New PSOE leader Sánchez faces uphill struggle to unite Spanish left

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He’s a disarmingly handsome economics professor, and he’s the first major Spanish party leader who grew up chiefly in the post-Franco era and in the era of Spanish democracy.Spain_Flag_Icon

But Pedro Sánchez, who leapfrogged the more well-known Eduardo Madina to become the leader of Spain’s Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) earlier this month, and who will assume the leadership later this week, will have his work cut out for him before elections that will take place within the next 17 months, with the party’s traditional voting base increasingly supporting both new and established alternatives on the Spanish left. 

Sánchez (pictured above), just 42 years old, has only been a member of the Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies), the lower house of the Spanish parliament, the Cortes Generales, from 2009 to 2011 and  since January 2013, representing Madrid, where he served as a city councillor for the preceding five years.

Sánchez won the PSOE’s first direct contest to elect the party’s general secretary in a three-way race, with 48.7% of all votes against just 36.1% for Madina and 15.1% for the more left-wing José Antonio Pérez Tapias.

Though Madina, at age 38, is even younger than Sánchez, he’s been a member of the Congress of Deputies since 2004 and the secretary-general of the PSOE’s congressional caucus since 2009. A Basque federalist, he was perceived as the frontrunner in the race, especially after taking a republican stand in the aftermath of Juan Carlos I’s abdication from the throne. But the favorite to lead the PSOE, Andalusia’s 39-year-old regional president, Susana Díaz, endorsed Sánchez instead, as did many former officials from the administration of former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, including former public works and transportation minister José Blanco.

That effectively lifted the more unknown Sánchez, who holds a doctorate in economics, above Madina, who once lost part of his left leg in a Basque nationalist bomb blast.

On his election, Sánchez declared the ‘beginning of the end of Rajoy,’  challenging the unpopular center-right government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy, which has presided over the worst of Spain’s recent economic crisis.

Not so fast.  Continue reading

It’s official: Jokowi wins Indonesian presidential election

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The two-week gap between the July 9 Indonesian election and today’s announcement of final results could have been a tense showdown between the two candidates, one a political neophyte, the other a stalwart of the Suharto-era military, who contested Indonesia’s closest-ever direct presidential election. Indonesia Flag

As it turns out, what could have been a constitutional crisis in Indonesia was an example of orderly democratic transition.

Joko Widodo (known as ‘Jokowi’), governor of Jakarta since late 2012, has won the Indonesian presidency with 53.15% of the vote. His rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, won just 46.85%. The gap of more than 6% is actually larger than many ‘quick counts’ reported in the vote’s aftermath.

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Prabowo (pictured above, left, meeting with Jokowi last week), who refused to concede defeat, despite signs of a narrow Jokowi win, worked with Jokowi and outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known by his initials, ‘SBY’) to keep tensions relatively low, and Prabowo’s campaign staff over the weekend all but conceded the Indonesian presidency to Jokowi. Prabowo’s team, which had indicated it might file a lawsuit to contest alleged fraud, has now said it won’t file a case in Indonesia’s constitutional court.

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RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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That’s worth a sigh of relief, given the nationalist themes that Prabowo struck in his presidential campaign. At one point, the former Suharto son-in-law, whose human rights record in the Indonesian special forces came under significant scrutiny during the election, argued that democracy wasn’t right for Indonesia and that he might return to the country’s more authoritarian 1945 constitution.

Jokowi’s victory, above all, cements the foundations of Indonesian democracy.

So what happens next?

Jokowi will be inaugurated no later than October 20. In the meanwhile, expect a significant amount of churn within Indonesia’s politics. Continue reading

Netanyahu now depends on Palestinian Fatah-Hamas disunity

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Two months ago, the West Bank-based leadership of Fatah (فتح‎) and the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas (حماس‎) really seemed like they were on the verge of forming a coherent unity government, bringing together the two competing factions of Palestinian politics for the first time after nearly a decade of division.palestineISrel Flag Icon

At the time, Israeli an US officials took an overly alarmist view of the new unity government, given the characterization of Hamas as a terrorist organization that continues to target civilians in Israel. Whereas Fatah essentially recognizes the  existence of the state of Israel, Hamas still considers Israel as an illegitimate state. 

Nevertheless, I argued then that a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation was a necessary step toward a long-term Israeli-Palestinian peace and that Israeli and US leaders should welcome any reunification that can bring Gaza’s leadership to the negotiation table. While Ramallah (if not so much of the rest of the West Bank) boomed economically, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has generally increased Palestinian control over security throughout much of the West Bank, Gaza has been subject to an Israeli embargo for years, crippling the Gazan economy and strangling opportunity and employment for 1.4 million Palestinians. If Gazans are more radical than their West Bank counterparts, Israel’s embargo has given them ample reason. 

But geopolitical events across the Middle East have isolated Hamas  within the Muslim world, especially over the past year. Whereas the Islamic Republic of Iran once funded Hamas, Iranian support dried up for Hamas as they lined up on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war, with Iranian officials strongly supporting Shiite president Bashar al-Assad and with Hamas backing various Sunni-led rebel groups. Moreover, whereas former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi looked sympathetically upon Hamas (technically, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of Morsi’s own Muslim Brotherhood), the Egyptian military that overthrew Morsi last July and Morsi’s newly ‘elected’ successor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are much less tolerant of Hamas. They have cracked down on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, in essence working with Israel to perpetuate the Gaza embargo.

Fatah came to that unity government from a position of strength and, had it succeeded, Fatah might have had a restraining effect on the far weaker Hamas. Nevertheless, Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the unity government from the outset, using the occasion to accuse Abbas of being less than serious as a ‘partner for peace.’

Though there’s a strong argument that Netanyahu erred in dismissing the Fatah-Hamas unity government outright two months ago, Netanyahu’s strategy today fundamentally depends on the disunity between Hamas and Fatah. With Israel and Hamas now two weeks into a lethal conflict, and with an Israeli ground offensive extending into its fourth day, the unity government has all but collapsed in the face of the latest military engagement in Gaza. Continue reading

Malaysia Flight 17 will hasten Ukraine-Russia cooperation

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If you’re like me, you won’t be able to erase the mental image of seeing a dead woman’s corpse on Thursday.Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Like it or not, that will be, for me and for many millions more, the indelible image of the tragic and horrific attack on Malaysia Airlines 17 on Thursday, her black skirt, her bare feet, the corpse of a man in a green short-sleeved shirt lying beside her. It’s a moment when anyone who has ever flown internationally felt a sinking feeling in his or her gut. It reminded me of my first trip to Latin America, which took us through Cuban airspace, something I found inordinately odd, given the absolute lack of cooperation between the U.S. and Cuban governments otherwise.

The world is now holding its collective judgment over the issue of whether Ukraine, Ukrainian dissidents or Russian officials share more blame for the attack on Malaysia Airlines 17. (Plenty of us have our guesses, and the Kremlin’s defensiveness in the hours following the attack speaks volumes). But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. If Russia is at fault, you can be sure Vladimir Putin will stonewall the investigation as much as possible. That doesn’t change the fundamentals that Putin must now make the peace.

Putin has, for some time, realized that he needs to be working with, and not against, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, to bring eastern Ukraine to peace. That doesn’t mean that Putin will end his campaign of political dirty tricks in Ukraine. But since mid-May, when Putin distanced himself from the Donetsk and Luhansk referenda, thereby refusing to envelop eastern Ukraine in the same way as Crimea, the Kremlin has increasingly avowed responsibility for the separatist campaign that it tacitly encouraged in March and April. Putin further recognized Poroshenko’s election and, while Ukrainian-Russian relations might still be strained, they’re less tense than they were before May 25. We don’t know, and we might never know, whether the separatists gained anti-aircraft missiles from Moscow or simply took them over from eastern Ukraine army installations, but Putin now has an imperative to shut down the separatists and work with Poroshenko to secure eastern Ukraine. It does Putin no favors to have civilian aircraft shot out of the sky a spit’s throw away from the Russian border.

We still don’t know how many U.S. citizens were aboard the flight, but there are estimates of 25 or so. When was the last time that 25 American citizens died in a terrorist attack? Who, before Thursday, thought that it could happen over eastern Ukraine’s skies, for all of the FAA warnings? The Middle East, east Africa maybe, but not Europe.

As has been true since former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych ordered fire on civilian protesters in Kiev in February, a European country is going through more lethal conflict than at any time since Yugoslavia’s brutal civil war.

Accordingly, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 could bring Poroshenko and Putin, finally, on the same page. If 25 U.S. citizens were indeed on board, Putin is going to face hell from US president Barack Obama, and probably from the rest of the United Nations Security Council, including the typically ambivalent China. But certainly, the dozens of dead Dutch citizens will also anger prime minister Mark Rutte, an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel. As angry as the Obama administration must be, Thursday’s civil aviation disaster is now a direct threat to European civilian security, a game-changer in Brussels, Berlin and Amsterdam.

Though he can avoid culpability, Putin certainly can’t ignore this. Poroshenko, literally days after signing an association agreement with the European Union, can’t either. Though the next few days will almost certainly involve a lot of diplomatic smoke, the macabre, silver lining of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is that it may hasten more stability in eastern Ukraine, uniting Poroshenko and Putin in the cause of avoiding another similar horror.

Programming note: Off to Newfoundland

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Greetings from St. John’s, where I’m spending a little time through the middle of next week. newfoundland

Accordingly, posting will be slightly reduced over until later next week, though you might expect to see some further thoughts on Newfoundland’s role in Canada, and perhaps even its historical significance as a case study for financial crisis and sovereignty, and why Germany hasn’t done to Greece what the United Kingdom in 1933 did to the Dominion of Newfoundland.

I may also have some thoughts about what the ‘Better Together’ campaign can learn (or should avoid) from Newfoundland’s example of Confederation into Canada, and I hope to spend a little time on St. Pierre et Miquelon, the self-governing territorial overseas collectivity of France just off the coast of southern Newfoundland, where euros (and not Canadian dollars) are the official currency. Literally, and not figuratively, France. 

I’ll also be working on additional thoughts on Iraq’s ongoing government formation process, the political fallout from the current tension between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the fallout from Indonesia’s recent presidential election, Spain’s newest party leader,  and previews of the coming Turkish and Brazilian presidential elections.

Though the pace of world elections is slowing from the past three months, there’s still a massive amount of world political change.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to retool Suffragio with an exciting new video component, a daily briefing and shorter, more focused analysis. Stay tuned!

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Latest Iraqi parliamentary steps indicate Maliki’s replacement

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristan

With US and Iranian officials publicly pressuring Iraq’s parliament to form a new national unity government as quickly as possible, Sunni and Kurdish (and, increasingly, many Shiite) leaders seem united on one thing — they’re not enthusiastic about giving Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki a third term in office.iraq flag icon

Iraq’s parliamentarians took a small step toward forming a new government yesterday when they elected Salim al-Jubouri as the new speaker of the 328-member Council of Representatives (مجلس النواب العراقي‎). In post-Saddam Iraq, the speakership is reserved for a Sunni, the presidency is reserved for a Kurd, and the premiership for a Shiite. Each official has two deputies such that each group — Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish — winds up with one major office and two deputy offices. Accordingly, when the Iraqi parliament chose Jubouri as the speaker, it also chose his two deputies.

It was the vote to appoint Iraq’s Shiite deputy speaker, however, that may hold some clues to the rest of the government formation process. The new speaker has fully two weeks to nominate a candidate for the Iraqi presidency, which means it could take a full month to appoint the president who thereupon has another 15 days to appoint a prime minister.

Though Haidar al-Abadi, a Maliki ally, ultimately won the deputy speakership, he faced an unexpectedly stiff challenge from Ahmad Chalabi, who’s gunning for the premiership.

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RELATED: Don’t blame Obama for Iraq turmoil — blame Maliki

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There’s been a considerable amount of chatter inside and Iraq about the sudden rehabilitation of Chalabi, a figure upon whom US officials relied heavily in their decision to launch a military invasion against Saddam Hussein in 2003. But for all the talk of his sudden rise, he remains a longshot to become Iraq’s next prime minister.

All the same, Abadi’s rise also signals that Maliki won’t continue as Iraq’s prime minister, either. Abadi is not only a member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (إئتلاف دولة القانون), he’s a member of Maliki’s party, Islamic Dawa (حزب الدعوة الإسلامية‎). In April’s parliamentary elections, which now seem a lifetime ago in Iraqi politics, Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (SLC) won 92 seats, by far the largest bloc in the parliament, itself holding a majority within the Shiite majority. Though , the State of Law Coalition will continue to drive the process within the Shiite bloc, generally, it’s farfetched to think that other SLC leaders, not to mention the legislators of the two other Shiite groups, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement (التيار الصدري) and Ammar al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ICSI, المجلس الأعلى الإسلامي العراقي‎), would agree to hand over two of the three top offices, including the premiership to Islamic Dawa.

That makes it very likely that the Shiite leadership will turn to another figure, such as Iraq’s former oil minister, deputy prime minister and, as of four days ago, its new foreign minister, Hussain al-Shahristani (pictured above), who is a top SLC figure from outside Islamic Dawa. Continue reading

What to make of Cameron’s night of the long knives

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It wasn’t a surprise that British prime minister David Cameron sacked Kenneth Clarke, the one-time self-proclaimed ‘big beast’ of the Conservative Party from government. United Kingdom Flag Icon

At age 74, the pro-Europe former chancellor, who began his ministerial career in Edward Heath’s government of the early 1970s, had already been demoted once from justice secretary, his progressive ideas for penal reform and lighter sentencing guidelines  thwarted by the Tory right two years ago.

But it was something of a surprise that Cameron sacked so many other high-profile members of his cabinet last night.

Foreign secretary William Hague (pictured above with Queen Elizabeth II), one of the most high-profile Tories inside or outside government will now become the Commons leader. Hague, once a strident eurosceptic, was elected leader of the Conservative Party in the aftermath of Tony Blair’s massive victory in 1997. He stepped down in 2001 after his failed campaign to return the Tories to power. Though just 53 years old, Hague also announced he would also leave office at the 2015 elections, cutting short what’s been a solid career, if not one that might have elevated Hague to the premiership under different conditions.

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His replacement is defence secretary Philip Hammond, another Conservative firebrand, who has ably worked with chancellor George Osborne to reign in spending while the United Kingdom has reduced its role in the US-led occupation in Afghanistan. Hammond, who served as Osborne’s deputy in opposition, comes from the right wing of the party, however, having opposed Cameron’s push to legalize same-sex marriage last year. He’s not known as a particularly charismatic figure, and he’ll have a hard time shaking the notion that he’s No. 11′s man at the foreign office. 

Having argued that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union without significant, additional British carve-outs, Hammond will now be tasked with salvaging the UK-EU relationship.

But the knives went longer and deeper still — David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, nicknamed ‘Two Brains’ and deemed one of the cabinet’s most thoughtful members; David Gove, the combatively conservative and stridently eurosceptic education minister; Dominic Grieve, the attorney general; Owen Patterson, the environmental secretary.

The semi-official word is that Cameron’s reshuffle represents an effort to put his cabinet and his government on footing to wage next May’s general elections, with a particular focus on elevating the number of women and younger Tories to higher positions.

To borrow a phrase from former US president Bill Clinton, a ‘cabinet that looks like Britain.’

Continue reading

Photo of the day: Xi meets Modi

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In Brazil for a meeting of the BRICS, India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi met Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier today in advance of the BRICS summit with officials from Brazil, Russia and South Africa.India Flag IconChina Flag Icon

Of course, India and China have a long and complicated history. But it’s not exactly surprising that it took barely over a month for the leaders of the world’s two most populous countries to meet.

Will Kerry’s deal with Afghanistan’s presidential contenders work?

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Over the weekend, US secretary of state John Kerry brokered a promising deal between the two candidates in Afghanistan’s botched, contested June 14 presidential runoff between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashram Ghani Ahmadzai, both of whom have alleged fraud in the runoff. afghanistan flag

It’s not an incredibly bad deal, and if it sticks, it will provide Afghanistan with a strong government, acceptable to supporters of both Ghani and Abdullah, that brings to power the largest and, historically dominant, ethnic group, the Pashtun, with a significant role for the second-largest group, the Tajiks, which dominate northern Afghanistan and form the plurality in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Under the terms agreed among Kerry, Ghani and Abdullah, every single runoff vote will be audited centrally in Kabul by international observers, with representatives of both the Ghani and Abdullah campaigns present. The winner will thereupon form a national unity government that, presumably, will include supporters of both campaigns.

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RELATED: Is Ghani’s Afghan preliminary electoral victory a fraud?

RELATED
: Afghanistan hopes for calm as key presidential election approaches

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Abdullah won the first round on April 5, by a wide margin of 45.00% to just 31.56% for Ghani, on the basis of 6.6 million voters. In the second round, preliminary results show that Ghani won 56.44% to just 43.56% for Abdullah, on the basis of 7.9 million votes — a significant increase in turnout.

It marks an astounding turn of events for Ghani. It’s especially astounding in light of the endorsement of the first round’s third-placed candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister who is close to outgoing president Hamid Karzai, and who endorsed Abdullah before even all the votes of the first round had been counted. Rassoul’s support was meant to bring along key Pashtun tribal leaders, close to Karzai and Rassoul, in the southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

But the deal doesn’t tell us exactly what the auditing process will  entail, and whether the Independent Election Commission, whose director resigned in the wake of the second round after Abdullah lodged credible, serious complaints, will play a significant role in the audit. It doesn’t obligate the eventual winner to including the failed candidate in the eventual ‘unity’ government, nor does it detail what happens if, after six months, the unity government unravels.

More fundamentally, the audit may still not tell us which candidate actually won the second round of the election.  Continue reading

How Miro Cerar rose to the top of Slovenian politics in four weeks

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Slovenians on Sunday turned over their country’s government to Miro Cerar, a political neophyte that barely anyone outside (or even inside) Slovenia had ever heard of a year ago.slovenia

Cerar (pictured above), an attorney and law professor, and the son of an Olympic gymnast, formed the Stranka Mira Cerarja (SMC, Miro Cerar’s Party), barely a month ago. But that didn’t matter to Slovenians, and the SMC easily won the July 13 snap elections by a margin of 34.6% to 20.7% against the center-right center-right Slovenska demokratska stranka (SDS, Slovenian Democratic Party), whose leader, two-time prime minister Janez Janša, has been sentenced to two years in prison in relation to corruption charges. Cerar’s victory represents the strongest victory of any party in a Slovenian election since the return of Slovenian sovereignty in 1990.

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Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections follow the resignation two months ago of Alenka Bratušek, Slovenia’s first female prime minister, after just over a year in office. Bratušek’s center-left coalition government is the second government since Slovenia’s last elections in December 2011.

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RELATED: Bratušek, Slovenia’s first female prime minister, resigns

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Cerar will now likely command 36 seats in the 90-member, unicameral Državni zbor (National Assembly), forcing him to form a coalition government with any of a number of allies in a National Assembly that remains fragmented, despite the strength of Cerar’s  mandate.

Cerar’s success is in large part due to his novelty. He’s not tainted by the past six years of austerity or the past two decades of corruption that characterizes much of Slovenia’s political elite. He lies somewhat in the center or center-left of Slovenian politics, leaning right on the need for economic reform, but leaning left on the need for reconsidering some austerity-era policies that Cerar believes have harmed Slovenian growth. For example, he’s called into question several recent plans for privatizations, including the national telecommunications company and the corporation that run’s the national airport. Continue reading

South Africa remembers Nadine Gordimer

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Barely months after South Africa bid farewell to its iconic post-apartheid president Nelson Mandela, South Africans today are remembering the indispensable Nadine Gordimer, who might well be Mandela’s literary analogue. south africa flag

That’s high praise, considering that Gordimer is in strong company alongside the late Alan Paton, 74-year-old J.M. Coetzee and other literary stars who produced a particularly compelling body of work in late 20th century South Africa.

There’s a case that you should start with Gordimer for the best sense of life in apartheid-era South Africa, and that includes both fiction and non-fiction.

Gordimer died in Johannesburg today at age 90, over two decades after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for a body of work that examines the effects and realities of apartheid-era South Africa.

For example, Burger’s Daughter (1979) is the slightly fictionalized account of the story of Bram Fischer, a wealthy Afrikaner and attorney who supported the cause of ending apartheid, defending Mandela at the Rivonia trial and otherwise working to protect the legal rights of other African National Congress activists until he, himself was imprisoned in 1964 for 11 years, released just two weeks before his own death. Gordimer’s novel examines the story of Rosa Burger, the daughter of a martyred anti-apartheid activist, much like Fischer, and how she navigated life in South Africa in the shadow of her upbringing.

The Conservationist (1974), for which Gordimer won a Booker Prize, tells the story of a wealthy, if bumbling and well-meaning white South African who buys a farm on a whim. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that the protagonist isn’t a particularly material factor within the life of the farm, sustained by a community of black Africans. You can read the novel as a metaphor for the role of privileged white South Africans within the entirety of black-majority South Africa.

Gordimer’s writing style is more challenging than either Paton’s or Coetzee’s. It’s fragmentary, non-linear, more Joyce than Hemingway. But it’s powerful, and well worth the effort for understanding life in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

South Africa, and the world, has lost a powerful voice, and her’s is a voice well worth remembering for its skillful grace no less than its role in changing the course of South African and world politics.

Shevardnadze’s legacy to Russia, to Georgia and to the world

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Depending on your age, your nationality and your perspective, you’ll remember Eduard Shevardnadze, who died three days ago, as either a progressive reformer who, as the Soviet Union’s last foreign minister, helped usher in the period of glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev that ultimately ended the Cold War, or a regressive autocrat who drove Georgia into the ground, left unresolved its internal conflicts, and ultimately found himself tossed out,  unloved, by the Georgian people after trying to rig a fraudulent election in a country was so corrupt by his ouster that the capital city, Tbilisi, suffered endemic power outages.Georgia Flag IconGSSR

Both are essentially correct, which made Shevardnadze (pictured above) one of the most fascinating among the final generation of Soviet leadership. It’s not just a ‘mixed‘ legacy, as The Moscow Times writes, but a downright schizophrenic legacy.

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His 2006 memoirs, ‘Thoughts about the Past and the Future,’ have been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months — I ordered the book from a Ukrainian bookstore, and I hoped to find a Georgian language scholar to help translate them. I would still like to read an English translation someday, because I wonder if his own words might offer clues on how to reconcile Shevardnadze-as-visionary and Shevardnadze-as-tyrant.

Gorbachev and Russian president Vladimir Putin had stronger praise for Shevardnadze than many of his native Georgians:

Gorbachev, who called Shevardnadze his friend, said Monday that he had made “an important contribution to the foreign policy of perestroika and was an ardent supporter of new thinking in world affairs,” Interfax reported. The former Soviet leader also underlined Shevardnadze’s role in putting an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his “deep condolences to [Shevardnadze's] relatives and loved ones, and to all the people of Georgia,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Russia’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement on Shevardnadze’s passing, saying the former Georgian leader had been “directly involved in social and historical processes on a global scale.”

Even Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power after Georgians ousted Shevardnadze in 2003′s so-called ‘Rose Revolution’ had somewhat generous, if begrudging, words for the former leader: Continue reading

What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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His Javanese fans call him the ‘Barack Obama of Indonesia.’Indonesia Flag

At age 53, the reformist Jakarta governor, Joko Widodo – or ‘Jokowi’ (pictured above)– is very likely to become Indonesia’s next president, with reliable ‘quick counts’ giving him a margin of around 52% to 48% for his rival, former Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto in the country’s fiercely contested presidential election.

Though the final vote won’t be announced until July 22, leaving Indonesia in a two-week state of semi-uncertainty, the ‘quick count’ results from a half-dozen reputable institutions are generally consistent, they were reliable indicators of the final vote results in Indonesia’s April legislative elections, and they have been reliable indicators in past national elections. Oxford University’s Kevin Fogg, an expert on Indonesia, writes that Jokowi’s ‘quick count’ margin places him safely beyond the realm of ‘dirty tricks, challenges, or underhanded moves,’ despite Prabowo’s alternative declaration of victory, on the basis of less reputable counts from Prabowo-friendly media.

Indonesia, with nearly 247 million citizens, is the world’s fourth-most populous country, the world’s third-largest democracy, Asia’s fifth-largest economy, and it’s an important strategic and trading partner for China, the United States and Australia.

Jokowi’s apparent victory will be welcomed in Washington, Brussels and Canberra because it gives Indonesia a modern leader whose principles are firmly rooted in Indonesian democracy, not Suharto-era authoritarianism. It will also be welcomed among investors in New York, London, Shanghai and Jakarta, who feared that his rival Prabowo’s protectionist and nationalist rhetoric could endanger foreign capital, Indonesia’s rule of law and the steady political, legal and economic gains of the past decade under outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A victory for Indonesia’s democratic institutions

Prabowo, Suharto’s former son-in-law, spent parts of the campaign disparaging the idea of ‘one person, one vote,’ and called into question whether ‘Western-style’ democracy was an incredibly good fit with Indonesian values. He waxed about restoring Indonesia’s 1945 constitution, which would have rolled back direct presidential elections and would more easily allow the president to suspend Indonesia’s legislature on the basis of ‘emergency rule.’ Investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who covered the East Timorese struggle against Indonesian rule, published excerpts from a 2001 interview with Prabowo in which the former general argued that Indonesia wasn’t ready for democracy because it still had ‘cannibals’ and ‘violent mobs.’ Though Prabowo ultimately tried to assure voters of his respect for the democratic process in the 2014 campaign, and though he was Megawati’s running mate in her failed 2009 presidential campaign, Prabowo consistently deployed rhetoric reminiscent of Indonesia’s first two authoritarian leaders, the communist Sukarno and the anti-communist Suharto. Continue reading

As Italy assumes EU rotating presidency, Mogherini shines

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I spoke to the London bureau of Voice of Russia earlier today to share some thoughts about Federica Mogherini (pictured above with Russian president Vladimir Putin), Italy’s still-new foreign minister, and her role in shaping EU foreign policy:Italy Flag Icon

He says that her appointment did surprise some because of her youth and the fact that she has no real top-level ministerial experience. However, “Within Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, she’s established quite a reputation as a rising star, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Beyond Renzi’s efforts of shaking up Italian policy paralysis, it was making quite a statement to appoint a 41-year-old woman as the new foreign minister”…

I argued that Mogherini and Renzi, who has now eclipsed French president François Hollande as the leading figure of the European left, are aiming for a more assertive Italian foreign policy voice. Mogherini has held forth on African migration to the European Union, Iran’s nuclear program, and the ongoing troubles in the Middle East, problems that have a significant diplomatic role for Russia as well as Europe and the United States.

I noted that though Mogherini, who is in Ukraine and Russia this week for talks with officials, is slightly more hawkish with respect to EU sanctions against Russia than perhaps former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi or former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, her top priority is maintaining a united EU foreign policy, especially nine days into Italy’s assumption of the EU six-month rotating presidency.

Italy has grown closer to Russia over the past two decades, and Putin and Berlusconi enjoyed a strong personal relationship that bolstered ties between the two countries. In many ways, that makes Mogherini, like German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is a great EU conduit to Russia:

“I think it’s better to say that she’s likely to take a unified line, depending on where other leaders in the EU stand. In many ways, I think Mogherini is a great conduit to help smooth EU talks with [Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov and other Russian officials.”

Though Mogherini could be mentioned as a candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as the EU high representative later this year, I noted that Mogherini’s performance, strong as it may be, will be one factor in a set of discussions among the 28 EU member-state leaders that will also consider which states get which portfolios within the European Commission and that will consider the new president of the European Council. But with one of the frontrunners, Poland’s hawkish foreign minister Radek Sikorski, in some trouble for impolitic comments about his country’s bilateral relationship with the United States, Mogherini could emerge as a more conciliatory and diplomatic choice.

Photo credit to RIA Novosti.

Jokowi declares victory on basis of ‘quick count’ Indonesia election results

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Jakarta governor Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’) appears to have won the Indonesian presidency today by a steady, if narrow, margin. Indonesia Flag

Both he and former military leader Prabowo Subianto have declared victory, but Jokowi’s claim to Indonesia’s presidency is far more credible. Final results, however, won’t be announced by Indonesia’s elections commission until July 22, creating a window of uncertainty for the next 13 days.

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RELATED: In Depth — Indonesia’s elections

RELATED: Who is Joko Widodo?

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Why, ultimately, should we be relatively confident in Jokowi’s actual win? In Indonesia, there’s a handful of private companies that conduct ‘quick counts’ of the votes. These ‘quick counts’ are generally reliable, and they’re based on exhaustive counting of the real votes. These aren’t exit polls, these aren’t samples, these are full counts. 

All of the most reputable companies showed a narrow lead for Jokowi. The Center for Strategic and International Studies gives Jokowi a 52% to 48% margin, while Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting determined Jokowi won with 52.8% to just 47.2% from Prabowo. Kompas‘s quick count gave Jokowi a 52.34% edge against 47.66% for Prabowo.

Though this year marks the first closely contested race since Indonesia turned to direct presidential elections in 2004, the ‘quick counts’ were generally very reliable during Indonesia’s April legislative elections, which delivered a narrow victory for Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan).

Jokowi, in a gracious victory speech, cautioned against fraud and tampering with the final vote, while Prabowo delivered a less assured address to supporters urging caution:

“I want to assert, that this victory is not the victory of Jokowi-JK [Jusuf Kalla], not the parties’ victory, nor the victory of the success team. This is the victory of the entire Indonesian people. Once again dear all, this is the victory of the whole Indonesian population!” he said. “Now our obligation is to guard today’s election outcome until it becomes the official result of the KPU. We must guard it and make sure that vote counting at the KPU proceeds properly, cleanly and without any intervention from any party. I call on all parties not to try to tarnish the sincere aspiration of the people of Indonesia in today’s ballot.”

Several hours after Jokowi’s speech, rival Prabowo Subianto took the stage inside the ballroom of the Bidakara building in South Jakarta to deliver a fiery speech in which he instructed his supporters not to believe quick counts that were not financed by his team. “It is not over. We should respect the KPU [General Elections Commission]. The battle is not over. We should ensure that the KPU is not influenced by circulating quick counts that are misleading,” said Prabowo.

Only one public quick count showed a Prabowo lead, TV One, which Out of six major Quick Counts seen by The Australian, only one attributed victory to Prabowo, TV One, which projected a 51% to 49% margin in favor of the former general. That’s a problematic count, however, because the partisan TV One is owned by Aburizal Bakrie, the leader of Golkar (Partai Golongan Karya, Party of the Functional Groups), the second-largest party in Indonesia’s legislature, which supports Prabowo in the current race.

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN