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  • Author: Noah Coburn, Anna Larson
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: Afghanistan's Provincial Councils (PCs) represent one of the best hopes for the future of local democracy in Afghanistan. Yet since their shaky formation in 2005, they continue to be overlooked by international actors preferring to interact with parliamentarians, ministers and appointed governors. The significance assigned by Afghans to winning PC seats has steadily increased over the last decade. Indeed, for many, the April 5 PC elections will do more than the presidential poll to determine whether democratic practices continue to take root in local politics. PC elections offer a chance to build local, personal ties and accountability mechanisms connecting to increasingly centralized government resources, and, in particular, an opportunity for a new generation of young, motivated Afghans to begin their political careers. As the locally-visible manifestation of the Afghan political system, PCs are the immediate face of democracy—or a lack thereof—for many Afghans. In 2009, with most news stories covering the widespread fraud in the presidential contest, the uproar over the fraud and delay throughout the PC polling process rarely received coverage on newspaper front pages. Yet those problems contributed significantly to people's sense of alienation and disillusionment with their country's political actors and electoral institutions. In spite of these experiences, Afghans are once again preparing to go to the polls. Voters, candidates, parties and local organizations are putting greater emphasis than ever on the process of provincial council polling—expressing concern about the prospects for fraud, mobilizing around their candidates and campaigning in earnest. If due attention to the process is not paid by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and by international agencies, popular participation in future elections could drop. Prospects for Afghan democratization will depend much on how these and future provincial-level elections are conducted.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Democratization, Demographics, Development, Islam, Politics, Youth Culture
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan
  • Author: Steven Blockmans
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Centre for European Policy Studies
  • Abstract: Concerns about the deterioration of democracy in Turkey are not new: the trials over the 2003 „ Sledgehammer ‟ alleged coup plan (2010-12) and over the ‟ Ergenekon ‟ secret organisation (2008-13) broke the military‟s influence over politics, but were widely criticised because of their reliance on secret witnesses and disputes over evidence. Ironically, their outcome has recently been challenged by Prime Minister Erdoğan himself, who has disowned the trials now that the judiciary has the AK Party in its sights. International concern was also stirred by the violent crackdown on the countrywide protests of May/June 2013. Unrest then was triggered by the planned redevelopment of Istanbul‟s Gezi Park in May 2013, but developed into a wider movement critical of government corruption, increasing restrictions on freedom of speech and concerns about the erosion of secularism. Protests simmered on through September, winding down in autumn and winter only to reignite in March of this year.
  • Topic: Government, International Cooperation, Politics, Regional Cooperation, Reform
  • Political Geography: Europe, Turkey
  • Author: Michel Theys
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: EGMONT - The Royal Institute for International Relations
  • Abstract: In the City, the citizen is king. At least theoretically. In the European City currently being built around twenty eight national democracies, the citizen will soon be called upon, in May, to democratically elect his or her representative in the European Parliament for the next five years. Since the very first election of Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage in 1979, spectacular progress has been made by the "European Economic Community" that we now all know as the European Union. And the powers vested in citizen representatives are equally impressive. But there is a real possibility that European citizens will turn their backs on the upcoming European elections like never before. Why?
  • Topic: Civil Society, Politics, Political Theory
  • Political Geography: Europe
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: De juillet à décembre 2013, la Tunisie a connu une crise politique dont les éléments de sortie n'étaient pas fournis d'avance, mais dont l'issue était assez claire : violences ou compromis. Depuis la promulgation de la Constitution et la nomination d'un nouveau gouvernement indépendant dit de technocrates, remplaçant la troïka emmenée par le parti islamiste An-Nahda, en janvier 2014, le pays est entré dans une nouvelle phase de transition. Si celle-ci semble moins agitée que la précédente, son issue demeure tout aussi incertaine. L'enjeu de la période actuelle est de prolonger le consensus issu du dialogue national et de préparer le prochain rendez-vous électoral, qui va suspendre en partie le compromis, tout en prévenant le retour de la polarisation. Plutôt que de se concentrer de manière exclusive sur un partage du pouvoir qui implique l'équilibre électoral entre islamistes et sécularistes, les forces politiques devraient aussi envisager les scénarios les plus inattendus, s'entendre pour limiter le pouvoir des gagnants et garantir la sérénité des perdants.
  • Topic: Politics, Armed Struggle, Reconstruction, Reform
  • Political Geography: Africa
  • Author: Oliver Stuenkel
  • Publication Date: 05-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
  • Abstract: Emerging powers frequently stress the importance of sovereignty and the inviolability of international law. As a consequence, many Western observers expected that emerging powers such as Brazil would be quick to condemn Russia's annexation of Crimea. Yet Brazil remained neutral and abstained from the UN General Assembly resolution that criticised Russia. Together with the other BRICS countries, it opposed suggestions to exclude Russia from the G-20, thus markedly reducing the effectiveness of Western attempts to isolate President Putin. Brazil's unwillingness to criticise Russia may have less to do with its opinion on Russia's annexation of Crimea per se and more to do with Brasília's scepticism of Western attempts to turn Russia into an international pariah. From Brasilia's perspective, pushing countries against the wall is rarely the most constructive approach. In addition, many in Brazil are wary of a global order that privileges the U.S. and allows it to flout many norms that apply to everyone else, arguing that these double standards are far more damaging to international order than any Russian policy. Finally, Russia annexed Crimea at a time when anti-Americanism around the world still runs high as a consequence of the NSA spying scandals, making alignment with U.S. positions politically costly at home.
  • Topic: Emerging Markets, Politics, Sovereignty
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Asia, Brazil, South America
  • Author: Patrick Nopens
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: EGMONT - The Royal Institute for International Relations
  • Abstract: ISAF's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will directly impact the wider region. Not only is there a risk of instability spilling over to Central Asia, but the drawdown will also accelerate the ongoing shift in the balance of power in Central Asia towards China. Should a spillover occur, the burden will mainly fall on Russia and China. Russia will, however, only continue playing the dominant role in the security of the former Soviet Central Asia (FSCA) until China takes on responsibility for the security of its direct sphere of influence or "dingwei". Russia's Near Abroad, however, overlaps both with the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood in Europe and China's dingwei in Central Asia and the Far East. It is, therefore, necessary to approach Russian reactions to these encroachments on its historical spheres of influence in a single context, taking into account the interrelationship between these three.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, Hegemony
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, China, Europe, Central Asia, Asia
  • Author: Palwasha L. Kakar
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: United States Institute of Peace
  • Abstract: As the economic, security and political transitions take place in Afghanistan, it is essential to work with religious leaders who have credibility and moral authority among large segments of the Afghan public. Religious leaders are among Afghanistan's traditional "gatekeepers" for making local decisions, especially on questions of women's rights, and they can be effectively engaged. Despite the very negative reactions by religious leaders to women's rights at the national political level, some at the local level have shown continuing interest in women's rights when they are involved within an Islamic framework and have participated in protecting such rights. Effective engagement with religious leaders starts with respecting their opinions and involving them directly in processes of changing strongly held social norms on women's rights and other sensitive topics, such as tolerance and peacebuilding.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, Religion
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Africa
  • Author: András Rácz
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The destabilization of Ukraine and the possible escalation of the crisis have presented a direct security risk to the Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - particularly concerning military security, the potential interruption of energy transit, and the possible influx of refugees. These factors have forced the Visegrad states to show unprecedented unity and activism in addressing the crisis. However, regarding the possibility of sanctioning Russia, the Visegrad Group is unable to take a joint position. The main reason for this is that Russia does not pose a direct military threat to the region. Consequently the individual policies of the Visegrad countries towards Russia are defined by a constellation of geopolitical concerns, normative motivations, business interests and domestic political ambitions, which are decidedly different in all four cases. Domestic political motivations, such as the will to increase domestic legitimacy, and concerns over the economic effects of sanctions, obviously influence the foreign policy actions of the Visegrad governments. However, Viktor Orbán of Hungary was the only one to break the Visegrad solidarity on Ukraine with his domestically-motivated remarks in May 2014 and demanding autonomy for Hungarians living in the Trans-Carpathian region. As most normative, business and domestic political motivations are of a lasting strategic nature, it is highly likely that the general incoherence of the Visegrad region regarding Russia will prevail.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, International Security
  • Political Geography: Russia, Ukraine, Poland
  • Author: Sanna Salo
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Finnish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In the May 2014 European Parliament elections, Eurosceptic parties mobilized on a new cleavage between the winners and losers of globalization, which mainstream parties have neglected. The Eurosceptic surge should not be regarded merely as populism or protest, but a legitimate articulation of concerns about the new economic underclass - the globalization losers. The articulation of the new cleavage varies according to domestic political contexts and traditions: in France, the Front National mobilized on themes of ethnic unity and national sovereignty; in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland raised concerns over monetary independence in the eurozone, while in the UK, UKIP campaigned with anti-immigration and economic welfare themes. Since the EP elections, the Eurosceptics have seemed intent on polishing their images and on being perceived as respectable office-seeking parties, both in the EP and at domestic levels. Respectability requires a non-xenophobic agenda: in the EP, other Eurosceptics refused to cooperate with the FN due to the party's anti-semitic past; yet the AfD, mobilizing on a more economic agenda, managed to join the ECR group dominated by British Conservatives, while UKIP managed to reform its EFD group.
  • Topic: Globalization, Politics
  • Political Geography: Europe
  • Author: Christian Koch
  • Publication Date: 07-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The breakdown of state structures and the wider regional political order has resulted in a complex tapestry of conflict throughout the Middle East that is likely to produce a continued period of volatility and violence for several years to come. This is because there are numerous dynamics at play that are competing with one another across various levels. Within these dynamics, religion as a mobilizing factor which, alongside sectarianism has emerged as a primary driving force for many of the ongoing conflicts. In addition, the deep crisis of the nation-state has released different dichotomies resulting in overlapping lines of confrontation that seem to be exploding all at once. The situation is exacerbated by the diminished leverage of global players on regional forces and regional players over national ones, thus significantly complicating the search for solutions.
  • Topic: International Relations, Politics
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, North Africa