TIME elections

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wins Second Term in Runoff Vote

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a African-American Women for Rahm luncheon in Chicago on April 1, 2015 .
M. Spencer Green—AP In this Wednesday, April 1, 2015 photo, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a African-American Women for Rahm luncheon in Chicago. Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, barely broke a sweat during most of his campaigns over more than 20 years in office. But Emanuel failed to win a majority in a five-candidate field in February, prompting the first mayoral runoff since Chicago switched to nonpartisan elections two decades ago. With a runoff election between Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia set for Tuesday, April 7, 2015, Chicago voters are being treated to something they haven’t seen in a long time: a mayor actually having to work to win re-election. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Emanuel raised far more money than Garcia, plastered the airwaves with ads and had support from his former boss, President Obama

(CHICAGO) — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won a second term Tuesday in a runoff election that hinged on serious financial challenges facing the nation’s third-largest city and the brusque management style of the former White House chief of staff.

Emanuel was forced to campaign furiously across the city to beat Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia after failing to capture a majority against four other candidates in a February election. The mayoral runoff was the first since the city changed the way it conducts elections in 1990s.

With nearly 85 voting precincts reporting results, Emanuel had 56 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent for Garcia.

The incumbent highlighted tough decisions he’s made since succeeding former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011, but admitted that his management approach too often rubbed city residents the wrong way. He portrayed Garcia as too inexperienced to handle a financial crunch faced by the nation’s third largest city.

Many of those heading to the polls Tuesday said the election should be a signal.

“Hopefully he (Emanuel) takes heed of the runoff when he should have been a shoo-in,” said Richard Rowe, a 50-year-old, who planned to vote for the incumbent.

Jesus Fernandez, a 44-year-old window washer who voted for Garcia, had the same view.

“If he (Garcia) gets close, we might push Rahm to do something,” Fernandez said. “At least we push him a little bit.”

Emanuel raised far more money than Garcia, plastered the airwaves with ads and had support from his former boss, President Barack Obama, who cast an early ballot for him from Washington.

“This is a big election with clear choices. There’s a lot at stake for the city of Chicago …” Emanuel said at a campaign office the day before the election. On Tuesday, he called voters and greeted the lunch crowd at a historic Chicago diner.

Garcia, a former community organizer, alderman and state lawmaker, ran a campaign focused on the city’s neighborhoods, with support from teachers and unions upset with Emanuel. He accused the mayor of being out of touch with voters and blamed him for the fiscal problems, while playing up the mayor’s push to close about 50 schools and a gang violence problem that spiked during Emanuel’s first term.

He also vowed to end Chicago’s troubled red-light camera system, which some residents believe is discriminatory and focuses more on revenue than safety.

“The people had their say in Chicago,” he told supporters the day ahead of the election. “They want someone to listen to them. They said they wanted their families and their neighborhoods back and they want those things to matter to the leader of Chicago. They said they wanted change. And that’s why we’re in this historic runoff.”

On Tuesday, Garcia greeted commuters at train stops and volunteers in last-minute campaigning.

Both campaigns were short on specifics on how to deal with the city’s underfunded pension systems, which will lead to ballooning expenditures in the year ahead. Still, business groups and executives and the city’s major newspapers backed Emanuel, while Garcia enjoyed support from activists and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Polls put Emanuel ahead of Garcia in the weeks leading up to the runoff. But both sides pushed early voting and focused on get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

Election officials said more than 142,300 Chicago voters cast early ballots for the runoff, far outpacing early voting turnout in February and four years ago.

TIME cities

Ferguson Heads to the Polls in City Council Election

Ferguson Election
Jeff Roberson—AP In this photo made Friday, April 3, 2015, Reginald Rounds, a volunteer with the Organization for Black Struggle, walks door-to-door while canvassing a neighborhood in Ferguson, Mo.

Three seats are up for grabs in first election since Michael Brown shooting

Ferguson is holding its first municipal elections since the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer threw the St. Louis suburb into racial turmoil last summer.

Voters will cast ballots Tuesday to elect three city council members. The town, which is about two-thirds black, has a mostly white council.

Historically, voter turnout has been extremely low in Ferguson, with only 12% of eligible voters turning out for a mayoral election last April. However, ongoing racially charged protests and the recent Department of Justice report outlining systemic racial bias against black residents by the Ferguson Police Department could spur greater political activity during this election.

The three council seats up for grabs include Ward 3, which includes the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot. The ward’s candidates, Wesley Bell and Lee Smith, are both black.

[USA Today]

TIME Nigeria

Twitter Courtesy Has Been a Factor in Reducing Post-Election Violence in Nigeria

NIGERIA-ELECTIONS-RESULTS
Nichole Sobecki—AFP/Getty Images Nigerians celebrate the victory of main opposition presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhar, in Kaduna on March 31, 2015.

Nigeria's election defied predictions for widespread violence and fraud. A concerted social media campaign may have played a part

For an election considered too close to call as Nigerians went to the polls en mass on Saturday morning, nothing was more surprising than the fact that for the first time in the country’s post-colonial history an opposition challenger succeeded in pushing out a sitting president via the ballot box. That and the fact that for all the dire predictions of doom and violence, the final results were accompanied by cheers and groans, not gloating and gunshots. Some of that just may be attributable to winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s remarkable Twitter feed, rife with positive thoughts and cheerful goodwill throughout.

Winning candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who will be sworn in as President on May 29, praised his rival President Goodluck Jonathan for peacefully relinquishing power. “President Jonathan was a worthy opponent and I extend the hand of fellowship to him,” Buhari told a gathering at his campaign headquarters on Wednesday. For his part, Jonathan, a former Vice-President turned two-time President who many had assumed would never willingly give up power, was gracious in his defeat, saying in a statement, “I promised the country free and fair elections. I have kept my word.” He went on to encourage his supporters to stay calm and accept the results, no matter how disappointed. “Nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.”

While there was no shortage of rancor through out the campaign period — at one point Jonathan supporters spread the rumor that a long-planned speaking engagement for Buhari, 72, in the United States was in fact an emergency medical consultation for suspected prostate cancer — both candidates repeatedly professed a desire for a peaceful election and a mature, responsible electorate. By and large they got it, with minimal damage from protestors and a relatively low death toll of just a few dozen, compared to the slaughter of the 2011 election, which saw more than 800 die in widespread rioting. For most of the run up to the election, Buhari supporters and campaign activists hinted at dark conspiracies by Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party to rig the vote, prevent Buhari supporters from going to the polls, or manipulate the final count.

But throughout it all Buhari’s Twitter feed focused on the positive, rarely betraying the acrimony splashed across Nigeria’s partisan papers. Buhari came late to Twitter, signing on only on the last day of January with the verified handle @ThisIsBuhari, compared to early adopter Jonathan. Buhari demonstrated few of Jonathan’s grievous faux pas, among them the ill conceived #BringBackJonathan hashtag campaign for re-election, a tasteless imitation of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag slogan to recover the 257 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year. From earnest shoutouts to female candidates for state governor:

To exhortations for Nigerians to stay calm in the wake of terror attacks:

His final twitter missive to Nigerians, spelled out over 50 successive posts, qualifies as one of the more novel campaign uses of a medium designed to be brief.

Even when U.S and European officials expressed concern that there might be military and government manipulation in the final counting of the votes on Monday, Buhari urged his supporters to stay calm:

Most endearing of all was a tweet not scripted by Buhari himself, but retweeted in honor of his wife:

But after the celebrations come thorny issues such as taking on the Islamist militants Boko Haram. In a speech on Wednesday, Buhari said: “Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will. We should spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.”

TIME Nigeria

Muhammadu Buhari Wins Nigeria’s Presidency in Stunning Upset

Nigerian Presidential Elections
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Mohammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party All Progressives Congress, speaks to the press as he arrives for registration at Gidan Niyam Sakin Yara polling station in Daura district of Katsina, Nigeria, on March 28, 2015

Winning may be just the easy part in a country plagued by insurgency, corruption and economic malaise

In a radical reversal of fortune, presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari has proved that the fourth run is the charm when it comes to being elected President of Nigeria. In an election plagued by technical mishaps, Buhari has sealed victory over incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by little more than 2 million votes in the tightest race the country has seen since the end of military rule in 1999.

Jonathan called Buhari to concede victory on Tuesday evening and if the transition goes smoothly — not a given considering Nigeria’s dark legacy of postelection violence — the onetime military dictator, 72, will be making history as the first opposition candidate to unseat an incumbent since the country gained independence from Britain in 1960.

These hard-won successes will be nothing compared with what is in store for the President-elect, however, from the falling price of oil, economic stagnation, entrenched corruption, a radical Islamist insurgency in the north and the possible resurrection of a southern rebellion. But his biggest challenge yet may be one familiar to any presidential challenger who unexpectedly finds himself a victor in a brutal campaign for change: managing expectations.

“Nigeria is in a situation where we have to get it right, right away,” says banker Henry Farotade by phone from Lagos. “We can’t afford to waste time. We are hoping Buhari will do like Obama when he came in after Bush, and turn things around.”

The spokesman for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party, Lai Mohammad, says that the President-to-be is more than ready for the charge. Speaking by phone from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as the final vote tallies rolled in, Mohammad could barely contain his joy. With precision he listed the next steps, from an acceptance speech to how Buhari would deal with ethnic and religious rifts brought on by the grueling campaign. “We are ready. We are going to take Nigeria in a new direction, and we are going to start by healing old wounds. This is no time for a honeymoon, this is a time for nation building.”

Buhari’s success at the polls on Tuesday comes 30 years after he was knocked from his post as military head of state in a 1985 coup. A born-again democrat who has pursued the presidency in every election since 2003, Buhari campaigned on a platform of zero tolerance for corruption and a commitment to wiping out the Boko Haram insurgent group that has killed and kidnapped thousands in the past year.

But for all the international attention Boko Haram has garnered, the threat of a renewed insurgency in the oil-rich south may prove far more devastating for Nigeria’s economic stability, and a far greater challenge for a Muslim from the north who represents everything that the southern insurgents fought against throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, as they sought a greater share of the country’s oil wealth. A temporary truce agreement is up for renewal later this year, and it is not certain that the southern insurrectionists will be willing to work with Buhari.

“There has been a lot of muttering in the south that they will not tolerate a Buhari victory, that they would suspend oil supplies and would kick out northern-owned businesses,” says Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst for the Johannesburg-based Red24 risk consultancy. “So the core issue facing Buhari is that he could have an insurgency in the northeast, and in the south as well.” For Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa program at the London-based policy institute Chatham House, the first step for Buhari will have to be “a real charm offensive” in the south, to ensure that southerners know he will be protecting their interests as much as those of his traditional northern constituents.

Nigeria can expect in Buhari a radically different leader from Jonathan, says Donnelly. Given his military background, Buhari is likely to maintain the regional alliance against Boko Haram and keep up a strong military campaign. But he may have troubles on economic issues, where he has little demonstrable experience. “What it really comes down to is whether or not Buhari can devolve economic decisionmaking to the right people.”

For Farotade, the banker in Lagos, what matters most is that Nigerians have proved that they can actually kick a sitting President out of power. “It’s an ecstatic feeling. It means we are gradually coming of age as a real democracy. This is the accountability we have been waiting for.” Though he has high hopes for Buhari, he is confident that if Buhari fails, there will be repercussions. “If Buhari doesn’t deliver, all we have to do is wait till 2019, and we will vote him out.”

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Army Takes Boko Haram Capital and Boosts Goodluck Jonathan’s Election Chances

President Goodluck Jonathan is finally leading a strong campaign against insurgents but battlefield victories may not be enough at the ballot box

The Nigerian army said on Friday that it re-taken the town of Gwoza where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had maintained its headquarters.

“These successful operations have culminated in the dislodgment of terrorists from towns and communities in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states,” military spokesman Chris Olukolade told the BBC. He said that Boko Haram fighters were seen fleeing to areas near the border with Camerooon.

The perception of military success might give President Goodluck Jonathan a better chance of beating his rival Buhari who has criticized Jonathan’s failure to take action against Boko Haram in the last six years.

When Nigeria’s presidential elections were postponed by six weeks in February for security reasons, many saw it as a thinly veiled attempt by Jonathan to gain time in a race that was turning in his rival’s favor. Had elections been held on schedule, Buhari might have had a very good chance of knocking the incumbent out of power in a first for Nigeria’s electoral history; the two candidates were equal at the polls.

Despite Jonathan’s best efforts to downplay an Islamist insurgency that had plagued the country’s northeast with massacres, mass kidnappings and a spate of terror attacks that has seen more than 11,000 killed during his time in power, his detractors successfully used the issue to raise wider questions about his abilities as leader of a country that is Africa’s economic fulcrum. So when Jonathan pledged to launch a military operation that would wipe Boko Haram from the map, it was widely interpreted as an effort to buff up his defense credentials in the face of a former military dictator who had made security the cornerstone of his campaign. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party was “aware that after an underwhelming electoral campaign, it needed to recover ground,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a U.K.-based political risk consultancy. “The military offensive was considered necessary to restrict Boko Haram’s ability to destabilize the country in what was set to be a turbulent election. But it was also seen as a way to boost the PDP’s propaganda campaign, showing that it can manage national security.”


It was a risky tactic; failure, after all, would have made for a potent weapons in the hands of his opponents. But now that the Nigerian army, with the help of foreign mercenaries and a coalition of military forces from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has managed to push Boko Haram out of all but three of the 20 districts the radical Islamists once held, many are starting to wonder if success on the battlefield will lead to Jonathan’s victory at the ballot box.

That question will be put to the test when Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday March 28. In the closest presidential race since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigerians will be voting on several different issues. Chief among them will be the bread and butter basics that any voter around the world can relate to: jobs and the economy, or, in Nigerian parlance, eba and soup, the national dish of pounded cassava with stewed meat. Jonathan’s record is spotty on both: while Nigeria edged out South Africa last year as the continent’s biggest economy, the country’s vast oil wealth has not trickled down to the general populace. And the global decline in oil prices has hampered investment in a country where at least 70% of government revenue comes from petroleum exports. In addition to security, Buhari has campaigned hard on the issue of corruption, another Jonathan weakness.

So, when it comes to issues, Jonathan may have just succeeded in supplanting Buhari’s security credentials. On Wednesday March 25 Jonathan told the BBC that Boko Haram was “getting weaker and weaker every day…I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover old territories that hitherto have been in their hands.” It later emerged that Nigeria’s anemic army required the assistance of some 100 South African, Ukrainian and British mercenaries, (The Nigerian government acknowledged they are receiving “technical and logistical support” from “foreign contractors”) but what matters in the end is that Nigeria, with the help of its neighbors, now appears to have the upper hand over Boko Haram.

The military offensive has reset the balance of power in the northeast and dented Boko Haram’s confidence while boosting military morale in the lead-up to the elections. That will help government standing in the elections, but it will not be the main factor determining how people vote, says Barclay. While some voters may not want to go against the government just as it is gaining ground, others remain skeptical. After all, Jonathan had six years to do something about Boko Haram, only to act decisively when his reelection prospects were under threat.

In some ways, the fact that Jonathan has not been 100% successful against Boko Haram may also work in his favor. The insurgent group is still active in some areas, and it has promised to disrupt the elections. People in the north, a Buhari stronghold, may be scared to vote; depriving Jonathan’s rival a key vote block.

But the bigger issue is that Nigerians, particularly in the rural areas, still vote along ethnic, regional and religious lines, and in that context, Buhari and Jonathan are evenly matched. Buhari is also avidly courting the relatively small number of swing voters that may be persuaded to vote for Jonathan because of his successes against Boko Haram. Jonathan’s military defeats of Boko Haram “may make a difference to the intelligentsia, but to the grass roots voters it doesn’t make a difference,” says Adunola Abiola, a Nigerian political analyst who founded the UK-based Think Security Africa policy group. “There are many who don’t understand or care about the insurgency, and by and large they are the ones who turn out to vote.”

In the early days of the election, a Jonathan campaign strategist dismissed the insurgency as a significant campaign issue, noting that the majority of Nigerians were more concerned about eba and soup,” and that only those directly impacted by terror attacks would vote on security issues. Now that Jonathan has proved his security bona fides, his strategists may be wishing that Nigerians cared a little bit more about defeating Boko Haram, and less about the economy.

TIME Burma

Burma Army Commander Pledges Successful Elections

Burma's Commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing speaks during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Burma, March 27, 2015.
Khin Maung Win—AP Burma's Commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing speaks during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Burma, March 27, 2015.

"Any disturbance to stability of the state and prevalence of law, any armed pressure or any threats for voting won't be allowed in the general election"

(NAYPYITAW, Burma) — Burma’s powerful military commander pledged Friday to work to support successful elections in November, calling it “an important landmark for democracy implementation,” and warned that the army will not tolerate instability or armed threats.

This year’s elections will be the first to be held by the semi-civilian government that swept to power after a 2010 vote widely seen as rigged in favor of the military-backed rulers.

“The general election which is going to be held in the early days of November 2015 represents an important landmark of democracy implementation of our country,” Commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech to more than 10,000 troops at a big ceremony marking Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the day the army rose up against Japanese occupiers during World War II some 70 years ago.

“Any disturbance to stability of the state and prevalence of law, any armed pressure or any threats for voting won’t be allowed in the general election,” he said.

But critics say that even under the best circumstances it will be difficult to view the upcoming polls as free or fair. The constitution guarantees the army 25 percent of all parliamentary seats and other special political powers. And the most popular politician, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for presidency because her late husband and sons are foreign citizens.

Meanwhile, the government has been unable to reach a conclusive peace agreement with armed ethnic minority groups fighting in border regions. And members of the long persecuted Rohingya population — labeled by the government as illegal migrants — will most likely not be allowed to vote.

Army chief also said the Burmese army is “risking the lives and limbs” of its military officers and troops to achieve stability in border areas.

Ongoing clashes with ethnic Kokang rebels in Burma’s northeast, close to China, has killed hundreds of government troops and caused tension with neighboring China after stray shells reportedly fell into China and killed 5 people.

TIME Nigeria

Why Nigeria’s Elections Could Trigger Renewed Violence

Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari are neck and neck, setting the stage for violence, or worse, in Saturday's election

On Saturday Nigerians will head to the polls in the country’s tightest election since the end of military rule 16 years ago. One-time military dictator Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is taking on incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in a race that has captivated the country, and the continent, for several months. Not once in Nigerian history has an incumbent government lost a presidential election, but this time around there is a strong sense that the opposition actually has a chance. It’s a sign of a maturing political system, but many fear that the tight race could presage a spasm of post-election violence that could send Africa’s biggest economy over the edge, particularly as the security services are preoccupied with an operation against the Boko Haram militant group in the northeast. A recent Afrobarometer poll shows that most eligible Nigerians intend to vote, but at least half are concerned about political intimidation and violence.

Past elections in Nigeria have proven turbulent, but 2015 is likely to prove particularly volatile, says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy. “Nigeria is at a key crossroads as it enters this election cycle. This is the first genuinely competitive election since democracy was restored in 1999, and that challenges the longstanding status quo in the country’s political system. Under either scenario — a Jonathan or a Buhari victory — we anticipate blowback in the form of unrest in the heartland of the losing candidate.” And in a country already beset by a vicious Islamist insurgency, that unrest could have repercussions across the region.

This is not the first time Buhari, a Muslim northerner, has faced Jonathan at the polls. In 2011 Buhari challenged Jonathan, a Christian southerner, and lost by a large margin. But this time around he has a strong national backing, with the country’s major opposition parties coalescing around him. Polls in December indicated that Buhari and Jonathan were equally popular. A six-week postponement of elections, originally slated for February 14, due to insecurity may have given Jonathan, with his deeper purse, an edge in campaigning, but Buhari supporters have been unflagging. In the interim they welcomed several PDP defectors — and their vote banks — into their camp.

Not only are the vote blocks evenly matched, the potential for frustration-fueled violence as one side looses to the other in a tight race is much higher. There is also the issue of regional rivalry. In running for what some Nigerians consider a third term — Jonathan, a former vice-president, came to power in 2010 when President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office — the incumbent is breaking a longstanding political agreement to alternate power between northern and southern candidates. As a result, there is a strong perception in the north that the region has become increasingly politically and economically marginalized under Jonathan, says Barclay. The government has also struggled to meet the expectations of a young and increasingly urbanized society that demands rapid change, enabling the opposition to gain ground. “Buhari supporters really believe that he can win this time around, because he has a credible platform and a high-profile national campaign,” says Barclay. “So if expectations are frustrated, we’re likely to see a violent reaction.”

And the precedent is grim. When Jonathan was announced the winner of the 2011 election, rioting in the country’s north and central regions killed an estimated 800 in violence that broke largely along ethno-religious lines. “That spasm of unrest was largely due to frustrated northern youth taking to the streets in anger at a vote that they saw as impeding their prospects for future prosperity,” says Barclay. “That anger was manifested in the targeting of communities that were thought to favor Jonathan, in particular Christians in the north.”

Adunola Abiola, a political analyst and founder of the London-based Think Security Africa policy institute, was in the northwestern city of Kaduna during the 2011 riots. The stage is set, she says, for a much more widespread outbreak of rioting. In 2011 the violence was disorganized and spontaneous. “People were coming out and expressing their anger and targeting anyone they thought was in the ruling party based on their religion and ethnicity,” she says. “This time around you have an opposition that is national. It’s more likely that we will see violence across the country.”

Abiola is particularly concerned about the potential for accusations of electoral mismanagement and fraud. It is not clear that voters in the three northern states where Boko Haram is strongest will be able to go to the polls, nor is it certain that the estimated one million people displaced by the insurgency will be able to vote. Likely Buhari voters, their exclusion could spark allegations of fraud should he lose. “I am not suggesting in any way that the APC organizes violence, but they do have a passionate support base that may take violent action if they feel Buhari has been cheated in this election,” says Abiola.

Still, she says, a Jonathan or a Buhari win is preferable to the alternative: stalemate. In Nigeria’s constitution the presidency is not won on a majority vote alone. A successful candidate also needs to get at least 25% of the vote in 2/3 of Nigeria’s 36 states. By Think Security Africa’s calculations, Buhari has the popular vote, but Jonathan has the wider regional base. While a runoff is possible, the numbers are not likely to change on a second round, considering how close the two candidates are, says Abiola. “Our conclusion is that a free and fair poll will likely result in a stalemate.” With an economy rattled by the declining price of oil, the country’s main source of revenue, and an insurgency that threatens the region, Nigeria cannot afford paralysis in government, says Abiola. With so much weighing on the outcome of the election, taking Nigeria into the uncharted waters of a political standoff could be the most dangerous outcome of all.

TIME politics

See Photos From Lee Kuan Yew’s Election as Singapore’s First Prime Minister

Looking back to the day the country's longest-serving modern leader began his tenure

When the People’s Action Party won the 1959 general election in Singapore, making Lee Kuan Yew the country’s first prime minister, LIFE was there to capture the energy in the elated crowd.

And when Singapore was weeks away from gaining independence after its short-lived union with Malaysia, an eventful six years later, LIFE’s Hong Kong bureau chief sat down with Lee to hear his thoughts on the future of his country.

Lee, whom LIFE described as having “a Spartan, no-nonsense — and above all — incorruptible dedication” to his role, repeatedly emphasized racial unity as the key to a successful Singapore. “We must forge a multiracial society out of our Indians and Chinese and Malays or we’re going to have one group dominating the other,” he said, “or were going to have segregation and partition which is fraught with danger for all of south Asia.”

Half a century later, the coexistence Lee espoused is a defining feature of Singapore, a country in which nearly 40% of the population is foreign-born. Emphasizing the importance of allegiance to Singapore above residents’ countries of origin, Lee recognized multiple national languages and religious holidays and prioritized residential integration.

But declaring loyalty to Singapore was not tantamount to forswearing one’s ethnic identity. “I’m very proud of the fact that my ancestors are Chinese,” he said. “But our future lies in being part of Southeast Asia.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME Israel

Everything You Need to Know About Israel’s Elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position may be on the line Tuesday

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for early elections in December, amid opposition within his coalition government, he was poised to comfortably win a new mandate. The three-term premier rode a wave of home support during Israel’s 50-day summer war in Gaza, and though his approval ratings had since dipped, his job appeared safe.

A lot can change in three months, let alone weeks. In early March, Bibi, as he is popularly known, addressed a joint meeting of Congress and blasted an emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, saying it “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” The speech left Israel divided two weeks before the vote.

When Israelis go to the polls Tuesday, Netanyahu will face an empowered opposition that threatens to displace him. Recent polling shows his conservative Likud Party trailing the Zionist Union, a hybrid of the center-left Labor and the small centrist Hatnua. Still, Netanyahu has a good shot at staying in power if he can cobble together at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats and form a coalition government, but there’s no guarantee.

Here’s what you have to know about the elections.

Who’s running?

Netanyahu, 65, would become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister if he wins a fourth term and serves until July 2019. His campaign has largely focused on national security issues, playing into the concerns of the country’s right-wing majority. On Monday, on the eve of the vote, he withdrew his support for a two-state solution, saying a Palestinian state would provide “attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”

His strongest challenger is Isaac Herzog, the son of a former President, a longtime politician who leads the Labor Party. Days after Netanyahu called for the early elections, Herzog, 54, announced an alliance with Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni, formerly of Netanyahu’s cabinet, giving the combined Zionist Union a lead over Likud. The alliance’s campaign has largely skirted security issues and instead focused on domestic worries like housing shortages and the high cost of living, which surveys show high on Israelis’ list of concerns. Herzog and Livni had agreed to rotate the premiership if their Zionist Union comes out ahead but, in a sign of Herzog’s rising popularity, the leadership agreed to drop that plan and back the soft-spoken Labor leader for premier.

In a surprise move, Israel’s four Arab parties joined forces for the first time (despite a host of internal divisions). Led by Ayman Odeh, a 40-year-old lawyer from Haifa, the Joint List is poised to become the third-largest faction in the Knesset on the vote of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens. Odeh has said his alliance won’t join any government, but he could tip the balance if he recommends that the President nominate Herzog to form a government.

Neither of the leading parties is polling more than 25 seats out of the 120, so the next government will largely hinge on smaller parties that might link up for a broader coalition. Look for both Netanyahu and Herzog to court Moshe Kahlon, whose centrist Kulanu party has seen a surge in support over the last month and is now polling around 10 seats. Though he was a former Netanyahu ally in Likud, Kahlon hasn’t ruled out backing the Zionist alliance.

What do the opinion polls say?

The Zionist alliance holds a slight lead over Likud, with 25 seats to Likud’s 21 (the exact numbers vary, depending on which poll you look at).

Netanyahu is losing in the opinion polls. Does that mean he’s out?

Far from it. For one, polling has been notoriously unreliable in Israel, where up to 20% of voters may still be undecided.

But the elections are also only the first step in forming the next government. Since no party will win a majority of seats (nor has one since 1949), the leading parties will likely have to compose a coalition government—that’s where the smaller parties come in. Going by the Israeli system, current President Reuven Rivlin will consult with all parties to nominate a member of the Knesset with the best chance of forming a coalition as Prime Minister.

Netanyahu appears to have a better chance at forming a government, if the current polling holds, thanks to the presumed support of the substantial bloc of right-wing and religious parties. But a Herzog government, with help from Kulanu, could also theoretically align itself with others from across the spectrum to come out ahead.

The leading parties could also conceivably come together to assemble what’s known as a National Unity government. Herzog and Netanyahu might decide to shelve their differences and participate in a shared government, rotating the premiership, as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir did from 1984 to 1988.

What if Netanyahu loses?

A Herzog-led government would likely focus on the Zionist Union’s campaign pledge to tackle the rising cost of living. While the alliance has pledged to resume talks with the Palestinians after the last round of negotiations on statehood collapsed in April, the economy would remain its priority.

What if he wins?

If Netanyahu aligns with the right-wing and religious parties to forge a fourth term, his government is expected to continue its focus on national security issues, emphasizing the rise and threat of Islamist militants along Israel’s borders, just as he did when declaring that he no longer supported a Palestinian state. Netanyahu will also face an uphill battle repairing ties with President Barack Obama after his controversial address to Congress, during which he criticized the emerging “bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear program.

So when will we know?

Israeli television will begin to broadcast exit polls after 10 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET).

Once Rivlin nominates someone to form a government, they will have 42 days to do so before the President selects someone else to try. If he or she fails, anyone in the parliament can propose a majority coalition. In the unlikely (and unprecedented) scenario both attempts come up short, it’s back to the polls.

Read next: Netanyahu Vows No Palestinian State While He’s Prime Minister

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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