girifna
It's been two years since Ben Ali packed his suitcase along with the passwords to his foreign bank accounts and fled, in extremis, the wrath of the courageous people of Tunisia, leaving behind some incredibly tacky trinkets and a country in need of fundamental rebuilding -- but which first had to discover the full extent of the damage done.
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Judge Muhammad Daming Sunusi didn't see anything wrong when he said that rape victims and their perpetrators must have enjoyed their sexual intercourse. But then neither did the members of the Indonesian parliamentary commission who were conducting a confirmation hearing for his appointment to the Supreme Court. The judge made the remarks as he rejected proposals to introduce capital punishment for rapists.
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There's a statistic that sheds a harsh light on the current gang-rape scandal in India. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a nongovernment organization, there are quite a few Indian politicians who stand accused of rape and other crimes against women. Six state assembly members have actually been elected to office despite facing rape charges.
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Rick Rowden argues that recent accounts of "Africa's rise" are fundamentally flawed.
In his column, Christian Caryl explains why 2012 was a good year for elections, but a bad one for democracy.
Juan Nagel outlines possible scenarios for Venezuela if Hugo Chávez leaves the scene.
Peter Passell sums up some of the recent research in transitional economics.
Reflecting on the holiday season just past, Endy Bayuni shows how Indonesians are winning the war on Christmas.
And Jackee Batanda rounds out the year 2012 out with stories about extraordinary Ugandans
And here are this week's recommended reads:
Syria Deeply publishes the powerful tale of a young Alawite woman whose pro-revolutionary mother was killed by her pro-regime father -- a vivid example of how the civil war is tearing families apart. Al-Monitor shares the experience of Alawites living under siege.
Democracy Digest provides a useful collection of views from the experts on the directions that might be taken by a post-Chávez Venezuela.
Writing for The Irrawaddy, Gustaaf Houtman offers a vivid take on the recent changes in Burma as the society continues to open up.
Over at The New York Times, Simon Romero presents an unforgettable portrait of Uruguay's ultra-modest president.
A new working paper from the International Monetary Fund analyzes economic transitions in post-conflict nations.
Rami G. Khouri casts a critical gaze on some of the most frequent analytical assumptions about the Arab Spring.
Sebastian Mallaby, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, joins the argument over Africa's economic development, insisting that the continent is growing in more ways than one.
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It has been close to four weeks since Hugo Chávez underwent an unexplained surgical procedure for the undisclosed form of cancer he has been suffering from since mid-2011. Since his operation, the president has neither been seen nor heard from. The government has only admitted that the president's condition "is complicated."
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Joseph Allchin explains why the war crimes trials under way in Bangladesh show why transitional justice and party politics don't mix.
Christian Caryl argues that treating democracy as an inevitable outcome may actually hurt the cause of democracy.
Nazila Fathi looks at how Iranian leaders are responding to the deepening economic crisis created by sanctions.
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Cleaning up corruption in Indonesia could be the main legacy that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be remembered for when he steps down after ten years as president in 2014. It looks increasingly likely, though, that history will view him differently in light of the revelations that many officials close to him have been involved in money scandals.
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Tycoons in Eastern Europe are well known not only for their lavish lifestyles (complete with yachts and private jets), but also for the power that they exercise through their cozy relations with those in government. The term "oligarch" is often associated with the group of Russian post-perestroika businessmen who made their fortune during Boris Yeltsin's tenure in the Kremlin. But such figures are no strangers to the Balkans, either. No man in Serbia (and perhaps in all of Southeast Europe) deserves the label more than Miroslav Miškovic, the owner of the Belgrade-based conglomerate Delta Holding.
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Jakub Wisniewski gives the background to Poland's remarkable economic success story.
In our latest case study published in conjunction with Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Laura Bacon and Rushda Majeed tell the story of a remarkable Sicilian mayor who decided to take back his city from the Mafia.
In this week's column, Christian Caryl explains the lingering scandal behind the story of Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator. Caryl also reports on the reasons why the U.S. government has decided to withhold its assent to the new UN telecommunications treaty that the Americans accuse of infringing on the freedom of the Internet.
Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the internal Muslim Brotherhood politics that are fueling the current unrest in Egypt.
Adam Baron analyzes the problems that plague Yemen on the way to a planned national political dialogue.
Corey Brettschneider argues that the U.S. government should actively condemn hate speech as well as protecting the freedom of the word.
Endy Bayuni explores the reasons behind the current surge in union activism in Indonesia -- including the surprising willingness of local governments to support wage hikes.
Juan Nagel mulls over the continuing speculation about a successor to cancer-plagued Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
The Project on Middle East Political Science offers a video conversation on the new Egyptian constitution with expert Nathan Brown.
At Jadailyya.com, Linda Herrera, Magdy Alabady, and Adel Iskandar analyze the political role of Mohamed El-Baradei in Egypt's current political unrest.
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation, Wladimir van Wilgenburg explains why fighting between Kurdish groups and Arab rebels helps Bashar al-Assad.
The website of the pro-democracy group Girifna offers an update on the latest protests in Sudan.
Democracy Digest offers two useful takes on the situation in Venezuela amid renewed reports that President Hugo Chavez is again struggling with cancer. One post speculates on the fate of chavismo without Chavez. The second brings together commentary on the state of the opposition as speculation about the possibility of a post-Chavez Venezuela revs up again.
Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, posits that corruption is becoming the new galvanizing issue for activists around the world.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty offers a breakdown on a Swedish documentary that tracks corruption linked with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan.
The Monkey Cage features a post in which an array of political scientists weigh in on the function of legislatures in authoritarian regimes:
A new report from the International Crisis Group explains why Muslim insurgents are gaining ground on the government of Thailand in the country's turbulent South.
A new U.N. report details illegal drug trends in Asia and the Pacific.
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Venezuela: The land of soap operas, those weepy TV series that have been permeating Latin American broadcasting for years. And yet no TV studio has ever produced anything that can match the current political, social, and medical drama unfolding in both Caracas and Havana.
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Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.