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24 is the number of countries scheduled to conduct national elections in the year 2012. Plenty of reasons to shed tears; tears of euphoria and of sadness alike.

Selahadin Eshetu Getahun

We live in a complicated global system that gives us plenty of reasons to shed tears. I know I am not inclined to cry but there have been a couple of times when I found myself weeping uncontrollably, in the immediate aftermath of the third (and historic) Ethiopian national election in 2005, for instance.

I had left for Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara regional state, to start a job as a graduate assistant at Bahir Dar University. The students there had put up a brave fight with the security forces; there were storm of stones targeting security forces that were deployed in and around the gates of the University. The situation became tense as the security officers started firing tear gas and shooting indiscriminately towards the students. The shooting claimed the life of one student and, when I saw the body, without realizing it, I wept.

Three years later, I was in Addis Ababa and found myself waiting to find out who would become the 44thpresident of the United States of America. It was early in the morning in Ethiopia when Barack Obama delivered his victory speech. The TV screens were showing prominent human rights activists and public figures such as Jessy Jackson and Oprah Winfrey. Drops of tears were streaming off their faces, and of course the faces of thousands of other people around the world. Once again, I wept too.

2012 year of election, year of tears

Four years on and 2012 is shaping up to become a year of election throughout the world, with 24 countries scheduled to hold national elections. While a few, including mighty Russia, have already done so, Election Day still has to come for the majority: in Africa Egypt, Sierra Leone and Somaliland are braced for national elections, and all eyes are on Mali after angry military men staged a coup and suspended the constitution in the second half of March, barely a month before voting. A run-off of Senegal ended beautifully. Asia Hong Kong did its election last week while India, South Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Taiwan, and China are lined up to hold theirs .In Europe ballots will be cast in France, Germany, Britain — both local and national elections — Finland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Romania, and Lithuania. Iran and Australia are also holding elections this year, and in the western hemisphere the Dominican Republic, Mexico and, of course, the United States of America.

Twenty-four countries may seem a negligible number out of more than 200 states in the world, but these countries are home to nearly 53% of the world’s population. That is not it. There is another factor that makes 2012 an interesting election year: many of these countries are major powers such as USA, China, India, and France.

Tears of the president elect

Strange tears

One of the major elections we have already seen in 2012 is the Russian election. As expected, post election controversies have gripped the country. Former President Vladimir Putin, now Prime Minister and President elect, made a shroud arrangement to make sure he would return back to his post as the president of Russia. He had never gone anyway. It was only a swap of job with President Demtry Medivedev. Normally, a Russian Prime Minister has a very nominal power in the executive branch of the government of Russia. Not Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Putin is largely credited for rescuing Russia out of the economic and social mess that resulted after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early ‘90s. But when he left office in 2008, he had unfinished work: putting the many oligarchs he himself had helped creating under control. During Putin’s presidency Russia became a state of many overnight billionaires. Their huge fans include big Western media. Putin became the 2007 Person of the Year on TIME magazine. Needless to say, his shady dealings with the powerful oligarchs and vast implications of state-level corruption were there for everyone to see before 2007. Now Mr. Putin is back again. This it is not surprising.

What is rather surprising was to see him weeping during his victory speech. Will his tears have the power to clean Russia off of its dirt? Will they help him bring the changes he claimed he is ready to bring? Soon we will see.

Tears of revolutions…

An outcry

The Arab Spring hasn’t yet completely died down since it first erupted in January 2011. Blood, sweat, and tears were shed and lives lost to secure a life of dignity for all and end the suffering of millions of people living under dictatorship. But let’s not forget that in Tunisia and Egypt the aftermath of the revolution was followed by somehow democratic elections. Bearing in mind the mammoth work of leadership to the elected politicians, the people in these countries took the revolutionary avenue to see that their age-old tears would finally pay off. Tears are still being shed in parts of the Arab world as some states promised and underwent cosmetic reforms while others are fighting hard to maintain the status quo at any cost.

 …and of the Golden Lady

Bravery

Aung San Suu Kyi — whom father was assassinated when she was only a child — is a brave woman and a model in perseverance for people of my generation. This year she is about to make history once again as she is widely tipped to win the Myanmar’s elections.

Her struggle for human rights and democracy made this Nobel Peace Laureate become a victim of military dictatorship. But now the Burmese government seems it has finally heeded to global pressure and has freed Suu Kyi who started to campaign soon after her release. She may now be, finally, heading from house arrest to the highest office of her country. Unless, God forbid, more tears will follow the election’s results. Perhaps not Aung San Suu Kyi’s, who has always put up a face of bravery to any predicament, but certainly the people’s.

Are there tears for selections?

It may seem crazy to consider China as one of the countries that conducts election this year. Nevertheless, China is unique in many aspects. Nobody knows how the election in the single-party, communist regime will go.  But we know that there will be a change of leadership: the new face will be most likely that of Xi Jinping, a choice that may bring hope to the world because of his style of leadership. But I have my doubts this may cause any tears, either of sadness or jubilation.

I wept twice because of elections; once in sadness, the other in euphoria. I have a feeling this will not be the last, but I take comfort thinking millions of people in these 24 countries will join me in shedding tears for the same two reasons I shed mine.

The writer is Managing Director of Empower Africa Research and Social Development Organization. He can be reached at empowerafricarsd@gmail.com

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