Voice

Myanmar vote gets the ASEAN stamp of approval

The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have given their blessing to this weekend's elections in Myanmar:

Asian foreign ministers on Monday welcomed Myanmar's "orderly" elections as they met ahead of a regional summit that will also be dominated by North Korea's planned rocket launch and maritime disputes.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers held talks in Phnom Penh after historic by-elections in Myanmar appeared to give opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi her first seat in parliament.

Poll observers from ASEAN's current chair Cambodia said the vote was "conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner".

"Despite complaints of irregularities and intimidation, this delegation did not observe any incidents that might have affected the process or the results of the by-elections," they said in a statement.

It's abundantly clear that a historic transformation is underway in Myanmar. But it's still worth asking whether Cambodia, which holds the rotating ASEAN chair and which apparently sent observers to watch the vote, is particularly well equipped for the task. The country gets a Not Free ranking from Freedom House, and prime minister Hun Sen has been a master at abusing ostensibly democratic processes.

There's a broader issue here. Regional organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the African Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, have in recent years gone into the election monitoring business with gusto. Their methods and technical skill appear to vary widely. The phenomenon of having observers from non-democratic states opining on electoral practices is obviously problematic, but the tensions go deeper. Regional organizations are diplomatic bodies comprised of governments, and as such they likely have an embedded bias against opposition forces and against the disorder that comes with disputed elections. Susan Hyde and Judith Kelley made the point well in Foreign Affairs last  year:

It is important to remember that observers are agents of donors, governments, and organizations, whose need for diplomacy or stability can push monitors away from frankly assessing elections. This problem is underreported and not discussed enough, either because many in the media assume that all monitors are disinterested “election police” or because policymakers choose to turn a blind eye. 

The Multilateralist

Has Europe "done its part" on the Euro crisis?

France's finance minister has declared that Europe's recent steps to boost its internal firewall are enough--and that it's time for the international community to respond with its own efforts:

European leaders said they believed the €200bn increase in their fiscal rescue fund agreed on Friday would be enough to persuade non-eurozone countries that Europeans had "done our homework" and lead them to supplement eurozone efforts by building their own global firewall against contagion.

François Baroin, the French finance minister, said after two days of meetings here with his European counterparts that "Europe has done its part", suggesting it was now up to other large global economies to contribute to an enlarged International Monetary Fund war chest.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, said he wanted to put an end to speculation that the fund would be increased any further, adding that the eurozone has "now given our contribution" and had lived up to its "global responsibility."

Sweden's finance minister insisted that it's now up to the IMF to put the Eurozone crisis to rest:

"We need to see a strengthening of IMF resources," Mr. Borg said. "There will be a lot of debate…but there must be a decision at the G-20 and IMF annual meeting on the upscaling of the resources. We are seeing a stabilization of the crisis but it would be strengthened further if we have a broader, wider and stronger firewall."

The United States and the IMF itself have welcomed the European moves. Japan's finance minister called the measures "a big step forward." It is far from clear that the G20 states will now coalesce around steps to significantly boost IMF resources. Washington has said repeatedly that it will not contribute. Canada's finance minister is reportedly unimpressed by the European efforts and opposed to new IMF funds. The BRICS, meanwhile, have recently linked new IMF funds to approval of voting-power changes in that institution (which are unlikely to be formalized in the near-term). European officials are convinced that they have done what the G20 asked; the G20 appears far less certain.