Perspectives April 9, 2020
Six Countries to Watch in 2020
Major developments in 2019 shifted the democratic trajectories of six key countries.
The following six countries, selected from Freedom in the World’s recent list of ten Countries in the Spotlight, featured pivotal events in 2019 that influenced their democratic trajectory. Whether they have taken steps toward or away from democracy, they are deserving of special scrutiny in 2020.
Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, resigned in November 2019 amidst nationwide protests that erupted after the opposition claimed that the results of the previous month’s presidential election—in which Morales had sought a controversial fourth term in office—were marred by fraud. The Organization of American States (OAS) in December published its final audit of the vote, which affirmed the presence of “a series of intentional operations aimed at altering the will expressed at the polls.”
Following the departure of Morales and many other top officials, Senator Jeanine Áñez, the highest-ranking political figure who had not yet resigned, declared herself interim president; the Constitutional Court quickly affirmed the move, despite the lack of a quorum in the legislature needed for her formal appointment. Her government has since ramped up repressive measures against her critics, including in the form of a worrying presidential decree that granted carte blanche for impunity to security forces acting to reestablish internal order in the face of continued protests in support of Morales. Looking toward elections set for early May, it remains to be seen whether more stable representative politics will be restored in Bolivia in 2020.
Haiti spent much of 2019 bogged down by a political stalemate that blocked ordinary government functions and prevented authorities from tackling critical problems, old and new. The stalemate was the result of an impasse between President Jovenel Moïse and the parliament concerning the replacement of former prime minister Jean-Henry Céant, who was voted out of office in a no-confidence vote in March 2019. This resulted in the indefinite postponement of local and legislative elections—a hindrance to any political movement. The failure to hold elections in 2019 led to the expiration of most of the Haitian legislature in January of this year, and Moïse has been ruling by decree since.
In the meantime, the country has been paralyzed by fuel shortages and widespread protests, during which demonstrators demanded Moïse’s resignation over the alleged misuse of $3.8 billion in aid from Venezuela, and an end to the nation’s endemic corruption. Schools, hospitals, and businesses were closed from September until December, during which time the security crisis worsened as violent police responses to protests left at least 35 dead and violence by armed gangs increased. As of April 2020, Moïse has continued his one-man rule in a political vacuum, and crisis conditions persist across much of the country.
A significant and abrupt hike in gasoline prices, initiated against existing public discontent over Iran’s worsening economy, sparked mass protests across the country in November 2019. Security forces responded with a brutal crackdown, opening fire on unarmed protesters and ultimately causing the death of at least 304 individuals, with some sources reporting the death toll to be as high as 1,500. Credible reports of torture and enforced disappearance emerged from some of the thousands detained by security forces for their involvement in the protests. In another attempt to quash the protests, the government implemented a near-total internet shutdown, upending daily life for citizens, stifling the media’s ability to report on the lethal government reprisal, and setting a worrying precedent for future repression.
National elections held in February 2019 were marred by serious irregularities, widespread intimidation, and political violence. Moreover, a one-week delay in polling announced just five hours before polls were set to open weakened voter confidence and contributed to the lowest voter turnout ever recorded in a Nigerian electoral contest. Incumbent candidate Muhammadu Buhari won a second term, a result that international observers deemed credible despite the flawed voting process. Following on the heels of landmark elections in 2015, which featured the first opposition victory at the national level and a peaceful rotation of power, the 2019 polls had carried hopes for a continued consolidation of democratic gains and reliable electoral processes, which ultimately went unrealized.
Sustained protests that began in December 2018 led to the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April, marking the end of a 30-year reign that featured multiple wars and allegations of genocide in Darfur. Dissatisfaction with the military junta that replaced al-Bashir led the protests to continue despite brutal crackdowns by the armed forces, including the killing of 127 protesters in Khartoum in June. Demonstrations finally ended when protest leaders secured a power-sharing deal with the ruling military council in August, setting up a transitional government that has raised hope for justice and free elections in 2022. It remains to be seen whether the military will abide by its power-sharing agreement, but Sudan entered 2020 with a gradually opening civic space, and real improvements that may set the stage for political transformation.
The opposition in Turkey saw landmark victories during March 2019 municipal elections, winning the mayoralties of the country’s two largest cities, Istanbul and Ankara. The victory in Istanbul held despite a revote ordered by the Supreme Electoral Council, the highest electoral authority and one effectively controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Though these gains signified a limit to the near-total authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, the government continued intensifying restrictions on basic human rights throughout the year, and into 2020. Many opposition politicians and civil society activists were arrested or remain in prison, including hundreds detained for speaking out against the state’s latest military offensive into northern Syria.