Transitions

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, Feb. 3, 2012

This week, the residents of Wukan, the village in China's Guangdong province that witnessed bold anti-corruption protests back in December, went to the polls in an exceptional first step towards electing their local leaders (see photo above).  Meanwhile, a Western journalism watchdog group concludes that Chinese journalists have a surprisingly high impact on government policy -- even though the government is far from loosening its grip on dissent.

For the first time, the finance minister of Burma (Myanmar) revealed the country's external debt: a cool $11 billion. That news came as the government unveiled its next budget, which includes significant rises in spending on education and health even as the military appears set to retain a large share. Cambodia's war crimes tribunal sentenced "Duch," the Khmer Rouge's notorious prison chief, to life in prison. Meanwhile, Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra appears set to return home from exile.

In South Sudan, journalists are still waiting for a long overdue media bill to receive final government ratification. In the meantime, security forces continue to harass and arrest journalists with impunity.

In Senegal, the opposition took to the streets to protest against the constitutional court's decision to allow President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third term. Violence escalated on Monday when two protesters were shot dead and dozens injured.

Rioters clashed with security forces in Algeria amid a growing number of strikes and protests. Meanwhile, the leader of the main Islamist opposition party warned of unrest if the upcoming parliamentary elections in May are rigged.

Tunisia forges ahead with its own democratic transition as it struggles to balance the competing demands of democracy and religion. The government, meanwhile, is touting its attractions as an investment destination. Yemen confirmed its intention to set up a stock market.

Fourteen jailed Bahraini dissidents started a hunger strike and Kuwaitis voted for their fourth parliament in six years. Iraq's Sunni leaders ended their boycott of parliament to protest the government's alleged crackdown on Sunni politicians, although most commentators agreed that the crisis was far from over.

Two Egyptians were shot dead by the police and hundreds were injured in protests demanding accountability from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt's ruling military junta, over the deadly football riots on Wednesday night. A prominent commentator wrote that these events have the potential to sway both the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's vast "silent majority" against SCAF even as they highlight the urgent need for police reform and civilian oversight of the security services.

Egypt's electoral commission announced the results of the first round of voting for the Shura Council (the upper house of Parliament). The overwhelming victory for Islamist parties was consistent with the earlier results of elections for the lower house (although voter turnout was radically lower).

Violence continues unabated in Syria. In New York, diplomats spent the week revising a UN Security Council draft resolution to get Russia on board. Western governments and Arab states continued to discuss options for the possible exile of Bashar al-Assad. A conference in Iran aimed at rebranding the Arab uprisings as an "Islamic Awakening" backfired, in part because no one from Syria's opposition was invited to the event.

Protests continued in Russia. One influential group of Western analysts conclude that Putin will weather the storm and win the elections. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, however, predicts an Arab Spring-like revolution that will topple the Russian government.

At a Communist Party conference last weekend, Cuban President Raul Castro launched a wide-scale anti-corruption campaign and floated the idea of term limits for high ranking officials, including himself. (He added, however, that a multi-party system is not in the books.) Meanwhile, a report revealed that Cubans paid nearly 20% more for their food in 2011.

A Haitian judge sparked outcry from human rights organizations by recommending that the infamous former Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier face trial for corruption rather than abuses of human rights.

Finally, the New York Review of Books launched a blog mini-series about the fate of democracy in different parts of the world.

-- by Chloé de Préneuf

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STR/AFP/Getty Images

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