DG ROUNDUP: December 4-10, 2013

Dec. 11, 2013, 9:49 a.m.

Bangladesh: The Jatiya Party, a partner in the ruling coalition, announced its intention to join the opposition parties in their boycott of the parliamentary elections on 5 January 2014. Its announcement comes amid a wave of political protests that have blockaded road, rail, and waterway transport for the past four days. As violence escalates, and ports and schools remained closed across the country, the US Ambassador and Canadian High Commissioner to Bangladesh have both called on the government and opposition to engage in constructive dialogue.


Belarus: A new electoral law went into effect on 8 December. The law calls for a single-ballot election to the House of Representatives, with members elected by simple majority. Other changes include merging the Minsk and oblast election commissions with the central, district, and precinct commissions, loosening campaign finance restrictions for presidential candidates, banning parties from boycotting elections, and requiring candidates to provide more information about their income and criminal history.


Chile: A Chilean grassroots campaign for constitutional reform plans to use their ballots on 15 December to express support for the creation of a constituent assembly. The current Chilean constitution was written during the country’s 17-year dictatorship and has several provisions that limit the democratic process. While several presidential candidates, including runoff candidate Michelle BACHELET, support constitutional reform, many Chileans are wary of pushback from the political right. Therefore, on 4 May the ‘Marca tu Voto’ (“Mark Your Vote”) campaign was launched. In the first round of elections on 17 November, an estimated 410,000 voters marked their ballots with the letters ‘AC’ in support of a constituent assembly, the largest single instance of political activism since the massive student protests that rocked the country in 2011. The campaign has been re-launched before the second round on 15 December, and it is hoped that enough awareness can be raised that the markings can be viewed as a legitimate popular referendum.


Croatia: A campaign led by the Committee for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, a group of Croat war veterans angered by the installation of bilingual signs that include Cyrillic text for the minority Serb population in the town of Vukovar, have raised enough signatures to hold a national referendum on the issue of bilingual signs. About a third of the population of Vukovar is Serb, but the town is known as the site of a symbolic victory for Croats during their war for independence in the 1990s. The referendum, which would propose restricting minority language rights to areas where the ethnic minority constitutes more than 50% of the population, is controversial within Croatia, as some see it as a violation of Croatia’s EU accession treaty, where it obliged itself to implement existing laws on minority rights.


Italy: The current electoral law in Italy has been ruled unconstitutional, reigniting the debate about the need to reform the country’s electoral system. The constitutional court ruled that the bonus seats allocated to the winning party violates Italy’s fairness doctrine and that the closed list system unduly limits Italians from choosing their elected representatives. Another concern has been how the regional thresholds and incentives for large coalitions can create stalemates, such as the one seen after the most recent elections in February.


Macedonia: Several small parties are calling for an electoral reform law that would create a single, nationwide electoral district. Currently, Macedonia is divided into six districts and small parties are unable to reach the electoral threshold to gain representation in parliament without allying with one of the two major parties. Supporters of the reform, including former Prime Minister Vlado BUCKOVSKI, believe that this system unfairly discriminates against smaller, more geographically dispersed parties, and that the reform would result in less wasted votes and more vibrant parliamentary debates.


Thailand: Prime Minister Yingluck SHINAWATRA announced that she will be dissolving parliament, amid massive anti-government protests in Bangkok. The protests began when SHINAWATRA introduced a political amnesty bill that would have allowed her brother Thaksin, ousted by the military in 2006, to return from exile. Although the bill was not passed, over 150,000 demonstrators have called for SHINAWATRA to step down, with many requesting an unelected “People’s Council” to replace the legislature and root out the perceived influence of Thaksin SHINAWATRA in the current democratic establishment. Fresh elections will likely be held in early February.


(Image Credit: bbc.co.uk)

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