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January 24 2014

3 Keys to Understanding Burkina Faso's Anti-President Compaoré Protests

Widespread protests erupted in Burkina Faso on January 18 against constitutional reforms proposed by President Blaise Campaoré. But what do the protests mean, and why have the reforms inspired such a passionate reaction from the people of Burkina Faso? What would the implications of a prolonged crisis be for the region?

What sparked the protests?

The demonstrations were organised by the opposition to protest a change to the constitution that would allow Campaoré, who has been in power since 1987, to run for a third five-year term come the 2015 elections. This revision to article 37 of the constitution, which currently stipulates that presidential mandates must be limited to two five-year terms, is strongly opposed within some political circles as well as by voters.

The two-term limit was approved in 2005 and cannot be applied retroactively, so Compaoré was allowed to run for office despite his nearly two decades of rule at the time. 

The beginnings of opposition to the proposed change began to emerge the week before the changes when 75 members of the ruling party quit  in protest of the absence of consensus within the party.

An already controversial government  

This isn't the first time President Compaoré's authority has been called into question during his current term of office. In February 2011, protests flared up in the capital Ouagadougou and across the rest of the region, following deadly beating of a student by police in Kougougou. 

Blaise Compaoré, président du  Burkina Faso depuis 1987 via wikipédia CC-NC-BY

Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso since 1987. Via Wikipedia CC-NC-BY

To quell the dissent, Compaoré brought together the governors of all 13 regions and proposed measures to increase the purchasing power of students via increases in scholarships and stipends. Police violence and the murder of the president's opponents seemed to increase between 1990 and 2000. The common thread linking the riots was objection to rampant corruption and the presidential family's ever increasing wealth.

What the crisis means for the region

The effects of these demonstrations will be felt beyond the borders of Burkina Faso. Compaoré invited Guillaume Soro, president of the neighboring Côte d'Ivoire's Senate, to mediate the crisis. Following the November 2010 presidential election, that country experienced a drawn-out governance crisis after the two opposing leaders, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, both claimed victory. Protests and all-out violence marked the period from the initial standoff, as neither Gbagbo nor Ouattara showed signs of backing down. After months of conflict, Ouattara's troops eventually overran the country and stormed the presidential palace and captured Gbagbo with the help of French troops in April 2011.

Ivorian blogger Théophile Kouamouo drew the following conclusions from the meeting between Burkina Faso's president and the president of the Ivory Coast's Senate:

Depuis l’annonce, il y a une dizaine de jours, de la démission collective de plusieurs membres éminents du Congrès pour la démocratie et le progrès (CDP), parti du numéro un burkinabé Blaise Compaoré, les principales figures du régime Ouattara donnent l’impression que la seule idée de voir celui qui règne sur Ouagadougou depuis bientôt 27 ans à la retraite leur fait perdre tout sang-froid et les pousse à douter de leur propre avenir politique [..] Et si c’était finalement Guillaume Soro qui avait le plus à gagner dans le maintien au pouvoir de Blaise Compaoré, qu’il présente volontiers comme son « mentor » ? Il est probable que l’équilibre des relations pas toujours très claires entre Ouattara et son « dauphin constitutionnel » ait besoin de l’entregent du maître de Ouaga pour ne pas sombré dans la franche adversité. 

Since the announcement ten days ago of the collective resignation of several senior members of the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), Blaise Compaoré's party, key politicians from the Ouattara regime in Cote d'Ivoire seem panicked at the very idea of seeing Compaoré, the one who has ruled over Ouagadougou [capital city of Burkina Faso] for nearly 27 years leave power for good. This possibility seem to have made them realize the fragile nature of their own political futures. [...] And so what if it was ultimately Guillaume Soro who had the most to gain by keeping Blaise Compaoré in power, who he freely hails as his “mentor”? It is likely that the not always manifest balance of relations between Ouattara and his “constitutional successor” will require the interpersonal skills of the master of Ouagadougou so as not to slip into open adversity.

Laye Doulougou, a Burkinabe living in Ivory Coast, had a different view on the mediation:

Gardez vous de vous ” immiscer” dans les affaires du Faso lorsque que de bonnes âmes, dans un élan de solidarité sous régionale, l’aident à préserver sa stabilité et sa cohésion.

Nous autres burkinabé avons encore des souvenirs pas si lointains de la longue crise qu’a connue la Côte d’Ivoire et ne voulons pas voir notre pays vivre des moments pareils. Nous croyons en une Afrique stable, une Afrique panafricaine en paix et qui se développe grâce à des médiations de ce genre

Beware of “meddling” in the affaires of Faso while good souls, on the impetus of sub-regional solidarity, try tp help preserve its stability and its cohesion.

For the rest of us Burkinabes, the long crisis suffered by Ivory Coast is a not too distant memory, and we do not want to see our country go through the same thing. We believe in a stable Africa, a peaceful, pan-African Africa developed as a result of this type of mediation

January 23 2014

From Barcelona to Madrid for the Love of a Candidate

Blogger Denise Duncan makes a confession [es] on her blog:

¿Por qué voy a viajar 1400 kilómetros para votar por Luis Guillermo Solís? ¿Por qué ir y volver de Barcelona a Madrid en 24 horas? ¡Pero es un voto, nada más!, podría pensarse. ¿Qué diferencia hay? Una: estoy enamorada.

Why am I going to travel 1400 kilometers to vote for Luis Guillermo Solís? Why am I going from Barcelona to Madrid and back in 24 hours? But it's just a vote, nothing else!, you could think. What's the difference? One: I'm in love.

Denise is a Barcelona-based Costa Rican citizen and she'll have to travel from there to Madrid to cast her vote for Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera [es], a candidate running for president in the upcoming elections on February 2, 2014.

She remembers an earlier experience, when she spent 24 hours in a train to meet the man who is now her husband. She ends her confession saying:

Entonces brindaré por lo que viene, por un cambio que hará que mi corazón diga: yo recorrí 1400 kilómetros por dos hombres decentes en mi vida. Uno es mi marido. El otro el Presidente de la República.

Then I'll make a toast for what's yet to come, for a change that will make my heart say: I traveled 1400 kilometers because of two men in my life. One is my husband. The other one is the President of the Republic.

January 22 2014

Political Propaganda in the New Panamanian Passports?

The release of a new electronic passport in Panama has been accompanied by chaos and many user complaints. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the images included in the passport to advertise the accomplishments of the government of Ricardo Martinelli.

The new electronic passport, announced with much fanfare a year ago, went into circulation at the beginning of 2014 after several delays. The passport has 30 security measures, including a polycarbonate sheet with a built-in chip and biometric system. La Prensa [es] reports that people have to endure interminable lines and are even sleeping outside the passport authority to get new passports. In addition, the price has gone from 50 to 100 dollars.

Carmen Bernárdez, the administrator of the Passport Authority, has confirmed that the introduction of this new travel document [es] seeks to sell the country’s image internationally, and in particular, the development that has taken place during the past four years with the Martinelli government.

Juan Amado comments that there are better ways to promote the country, for instance, through the magazine published by Copa, the Panamanian airline:

If the plan is to sell Panama, show its accomplishments in the Copa magazine, which the whole world sees. The only one who sees the passports is the customs officer.

Lucas Castrellon jokes about the image that appears in the passport about the “100 at 70” iniciative, that gives 100 dollars a month to people over 70 years old who have no income:

“Look, in Panama we have 100 at 70. Put the stamp right on top of the lady”—me to the customs officer with my new passport.

Carlos V. Ho Diéguez shares the photo of “100 at 70″:

I can’t believe the new Panamanian passport has images like this on its pages.

Alejandra Mata doesn’t understand how it’s possible that with so many options, they chose the achievements of the government.

There’s so much history and beautiful scenery in my Panama, why should the passport have so much garbage on its pages??

Jay Cardu is upset about what appear to be a series of measures aimed at promoting the current government: 

This just tops it all for Ricardo Martinelli, printing the passport with that bullshit! Only thing left is to change the name from Panama to the Republic of Martinelli.

A. Batista comments that the only photo missing was the President’s, and adds a cartoon showing what a person has to go through if they want a new passport:

Panama’s new passport only lacks the President’s photo… [cartoon caption: “Look how they line up so they can get the best passport they’ve had in 40 years”]

La Prensa shares some of the images from the new passport on its Twitter account:

At [es] there are photos of the new passport, with the specifics that are causing the controversy.

Thus, those Panamanians who want to travel must not only pay twice as much, but must also carry with them political propaganda for the ruling party.

January 20 2014

Catherine Samba-Panza, Mayor of Bangui, Elected as Transitional President of Central African Republic

The Mayor of Bangui, Catherine Semba Penza participates in the clean up of the city via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

Mayor of Bangui and now transitional president Catherine Semba-Panza via La Nouvelle Centrafrique Infos

After Michel Djotodia stepped down as president [fr] two weeks ago, the Central African Republic (CAR) Parliament elected Catherine Samba-Panza [fr], former mayor of Bangui, as the transitional president in charge of stabilizing the country until the next elections. Samba-Panza was recognized for her crisis management of the city during the rebels pillaging spree in 2013. It will marked the first time a women is selected as the head of the nation.    

Massive Street Protests against Constitutional Reform in Burkina Faso

On January 18, thousands of Burkinabe citizens took to the streets of Ouagadougou [fr] to protest against proposed changes of the constitution that would allow current president Campaoré to run for another mandate. The protests were relayed on many Burkinabe twitter feed. Alain Boh Bi posted images of the protest:

January 19 2014

Madagascar Finally Has a New President, But Uncertainty Remains

It's official: Hery Rajaonarimampianina, considered a proxy for Madagascar's former President of the Transition Andry Rajoelina, who toppled the country's last democratically elected president in a military-backed coup in 2009, was declared the victor of long-awaited presidential elections by Madagascar's Special Electorate Court (CES).

The CES rejected allegations of vote-rigging and demands for a recount from the other candidate, Jean-Louis Robinson. The two had faced off in a second round of elections in December 2013 when neither won a clear majority after the initial vote in October. Rajaonarimampianina garnered 53.49 percent of votes in the run-off, while Robinson earned 46.51 percent.

Does this mean Madagascar is back on the path to democracy? Are prosperity and peace finally on the horizon for a country marred by chronic instability and a steady descent into poverty?

A straightforward calculation indicates that Rajaonarimampianina would have been elected with barely 25 percent of registered voters using figures delineated in the Madagascar Tribune [fr]: 

Inscrits : 7 971 790 
Votants : 4 043 246 
Blancs et nuls : 171 790 
Suffrages exprimés : 3 851 460 
Taux de participation : 50,72% 
Rajaonarimampianina Rakoatoarimanana Hery Martial : 2 060 124 (53,49%) 
Robinson Richard Jean Louis : 1 790 336 (46,51%)

Registered: 7,971,790 

Voting: 4,043,246

Invalid ballots: 171,790

Ballots: 3,851,460

Participation rate : 50.72%

Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana Hery Martial: 2,060,124 (53.49%) 

Robinson Richard Jean Louis: 1,790,336 (46.51%)

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate - Public Domain

Screenshot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the presidential debate via Malagasy Public Television -Public domain

Beyond that point though, power grabs have rhappened in Madagascar through either street protests and/or military coups, five times since 1972, with the latest in 2009.

Were Madagascar's presidential elections truly free and fair? Will they ultimately lead to a period of peace and prosperity for the country?

The elections were four years in the making and were welcome by most in the country and in the international community. While there were irregularities on voting day, as documented by citizen-based electoral observers Andrimaso and Zahavato, they were not deemed important enough to declare the elections void.

There are, however, some valid concerns regarding events especially during the pre-election period. The first of these events being when toppled President Marc Ravalomanana, his wife Lalao Ravalomanana, former President Didier Ratsiraka and coup-maker Andry Rajoelina were all excluded from the elections.

In what constitutes the setting of a precedent, Didier Ratsiraka and Lalao Ravalomanana were barred from contesting the elections, based on residential requirements, while exiled in France and South Africa respectively, and barred from returning to the island. This hardly seems to be the mark of a burgeoning democracy.

Andry Rajoelina had deposited his candidacy at the last minute, and was therefore barred from running as well. The NGO Verified Voting posted the following explanation

The court said neither Ravalomanana nor Ratsiraka met the physical residence requirements for candidacy. Ravalomanana lives in exile in South Africa, while Ratsiraka has not lived permanently on the island since fleeing to France in 2002.

The court said Rajoelina did not register his candidacy during the statutory period. Rajoelina said in January that he would not run in this year's elections, but then registered his candidacy in May. He said he had decided to run because Lalao Ravalomanana's candidacy was the same as having her husband stand.

The Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of 15 countries, had recommended that neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina run as a way of resolving Madagascar's political troubles. The island of 20 million people has been in political turmoil since Rajoelina, a former DJ, seized power in 2009.

Ravalomanana agreed in December not to run. Five other candidates were also dropped from the list, the court said.

Secondly, in November, a law was passed allowing Andry Rajoelina to campaign for Hery Rajaonarimampianina, despite obligations that former presidents, democratically elected or not, stay above the fray and neutral. A blogger on the Malagasy community blog Madonline suspected Rajoelina also had a hand in selecting candidates for the Parliamentary elections [fr] that happened simultaneously with the presidential elections:

Il est le candidat virtuel et omnipotent de ces élections malgaches, car son ombre plane à la fois sur la présidentielle et les législatives. Il, c’est évidement Andry Rajoelina qui a revendiqué la paternité du candidat Hery Rajaonarimampianina pour être tête d’affiche au second tour avant d’enfanter 117 candidats à la députation. Non, il ne viole plus la loi puisqu’il l’a changé une énième fois en sa faveur. C’est par un décret pris en conseil des ministres que Andry Rajoelina a décidé qu’il peut s’afficher physiquement et sur les supports de communication des candidats. En tant que premier chef d’institution, il se libère du devoir de neutralité et de réserve préconisé par la Feuille de route. 

He is the virtual and all-powerful candidate of these Malagasy elections, his shadow is present both on presidential and legislative elections. He is evidently Andry Rajoelina who has acknowledged his paternity of candidate Hery Rajaonarimampianina during the second rounds of the presidential elections, before birthing 117 candidates for the legislatures. No, he does not violate the law because he has changed it for the nth time in his favor. It is thanks to a law passed during a ministerial meeting that Andry Rajoelina can physically accompany candidates and be seen on campaign material. As the head of institution, he has freed himself from the duty of neutrality and obligation of discretion indicated by the Road Map

Thirdly, there are some indications that Andry Rajoelina may attempt to impose himself as a prime minister [fr] a la Vladimir Putin during the Medvedev administration, hinting that a declaration that Madagascar is back on the road to democracy may be premature, as Tsimok'i Gasikara explains:

 Le camp du président de transition non élu Andry Rajoelina, en passe de remporter la présidentielle à Madagascar, a estimé samedi avoir une majorité suffisante pour désigner le prochain Premier ministre, au lendemain des résultats provisoires des législatives.”Selon notre estimation, nous avons 53 députés mais ce chiffre peut remonter jusqu?à 58 après vérification”, a indiqué à l?AFP Jean de Dieu Maharante, le président du groupe de candidats qui se présentaient sous les couleurs de Mapar, acronyme signifiant en français “avec le président Andry Rajoelina”.

The camp of non-elected Transitional Presiden Andry Rajoelina, which is imminently winning the presidential elections in Madagascar, has estimated having enough majority to designate the next prime minister, the day after temporary results of legislative elections. “Based on our estimates, we have 53 representatives, but this can climb up to 58 after recounts”, Jean de Dieu Maharante told the AFP. Maharente is the president of the group of Mapar candidates, Mapar meaning “With the President Andry Rajoelina” in French.

Screen caption of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign via Mandimby Maharo with permission

Screen shot of Hery Rajaonarimampianina and Andry Rajoelina during the presidential campaign. Via Mandimby Maharo with permission

During the election, other unorthodox events happened. The first being the unexplained addition of 140,000 voters to the electoral list between the first and second rounds. Who knows how many voters were suppressed from electoral votes and denied their electoral rights? 

Another unexplained and alarming fact is the murky origins of electoral funds. Money poured in from all sides during the campaign. Electoral laws are not in place to regulate financial campaign. For the purpose of comparison, it is good to note that more than 90 percent of Madagascar's population survives on less than two US dollars a day. However, Rajaonarimampianina is reported to have spent 43 million US dollars [fr]:

Enfin, grâce à son trésor de guerre de quelque 43 millions de dollars, considéré comme le budget de campagne le plus élevé, le candidat a réussi à installer ses relais à travers l’ensemble de l’île.

Thanks to his war chest of 43 million US dollars, considered the largest campaign budget, the candidate has successfully established outposts throughout the whole island.

Famously, another unsuccessful candidate, Camille Vital, saw his donated 350 SUVs blocked at the port of Toamasina. Post-election, Vital, Rajoelina's former prime minister, who backed Robinson during the second round, is not allowed to leave Madagascar. Yet again, another worrying sign that democracy may not have fully arrived in Madagascar [fr], via Malango news: 

Fin septembre, 350 véhicules 4×4 sont bloqués dans le port de Toamasina (Tamatave) ainsi qu'un cargo contenant plusieurs centaines de milliers de t-shirts à son effigie. Les documents fournis éveillent la méfiance des douanes qui demandent des explications. Selon le candidat, il s'agit d'un « un don non remboursable et sans contrepartie » fait par un « ami » étranger convaincu de son programme fondé sur le rétablissement rapide de la sécurité dans le pays.

At the end September, 350 SUVs are blocked at the port of Toamasina, together with hundreds of thousands of t-shirts with his portrait. The supplied documentation rises customs officers’ suspicion. According to the candidate, they were a non-refundable donation by a foreign friend convinced by his policy founded on fast reestablishment of security in the country.

 There are signs that people are exhausted by the long crisis. As reported on All Africa:

People might also be tired of interminable political disputes. Some indication of this, and of people's disillusionment with their current leadership, is the low voter turnout during the December elections, which was just over 50%.

Paul-Simon Handy, Head of the ISS Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, says the low voter turnout in the second round is reminiscent of other post-crisis countries where the electorate is exhausted by protracted political disputes.

‘As much as people want a legitimate government, they've simply had enough of political disputes and they see that what is on offer in terms of candidates as the recycling of the same political elite.' 

Only one day after the formal proclamation of Rajaonarimampianina's victory, Robinson was already calling for protests:

All eyes are on Rajaonarimampianina to see if and how he intends to honor his electoral promise to restore stability and work together with the people to lift Madagascar out of poverty. Is Rajaonarimampianina his own man, and can he stand on his own, despite being seen as a Rajoelina proxy? The Malagasy people deserve a government and a president who knows that being elected with only 25 percent of registered voters means he has to work inclusively with other camps, reconcile all Malagasy people, and refrain from a Putin scenario. 

January 17 2014

Online Platform ‘Ojo al Voto’ Seeks to Lure Young Costa Rican Voters

“Politics in your language!” Image from the Ojo al voto Facebook page.

The interactive platform Ojo al voto [es] wants to provide young voters with useful and straightforward information about the upcoming presidential and legislative elections in Costa Rica, scheduled for February 2, 2014.

The Hivos Central America website explains:

Ojo al voto is an interactive platform, independent from the mainstream media, that combines detailed information about political parties and the profiles and platforms of presidential and legislative candidates with digital storytelling and data visualizations.


This innovative initiative is especially aimed at young voters between the age of 18 and 37, who represent 48 percent of the electorate according to Costa Rica’s Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE). A poll published by the daily newspaper ‘La Nación’ showed that 5 out of 10 young people claimed to be indifferent to politics. Working in this climate of apathy, Ojo al Voto’s challenge is to bring youth closer to politics.

You can follow Ojo al Voto on Facebook [es] and Twitter [es].

GV Face: Bangkok Shutdown and the Way Forward

Tens of thousands filled the major intersections of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand this week, as opposition groups intensified their bid to topple the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The protest led by former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban aims to ‘shutdown’ Bangkok for several days or until Yingluck is removed from power.

Yingluck is accused of being a puppet of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 but his party has remained victorious in the polls. He is in exile after being found guilty of plunder by a local court.

In this episode of GV Face we speak to Saksith Saiyasombut, a Thai political analyst and journalist based in Germany, our Thailand author Aim Sinpeng and SE Asia Editor Mong Palatino.

January 14 2014

Candidates Face Off in First Presidential Debate in El Salvador

Tim's El Salvador Blog summarizes the first presidential debate ever held in El Salvador:

The three leading presidential candidates Norman Quijano (ARENA), Salvador Sánchez Cerén (FMLN), and Antonio Saca (Unidad), were joined on the stage by two minor candidates, Óscar Lemus (FPS) and René Rodríguez Hurtado (PSP). The debate had four rounds of questions, touching on the topics of education, citizen security, healthcare and the economy.

He concludes:

In the end, I doubt that many minds were changed by this debate, but the fact that the debate took place is yet another step forward for Salvadoran democracy.

January 13 2014

Madagascar's Return to Democracy Proving to Be a Bumpy One

Moving ever closer to shutting the book on the drawn-out saga of Madagascar's presidential elections, seen as a long-awaited first step in solving the years-long political crisis that has gripped the island, the country's election commission declared on January 10, 2014 that Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the finance minister of the transitional government, is the winner of the vote's second round.

But opponent Jean-Louis Robinson immediately cried fraud, and amidst the uncertainty related to the election results, the army fired on students protesting in Mahajanga, Madagascar's largest western coastal town. One student died and 11 others were injured.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina campaign poster – Public Domain 

It is unclear whether the protests were related to the pending decision of the CES. 

Today 10 Jan. 2014 was a deadly day in Mahajanga. The Boeny capital has been shaken by confrontations between the army and students.

The country's last democratically elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, was ousted during a military-backed coup in 2009. After multiple delays, elections were finally held on October 25, 2013 and a run-off on December 20. Many viewed the vote as a proxy battle between the ousted President Ravalomanana and President of the Transition Andry Rajoelina, who toppled Ravalomanana in the coup. President-elect Rajaonarimampianina was Rajoelina's budget and finance minister; Robinson worked as a minister in Ravalomanana's government.

According to the Malagasy Election Commission (CENI-T), with 98.89 percent of the results in, Rajaonarimampianina won the second round with 53.5 percent, compared with Robinson's 46.5 percent.

However, Robinson is challenging the decision and has sent evidence of allegedly massive fraud [fr] to the Special Electoral Court (CES), claiming to have actually won 56 percent of the total vote. The CES is the only institution [fr] that can pronounce the definitive winner of the election, and must issue a ruling by January 19.      

Students injured during protests in Mahajanga via @RavakaN on twitter (with permission)

Students injured during protests in Mahajanga via @RavakaN on Twitter. Used with permission.

Madonline, a community malagasy blog,  provides more details on Jean-Louis Robinson's challenges regarding the results of the elections:

Complains and requests lodged by Robinson and his staff are likely to give a lot to deal with to the electoral judges. The request for disqualification of candidate Rajaonarimampianina alone happens to be as long as 120 pages. One parliament member who swore allegiance to the Opposition has, in addition to this, required the very show election held on December 20th to be canceled as a whole because of the too large amount of frauds spotted across the island. The largest part of the other request mainly target the invalidation of votes awarded to the transitional ruling power's champion. The electoral showdown is nowhere near to an end. The Special Electoral Court will decide and ultimately release the presidential elections’ second round's final results by mid-January. The Electoral Commission releases its own temporary results on January 3rd. The very same outrage was caused by the development of legislative elections held together with the presidential elections. The Special Electoral Court has a pack of complains to read about it too. Independent and Opposition candidates jointly denounced frauds which occurred in favor of candidates supporting and supported by transitional leader Andry Rajoelina. The movement capitalized in street protests in Morondava city in the West of the island.

Jean-Louis Robinson campaign poster – Public Domain 

Making the pending decision of the CES even more difficult is the recent resurgence of documents alleging the involvement of the soon to be declared president-elect in the illegal logging of rosewood. Additional sobering news dampening Madagascar's return to democracy is the news that the plague may have returned to the island:

Still, there are silver linings ahead for the island. Madagascar is once again welcome in the international community, which has put a stamp of approval on the elections, deeming them free and fair. And Madagascar's return into the international community is expected to stop its isolation and usher in a return of foreign aid. Indeed, during the transitional government, as remarked by Brian Klaas on

Virtually no progress was made for four years with the economy contracting severely.  Political and economic progress has limped along since.  A new rugby stadium is one of the only tangible accomplishments of the “transitional” regime led by Andry Rajoelina, who is now close to completing a full electoral mandate.
…As international praise pours in, so too may international aid—a critical lynchpin of development and state budgeting for the deeply impoverished island.  Donors are eager to come back and disburse long overdue payments slated for projects canceled during the crisis.

Signs of Madagascar's imminent return to the international community are being observed:

Elections may not have happened as smoothly as the “free and fair” label make believe. One look at tweets and blogs reads like a litany of complaints by voters who could not vote, or who witnessed or suspected irregularities. Some citizens are already organizing petitions to demand a transparent and public recount of ballots. Other bloggers, like Fidy, are resolutely positive:

For the first time in our history, this electoral commission has members chosen from the civil society (high-ranked civil servants, lawyers, journalists, teachers or magistrates) and from all the political parties who took part to the Transition phase. The CENI-T also heavily benefited from the support of international bodies such as the UE, UN or SADC whether for financial or implementation issues. For the first time in our history, we have a dedicated website with regular updates of votes at the National, Regional, District and Polling Station levels. The level of transparency given to our citizens has never been higher. Just remember how 1997, 2001, or 2006 (see page 30 of the report) elections were run. For the first time in our history, thanks to the internet and the data framework the CENI-T is providing us, we had bloggers who did an incredible job of making projections during the first round of votes. And final results were actually very close to those extrapolations — a stark example that no significant anomalies happened in the first round count. Pure maths. No politics.

The potential president-elect's name, Rajaonarimampianina, is proving quite a tongue twister to newscasters and news aficionados worldwide. The Guardian wrote:

His family name alone racks up an impressive 19 characters and (we think) nine syllables. His full name – Hery Martial Rakotoarimanana Rajaonarimampianina – totals 44 characters. One would assume that repeating three years in primary education just to master the spelling of his name would hold Rajaonarimampianina back in life (we have no evidence that happened) but on the basis of our story, it appears that a long name can be good for a career in politics.

 Twitter users have also chimed in: 

Slate Africa teaches its readers how to pronounce Malagasy names and explaining why they are so long.

“Le linguiste Narivelo Rajaonarimanana souligne que «le nom malgache n'est pas une étiquette. C'est un souhait, un destin, une parole qui contredit un mauvais destin, un souvenir du jour de naissance, une combinaison de noms de parents ou d'ancêtres». «L'astrologie joue un rôle important pour l'attribution des noms», note Rajaonarimanana. Cette pratique est très vivace en milieu rural, où l'on peut faire appel à un ombiasy (devin) et où l'on a également souvent recours à l'horoscope. Une étude réalisée par Samuel Rasolomano et publiée en 1905 par le journal Mitari-dàlana recense 24 sources d’inspiration pour les noms malgaches. Parmi elles, l’expression du caractère (physique ou moral), de l’amour filial (vœu d’un amour parfait, d’avoir un remplaçant etc.), le prestige (richesse, honneur etc.) sont les plus fréquentes, avec l'astrologie. Ainsi, «les noms sont à usage mnémotechnique pour se souvenir du destin d'une personne».”

The linguist Narivelo Rajaonarimanana emphasizes that the Malagasy name is not a label. It is a wish, a destiny, a counterattack to an unfortunate destiny, a recollection of one's birthday, a combination of names of parents or ancestors. Astrology plays an important role in attributing names. This practice is still very much applied in rural areas, where one can summon an ombiasy (shaman) and where one often uses horoscopes. A study by Samuel Rasolomano and published in 1905 by the journal Mitari-dalana counts 24 sources for Malagasy names. Amongst them, one sees most often expression of character (physical or moral one), love of children (promise of an unconditional love, replacement of a lost child etc…), prestige (wealth, honor, etc.) as inspirations for names, together with astrology. Therefore, names are used as a mnemotechnical means to remember one person's destiny.

Hong Kong Basic Law as Toilet Paper

Lam Shui Bun

The constitutional document of Hong Kong, the Basic Law which took effect on July 1 1997 upon the handover of the colony from United Kingdom to the People Republic of China (PRC). The Basic Law is designed to ensure the city's economic and political autonomy. However, as the interpretative power is under the control of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the PRC, the document has failed to serve the interest of Hong Kong people. In the recent debate about the political reform package of the 2017 Chief Executive election, the idea of citizen nomination has been interpreted by some pro-Beijing politicians as against the Basic Law. Lam Shui Bun thus turns the Basic Law into toilet paper in his political cartoon at

January 12 2014

Iran: “City Councillor Lost Post Over Facebook Account”

Azamolsadat Hosseini says she lost her post in Behshahr‘s City Council over her Facebook account. Several Iranian officials use Facebook and Twitter to communicate their message but these sites and many other ones are filtered in country.

January 09 2014

South Korea: Political Revenge against Whistleblower?

Kwon Eun-hee, a policewoman and ex-chief investigator at Seoul Suseo Police station, revealed last summer that her team had received pressures and ‘unreasonable orders’ from superiors to reduce the scope of an investigation into the spy agency election manipulation scandal. Although net users lauded Kwon, her bold act seems to have taken its toll; local media reports [ko] that Kwon has failed to get a promotion which was considered ‘a sure thing for someone with Kwon’s resume and qualifications’, adding that if that happens one more time, by law she would be forced to leave her position in four years. Many suspect it is a politically-motivated decision, including prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu who commented it is ‘a scary revenge’ [ko] and embedded a highlight video of Kwon's revelations.

Hindus Attacked in Bangladesh for ‘Crime’ of Voting

People from various cultural, social platforms took out anti-communalism demonstration in Dhaka in protest against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th National Poll. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

People from various cultural and social platforms mounted a demonstration in Dhaka against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th national elections. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

Minority groups in Bangladesh, especially Hindus, have become easy targets for anti-vote activists following the country's tense 10 national parliamentary elections. Homes and other properties have been attacked, torched or vandalized, and many have been forced to live under open sky in the meantime.

The elections on January 5, 2014 were met with violence in some areas; many opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have boycotted the polls, leaving ruling party candidates unchallenged. They continue to protest against them.

Some victims said they were attacked because they voted in the elections. Shah Ali Farhad (@shah_farhad) wrote in Twitter:

Shahbag Wordwide (@Projonmo13) highlighted the reported tally of violence against minorities in Jessore in the south of the country:

The government has come under fire for not being able to provide enough security for the people. But the son of the Prime Minister Sajeeb Wazed promised swift justice:

গতকালের নির্বাচনে ভোট দেয়ার কারণে বিএনপি-জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা যশোর ও দিনাজপুরে সংখ্যালঘু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর হামলা চালিয়েছে। যশোরে ১৫০ জন হিন্দুর বাড়ি জামায়াতের সন্ত্রাসীরা সম্পূর্ণ তছনছ করেছে, লুট করেছে এবং জ্বালিয়ে দিয়েছে। দিনাজপুরে ১০০ এর উপর হিন্দু বাড়ি এবং দোকান বিএনপি জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা ভাংচুর করেছে এবং পুড়িয়ে দিয়েছে। আমাদের সরকারের স্থানীয় কর্মকর্তারা ভুক্তভোগীদের সহায়তা করছেন। এই ঘটনায় দায়ীদের আমরা চিহ্নিত করার চেস্টা করছি এবং তাদের অবশ্যই আমরা বিচারের মুখোমুখি করবো।

The BNP-Jamaat protesters attacked minorities in Jessore and Dinajpur because they voted in the recent elections. In Jessore 150 houses were looted by Jamaat miscreants and burnt. In Dinajpurmore than 100 Hindu shops and houses were attacked by BNP-Jamaat goons. Our government is trying to help the victims. We are trying to identify the culprits and place them under trial as soon as possible.

However, BNP's Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir blamed the government instead for the attacks, and said:

The planned attacks on minorities are an attempt to divert attention from the voters’ absence and enthusiastic boycott of the farcical elections amid criticism from national-international organisations.

In Bangladesh, it isn't unusual for these types of attacks to happen after elections. Writer Joydeep Dey Shaplu requested on Facebook to relieve Hindus of the responsibility to vote:

২০০১ এ প্রথম আলোয় লিখেছিলাম ভোট দেয়ার পাপ থেকে আমাদের মুক্তি দিন। আজ তাই মনে হচ্ছে আবার।

In 2001 I wrote an article in the Daily Prothom Alo that [being a minority] please relieve us of the crime committed by voting. I feel like that again.

Audity Falguni also chimed in that Hindus should not vote:

নির্বাচনে মানুষ ভোট দেয় নি, তবে হিন্দুদের উপর নির্যাতন করা হচ্ছে কেন? নাকি খালি হিন্দুরাই দিছে? তাহলে কি নিজের ইচ্ছামত কিছু করার অধিকার হিন্দুদের নাই? যদি তাই হয়ে থাকে, তবে আইন করে হিন্দুদের ভোট দেয়ার অধিকার রহিত করা উচিত : Ruma Modak.

Wasn't the election for everybody? So why are Hindus being targeted? Or did only Hindus vote? So are they not free to exercise their rights? If not, please make a law barring them to vote.

Ripon Chakraborty detailed the plights of the victims:

2001 সালে নিজে #আক্রান্ত হয়ে বুঝেছি #সাম্প্রদায়ীক নির্যাতনের #জ্বালা কি। #রাজগঞ্জে দেখেছি- নির্যাতিত #হিন্দুদের সহায়- সম্বল হারিয়ে খোলা আকাশের নীচে রাত্রী যাপন। কী যে কষ্টের এই দুঃসহ যন্ত্রনা– নির্যাতিত ছাড়া কেউ কোনদিন বুঝতেই পারবেনা। সহ্য করতে না পেরে বাপ দাদার ভিটে মাটি ফেলে কেউ কেউ দেশত্যাগী হয়। হয়তো তারা ভালোই থাকে- হয়তো গিয়ে বেঁচে যায়। কিন্তু আমি যে পারিনা- আমি যে এই দেশটা ছেড়ে যেতে চাইনা— আমার কি হবে- আমার “ছোট বাপী”টার কি হবে— কেউ বলতে পারেন???

In 2001 I was a victim of post-electoral violence. I have seen in #Rajgonj how Hindus lost everything and lived under the open sky. If you are not a victim, you can never know that pain. Some of them migrate leaving their ancestral home. Some of them do better, save their lives by escaping. But I cannot. I don't want to leave my country. What will happen to me or my child… Can anyone tell?

The Daily Prothom Alo, a leading daily of the country, has been accused [bn] of instigating violence against the Hindus by publishing an image of minorities waiting to vote, making their Hindu identity prominent by doctoring the photo. In response, Kulada Roy wrote on Facebook:

ভয়ঙ্কর সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে দিয়ে নির্বাচন হয়েছে। ভোট বর্জনের ডাক দিয়েছিল বিএনপি-জামায়াত। নির্বাচনের খবর হিসেবে প্রথম আলো প্রথম পাতায় একটি ছবি ছেপেছে। সেখানে দেখা যাচ্ছে– হিন্দুরা ভোট দেওয়ার জন্য লাইনে দাঁড়িয়ে রয়েছে। প্রথম আলো এই ছবিটির মাধ্যমে প্রমাণের চেষ্টা করছে যে দশম নির্বাচনে কেবল হিন্দুরা ভোট দিতে এসেছে। আর কেউ নয়।

প্রথম আলো এই ছবির মাধ্যমে সারা দেশে হিন্দু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর বিএনপি-জামায়াতের আক্রমণের উস্কানী দিচ্ছে। এই খবর প্রকাশের পরপরই যশোরের অভয়নগরে, দিনাজপুরে , ঠাকুরগাঁয়ে সংখ্যালঘু হিন্দুদের ঘরবাড়ি পুড়িয়ে দেওয়া হয়েছে। [...]

The election has ended with much violence. BNP-Jamaat boycotted the polls. The daily Prothom Alo published a big picture with their main election news on the front page. There it is shown that Hindu women were standing in queue to vote. Prothom Alo with this photo tried to imply that in a low-turnout election, mostly minorities voted. Not people from the majority Muslim population.

Prothom Alo with this picture is provoking the BNP-Jamaat protesters to retaliate against the Hindu communities [as they did not listen to their call to boycott the polls]. After the news was published, we have seen attacks on Hindu houses in Avoynagar of Jessore, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon.

The newspaper, however, denied [bn] that no published photo was photoshopped. But netizens still accused [bn] the paper of selectively highlighting minorities and publishing hate-filled comments in the comments section of the article.

Many people from Hindu communities have migrated to other countries in the past decades. Blogger Avijit Roy provided some statistics:

বাংলাদেশে ১৯৪১ সালে হিন্দু জনসংখ্যা ছিল শতকরা ২৮ ভাগ। ১৯৪৭ সালে ভারত ভাগের অব্যবহিত পরে তা শতকরা ২২ ভাগে এসে দাঁড়ায়। এরপর থেকেই সংখ্যালঘুদের উপর ক্রমাগত অত্যাচার এবং নিপীড়নের ধারাবাহিকতায় দেশটিতে ক্রমশ হিন্দুদের সংখ্যা কমতে থাকে। ১৯৬১ সালে ১৮.৫%, ১৯৭৪ সালে কমে দাঁড়ায় ১৩.৫%, ১৯৮১ সালে ১২.১%, এবং ১৯৯১ সালে ১০% এ এসে দাঁড়ায়। সাম্প্রতিক সময়গুলোতে হিন্দুদের শতকরা হার কমে ৮ ভগের নিচে নেমে এসেছে বলে অনুমিত হয়।

In 1941 the ratio of Hindus in present day Bangladesh was 28 percent. In 1947 after the partition of India the figure dropped to 22 percent when the mass migration started. The following decades saw an increase of attacks on minorities and the continuation of migration. The figures dropped further in 1961 to 18.5 percent, in 1974 to 13.5 percent, in 1981 to 12.1 percent and in 1991 to 10 percent. In recent times, it is assumed that the figure has dropped further to 8 percent.

These continuous attacks on minorities have disgraced the nation, wrote Zahid Newaz Khan:

These repeated attacks on minorities and our silence show the quality of civilization in our nation.

Different protests have been arranged across the country, like this Facebook event, which featured a protest rally in front of the National Museum in Shahbag on 8 January 2014.

El Salvador Prepares for Upcoming Presidential Election

Salvadorans will go to the polls on February 2, 2014, to elect a new president. Jorge Kawas in PulsAmerica explains:

Polls show that the election will be a close call between the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista – ARENA).


The FMLN’s presidential ticket, headed by current vice-president Salvador Sánchez Cerén, is expected to attract the majority of the votes in comparison to the opposition, but not to garner more than the 50% needed to avoid a runoff election.

January 06 2014

Mass Resignations Within the Ruling Party of Burkina Faso

Fromer Senate president Roch Marc Christian Kabore now joins the opposition - Public Domain

Fromer Senate president Roch Marc Christian Kabore now joins the opposition – Public Domain

Morin Yamongba reports that 75 members (including former ministers) of the ruling party in Burkina Faso, Le Congrès pour la démocratie et le progrès (Congress for democracy and progress) have left the party to join the opposition [fr] because of alleged lack of plurality within the party. They also oppose the proposed amendment to the constitution that would allow the extension of the presidential mandate [fr]. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2015.

Slim Voter Turnout, Violence Mark Bangladesh's Opposition-Less Elections

An official marks a voter's finger with ink has she prepares to cast the ballot in the 10th general elections in Bangladesh. Image by Reaz Sumon.  Copyight Demotix (5/1/2014)

An official marks a voter's finger with ink as she prepares to cast a ballot in the 10th general elections in Bangladesh. Image by Reaz Sumon. Copyight Demotix (5/1/2014)

Voting day in Bangladesh's tense 10th national parliamentary elections was marred by poor voter turnout and bursts of violence across the country, leaving more than 18 people killed and scores injured

The country's political opposition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had aggressively boycotted the election and their supporters had resorted to petrol bombings and other deadly protests to stop the vote. More than 100 schools turned polling stations were set on fire on the eve of the election.

Votes were suspended in more than 400 centers across the country. Counting continues and results are trickling in (live update here). 

Bangladesh's Election Commission cited [bn] a mere 40 percent voter participation, low compared to the last parliamentary election in 2008, where voter turnout stood at 87 percent. Some non-governmental human rights and election monitoring agencies have offered numbers even lower than the official, putting turnout at 10 percent [bn]. 

Blogger Omi Rahman Pial explained on Facebook why turnout was low in this election:

সংবাদমাধ্যম খুব ফলাও করে সন্ত্রাসের খবর প্রচার করছে, আবার বলছে এই নির্বাচন একটা প্রহসনের নির্বাচন কারন মানুষ এই নির্বাচনে অংশ গ্রহন করছেনা। কিন্তু কেউ বলছেনা আসল কথা – এতো সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে মানুষের জীবন বিপন্ন হয়ে পরেছে, জামাত-বিএনপি রাষ্ট্রযন্ত্রের উপর প্রকাশ্য ঘোষনা দিয়ে আক্রমন চালাচ্ছে। এই অবস্থায় মানুষ ভোটকেন্দ্রে যাবে কেমন করে? সাংবাদিকেরা এই সহজ জিনিসটা বুঝেনা এরকম ভাবার কোন কারন নেই।

The media were vocal in highlighting pre-election violence across the country. At the same time, they were mentioning that without the opposition, this election has become a farce, so people are not participating. But nobody is telling the truth, the daily lives of people have been disrupted due to constant blockades, violence. They are seeing that BNP-Jamaat have been attacking the government openly. How dare people go to the polling stations (risking their lives)? Don't think that the journalists don't know this.

Voter turnout was varied in different centers across the country. In some stations, there were the usual crowds, while others were deserted.

Voters surround a polling agent to collect their voting number in Dhaka-6 constituency during the 10th National Election. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

Voters surround a polling agent to collect their voting number in Dhaka-6 constituency during the elections. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

Security parson stand guard in front of vote center at Pilot Girls High School in Nobabgonj near Dhaka. Image by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

A man stands guard in front of vote center at Pilot Girls High School in Nobabgonj near Dhaka. Image by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

The parties protesting against the election have claimed that voters have rejected this election. But journalist Naim Tarique blamed the opposition for intimidating the voters:

নির্বাচন প্রতিহত করতে আপনারা স্কুলগুলো জ্বালিয়ে দিলেন; আগুনে ঝলসে মারলেন নির্বাচনী কর্মকর্তাকে; ভোটারদের আতঙ্কিত-সন্ত্রস্ত করে বাধ্য করলেন কেন্দ্র না যেতে। তারপরও কিভাবে দাবি করবেন যে, মানুষ এই নির্বাচন প্রত্যাখ্যান করেছে? তাদের তো স্বেচ্ছায় ভোট কেন্দ্রে না যাবার সিদ্ধান্ত নিতেও দিলেন না!

You have burnt those schools to stop the elections, grilled a polling officer with fire, intimidated voters to not to go to the polling stations. And still you claim that the people have rejected the election. You did not let them freely decide.

There have been cases of attacks on voters on their way to polling booths. Shawn Ahmed (@uncultured) tweeted:

Unlike the last election, women voter turnout was low. Amidst the uncertainty was the participation of one 85-year-old woman, reported Ononto Akash (@Ashtala):

Because of the opposition boycott, 154 contestants were elected before any votes were cast for the lack of challengers, so there were no election held in those constituencies. Many regretted this fact that they could not vote. Amiya (@amiya23) wrote on Twitter:

In this opposition-less election, surprisingly there still have been allegations of rigging against the ruling party Awami League (AL). Twitter user Soldier Rojob Ali wrote:

Blogger Rezaur Rahman Rizvi (@rizvi23) questioned the allegations of rigging:

In this one-sided election we know that the chosen candidates are favored to win, so why would vote rigging be required?

The opposition led by BNP has not backed down from their protests and has announced fresh programs of 48-hour nationwide strikes along with the previously declared nationwide blockade. General people fear renewed violence across the country.

A Dhaka Tribune editorial talked about the necessity of this opposition-less election and the way forward:

The holding of today’s 10th parliamentary election in the absence of the main opposition party can only be justified on the basis of constitutional necessity. The results cannot and should not be viewed as a mandate to rule for a full term. [..]

We acknowledge that today’s elections neither resolve the political crisis nor bring an end to the issue of representative elections that are the people’s right. We call on both AL and BNP to move forward together to give the people elections acceptable to all.

Many are still looking forward to a meaningful negotiation and an inclusive election. Journalist J. E. Mamun hoped for such an election soon:

[...] নির্বাচন এদেশে ঈদের মতো ফূর্তি, আমরা সেরকম একটি ফূর্তির নির্বাচনের অপেক্ষায় রইলাম। আর শুভ কাজ যত দ্রুত হয় ততই মঙ্গল, শুভশ্য শীঘ্রম!

[...] Elections are like a celebration in this country. We are looking forward to an all-party celebratory election, the sooner the better.

January 05 2014

More Than 100 Schools Torched in Anti-Election Violence in Bangladesh

Guards carry ballot boxes and equipment to a polling station that will be used for the 10th parliamentary elections. Image by Naveed Ishtyak. Copyright Demotix (4/1/2014)

Guards carry ballot boxes and equipment to a polling station that will be used for the 10th parliamentary elections. Image by Naveed Ishtyak. Copyright Demotix (4/1/2014)

The eve of Bangladesh's 10th national parliamentary elections saw a wave of violence as more than 100 schools turned polling stations in 20 districts were set fire by protesters and a polling officer on duty was beaten to death in Thakurgaon.

The elections scheduled for 5 January 2013 are particularly tense, with many opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotting the vote and their supporters engaging in violent protests throughout the country

Web users have harshly condemned the torching of schools. Farhana Azim Shiuly wrote on Facebook:

নির্বাচন প্রতিহত করার জন্য দেশে অনেক ভোট কেন্দ্র পুড়িয়ে দেয়া হচ্ছে। এমন খবর শুনে টিভির সামনে বসে দেখলাম আগুনে যা পুড়ছে তা তো ভোটকেন্দ্র নয়। আগুনে জ্বলে যাচ্ছে সারি সারি স্কুল ঘর। বছরে ১ দিনের জন্য যাকে আমরা ভোটকেন্দ্র নামে ডাকি, বাকি ৩৬৪ দিনই তার নাম স্কুল। রাজনীতির নামে মানুষ পুড়েছে। এখন পুড়ে যাচ্ছে মানুষ গড়ার কারখানা।

Many polling stations across the country are being burnt to halt the elections. I heard the news and sat in front of the TV only to find that the burning houses are actually local government schools. Fire is engulfing an array of schoolrooms. What we call a polling station one day in some years are actually educational institutions. We have seen that people are being burnt for no reason in the name of politics. Now the labs for forming people are being burnt.

Writer and educationist Joydeep Dey Shaplu denounced the arson and reminded that Bangladesh already does not have enough schools for its huge population:

যুদ্ধক্ষেত্রে স্কুল পোড়ানো হয় কিনা আমার জানা নেই। তবে যাই করা হোক, একবার ভাবা হয়, যুদ্ধের পর শান্তির সময় কি করে দেশ চলবে। এই বোধটাও আজ আমাদের নেই। দু'দিনের রাজনীতির জন্য তিল তিল করে গড়ে ওঠা শিক্ষাব্যবস্থাকে ধ্বংস করে ফেলা হচ্ছে। চোট পেলে সেরে যায়, বিকলাঙ্গ হলে তো কিছুই করার থাকে না। আন্দোলনের নামে পুরো জাতিটা বিকলাঙ্গ হয়ে গেলে কাদের নিয়ে দেশ চালাবেন আপনারা?

I don't know whether schools are burnt during war. But whatever is done, there is a thought, how the country will progress after the war. In our country, the developing education sector (in its own war of decreasing illiteracy) is being destroyed. A little sickness heals, but if you are crippled, you will suffer for life. If you cripple the nation in the name of protest, how will you take this country forward?

On Twitter, media worker Jabed Sultan Pias (@piasbd) wrote that he lost his first school in his hometown to fire:

1. My first school, Madanpur Government Primary School, Netrokona. Yesterday they torched my beloved school.

Lawyer Shah Ali Farhad (@shah_farhad) tweeted that this time the target are the schools by the opposition protesters:

Opposition party supporters set a van on fire at Shanti Nagar in Dhaka, ahead of the Bangladesh National Party led 18-Party Alliance’s countrywide 84-hours strike. Image by mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (9/11/2013)

Opposition party supporters set a van on fire at Shanti Nagar in Dhaka ahead of the Bangladesh National Party led 18-Party Alliance’s countrywide 84-hours strike. Image by mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (9/11/2013)

Trees also became a target for protesters. Hundreds of trees across highways were cut down to use as road blockades during recent political violence across the country. Sheikh Rokon wrote in Facebook:

Yes, enjoy the ‘politics’ my friends. They had cut thousands of roadside trees for ‘blockade'. Now they have started burning the schools to ‘block’ the election. Claps! Claps! Claps!

Bangladesh has witnessed such opposition-less elections before, but the protests was not as violent. Arif Jebtik reminded violent protesters:

[...] এরশাদের ১৯৮৮ সালের নির্বাচন ঠেকাতে আলাদা আলাদা অবস্থান থেকে চেষ্টা করেছিল বিএনপি, আওয়ামী লীগ, জামায়াত, বামদল সহ সবাই-কিন্তু সেই নির্বাচন ঠেকানো যায়নি।

খালেদা জিয়ার ১৯৯৬ সালের ১৫ ফেব্রুয়ারির নির্বাচন ঠেকাতে আলাদা আলাদা অবস্থান থেকে চেষ্টা করেছিল আওয়ামী লীগ, জামায়াত, বামদল-কিন্তু নির্বাচন বন্ধ হয়নি।

সুতরাং আগামীকালের নির্বাচন ঠেকাতেও বিএনপি-জামায়াত পারবে না।

কিন্তু এর আগের ঘটনাগুলোয় স্কুল পোড়ানো হয়নি।
এবার স্কুলগুলো পোড়ানো গেল-এটাই নগদ লাভ। জামায়াতকে কোলে তুলে নিয়ে রাজনীতি করে বিবর্তনে এই জায়গাতেই পৌঁছাল বিএনপি!

[..] In 1988 during President General Ershad's time, all the main political parties (Awami League, BNP, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the leftists) tried to stop the elections but could not succeed.

During BNP's 15 February 1996 one-sided elections, Awami League, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the leftists all tried to resist the election but failed.

So BNP-Jamaat will not be able to stop this election.

But in all previous incidents no schools were burnt.

This time BNP has gained this accolade. This is their politics of promoting Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami's cause.

Journalist Fazlul bari blamed Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami for the arson of schools:

নির্বাচন ঠেকানো নিয়ে বিএনপি হাল ছেড়ে দিয়েছে’ এমন একটি রিপোর্ট ছাপা হবার পরই ‘হাল’ পুরোপুরি নিজের কর্তৃ্ত্বে নেয়া শুরু করে দিয়েছে যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের দল জামায়াত-শিবির! পেট্রোল বোমা, মানুষকে পুড়িয়ে মারার সন্ত্রাসের পর ভোট কেন্দ্রে আগুন দেয়া সহ অকল্পনীয় নানান সন্ত্রাস শুরু করে দিয়েছে দেশ বিরোধী এই অপশক্তি! [...]

There was a report published recently that BNP has given up on resisting the elections. After that, the party of war criminals Jamaat entered the charade of showing who's in control. They have already used petrol bombs on people in buses, houses and are not below such extreme violence like burning schools.

January 04 2014

Why the Opposition is Boycotting the Election in Bangladesh

Dhaka is packed with thousands of election posters

Dhaka is packed with thousands of posters as the candidates campaign for the 10th general election in Bangladesh on January 5, 2014. Photo by Naveed Ishtiyak © Copyright Demotix (28 Dec 2013)

When Bangladesh holds its general election on January 5, 2014 the ruling party and its allies are already sure to win more than half of the seats in parliament. This is a consequence of an opposition boycott led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

But why are more than 25 political parties boycotting the election?

In countries with mature democracies, the governing parties don’t leave office during elections because everybody plays by the rules. But in Bangladesh, the tradition is to mistrust political leaders and expect that they will abuse power to rig votes. That's why the Bangladeshi constitution previously required a caretaker government to assume power during elections. However, in 2011 the parliament unilaterally abolished this system, allowing for general elections to be held under elected partisan governments.

The BNP led opposition had been demanding a caretaker government for the election since the passing of the 15th amendment to the constitution. Instead the government made a counter proposal to install an all-party interim government headed by the existing Prime Minister. The opposition refused. Since then, there have been a plethora of protests, including general strike, blockades, agitations, long marches etc.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, the editor of Suhshashoner Jonney Nagorik (Sujon), a civil society think tank, opined in an interview with the Daily Kaler Kantha [bn] why the opposition is not willing to make compromises:

বিরোধী দল মনে করে, এ রকম হলে তারা নির্বাচনে জিতবে না। তারা মনে করে, যদি নির্দলীয় সরকার নির্বাচনের সময় থাকে, তাহলে তারা ভোটে জিতবে। তারাও এখানে ছাড় দিতে চায় না, কারণ ছাড় দেওয়া মানেই ঝুঁকি নেওয়া। পরাজয়ের ঝুঁকি। বাংলাদেশের প্রেক্ষাপটে নির্বাচনে পরাজয়ের ঝুঁকি নেওয়ার কোনো অবকাশ নেই। এটাই হচ্ছে ক্ষমতার রাজনীতি।

The opposition thinks they will not win the election if it is held under the ruling party. They will only win if a neutral caretaker government runs the election. They do not want to be lenient, because they know if they are flexible, they are more exposed to the risk. The risk is losing the election. There is no option in Bangladesh politics to accept defeat. This is power politics.

On October 25, the day the election commission declared the schedule for the elections, the opposition, led by BNP and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, immediately refused it. They started their infinite strikes and blockade programs that crippled the country.

Violent protests

The protests to postpone elections and to establish a neutral caretaker government by the main opposition parties have led to violent protests and the deaths of 111 people [bn] in the past month alone.

A report by Human rights organization Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) says that violent political clashes in 2013 left 507 people dead, including 15 members of the police and two of the Border Guard Battelion, and 22,407 people injured (See Global Voices report).

Partha Sarathi Dey Tweets to the opposition leader:

Today is the last day of the year. Begging you Ma'm for the last time, please leave the road of violence… Except for some Jamaat-Shibir extremists you are alone. Please be mindful about the development of the nation.

There have been many international attempts to mediate between the feuding parties. The United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon sent a letter to both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition urging them to meet and negotiate. He also sent a special envoy to Bangladesh. Many ambassadors and members of civil society have tried to mediate. But all efforts have failed due to the rigid stance by both leaders. This is why the country now heads for an opposition-less election.

154 Elected in Bangladesh Before Any Votes Are Cast

Without a single vote being cast, Bangladesh's ruling Awami League and allies have won more than half of the seats in parliament because an opposition boycott has left so many candidates without challengers.

Among the 39 registered political parties only around 12 are participating in the general election on January 5, 2014. As a consequence, 154 out of 300 seats have been automatically decided.

An 18 party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are boycotting the election, demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resign and allow a neutral caretaker government to oversee the balloting, as was previously called for by the constitution.

For months, opposition supporters have engaged in violent protests across the country to stress their demands. This has caused huge and costly damages and hampered the day-to-day lives of citizens.

Police fire water cannon, tear shell to stopped a procession by lawyers supporting the opposition BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami near the Supreme Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by  Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (29/12/2013)

Police fire water cannon, tear shell to stopped a procession by lawyers supporting the opposition BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami near the Supreme Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (29/12/2013)

Sajeeb Wajed Joy, the son of Prime Minister, admits on Facebook [bn] that the opposition boycott puts the validity of the election in question, but says the election must be held to uphold the constitution (the constitution requires a parliamentary election be held before January 24):

[...] সাংবিধানিক শুন্যতা তৈরি যেন না হয় তাতে, নিখুঁত না হলেও এই নির্বাচনের কোন বিকল্প নাই। আমাদের মহান সংবিধানকে সমুন্নত রাখার দায়িত্ব এখন সম্পূর্ণ আপনাদের উপর। আপনি যদি অসাংবিধানিক উপায়ে ক্ষমতা দখলের কোন সুযোগ দিতে না চান তবে, ভোটকেন্দ্রে যান এবং ভোট দিন।

[..] We have to ensure that a constitutional vacuum does not arise, we have no option other than this election even it will not be perfect. The onus to uphold the constitution is on us. If you do not want others to gain power through unconstitutional means then please go to your nearest polling station and please do vote.

However Kathakata blog thinks [bn] that the government's actions discourage voters:

[...] এই উপসংহারে পৌঁছালে কি ভুল হবে যে ভোটাধিকারের প্রশ্নটি, জনগণের দ্বারা নির্বাচিত হওয়ার প্রশ্নটি এখন আর মূল্য বহন করে না? ইতিমধ্যে জানা ফলাফলের মাধ্যমে বাংলাদেশের ভোটাররা যেহেতু জানেন, তাঁদের ভোটের মূল্য নেই, সে ক্ষেত্রে নির্বাচনের দিনে ভোটকেন্দ্রে যাওয়ার জন্য বিরোধী দল নয়, সরকারই আসলে ভোটারদের অনুৎসাহী করতে সক্ষম হয়েছে। তাতে করে বিরোধীদের ডাকা ‘বর্জন’ বা ‘প্রতিরোধের’ চেয়ে আরও বেশি কারণ তৈরি হয়েছে ভোটারদের ভোট না দেওয়ার।

[..] Would it be wrong to conclude that the question of exercising our right to vote, an election by the people, means nothing now? As many voters in the country know from the already declared results, their votes have no value. In this case the government, not the boycotting opposition, has discouraged voters from going to polling stations on the day of the election. So this has given more cause not to cast votes than the opposition call to “ignore” or “occupy”.

Blogger and activist Rasel Pervez (who is currently on bail after being detained for his writing) quotes [bn] minister Obaidul Quader and says the election is not democratic:

[...] আজকে যেমন ওবায়দুল কাদের বললেন সংবাদ সম্মেলনে ৫ই জানুয়ারীর নির্বাচনটা হয়ে যাওয়ার পর তারা সকল দলের অংশগ্রহনে, স্বচ্ছ নিরপেক্ষ এবং গণতান্ত্রিক নির্বাচনের জন্যে সংলাপ করবেন। তিনিও জানেন ৫ই জানুয়ারীর নির্বাচন গণতান্ত্রিক হচ্ছে না।

[...] Just as Obaidul Quader said in a press conference, after the election of January 5 they will hold a negotiation to arrange an all-party, free and fair and democratic election. He himself knows that the January 5 election will not be democratic.

On Twitter, Mahbubul Karim has named the 10th national parliament election a “selection”:

Its not election, but a shameful selection

Blogger Shaman Shattik writes [bn] on Aamar Bandhu that he wants Awami League in power again to see the completion of the ongoing trial of war criminals.

কথা উঠেছে, সবদলের অংশগ্রহণে নির্বাচন না হওয়ায় গণতন্ত্রের গতি ব্যাহত হবে ৫ই জানুয়ারীর একতরফা নির্বাচনে। কথাটার মধ্যে যতটুকু সত্য লুকিয়ে আছে, তার চেয়ে বেশি সত্য বোধ হয় জনগণের কাছেই সুবিধৃত হয়ে আছে। সরকারগুলোর জনগণের নিজস্ব মৌলিক সমস্যাগুলো সমাধানের সম্পূর্ণ আন্তরিকতার পরিবর্তে দূর্নীতি থেকে অধিকতর দুর্নীতির দিকে আরো ৫ বছরের জন্য যাত্রা করাটা নিশ্চিত করবে। কেননা, এই দুই দলই দুর্নীতিতে “কেউ কারে নাহি ছাড়ে সমানে সমান।” সেক্ষেত্রে ৫ই জানুয়ারির নির্বাচনে এই মূহুর্তে পুনরায় নির্বাচিত হতে যাওয়া আওয়ামী সরকারকে আমি ততদিন পর্যন্ত ক্ষমতায় দেখতে চাই, যতদিনে বেশিরভাগ চিহ্নিত যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিচারের রায় সম্পূর্ণভাবে কার্যকর হয়ে যাবে।

The talk of the town is that democracy will be hindered as all parties are not participating in the January 5, 2014 election. As much as there is truth in that statement, a higher truth is exposed to the citizens. Instead of being frank to solve the basic problems of the citizens, these governments are eager to extend their terms/grab power for the next five years. Because both the major parties are neck-and-neck when it comes to corruption and abuse of power. In this case I actually want to see the inevitable winners of the January 5, 2014 election, the Awami League, be in power as long as it takes to complete the ongoing trial of war criminals.

The Prime Minister says [bn] the opposition party boycott is to blame for the uncontested winners in more than half of all constituencies.

Also read: Why the Opposition in Boycotting the Election in Bangladesh

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