Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

While last year's trends in the post-Soviet region were not solely negative, the year featured few bright spots for proponents of free and fair elections as the primary path to policy-making power. The use of electoral mechanisms to institutionalize authoritarian rule advanced in several post-Soviet states in 2008, and is likely to continue in 2009.
  • All three states in the South Caucasus held elections of dubious quality (Presidential elections took place in Georgia (January 2008), Armenia (February 2008), and Azerbaijan (October 2008). Georgia held a parliamentary election in May 2008 and a placed two referendum questions on the ballot during the January presidential election). In Azerbaijan, major opposition parties boycotted the presidential election and did not stage post-election protests. Next year's referendum to eliminate term limits will create conditions for a "hereditary dictatorship" (as a commenter on a previous post designated it).
  • Central Asia's electoral calendar was relatively quiet in 2008, save for the one-party "contest" in Turkmenistan (December 2008). Proposals for election rule tinkering in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan will not fundamentally alter the environment for political competition if/when they are enacted in 2009.
  • Three European post-Soviet states held elections in 2008. Russia's March presidential election and Belarus' September parliamentary election provided little drama. Next door, Lithuania's October parliamentary election and referendum were hotly contested. Several political maneuvers set the stage for decreased competition in the region. Last week, the proposal to extend presidential term limits in Russia moved forward as the Federation Council approved the bill following its endorsement by regional legislatures. On December 30, 2008, President Medvedev signed the bill which also extended the term of parliamentary deputies from four to five years. The regime's success in co-opting Nikita Belykh, the former leader of the defunct Union of Right Forces and (former) regime critic, underscores the lack of political space for the opposition in contemporary Russia. Moldova's rejection of a reduction in the electoral threshold, and addition of a vetting requirement for candidates via security services, undermines open contestation. While Ukraine has not yet moved away from competitive electoral politics, chaotic political machinations in the capital city, including the threat of an early parliamentary election and inability of the government to respond to financial, energy, and infrastructure crises, test the limits of the public's patience for democratic politics.

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