Mock election in Nicaragua, opium economy in Afghanistan and more

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Nicaraguan voters will go to the polls on Sunday to choose the country’s next president. In fact, they don’t have to wait for those votes to be counted to figure out who will be the winner. The result has already been decided: President Daniel Ortega will be re-elected, the only uncertainty being the percentage of votes he claims.

The reason is not difficult to find. Over the past six months, Ortega has systematically arrested all credible opposition candidates who could have presented him with an electoral challenge. Before that, he had already muzzled the Nicaraguan press and suppressed civil society groups, as well as the Catholic Church, who had dared to criticize his slide towards dictatorship.

Ortega had long exhibited authoritarian tendencies and practices. But in previous elections, he also enjoyed legitimate popularity among the Nicaraguan population. Thus, while the elections in Nicaragua were not necessarily fair, they were relatively free and reflected the popular will. But after Ortega responded to popular protests against a pension reform proposal in 2018 with violent crackdowns, the climate of political dissent and media freedom gradually deteriorated. Thousands of Nicaraguans have since fled the country for fear of persecution. And the opposition figures who remained were intimidated to silence or arrested.

As a result, Ortega’s approval ratings dropped. Once the hero of the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship, Ortega is now a full-fledged hated dictator. But that won’t matter on Sunday, because this time the election will not be fair or free.

Here are some recent articles from WPR to put the presidential election in Nicaragua in context:

Highlights of this week

More democracy, not authoritarianism, is key to progress on climate change. In a briefing Thursday, Nithin Coca examined the comparative impact of political and government systems on climate policy, in the context of the Glasgow Climate Change Summit.

  • As Nithin explains, a narrative has been accepted that democracies are at a disadvantage when it comes to adopting and implementing climate policy compared to authoritarian states like China, which can push policies through. unpopular without the messy obstacles introduced by democratic processes.
  • In fact, the evidence does not support this argument. On the contrary, despite the pitfalls of the blocked US political system, protests and pressure campaigns by climate activists that have shaped private sector behavior and investment. A similar dynamic is at work in democracies elsewhere in the world, especially with regard to the activism of indigenous peoples defending their lands and the environment against development that would fuel the climate crisis.
  • In contrast, China’s lack of accountability to its citizens allows it to arbitrarily determine climate policy, but also to ignore international pressure to back up its commitments with action. In addition, its purchases of fossil fuels from authoritarian exporting states offset any slowdown in demand in the United States and Europe due to the shift to green energy sources, allowing these exporters to ignore the urgency of the climate crisis.
  • As Nithin concludes, democratic rights are a force multiplier in climate policy, as democratic governments recognize that “empowering communities, addressing environmental justice issues, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples are part of the process. the solution to the climate crisis ”.

Hopes fade in Tanzania for greater press freedom under Hassan. In a briefing on Wednesday, Priya Sippy examined the state of press freedoms in Tanzania under President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took over after John Magufuli’s death in March. Known as the “bulldozer,” Magufuli had shut down media outlets and intimidated the press during his five years in office.

  • During her first weeks in office, Hassan decided to reverse the Magufuli-era closures and bans, and she then met with representatives of the press to underline her commitment to a more open media environment. But despite the welcome change in tone and rhetoric, recent developments in the country have raised doubts about the prospects for real change.
  • Over the past six months, journalists have continued to be arrested and faced with violence by security forces, although government officials have subsequently issued reassuring statements promising to take action against those involved. in the abuses.
  • Perhaps most alarmingly, in September two media outlets were temporarily suspended on questionable charges, while a prominent political cartoonist was arrested for sharing a cartoon on social media deemed insulting to the president.
  • Meanwhile, many of Magufuli’s restrictions on the media remain in place, and critics have called the reforms proposed by the Hassan government inadequate. As Priya concludes, “In the absence of more substantial reforms, experts say it is unlikely that real change will take place in Tanzania’s media environment.”

Taliban will struggle to control opium economy in Afghanistan. And in a briefing on Tuesday, Robert Looney examined an issue that hasn’t received much attention since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August: the economic factors that will limit the group’s options to suppress the illicit opium economy now that they are in power. .

  • After the fall of Kabul, the Taliban announced their intention to reduce opium production. Historically, however, the group has taken an opportunistic approach to opiates and heroin, banning their use, but allowing and even profiting from poppy cultivation, as well as the processing and sale of it. opiates, in their year of insurrection.
  • Additionally, poppy and opium have generated between 7 and 12 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP in recent years, making it a formidable task to move the country’s agricultural population to alternative crops and livelihoods. . The production of methamphetamine derived from ephedra grown in the highlands of Afghanistan has also started to expand in recent years.
  • To complicate matters further, the international aid that keeps Afghanistan afloat has all but dried up following the Taliban takeover. This will put additional tax pressure on the group, even as the country it now has to rule faces a growing humanitarian crisis.
  • Heeding their commitment to prevent Afghanistan from transforming into a narco-state could help the Taliban “gain wider international acceptance and perhaps partially restore their aid flows.” But it would also be very costly in terms of financial hardship for a large part of the Afghan farming population, with little chance of replacing lost income. As Bob concludes, “Despite their rhetoric, the Taliban is unlikely to effectively enforce an opium production ban, even if they sincerely want to.”

The story on the front page of this week

China’s growing influence in Cambodia and Laos puts Vietnam on edge. Our main story by pageviews this week was David Brown’s briefing on Vietnam’s efforts to navigate a complicated regional landscape that has become more troubling as China’s influence has spread and deepened, in particularly in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. A recent trilateral meeting between the leaders of the ruling party of the three countries in Hanoi can be seen in part as Vietnam’s attempt to manage the potential risks of China’s regional dominance. Officially, as David explains, the two countries describe their relationship as a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”.

But scratch the surface and the image becomes less pink. Chinese diplomats like to portray Vietnam and China as close friends who agree on everything except the South China Sea and can handle their differences. … Vietnamese officials, on the other hand, tend to show deference but little enthusiasm when meeting their Chinese counterparts. They recognize the importance of the bilateral relationship and reiterate their desire to maintain bilateral exchanges at all levels. But most worrying from Hanoi’s perspective is what looks like overconfidence on the part of China and the possibility that Beijing may mistake Hanoi’s constant deference for a lack of determination.

What’s on the tap

And coming next week we will have:

  • A briefing by Erica Gaston on why Western aid donors and multilateral organizations need to engage more with the Taliban if they are to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan.
  • A briefing by Christina Noriega on Colombia’s controversial plan to extradite the notorious drug lord known as Otoniel to the United States, which many of her Colombian victims fear will deny them justice for his other crimes.
  • A column by Stewart Patrick on the recent US National Intelligence Estimate examining the threat climate change poses to US national security.
  • And a feature article by Bruno Tertrais on the lasting relevance of security alliances in the 21st century.

Judah Grunstein is the editor of World Politics Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @Judah_Grunstein.

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