TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s President Concedes Defeat in a Major Poll Upset

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa listens to a speech during his final rally ahead of presidential election in Piliyandala
Dinuka Liyanawatte—Reuters Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa listens to a speech during his final rally ahead of the presidential election in Piliyandala, Sri Lanka, on Jan. 5, 2015

Mahinda Rajapaksa, dogged by allegations of corruption and authoritarianism, ends a decade in power

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ended a decade in power on Friday, conceding defeat in a midterm election. He didn’t expect to lose, but found himself vacating his residence after polls showed his challenger Maithripala Sirisena with over 51% of the vote, Reuters reported.

Sirisena, a former minister in Rajapaksa’s government, defected to the opposition in November, and used his anticorruption stance as the cornerstone for his campaign.

He pledged that his first act in office would be to weaken the very presidency that had allowed Rajapaksa to consolidate a huge amount of power, and reportedly plans to hold fresh parliamentary elections within 100 days of being sworn in.

Rajapaksa was re-elected in 2010. He initially came to power in 2005, riding a wave of popularity after defeating the Tamil Tigers separatist group and ending the country’s violent civil war, but his administration was dogged by allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.

Rajapaksa abolished the two-term limit on the presidency to allow himself to run for a third time, and then called Thursday’s snap elections two years before his second term ended — a move that backfired badly.

The violence against opposition supporters that marred the lead-up to the polls was absent on Friday, as the outgoing President asked opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to ensure a smooth handover of power.

“People need a change and this is a democracy,” a government official and close Rajapaksa ally said.

[Reuters]

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Strongman President Could Be Facing a Poll Upset

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures to the media after casting his vote for the presidential election, in Medamulana
Dinuka Liyanawatte—REUTERS Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures to the media after casting his vote for the presidential election, in Medamulana, January 8, 2015.

Two months ago it looked like it would be landslide victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa, but now things are far from certain

Sri Lanka went to the polls on Thursday, kicking off an election that could result in the biggest shake-up of its government in over a decade.

Thousands lined up to vote at more than 12,000 polling stations across the country after the polls opened at 7 a.m. local time, with local media reporting that most districts had showed a turnout of 30 to 40% within the first three hours.

The snap election was called by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November, about two years before the conclusion of his second term, with a view to consolidating the power and control he has been steadily centralizing since he first took the helm in 2005. Rajapaksa’s decisive re-election in 2010, following the 2009 defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers that ended a 26-year civil war, has been bolstered by steady economic growth and stability in the past four years.

But the straightforward victory he anticipated while calling the election is far from certain, and the president has been reduced to urging voters to elect him, “the devil they know,” over an “unknown angel,” as Reuters reports.

The unknown angel he refers to is Mithripala Sirisena, a former minister and key Rajapaksa lieutenant whose sudden defection in November blindsided the president and was followed by an exodus of dozens of others. The hitherto fractured opposition has since rallied behind Sirisena, who promises to crack down on the corruption and nepotism that many say has set in under Rajapaksa’s rule. His son and two brothers rule alongside him, and several relatives occupy key posts in what academic Razeen Sally called the country’s “one-family show” in a Wall Street Journal column last month.

Should it come to power, the Sirisena-led opposition reportedly plans to do away with the presidency altogether and revert to a British-style parliamentary democracy, according to the Financial Times, undoing the constitutional reforms that allowed Rajapaksa to run for an unprecedented third term.

While Rajapaksa is relying on an uptick in Sri Lanka’s economic growth and the support of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority, Sirisena enjoys an almost unequivocal backing from the island nation’s minority groups including Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The former government minister’s anti-corruption stance has reportedly also appealed to a section of the Sinhalese population, and might just be enough to ensure an upset win.

Thursday’s voting has been dogged by reports of violence against opposition supporters, with organizations like Amnesty International and even the U.S. government expressing concerns. But Election Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya, remained confident that there would be no foul play. “Don’t worry about this election, this election will be free and fair,” he told reporters.

Rajapaksa told media he was confident of a win, after casting his vote on Thursday morning. “We will have a resounding victory. That is very clear,” he said.

The truth is anything but.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Quits Board Memberships in Advance of Likely White House Run

Jeb Bush at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colo., on Oct. 29, 2014.
Melina Mara—The Washington Post/Getty Images Jeb Bush at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colo., on Oct. 29, 2014

Cutting those ties could be preparation for scrutiny in a Republican primary

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has resigned all corporate and nonprofit board memberships, his office announced late Wednesday night, signaling that his preparations for a possible run at the White House in 2016 are picking up steam.

If he runs, Bush is likely to be a favorite of the GOP establishment. Divesting himself of his various nonprofit and business interests, some of which have made him quite wealthy, could be part of a strategy to shield him from criticisms similar to those leveled at Mitt Romney during his run in 2012.

Read more at The Washington Post

READ MORE: The One Issue That Will Complicate Jeb Bush’s Campaign

TIME Greece

Greek Parliamentary Vote May Lead to Snap Elections and a Derailed Bailout

GREECE-POLITICS-ECONOMY-PARLIAMENT-VOTE
Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images People walk past the Greek Parliament in Athens on Dec. 17, 2014. Greece is a step away from early elections that could repudiate its international bailout and rekindle a euro-zone crisis after lawmakers failed to elect a President

Antiausterity left-wing party rides high in polls

The Greek Parliament is holding a vote Monday that will decide whether the country will go to snap elections, possibly bringing to power the left-wing Syriza party that has vowed to renegotiate the battered country’s international bailout.

The vote is the third and final round to elect a new President. Failure to do so will trigger polls by early February, reports Reuters.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ nominee Stavros Dimas runs unopposed, but needs 12 more votes to secure the necessary supermajority.

Syriza is leading the opinion polls, buoyed by its objections to the present terms of the joint E.U.-IMF rescue package and a promise to review austerity measures taken in the country since the financial crisis of 2009.

“In Europe, sentiment is changing,” Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras wrote in his party newspaper Sunday. “Everyone is getting used to the idea that Syriza will be the government and that new negotiations will begin.”

[Reuters]

TIME sweden

Sweden Is Holding Snap Elections for the First Time Since 1958

Sweden Government Defeat
Pontus Lundahl—AP Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven talks at a press conference at Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday Dec. 2, 2014.

Extraordinary measure comes after anti-immigrant party derails the Prime Minister's budget proposal

Sweden’s new Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has called for snap elections, the country’s first in nearly 60 years, after a populist anti-immigration party trashed his attempt to build support for his first budget proposal.

The decision was announced Wednesday, a day after the Sweden Democrat party chose to back the opposition’s alternative budget, a move almost unheard of in a country long known to seek broad, political consensus, Wall Street Journal reports.

Lofven’s minority government, formed between his Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Green Party after the election on Sept. 14, was weak from the start. He has since reached out to center-right parties to find support for his budget, but the Sweden Democrats, who placed third in the election, were systematically shut out of the discussions.

This week, the Sweden Democrats said they planned to derail future budget proposals that continue current spending on immigration.

The snap election will be held on March 22.

[WSJ]

TIME Tunisia

The First Free Tunisian Election Is Heading Toward a Runoff

Nicolas Fauque—Images des Tunisie/Sipa USA/AP A Tunisian citizen casts her vote at a polling station during the Tunisian presidential election on Nov. 23, 2014, in Fouchana, suburb of Tunis

But former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi appears to be in front

Neither of the two main candidates is likely to win an outright majority in the first free Tunisian presidential election, with a runoff likely.

Former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi appears to be in front for the Dec. 28 second round, after receiving between 42% and 47% of the vote according to two private exit polls, the New York Times reports.

His opponent, interim President Moncef Marzouki, won between 29% to 32% of the vote.

Tunisia comes out of two disorderly years governed by an Islamist-led coalition, of which Marzouki’s party was a part.

The electoral commission said voting participation was 60%, reports the Associated Press. Official results are expected in the coming days.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Mary Landrieu Talks to TIME About the Fight of Her Political Life

Sen. Landrieu Gathers With Supporters On Election Night In New Orleans
Stacy Revere—Getty Images U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) gathers with supporters during midterm elections at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans on Nov. 4, 2014.

The senior Senator from Louisiana talks hardball politics and Keystone XL at a campaign stop in New Orleans

Mary Landrieu did not look like a politician on the brink of extinction as she arrived at the National World War II Museum’s crowded Veterans Day get-together in her hometown of New Orleans on Tuesday. With the hulks of retired warplanes suspended overhead, the senior Senator from Louisiana made her way toward the stage through a sea of smiles, handshakes and hugs from old friends. She stopped for a chat with the New Orleans Maritime Marine Academy Band before taking a seat on stage next to the mayor, who is also her little brother.

But as the Senate Democrats’ final flag-bearer in the Deep South, Landrieu is every bit the last of an endangered political species. In a three-way contest on Election Day earlier this month, she finished first with 42% compared to 40% for Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and 14% for Tea Party favorite Rob Maness. Landrieu and Cassidy now go head-to-head in a runoff Dec. 6, and many of Maness’ supporters are expected to back her Republican opponent.

Landrieu has been all but abandoned by the national Democratic Party ahead of the runoff. Cassidy and his supporters have paid for 96% of the ads aired since the runoff began, while the national Democratic campaigns have pulled virtually all of their money out of the race.

But Landrieu is putting a brave face on it. Democrats throughout the South took an Election Day beating in part because voters saw the midterms as a referendum on President Obama, Landrieu says. With the GOP soon to be in control of the Senate, the Republican majority is no longer at stake and Landrieu hopes that fact will give her space to focus the race back on Louisiana. “We have the race that we want!” she declared after results came in election night.

The magic number for Landrieu to win that race is “30”, say campaign aides. Black voters, a solidly Democratic constituency, must comprise 30% of the electorate and she’s got to win 30% of white votes, the aides say. She has a ways to go to make those numbers. On November 4, she took just 18% of white votes—if she hopes to keep her job she’ll have to win over the rest.

To get there, Landrieu is playing up her more than 18 years as a moderate deal-maker in the Senate and her lengthy record of bringing home the proverbial bacon. Among the projects she has managed to bring to Louisiana, Landrieu reminded the crowd on Veterans Day, was the National World War II Museum in which they were all gathered.

After speeches from Landrieu, her brother Mitch the mayor, Republican Sen. David Vitter and Marine Corps Colonel Bradley Weisz (who was the only speaker all day to mention President Obama), Landrieu sat down with TIME to discuss her uphill political battle.

TIME: You mentioned after the election that this is the campaign you’ve always wanted. Why? The numbers are daunting—

Sen. Mary Landrieu: Hold on. The campaign I wanted is a campaign against Bill Cassidy. Not against the entire anger at the national government. And the first race was so much anger about gridlock in Washington, now that that race is over the Republicans have taken control of the Senate. Mitch McConnell is now going to be the Majority Leader. Barack Obama has been in some ways repudiated by the voters nationally. Not personally, but some of his policies. I think now voters here can focus on what’s best for Louisiana. So this is the race that I’ve wanted to run, between Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy. Running on my record against his record. And if we can get voters to focus on that I’m confident of a victory.

In recent days you’ve been highlighting things like the gender gap, the minimum wage, issues that particularly affect women.

OK, yes but what you need to be corrected on is that I’ve been highlighting those issues since the first day of the campaign. You would write it wrong. This is not a recent switch. I’ve been talking about minimum wage, pay equity, Lilly Ledbetter, since the first day of this campaign because economic issues are really at the heart of what Louisiana voters want to focus on. Oil and gas jobs, worker training, the skills gap, fair wages and benefits. I’ve talked about that since the first day of the campaign.

Now, a lot of that’s been drowned out by my opponent who won’t discuss that in any way, shape or form. All he wants to talk about is the President. And, as I’ve said, I’ve now worked with three presidents, six governors and four majority leaders. The race that I want to run is a race about: Has Mary Landrieu delivered for Louisiana? And what has she done? And what kind of teams has she built? What kind of record does she have versus Bill Cassidy. If I can get that race, we will win. I will win.

With Republicans in control of the Senate is Keystone XL going to go through?

That’s a good question. We’re actually very close to getting Keystone passed right now. I’ve been working very hard on a stand alone vote on Keystone. You might think that it’ll be easier in January but you would be jumping to a conclusion that’s not yet proven, because in order to get Keystone passed, remember, it has to be passed by the House and the same bill by the Senate and then signed into law by the President. So, if you think about getting a clean bill, like my bill, like the one I have with Hoeven, it’s a Hoeven-Landrieu bill, it has 45 Republican co-sponsors plus a few Democrats. A clean stand-alone Keystone bill could potentially pass right now.

So when you ask me is it going to be easier, I can’t say yes because in January the Republicans may put a bill together with Keystone and let’s say five other things. See that? And then it passes the House and then it fails in the Senate, or it passes the House, the Senate and the President vetoes it. So my answer is: it is possible right now, right now, I think, to get a clean Keystone bill passed that the President to the United States could actually sign.

You were chatting with the kids in the Marine band over there. What were you talking about?

Well, I’m a huge supporter of the creation of this school. I’ve led the fight here in Louisiana on charter schools. I’m an elected leader on public charter schools. I’ve helped to create more charter schools per capita than anywhere else in the nation. So I visit them frequently and I was just saying that I’ll be there to see them again. Their school is growing. As I said in my speech, we have two charter military schools, first in the nation, and we’re really proud of that. The Pentagon and the military are really interested in using that model all over the country for other schools.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Why Even Red States Want a Higher Minimum Wage

The first minimum wage was $0.25. Today, that’s $4.22

San Francisco and Oakland voted Tuesday to increase their minimum wages, and so did four states that roundly backed Republicans. Rising standards of living and inflation may be what triggered this increase, but is paying workers more the one issue we can all agree on?

Watch #TheBrief to find out what’s driving the push to pay their workers more.

TIME politics

The Swedish Way To Boost Voter Turnout

voters
Getty Images

Whether you’re in high-turnout Sweden or low-turnout L.A., the task of getting people to participate must be a constant, year-round focus of attention, not just an issue of concern at election time

I did not receive the warmest welcome from my colleagues four years ago, at my very first meeting of the Falun Election Commission. In fact, most members of the authority in Falun, the Swedish city of 57,000 where I live, were surprised I had called a meeting at all.

“What is this all about?” a colleague asked me. “The next elections are in four years and we had just an election with a great turnout. The only thing we are elected to do is administer the next elections.”

My colleague had a point. The Swedish law makes clear the election commission’s job is to administer election, full stop. And participation in the 2010 local, regional and national elections here in Sweden—which are held together at the same time—was terrific. Turnout of those eligible to vote was 82 percent.

That may sound like another world entirely to people in the U.S. where I’m visiting this week in part to observe preparations for Tuesday’s elections. I know that many places in the country, including California, where I’m writing this, are experiencing record low turnout.

But I also know this: Whether you’re in high-turnout Sweden or low-turnout L.A., the task of getting people to participate must be a constant, year-round focus of attention, not just an issue of concern at election time. Conventional wisdom is that turnout is beyond the control of election organizers. I’d suggest—after spending the past four years trying to raise turnout for the 2014 elections—that election administrators can make the difference.

I’m highly sensitive to the issues of participation because democracy is such a big part of my life. I’m a professional journalist for Swiss radio who covers a lot of elections around Europe and the world. I’ve been an official observer of elections (my co-observer President Jimmy Carter failed to show up when we were paired recently as observers of Taiwanese elections). And I vote in two different countries because I’m a citizen of Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the European Union.

In all these contexts, I’ve seen that the places with the greatest participation do not necessarily have the most media coverage and campaign materials demanding that people show up at the polls. The places that improve participation tend to be places where regular people connect with politics and make collective decisions all the time, not just in election season.

How to create these connections? You need to strengthen existing institutions—and build new ones—that encourage active citizenship year-round.

In Falun, I wanted to take advantage of new initiative and referendum rights in Sweden and Europe to try to boost participation. After that first uncomfortable meeting, my colleagues decided that the role of our local government was to make sure that people understood these new rights and how to use them.

But it wasn’t enough to just notify people. My colleagues on the commission insisted on a test of our work in what came to be called a “supersized participation challenge.” All of our work between elections would be measured by whether or not voting participation increased.

One of our first ideas was to develop and distribute a “Democracy Passport” to every citizen; We made an extra effort to get it into the hands of first-time voters. The passport is the size and shape of a national passport, and it described all the political powers that Falun citizens have and all the forums where they have the right to weigh in—at the city, state, country and European Union level. The passport explains which levels of government do what, as well as what you can do to influence the government.

We also opened a “Democracy Center” at our public library, offering a free public space for democratic information, education, and dialogue. We hired a full-time “Democracy Navigator,” whose job was to assist individual citizens and groups to make their voices heard. Finally we started to renew the city’s online services, incorporating modern forms of transparency and citizen interaction.

We did all of this with the agreement of each of the nine political parties in the city parliament, which consists of 61 members. Our message was a paradigm shift: We need to move away from the idea that citizens are just consumers of political programs and parties and start seeing them as direct participants in the community. In this, we had a distinct advantage: Sweden’s long history of democracy has generated significant trust in public institutions.

After three years of work (in which I also chaired another public body, the Falun Democracy Council, which did related work), we reached the “months of truth” this year. Elections for the European Union parliament were held in May, and then the joint elections for local, regional and national Swedish parliaments were held in September.

Determined to boost participation, we made use of our very generous voting regulations—we permit early voting, voting by mail, and even second voting. What’s second voting? People who voted early can go to a polling station on Election Day and change their vote in person; When people do this, the vote in the polling station is accepted and the advance vote declared invalid.

We also have automatic voter registration—you don’t have to sign up yourself. And we have been aggressive in making sure that voters who were not born in Sweden but have lived here for three years (non-citizens with residency can vote in local and regional elections) are on the rolls. We organized meetings with Somali-Swedish women, translated the Democracy Passport into Arabic, and invited new voters to participate in walks we organized and staffed with interpreters to the offices of elected officials, political parties and interest groups.

In the end, we met the supersizing challenge. At the European elections in May—elections where turnout has been lowest in Sweden—we boosted turnout from 45 percent to 54 percent, among the highest in Sweden.

And in the mid-September elections, we went from 82 percent to 87 percent. That’s healthy, of course. But it’s not good enough. We’re already planning for the next elections, and thinking about how to invest more in our democratic infrastructure.

Bruno Kaufmann, a journalist and election commissioner in Falun, Sweden, is founder of People2Power, a publication on democracy. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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