x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Millions of voters share some common issues

In elections this month in Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Algeria, corruption is a touchy political issue

Much has been made of the fact that, in terms of sheer numbers of voters, April will be the most democratic month the world has ever seen. That, of course, is skewed by India and Indonesia – the world’s second- and fourth-most populous countries, respectively – both scheduling elections.

Add in the elections in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq and Hungary, and this month will see just over one billion people voting for their governments. That is certainly a positive step. More than that, though, there are other elements that link many of those countries voting – and provide lessons for regional countries that will soon vote.

Let’s start with Afghanistan and Iraq, both emerging from long foreign military occupations. Both remain plagued by violence and instability, which will be among the first tasks to be faced by whoever wins the elections. Both, too, are plagued by corruption, as are India, Indonesia and Algeria. That is something they all share. In every one of these elections, corruption has been a political issue.

In one sense, that is unsurprising. All five of those countries are rich in natural resources; Iraq, Indonesia and Algeria especially. All could, if their resources were adequately exploited and the proceeds wisely invested, become prosperous.

In another, the fact that corruption exists is a crying shame. Certainly in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, there has been in the recent past a break from incumbent regimes, only to have been replaced by politicians unwilling to tackle the root causes of corruption.

For voters who are angry about corruption, there is impatience at the slow pace of development. That, too, is reflected in this region. Just look at the Arab youth survey, as reported in The National yesterday, that found only a slim majority believing they were better off after the Arab Spring. Iraqis and Afghans feel similarly.

Here, Indonesia provides an instructive lesson. As in many of the Arab Spring countries, popular protests in 1998 toppled the three-decade rule of President Suharto.

Elections didn’t follow until 2004, making this only the third presidential election. But it has been a long road to development and prosperity – 16 years and counting – and while there is progress, it is taking a long time.