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The Unresolved Crisis Overshadowing Congo’s Vote

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 19:15

Jean-Pierre Kalamba waved his hand over a map of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African nation that has delayed elections for two years since the president, Joseph Kabila, refused to resign after his term ended in 2016. Kalamba, an election official, said the government is struggling to raise the $1.8 billion the electoral commission…


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New Jersey’s felon voters still await a savior

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 19:04

Today, in a country with allegedly the finest justice system ever created by man, we choose to relegate 6.1 million Americans to second-class citizenship. We silence them, we revoke a fundamental birthright, and we deprive them of dignity. And we do it because of a cockeyed notion that a central tenet of democracy – that government…


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Dire Malaysian democratic crisis is a leading world problem

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 14:00

By Netina Tan, Associate Professor, McMaster University and Cassandra Preece, Political Science, MA Student, McMaster University. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February 2018. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) Malaysia is gearing up for its 14th general elections, to be held by Aug. 24, 2018. Its parliament is expected to be dissolved within…


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Zimbabwe’s 2008 post-vote violence has lessons for the next election

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 13:47

This year marks 10 years since the disputed 2008 harmonized elections. At that time, the public was growing angry while it was taking more than a month for the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) to announce the result of the 29 March 2008 presidential poll. Rumor, speculation and uncertainty gripped the country. The period following that first round of the 2008 Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe was marked by political violence that left a reportedly more than 200 people dead, thousands more people injured and more than 200 000 people internally displaced – the worst violence in the southern African country since independence in 1980. Much remains to be done to prevent a repeat of the violence.

The failure to announce the result was heavily criticized by the opposition who approached the High Court for relief. However, Justice Tendai Uchena infamously ruled in favor of ZEC arguing that the law permits them to undertake a recount and verification process. Surprisingly, the ZEC alleged that they were recounting votes that they had not disclosed for any one of the candidates to ask for a recount. Had ZEC privately disclosed the result to Mugabe? If yes, than there was a calculated collusion and, if no, why then recount the votes before announcement of the result and there after maybe receive a request for recount and verification from any of the candidates?

When the polls results were finally announced on 2 May 2008, they showed that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) candidate, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, had won by 47.9 percent whilst Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, garnered 42.2 percent of the total votes. Independent candidate and former finance minister Simba Makoni pulled 8.1 percent. This effectively meant that since no candidate reached the 50 plus 1 percent vote required for outright majority, a second round was organized for 27 June 2007.

In this case the law states that the two-top candidates go for a run-off, meaning Tsvangirai and Mugabe were to square-off once more with the candidate getting the popular vote during second run winning the presidency. However, the MDC-T disputed the result arguing their tally showed Tsvangirai had won 50.3 percent of the vote, a narrow majority that would have him sworn in as the president, with Mugabe getting only 43.8 percent.

Media reports suggest that the violence after the first round began in the town of Murehwa about 70 kilometers North-East of Harare. The violence escalated throughout the country with both ZANU-PF and MDC-T blaming each other’s supporters for instigating the violence. However, western governments and most non-governmental organizations blamed ZANU-PF for the violence. Mugabe had been telling his supporters that “the bullet has replaced the ballot”.

The dispute went up a new level on 22 June, when Tsvangirai announced that he was withdrawing from the second round famously describing the run-off as a “violent sham” that was a security threat to his supporters. ZEC rejected Tsvangirai’s withdraw arguing that it was too late for him to pull out since they had printed the ballot paper with his name and all other logistics were in place.

Constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku then said that it was politically correct for Tsvangirai to pull out because a free and fair election was not possible, yet, legally he was bound to participate: “The strict legal position is that candidature for the run-off or second election is not a voluntary exercise, you give your consent when you contest the first election.”

In other words there was no provision for withdrawal.

The dispute caught the attention of world leaders with the then United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on 23 June 2008 encouraging ZEC to postpone the run-off as Tsvangirai had genuine concerns that required attention. He further said that, “the people of Zimbabwe have the right to choose their leader” in a conducive environment that result in a free, fair and credible election. Then African Union Chairman weighed in describing the events unfolding in Zimbabwe as “a matter of grave concern”.

Instead of declaring Mugabe unopposed, ZEC choose to go ahead with the electoral process with Tsvangirai’s name on the ballot. Mugabe won the opposition boycotted run-off by overwhelming margin of 85.51 percent of the votes. Mugabe was hastily inaugurated at State House by then Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and on the same day travelled to Egypt for an African Union (AU) Summit where he was surprisingly welcomed.

The AU called for dialogue eventually leading to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) on 13 February 2009 by ZAUNU-PF, the MDC-T and another MDC formation led by Professor Arthur Mutambara. Mugabe remained president whilst Tsvangirai became prime minister with Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe (then MDC-T party Vice-President) becoming deputy prime ministers.

Ministerial posts were shared with ZANU-PF getting the bulk at the same time retaining key portfolios that include defense, security and agriculture whilst sharing the powerful ‘Home Affairs’ portfolio which the Registrar-General then tasked with preparing the voters roll. Police also fell under a system where both ZANU-PF and MDC-T had co-ministers. MDC-T was able to wrestle control of the lucrative finance ministry and under the leadership of Tendai Biti was able to stabilize the economy.

Mugabe was later to slip on the eve of his 2013 general election whilst addressing security chiefs where he said Tsvangirai in 2008 won by 73 percent. Whether a slip of a tongue or not, it fed a widely accepted view that Tsvangirai won the 2008 presidential election and victory was stolen during the five weeks of delayed election results with the help of a questionable High Court Judgment.

The tragic lessons that can be drawn from the 2008 political violence are that such electoral fights can tear apart the social fabric of a nation and that the power to govern can only be derived from the people. Another lesson is that holding elections without ensuring strong independent institutions, like the courts, can lead to a sham democracy. Holding elections is but one element of democracy that need to be further buttressed with a vibrant parliament and protection of human rights.

Mugabe cannot argue that the elections were democratic whilst underperforming with regards to upholding human rights, supporting the oversight role of parliament, the independence of the judiciary, and other key pillars of democracy. A country’s election management body must be independent of the ruling government and must remain absolutely impartial when conducting elections with procedure clearly spelt out and dispute mechanisms in place.

Another election approaches

In July/August 2018, Zimbabwe heads for another crucial general election. And for the first time in nearly two decades the faces of Mugabe and Tsvangirai will not be on the ballot paper. Although 112 political parties have confirmed to participate, the real fight is between incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa of ZANU-PF and Advocate Nelson Chamisa of the MDC-T.

Already there are reports of intimidation of voters. There are reports that ZANU-PF members are demanding voter registration slips from the electorate. The alleged deployment of 5,000 soldiers by President Mnangagwa’s government is seen as a strategy resembling the 2008 disputed election.

However, it is encouraging to note that Mnangagwa has invited international election observers, some whom have already visited the country for pre-election assessment. European Union election observers arrived only last week. At the same time, Mnangagwa has invited all political parties for a conference to iron out any differences.

It is only the politics of compromise that can solve political problems, not the law or technical support from donors. It remains be seen whether Mnangagwa’s overtures are cosmetic to divert political parties and observers from the obscure National Logistic Committee that is said allegedly indirectly runs the elections. As a result of the continued uncertainty, one of the key factors during the ensuing harmonized elections will be how results are processed, and their announcement managed, to avoid a repeat of 2008.

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Turkey detains university students for protesting Syria conflict

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 13:00

Turkish police on Sunday were holding seven students from a prestigious Istanbul university after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused them of behaving like “terrorists” for staging an action opposing his military campaign in Syria. Police stormed a students’ dormitory and a house at Bogazici University around dawn Sunday and detained three students — two men and…


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Afghan mother cradling baby during university exam goes viral

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:48

Afghan farmer Jahantab Ahmadi sits on the ground, her baby resting in her lap, as she focuses on the university entrance exam she hopes will help her fulfil her dreams. The powerful photo, taken by a professor at Nasir Khusraw private university in central Afghanistan, has gone viral after striking a chord in a country where…


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Mathematicians invent new tool to judge gerrymandering

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:32

Researchers at the University of Vermont have recently designed a new mathematical approach to judge when gerrymandering political districts goes beyond fairness and into manipulation of voting. A team led by UVM mathematician Gregory S. Warrington published the new tool in the latest edition of the Election Law Journal under the title, “Quantifying Gerrymandering Using the Vote Distribution”.

Warrington is a star researcher with an expertise in algebra at the University of Vermont’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, a branch of UVM with a “long and proud tradition of excellence in teaching undergraduate students as well as an international reputation for world-class research and mentoring graduate students to a Master’s degree or a PhD degree”.

According to Warrington, “It’s called the declination. Because there is no single standard of what exactly gerrymandering is, there is no one way to test for it. But our measure is better in a lot of ways than the other approaches now being used.” According to a summary of this valuable work by Science Daily:

A mathematician has developed a new tool to identify gerrymandered voting districts. The research shows Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina strongly gerrymandered for Republicans, while Maryland’s and California’s voting districts have been strongly tipped in favor of Democrats. The new tool could be important in the wake of two Supreme Court cases now being considered that might outlaw certain partisan gerrymanders.

Other influential research on American gerrymandering by Warrington include studies titled “Gerrymandering and the net number of US House seats won due to vote-distribution asymmetries” and “Introduction to the declination function for gerrymanders“.

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Why Sierra Leone popstar Emmerson Bockarie is govt enemy No.1

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:06

For a musician used to receiving personal insults from the president and anonymous death threats with the release of every new single, Emmerson Bockarie laughs a lot. The Sierra Leonean popstar, a thorn in the side of successive governments over his 15-year career, chuckles as he recalls the countless times politicians have sought to dampen his…


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A new Mexican journalism award for those covering rights abuses

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:02

The UN and AFP news agency have launched a new award to recognise journalists who their lives to cover human rights abuses in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries to be a reporter. The ‘Breach-Valdez’ award will pay tribute to former journalists Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez who were murdered last year. Valdez, highly acclaimed…


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Considering the weakening of South Korean presidential power

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 10:44

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday proposed weakening the powers of his office and lowering the voting age in a package of constitutional reforms, while allowing the head of state to be re-elected. South Korea is a vibrant democracy but its executive presidency is extremely powerful, giving rise to a winner-takes-all politics which critics say…


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Some seek return to Congressional earmarks to encourage action

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 10:40

By Diana Evans, Professor of political science, Trinity College. Members of Congress debated a government spending bill into the early morning on March 20. AP/J. Scott Applewhite Congress passed a US$1.3 trillion spending bill last Thursday, March 22 – only narrowly averting a third government shutdown this year. President Trump signed the bill into law on…


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Odebrecht corruption scandal ensnares Venezuela’s Maduro

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 10:36

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro awarded a Brazilian construction giant at the heart of a huge corruption scandal across Latin America almost $4 billion for public works in exchange for campaign donations, the newspaper Estado reported Sunday. The payments came to Odebrecht light in reports and documents as part of a Brazilian investigation. The documents in question…


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Dozens arrested as Belarus opposition marks ‘Freedom Day’

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:46

Belarusian authorities on Sunday arrested around 30 protesters ahead of a banned opposition march in Minsk while detaining activists across the country, human rights group Viasna said. The Belarusian opposition is marking the 100th anniversary of the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic of 1918-19 that it sees as the foundation of an independent Belarus. It accuses President…


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Government hunting Bahrain social media dissidents

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:42

Bahraini authorities on Sunday announced they would be taking “severe measures” to track down dissidents who use social media, as the Gulf monarchy tightens its grip on political opposition. Social networking sites, notably Twitter, are a major platform for rights activists in the tiny kingdom, which according to Amnesty International has stripped hundreds of dissidents of…


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Turkmenistan’s latest fake election used to spotlight president’s son

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:36

Voting was underway in Turkmenistan Sunday in a parliamentary election which could indicate a path towards hereditary succession in the authoritarian, gas-rich former Soviet state. Polls in the Central Asian country opened at 0200 GMT and were set to close at 1400 GMT. A total of 284 candidates are competing for 125 seats in parliament, but…


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American History’s Most Controversial Presidential Affairs

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:29

News about President Donald Trump’s alleged affairs have captured the national attention as a porn star and a playboy model offer to publicly describe their experiences with the President before he came to office. Trump has denied the encounters with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal ever took place, but many have found the women’s accounts convincing.…


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Court halts preparations for Sierra Leone presidential run-off

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 15:19

Sierra Leone’s High Court on Saturday ordered the electoral commission to halt preparations for a March 27 presidential run-off following a legal filing by a lawyer linked to the ruling party. The order stops the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from working until “the hearing and determination of this court”, adjourning the matter until Monday, the eve…


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Kenyans questioning Cambridge Analytica’s influence on 2017 vote

Sun, 03/25/2018 - 14:35

Video coverage by VICE News from Kenya where citizens are reconsidering the negative campaigns of the 2017 Presidential election. Here is the video’s description from VICE News:

Footage released earlier this week from the British Channel 4 investigation is raising questions about the extent of Cambridge Analytica’s role in the election after the consultancy’s executives were caught on tape taking credit for President Kenyatta’s winning campaign.

Surveys before the election in August 2017 had already indicated it was a problem for a majority of Kenyans during the presidential campaign. And on social media, voters saw plenty of attack ads against opposition candidate Raila Odinga. VICE News spoke to members of the National Super Alliance [NASA] and Jubilee parties about the allegations that surfaced this week.

“I think there is every reason for Kenyans to be outraged,” said Norman Magaya, the CEO of the NASA party. “We have been treated to a charade in the form of an election,” “[The Jubilee Party] have planted seeds of discord that will take generations to heal the way in which we conduct our politics.”

Members of President Kenyatta’s Jubilee party responded to these allegations saying that these allegations are a “non-starter” and that it would be “impossible” to win an election through data mining. “All I can say is that anybody who think that that works, let them try it out in the year 2022 and then lose again,” said Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju to VICE News.

Cambridge Analytica responded to our request for details regarding their role in the spread of fake news in the Kenyan election: “Cambridge Analytica absolutely rejects allegations made in media reports that it conducted a negative media campaign in the recent Kenyan election or that it was in any way responsible for aggravating ethnic tensions relating to that election.”

Check out VICE News for more. The video is about 5 minutes. Take a look:

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VIDEO: Free Speech, Academic Freedom and the Rule of Law

Sat, 03/24/2018 - 15:38

As part of a free and ‘open to the public’ series of discussions put on by the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University’s School of Law, a YouTube video of a class titled, ‘The Rule of Law in a Time of Polarization’, exploring the intersection of free speech, academic freedom and the rule of law. Leading the discussion was Executive Director of ACLU Massachusetts Carol Rose who has “spent her career advocating for human rights and civil liberties both in the United States and abroad, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Northern Ireland, and Vietnam”.

Here is a the event description:

Political regimes gain legitimacy when they observe the Rule of Law; leaders of liberal democracies often boast about their adherence to the Rule of Law.  The Rule of Law is “much invoked, but inadequately defined.” Like most “essentially contested concepts,” the Rule of Law means many things to many people, but at its core it involves all members of a political community being subject to the same (well defined) laws and standards and an independent judiciary.  However, we define it as much by its breach as by its adherence.

The World Justice Project suggests that the Rule of Law includes four necessary principles:

  1. Accountability: The government as well as members of the public and private actors are accountable under the law.
  2. Just Laws: The laws are clear, publicized, stable and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and at least some human rights.
  3. Open Government: The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient.
  4. Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution: Justice is delivered in a timely manner by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

In the Spring 2018 Open Classroom, we will explore . We will also explore some of the tensions between the Rule of Law and Democratic Governance, focusing on the Rule of Law in time of polarization and technological upheaval (as in the United States but also abroad).

The video is about 45 minutes. Take a look:

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Why we need a system to audit elections in the US

Sat, 03/24/2018 - 15:14

From the PBSNewshour:

In our news wrap Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee criticized both the Trump and Obama administrations for a lack of urgency about Russian cyberattacks and election security. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged there’s a problem with making sure election results are genuine. Also, an Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up near a Shiite shrine in Kabul.

Full VIDEO Transcript:

The Senate Intelligence Committee criticized both the Trump and Obama administrations for a lack of urgency about Russian cyber-attacks and election security. Lawmakers pressed Kirstjen Nielsen and Jeh Johnson, the current and former homeland security secretaries.

Nielsen acknowledged there’s a problem with making sure election results are genuine.

Kirstjen Nielsen:

If there’s no way to audit the election, that is absolutely a national security concern. You must have a way to audit. You could do it through paper ballots or you can do it through this voter verification, but you must have a way to audit and verify the election results.

Hari Sreenivasan:

Russian agents targeted election systems in 21 states in 2016. There’s no evidence any votes were actually altered. Only 19 states have reached out for cyber-security reviews.

In Afghanistan, an Islamic State suicide bomber blew himself up near a Shiite shrine in Kabul today, killing at least 33 people; 65 others were wounded, and emergency workers rushed them to a nearby hospital. Police say the attackers struck near crowds gathering to celebrate the Persian new year.

An attack on Damascus, Syria, has claimed 44 lives. State media reports rebels fired mortars into a busy market during Tuesday evening’s rush hour. Aftermath video showed glass and debris littering the street. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the Syrian capital since the civil war began.

Meanwhile, in Northwest Syria, war monitors say an airstrike on a rebel-held province killed 21 people, 16 of them children.

One hundred and four captive girls were freed in Nigeria today by Boko Haram. The Islamist militants returned them to Dapchi, where a total of 110 were kidnapped from a boarding school four weeks ago. The girls were reunited with their parents, and said they were freed because they are Muslims. Several others didn’t return.

Khadija Grema:

There were five of us that died. Those that died were not killed by Boko Haram. They died because they were trampled upon. It was stress and trauma that made them tired and weak.

Hari Sreenivasan:

The government denied it paid ransom for the mass release. But Boko Haram left a warning, saying, “We did it out of pity. And don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”

In 2014, the militants kidnapped 276 girls from Chibok. Some 100 of them have never returned.

Back in this country, a major storm hit the Northeast with heavy snow and high winds and disrupted the first day of spring. It was the region’s fourth nor’easter in three weeks. New Jersey and New York City declared emergencies, and airlines canceled more than 4,000 flights.

Meanwhile, a strong Pacific storm dumped heavy rain along the California coast. Thousands of people were told to evacuate in Santa Barbara County to escape possible mudslides.

The U.S. Senate gave final approval today to a bill to curb sex trafficking online. It allows victims to take action against Web site operators that facilitate the crime. The bill sailed through the House and Senate, despite industry warnings about curbing free speech. President Trump is expected to sign it into law.

Mississippi will soon have its first female U.S. senator. State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith was appointed today by the Republican governor. She will replace fellow Republican Thad Cochran, who’s retiring due to failing health.

Illinois is set for what could be the most expensive governor’s race in American history. Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner survived Tuesday’s primary against a conservative challenger. He will face Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who celebrated his own primary win last night. He’s already spent $70 million on his campaign.

Separately, Holocaust denier Arthur Jones won a Republican nomination for Congress. He ran unopposed in a heavily Democratic district in Chicago.

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate today by another quarter percentage point. It also indicated it still expects to raise rates twice more this year. The Fed’s new chairman, Jerome Powell, said the economy is strong enough to stand it.

Jerome Powell:

Several factors are supporting the outlook. Fiscal policy has become more stimulative. Ongoing job gains are boosting income and confidence. Foreign growth is on a firm trajectory. And overall financial conditions remain accommodative.

Hari Sreenivasan:

The Fed has raised rates six times since 2015.

And on Wall Street, stocks surged, then sank over lingering questions about just how high interest rates will go. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 45 points to close at 24682. The Nasdaq fell 19 points, and the S&P 500 slipped five.

Still to come on the “NewsHour,” what’s in Congress’ massive spending bill; Senator Angus King on safeguarding state election systems against Russian interference; 3-D printing taken to the next level; and much more.

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