64 countries to go to polls in 2009
8 Mar 2009, IST, Subodh Varma, TNN
NEW DELHI: It's not just India that's swirling to the dance of democracy. 2009 will be the biggest year for electoral democracy in history, with
governments that rule over 2.6 billion people seeking a mandate from them. In India alone, there are more than 700 million voters.
From the tropical rain forests of Congo and Ivory Coast, to the icy wilderness of Greenland, from palm-fringed beaches of New Caledonia to the vast pampas of Argentina, people in 64 countries will be voting this year to elect new governments.
Some of the more important elections coming up in 2009 are in Iran, South Africa, Japan, Afghanistan, Mexico and Palestine. Some countries have already gone to the polls in the first two months of this year, notably, Israel and El Salvador.
Apart from the 64 countries having direct elections, five others are holding indirect elections, that is, an elected legislature further electing a head of state, as in Bangladesh and Germany. Another 14 countries will vote on crucial issues through referendums. These include Denmark, Switzerland and Iraq. Iraqis will vote to decide the fate of an agreement between their government and the United States on the future of US armed forces currently occupying the country.
Elections may be a common feature but countries going to the polls this year are hugely different. Leichtenstein with a population of just about 37,000 and Andorra with about 83,000 will be voting, as will be several small island nations like the Comoros and French Polynesia.
Another contender is Somaliland. A breakaway province of Somalia which declared sovereignty in 1991, Somaliland is yet to be recognized by any country in the world, but it holds regular five-yearly elections for president.
In Africa, several of the most backward countries, which have long been victims of bloody wars are also slated to make tentative approaches to democracy. These include Sudan, where war and famine in the Darfur region have taken a toll of over half a million people in the past decade. Adjoining Chad, home to over 200,000 Darfur refugees is also going to elections. In the Republic of Congo too, elections are being held in the hope of ending a conflict fuelled by greed for its rich mineral resources.
For the world, elections in some of the countries assume an added importance due to geo-political considerations. Iran is witnessing a keen tussle between moderates and hardline fundamentalists in the forthcoming presidential elections. The outcome may determine the strategic equations in the region, which is already embroiled in several lethal wars from Palestine to Afghanistan. Israel has already held elections on February 10, leading to the victory of a coalition of rightwing forces, riding on a wave of support after the recent Gaza war. On the other side, elections to the Palestinian National Authority are also scheduled for this year, with the ruling Al Fatah party facing a Palestinian electorate angry over its vacillation in the face of the Israeli attack on Gaza. There are chances that the militant Hamas will wrest the leadership.
In South Africa, a splintered African National Congress faces people discontented at growing inequality and elitism.
Not many of the developed nations are voting this year and so, their people will not be able to give a political reaction to the ongoing economic slump. However, elections to the European Union Parliament, representing about 500 million people in 27 member states, may well see a political fallout of the global recession.
Several less-developed countries that have got tied up with the global order and thus suffered from its downfall are facing tough elections. These include Argentina and Chile in South America, and East European emerging economies like Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Macedonia.