03 October 2012

Election Season!

It's election season, and how!  As America gears up for its presidential election, let's reflect on elections for our beloved former USSR satellites.

Let's do a quick round-up of recent elections:

This is the most recent election and it was a real nail biter.  Saakashvili vs Ivanishvili was certainly a hot race.  Georgia has been significantly improving since the Russian invasion and Saakashvili has been given due credit for that turnaround.  Many outsiders and Georgians were worried, however, that he was a dictator or autocrat, so this defeat was particularly astounding and important.  It certainly shapes the narrative of recent history.  The infamous prison videos boosted Ivanishvili and lent credit to dictator claims; it made Saakashvili look like the same old crony they've always known.  So whether or not Ivanishvili is actually good for the country, having the UNM move into opposition without fuss is a big step for the country's political health and stability.

Transitions like this can create huge hiccups.  You have to look at the examples of fellow Russia-border-sharing-nations like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to understand that elections that surprise people, let alone have a smooth, violence-free process are more rare.  Kyrgyzstan had a presidential election in 2009, ousted Bakiyev in 2010, and then elected the opposition Atambayev in 2011.  (And guess where Bakiyev is living?  Belarus!  At the invitation of Lukashenko himself!)  Kazakhstan didn't do any better--in fact, they did worse in the same year.  Add that to the lovely neighbors of Armenia and Azerbaijan (who hate each other vehemently and have explosive feelings about Nagorno-Karabakh), as well as the Middle East to the south, and suddenly it becomes clear that stability in that little pocket of the Eurasian world is a hard won fight.  (Though I have to say, we can't forget the Abkhazia and South Ossetia territories/countries...they remain to be solved.)  In short: yay Georgia! Way to be!  Rah rah democracy.

Also, is Ivanishvili's picture next to the poster humorous or a "fuck you" move?  Debating.

I could die of lack of surprise.  Everyone knew this would happen and the turnout was barely enough to make the election seem legit.  Cheap food and alcohol were put next to polling places to lure citizens in for a fraudulent vote and achieve the 50% turnout.  This is so Soviet I can't even handle it.  What play is needed to start dismantling the autocratic power?  Does the economy need to tank beyond Russia's repair?  That is where the surprise really lies.

That's all we've had lately, but the contrast of Belarus' sham to Georgia's surprising turnover illuminates the hope for stability.  Georgia is also a troubled nation (two wars in 2008), but they're getting a few things right.  They're working hard.  Belarus is working on bubbling and boiling hard enough to pop off Lukashenko's lid of power.  There are more elections coming up, so look for them in the news:

Czech Republic Legislative
First Round
  October 12, 2012
Lithuania Parliamentary
First Round
  October 14, 2012

Montenegro      Parliamentary   October 14, 2012
Lithuania      Referendum   October 14, 2012

Ukraine            Parliamentary    October 28, 2012
Slovenia           Presidential        November 11, 2012
Romania          Parliamentary     December 2, 2012
Kosovo           Presidential         2012

(source: IFES)

IFES is a great resource for information on international elections, so I recommend at least a quick perusal.
For your convenience, I have also included a short list of political points of interest about each country that I think may have an impact on the result.  There is, however, a general theme of euroskepticism vs europhilism that runs through European elections.

Czech Republic - explosive response to methanol poisoning; Václav Klaus being Václav Klaus; humor vs. libel disputes; sacking law enforcement officials; more corruption; polls.

Lithuania - Gazprom, of course; Paksas' appeal to the ECHM; other Russia-and-energy woes; polls. (The referendum is about the building of the nuclear plant Visaginas.)

Montenegro - ethnic tensions; electoral roll issues; EU ascension hopes (which pushed up the elections); steel worker strikes; ties to Azerbaijan; Milo Đukanović

Ukraine - EU integration pressure; the big deal that is Tymoshenko; footballer to politician; controversial language law; EU and Tymoshenko explained; impact of Euro2012; gas and Russia - naturally.

Slovenia - banking/economic woes; relations with neighbors; Janez Janša; corruption probes;  economic ties to Belarus; gay couple adoption.

Romania - referendum; political fights over the judiciary; IMF funds released; Roma; chemical plant privatization; doctors emigrating; Schengen issues; education reform; international press freedom.

Kosovo - Serbia- what else?; bordering Serbia; unions and privatization; agriculture subsidies; corruption (which reminds me of The Departed - he has to find himself!); organ trading and its ongoing trial; constitutional changes; lots of exhumations and other war related issues.  And an overview.

So that's the political round-up for fall elections.  This post should be a good reference for the months to come.  Anyone taking bets on the results?