On Sept. 8, Russians will vote in municipal and regional elections, and the authorities are afraid. Not of any foreign power’s interference in Russia’s elections — there have been no fair elections in decades — but of Russia’s own people and opposition candidates, who are far more popular than the official nominees. Moscow’s old bag of electoral tricks survives — for example, moving elections from December to early September so that summer vacations would leave challengers little time to organize. The authorities have resorted to new tricks too, like clogging the electoral system with fake candidates and putting party loyalists on the ballot as independent candidates. This year’s election will also see a new mobile digital voting system that allows people to vote online from any location. Critics say it is yet another trick to help the authorities. Leaving nothing to chance, Moscow’s electoral commission found bogus reasons to disqualify all unapproved candidates from running in the elections. And to intimidate those would-be candidates, their homes were raided and many of them were detained, brought to Police Headquarters and interrogated in the middle of the night. Yet none of that worked: Thousands of people took to the streets, beginning on July 28, to protest the election committee’s decisions. In response, the authorities deployed an overwhelming force of local and federal police who detained most opposition leaders and nearly 1,400 demonstrators.Full Article: Opinion | Putin’s Nightmare: The Ballot Box - The New York Times.
Russia: More than 1,000 people detained in Moscow amid clashes over city council election, monitor says | Anton Troianovski and Siobhán O’Grady/The Washington Post
Russian police in riot gear detained more than 1,000 protesters Saturday at a demonstration against the exclusion of opposition politicians from the ballot for an upcoming city council election, a monitoring group said, marking another flare of anti-government defiance a week after Moscow’s largest opposition rally in years. Police said around 3,500 people gathered near City Hall for the unauthorized protest organized by prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Earlier this week, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to 30 days in jail for calling for the demonstration. A handful of other prominent opposition politicians also were arrested before the rally took place. OVD-Info, a monitoring group that tracks political arrests in Russia, said more than 1,000 people were detained during police sweeps Saturday. State-run news agencies, including Tass, also reported more than 1,000 detentions, citing police. In previous mass detentions, many people were released after being held for several hours. The Moscow police had earlier said they had made 295 arrests, the Associated Press reported, but did not offer a final number. Police also stormed a TV studio belonging to Navalny that was live-streaming the protests on YouTube, and arrested Vladimir Milono, who was in charge of the program. Navalny previously ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Moscow in 2013.Full Article: More than 1,000 people detained in Moscow amid clashes over city council election, monitor says - The Washington Post.
During a hurried midnight taxi ride between Istanbul’s two major airports, the faces of Racep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian president, and Binali Yildrim, Turkey’s former Prime Minister and Istanbul mayoral candidate, gazed down at me from every lamppost and roadside hoarding. I had been invited to Turkey by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) as part of a local election observation mission, and the omnipresent sight of these two moustachioed members of the ruling AK Party served as a reminder – if reminders were needed – that the elections would not occur on a level playing field. Turkey has been described by academics as a kind of hybrid electoral-authoritarian country. Its citizens are used to voting regularly and in relatively large numbers, even as the media and important state institutions are effectively under the tutelage of President Erdogan and his AKP. Recent plebiscites, including the 2017 referendum on switching to an anti-democratic presidential system, were marred by accusations of fraud and voter manipulation, but Turkey’s rulers nevertheless have cause to fear them. It is, despite President Erdogan’s best efforts to stack the deck in his own favour, possible for him to lose an election.Full Article: Turkey's local elections were not free or fair | openDemocracy.
A far-right group campaigning for a change in Croatian election laws said Thursday it has collected enough signatures to call a nationwide referendum that could curb significantly the rights of ethnic minorities. The “People Decide” group said it has collected nearly 400,000 signatures for a vote on a proposal to reduce the number of lawmakers in Croatia’s parliament from 150 to a maximum 120, curb the number of MPs representing ethnic minorities and ban them from voting on crucial issues such as forming Croatia’s government and the national budget.Full Article: Croatia's far right pushes for vote to curb minority rights - StarTribune.com.
International: Study reveals remarkably high proportion of national elections are not free and fair | phys.org
Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the London School of Economics have found that the number of elections across the world has reached an all-time high, but that this has done little to increase the quality of democracy in the world. The findings published today by Yale Books in ‘How to rig an election’ demonstrate that a remarkably high proportion of national elections are not free and fair – enabling authoritarian leaders to remain in power – with the emergence of new technology playing a part in the process of manipulation. Based on more than 500 interviews, and their own experience of watching elections on the ground in countries including; Belarus, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Thailand and Tunisia, Professor Nic Cheeseman and Dr. Brian Klaas reveal the extent of the democratic decay that has benefitted dictators around the world.Full Article: Study reveals remarkably high proportion of national elections are not free and fair.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers have lost two seats in the territory’s legislature, another setback for the bloc whose members were previously disqualified after modifying their oaths of office to defy Beijing. While the pro-democracy camp widely anticipated losing one of the four vacated seats up for a vote in Sunday’s by-election, a second loss, by a margin of just over 1 percent after a recount, was a less expected and more painful blow. The vote came on the same day that China’s Communist Party-controlled legislature approved a measure to drop term limits for president, clearing the way for President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. Hong Kong’s democracy advocates framed the vote in the semiautonomous territory as a way to stand up to the authoritarianism of China’s central government. What they were left with, however, was a further erosion of their already limited power.Full Article: Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Bloc Loses Seats in Election - The New York Times.
Hong Kong residents voted Sunday in by-elections that give opposition supporters the chance to recapture lost ground in a contest measuring voters’ appetite for democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese city. The vote pitted pro-Beijing loyalists against opposition candidates competing for four seats in the city’s semi-democratic legislature. They’re among six seats left empty when a group of lawmakers were expelled following a 2016 controversy over their oaths, which they used to defy China. The ejected members included two advocating Hong Kong’s independence, something Chinese President Xi Jinping has called a “red line.”Full Article: Hong Kong election gauges city’s stomach for defying Beijing - The Washington Post.
Joshua Wong and two other leading Hong Kong democracy activists won an appeal against their jail terms at the city’s highest court Tuesday in a case seen as a test for the independence of the city’s judiciary, which some fear is under pressure from Beijing. But the trio warned it was not a time for celebration because the city still faced threats to its freedoms. Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were jailed in August last year for their role in the mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests of 2014 after Hong Kong’s government pushed for more severe sentences. A lower court had originally given Wong and Law community service orders and Chow a suspended sentence. But after the government’s intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal. All three activists were later bailed pending their appeal.Full Article: Hong Kong democracy activists walk free in appeal victory | New Straits Times | Malaysia General Business Sports and Lifestyle News.
China: Why Joshua, Nathan, Alex and the Umbrella Movement would be an excellent choice for the Nobel Peace Prize | Hong Kong Free Press
It is very heartening that twelve United States lawmakers nominated Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and the Umbrella Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination comes at a time when the pro-democracy movement is under sustained attack by the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government. Their primary means of attack are criminal prosecutions of pro-democracy leaders and activists and disqualifications from candidacy and elected office. Through these means, they have barred all groups which grew out of the Umbrella Movement from participating in the formal political system and are attempting to destroy the groups they find the most threatening. They intend especially to intimidate young people against getting involved in politics, in the classic Communist ploy of “killing the chicken to scare the monkeys.”Full Article: Why Joshua, Nathan, Alex and the Umbrella Movement would be an excellent choice for the Nobel Peace Prize | Hong Kong Free Press HKFP.
Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow Friday said they were honoured to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a group of US lawmakers at a time when the city’s freedoms are “under serious attack by China”. A bipartisan group of four senators and eight members of the House announced Thursday that they had nominated the activists “in recognition of their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self-determination to Hong Kong.” Wong, Law and Chow — who shot to prominence as leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement — said they were honoured by the nomination, but warned that Beijing was targeting the freedoms enjoyed by residents of Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous part of China.Full Article: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists 'honoured' by Nobel nomination | AFP.com.
When it comes to securing a second term in power, Egypt’s president is leaving little to chance. Potential rivals in the March election have been sidelined, jailed or threatened with prosecution. The news media is largely in his pocket. On polling day, Egyptians will have a choice between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and one of his most ardent supporters — an obscure politician drafted at the 11th hour to avoid the embarrassment of a one-horse race. As he cruises toward victory, Mr. Sisi need not worry either about foreign censure: President Trump has hailed the Egyptian leader as a “fantastic guy,” and most other Western leaders have been largely silent. Across the world, autocratic leaders are engaging in increasingly brazen behavior — rigging votes, muzzling the press and persecuting opponents — as they dispense with even a fig leaf of democratic practice once offered to placate the United States or gain international legitimacy. The global tide is driven by a bewildering range of factors, including the surge of populism in Europe, waves of migration, and economic inequality. And leaders of countries like Egypt, which had long been sensitive to Washington’s influence, know they run little risk of rebuke from an American president who has largely abandoned the promotion of human rights and democracy in favor of his narrow “America First” agenda.Full Article: As Strongmen Steamroll Their Opponents, U.S. Is Silent - The New York Times.
China: What Agnes Chow’s election ban means for Joshua Wong and youth politics in Hong Kong | South China Morning Post
Beneath her dewy, fresh-faced look and somewhat bashful smile, Agnes Chow Ting, 21, is a battle-hardened political savant as far as young Hongkongers go. The pro-democracy activist was active in a campaign six years ago to force the government to retract a plan to introduce compulsory national education in schools. In 2014, she was at the front lines of the Occupy protests seeking greater democracy. Recently, she renounced her UK citizenship and put her studies at Baptist University on hold – all in the name of becoming the city’s youngest-ever lawmaker. Chow was gunning to win the Hong Kong Island seat in the upcoming Legislative Council by-election, where four seats need to be filled. But last Saturday, she faced her biggest setback yet.Full Article: What Agnes Chow’s election ban means for Joshua Wong and youth politics in Hong Kong | South China Morning Post.
Macau voters have elected a young pro-democracy activist to the Chinese casino capital’s legislature, as opposition lawmakers expanded their presence at the expense of candidates linked to the gambling industry. The results released early Monday are a surprising sign of faith in young people with progressive ideas among Macau’s notoriously apathetic electorate. Official results showed that 26-year-old Sulu Sou won a seat in Sunday’s election for the city’s semi-democratic legislature, making him the city’s youngest-ever lawmaker, according to local news reports.Full Article: Young democracy activist among Macau election winners - The Washington Post.
The United States denounced the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday for suppressing protests and called for free elections, saying that he must not be allowed to follow a “dictatorship” path like Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The Maduro government calls the protesters violent coup-mongers, supported by the United States. “This is an economic, political and humanitarian crisis that demands the world’s attention,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a U.S.-hosted panel of Venezuelan activists and experts held on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.Full Article: U.S. denounces Venezuela for repression, demands free elections | Reuters.
News must be new but it needn’t be surprising. The decidedly unsurprising news out of Iran last week: There was an election (of sorts) and the winner was Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent president. An apparently mild-mannered cleric with a beatific smile, he has presided over Iran for four years — a period of egregious human rights violations, the Iranian-backed slaughter in Syria, the taking of American and other hostages, and increasing support for terrorists abroad. Nevertheless, you’ll see him described in much of the media as a “moderate.” At most he is a pragmatist, one with a keen sense of how credulous Western diplomats and journalists can be. He knows they won’t judge him based on such quotes as this: “Saying ‘Death to America!’ is easy. We need to express ‘Death to America!’ with action.”Full Article: Iran elections still unfair and not free - Washington Times.
Turkey: The upcoming Turkish referendum could end what little democracy is left in the country | The Independent
In the final days before Turks vote in a referendum on 16 April on whether or not to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dictatorial powers and effectively end parliamentary government, the mood in Turkey is prone to conspiracy theories and suspicion of foreign plots. A sign of this is the reception given to a tweet that might have seemed to the sender to be exceptionally benign and non-controversial. It was sent in Turkish and English by the British ambassador to Ankara, Richard Moore, and read: “Tulips in Istanbul heralding spring. Hooray!” Accompanying it was a picture of a bank of tulips blooming outside the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. But for television sports anchor Ertem Sener the message had a much more menacing significance according to the Turkish Daily News. He tweeted to his 849,000 followers that the words were intended to show support for the failed military coup against Mr Erdogan in July 2016 and as an encouragement to “No” voters in the referendum. “This is how they are giving a message to Turkey,” said Mr Sener. “They are saying: ‘If we had prevailed [in the coup attempt] these tulips would have bloomed earlier. British dog. These tulips have been washed in [martyrs’] blood.”Full Article: The upcoming Turkish referendum could end what little democracy is left in the country | The Independent.
Editorials: Armenia’s election: The status quo wins at the expense of democracy | Armine Ishkanian/EUROPP
After a quarter of a century of ‘transitioning’ to democracy, Armenia remains at best a partly free ‘managed’ democracy and at worst a semi-consolidated authoritarian regime. The country has high levels of poverty and inequality (over 30% of Armenians live under the poverty line, with 47% of those aged 15 and above being unemployed) and the discontent with the status quo has led to continual emigration since the early 1990s and mass protests over recent years. In the immediate aftermath of the election on 2 April, in which the ruling Republican (Hanrapetakan) Party of Armenia, received nearly 50% of the vote, questions have been raised as to why, despite growing discontent with the political and socio-economic status quo, including the unresolved conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, so many Armenian citizens appear to have given their support to the ruling party?Full Article: EUROPP – Armenia’s election: The status quo wins at the expense of democracy.
Hong Kong police have started a crackdown on pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, informing at least nine people they will be charged for their involvement in a series of street protests more than two years ago. The charges come a day after Carrie Lam was elected to be the city’s chief executive. Heavily backed by the Chinese government, she has promised to heal divisions in an increasingly polarised political climate; pro-Beijing elites and businesses have repeatedly clashed with grassroots movements demanding more democracy. For nearly three months in 2014, protesters surrounded the main government offices and blocked roads in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district. While several high-profile cases were brought in the months after, the vast majority of protesters were not charged.Full Article: Hong Kong democracy activists charged hours after election of new city leader | World news | The Guardian.
A small electoral college has begun voting for a new leader of Hong Kong amid accusations that Beijing is meddling and denying the Chinese-ruled financial hub a more populist figurehead better suited to defuse political tension. The majority of the city’s 7.3 million people have no say in deciding their next leader, with the winner chosen by a 1,200-person “election committee” stacked with pro-Beijing and pro-establishment loyalists. Three candidates are running for the post of chief executive on Sunday: two former officials, Carrie Lam and John Tsang, and a retired judge, Woo Kwok-hing. Lam is considered the favourite. Outside the voting centre, there were some scuffles between protesters and police. The protesters denounced Beijing’s “interference” amid widespread reports of lobbying of the voters to back Lam, rather than the more populist and conciliatory former finance chief, Tsang. “Lies, coercion, whitewash,” read one protest banner. “The central government has intervened again and again,” said Carmen Tong, a 20-year-old university student. “It’s very unjust.”Full Article: Hong Kong chooses new leader amid accusations of China meddling | World news | The Guardian.
As the European project grew from six reasonably cohesive members to 28 more diverse and less controllable ones, it was faced with two big questions. One was what to do if a country decided to leave. The response of the United States to South Carolina’s secession in 1860 seemed excessive, so instead the treaty was amended to include Article 50, which sets out the procedure for exit. The hope was that it would never be used, but now Britain is invoking it. Untried though the procedure is, one thing seems certain: it will be long-drawn-out and painful for everyone. The second question was what to do if a country started to trample on the democratic standards that are a condition of membership. Europe has had to consider this issue before, in 2000, when Austria brought Jörg Haider, a far-right politician, into a coalition government. The EU tried to isolate Austria by freezing contacts, but when that failed to oust Mr Haider it gradually thawed, and has since tacitly accepted governments sustained by extremist parties. In the 2000s several commentators suggested that Italy under Silvio Berlusconi would have failed the Copenhagen criteria for membership because he wielded such enormous power over the Italian media, but at the time nothing was done about it.Full Article: Who rules the rulers?: Safeguarding democratic rule within the EU | The Economist.