Libertarians nominate party’s 1st viable presidential ticket in US history

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson looks on during National Convention held at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Florida, May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski - RTX2EQ7N
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson looks on during National Convention held at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Florida, May 29, 2016. (Reuters / Kevin Kolczynski)

Will it be ‘groovy Gary’ or ‘goofy Gary’?USflag

With over five months to go in what’s already become a nasty presidential election, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hasn’t shied away from abusing his competitors, often giving them pejorative nicknames on Twitter <LINK> and everywhere else on the campaign trail. Amused Americans might wonder whether Trump will welcome the Libertarian Party’s freshly minted 2016 presidential nominee, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, to the campaign with a similarly dismissive nickname as his other competitors — ‘low-energy’ Jeb Bush, ‘little’ Marco Rubio, ‘lyin” Ted Cruz and, most recently, ‘crooked’ Hillary Clinton.

The Libertarian Party nominated Johnson for a second consecutive time Sunday night at its national convention in Orlando, on a holiday weekend when most Americans were more concerned with summertime diversions than politics. But with Johnson leading the ticket, and with Libertarians, however reluctantly, nominating Johnson’s preferred running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, as its vice presidential candidate, the party has for the first time since its inception in 1972, nominated a viable presidential ticket.

A ‘Never Trump, Never Clinton’ option in all 50 states

No one disputes that it will be an uphill fight, though the Libertarian Party will likely be the only third party to make the presidential ballot in all 50 states. But, at least on paper, the Libertarian ticket looks formidable. Johnson is enough of an ‘outsider’ to harness the same kind of energy as Trump and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side of the race. For now, the Libertarian ticket is the only one with experience in executive government (not counting, of course, Clinton’s eight years in the East Wing as first lady).

Republican-leaning voters who believe Trump lacks the maturity, temperament, tone or experience for the Oval Office will be cheered by the shared ideological values with Libertarians, such as fiscal restraint and limited government. Democratic-leaning voters who mistrust Clinton will prefer the traditional Libertarian social liberalism on many cultural issues, such as abortion, LGBT marriage and drug decriminalization. Sanders supporters, in particular, who credibly hope that Sanders can defeat Clinton in the June 7 Democratic primary in California and who less credibly hope that Sanders can wrest the nomination from Clinton at July’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, will find in Johnson a kindred spirit. Johnson would be smart to target Millennial voters who overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and who even more overwhelmingly back Sanders against Clinton.

The ticket includes two proven vote-winners who, in aggregate, won four gubernatorial elections in the 1990s and the 2000s as ‘small-l’ libertarian Republicans in Democratic-leaning states. Even before his formal nomination and his decision to name Weld as a running mate, some polls were already showing that Johnson could win up to 10% of the vote in November. The most important polling threshold, however, is 15%, which would entitle Johnson and Weld to participate in the formal series of presidential and vice-presidential debates later this autumn that millions of American voters will watch. That, alone, would be an impressive achievement for the Libertarian Party.

Red governors in blue and purple states

Johnson, who briefly ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination before winning the Libertarian nomination in the same election cycle, served as the governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, coming to politics after a successful business career in construction. As governor, Johnson widely used veto powers to limit state spending and pushed for both marijuana decriminalization and education reform to introduce greater choice and competition among schools.

Johnson can point to his experience spent eight years governing a state with the most proportionally Latino/Hispanic population in the United States (47% as of the 2010 census). In 2016, Latino voters are expected to be crucial in determining the next president. It’s a group of voters than has grown from just 7.7 million in 1988 to 23.3 million in 2012 (and a projected 27.3 million in 2016). Johnson, an avid outdoorsman, Ironman enthusiast and mountain climber who has scaled Mt. Everest, can nevertheless be awkward and a bit wooden on the stump. But he radiates sincerity, and in a race against Trump and Clinton, neither of whom voters seem to like or to trust, his lack of bombast or glib soundbites could appeal broadly, especially among authenticity-craving Millennials.   Continue reading Libertarians nominate party’s 1st viable presidential ticket in US history

Netanyahu bolsters governing coalition at cost of alienating Ya’alon

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Israel’s now-former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon speaks with US secretary of defense Ashton Carter in Washington. (Facebook)

Continue reading Netanyahu bolsters governing coalition at cost of alienating Ya’alon

Austrian center wins a hollow presidential victory

Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeated the far right in Austria's presidential election, but it might ultimately be a Phyrric victory. (Amélie Chapalain / Facebook)
Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeated the far right in Austria’s presidential election, but it might ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory. (Amélie Chapalain / Facebook)

It took the counting of around 750,000 postal votes on Monday to settle what had been a too-close-to-call runoff to determine who would win Austria’s (mostly ceremonial) presidency.austria flag

The winner, by a very narrow margin, is Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old professor and, nominally an independent, though formerly a parliamentary leader of the Die Grünen (Austrian Green Party), and you could almost hear the palpable sigh of relief from across the European Union as far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer conceded defeat.

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But it’s a hollow relief.

The result means that Austria’s hard right will not occupy the presidency and, therefore, will not be able to attempt to terminate the current government or try to wrest greater powers from Austria’s parliament. But given the tumult of the past month in Austrian politics, the hard right has clearly been emboldened by the presidential race, and it will now look to the next parliamentary elections to take real power.

The first-round, double-digit victory of Norbert Hofer, the 45-year-old candidate of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria), stunned not only Austria, but all of Europe. It represents the closest than any far-right party has come to winning power at the national level in the European Union since the 1930s.

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RELATED: Far-right victory in Austrian presidential vote shocks Europe

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Its success shouldn’t have been surprising. The Freedom Party has increasingly gained on the country’s mainstream parties, and it nearly toppled state governments in regional elections last autumn.

Despite its defeat, the FPÖ has been able not only to undermine a sitting chancellor, but to force his resignation. After social democratic chancellor Werner Faymann initially welcomed refugees to Austria last summer, he abruptly reversed course under pressure from the Freedom Party and angry voters, instead co-opting the rhetoric and the policies of the far right, complete with border fences and anti-immigration crackdowns.

But the candidate of Faymann’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) finished in fourth place, and shortly after the first-round vote, the Social Democrats essentially forced Faymann to resign, bringing to an end an eight-year tenure leading a grand coalition government with the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party). For its part, the ÖVP presidential candidate placed an even more disappointing fifth.

Faymann, to his credit, ably led Austria through the 2008-09 global financial panic and the 2010 eurozone crisis, and Austria and its banking system, moreover, helped stave off a broader crisis in central Europe and the Balkans. Instead of leaving office, having made the noble case for welcoming refugees, he left power earlier this month after capitulating to the hard right. Continue reading Austrian center wins a hollow presidential victory

Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India's spring election season. (Facebook)
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India’s spring election season. (Facebook)

For the better part of a week, exit polls showed that Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa, both beloved and scandal-plagued, was in trouble of being rejected by voters. India Flag Icon

But when election officials announced the results Thursday for the May 16 state elections, her governing AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) instead won a resounding victory. It proved the staying power of one of India’s most enchanting regional leaders, despite her temporary, nine-month suspension as chief minister that followed a 2014 a conviction on corruption charges, and despite disastrous flooding late in 2015 that affected the Tamil capital of Chennai and that killed over 400 people throughout the state.

None of those problems seemed to matter to Tamil voters, who returned the AIADMK to power, five years after Jayalalithaa returned to power at the state level and two years after she nearly routed both regional and national parties in India’s parliamentary elections.

Despite the pollsters’ last-minute spook in Tamil Nadu, none of the results announced Thursday in spring elections across five states offered much of a surprise. But the voting, across five states, from India’s northern border with China down to its most southern tip, which incorporated, in aggregate, a population of over 225 million Indians, was as close to a ‘midterm’ vote as prime minister Narendra Modi will get.

Regional parties are stronger than ever

Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)

In the spring’s two biggest prizes — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — voters delivered resounding victories to regional leaders like Jayalalithaa and West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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RELATED: Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

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The resilience of regional parties, often more tied to personality or class patronage than to a set of policies or rigid ideology, shouldn’t have been a surprise. Following the spring voting, 15 Indian states are now governed by chief ministers from regional or left-wing third parties. Last year, Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) suffered humiliating setbacks both in Delhi and in Bihar, the former to clean-government guru Arvind Kejriwal in the latter to a regional party alliance headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of a handful of politicians in the country with a better record on economic growth and development than Modi himself. Continue reading Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, hopes to win reelection in state elections that run through May 5. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, hopes to win reelection in state elections that ran through May 5. (Facebook)

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi can breathe a sigh of relief about this spring’s state elections: in none of the three biggest prizes (Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) is his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) a local presence.India Flag Icon

That means, if nothing else, Modi and his allies will not be blamed for yet another state-level electoral setback of the kinds that his party suffered in Delhi and in Bihar last year (though elections in Assam are expected to be fiercely contested by the BJP).

Since mid-April, elections have been underway in five states, the results of which will be announced Thursday, though exit polls are already giving Indians an idea of who might triumph.

In West Bengal, the biggest state-level prize of India’s spring elections, a popular chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, is attempting to hold onto power just five years after ending 34 consecutive years of communist rule. Voting took place in six phases between April 4 and May 5.

Between 1977 and 2011, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), a left-wing splinter group from what was then India’s main communist party, governed the state as part of the Left Front (বাম ফ্রন্ট) coalition. By most accounts, communist rule in West Bengal wasn’t incredibly successful in boosting growth, despite a sweeping land reform and other efforts to boost nutrition and anti-poverty measures.

In the 2011 election, Banerjee (pictured above), known simply as ‘didi‘ (‘sister’ in Bengali), won power in a lopsided victory. Banerjee, who began her career in the Congress Party, formed the All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস) in 1997. Going into the elections, she and her allies controlled 227 of the 294 sets in the legislative assembly as a result of the last election’s rout.

In the current election, the Left Front formed a rare electoral alliance with the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), struggling for relevance after its national defeat in the 2014 elections and the erosion of its power at the state level both to Modi’s BJP and to regional parties like Banerjee’s AITMC. Despite the fact that Congress and the West Bengal communists appeal to very different constituencies, the alliance has worked out better than perhaps expected.

Ironically, exit polls also show that Congress is set to lose power to communists when the results are announced for the May 16 elections in Kerala, the far southwestern state where Congress and the communists, with wildly different views on economic and social policy (in Kerala as well as in West Bengal), have vied for power for decades. Continue reading Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

Medina headed for easy reelection in Dominican Republic

Danilo Medina, one of Latin America's most popular leaders, is set for reelection as the president of the Dominican Republic. (Facebook)
Dominican president Danilo Medina, one of Latin America’s most popular leaders, is set for reelection after the May 15 general election. (Facebook)

No one should be surprised that Danilo Medina has easily coasted to reelection in the Dominican Republic’s general election on Sunday.Dominican Republic Flag Icon

As the incumbent president in a country that registered 7% GDP growth last year, Medina is one of the most popular leaders in Latin America or, indeed, even the world. Preliminary results gave Medina over 60% of the vote in Sunday’s general election, with just around 36% for center-right challenger Luis Abinader, a businessman who has never held elective office.

But the real victory for Medina came last year, in June 2015, when he successfully pushed to amend the constitution to allow Dominican presidents to run for reelection.

His predecessor, Leonel Fernández, won reelection in 2008 only after the Dominican Congreso Nacional (National Congress) passed a similar law. It later revoked that law in 2010, however, once again forbidding consecutive reelection.

Fernández, who was first elected to the presidency in 1996, had long been the driving force of the governing Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD, Dominican Liberation Party), which has now extended a period of rule that began with Fernández’s return to the presidency in 2004. When Medina narrowly won the 2012 election, he did so in large part because of Fernández’s enduring popularity. Medina’s running mate, Margarita Cedeño, is Fernández’s wife, and it was widely assumed that Fernández would try for a fourth term again in 2016. Fernández opposed last year’s constitutional changes, alternatively arguing that they should be subject to popular referendum.

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RELATED: Race, politics looms behind
potential deportation of Haitian Dominicans

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Medina’s push, coupled with a reform to harmonize legislative and presidential voting in the same general election, effectively sidelined the former president, cementing Medina as the central figure in Dominican politics and paving the way forward for his successful reelection bid this year. Continue reading Medina headed for easy reelection in Dominican Republic

Liberal VP candidate Robredo holds off Marcos heir in fight for Coconut Palace

Lena Robredo of the governing Liberal Party is emerging as the winner of the Philippine vice presidential contest. (Facebook)
Leni Robredo of the governing Liberal Party is emerging as the winner of the Philippine vice presidential contest. (Facebook)

For a country that just elected a foul-mouthed, tough-talking  and controversial strongman to the presidency, it was easy enough to believe that same electorate would also choose a similar strongman as vice president.philippines

As returns come in from the May 9 general election in the Philippines, voters have delivered Rodrigo Duterte a strong victory in the race to become their next president. But they also seem to have had last-minute doubts about handing the vice presidency to Ferdinand ‘BongBong’ Marcos, Jr.

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RELATED: Philippines considers both
presidential strongman, Marcos restoration

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Instead, defying polls throughout the campaign that gave Marcos a slight lead, the narrow winner (for now) is Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo, the candidate of the Partido Liberal ng Pilipinas (Liberal Party), which has governed the world’s 12th-most populous country for the last six years under Benigno ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino III. Under Aquino, whose father struggled (and was ultimately assassinated) in the fight for a democratic Philippines, the economy has grown at rates of 6% or even higher (barring relatively lower 3% growth in 2011).

Ferdinand 'BongBong' Marcos, Jr., the son of the former Philippine strongman, is trailing in vote counts. (Facebook)
Ferdinand ‘BongBong’ Marcos, Jr., the son of the former Philippine strongman, is trailing in vote counts. (Facebook)

With over 96% of the votes counted, Robredo led with 35.1% to just 34.6% for Marcos, a slim margin of around 215,000 votes, though observers believe that, based on the outstanding results, Marcos is unlikely to take the lead. That’s despite Marcos’s nearly two-to-one advantage in metropolitan Manila, which includes both the capital city and the even more populous Quezon City.

Already, Marcos is complaining about election irregularities. That must come as something of an ironic shock to the rest of the world, which considers the Marcos name to be virtually synonymous with kleptocracy. The family was implicated in last month’s sensational ‘Panama Papers’ scandal over offshore tax havens.

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Robredo, who isn’t necessarily natural allies with Duterte, has indicated that she is willing to serve in a Duterte cabinet and, in turn, Duterte’s spokesperson has confirmed that he will offer a cabinet position to Robredo.

Continue reading Liberal VP candidate Robredo holds off Marcos heir in fight for Coconut Palace

Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)

In 2008, US president Barack Obama won the largest Democratic mandate in a generation, in part, by pledging to change the tone in Washington.USflag

But in 2016, after eight years of increasingly bitter and partisan posturing, it’s Obama’s one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, who now has the opportunity to transcend the hyper-partisanship that began with the divided government under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.

Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party laid bare the long-growing schism among various Republican constituencies. Currently, the two living former Republican presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), the party’s most recent presidential nominee (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), its one-time 2016 frontrunners (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio) and the Republican in the highest-ranking elected official — speaker of the House (Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan) — have all refused to endorse Trump.

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RELATED: That transcending ideology thing from 2008?
Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

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Despite the promise that the coming general election will be nasty, even by the recent standards of American politics, Clinton, if she’s nimble enough, can become a unifying and moderate figure who can work with both Republicans and Democrats. If Trump loses as badly as polls suggest he might, the Republican Party will be a shambles on November 8. The fight for Senate control was always a toss-up, and a Trump debacle could endanger even Republican control of the House of Representatives.

Increasingly, the debate in world politics is tilting away from traditional left-right discourses, replaced by a much darker fight, for the first time since the 1930s, between populist nationalism and globalist internationalism — and not just in the United States, but everywhere from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. In that fight, Ryan (and Bush and moderate Republicans) have much more in common with Clinton and the officials who will lead a Clinton administration than with Trump.

Make no mistake, if Clinton wins the presidency in November, she’s not going to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’ with Ryan and leading Republicans. Postwar German politics operates largely on consensus to a degree unknown in American (or even much of European) politics. Still, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already paved the way for how a successful Clinton presidency might unfold, and Clinton advisers would be smart to figure out, as the campaign unfolds, how to position Clinton as a kind of American ‘Mutti.’ Clinton is already reaching out to moderate Republican donors, but the challenge goes much deeper — to become a kind of acceptable figure to both blue-state and red-state America.

It’s not clear that Clinton has the same political skill to pull off in the United States what Merkel has done in Germany.

But it’s a rare opportunity, nonetheless, if she can.  Continue reading Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas

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A popular figure from television and a neophyte to national politics rides a wave of populist protest against corruption, incompetence and the status quo to the top of the polls. First, he co-opts the nationalist message of conservatives, rattles against the supposed wrongs of neighboring countries and aligns himself with some of the country’s most reactionary forces. He then faces off against a former first lady, whose social democratic credentials are  overshadowed by suspicions and whispers of corruption and foul play. Easily, that man wins the presidency, making easy work of both the country’s conservative movement and the former first lady. guatemala flag icon

Sound familiar?

It’s not the United States and it’s not Donald Trump, now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

It’s Jimmy Morales, the populist comedian who won an overwhelming victory in last September’s presidential election in Guatemala.

But you might be excused for confusing the two.

For much of the last 11 months, as Trump has come to dominate American politics, the most immediate comparison in international politics has been former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It’s true that there are many similarities — both are wealthy, older- than-average figures and both are right-wing populists with a penchant for blunt talk who rose to prominence as political outsiders.

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RELATED: Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

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But unlike Berlusconi, who owns much of the private Italian media, Trump doesn’t actually control any of the American media. What’s more important, though, is that Trump has done so well in presidential politics in spite of his wealth and business prowess. Michael Bloomberg and dozens of other businessmen are far wealthier and far more powerful, but they’re not presumptive nominees of a major U.S. political party.  Trump won the Republican nomination without deploying significant personal wealth and, indeed, he won with just a fraction of the amounts spent by competing Republican campaigns and their various super PACs.

Rather, Trump’s political success is due to his amazing abilities for self-promotion and self-branding, honed after decades of selling the ‘Trump’ brand and after 14 seasons starring in the reality television series The Apprentice. At this point, Trump-as-presidential-nominee owes his success to media personality, not any particular real estate canny.

That’s exactly the same skill set that Morales used in his spectacular run to the presidency in Guatemala last autumn. It’s also nearly the same platform — a lot of populist slogans heavy on identity, nationalism and throw-the-bums-out rhetoric, but light on actual policy details.  Continue reading A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas

Philippines considers both presidential strongman, Marcos restoration

Fists in the air, Rodrigo Duterte is leading the polls to become the next president of the Philippines. (Facebook)
Fists in the air, Rodrigo Duterte is leading the polls to become the next president of the Philippines. (Facebook)

It’s hard not to think of Rodrigo Duterte as the Donald Trump of the Philippines.philippines

But in truth, he’s more like Joseph Arpaio — a conservative, tough-on-crime kind of guy willing to do whatever it takes to clean up his city, human rights or the justice system be damned.

At age 71, ‘Rody’ Duterte, who has served for a total of 22 years as mayor of Davao City, has vaulted to a lead in the polls to become the leading presidential choice among voters in the Philippines when they go to the polls on May 9. It’s an election in which Philippines might turn from liberalism to illiberalism not only by electing a Duterte presidency, but also by supporting the restoration of the Marcos family — the son of Ferdinand Marcos, the country’s autocratic ruler from 1965 to 1986, is running for the vice presidency as well.

Duterte is a presidential candidate with tough talk on crime, corruption

Known domestically as the ‘punisher,’ Duterte is not a man to cross. He brags about killing criminals, especially drug dealers, with his own gun, taking extrajudicial justice into his own hands where he sees fit. He openly admitted last November to killing three rapists and kidnappers in Davao City, and he said last week that he would kill his own kids if he found out they were using drugs. Duterte has trekked across the country delivering a fiery nationalist stump speech, often with his fist raised in the air, a variant of which serves as his campaign logo. It’s not a subtle appeal Duterte is making to supporters, who also casually refer to him as ‘Duterte Harry.’

For the United States, the Philippines figures heavily in the growing US strategic and military interest in the Pacific Rim, and the outgoing Obama administration hopes that, in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will draw the Philippines closer to the United States and further, economically speaking, from China. Today, officials in the administrations of both outgoing US president Barack Obama and outgoing Philippine president Benigno ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino III view the growing cooperation as mutually beneficial.

In no uncertain terms, a Duterte victory next Monday in the presidential election would make US-Philippine relations much more difficult.

It’s not a small matter. The Philippines is the world’s 12th-most populous country, with 103 million people and growing.

Davao City, the fourth largest in the country, lies in the far tropical south, and Duterte has presided over its transformation from a hub for communist and left-wing radicals to a case study in law and order. In a country where everyone seems to be worried most about corruption and crime, Duterte and reports of how he’s tamed Davao City over 20 years in power have captured the national zeitgeist. Elected to national office just once (18 years ago) throughout his  decades-long career, Duterte can also style himself as an outsider, relatively speaking. Like most politicians in the Philippines, Duterte comes from an influential family — his father was an attorney and a former governor of what used to be Dávao province.

But that’s where the similarity to most Philippine politicians ends.

Braggadocio about personally killing drug dealers in Davao City and his ‘take no prisoners’ approach to anti-crime efforts have touched a chord with voters. Reporters questioned him when he kicked off his campaign last December about organizing death squads and killing over 700 people; Duterte responded (only half-jokingly) that he had killed more like 1,700 people. Continue reading Philippines considers both presidential strongman, Marcos restoration

Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Plaid Cymru's leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn't command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)
Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood (right) is a popular left-wing Welsh nationalist, but she doesn’t command regional politics like Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. (Facebook)

Across the United Kingdom, voters will go to the polls Thursday for regional council elections nationwide and to elect regional governments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.United Kingdom Flag Iconwales

Most political attention has focused on London, where Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, seems set to win by a hearty margin, or more generally on England, where the rest of the Labour Party will be watching to gauge the effects of Jeremy Corbyn’s eight-month leadership.

In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is expected to win a landslide victory, with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives vying for a distant second place.

Above all, voters and politicians are already looking beyond Thursday’s regional and council votes to the European Union referendum on June 23, which could cause national, regional and global tremors.

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RELATED: Why the Tories are so happy about their chances in Scotland

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But Wales is also voting to elect all 60 members of the National Assembly (Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru). Voters choose members directly through constituencies, but vote a second time for a particular party that provides additional seats, on a regional basis, through proportional representation. Though the region has attracted far less attention than Scotland or even Northern Ireland of late, it still boasts 3.1 million residents of its own — a population that’s equal to about 60% of Scotland’s and just 5% of the overall UK population.

As Labour struggles throughout the rest of the country, polls show that the Welsh Labour Party is on track to win Thursday’s vote with ease, which will give Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister since December 2009, an easy path to reelection. The center-left Labour, which has historically taken a more nationalist approach to politics in Wales, has won every regional election since 1999, the first in the post-devolution era. Continue reading Nationalists hope to thrive in quiet Welsh elections

Spain heads toward fresh elections on June 26

sanchez
Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, could fall if his party drops to third place in June. (Facebook)

Shortly after the December general election, I wrote that Spain faced three possible choices — a German-style grand coalition, a Portuguese-style ‘coalition of the left’ or a Greek-style stalemate and fresh elections. Spain_Flag_Icon

Spain chose the Greek option.

Five months after a national election ripped apart Spain’s decades-long two-party system, the failure of the country’s four major parties to reach a coalition agreement means that Spain’s voters will once again go to the polls on June 26 for a fresh vote, after a deadline ran out on midnight Tuesday to find a viable government.

Notably, the rerun of Spain’s national elections will fall just three days after the United Kingdom votes on whether to leave the European Union, a critical vote for the entire continent.

spain deputies

The problem is that, with talks stalled for any conceivable governing majority, the Spanish electorate seems set to repeat results similar to last December’s election. For now, markets are not unduly spooked by the political impasse in Madrid, but continued uncertainty through the second half of 2016 could prove different if no clear government emerges from the new elections and, presumably, a new round of coalition talks brokered by Spain’s young new king, Felipe VI.

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RELATED: Three choices for new fractured political landscape

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So who are the four major parties and how do they stand heading into the June vote? Continue reading Spain heads toward fresh elections on June 26

PQ bids adieu to short-lived leader Péladeau

Pierre Karl Péladeau lasted less than a year as the leader of the pro-independence Parti Québécois. (Facebook)
Pierre Karl Péladeau lasted less than a year as the leader of the pro-independence Parti Québécois. (Facebook)

Less than a year into his tenure as the leader of the sovereigntist Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau abruptly stepped down on Monday, sending political shocks waves throughout Canada’s majority French-speaking province.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Four months after a sudden split with the wife he married in August, and now facing a custody battle over his children, Péladeau abruptly announced his resignation from the PQ leadership and from the provincial assembly, tearfully explaining that he had chosen to put his family before his ‘political project.’

Péladeau’s departure leaves the province without a full-time opposition leader, and the PQ’s troubles could cause voters to turn to an increasingly crowded field of nationalist alternatives. It’s just the latest setback for a party that’s suffered two tough decades after coming just 55,000 votes shy of winning Québec’s independence in 1995.

Jean Charest, premier for nine years as the leader of the centrist Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ, Liberal Party of Québec), sidelined the separatists for nearly a decade. For a while, the PQ fell to third place after the 2007 elections. The party’s leader at the time, André Boisclair, the first openly gay party leader in Canadian history, spent much of his leadership alienating the party’s rural, unionized base and fending off charges of drug use and financial malfeasance.

When voters finally gave the PQ a shot at governing in 2012, under Pauline Marois, the party immediately launched a needless effort to introduce the ill-named Charte de la laïcité (Québec Charter of Values), which served only to alienate recent immigrants to the province, especially Muslims, by purporting to ban religious headgear.

After Marois called early elections in a disastrous effort to win a majority government, voters instead turned back to the PLQ under its new leader, Philippe Couillard, a former provincial health minister. Marois quickly lost control over the debate when a new star recruit — Péladeau — stood on a campaign platform with Marois and, fist raised, started calling forQuébec’s independence. That forced Marois to respond to hypotheticals about a third referendum, whether an independent Québec would use the Canadian dollar and how borders would work between Canada and an independent Québec. The PQ dropped to its lowest total yet — barely over 25% of the vote.

Meanwhile, its sister party, the Bloc québécois (BQ), won less than 20% of the vote in the 2015 Canadian federal election, and its leader, Gilles Duceppe, resigned (again) after failing to win his own riding. Its 10 seats in Canada’s House of Commons is somewhat better than the four seats it won in the 2011 election, but the days when the BQ dominated the province’s representation in Ottawa now seem long gone.

After a needlessly long internal campaign, Péladeau emerged last spring as the easy winner of the PQ’s leadership election, and he defiantly vowed to make Québec a country. Almost immediately, however, Péladeau’s stumbles seem to outweigh his charms. He indulgently refused to sell the shares to Quebecor the media empire that his father once ran and that Péladeau himself ran until his decision to enter provincial politics.  His business-friendly demeanor met with skepticism from the party’s left-wing members and union activists. Many of them left the PQ for the more stridently leftist and pro-independence Québec solidaire.

Meanwhile, Péladeau was never able to steal votes from the ‘soft’ nationalist, center-right Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), which dominates the vote in and around Québec City. Péladeau’s hardline calls to make Québec a country nearly guaranteed that the PQ would not be the beneficiary of the Couillard government’s growing unpopularity due, on doubt, to two years of spending cuts aimed to achieve a balanced budget. Though the most recent CROP poll from mid-April gave the Liberals just 33% support, the PQ drew just 26%, compared to 25% for the CAQ and 14% for Québec solidaire. 

Having already announced the province’s 2016 budget in March, and basking in a Delta Airlines decision to buy 75 aircraft from local manufacturer Bombardier, it would not be the worst time for Couillard to call an early election.

In one sense, Péladeau’s resignation gives the party a fresh start as the province starts the countdown to new elections, to be held before October 2018. Under a long interim leadership, the PQ might continue to lose right-leaning supporters to the CAQ and left-leaning supporters to Québec solidaire. The next election will be François Legault’s third as the CAQ leader, and it will be Françoise David’s fourth as co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, and both remain incredibly popular.

But there was a sense that Péladeau’s victory last May was the last shot for the péquistes to regroup, with increasingly bilingual young voters and rising numbers of immigrants, in particular, rejecting any abrupt separation with Canada. Demographics just aren’t in the PQ’s favor, and its next leader will have none of the name recognition or star power that  Péladeau, for all his faults, brought to the PQ leadership.

Former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe (left) and former PQ minister Alexandre Cluotier (right) represent the two generational wings of the separatist movement. (Facebook)
Former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe (left) and former PQ minister Alexandre Cluotier (right) represent the two generational wings of the separatist movement. (Facebook)

Alexandre Cloutier, a 38-year-old former minister and currently, shadow education secretary, ran second in last year’s PQ leadership race, and could provide a Trudeau-like appeal to younger voters.

Jean-Martin Aussant, who left the PQ in 2012 to form Option nationale, dedicated to a more impatient brand of Québécois sovereignty, and who flamed out of provincial politics, could return as a 21st century version ofJacques Parizeau, the fiery champion of the independence movement.

Bernard Drainville, who masterminded the Marois government’s push for the Charter of Values, is another possibility, as is Jean-François Lisée, who served as minister of international relations and trade under Marois.

No doubt, old-timers will hope that the 68-year-old Gilles Duceppe, the BQ leader from 1997 to 2011 (and again, briefly, in the leadup to the 2015 election) will attempt one more comeback for the separatist cause.

Even before Péladeau’s resignation, the PQ was already facing an existential problem as a party dedicated to independence in a province where the most separatist generation is literally dying out. In a country where even former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper can call Québec a ‘nation’ without any major blowback, and where its current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, comes from Montréal’s most storied political dynasty, the PQ’s raison d’être seems even more like yesterday’s cause. Neither Péladeau nor his successor is likely to pick a fight with Trudeau, massively popular in Québec just as much as the rest of Canada,  over sovereignty.

No matter who the PQ chooses as its next leader, he or she will face difficult odds to convince Québec’s youth, its growing immigrant class and anglophones to support it as the chief alternative to Couillard’s Liberals in a political marketplace that’s more crowded with ‘nationalist’ parties than ever. In trying to be all things to all nationalists, the PQ risks its very extinction.

Meet the Muslim, 2nd generation Pakistani-British politician set to lead London

Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP and the son of Pakistani immigrants, leads polls to become London's next mayor. (Facebook)
Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP and the son of Pakistani immigrants, leads polls to become London’s next mayor. (Facebook)

When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour Party’s leadership last September, party stalwarts in London also voted to choose a candidate to contest London’s mayoral election, one of many regional elections taking place on May 5.england_640United Kingdom Flag Icon

Corbyn’s elevation marked the moment when Labour’s rank-and-file members ripped down the curtain on New Labour, ending the party’s two-decade move to the center that kept it in power for three consecutive terms under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

But it was perhaps the internal contest to lead Labour into London’s mayoral contest that struck the most damning blow.

The initial frontrunner, Tessa Jowell, pushed London’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics as a minister in the Blair government. When London, in fact, won the Olympics, she became the government’s minister for the Olympics as well. Jowell, a ‘Blairite’ long associated with the centrist incrementalism of New Labour, seemed like the perfect fit for one of the world’s financial capitals.

Instead, Labour voters turned to Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old rising star of Labour’s ‘soft left’ flank. The son of Pakistani immigrants (his mother was a seamstress, his father a bus driver), it’s hard to conceive of a sharper contrast against his opponent, Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire.

Goldsmith’s father, James Goldsmith, won notoriety in the 1990s for his ‘Referendum Party,’ a eurosceptic forerunner of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). His son, just 41 years old, wasn’t an implausible candidate for London’s Tories. Like Cameron, Goldsmith is a moderate on social issues, and he is a former writer who spent nearly a decade as the editor of The Ecologist. But he has struggled to contest the image of a wealthy plutocrat out of touch with struggles of everyday Londoners. In April, he struggled to answer several ‘pop quiz’ questions in an interview about the city.

Moreover, Goldsmith’s campaign has been tainted by what even some Conservative critics have called Islamaphobic scare tactics. Those attacks have made Goldsmith seem not only demagogic but also desperate.

If polls are correct, Khan will easily defeat Goldsmith on Thursday. Continue reading Meet the Muslim, 2nd generation Pakistani-British politician set to lead London

Koreans look to 2017 after Park’s governing party loses seats

South Korean president Park Guen-hye met with US president Barack Obama in Washington soon after taking office in 2013. (White House)
South Korean president Park Guen-hye met with US president Barack Obama in Washington soon after taking office in 2013. (White House)

Though it’s only been two weeks since South Koreans upended polls to deliver a shock verdict in parliamentary elections, the country is now pivoting toward its next presidential election — which is nearly 20 months away. northkorea

Taking place nearly two-thirds of the way through the five-year term of president Park Guen-hye (박근혜), the election was an opportunity for Park to solidify her grip on the National Assembly, as well as her own party, the conservative Saenuri Party (새누리당, ‘New Frontier’ Party) by winning a more solid majority in South Korea’s 300-member unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (대한민국 국회). 

Despite poll predictions that Saenuri would take advantage of a split opposition and win an even wider majority, the party instead lost ground, falling further away from an absolute majority, winning just 122 seats, 24 fewer seats in the National Assembly than the party held before the elections. Park, like all South Korean presidents, is limited to a single term in office and, in some regards, she became a lame duck president from the first days of the 2013 inauguration of the country’s first female president. That hasn’t stopped Park from wielding power through a very strong executive branch.

SK elections 2016 SK national assembly (1)

Saenuri’s defeat, however, and Park’s failures in particular, mean that the country is now shifting towards the posturing among Park’s opponents, including those within other Saenuri Party factions, to plot a path to the presidency in an election that will not be held until December 20, 2017.

The results will give hope to the traditional center-left opposition party, the newly renamed (as of last December) Minjoo Party (더불어민주당), a successor to what used to be called the Democratic United Party, which won 123 seats — one more than Saenuri. That could embolden several top figures within the party to mount a 2017 presidential bid, including Moon Jae-in (문재인), the party’s former leader and its 2012 candidate against Park.

But the results will give even more hope to the newly formed, as of February, People’s Party (국민의당), an alternative liberal party that has pulled supporters away from Minjoo. Its leader is Ahn Cheol-soo (안철수), a software entrepreneur, businessman and academic, who burst onto the political scene as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. He will now almost certainly be a contender in the 2017 election. Though the People’s Party only won 38 seats, it actually won more votes than Minjoo.

So what does South Korea’s election mean for the rest of Park’s administration and for 2017? Continue reading Koreans look to 2017 after Park’s governing party loses seats

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