Remembering Gough Whitlam, Australia’s progressive martyr

whitlamPhoto credit to UPI/Bettman Newsphotos.

Gough Whitlam served as Australia’s prime minister for just three years, but the tumultuous Whitlam era gave the country its most severe constitutional crisis, a universal health care program,  diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China and a progressive statesman whose spirit continues to guide the Australian left today. Notably, his short-lived government was the only one headed by the center-left Australian Labor Party between 1949 and 1983.australia new

Whitlam, who died today at age 98, left office in 1975 after Australia’s governor-general, Sir John Kerr, controversially dismissed him as prime minister, transforming Whitlam into something of a martyr. Whitlam lived for nearly four decades to watch seven more prime ministers come and go, including the internecine battles between the two prime ministers from within his own Labor Party between 2007 and 2013, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Whitlam personified the hope of the new post-war generation when he came to power in 1972, the first center-left prime minister in over two decades. Despite the opposition of the newly dethroned center-right Coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country National Party, Whitlam introduced a whirlwind of legislation. He  created a national healthcare system, Medicare (initially ‘Medibank’), abolished student university fees, eliminated the federal death penalty, withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam and, most controversially at the time, recognized Beijing over  Taipei. Within Australia, Whitlam delivered to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory representation in the Australian parliament’s upper house, the Senate, fought for environmental protections for the Great Barrier Reef (including a ban on offshore oil drilling) and delivered greater control over tribal lands in the Northern Territory for Australia’s indigenous population.

He introduced Australian, rather than British, passports and he replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with an Australian national anthem. Decades later, he would team up with his former Liberal rivals to support an Australian republic in an unsuccessful 1999 referendum.

There’s no real direct analog to Whitlam in the United States, but you might think of him as Australia’s combination of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter — all in one person and packed into three very tumultuous and very active years in office.  Continue reading

Four things Dilma must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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Plagued by corruption scandals, a sinking Brazilian economy, protests from young voters who scorn politics as usual and howls from an investor class that has lost faith in her ability to govern effectively, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff could become the first president to lose reelection since the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985.brazil

In the first round of the Brazilian elections on October 5, she led the presidential vote against her center-right rival Aécio Neves by a margin of 41.59% to 33.55%, and she effectively vanquished former environmental minister Marina Silva, who emerged in late August as the chief threat to Rousseff’s reelection.

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RELATED: Five things Neves must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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Rousseff now faces a united opposition front — Silva earlier this week endorsed Neves, the candidate of the opposition Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party). Notably, Rousseff’s governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) lost 18 seats in the lower house of the Brazilian national congress.

Accordingly, Rousseff faces a tough fight against Neves, the popular former Minas Gerais governor, and polls show that she very narrowly trails Neves in the October 26 runoff.

As in any election, however, an incumbent like Rousseff has a strong case. Here are the four things she must do to maximize her bid for reelection and a fourth term for the PT. Continue reading

Five things Neves must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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Fresh off a surprising victory in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election, Aécio Neves suddenly seems like a man with a real chance at leading the first center-right administration in 12 years. brazil

As Brazilian voters focus on the campaign for the October 26 runoff, the second post-election Datafolha poll gives Neves, the former governor of Minas Gerais and the candidate of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), a slight lead of 45% to 43%.

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RELATED: Four things Dilma must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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It’s not the first time, however, that a poll has showed a challenger leading incumbent Dilma Rousseff, who is hoping to win a fourth consecutive term for her governing, center-left Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party). For much of the month and a half preceding the October 5 vote, Rousseff trailed Marina Silva, who unexpectedly finished in third place after vaunting to the top of polls, when she suddenly replaced Eduardo Campos, who died in an August 13 airplane crash. As the presidential candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), Silva hoped to thread a third way between the traditional left and right.

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RELATED: Five reasons why one-time frontrunner Silva tanked

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But a steady stream of negative advertising successfully beat back the Silva challenge, and Rousseff is now counting on the same machine to defeat Neves. Unlike in the first round, however, Neves will enjoy equal access to television airtime, so he’ll be on much more solid footing against Rousseff than Silva was.

Fresh off their first debate, however, Neves is still very much in the game. Here are the five things he needs to do between now and October 26 to become Brazil’s next president.

Continue reading

Mas cancels official Catalan independence vote

diadaPhoto credit to Diario de Navarra.

If you thought that the Scottish independence referendum was a  divisive matter, just wait another three weeks.Spain_Flag_Iconcatalonia

Even though Catalunya’s regional president Artur Mas officially cancelled a scheduled referendum on Catalan independence originally scheduled for November 9, diffusing a constitutional crisis with the national Spanish government, Mas announced that Catalans will instead have the option to participate in a non-binding ‘consultation.’

From referendum to ‘consultation’

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In substance, the informal ‘consultation’ isn’t incredibly different than the formal vote that Mas (pictured above) and the Catalan regional parliament initially scheduled, given that Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy denounced the vote and questioned the ability of Mas or a majority of the Catalan parliament to call a referendum legally. Spain’s constitutional court ruled the referendum unconstitutional at the end of September, and Mas originally declared that the vote would go forward.

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RELATED: In refusing Catalan vote,
Rajoy risks isolating himself and Spain’s future

RELATED: Can Felipe VI do for federalism what
Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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Mas’s admission this week that the vote will be informal and non-binding reduces many of the tensions with Madrid, though the original vote wasn’t entirely binding, either. But his announcement may dampen his credibility with pro-independence Catalans (critics took to Twitter to declare it was ‘game over’ for Mas) and force the third regional election in four years.

Nevertheless, the referendum will still ask Catalan voters the same two questions as before:

Do you want Catalonia to be a state?

If so, do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?

No matter what happened on November 9, no one believed that the issue of Catalan sovereignty would be definitively settled anytime soon.  Continue reading

Beware Putin’s southern European, soft-power front

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Russian president Vladimir Putin travel to Belgrade on Thursday with a warm welcome from Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić (pictured above, left, with Putin) with  parades and fanfare.Russia Flag Iconbulgaria flagSerbia_Flag_IconHungary Flag Icon

Even as a shaky ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian eastern separatists limps forward, US and European policymakers continue to keep a wary eye on the Baltic states and Ukraine. Just over a month ago in Tallinn, US president Barack Obama disabused Putin that NATO would flinch in its response to any Russian attack against any of the Baltic states.

Russian aggression may have nudged Latvian voters into reelecting a center-right government otherwise unpopular after a half-decade of economic malaise and budget austerity, and Russian relations are certain to play a vital role in Ukraine’s snap parliamentary elections in less than two weeks.

Nevertheless, Western strategists may be overlooking Putin’s ability to undermine both EU and NATO resolve through the Achilles’ heel of southeastern Europe by leveraging economic, political and cultural influence in Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia. While it’s hard to believe that Russia would assume the economic burdens of annexing large swaths of eastern Ukraine and even harder to believe that it would risk World War III by invading Russian-majority territory in Estonia, Russia could easily, quietly and gradually maximize its influence within southern Europe, a region that continues to suffer inordinately from the fallout of the global financial and eurozone debt crises.

Earlier this month, Bulgarian voters went to the polls for the second time in just 17 months. They elected a fragmented National Assembly, though the former pro-European, center-right prime minister Boyko Borissov is likely to return to power with a minority government. One of the first decisions he will have to make is whether to proceed with the South Stream natural gas pipeline, which would carry Russian energy through Bulgaria and to Austria, Hungary and elsewhere in southern Europe. The pipeline is one of the reasons, in fact, that the previous center-left coalition government fell earlier this summer. Continue reading

Three things you should know about Sweden’s new health minister

wikstromPhoto credit to Philip Mauritzson.

Stand aside, Sebastian Kurz.Sweden

The competition for top heartthrob among Europe’s national government ministers just got a lot tougher with the October 3 appointment of Gabriel Wikström, the 29-year-old minister for public health, health care and sports in Sweden’s new center-left government, whose dimpled smile, steely blue eyes and blond hair are sending Turks (and others) swooning on Twitter, and the young Social Democrat is quickly becoming a sensation far beyond Sweden’s borders:

The good-looking Wikström has become something of a sensation among Turkish teens since he was named as a minister in the new Swedish government headed by Prime Minister Stefan Loefven.

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So who is Wikström? Why has he been appointed a minister? And beyond his smile and boyish good looks, what are the policy issues that he’ll face as a minister?

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Here are three points that tell you everything you need to know about Sweden’s newest export. Continue reading

None of us knows anything about Kim Jong-un

It’s possible that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was temporarily removed from his position as the head of state of his country of 24.9 million during his 40-day absence from public view, which ended this week when North Korea’s news agency released photographs showing Kim on a ‘field guidance’ trip to a new residential complex. northkorea

It’s possible that Kim was never more than a figurehead, with the real power lying inside the secretive Organization and Guidance Department and with the North Korean military forces.

It’s possible that Kim is a figurehead, but his younger sister Kim Yo-jong is actually holding the true reigns of power. 

It’s possible, as Zachery Keck writes today in The Diplomat, that this entire saga shows that North Korea is becoming more transparent under Kim Jong-un.

It’s possible that Kim wasn’t actually responsible for the purge of his powerful uncle, Jang Sung-taek, last December, along with several other top-ranking officials close to the rule of his father, Kim Jong-il. Instead, Kim’s enemies may have effected Jang’s execution to send the young Kim a message about who really controls the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It’s  possible that under Xi Jinping, the People’s Republic of China is weary of making excuses for a regime that much of the rest of the world disregards, except as a potential nuclear nuisance to be contained and otherwise isolated. 

It’s possible that the overweight Kim really was suffering from health problems that caused him to walk with a limp before his disappearance. That explains why, perhaps, he reappeared in photos earlier today, after a 40-day absence, using a cane, and following rumors that he suffered from an ankle injury and/or from gout.

It’s possible that the photos released aren’t even from yesterday, but recycled from a previous event or doctored.

In the depths of Kim’s disappearance, it was even possible that North Korea’s military leadership has staged a coup, and the high-profile trip by Hwang Pyong-so to Incheon for the Asian Games last week was the first step in what could be the process of reunification with South Korea. If and when South Korean reunification comes, it may come suddenly and unexpectedly.

But no one knows for sure what Kim’s absence signifies — and you shouldn’t trust anyone who says that they do know, because North Korea politics are still so incredibly opaque to the outside world. Continue reading

Bolivia election results: Morales wins landslide, but obstacles lurk

evowinsPhoto credit to Aizar Raldes/AFP.

It wasn’t unexpected, but Evo Morales has extended his rule to a third consecutive term after Sunday’s general elections in Bolivia, where exit polls show that Morales leads his nearest rival, Samuel Doria Medina, by a margin of around 60% to 24%, easily avoiding a runoff and propelling him into position to become Bolivia’s longest-serving leader. bolivia

Although Morales himself introduced a two-term limitation in a new constitution promulgated by popular referendum in 2009, he argued that because he was elected to his first term in 2005 under the old Bolivian constitution, his 2009 reelection was his first ‘term’ under the new constitution, paving the way for Sunday’s reelection bid.

Unless the Bolivian Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional (Plurinational Legislative Assembly) votes to overturn those term limits, however, Morales will now become a lame-duck president, whose final term will end in 2019.

Though the final results of Bolivia’s parliamentary elections are not yet available, it was also expected that Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement for Socialism) would retain its control over both houses of the national assembly.

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RELATED: Morales set to cruise to easy reelection in Bolivia

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Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, won reelection for many reasons, including his faithful support among Bolivia’s majority indigenous population. Bolivia’s economy is roaring, thanks to a commodity boom and high demand (and high prices) for Bolivian natural gas in neighboring Argentina and Brazil. Though Morales came to office as a firebrand disciple of the late socialist Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, he has taken a more nuanced approach to economic policy than chavismo might otherwise indicate. Though Morales has nationalized many of Bolivian’s industries, including major gas, mining and telecommunications interests, even orthodox economic policymakers admit that the Morales government has done a good job of managing state assets. Morales has reduced Bolivian public debt, and he has used the proceeds of the Bolivian commodities bonanza to finance programs that have sharply reduced poverty in South America’s poorest country. Continue reading

Three interesting facts about Pakistan’s inspiring, young Nobel laureate

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Malala Yousafzai became the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize early Friday morning when the 17-year-old won the award, along with India’s Kailash Satyarthi, a longtime children’s rights activist, ‘for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.’nobel-peace-prizePakistan Flag Icon

Malala’s story is well-known, largely due to the speculation that she would win the Nobel Prize last year, when the Nobel Committee instead awarded it to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for its work in eliminating chemical weapons from war-torn Syria.

A prolific writer as a teenager about life in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, she was on her way to school in Swat when a Taliban fundamentalist shot her in the head. She recovered, however, with ample treatment in both Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Following her recovery, as her story became widely known, she used her global platform to advocate for global education for all children, including women.

But beneath the headline, Yousafzai’s story intersects in odd and sometimes very complex ways with the currents of South Asian and Pakistani politics, including widespread anti-American sentiment, tumultuous disputes among Pakistan’s government, opposition and military, and a culture that still undermines women’s rights.

Here are just three instances that show how fraught the intersection of the global fight for women’s rights and access to education, Pakistan’s volatile political scene, and US security interests.
Continue reading

Bosnia set for elections at all levels of government

mostarPhoto credit to Brittany Ann of brittlichty.blogspot.com. Mostar in 2011.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s election system might not be the world’s most complex, but it vies with highly fragmented countries like Belgium and Lebanon for the honor.federationsrpska
Bosnia-Herzegovina

The difference is that Belgium is a wealthy country, and Lebanon, believe it or not, has an economy more than twice as large as the Bosnian economy ($45 billion versus around $17.5 billion) and a much higher GDP per capita ($10,000 versus around $4,600).

The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina quite literally cannot afford its system of government, which was always designed as a temporary structure as part of the Dayton accords that ended its civil war in 1995. More than two decades later, the country is staggering behind even its relatively poor Balkan neighbors, with a ridiculously high unemployment rate of 43.8%. Only Albania and   war-forged Kosovo, which hasn’t even achieved universal recognition as a sovereign state, have lower standards of living.

Slovenia has been a member of the European Union for a decade and a eurozone member for five years, while Croatia gained EU membership last July. Serbia and Montenegro are in negotiations for EU accession, and Albania and Macedonia are at least official candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina joins Kosovo (and Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia) as a merely potential candidate.

Bosnia’s not a hopeless cause. The Bosnian metal industry was the pride of the former Yugoslav republic, and its capital, Sarajevo, hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. The country’s beauty, with the right infrastructure, could also yield greater tourism interest. Travelers shunning the well-worn path of tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik and Split (not to mention overcrowded Adriatic beaches) could turn to the Sarajevo’s nightlife or to untrammeled mountains and rivers.

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RELATED: Bosnia-Herzegovina census highlights tripartite fractures and constitutional problems

RELATED: Will Bosnian protests be the
final straw for the Dayton accords?

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The paralysis of Bosnian government should be apparent in the daunting series of elections that the country will endure on October 12.

Its national government is fragmented into a tripartite system, whereby each of the country’s three dominant ethnic groups each choose a president. Though it’s mostly ceremonial, the presidency ‘rotates’ every eight months. It’s important insofar as it elects to chair of the Council of Ministers, the day-to-day executive body of the country.

But it’s even more complex in the Bosnian context, because the two major subnational ‘entities’ of the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (populated chiefly by Bosniaks and Croats) and the Republika Srpska (populated chiefly by Serbs) each has its own president and parliament. Furthermore, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is further subdivided into 10 cantons, each of which will elect separate assemblies.

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Each of the three ethnic groups has its own political parties that appeal to ethnic constituencies, in the same way that Flemish regional voters choose from among Flemish parties, not Belgian ones, or that Lebanese Maronite Christians or Sunni Muslims choose from among competing Maronite and Sunni factions.

In all three countries, that means that a truly national politics can never really emerge, and no truly national leaders can direct a coherent vision for economic, political and social policy.

Continue reading

Morales set to cruise to easy reelection in Bolivia

evobikerPhoto credit to Xinhua / Reynaldo Zaconeta / ABI.

Though the late Hugo Chávez has been dead for over a year, the progeny of his democratic socialist movement elsewhere in Latin America are thriving — in part by playing much smarter regional politics than Chávez ever did.bolivia

Even as Chávez’s heirs in Venezuela struggle to control a growing economic and governance crisis, the other children of chavismo, including Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and Bolivian president Evo Morales, may be showing how to marry socialist ideology to a more sustainable co-existence with global markets.

All three leaders, including Morales, tweaked investors by nationalizing industries and, in the case of Morales, railing against the international patchwork of neoliberal institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

As with Correa and Chávez, Morales came to power with a relatively anti-US disposition, and one of the first things that Morales, a former coca farmer, did upon taking office was to kick US drug enforcement agents out of the country. His steps have de-escalated the militarization and violence involved with US-led efforts to eradicate drug production in Latin America, and have likely emboldened the calls of other regional leaders to call for a new approach to illicit drugs, including legalization.

But if Morales has nationalized industries like a Venezuelan socialist, he’s run them like a Norwegian state manager.

That’s one of the chief reasons that Morales (pictured above), the country’s first indigenous leader, is such a favorite to win reelection to a third term as Bolivia’s president in general elections on October 12. Bolivians will also vote to elect the members of both houses of its Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional (Plurinational Legislative Assembly).

Continue reading

ECB’s Draghi on raising inflation in Europe: ‘We will do exactly that.’

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Italy’s Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, joined Stanley Fischer, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, in an hour-long program at the Brookings Institution earlier today.European_Union

Draghi addressed at length both the ECB’s steps to confront deflation and the need for EU countries to enact bolder economic reforms in his remarks and in his discussion with Fischer, the former president of Israel’s central bank and a former professor at the University of Chicago who once taught Draghi.

Deflation as Europe’s chief economic threat

DSC00853Draghi stressed that he understands the biggest risk to European Union’s economic recovery is deflation. He noted that the ECB is transitioning from a more passive approach to a much more active ‘QE-style’ approach to the bank’s balance sheet — in part by moving last month to purchase private-sector bonds and asset-backed securities. Even if Draghi’s efforts still fall short of the kind of quantitative easing (e.g., outright asset purchases) that the Federal Reserve introduced to US monetary policy five years ago, Draghi committed himself to lifting the eurozone’s inflation from ‘its excessively low level':

We will do exactly that.

It’s not exactly ‘whatever it takes,’ but it’s a sign that Draghi realizes the dangers that deflation presents, with the eurozone inflation rate falling to just 0.3%, the lowest level since the height of the eurozone’s existential sovereign debt crisis:

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Draghi has been one of the leading voices for a more active ECB approach to boosting inflation to 2% within the next two years, though Germany’s powerful central bank, the Bundesbank, and its president Jens Weidmann (also a member of the ECB’s 24-person governing council), remains skeptical of full-throated quantitative easing.  Continue reading

As Sirleaf pushes for more power, could Ebola victimize Liberian democracy?

Photo credit to Yazzer al-Zayyat / Getty Images.

If there’s a silver lining to the current Ebola epidemic sweeping through Liberia and Sierra Leone, it’s that it’s happening in 2014 and not in 2000, when the two countries were embroiled in devastating civil wars, complete with civilian deaths and the use of child soldiers.liberia

But since March, when the Ebola virus first traveled from Guinea to northwestern Liberia and especially since June, when the first Ebola cases arrived in the capital city of Monrovia, Liberia has increasingly been stuck in the kind of siege mentality that residents though they’d left behind with the end of the civil war in 2002.

Many of Liberia’s nearly 4.1 million residents have been subject to a nighttime curfew from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. Liberian children are no longer attending school, business and hospitals are not functioning at capacity, and mass transit is reduced to a trickle. Some reports add that robberies are on the rise, in part because of the curfew.

Out of over 8,000 reported cases of Ebola infection (as of October 5), just over 3,900 come from Liberia, which has also reported 2,210 of 3,866 total reported deaths from Ebola. Those numbers don’t include many unreported cases of Ebola infection, and the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that the number of reported cases in both Liberia and Sierra Leone could reach 550,000 by January (or up to 1.4 million, including underreported cases).

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RELATED: West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is as much
a crisis of governance as health

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The only person to inadvertently enter the United States with Ebola (so far) was  a Liberia — 42-year-old Thomas Eric Duncan, who died in a Dallas hospital on Wednesday morning after flying to Texas from Monrovia late last month. Liberia will be the chief battleground for a US military force of up to 4,000 troops, who will attempt to ameliorate some of the bottlenecks in getting food and medical supplies to health care workers throughout the country.

monrovia2014Photo credit to Pascal Guyot / AFP.

The socioeconomic costs of the Ebola epidemic are, unsurprisingly, rising sharply. The World Bank yesterday reported that the impact to Liberia’s economy in 2014 could amount to $66 million (3.4% of GDP) and between $113 million and $234 million (5.8% to 12%) in 2015. Liberia imports much of its food, and prices for food are rising higher as fewer shipments are delivered to ports as Ebola infections increase. With a GDP per capita of between $450 and $475, Liberians hardly have a margin for much higher prices.

In the meanwhile, with many hospitals closed, due to lack of equipment to handle potential Ebola victims, or simply due to fear, everyday illnesses common to the region are being left untreated, including everything from routine pregnancies to malaria, which manifests similar symptoms to Ebola and which peaks in September and October.

That’s led to increasing efforts by Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to assert control over a country that’s had a functional government for less than a decade. She declared a national emergency in August, and earlier this week, she called for constitutional revisions that would give the Liberian executive vastly greater powers: Continue reading

Top Netanyahu rival within Likud leaves politics… for now

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When Gideon Sa’ar, Israel’s interior minister, and a leading figure in the governing center-right Likud (הַלִּכּוּד), announced his sudden resignation on September 17, it set the tongues of Israeli pundits wagging.ISrel Flag Icon

Why would one of the most ambitious Likudniks leave government at a time when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politically unpopularity seems to be growing? Especially as one of the leading contenders to succeed Netanyahu as Likud’s leader.

A sex scandal was imminent, some said.

No, Sa’ar would be forming a new party with former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, others said. (Though it wasn’t the reasons for Sa’ar’s resignation, it’s not an impossibility in the future.)

But if you take Sa’ar (pictured above, left, with Netanyahu) at his word, he simply wanted to take a breather from politics and spend more time with his child David, who was born just nine months ago. He’s also admitted that a growing rift with Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, contributed to his decision to step back from the daily grind. Continue reading

Bulgaria election results: Borissov returns to power after 1.5-year break

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Pity poor Bulgaria. It has the lowest GDP per capita of the entire European Union (around $7,300). It has lost over 19% of its population from its 1988 peak. It is now struggling through the latest European financial crisis with a series of revolving governments, low economic growth and an unemployment rate that today is still over 11%.bulgaria flag

So when Bulgarians voted on Sunday to elect yet another government, they did do so with the same kind of ennui that’s marked so many of the country’s recent, frequent elections and a sense of hopelessness as the country’s youngest, brightest minds look to Germany, London and elsewhere for work.

Boyko Borissov (pictured above), a former center-right prime minister between 2009 and May 2013, is set to return to the office he once held, following a technocratic, center-left government headed by former finance minister Plamen Oresharski that fell in August. Bulgaria has since been governed by another caretaker, Georgi Bliznashki, who warned that Bulgaria’s next government needs to be strong enough to carry through major reforms to pull the country out of its ‘post-communist swamp.’

Borissov is the leader of the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB, Граждани за европейско развитие на България), and his main opponent is the Coalition for Bulgaria (Коалиция за България), which is essentially a wider version of the center-left. Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP, Българска социалистическа партия).

The Bulgarian Socialists won enough seats in the last election in May  to form a governing coalition with the  Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, Движение за права и свободи), a liberal party that represents ethnic Turks and other Muslims.

Among the mounting problems that the government faced was the collapse of Bulgaria’s fourth-largest bank earlier this summer, Corporate Commercial Bank, which froze the accounts of 200,000 Bulgarians. Protests against the government last year failed to result in any substantive change.

This time around, however, they fell far lower, as GERB seemed headed to a clear victory. With just over 42% of the vote counted early Monday morning, GERB led by a margin of over two-to-one:

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Bulgarians voted Sunday to elect all 240 members of the unicameral National Assembly (Народно събрание), and early results indicated that four new groups would enter the parliament, doubling  the number of parties from four to eight.

In fourth place, however, is a potential coalition partner for GERB, the Reformist Bloc (Реформаторски блок), formed in December 2013 as a liberal electoral bloc that, like GERB, lies on the center-right, that won attention in May’s European parliamentary elections when it won one of Bulgaria’s seats. Together, GERB and the Reformist bloc will hold nearly 45% of the seats in the National Assembly, depending on whether another small group, the Alternative for Bulgarian Development, remains above the 4% threshold needed for winning seats.

That means that Bulgaria’s next government is unlikely to be strong enough to effect the kind of massive reforms that could transform policy on a scale sufficient to stop the country’s economic, cultural and demographic hemorrhaging.  Continue reading

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN