By Maddy Tennis
Today U.S. citizens head to the polls, exercising the fundamental freedom of the right to vote. As we practice democracy at its most basic level, we should also turn our thoughts to countries around the world where democracy is under threat.
Hungary held local and municipal elections on October 12th in a vote considered by some observers to be free but not fair. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been widely criticized internationally for eroding Hungary’s system of checks and balances, putting restrictions on the media, and using his two-thirds majority in parliament to change elections rules to favor his party. The Hungarian government is trying to silence civil rights groups, think-tanks, and organizations that combat government secrecy and corruption. This crackdown on democratic freedoms brings Hungary one step closer to the “illiberal state” Orban aspires to.
Ukraine held parliamentary elections on October 26th. However, about 13 percent of voters were unable to cast a ballot because they lived in Russian-annexed Crimea or in one of the conflict areas in the east. European-leaning President Petro Poroshenko’s party won the most seats in the election, giving him a firmer mandate to tackle chronic corruption, a fragile economy, and the conflict with Russia. Regardless of this outcome, Ukraine still has a long way to go to become a stable, transparent democracy.
Bahrain has elections coming up on November 22nd amid a political crisis. The main opposition groups are boycotting the elections because of what they say is an unfair process. Bahrain’s ruling family will continues to control the government whatever the election outcome – the king’s uncle has been the country’s unelected prime minister since 1971. By cracking down on peaceful dissent, wrongfully imprisoning human rights defenders, and criminalizing criticism of the government, there is little evidence that Bahrain is taking a path to democracy.
As you take to the polls today, keep in mind the struggle for democracy happening abroad.