We have a winner…

and a run-off.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission recently released the preliminary results of the 2014 Presidential Election, showing that Abdullah Abdullah (former foreign minister who lost the Presidency in 2009 to Hamid Karzai) holds the lead with 44.9 percent of the votes and Ashraf Ghani (former finance minister) is in second place with 31.5 percent

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Compared to the 2009 elections, 50% more people voted (for a total of 7,018,049) and only 375,000 votes were found to be fraudulent (compared to 1.2 million five years ago). The run-off, a first in Afghanistan’s history, between Abdullah and Ghani is set to take place June 14th.

Substantively, the candidates are very similar. Both have promised to sign the bilateral security agreement with the United States (allowing U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan) and both have pledged a commitment to post-2014 peace, but have remained equally ambiguous as to their plans for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Each candidate has also accused his opponent of electoral fraud and both are convinced they will win. Yet, though their positions on issues and campaign strategies may be similar, their personal and political histories are radically different.

 The first, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, is a one-time aide to a famed warlord during the Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign. The second, ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, is a Columbia University-educated anthropologist who spent much of the ‘90s working for the World Bank.

 Abdullah, 53, has both Pashtun and Tajik parentage. During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, he served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media. He served as foreign minister and then was the runner-up in Karzai’s disputed re-election in 2009.

Ahmadzai, a 64-year-old Pashtun, received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and taught at Johns Hopkins University during the years of Soviet occupation. He then began a career at the World Bank and was finance minister in the first post-Taliban government. He also ran in the 2009 election, coached by American campaign consultant James Carville, but received only 3 percent of the vote.

Both candidates have named running mates chosen strategically from other ethnic groups, a Pashtun for Abdullah and an Uzbek for Ahmadzai.

Approaching the second round of elections, many are hopeful that voters will participate with equal—if not greater—enthusiasm as the first go-round in April, but are concerned that the run-off runs a higher risk of fomenting ethnic cleavages, particularly amongst Pashtuns (Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group that has only lost power twice in the past 250 years and considers themselves underrepresented in the capital). Both candidates have ties to the Pashtuns, but Mr. Abdullah is historically and publically identified by his half-Tajik heritage. Zalmai Rassoul (the third place candidate) recently announced he will be supporting Mr. Abdullah for the run-off, but it is unclear whether Rassoul’s personal support will translate to his demographic, which is primarily Pashtun.

More important than the winning candidate, however, is the margin of error by which he wins. Afghans are ready for an end to this interminable violence and are likely to accept either leader as long as the process by which he was elected is deemed legitimate, which some quantify as having a vote share gap between winner and loser that is  larger than 3%. The larger the margin, the lesser the likelihood that the losing candidate will contest the results on account of foul play. The uglier the contestation post-election is, the lesser the likelihood that the losing candidate will take part in the next Afghan government, which would certainly be a loss for a country that needs every politician committed to change it can find, particularly when they have different strengths.

U.S. officials have said they would welcome working with either candidate—adding that the political “bench” of talented, highly educated Afghans is so narrow that the country needs both. They need the diplomatic and financial skills of Ghani the Pashtun former World Bank official and professor who spent much of his life overseas, whose delicate form, gentle mannerisms and careful academic speech leads some to call him “the Afghan Mahatma Gandhi.” And they need the political and military connections of Abdullah, a former member of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance who stayed in the country throughout the conflicts with the Soviets and the Taliban, with his deep ties to the Afghan community forged through that wartime experience.

U.S. officials said NATO’s own analysis of the first round of voting points to an even larger Abdullah win in the second round, which could damage Ghani—effectively ending the political career of a man seen as uniquely able to navigate the world of the international aid and economic development needed to keep Afghanistan afloat.

The run-off will also take place at the height of the Taliban spring offensive, but Afghan National Security Forces are already gearing up to deal with an increase in extremist threats.

 

Meanwhile in India….

That clip is hilarious, but out-dated because Narendra Modi ended up stealing the show. After a 6-week election in which over 550 million people participated, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Indian elections in an unprecedented landslide. Alone it won 282 parliamentary seats (out of 543), which puts it solidly in the range of single party majority rule (a feat unseen since 1984 and the first time a non-Congress party has done so). Along with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, it now controls 335 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Not only did the BJP make remarkable gains on a pan-Indian level, it performed extraordinarily well in several states where it did not previously have a strong standing, even overtaking several state governments long-ruled by regional parties. The incumbent alliance led by the Indian National Congress Party (that has ruled for almost 5 decades since India’s independence in 1947), however, saw its most recent rule come to a devastating end. It won 44 of 543 seats, arguably the biggest defeat in Indian political history.

The new prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, certainly led to the BJP to victory on a platform of good governance and economic development that was targeted to India’s youth. In addition to toilets, Modi has made many (perhaps a little too outlandish) promises to voters including the ideas of “building ‘a hundred new cities,’ of extending a high-speed rail network across the subcontinent and undertaking the herculean task of cleaning the Ganges River”.

As a result of both the lofty promises Modi has espoused and the hefty demands of Indian voters, the expectations are high and the fight is far from over for Modi.

Modi’s success will depend on how effectively he empowers the private sector and how he implements the next belated phase of market-centered reforms. With nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people under 26, few Indians can even recall the 1991 reforms. India’s youth bulge can be an enormous asset or liability, depending on whether the government finds a fix for the woeful general education system and its linkage to job creation.

The new generation remains very focused on precisely that issue — jobs and the lack thereof. In the coming generation, nearly two-thirds of India’s citizens will dwell in urban areas, with an estimated 300 million added over the next 25 years. One can only imagine the gargantuan infrastructure needs (and also the investment opportunities) that lie ahead.

Tackling inflation, job creation, growth, and corruption are formidable tasks and there are still many constraints in Modi’s way (along with concerns from India’s minorities that his historically Hindu-nationalist party might not represent their interests), but whatever happens in both India and Afghanistan, something is stirring. Voter turnout was higher in both countries (especially among youth and women) and everywhere the loudest cries have been for change, transparency, and peace.


Want some more election coverage? The Daily Show is doing a series on the Indian elections that began on Thursday. Not as good as John Oliver’s, but pretty entertaining.

 

To the polls

What costs $61.5 million, requires 140,000 polling stations and 236,000 electronic voting machines, and involves over a million voters? Day 3 of the Indian parliamentary elections. To be more specific, these figures encompass only one constituency in one state in one phase of the nine-part voting series that is sweeping the country.

Indian Elections

Today, 92 constituencies in 14 states, including Delhi–the nation’s capitol–and parts of Uttar Pradesh–India’s most populous state and, consequently, one of the major voting players, cast their votes. These voting districts (in purple) contain over 100 million eligible voters and turnout was higher than 60% in each state. Smaller states in the northeast have already voted, but interest is peaking as the election phases move inward given the high number of parliamentary seats at stake in the more populated states.

“Uttar Pradesh is key because it sends 80 MPs to parliament and how different communities vote there, including Hindu Jats and Muslims after the riots, will tell us if they are more concerned about religious violence and identity or about everyday worries like jobs and local infrastructure.”

Votes will be tallied and results announced on May 16th. I read about, hear about, and think about the Indian elections all day, every day and still have trouble keeping up with what is going on. Here are some very succinct answers to the FAQ’s on the 2014 Lok Sabha (lower house) elections:

What are the main political parties? How have their candidates risen to power?

India has a multiparty system with more than 50 regional parties and two major national parties, the Indian National Congress, which leads the governing coalition, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Congress party, which was formed in 1885, when India was still under British rule, has dominated Indian politics. The party played a leading role in the struggle against colonial rule, giving rise to some of the most prominent national leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become the first prime minister of India. Until the early 1990s, it had such broad support from the public that it was capable of forming a government without coalition partners. The descendants of Mr. Nehru dominate the party, and three prime ministers have come from that family: Mr. Nehru; his daughter, Indira Gandhi; and his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984; her son Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. His widow, Sonia Gandhi, took over the party and in recent years promoted their son, Rahul Gandhi, as the heir to their political legacy. Rahul Gandhi is now the vice president of the Congress party.

gandhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the other leading national party, is the main opposition in the Lok Sabha. Its roots are in the Hindu nationalist organizations. The Bharatiya Janata Party won the 1998 elections as a leader of the National Democratic Alliance and stayed in power until 2004. Narendra Modi, the party’s candidate for prime minister in this year’s election, is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a self-described Hindu nationalist. Mr. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, a state in western India, during riots in 2002. At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Mr. Modi has long been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence, although a court rejected efforts to prosecute him. Nevertheless, he remains a divisive figure.

Narendra Modi

The Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man Party, was born out of mass street protests against corruption that erupted in 2010 and 2011. Its leader is a retired civil servant named Arvind Kejriwal. The party surprised political analysts by winning 28 seats in the Delhi state elections, enough to seat Mr. Kejriwal as chief minister. But Mr. Kejriwal resigned just 49 days into his term, accusing the two main parties of failing to support an anticorruption bill. The upstart party declared its national ambitions early and has fielded candidates for Lok Sabha seats across the country. But few expect it to pose a serious challenge to the established parties in the national elections.

Arvind Kejriwal

How does the voting work?

The Election Commission of India has mobilized  more than 10 million polling officials and security personnel to carry out the election. There will be about 930,000 polling stations. Voting is staggered. In this election, it will be done in nine phases from April 7 to May 12. Voting will be done by electronic ballot. This is the first time that nonresident Indians are allowed to vote. It is also the first time voters will be able to exercise the option, “none of the above.” The results are scheduled to be announced on May 16.

How is the prime minister chosen?

The party that wins the greatest number of seats usually forms the government and chooses the prime minister. Getting a majority, or 272 seats, usually requires building a coalition with smaller parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party has named Mr. Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for this election, but parties are not required to choose a candidate before elections. The Congress party has not named a prime ministerial nominee. The single largest party in the house usually chooses its prime minister, who may be a member of the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.

What are governing coalitions and how are they formed?

India’s multiparty democracy allows for the formation of alliances between political parties. Since the mid-1990s, coalition governments have been the norm as no party has been able to secure a majority on its own. Alliances are fluid and can change any time after the elections. The two main coalitions in India are the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

What are some key themes that have emerged in the election? What do voters care about?

Corruption: A slew of corruption scandals involving the Congress-led government, and an anticorruption push by the Aam Aadmi Party have left an impression on voters.

Economy: Slowing growth, persistent unemployment and high food prices have led to disenchantment with the present government.

Secularism: The ascent of Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist party has raised concerns that members of minority religious groups would face discrimination if the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

Violence against women has also become a particularly salient issue thanks to the intense media attention given to several high profile rape cases in the past two years.

How will these elections influence India’s relationship with Pakistan, Asia and the West?

Whether foreign policy is a high priority for the next government depends on the strength of the coalition. If it is weak, it will be too preoccupied with domestic battles to take on big initiatives in foreign policy. India’s foreign policy is not likely to shift drastically, but a strong Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition would probably make larger changes because of the party’s Hindu nationalist streak and pro-business stand.

The current administration, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress party, has not made improving relations with Pakistan a priority as domestic issues have kept the government occupied.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has outlined a zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism and accused Pakistan of infiltrating India. India under Mr. Modi would be unlikely to adopt a confrontational stance with Pakistan, but it is doubtful it would be on friendlier terms with its neighbor. The Bharatiya Janata Party has made it clear that it would respond firmly to any Chinese territorial aggression, but Mr. Modi is also mindful of India’s economic ties with China. No matter which party is in charge, India is likely to avoid jeopardizing economic relations with China, which has emerged as a key trading partner and potential investor.

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto has reiterated the party’s opposition to foreign investment in retail chains that sell more than one brand of products, known in India as multibrand retail, Mr. Modi has welcomed foreign investment in his home state of Gujarat. His business-friendly reputation is likely to help strengthen ties with the West, which had shunned him after the 2002 Gujarat riots. The United States denied him a visa.

In recent years, both European and American envoys have met with Mr. Modi as he modeled himself as an investor-friendly politician. And with his strong following among Indian-Americans, business ties between the United States and India would likely grow.

But the next prime minister, regardless of party, will face strained relations with the United States. An Indian diplomat was arrested on visa fraud charges in December and later indicted, which set off a furor in India.

Exit polls are banned so that the news of which party is gaining seats doesn’t influence voters later on in the sequence. So far turn-out and enthusiasm have been high and violence and corruption allegations low; quite the feat for an undertaking so large.

Studying Indian politics–a topic new to me as of last August–has been a very interesting and eye-opening experience. Politics doesn’t thrill me in any setting, but it is exciting and satisfying to go from being completely ignorant of any and all Indian domestic affairs, to being able to keep up with (and even know more than) what I read in the news. At the very least, I know the acronyms and the names of the parties and politicians no longer sound like gibberish.

It has also changed how I view American politics in ways that make me both appreciative of our system (there is far less corruption and criminality in American politics than in India) and disappointed that American voters do not approach elections with such vigor. Questions of political corruption and the necessity of moral integrity in politicians are things I’ve pondered from time to time, but I’ll save that. It’ll take more articulating than I have both the time (my mom is coming to visit me tomorrow! So I have to clean the house) and mental energy (five hours of sleep after a late evening at a National’s game…it was free and fun–no regrets) to spend.

Anyways, if something you’ve read has intrigued you or if you feel up to the challenge of keeping up with this bustling country, check this out. My boss and I have been working on this all year and it compiles a lot of material that is both current, historic, basic, and nuanced.

India Decides

 

 

To Change

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KABUL, Afghanistan — After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.

Over 7 million voters–which equates to a 60% turnout–cast their ballots in the face of violent threats from the Taliban (which only materialized in a few isolated incidents despite very high-profile pre-election attacks). Candidates Ashraf Ghani (former Finance Minister and World Bank employee) and Abdullah Abdullah (former Foreign Minister) appear to be the front-runners, both of whom have said they will sign the bilateral security agreement if elected.

It will be weeks before results are tallied and unless one of the two leading candidates receives over 50% of the votes, there will be a runoff (likely in May). Already allegations of booth corruption have been reported, but the overall absence of violence and fraud and remarkable voter turnout have been hailed by many as a sign of success and a vast improvement from the sham elections in 2009. What implications the election has for brewing ethnic/regional tension (Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun–the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan based in the south–while Abdullah is tied very closely to the north) and what changes in governance actually occur, only time will tell.

Just as the commotion at the polls in Afghanistan began dying down, the largest democratic exercise in history began close by. Monday morning, Indian voters from the country’s northeastern states flocked to the polls by the millions.

 

Indian voters

 

Because the undertaking of elections in a country with an electorate larger than the populations of the U.S. and Western Europe combined is so large, the country is divided into sections and the election takes place in nine phases, concluding in mid-May. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be ahead in the polls and may have found a regional party with which to partner and win enough seats to form the next government. A BJP victory would mean only the second time in India’s history that a political party other than the Indian National Congress (led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty) has ruled. While many are ready to see the Congress party ago after many of the most outlandish corruption scandals India has ever seen, many are weary of BJP leader Narendra Modi’s commitment to Hindu nationalism (much concern stemming from his mishandling of and alleged complacency towards violence against Muslims in 2002). Check out this info-graphic and this website for more information about what’s happening now and, in general,  how India’s parliamentary elections work.

From a country that has never seen a successful democratic transfer of power to a country where democracy should perhaps not have succeeded, but has flourished, one things remains the same: hope. Hope for change and for the belief that each individual can make a difference in charting a new course for his or her country. For a new life.

 

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Look, Mom, I’m a Political Scientist

Last weekend Molly, Julian, and I went to the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conference in Chicago. While we were all working on our theses in the fall, our advisor suggested that we all apply to present our research at the undergraduate poster sessions since, come April, we would all be done with our papers, have posters already made, and have presented already to the other faculty. She also said Carleton would probably pay for it. A weekend in Chicago with cool professors and friends with no additional work or expenses required? I’m in. I applied and was notified in December that I was accepted (as were Molly, Julian, Charu, and Jeff). We hung out with Charu and Jeff for a bit, but their schedules were pretty different from ours and they made different travel plans. The three of us, on the other hand, were on the same flight, packed all of our suits in one bag, stayed in the same apartment (that we rented), attended most of the same panels, and had our poster sessions at the same time. It was cute.

I love Chicago so much and the walk between the apartment we were renting and the conference hotel was filled with beautiful architecture and shops and restaurants (and their accompanying exciting sights and smells). The weather was crummy for most of the weekend, but it was still warmer than Minnesota and at least it wasn’t snowing.

The first day we got up at 6 to catch our flight, but got to Chicago and hit the ground running to make the most of our first conference experience. We planned on getting there and immediately going to a panel, but when we arrived there was so much going on that we had no idea where to go first. The “program” was the size of a textbook and in every time slot there were at least 20 panels going on. Some time slots there weren’t any/many that looked interesting and other times I wanted to attend half of them. It felt like picking classes.

So we sat on a couch, drank more coffee (I think we had each had 2 cups at this point) and scoured the program to decide what to do next. And we people watched. Political scientists are kind of weird, especially in large groups. They ranged from young grad students hoping to get their research noticed to institutional giants who were just putting another notch in their conference belt. Some were wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches and some were wearing converse. I think we blended in because many of the grad students didn’t look much older than us, but our wide-eyed nerdy excitement probably gave us away. When we walked into the conference for the first time, the first person we saw was actually a Carleton professor. He said he was really excited we were there, that he hoped we had a good experience, and that we looked good. Thanks? I hope that doesn’t mean we look like slobs at school and clean up nicely.

We each split up for our first panel. I went to one on security in South Asia and learned about the repression of a certain Islamic sect and the relationship between economic development and terrorism rates.

At 4:30 we decided to go to a roundtable discussion together, but quickly realized it was about a book that none of us had read. We stuck it out for a little while, but didn’t feel like we were getting anything out of it so we ended up sneaking out of the discussion early and going to a nearby bar with one of our professors and his grad school friends for a while where we quickly realized that the only thing we had drunk that day was coffee (and now alcohol). After about an hour of chatting with the table of incredibly friendly and intelligent PhD candidates (I’m not sure how many of them had already finished their dissertations), we realized we needed to eat and hydrate. So we parted ways and set off in search of a place to eat. We ended up walking two blocks and eating at another pub. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so excited to eat. After talking and eating for what seemed like several more hours, we checked our watches to see how late it was. It was…9pm. I guess that’s what happens when you get up at 6am, spend all day traveling, going to discussions, and not drinking water, and then go to a bar at 5:45. Personally, I loved it. I got to spend hours talking to interesting and fun people and still got to be in bed by 10:30. I am aware of my age and am unashamed of my grandma-like tendencies.

After getting 10 hours of sleep (sooo needed), we went to the conference around 9:30 to get breakfast and attend a panel (sidenote: I always love rooming with people who understand the importance of coffee and even get up a few minutes earlier to make it for everyone. Thanks, Julian). We all went to the same one (I think it was titled “Human Rights and International Institutions”) and learned about narratives that influence how the Security Council votes, the way humanitarian agencies and human rights groups portray themselves and their messages in the media, and about a certain test to measure trust between ethnic groups.

Afterwards we had lunch with Dev and she took us to the Russian Tea Room, just around the corner from the conference hotel. I don’t think I had ever had Russian food before, but it was so good. I had asparagus dumplings.

Our poster session was in the afternoon and we were all a little nervous, but we had been working on our papers for about a year and felt pretty confident that no one was going to throw us a curve ball and ask us a question we didn’t know the answer to. Overall I thought it went really well. Not many people came through (which I expected because they all had their own panels to worry about and friends to see), but several people did and they all seemed to like my project. In fact, one of the women from the morning panel we went to specifically came to see me because she thought my paper sounded interesting. Win! And Dev and Alex stopped by to be supportive. Couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

Dev

Important note: the undergrad poster sessions were in the “book room”, the place where a million publishing companies come to sell their recent publications. In other words, our heaven and our wallets’ worst nightmare. We were told to wait until the last day of the conference to purchase books because the publishers would start slashing prices and boy are we glad we did. At one point I found a station with all hardcovers going for $10 and all paperbacks for $5. On our way out they even started giving away books for FREE. It was really hard to fight the urge to just go back to the apartment and read out new books, but we resisted and went out to dinner and for a drink. It doesn’t matter that we were still in bed before 11. I consider this wall to be rather impressive (the bottom three are mine….I need to branch out).

booksproxy

We felt really cool carrying all of these home (along with our posters). The first thing Dev said to us when we went to lunch was “take off your badges”. Don’t want to be easily identified as nerds outside of the conference walls. I think we look super cool.

NERDS

After our poster session we attempted to go to another panel, but were so tired and the statistical modeling that was being discussed went straight over our heads. We ducked out early and pulled another eat, drink, pass out early. It was so fun and felt so good.

Overall, the conference was fun and really informative. But I don’t think I want to be an academic. I definitely want to continue to learn and study things in a more formal way (through publications and stuff), but I can’t see myself attending conferences like this for the rest of my life. I am much more interested in the practitioner side of things/learning facts and histories than coming up with research designs and hypotheses. We’ll see. Grad school is probably on the horizon in the near future, but I’d like to experience the things that I have been studying before I continue to study them in an academic setting.

One last perk of the conference? One of the professors attending the conference is my neighbor and he left before I did, so since I’ve been running with his pup and I live close by, I got to dog-sit for a day and a half. Chantal took over after I left and sent me picture updates throughout the weekends so I knew she was still alive and well. Who could resist that smile?

sora

I still think conferences are funny things. From a content perspective, I enjoyed NUCHR much more because it was tailored to what I was interested in. MPSA was much broader and I found I wasn’t interested in a lot of what was going on. Socially, MPSA was much more fun because Carleton students and professors were there and it was so fun to hang out with them. I don’t know when my next conference will be (perhaps this will be the last? Unlikely. Maybe. I’m not sure), but I hope that I am surrounded by friends and talking/learning about issues I’m passionate about.