Brazilian Socialists finalize Silva-Albuquerque ticket

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One week after the tragic airplane crash that ended the life  of Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, his party has quickly minted a new ticket for the October general election.brazil

As widely expected, Campos’s running mate Marina Silva agreed to run in Campos’s place as the candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), which only last year broke with its longtime alliance with the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), the party of Brazil’s incumbent president Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

For her part, Silva is a former PT legislator and environmental activist, who served as Lula’s environmental minister between 2003 and 2008 before she broke with Lula. She subsequently joined the Partido Verde (PV, Green Party) to run for president four years ago — winning nearly 20% of the vote against Rousseff in the first round of the 2010 election. 

In 2014, difficulties in registering a new party forced Silva to shelve, however reluctantly, her presidential ambitions and she joined the Brazilian Socialists. Campos, the former popular governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, named Silva as his running mate.

That all changed last week with the air crash in São Paulo state that killed Campos and brought the Brazilian election campaign to a halt as Rousseff, Silva and the rest of Brazil’s political class paused to mourn Campos.

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RELATED Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash
RELATED
: Why Marina Silva must now step up for the Brazilian left

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With 10 days to select a new candidate, and with just weeks to go before the election’s first round on October 5, the PSB chose Silva over the weekend to lead its ticket, on the condition that Silva, who hasn’t always been the most disciplined candidate in the past, and who is a newcomer to the PSB, will continue to honor the party’s electoral program and regional alliances. Technically, like Rousseff and center-right challenger Aécio Neves, Silva will head a coalition of parties in the presidential race. Silva’s coalition, though dominated by the PSB, also includes five smaller parties, such as the    Partido Popular Socialista (PPS, Popular Socialist Party). 

The whirlwind of events brings to the presidential race a candidate who, ironically, garnered much more support than Campos ever had. Continue reading

Pakistan’s Sharif caught between opposition and military

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Amid the chaotic urban anarchy of Karachi and the lawlessness of tribal border areas near Afghanistan, it’s rare that Islamabad becomes the central focus of political instability in Pakistan.Pakistan Flag Icon

But that’s exactly what’s happening this week in the world’s sixth-most populous country, and if protests against Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif explode into further unrest, it could trigger a constitutional crisis or even a military coup. That Pakistan’s fate is now so perilous represents a serious step backwards for a country that, just last year, marked the completion of its first full five-year term of civilian government and a democratic transfer of power.

Imran Khan (pictured above), the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, پاکستان تحريک انصاف, translated as the Pakistan Movement for Justice), is leading protests in the Pakistani capital calling for Sharif’s resignation relating to allegations of voter fraud in last year’s national elections. Sharif, in turn, is pressuring the country’s powerful military to guarantee order in Islamabad and the ‘red zone’  – a highly fortified neighborhood where many international embassies and the prime minister’s house are located and where Khan and his supporters have threatened to march if Sharif refuses to step down. Khan has increasingly escalated his demands, and he now seems locked in a high-stakes political struggle with Sharif that could end either or both of their careers.

In last May’s parliamentary elections, Sharif’s conservative, Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) ousted the governing center-left, Sindh-based Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎). Khan’s anti-corruption party, the PTI, won 35 seats, the second-largest share of the vote nationally, and the largest share of the vote in regional elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern border region near Afghanistan that is home to nearly 22 million Pakistanis, largely on the strength of Khan’s denunciation of US drone strikes on the region. Though Khan and the PTI hoped for a better result, it was nevertheless their best result by far since Khan entered politics in 1996.

Earlier this week, Khan directed his party’s legislators to resign from of the national assembly and three of the four regional assemblies. (The PTI wouldn’t, after all, be resigning its seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it controls the government).

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Khan’s protests dovetail with similar protests led by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (pictured above), a Sufi cleric and scholar who leads a small but influential party, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT, پاکستان عوامي تحريک, translated as the Pakistan People’s Movement). Like Khan’s PTI, the PAT is an anti-corruption and pro-democratic party. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan in 2012 after living for seven years in Toronto, has been described as the ‘Anna Hazare’ of Pakistan, in reference to the Hindu social activist who’s fought against corruption in India, and he protested the PPP with equal gusto.

Early Thursday, there were hopes that negotiations among the parties could relieve the political crisis’s escalation, if not wholly end it. But it’s more complicated that, because of the delicate role that the military still plays in the country’s affairs.

You can think of the current tensions in Pakistan as a triangular relationship:
Continue reading

Gordon Brown: the not-so-secret weapon of the ‘No’ campaign

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Pity Gordon Brown, the long-suffering, long-plotting chancellor who assumed the British premiership only after Tony Blair’s three successive terms tested the British electorate’s patience on everything from Iraq to civil liberties.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

By the time Brown finally wrested the keys to No. 10 Downing Street from Blair, the ‘New Labour’ project was in serious political trouble, and Brown, lacking the easy charm of either his predecessor or then-opposition leader David Cameron, waged a doomed, if feisty, 2010 general election campaign.

Unlike Blair, Brown didn’t take a high-profile role on the speaker circuit or announce a global initiative to bring about Middle Eastern peace. He mostly just went back to Scotland, where he wrote a wonky tome on reforming the global financial system. Brown’s strong reputation today, more so abroad than at home, reflects his adroit handling of the 2008-09 financial crisis, when he prodded other European and US officials to follow his aggressive and proactive example.

Today, he remains the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, a southern Scottish constituency in Fife. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that Brown is emerging as a key leader of the campaign against Scottish independence — to the surprise of many both north and south of the Tweed.

Continue reading

One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Voters go to the polls in Scandinavia’s largest country on September 14, and if he can hold onto the lead that his party has enjoyed for over a year, former labor leader Stefan Löfven (pictured above) will become Sweden’s next prime minister. Sweden

That’s slightly surprising because most Swedes don’t necessarily give center-right prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt poor marks. In two terms, Reinfeldt has earned praise, domestically and abroad, for his government’s economic stewardship, bringing Sweden out of the 2008-09 financial crisis with some of the strongest growth in the European Union. In that time, Reinfeldt has reduced the size of Sweden’s public sector, while nevertheless retaining the character of his country’s renowned social welfare state.

Reinfeldt’s governments amassed an impressive series of legislative accomplishments over the past eight years. Under his watch, Sweden privatized several public interests, including the maker of Absolut vodka, and otherwise deregulated the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and energy industries. Reinfeldt introduced the  earned income tax credit to reduce taxes on the poorest Swedes while instituting a series of tax cuts, including the abolition of the wealth tax in 2007 and a reduction in the VAT rate on restaurants from 25% to 12%. His government also passed a law to permit same-sex marriage in 2009 with wide support from the opposition.

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In his government’s second term, Reinfeldt avoided the recession that otherwise afflicted much of the rest of the eurozone. Though Reinfeldt and his finance minister, Anders Borg (pictured above, right, with Reinfeldt, left), have resorted to deficit spending to boost Sweden’s economy, their budget deficits haven’t fallen much below 1% of GDP. That’s a much better fiscal record than the average eurozone member, and it’s kept Swedish public debt at the relatively low level of around 40% of Swedish GDP.

It’s arguable that by reforming, privatizing or abolishing the least efficient areas of the Swedish public sector, Reinfeldt’s governments updated for the 21st century the existing welfare state that the long-dominant Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) built in the 20th century. Continue reading

Chui faces easy reelection as Macau’s residents demand democracy

chui It’s not just Hong Kong that wants a greater voice in selecting its own government — its smaller cousin Macau is increasingly demanding wider democratic choice as well. China Flag Iconmacau

Earlier this summer, activists in Hong Kong waged an increasingly vocal campaign to bring greater democracy to the special administrative region (SAR), through an online referendum advocating the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017, and a movement, ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace,’ that’s threatened to shut down the city’s downtown core in protest.

The central Chinese government responded with a white paper that appeared to disregard some of the fundamental tenets of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle that’s guided Hong Kong’s administration since its handover from British to Chinese authorities in 1997, forcing Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, not known for his democratic sympathies, to work to reduce tension between the two camps.

Perhaps no one was watching the tussle between Hong Kong and Beijing more than the residents of Macau, where its own chief executive, Fernando Chui, will almost certainly win reelection on August 31.

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RELATED: Hong Kong: One country, one-and-a-half systems?

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Macau, like Hong Kong, reverted only recently to Chinese control — in 1999 from Portuguese colonial authority that stretched back to the 17th century. Like Hong Kong, Macau operates on the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’ and it has its own Basic Law guiding the election of a chief executive and legislature. Unlike Hong Kong, however, Macau’s Basic Law does not include a commitment to ‘one-person, one-vote’ suffrage.

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Nevertheless, Macanese activists are organizing their own weeklong referendum on electoral reform meant to coincide with the chief executive election in the hopes of advocating direct election in the next contest in 2019.  Continue reading

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

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After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading

Despite Senate vote, Renzi’s reform push stalling in Italy

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If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s certainly proving that it won’t be reformed in a day, either. Italy Flag Icon

Nearing a half-year in office, the most ‘impressive’ accomplishment of Italy’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi is engineering the relatively anti-democratic putsch of his own party’s prime minister, Enrico Letta in February.

Renzi, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, gave Letta just 10 months to enact urgent reforms before he executed his takeover of the Italian government. Six months into his own premiership, Renzi has greater support than Letta ever had to shake up Italy’s ossified government. But Renzi nonetheless has surprisingly little to show for half a year in office, even as the country slipped this summer into, incredibly, a triple-dip recession. 

When he ushered himself into power, Renzi came to the office with a wish list of reforms, all of which he promised would be delivered before the summer: a new election law, labor market reforms, tax reform and changes to Italy’s sclerotic public administration. 

Renzi isn’t much closer to achieving any of those today than he was in the spring. He’s lucky to have won a key vote last week in the upper house of the Italian parliament, the Senato (Senate), to reduce that chamber’s powers, making it essentially an advisory body, giving Italy a unicameral parliamentary system in all but name. Renzi must still win a vote in the lower house, the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), where Renzi’s Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) controls an absolute majority, as well as another final vote in the Senate before the reforms are put before voters in a referendum next year. Continue reading

Why Marina Silva must now step up for the Brazilian left

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It will take more than ten days for the followers of former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos to mourn the untimely death of their candidate in the presidential election that’s now less than eight weeks away.brazil

But within the next ten days, the party that Campos led, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), coordinating with the coalition that supported his presidential candidacy, must turn to the pressing reality of selecting a new candidate, who must then hit the ground running as the general election campaign is set to begin.

There’s no way to underestimate the impact of Brazil’s October general election. With around 203 million people, Brazil is the world’s fifth-most populous country, and it’s the most populous country in Latin America, where the Brazilian president holds significant regional political clout. Despite recent troubles with growth and the value of its currency, Brazil’s $2.25 trillion economy is also the largest in Latin America and the seventh-largest economy in the world, and its status as one of the BRICs makes it one of the leading global emerging markets.

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RELATED: Eduardo Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate,
dies in plane crash

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There’s no rule that Campos’s running mate will automatically succeed him, but no one is more prepared to take on that challenge than vice presidential candidate Marina Silva (pictured above, as Campos looks on), the former environmental minister who placed third in the last presidential election in 2010.

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Silva, visibly shaken earlier today, was reportedly set to join the fatal flight that took not only Campos’s life, but the lives of six other individuals. She spoke briefly to reporters today after the crash, and she is now on her way to Santos, the port city in São Paulo state where Campos’s flight fell:

“A imagem que eu vou guardar dele é da nossa despedida de ontem, cheio de alegria, cheiio de sonhos, cheio de compromissos”, lembrou Marina. ["The image that I'll save is our farewell yesterday, full of joy, full of dreams, full of compromises," said Marina."]

Tragically, Campos’s death now provides Silva the best chance of her political career to become Brazil’s president. Continue reading

Eduardo Campos, Brazilian presidential candidate, dies in plane crash

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Eduardo Campos, a popular former two-term governor of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, and a former minister of science and technology nearly a decade ago under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, died at age 49 today in a tragic airplane crash while campaigning in the coastal state of São Paulo earlier today. Pernambucobrazil

Campos was one of seven people on board the small plane, all of whom died when the aircraft crashed into a neighborhood in the port city of Santos, reportedly due to poor weather.  

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, and Campos’s rival in the upcoming October presidential election, called for a three-day period of national mourning and suspended her own campaign activities. 

Campos (pictured above) was selected as the presidential candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party). Once a supporter of Lula da Silva and his successor, Rousseff, the Brazilian Socialists, under Campos’s leadership, left Rousseff’s broad government coalition last November, and the party has been gaining support in recent years.

Polls generally showed that Campos trailed Rousseff, who is seeking reelection as the candidate of a wide coalition headed by her own Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party), as well as the more center-right candidate, Aécio Neves, the candidate of Serra’s center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party). The most recent Ibope survey, dated August 3 to August 6, gave Rousseff 38%, Neves 23% and Campos 9%, though the race was expected to narrow as more Brazilians paid increasing attention to race. 

Accordingly, Campos and his popular running mate, Marina Silva (who was not on the flight with Campos), were capable of building a serious campaign alternative to both Rousseff and Neves, with possible banks of support among urban progressives in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Brasília; rural voters from Campos’s Nordeste region, who have tilted tilting more to the left in recent years; and former lulista supporters disenchanted with the growing centrism of the Worker’s Party.

The PSB, and the wider coalition that had united to support Campos, has ten days to decide how to replace Campos, but Silva would almost certainly be the best to carry forward Campos’s legacy, and she’s by far the most well-known candidate who could so quickly replace Campos.

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RELATED: Rousseff holds weak lead as reelection challenge
looms in Brazil

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Late last year, Campos formed an alliance with former presidential candidate Marina Silva, a former environmental minister, green activist, evangelical and prominent Afro-Brazilian figure who won nearly 20% of the vote in the last presidential election in 2010.

Though Silva was running as Campos’s running mate in the current election, and she even formally joined the Brazilian Socialists to do so, many of her fans believed that Silva — and not Campos — should have led their joint ticket. Running on the strength of Campos’s legacy, her own popularity and the broad leftist platform that the PSB and its allies espouse, Silva’s candidacy could upend the race into a close three-way contest.

Campos comes from a long line of Brazilian politicians in Pernambuco, where his grandfather, Miguel Arraes, served three times as state governor, in addition to serving as mayor of Recife and as a member of the Brazilian parliament, despite a 15-year exile during Brazil’s military government of the 1960s and 1970s. Continue reading

Meet Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s likely next prime minister

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With his appointment by Iraq’s new president Fouad Massoum, Haider al-Abadi (حيدر العبادي‎) is almost certain to become Iraq’s next prime minister — even as two-term prime minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to attempt to stop Abadi’s selection by any means possible. iraq flag icon

So who is Abadi? And what does his selection mean for Iraq’s political future?

Like many leading figures in the Shiite opposition movement, Abadi spent much of the Saddam Hussein era in exile, in his case in London. In 2003, like so many other exiles, returned to Iraq when the US military eliminated Saddam’s Baathist regime.

From the outset, Abadi took a leading role in Iraq’s new government. An electronic engineer, Abadi served as communications minister in the Iraqi Governing Council that reigned between September 2003 and June 2003. Most recently, Abadi was elected deputy speaker of Iraq’s parliament last month in what’s been a four-month process to elect new national leaders, following the country’s April parliamentary elections.

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RELATED: Latest Iraqi parliamentary steps
indicate Maliki’s replacement

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Abadi’s appointment has the support of a majority of the Shiite bloc that Maliki once led, the State of Law Coalition (SLC, إئتلاف دولة القانون), and Abadi himself is a member of Maliki’s party, Islamic Dawa (حزب الدعوة الإسلامية‎), the leading force in the SLC. Up until his appointment replacing Maliki, Abadi was as a key Maliki ally, for example, siding with Maliki against Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a former prime minister and former Dawa leader who was kicked out the party in  2008 when he moved to establish a competing group.  Continue reading

Six important points from Clinton’s foreign policy interview

Hillary Clinton Speaks At USAID Launch Of U.S. Global Development

Over the weekend, US president Barack Obama gave a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. USflag

But it’s the interview that The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton that’s garnered much more attention. With Clinton leading polls for both the Democratic presidential nomination and general election in 2016, her interview was widely viewed as creating space between her own views on US foreign policy and those of the current president, who defeated her in 2008 for the Democratic nomination before appointing her as the top US diplomat in the first term of his presidential administration.

The most controversial comment seems to be Clinton’s criticism that the Obama administration’s mantra of ‘don’t do stupid shit‘ isn’t what Clinton calls an ‘organizing principle’ for the foreign policy of any country, let alone a country as important as the United States.

The headline in the The New York Times? ‘Attacking Obama policy, Hillary Clinton exposes different world views.’

Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post endeavored to explain ‘What Hillary Clinton was doing by slamming President Obama’s foreign policy.’

The Clinton ‘slam,’ though, is somewhat overrated. She admits in virtually the same breath that she believes Obama is thoughtful and incredibly smart, adding that ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is more of a political message than Obama’s worldview. For the record, Clinton claims that her own organizing principles are ‘peace, progress and prosperity,’ which might be even more maddeningly vague than ‘don’t do stupid stuff.’ After all, who’s against peace, progress or prosperity? Even if ‘don’t do stupid shit’ is political shorthand, and even if you don’t believe that the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been particularly successful, it’s political shorthand that  represents a sophisticated worldview about the respective strengths and limits of US foreign policy.

In any event, there’s an awful lot to unpack from the Clinton interview, both on the surface and from reading between the lines. You should read the whole thing, but in the meanwhile, here are six things that struck me from the interview about Clinton and what her presidential administration might mean for US foreign policy. Continue reading

Erdogan wins first-round presidential victory

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Ultimately, neither Gulenists nor Kemalists nor anyone else could stand in the way of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his quest to become Turkey’s first directly elected president. Turkey

But his victory in yesterday’s presidential election wasn’t exactly surprising — the only question was whether Erdoğan (pictured above) would win the presidency outright on August 10 or whether he would advance to a potential August 24 runoff against the second-place challenger, former diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu.

As it turns out, Erdoğan narrowly won in the first round with around 51.79% of the vote:

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Though the election’s outcome wasn’t really in doubt, Erdoğan’s future and the direction of Turkey’s political structure remain much cloudier. Vowing a ‘new era’ in his victory speech, Erdoğan’s  ambition to remain the most powerful figure in Turkish politics is hardly a secret, even though the presidency has been a ceremonial office since the 1961 constitution. That means his presidential victory now presents at least three difficult questions for which we won’t have answers anytime soon.

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RELATED: Can Erdoğan be stopped in
first direct Turkish presidential election?

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In light of Turkey’s role as a key fulcrum in international affairs, straddling the European Union to the west, with which it shares a custom union, and increasingly exerting its influence in the Middle East to the east, with mixed effect in Iraq, Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.  Continue reading

The country behind the hair: contemporary Cameroon

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As soon as she stepped off the airplane, she became the instant, unexpected hit of the White House’s summit of African leaders in Washington, D.C.cameroon

No, it’s not Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, who cancelled plans to visit Washington in the wake of the devastating Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Africa’s only other female head of state, Catherine Samba-Panza, who is struggling as interim president of the Central African Republic to pacify what’s now been a year of civil war, wasn’t even invited to the summit. (Under the African Union’s rules, no CAR leader was eligible to attend until the country holds new, democratic elections.)

Instead, it’s Chantal Biya, whose flamboyant hairstyle has grabbed headlines from New York to Los Angeles. The Washington Post‘s hard-hitting coverage noted when Chantal Biya ‘and her hair’ touched down in Washington, DC. It’s disappointing that the US media, given so many governance crises across sub-Saharan Africa, has emphasized style over substance during this week’s summit.

Chantal Biya’s husband, Paul Biya, has served as president of Cameroon, a west-central African country that shares a long border with Nigeria, since 1982 – the second year of the Reagan administration in the United States. His 32-year record isn’t exactly admirable. It’s a country that has a GDP per capita of less than $1,300, according to the International Monetary Fund, and it would be even less if not for oil production. For a first lady who confesses a weakness for Dior and Chanel, her husband presides over a country of nearly 22 million people where nearly 40% live at or below the poverty level.  Continue reading

How Tony Abbott killed Australia’s carbon trading scheme

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In the end, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott didn’t have to call a special, massive ‘double dissolution’ election to roll back Australia’s carbon pricing scheme, the signature policy accomplishment of the six-year Labor government that preceded him.australia new

All it took was some deft maneuvering to cobble together a working majority in the 76-member Senate, where Abbott’s Liberal/National Party holds 33 seats, just short of a majority.

Nevertheless, Abbott (pictured above) won a narrow 39 to 32 victory last month in the upper house of Australia’s parliament, on the strength of six additional non-Coalition votes to repeal the carbon trading market. Having been one of the first countries to adopt a carbon trading market, Australia on July 17 became the first country to repeal a carbon trading market.

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That included the support of a mercurial former mining magnate named Clive Palmer (pictured above), whose maverick conservative Palmer United Party (PUP) became the swing vote in determining whether Abbott’s repeal push would succeed or fail.

The Labor Party’s new leader, Bill Shorten, led an unsuccessful push in alliance with the Australian Green Party, to oppose the repeal. Labor holds 25 seats in the Senate, while the Greens hold another 10. 

Abbott’s resulting victory is primarily a triumphant tactical and policy victory for the Australian right, giving Abbott an easy talking point on reducing the price of electricity for the average Australian voter (though the real long-term impact of the repeal of a carbon scheme that had reduced emissions by less than 10 percent nationally is yet to be determined).

It’s also a narrative about the fragmentation of the country’s two-party system, as far as Australian senatorial elections go, with voters placing increasingly greater power in the hands of independent third-party candidates.

On the global scale, it marks a symbolic victory for opponents of similar climate change legislation worldwide, though the battle over carbon emissions was never going to be won or lost in Australia, a country of less than 23 million. Arguably, China’s decision in June, for the first time, to limit carbon emissions at the national level, will have a much wider impact on global climate change policy.

While British prime minister David Cameron continues to promote a progressive stand on climate change as an issue to pull his Conservative Party to the middle in the United Kingdom, there’s no indication that the UK is set to introduce any major climate change legislation on the scale of Australia’s experiment with carbon pricing beyond the EU’s own carbon trading scheme. Though there was a brief window in 2008 and 2009 when a carbon-based exchange system might have been enacted in the United States with bipartisan support, those days seem long gone. Nevertheless, the administration of US president Barack Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency, however, introduced executive actions this summer that aim to reduce US carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030.

Australia’s carbon scheme has its origins as one of the major promises of former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s widely successful 2007 campaign that brought the Labor Party back to government after more than a decade in opposition. It was, in part, Rudd’s decision to back away from climate change legislation that caused his Labor colleagues to dump him in 2010 in favor of then-deputy prime minister Julia Gillard.

After Gillard won a narrow reelection campaign of her own later that year, she enacted a comprehensive climate change bill in 2012, as well as a broader tax on mining profits (that hasn’t raised nearly as much revenue as expected). 

The problem, both in Australia and beyond, is that the global financial crisis of 2008-09 left many national electorates wary of climate change legislation that, almost overnight, suddenly seemed much too costly to introduce at a time when so many developed countries were struggling with the highest unemployment and lowest GDP growth in decades.

That made Abbott’s pledge to repeal what’s popularly become known in Australia as the ‘carbon tax’ one of the most popular aspects of his agenda, which won wide support the parliamentary elections last September that brought Abbott’s Coalition into government. His recent victory in winning Senate support to repeal the carbon scheme will almost certainly rank among the chief legislative successes of his first year as prime minister. Continue reading

Rousseff holds weak lead as reelection challenge looms in Brazil

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It’s still Lula’s Brazil. And it’s perhaps easier to think that Brazil’s October election is less a referendum on president Dilma Rousseff’s reelection, and more the challenge of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) to win a fourth term in the presidential palace at Planalto.brazil

If Rousseff, as polls currently predict, wins a second term, the Workers Party will have governed Brazil from 2003 until at least 2019 — nearly half of the period since the fall of Brazil’s last military regime in 1985.

But polls can be also misleading, and they can easily change over the course the next 65 days until Brazilians vote.

Just ask Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who watched a wide double-digit lead evaporate between March and May, when he narrowly lost the first round of Colombia’s presidential election to the more conservative candidate, former finance minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga. Though Santos ultimately defeated Zuluaga in the runoff two weeks later on June 14, it was an incredible scare for the incumbent — and it could have tanked the Colombian government’s historic peace accords with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The stakes of Brazil’s general election on October 5 (and runoff, if necessary, on October 26, in the presidential and gubernatorial elections) are no less vital. In addition to the presidency, Brazilian voters will elect all 513 members of the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), 54 of the 81 Brazilian senators, and the governors of all 26 states and the Distrito Federal.

Brazil remains the largest economy in Latin America, with promising offshore oil exploration, a rising middle class and a dynamic political marketplace. Just two decades ago, the country was rising out of military dictatorship, marked inequality, hyperinflation and economic misery. Rio de Janeiro, the country’s second-most populous city, is set to host the Summer Olympics in 2016, the first South American city to do so.

Nevertheless, Rousseff’s lead is every bit as precarious as Santos’s was in Colombia. In the October 2010 election, Rousseff was forced into a runoff by her more conservative rival José Serra, a former senator and former São Paulo mayor and governor. Though Rousseff ultimately defeated Serra in the second round by a margin of 56.05% to 43.95%, many Brazilians were surprised that Rousseff didn’t win the first-round election outright, as her predecessor, Lula  (pictured above with Rousseff), did in 2006.

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This time around, she’ll face Aécio Neves (pictured above), the candidate of Serra’s center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party). Continue reading

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