Jokowi takes office in Indonesia as cabinet choices await

widodo-indonesia

With the inauguration of former Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) as its new president on Monday, Indonesia took a bold step to enshrine a meritocratic democracy, 16 years after the autocratic Suharto regime fell under the strain of the Asian currency crisis. Indonesia Flag

It represents, after all, the first transition of power between two democratically elected presidents.

Whether Jokowi will succeed as president, however, is yet to be determined. Even though his election was surprisingly harder than expected, bringing material improvements to Indonesia’s infrastructure and social welfare may prove even more difficult. That’s in addition to defending and deepening Indonesia’s nascent democratic traditions and boosting an economy that, while still strong, is showing signs of cooling.

* * * * *

RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

* * * * *

Jokowi’s cabinet… TBD

He must finalize the appointments to his cabinet and demonstrate that his administration will be his own. That means he will have to show, through his cabinet, that he can stand up former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the powerful leader of his party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), as well as his vice president, Jusuf Kalla, a former leader of Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups) and previously vice president from 2004 to 2009.

Intriguingly, the delay in the announcement derives from Jokowi’s determination to vet his cabinet picks through Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission. That could be a gentle way of respecting his allies by appointing old-guard figures close to Megawati and Kalla on the initial list without ultimately naming them ministers. It’s a canny approach, and it may result in a widely technocratic government without the taint of backroom Indonesian corruption or ties to autocratic Suharto-era controversies.

A robust Prabowo-led opposition

But once Jokowi names his cabinet, he’ll still face a united opposition in the Indonesian legislature, where the feisty ‘Red-White coalition’ controls more than 60% of the seats in the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR, People’s Representative Council), the lower house of the Indonesian legislature, after April’s legislative elections. The Red-White Coalition is, for now, in no mood for conciliatory gestures, and its most strident members are already indicating that it will mount a strong opposition to Jokowi.

The most prolific member of the opposition forces is Prabowo Subianto, the former Suharto-era general (and former Suharto son-in-law) who very nearly defeated Jokowi in the July presidential election. The leader of the nationalist Gerindra (Partai Gerakan Indonesia Raya, the Great Indonesia Movement Party), Prabowo narrowed a wide gap with Jokowi over the summer by espousing popular protectionist ideas and projecting himself as a strongman. Despite Jokowi’s humble roots — a first for an Indonesian leader — cosmopolitan voters increasingly warmed to the aristocratic Prabowo, despite concerns over his spotty human rights record during his military career.

The opposition also includes Golkar (for now), which has been part of government for the past decade under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (widely known by his initials, ‘SBY’), and most of Indonesia’s various Islamist parties, which often forced Jokowi’s predecessor to take a softer line on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism across Indonesia in the past decade.

Most immediately, the coalition passed a law revoking the right for democratic elections for local mayors and governors. Though SBY effectively revoked the law temporarily, Prabowo and his allies, many of whom have voiced doubts about direct elections at the national level as well, may try to reintroduce the bill.

Jokowi has also indicated that he will reduce fuel subsidies that consume around 20% of the public budget. As the global price of oil continues to drop, however, it’s far from certain that the Prabowo-led opposition will deliver the votes (at least without significant concessions) that would inflict at least an initial shock on many of their supporters.

Golkar leadership battle could be a gamechanger

Notwithstanding the bleak outlook for Jokowi’s reform agenda, there’s a potential game-changer on the horizon.

That’s because Golkar, which ultimately backed Prabowo in the presidential election (despite Kalla’s joining Jokowi’s ticket), remains splintered. Its current leader Aburizal Bakrie will face a leadership election that he could easily lose. Aburizal’s initial 2014 presidential hopes crumbled under the charisma of both Prabowo and Jokowi, and Aburizal himself remains politically unpopular due to a scandal involving one of his business’s roles in deadly mudslides.

That leadership election, which is supposed to occur next April but could be moved forward, will almost certainly be a proxy battle between Aburizal and Kalla (who isn’t expected to contest the leadership himself). If Aburizal or former industry minister M.S. Hidayat win, Golkar will likely remain in opposition.

agung

But if another leadership frontrunner, former welfare minister and Kalla ally Agung Laksono (pictured above) wins, Golkar could leave Prabowo’s Red-White coalition and join Jokowi’s government instead.

Right now, Jokowi’s coalition holds 247 seats in the 560-member DPR. But if Golkar delivers its 91 seats to Jokowi, the new president would suddenly control a hefty majority. Golkar, which controlled the country during Suharto’s three-decade reign, is a party of entrenched interests, but it’s far more pro-business than Prabowo and Gerindra, and its switch from opposition to government would vastly improve the outlook for significant reform.

There’s almost nothing that would change the trajectory of Jokowi’s administration more than a friendly Golkar leadership change.

Accordingly, it will be worth examining the ultimate cabinet members for signs that they have ties to leading Golkar figures, especially those close to Kalla. If so, it could easily presage Golkar’s eventual turn into government.

What makes Canada (and Ottawa) great is its open society

DSC09696

A policeman flagged me down when I was poking around Canada’s parliament earlier this year in Ottawa. I’m sure that I looked somewhat suspicious peering into old windows, after a tour spent nosing into closed-off corridors, trying to catch just the right angle to snap a photo of the official portraits of Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and other prime ministers. Canada Flag Icon

The officer, however, didn’t yell at me or scold me. He didn’t say that the parliament was off limits. Instead, he gave me a Canada flag pin and welcomed me to his country, and said he was glad that I was visiting Ottawa.

It’s a moment that captured perfectly one of the real differences between American and Canadian culture — and not just politically. It also made me realize how instinctively I wince when I see any security officer of any kind, living for more than a decade in post-2001 New York and Washington.

That difference in tone is one of the many, real differences between American and Canadian culture.

What’s most tragic, from a long-term policy perspective, about today’s horrible shooting on Parliament Hill is that Canada might one day feel the kind of anti-terror paranoia that has led so many US politicians of both major parties to leap overboard when it comes to security theater and willingly shred and abuse civil and political rights (including the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure) all in the name of ‘protecting the homeland.’ Canada’s immigration policies and its open society have made it, in many ways, a more welcoming destination for the rest of the world outside North America. Half of Toronto’s residents, for example, are foreign-born.

No one knows the reasons for today’s awful attack, and US-based pundits will find a way to turn it into another exhibit for their pet causes.

Today’s attack already ended the life of a Canadian soldier, Nathan Frank Cirillo. It would be even sadder if it reduced the open, decent and welcoming culture with which Canada has become synonymous.

Gary Hart deserved better than the dregs of NI peace

GaryHartPhoto credit to Getty Images.

US secretary of state John Kerry appointed former Colorado senator and one-time presidential candidate Gary Hart as the latest US envoy to Northern Ireland’s five-party peace talks earlier today.USflagnorthernirelandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Nearly two decades after former US senator George Mitchell concluded the Good Friday Agreement, bringing a tenuous peace between republican Catholics and unionist Protestants across Northern Ireland, Hart’s role will not amount to midwifing a landmark peace deal — it will be ensuring its continued implementation:

Fresh negotiations involving the five parties in the power-sharing mandatory coalition convened by the UK Government commenced last Thursday and are due to resume tomorrow.

As well as the long-unresolved peace process disputes on flags, parades and the legacy of the past, over the coming weeks politicians will also attempt to reach consensus on rows over the implementation of welfare reforms in the region and on the very structures of the devolved Assembly.

Northern Ireland is thriving today, amid a growing economy in the long-troubled capital of Belfast. Peace has brought with it a rising standard of living. But, as was on full display upon the death of former Northern Irish first minister Ian Paisley last month, long-simmering tensions still exist. It’s possible, though far from probable, that the kind of widescale violence of the ‘Troubles’ will return to Northern Ireland anytime soon.

* * * * *

RELATED: No eulogies for Paisleyism

* * * * *

It’s great to see Hart — at long last — providing useful service to his country. But US envoys to Northern Ireland today are all destined to be cast as relief pitchers in comparison to Mitchell’s role in shepherding the historic 1998 accords.

For someone who was, to a person, the most prescient voice on homeland security and the threat of terrorism in 1990s, his high-profile turn as a US envoy represents a bittersweet return to public life. Hart’s second act should have started long before age 77. Continue reading

Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana

modi

Voters in two of India’s largest states elected regional assemblies last week on October 15 — in Maharashtra and Haryana.India Flag Icon

In both cases, the conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) will take power of state government for the first time in Indian history in what was the first major electoral test for prime minister Narendra Modi (pictured above), who swept to power nationally in May after promising to bring a new wave of economic prosperity, reform and good governance to India.

In Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state, with over 112 million people, and home to Mumbai, India’s sprawling financial and cultural center, the BJP won a plurality of the vote and the largest number of seats in the 288-member regional assembly, where it will form a coalition government with either its longtime ally, the far-right, Marathi nationalist Shiv Sena (शिवसेना) or a more intriguing option, the center-left Nationalist Congress Party (NCP, राष्ट्रवादी कॉँग्रस पक्ष), which unexpectedly offered to support a BJP government shortly after the results were announced on October 19:

mahrastra october 14maha 2014

In Haryana, a state with just 25.4 million people, which forms much of the hinterland of New Delhi, the BJP won an outright majority of seats in the 90-member legislative assembly:

haryana state 2014 haryana assembly

There are at least four narratives about what happened in these two absolutely pivotal state elections, the first since India’s national election cycle in April and May. Keep in mind that, together, the two states have a population of 137 million, larger than Japan.

The first narrative confirms the BJP’s political dominance in the honeymoon period of the Modi era. The second narrative is its direct analog, the post-independence nadir of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the chief opposition party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस).

The third narrative, with almost as much national importance as the first two, is the rift between the BJP and its longtime ally, Shiv Sena, and the possibility that Shiv Sena will be shut out of the next Maharashtra government.

The fourth and final narrative has to do with India’s third parties, especially as the election relates to the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party), which didn’t even bother contesting the Haryana elections and may soon lose its one-time grip on Delhi’s government. Continue reading

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

dilma

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.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

aecioascendant

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%.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

RELATED: Five reasons why one-time frontrunner Silva tanked

* * * * *

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’

arturmasbrink

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.

* * * * *

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?

* * * * *

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

vucicputin

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.

wikstrom5

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?

wikstrom 3

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.

* * * * *

RELATED: Morales set to cruise to easy reelection in Bolivia

* * * * *

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

malala

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.

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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.

bosnia

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

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN