What happens when the whole world votes?

The recent Rwanda election was a massive landslide victory for incumbent Paul Kagama, while the Malta election offered their own incumbent, Joseph Muscat, a comfortable win. However, according to the votes cast by The Global Vote website, the rest of the world would have voted neither into power, nor Donald Trump.


The Global Vote

“What are those leaders going to do for the rest of us?” asks the founder of The Global Vote, Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor who has worked to help develop and implement strategies for enhanced economic, political and cultural engagement with other countries. He also created a fascinating website and web-based activity, which is the opportunity for people in other countries to “vote” in the elections of other countries.

Anholt is quick to dispel the notion that taking part in The Global Vote can influence any local elections (he only releases the results of his website’s elections after each country’s real elections have been concluded), rather, he highlights the fact that  we now lived in a globalised, hyperconnected , massively interdependent world. “The political decisions of people in other countries can and will have an impact on our lives no matter who we are and where we live, like the winds of a butterfly beating on one side of the Pacific that can apparently cause a hurricane on the other side, so it is with the world we live in today.”

Anholt highlights that around 140 million Americans voted in the 2016 US Elections in which Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States… and yet that decision is going to directly impact most people throughout the world, as America is one of the world’s great super powers.

It is a way for people to participate symbolically in the elections of other countries, and to learn interactively about the politics of those countries.

He highlights that the Global Vote is not research, rather it is a way for people to participate symbolically in the elections of other countries, and to learn interactively about the politics of those countries. “They do this because they understand that people and places are connected in many ways these days, and because they care about what goes on around the world,” says Anholt.

His take on the current world situation is that everyone in a position of power and responsibility today has got a dual mandate. “You’re responsible for your own people and every man, woman, child and animal on the planet. You’re responsible for your own slice of territory and every single square mile of the earth’s surface and the air above it, and if you don’t like that responsibility then you should not be in power. That for me is the rule of the modern age.”

Aside from being a strong message for politicians, it also serves as a wake-up for all leaders, from the public to the private sector, because our world is reaching a state of disruption and critical mass that we can no longer operate as an independent island – we have to work together with the rest of the world. We don’t have to operate like a charity, and we can and should play to win for ourselves and our stakeholders, but it’s vital to avoid just looking inwards and backwards.

“History shows us that it’s a dead end,” says Anholt. “When people turn inwards and backwards, human progress becomes reversed and things get worse for everybody very quickly indeed. I believe that the best thing about humanity is its diversity and the best thing about globalisation is the way that it stirs up that diversity, that cultural mixture to make something more creative, more exciting and more productive than there has ever been before in human history.”

Ironically the Global Vote is never the same selection of the citizens in each country, no doubt because citizens are more concerned with domestic issues, whereas The Global Vote is focussed on what the candidates would do in terms of the rest of the world and their country’s leadership.

Democracy does not fall from heaven… we are the ones who must fight for it.

Anholt’s initiative is still relatively small, with “in the region of tens of thousands of global votes being case for the higher-profile countries; more than 100,000 for the US election and getting on for twice that in the UK election a few months later; and just thousands for the smaller countries. On the other hand, the spread is truly impressive – we almost always get votes from 100 countries or more”, says Anholt.

Small in terms of real life voting statistics, but impressive in terms of a humble website. For leaders, The Global Vote represents an opportunity to look further, investigate other candidates, grasp the importance of having a global view, and to learn about people who otherwise might slip off the radar or conventional mass media.

That’s precisely what happened in the case of the recent Rwanda and Malta elections, which The Global Vote both scored to the eventual third-placed candidate in each country’s actual elections


The Rwanda Vote (analysis by Simon Anholt, The Good Country)

Presidential elections were held in Rwanda on 4 August 2017. The incumbent President, Paul Kagame, was re-elected with an estimated 98% of the vote.

Kagame was the last choice of Global Voters, however, with just 10% of the international vote. The surprise winner was Green candidate Frank Habineza, who received 71% of the Global Vote, compared to just 0.45% in the official election.

Only 3% abstained, suggesting a high level of certainty amongst Global Voters on this occasion.

Rwanda’s Global Vote winner – Frank Habineza

Frank Habineza is the founder and president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, the only legally registered party in Rwanda. Habineza has served as special assistant to a minister under President Kagame and has worked for Rwanda Newsline and the Rwanda Herald.

In 2010, Habineza was forced to flee Rwanda and sought refuge in Sweden, where he lived until 2012. After returning home he eventually succeeded in getting the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda officially registered in August 2013. He was awarded a democracy prize in the Swedish Parliament in 2011, and has also received a honorary doctorate of humanities from Bethel College, Indiana, USA in 2013.

The National Commission only confirmed his candidacy on 7th July, leaving him little time to campaign. He has promised to fight unemployment and to end the monoculture imposed by the authorities. Although he has not criticized Paul Kagame himself, Habineza has condemned alleged human rights violations committed by the government against political opponents and has pledged to retry political prisoners accused of dissidence. He has also criticized the government of canceling one of his political meetings. The Green Party’s vice-president was murdered in 2010.

“We want to bring democracy to this country. Democracy does not fall from heaven, it will not come from America or Europe, we are the ones who must fight for it,” Mr Habineza has said.

Paul Kagame has been President of Rwanda since 2000 and is the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Previously, it would not have been possible for him to run for a third term but a reform of the Rwandan Constitution, approved in a 2015 referendum by a 98% majority, means that he could now stand until 2034. Kagame won the 2003 elections with a 93% share of the vote, and the 2010 elections with the same share. He is widely expected to win this year’s election too.

Paul Kagame’s popularity among Rwandans and foreign governments is largely due to the fact that he is seen by many as a hero who united Rwandans following the 1994 genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Not only is he regarded as the saviour who he led rebel forces into Kigali in 1994 to end the genocide, but also as the leader who brought Rwandans together to rebuild the country.

Rwanda’s growing GDP has also contributed to Kagame’s reputation, both at home and among donors and foreign governments. The genocide destroyed the economy but the country is hailed by many as a post-conflict economic miracle. According to official government numbers, Rwanda’s economy has grown by an average of 8% between 2001 and 2014, while the poverty rate decreased by 6% between 2010/11 and 2013/14. Rwanda is also investing in the tech sector, gender equality, the environment, education and public health.

However, Paul Kagame is facing increasing criticism, although it is hard to assess the public perception that Rwandans have of the president. Internationally, the image of Rwanda as a post-conflict “economic miracle” is disputed by some because the information is based purely on government statistics. Kagame’s leadership style, viewed by some as increasingly authoritarian, is also undergoing more scrutiny.

There have been allegations of human rights violations against political opponents, civil society leaders and the media, some of whom have been killed, imprisoned or found refuge abroad. These problems could affect the legitimacy of the government and the fragile relationship between Rwandans.

At the beginning of the electoral campaign, President Kagame had several opponents, notably Diane Rwigara, his strongest opponent. However, she was disqualified by the national electoral commission, along with two independent candidates, for not meeting the requirements for candidacy. The remaining opponents are Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana, who are not well known among the electorate and have limited funds to run their campaigns.

Kagame has spoken of the need for increased inter-African trade: “We still have … more work to do, to strengthen continental integration and raise the share of intra-African trade, which at 15%, is unacceptably low. Africa needs to be more resilient in the face of consistent global shocks and increasing protectionism. Too often, we find ourselves at a disadvantage when negotiating trade with other parts of the world. And within all this, there is the ever-increasing need for Africa to industrialise. These factors should not just remain objects of reference. Instead, they should drive us to urgently increase trade with each other, invest more within our countries and regions, and build joint infrastructure, in order to better facilitate the movement of people and goods within Africa.”

Kagame has also spoken of the need for Africa to play a more dynamic and proactive role in the international community: “We in Africa need to shift from expectation of largesse from every incoming [U.S.] administration, to a mind-set of what Africa and the United States can do together, that is of mutual benefit. It’s really an opportunity to shape appropriate relationships with the United States, and other global partners, based on Africa’s priorities and ambitions.”

Following his victory, Kagame was sworn in for another term on 18 August 2017.


The Malta Vote (analysis by Simon Anholt, The Good Country)

Dr. Arnold Cassola leads Alternattiva Democratica, Malta’s Green Party affiliated to the European Green Party and Global Greens. The party has never won parliamentary representation, with its best
result being 1.8% of the national vote in 2013.

Dr. Cassola espouses centre-left green politics. He is a pro-EU politician campaigning for social equality, sustainable development, and the protection of the environment and animal welfare.

“The foreign policy of Malta is the EU foreign policy, the same foreign policy as Germany, Italy or France, so this is nothing new for me because it is part of my ideals, that’s why I like a lot the European thinking in politics and this I think is also going to be one of the ways forward for the future.”

He also believes that in a world characterised by globalisation, democracy can only be safeguarded through more integration and the strengthening of the EU’s democratic and representative structures.

Joseph Muscat is the current Prime Minister of Malta and leader of the Labour Party, a slightly centre-left political party. Along with the Nationalist Party (PN), the Labour Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in Malta. It is a member of the Party of European Socialists.

He is a pro-EU politician under whom Malta has posted its first budget surplus in 32 years: his party is committed to enhancing the role of the private sector and is firmly pro-business. His government’s priorities have included boosting the economy’s competitiveness, reforms in health, education and public finances, along with continued diversification of the economy.

Muscat was a Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2008.  During this period his report proposing new regulations for the EU’s financial services sector was adopted by the European Parliament.

He sees Malta’s international position as a valid member of the EU, negotiating a net-beneficiary status for Malta in the EU, continuing Malta’s good relations with the UK post-Brexit, participating as a Commonwealth member, and taking a leading role in Mediterranean affairs.    

“Our geography means that we are never isolated from the global changes around us. Now as in the past. And we know that no-one owes us a living and that we are too small not to be part of a global system. So we have long lived with that phenomenon. It is not new to us.

“We have always needed to get to grips with all the tensions. I think that a time of increased globalisation is when you need better governments.”

Europe is diversity, not singularity or hegemony.

When asked in an interview whether he felt that Malta was treated in the same way as larger countries, Muscat replied: “I have never felt otherwise. In this world of ours, and especially in Europe, what really counts are ideas and not geographical size, and we have good ideas.”

Asked about the future role of Europe, Muscat says: “Europe should not try to go down the path of becoming one country, because it is not one country and can never be one country. I think Europe should go down the path of living in diversity and trying to coordinate as much as possible. Having one country would be the antithesis of Europe. Europe is diversity, not singularity or hegemony.”

Muscat has also commented, “Europe signifies something different for everyone. For some, Europe is a converging union, for others, an excessive interference … However, with all its ups and down, the 60-year-old European project has undoubtedly been the best period in Europe’s long and convoluted history and certainly the most progressive and prosperous. Hence our theme: rEUnion, as Europe should be focusing on moving forward, not contemplating disintegration.”

  • Simon Anholt has worked with Heads of State / Government of more than 50 countries over the last 20 years, helping them to engage with the rest of the world. www.goodcountry.org