Elections in Arab world not always a good thing

Elections in Arab world not always a good thing

Someone who is not familiar with the Arab world would be excused if he believed that democracy is thriving in this part of the globe. Elections are due to take place in Algeria, Iraq and Egypt. The Lebanese Parliament will soon elect a new president, and even in war-torn Syria presidential elections are expected to take place in July. The Palestinians may hold legislative and presidential elections before the end of the year, which are long overdue. And similar polls should take place in Tunisia later this year. Even the Libyans are trying to iron out their differences and hold fresh legislative elections as soon as possible. In Yemen and following the national dialogue, elections are being planned there as well.
Unfortunately the reality for most countries is not that promising. Elections and democracy are too different things as the Algerian situation testifies. Incumbent President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, who is ill at the age of 77, is about to secure a controversial fourth term. He has been at the helm for 15 years and in spite of opposition to his election it looks like he will succeed. The ruling party is clinging to power at all costs and young Algerians are growing more frustrated with the slow pace of political reforms.
In Iraq too, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is trying to win a third term in spite of sectarian and ethnic divisions and wide criticisms of his authoritarian rule and intervention in the legislative and judicial branches of government. Al-Maliki has used his powers to hunt down his political opponents, while the country is being ripped apart by terrorism. The Kurds are talking about independence from Iraq while the Sunnis complain of a conspiracy to prevent them from participating in the polls and deprive them of a power sharing deal. The security situation in Anbar province is proof that Al-Maliki is seeking to exclude the Sunni tribes from the political process.
Syria’s Bashar Assad is clinging to power at all costs. As the civil war enters its fourth year there are no indications that the killings and destructions will end soon. Still Assad wants to run for elections to win a third term. The country is divided and millions of Syrians are displaced. It is inevitable that the poll will not be fair or free. Assad’s re-election will dash any hopes of a political settlement to the crisis that has claimed at least 150,000 lives.
President Mahmoud Abbas needs to bolster his legitimacy among his people and before the rest of the world. His term has expired many years ago, but the absence of reconciliation with Hamas in Gaza has hindered attempts to hold fresh presidential and legislative elections. With the peace process in tatters, Abbas may try to hold elections in the West Bank only. This will underline Gaza’s separation and isolation. A last minute attempt to reach reconciliation now depends on regional factors as well.
There is a glimmer of hope for Tunisia where a progressive constitution was adopted recently. The Islamist movement there has shown maturity and responsibility by compromising on many controversial issues. Still differences exist between various political parties and while the plan is to hold presidential and legislative elections this year, consensus may be difficult to attain.
Libyans are also trying to work out differences three years after the fall of the Qaddafi regime. The central government is weak and armed groups control vital regions while the oil-rich region of Burqa is demanding autonomy from Tripoli. The national congress has not been able to elect a government whose priority would be to pave the way for new elections.
In every Arab country where elections are expected challenges exist proving again that democracy is struggling and that Arab people’s aspiration for freedom, social justice and human dignity remains elusive. Four years after the Arab Spring conditions have not improved and in many cases they are worse. True democracy is a cultural trait first and the ballot box is not always a proof of its existence!

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