inFOCUS Quarterly

Spring 2014

Borders, Nations and Conflict

New Media

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India Begins Six Weeks of Voting

Over 110 million Indians cast their ballots this week as the country's nine-phase election process began on April 7th. Over the next month, in the worlds largest democracy, more than 814 million people will be eligible to vote for 543 members of Parliament. After the ballots are counted on May 16th, India's new legislators will elect a Prime Minister.

With so many voters across India, the country's electoral commission confronts sizeable logistical challenges. Polling centers in urban areas often face overcrowding, while military helicopters have been used to deliver ballots in remote Himalayan villages. Additionally, over 100 million additional Indians are eligible to cast ballots since the last election five years ago.

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By Michael Johnson  |  April 10, 2014 at 4:58 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Egypt Denies Bail to Detained Reporters

An Egyptian court refused bail last Monday to three al-Jazeera journalists arrested in late 2013. The court's decision, and a one-day strike by Egyptian reporters on Friday, highlights the government's attempts to influence Egyptian media during unrest following President Mohamed Morsi's overthrow.

Egyptian authorities detained the three journalists, including Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy  and Australian Peter Greste, in their Cairo hotel room last December. Prosecutors contend that the group spread false reports in support of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, and thereby endangered national security. Even after the defendants addressed the judges in the case, an unusual scene in an Egyptian courtroom, further hearings were delay again until later this month.

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By Michael Johnson  |  April 8, 2014 at 2:11 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Boko Haram Violence Escalates in Nigeria

Amnesty International estimates so far this year that Boko Haram-related violence in Nigeria has killed 1,500 people, according to a report released Monday. The Islamist terror group has carried out the majority of the killings, especially against civilians, but Amnesty also reports that Nigerian security forces have also committed human rights violations.

Originally founded in northeast Nigeria in 2002 to impose Sharia Law, Boko Haram carried out its first attack in 2009. The group, whose name translates to 'Western education is forbidden,' began widespread, sectarian attacks against Christians in 2010. After bombings and shootings inside schools and police stations, the U.S. State Department officially classified the group as a terrorist organization in November 2013.

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By Alex Finkelstein  |  April 3, 2014 at 2:12 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Erdogan Claims Victory Following Municipal Elections

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory on behalf of his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AK) in municipal elections held Sunday. After almost all the ballots were counted, AK had 47% of the vote while the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) obtained only 27%. However, in Turkey's capital Ankara, the poll remained close with AK ahead of CHP by 44% to 43%, with the CHP planning to contest the count.

After this weekend's results Erdogan appears ready to contest the Presidential election in August. After nearly 12 years in power, he will not be allowed to seek a fourth term as prime minister. However, the president must leave his political party according to the Turkish constitution, leaving the future cohesion of AK in doubt before 2015 parliamentary elections.

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By Alex Finkelstein  |  April 2, 2014 at 10:45 am  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Iraqi Election Commission Resigns Ahead of Polls

Board members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) resigned on Tuesday, just one month before nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30th. The IHEC is caught between the judicial and legislative branches over the exclusion of certain candidates running in the election. The dispute leaves the integrity of upcoming elections in doubt.

According to Iraqi electoral law, candidates with an "ill" reputation are barred from contesting parliamentary seats. But the courts and parliament have voiced contradictory interpretations of this vague clause, compromising the Election Commission's ability to act independently.

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By Alex Finkelstein  |  March 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Russian Economy Weaker after Crimea

Western leaders increased pressure on Russia Monday, suspending the country's membership at the G8 in response to Moscow's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats also canceled an upcoming June summit in Sochi, relocating the G7 meeting to Brussels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the diplomatic restriction was not a big deal and another senior Kremlin advisor voiced similarly dismissive views over newly enacted economic sanctions.

Despite the tone from Russian officials, anecdotal evidence indicates the restrictions are impacting the behavior of Russian elites. Oil tycoon, Gennady Timchenko, had to sell his 43% ownership in Gunvor Group, a Geneva energy trading firm, hours after Washington decided to blacklist him from engaging in dollar transactions. Additionally, the German defense firm Rheinmetall, has suspended a $140 million dollar contract to build a training camp for Russian military forces.

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By Alex Finkelstein  |  March 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Taliban Uses Violence to Intimidate Before Elections

Taliban gunmen attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul Sunday, killing nine civilians including children. The Serena Hotel, previously one of the most secure spots in the Afghan capital, frequently hosts high ranking diplomats and other foreign officials. Sunday's shooting not only targeted Westerners inside the capital, but also seeks to delegitimize upcoming elections before a NATO withdrawal.

Taliban forces have increased their attacks in order to disrupt elections scheduled for April 5th. Following the shooting, election observers who were staying at the hotel from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have left the country. The European Union's monitoring mission maintains the only sizeable presence left inside Afghanistan. But the EU's mission during the polls will be limited, as it is too dangerous for most Western observers to leave urban areas.

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By Alex Finkelstein  |  March 25, 2014 at 4:53 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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