By Nathan Baumgartner
2017 has been quite a contentious year within the United States, not least because of the inauguration of our current President. With local elections, most notably the upcoming mayoral election for the City of Buffalo, it also brings into light the relevance of elections occurring elsewhere in the world. Three questions thus come to mind: What countries have had elections, or will have them soon? What issues are relevant there? Why do these elections matter to us?
National legislative elections will be taking place soon in New Zealand, Germany, Liberia, Austria, Czech Republic, Argentina, Tonga, Chile, Honduras, and Nepal. By the end of this year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo will hold legislative and presidential elections. Liberia, Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia, Chile, and Honduras will hold presidential elections.
The topics affecting each of these countries vary. But one topic remains relatively consistent between these countries: the election of our president. Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia each have largely similar issues due to their involvement in the European Union and the influx of refugees and asylum-seekers from various parts of the world. Austria came out of a presidential election last year in which the pro-European candidate won by a narrow majority. Will pro-European parties win the upcoming legislative election? There are fears in the Czech Republic, however, that an individual like our president could see his party win a lot of votes. Will this happen?
In Liberia and other developing nations, LGBT rights have become a more political issue. This is worth mentioning because some political parties within these countries have begun to actively support civil rights. However, this also means that other political parties do not support them and wish to maintain the status quo. In areas like Tonga, climate change has become an increasingly political issue. All major political parties in Tonga agree that climate change is an issue; the division comes with how to address it. In Honduras, issues revolve around unemployment, human rights, organized crime, and the security of its citizens. Such is also the case in Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Democratic Republic of the Congo and, to a lesser extent, Chile and Argentina.
Elections are a good place to start with covering international events and affairs because they offer insight into political developments happening elsewhere in the world. Through levels of political participation, one can measure the level of security citizens have in the developing world. Such is the case with the current situation in Myanmar, where many Rohingya people felt threatened to participate in recent elections and are now experiencing massive human rights violations. This reflected itself in an electoral participation rate of 37-percent of all eligible voters: its worst turnout in its history of “free” elections. As a result, it gives us a baseline through which we can begin to react and mobilize ourselves to campaign for improvements to the feeling of security throughout the world.
Elections throughout the world and the subsequent issues discussed therein shed light, albeit rather indirectly, upon our personal interests. I surely would not condone a party which seeks to criminalize homosexual acts. But this is unfortunately the case throughout parts of the world. Through exploring the history of these political parties, one can begin to answer why this is the case. We can also begin to analyze the history of the United States and its national interests. In Guatemala, we supported the installation of a right-wing dictator after its presidential elections in 1950 resulted in the social-democratic Jacobo Árbenz coming to power. This is not the only time we have meddled in the affairs of other countries, with the Central Intelligence Agency engaging in some very questionable actions throughout much of the Cold War and even to this day. These two developments go hand-in-hand because, if we do not know about something happening, it makes it easier for our government to covertly engage abroad.
The infrastructure to sufficiently cover these elections and other notable developments within the United States and other parts of the world exists. CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have proven remarkably successful in their capabilities to gather news from other parts of the world and present it in various formats, whether through television or online. They also have, however, experienced considerable controversies both within and outside of the United States. Our President labels CNN as “fake news,” BBC receives its fair share of criticism from the far-right within the United Kingdom because of its reporting on “Brexit,” an ongoing process through which the United Kingdom seeks to leave the European Union after a referendum held on June 23, 2016. And Al-Jazeera is a state-funded news organization funded by the Qatari government. Through knowing the lack of visibility we have with international developments, especially seemingly trivial events like legislative elections, we know where problems lie and we can begin to address them. It is a problem that we do not healthily engage ourselves with a relatively free, international and globalized media in the way we engage with BuzzFeed quizzes, for example. It is also a problem that events happening in developing areas of the world are often overlooked even by BBC and Al-Jazeera. They generally have had low-quality reporting on elections occurring soon in developing countries, which we also must address.
But how do we address it? Opening our eyes is a good place to start. But that is not enough. We must also become self-aware of ourselves and what we want, and become aware of healthy ways to encourage that abroad. Seeing conditions abroad can start that process relatively well. Other countries surpass us in certain indicators, whether life expectancy or Human Development Index, and we surpass others in the same indicators. Developing a healthy understanding of this country and its status relative to other countries results in two general outcomes: we are not invincible or superior as we like to think we are, and we have a lot to learn from other countries.
We do have a lot to learn from other countries. But that is okay.