2011: major elections in the Muslim world
EGYPT: Egyptians will head to the polls in September 2011 to vote for their president. After 29 years of uncontested rule, the current president, Hosni Mubarak, has promised his people free and fair elections open to all seeking to promote the nation’s interest. Given recent parliamentary elections, however, Egyptians have few reasons for optimism about the prospects of a truly democratic process. Held in November and December 2010, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) claimed 420 of the parliament’s 518 seats in an election widely perceived as fraudulent and undemocratic. The 82-year-old Mubarak has indicated that he may not run for a new term and many expect his son, Gamal Mubarak, to take his father’s seat. Past elections have been far from fair with the NDP claiming routine victories. In the coming elections, an independent monitoring committee has been assigned the responsibility of ensuring fair and unfettered voting. International observers will not be present. Among Mubarak’s competitors are several notable figures including Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Turkey will hold its 17th general elections on June 12, 2011. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP has 341 seats out of 550. Erdogan, the former mayor of Istanbul, is best known for his sweeping economic overhauls in the country, which helped reduce the country’s debt. He also put forth a referendum in 2010 to change the way elections are held – such as electing the president through a popular vote rather than by a parliament, allowing the president to serve for two terms and reducing the number of years the president and parliament can serve. Erdogan and his party are in a strong position and are expected to win the general elections.
Syria, a single party state, will hold its parliamentary and legislative elections in August 2011. The 250-seat People’s Council is elected for four-year terms. Of these seats, 131 are guaranteed to the National Progressive Front Party. Other seats are left to independent candidates. Of the elected members, 51 percent must be either farmers or workers. While there is much domestic fanfare over the elections, there is little leeway for change within the government since all candidates must be approved by the ruling party, which always remains in the majority.
Yemen is scheduled to hold its parliamentary elections in April. However, the coalition opposition parties, Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), have declared a boycott in protest of an amendment to the electoral law, which the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party passed. The opposition says the amendment violates the constitution. The amendment creates an electoral commission made up of judges rather than a representative of all parties in the government. The opposition also argues that the ruling party has failed to implement reforms it had agreed to in 2009.
Although not a political election, the referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011, is a huge milestone in Sudan’s history. The nation has witnessed more than two decades of civil war between Northern Sudan, the seat of an Islamic government with Arabic as the official language, and Southern Sudan, where many non-Muslims and other tribal groups reside. The war has killed nearly 2 million people and displaced millions more from the Darfur region. Because of these clashes, Sudan has remained in the view of the world for many years. The referendum was established in peace talks in 2005 that ended the civil war and granted South Sudan the right to separate. On Dec. 8, 2010, Sudan closed the voter registration for the referendum. There is speculation that the referendum will be postponed or doubts that the results will be respected and administered. There is also lingering disagreement between the two sides over action on the post-referendum results. Also of major importance is the Abyei oil field and how it would be affected by the referendum. The world continues to put pressure on seeing the referendum through. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, said in September 2010 that, “The Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the civil war must be fully implemented. The referenda on self-determination scheduled for January 9th must take place – peacefully and on time, the will of the people of South Sudan and the region of Abyei must be respected, regardless of the outcome.” Southern Sudan is expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of separation. The Carter Center will serve as election monitors.
Election fever is on the rise in Uganda as presidential and parliamentary elections near. Set for February and March, the East African nation’s 2011 elections are already gaining international attention. As early as February 2010, U.S. officials were pressing the Ugandan government to ensure that free and fair elections take place. The request came on the heels of the U.S. Congress’s decision to appoint Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as an election monitor. Welcomed by opposition figures hoping to secure a fair election process, the decision was also hailed by former U.N. Undersecretary-General Olara Otunnu, who described Clinton’s appointment as “big news.” Uganda’s last presidential elections were held in 2006. Plagued by allegations of corruption, intimidation and unlawful detention of opposition party figures, the elections brought President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni back to power for a third term. This year, expectations are high as the chief opposition party candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, seeks to unseat Museveni.
The elections could mean the difference between war and peace. Since the end of the military dictatorship in 1999, Africa’s most populous country established the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) under a power-sharing agreement between the Muslim north and Christian south. According to the arrangement, presidential and vice presidential candidates would alternate between the Muslims and Christians to avoid conflicts between regions and religions. This election could spell the end of this arrangement as the current president, Goodluck Jonathan – a Christian and vice president under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua before the president passed away in May 2010 – is running for the presidential seat. Under the power-sharing agreement, also known as “zoning” arrangements, the Muslim North should hold the presidency until 2015. Jonathan will likely be competing with the Congress for Progress Change (CPC) party candidate Muhammadu Buhari and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate Nuhu Ribadu.
Although not prominent on the world stage, Djibouti remains an interesting watch for Muslim world elections in 2011. An estimated 94 percent of the population is Muslim, and the results of a heated presidential election scheduled for April 2011 could affect relations with nearby Yemen and bordering states of war-torn Somalia and Ethiopia. In 2010, Djibouti’s parliament voted to amend the constitution to permit a third term for the president, thereby allowing President Ismail Omar Guellah of the People’s Progress Assembly (RPP) to run again in 2011. President Guellah has ruled the country since 1999. Djibouti is considered a one-party state with opposition parties regularly calling for boycotts of elections. Djibouti has also had decades of civil war between the two major ethnic clashes of the region.
Saudi Arabia is scheduled to hold its subnational elections in November 2011. Saudi Arabia, a monarchy, introduced elections in 178 municipalities in the country in 2005. Local tribal leaders ran for municipal council positions in three stages and for four-year terms. Women are not allowed to vote or run in these elections nor are any political parties recognized. Elections were scheduled to be held in 2009 but were postponed and council members’ terms extended for two years. A new set of election rules have been drafted and await approval by the Council of Ministers.