Seeking Political Stability Abroad? Fight Corruption.

    Thomas Carothers, Christopher Carothers

    Security, Middle East

    A protester stands in front of a burning barricade during a demonstration in Cairo

    Citizen anger over government malfeasance has erupted into massive protests and driven out presidents and politicians.

    Last month, a cascade of corruption cases shook national leaderships on multiple continents. Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment relating to his alleged involvement in the metastasizing South American corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Dogged by serious accusations of corruption, South African president Jacob Zuma saw his preferred successor as head of the African National Congress, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, defeated in a pivotal leadership election. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was badly damaged by the arrest of a close political ally on corruption charges. Earlier this month, the most significant anti-government protests in Iran in a decade—partly sparked by anger of corruption—startled the Iranian power establishment

    These events underline a crucial new reality of global politics: revelations of high-level, governmental corruption, with their ensuing public anger and tough prosecutions, have become the leading reason for why presidents and prime ministers are being toppled around the world.

    Corruption scandals have brought down national leaders—or at least greased the skids of their fall—in at least ten countries this decade.

    Citizen anger over government malfeasance erupted into massive protests that drove out the presidents of Guatemala and South Korea in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Legal proceedings against high-level wrongdoing took down Pakistan’s prime minister in July of last year. Brazil’s ongoing corruption Armageddon, which ousted their president in 2016, has entailed grassroots protests and courtroom drama in equal measure. Corruption has provoked the downfall in recent years of prime ministers from multiple European countries, including the Czech Republic, Iceland, Moldova, Slovenia and Ukraine. Corruption was a driver of the Arab Spring, feeding the citizen outrage that toppled heads of state in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. The only Russian political figure Vladimir Putin appears to fear, Alexiei Navalny, bases his appeal on anti-corruption.

    Even when an anti-corruption surge doesn’t drive out the top leader, it may seriously weaken him or her—as has been the case with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and South African president Jacob Zuma—or take out scores of other politicians, as it has in Romania.

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