India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 6

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Today, Indians in eleven states (and a territory) will vote in the sixth phase of its elections.India Flag Icon

In terms of seats, today’s phase of voting (in 117 constituencies) is only marginally less important than last week’s April 17 phase, in which 121 seats to the decided.

What’s more, after today’s voting, we’ll be well over the halfway mark of voting in all 543 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) — following today’s phase, we’ll be 195 constituencies away from the end of what’s been the largest, longest election in Indian history.

So where are the key points in today’s round of voting?

Tamil Nadu

The biggest prize is the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which elects all 39 of its Lok Sabha representatives today. It’s one of India’s most populous states, with over 72.1 million people, and it’s also one of India’s largest state economies, with its capital Chennai a primary manufacturing, services and financial hub.

Unfortunately for Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, and for Rahul Gandhi, who hopes to lead the current government to a third consecutive term in power, neither of India’s two national parties are expected to win very many votes here. Continue reading

In first ballot, Lebanon’s parliament fails to elect new president

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As expected, none of Lebanon’s presidential candidates emerged today with the two-third majority required to succeed Michel Suleiman as the next Lebanese president.Lebanon

Suleiman’s term is scheduled to end on May 25, and Lebanon’s parliament today held the first of what is expected to be several ballots to choose a successor. Under Lebanon’s confessional system, its president has traditionally been a Maronite Christian.

The ‘March 8 bloc,’ which includes Hezbollah and Lebanon’s other Shiite parties, some Sunni Lebanese and the Free Patriotic Movement of Maronite leader Michel Aoun, all cast blank ballots.

The ‘March 14 bloc,’ which includes Saad Hariri’s Sunni Future Movement and Lebanon’s other Maronite parties, supported Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanon Forces.

Walid Jumblatt, who leads Lebanon’s political Druze community, supported Henry Helou.

As I wrote yesterday, the first round is largely seen as a testing ground for the strength of the various blocs. Starting with the next round, a candidate needs to win a simple majority (65) in order to win the presidency. If the blank votes correspond neatly to the March 8 coalition’s strength, it means that neither a March 8-backed Aoun candidacy nor a March 14-backed Geagea candidacy will win without appealing to Jumblatt and the Druze community. Aoun and Geagea, both controversial, are longtime rivals, dating back to the Lebanese civil war of the late 1970s and 1980s.

That means that it’s likely that a consensus candidate might emerge, possibly including army commander Jean Kahwagi, central bank president Riad Salameh, or former minister Ziad Baroud.

The presidential vote is the first major decision of the national unity government of prime minister Tammam Salam, which formed in February after ten months of tough negotiations. Lebanon’s next president will face strong pressures as Syria’s civil war enters its fourth year, with elevated tensions between Lebanese Sunni and Shiite constituencies, and with a deluge of Syria refugees challenging Lebanon’s infrastructural capacity.

Jayalalithaa, Tamil actress-turned-strongwoman, could play India’s kingmaker

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As Narendra Modi looks for new places where the ‘Modi wave’ can power him to a majority government, one of those place won’t be Tamil Nadu.India Flag Icon

That’s because, like so many other states in India, Tamil Nadu is dominated by regional parties. Though the politics of Tamil Nadu are unique to the state, it’s a case study in how regional politics can influence and distort national outcomes.

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With over 72.1 million people, Tamil Nadu, which sprawls along India’s southeastern coast, is one of the biggest prizes in India’s nine-phase, five-week marathon election contest, boasting 39 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament.

Tamil Nadu has the second-largest state economy in India, after  Maharashtra (home to Mumbai). Chennai, its capital, is a hub for manufacturing, services and finance, and it and other state cities benefit from being part of the great IT sector hinterland that’s drawn so much foreign investment to Bangalore, which lies just to Tamil Nadu’s northwestern corner.

Though Kerala (0.790) and Delhi (0.750) lead India with the highest state/territory-level human development indices, Tamil Nadu’s HDI (0.570) is equivalent to that of Maharashtra, making it higher than the Indian average (0.467) or in Gujarat (0.527). Tamil Nadu’s GSP per-capita is also, slightly, higher than Gujarat’s. That’s significant because Modi is largely campaigning on the economic prowess of the ‘Gujarat model‘ and his economic stewardship of Gujarat since 2001.

Though Modi and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) are expected to win this spring’s election, it’s still an open question if he and the BJP’s allies can amass the 272 seats that they’ll need to form a secure majority government.

One of the reasons for that is the dominance of regional parties like those in some of India’s largest states, including Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha.

Amma’s state

That also means that the state’s chief minister and its virtual strongwoman, Jayalalithaa (pictured above), a former Tamil cinema actress, could become one of several outsiders to which Modi turns to form a coalition. If there’s anyone in India who’s perfected the personality cult, it’s Jayalalithaa, whose face greets you throughout the state, from rural towns to urban centers like Chennai (formerly Madras) and Madurai. Known affectionately as ‘Amma’ (‘mother’ in Tamil), her government is responsible for setting up ‘Amma canteens‘ to provide subsidized food to the poor, providing ‘Amma bottled water‘ to deal with chronic shortages and even establishing ‘Amma theaters‘ for entertainment purposes.

For the more prurient of you, here’s an awesome clip of Jayalalithaa pushing the sexual boundaries of Indian cinema (she was the first Tamil actress to appear in a skirt):

Continue reading

Lebanon’s parliament considers presidential choice tomorrow

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aounWith the term of Lebanese president Michel Suleiman set to expire on May 25, the country’s 128-member parliament will convene tomorrow, April 23, for the first of what will likely be weeks of voting and negotiating to select a replacement.Lebanon

Though the president has less day-to-day power over Lebanese governance, it’s a vital post at a time when national unity is stretched to its limits and Syria nears the third anniversary of the start of a brutal civil war that falls along precarious sectarian lines. Syria’s conflict has brought a massive wave of refugees into Lebanon, and it’s also caused significant unrest from Tripoli to Beirut, with some Shiite Lebanese intervening on behalf of the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and some Sunni Lebanese intervening on behalf of anti-Assad rebels.

Though Suleiman has only served as Lebanon’s president since 2007, his increasingly critical remarks against Hezbollah (حزب الله‎), the powerful social, political and military Shiite organization, have made it unlikely that he’ll win reelection. Hezbollah, among all of Lebanon’s political groups, has taken the boldest and most consequential steps into the Syrian war in support of Assad.

The presidential vote follows the successful formation of a new government in February, which itself followed ten months of difficult negotiations guided by Lebanon’s current prime minister Tammam Salam. The national unity government includes ministers from the ‘March 8′ bloc,* the ‘March 14′ bloc and top Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (الحزب التقدمي الاشتراكي‎), which has switched between the March 8 and March 14 camps throughout the past five years.

Under Lebanon’s complex confessional system, whereby 64 seats in Lebanon’s national assembly (مجلس النواب) are reserved each for Muslims and for Christians, the presidency traditionally goes to a Maronite Christian, the premiership to a Sunni Muslim and the speakership of the national assembly to a Shiite Muslim.

That means that the race will feature some of Lebanon’s most prominent Maronite leaders. But with a two-thirds majority required to win the presidency, no one believes that Lebanon will choose its next president anytime soon. (In the second round of voting, a candidate needs only a simple majority to win the presidency.)

Right now, the only major declared candidate is Samir Geagea (pictured above, top), the leader of the Lebanese Forces (القوات اللبنانية‎). For now, at least, Geagea is the candidate backed by the entire cross-confessional March 14 coalition. But Geagea isn’t the most uniting candidate, even within the March 14 camp. He’s unlikely to wield enough support, even in the second round, to win enough over votes from the March 8 coalition, which will likely cast blank ballots in tomorrow’s vote. The March 8 bloc’s top choice for the presidency will almost certainly be Michel Aoun (pictured above, bottom), the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (التيار الوطني الحر‎), the most prominent Maronite group within the March 8 alliance.

As it stands, the first round is more important for establishing the relative strength of each bloc than for electing a president outright — to that degree, both Geagea and Aoun (to the extent casting a blank vote is casting a blank vote for Aoun) represent stalking horses for the March 14 and March 8 camps. Continue reading

Algeria election results: Bouteflika wins handily

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To confirm what was obvious to anyone before the election, Algeria’s long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, at age 77, has won a fourth term.Algeria_Flag_Icon

Though he won 81.53% of the vote, that marks a drop from the 90.2% he won in 2009 and the 85.0% he won in 2004. What’s more, turnout dropped to 11.3 million (just 51.7%) from 15.35 million in 2009 (74.5%), demonstrating just how apathetic Algerian voters have become about the election.

The runner-up, Ali Benflis, served as Bouteflika’s prime minister from 2000 to 2003 and was once a top official in the ruling Front de Libération Nationale (FLN, National Liberation Front, جبهة التحرير الوطني), but he broke with Bouteflika to run in the 2004 election. While he officially won 12.18% of the vote in the April 17 election, he denounced the vote as subject to widespread fraud.

Even with victory assured, is the ANC’s future at risk?

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No one doubts that the African National Congress (ANC) will win South Africa’s parliamentary elections on May 7, extending its political hold on the country since the end of apartheid in 1994 and the election of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first non-white president.south africa flag

Twenty years later, South Africans are going to the polls for the first time following Mandela’s death late last year, and the chief opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will be satisfied if it can make further gains, consolidating its hold on Western Cape province, where the DA’s leader Helen Zille serves as premier, appealing to voters in Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, and growing its presence in Gauteng under the leadership of rising star Mmusi Maimane, currently a member of the Johannesburg city council.

But even if the ANC wins with over 60% of the vote, the same level of support as it has generally attracted in the past three elections, South Africa’s ruling structure will enter its third consecutive decade in power exceedingly unpopular, increasingly divided and with no clear path of transition to a compelling successor to the 71-year-old Zuma (pictured above, right, with deputy ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa).

As Zuma is term-limited as South Africa’s president (the president is elected shortly after parliamentary elections, so the ANC’s dominance will all but assuredly result in Zuma’s reelection later in May or June), he’ll enter his second term as a lame duck with nagging controversies over mismanagement and corruption.

What’s more, the ANC will elect a new leader in 2017 — meaning that, unless Zuma tries to hold onto the party leadership, the ANC will determine the individual who could lead South Africa from 2019 to 2029 within the next three-year window. Though posturing for the 2017 contest is well under way, if quietly, too few ANC leaders are talking about how to revitalize the ANC for a new generation of issues and policy challenges.

Policy and governance woes

Over the past five years, South Africa’s once-booming economy has slowed. Continue reading

How a bottle of wine brought down one of Australia’s top politicians

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In the end, all it took for Barry O’Farrell to lose his job as the premier of New South Wales, Australia’s most-populous state, was a $3,000 bottle of wine.australia newnew south wales flag

Though he came to power in 2011 in a landslide victory over the Australian Labor Party, O’Farrell resigned last week as premier after just three years in office and seven years leading the NSW division of Australia’s center-right Liberal Party.

O’Farrell, who appeared before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), denied having received a gift bottle of 1959 Grange Meritage from  from an executive at Australian Water Holdings. Unfortunately for him, the commission had found a handwritten thank-you note to AWH’s CEO Nick Di Girolamo, which read:

Dear Nick & Jodie, We wanted to thank you for your kind note & the wonderful wine. 1959 was a very good year, even if it is getting even further away! Thanks for all your support. Kind regards, Baz & Rosemary.

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A day after the thank-you note came to light, O’Farrell (pictured above) claimed that, in a ‘massive memory fail,’ he had no recollection of the gift, but nevertheless announced his resignation.  He stepped down officially on Thursday, and the New South Wales treasurer Mike Baird became the state’s new premier the same day.

It’s a fairly well-trodden path for a politician caught in a bind like this — if you believe your position untenable, better to resign as early as possible, take credit for ‘falling on your own sword,’ and hope for future rehabilitation via the private sector or, in time, a political sinecure. Sure enough, at the end of the week, Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott was praising O’Farrell for having ‘taken the honorable step’ of resigning.

O’Farrell’s resignation came so fast that some commentators wondered whether he did so because he realized more revelations would come out through the commission’s investigation.

In political terms, his resignation is unlikely to dent Abbott’s Liberal/National Coalition government. But it turns state politics upside down in New South Wales, home to 7.3 million Australians — nearly one-third of the country’s entire population. Continue reading

ESSAY: How Gabriel García Márquez introduced me to Latin America

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Whenever I go to México City, I marvel at the way its indigenous history integrates into the fabric of the city. Nahuatl words, like ‘Chapultepec,’ meaning grasshopper, and ‘Xochimilco,’ a neighborhood featuring a series of Aztec-created canals, pepper the geography of the city. Those are just two of hundreds of daily reminders rooting Latin America’s largest modern megapolis of 8.9 million in the language and traditions of its pre-Columbian past. It’s where the Virgin of Guadalupe, a young Nahuatl-speaking girl, apparently revealed herself to Juan Diego in 1531 as the Virgin Mary, instructing him to build a church, launching one of the most compelling hybrid religious followings in the New World. Even the inhabitants of the notorious Tepito barrio worship Santa Muerte on the first of November with bright flowers, cacophanous marimba and not a small amount of marijuana, in celebration of the magical chasm between what is, for many Tepito residents, a gritty life and an often grittier death.

It’s the way that México City blends the mysterious and the mundane, matches the sacred with the profane and so blends the line between the indigenous and conquistador that it’s hard to know who conquered what. For all of those reasons, I often think of it as the unofficial capital of realismo magico.

So it’s natural to me that the literary master of magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez, made his home in México City for much of the last six decades of his life. It’s also where García Márquez died on April 17 at age 87.

It was his uncanny ability to blend the realistic with the magical that largely won him such adoration worldwide. But what makes the writing of García Márquez and the other authors of the 1960s Latin American Boom so electrifying to me is the way that it blended the literary with the political. Certainly, García Márquez’s writing was about family, about love, about solitude, about power, about loss, about fragility, about all of these universal themes. But his writing also explicated many of the themes that we today associate with Latin America’s culture, identity, history and politics.

His death wasn’t entirely unexpected. García Márquez was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer all the way back in 1999 and by the beginning of the 2010s, he rarely made public appearances anymore due to the grim advance of Alzheimer’s disease. By the time I made it to Latin America for the first time, he was already approaching 80, and I knew I’d have little chance of meeting him.

That’s fine by me, because I always considered him, through his work, my own personal ambassador to Latin America. Over the course of several treks through Latin America, Gabo still accompanied me through his writing – and along the way, he shaped my own framework for how I think about Latin American life.

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(8) Going up the Argentine Andes 2

When I was planning my first trip to Latin America, I brought with me a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I saved the novel for this very occasion, a trek from Buenos Aires to Mendoza and then by bus over the Andes to Santiago. Technically speaking, I was on the wrong end of the continent for García Márquez. I packed some Neruda, some Allende and some Borges — and some Cortázar, too (mea culpa, I still haven’t clawed enough time to read Hopscotch).

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Nevertheless, García Márquez’s words transcended the setting of his native Colombia. Hundred Years, published in 1967, just six years after the Cuban revolution that undeniably marked a turning point in its relationship with the behemoth world power to the north, it came at a time when Latin American identity seemed limitless, and García Márquez mined a new consciousness that wasn’t necessarily Colombian or even South American. So much of the story of Colombia’s development from the colonial era through the present day is also cognizably Bolivian, Chilean, Mexican or Argentinian. After all, García Márquez, already a well-known figure, went on a writing strike when Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973, ousting the democratically elected Socialist president Salvador Allende, who either committed suicide or was shot on September 11, the day of the coup.

It was an intoxicating read. The sleek brown corduroy blazer I picked up in Buenos Aires with the affected hint of epaulets on the shoulders soon became what I called my ‘Colonel Aureliano’ jacket. Besides, where better to buy a Spanish language copy of his work than El Ateneo, perhaps the most amazing bookstore in the world?

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Hundred Years, of course, came highly recommended from the world that had discovered García Márquez decades before I was even born. It became an instant hit upon publication, catapulting García Márquez’s popularity beyond his more established peers, including México’s Carlos Fuentes and Perú’s Mario Vargas Llosa.

Bill Clinton, in his autobiography My Life, confesses to zoning out of class one day in law school to finish it:  Continue reading

All you wanted to know about Ukraine’s Donbass region

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For the second time in as many months, Ukraine’s crisis threatens to spiral out of control, with the Ukrainian military now trying (mostly in vain) to secure several cities in the Russian-speaking east from a band of pro-Russian separatists. Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Just over a month ago, Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula region in the south of Ukraine with an overwhelmingly large Russian ethnic population. For all the bluster between Washington and Moscow, you’d have thought that Crimea was as important to the international world order in 2014 as Cuba was in 1963 or Hungary was in 1956.

But the world largely seemed to accept Russia’s annexation of a region that was, after all, part of Russia until 1954. Yesterday in Geneva, after as the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union reached a somewhat thin agreement to reduce the current tension in eastern Ukraine, US secretary of state John Kerry tersely declared, ‘we didn’t come here to talk about Crimea.’

So what’s so different now? Will the latest framework, agreed just on Thursday, succeed? Was Crimea just a warmup act for a larger Russian annexation?

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RELATED: Why more protests won’t solve Ukraine’s political crisis — and why the Orange Revolution didn’t either
RELATED: What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovich’s ouster

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Not to worry. Here’s everything (and more) you probably ever wanted to know about the Donbass, the eastern-most region of Ukraine that’s now center-stage in the latest round of the fake Cold War.

What is the Donbass?

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The Donbass — or the Donbas (It’s Донбас in Ukrainian, Донбасс in Russian, and if we’ve learned anything about linguocultural conflict, it that language matters a lot) gets its name from the Donets Basin, which is the coal-mining, heavy-industry heart of eastern Ukraine. As a formal matter, the Donbass includes just the northern and center of Donetsk oblast (an oblast is Ukraine’s version of a state), the south of Luhansk oblast, and a very small eastern part of Dnipropetrovsk oblast.  Continue reading

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 5

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It’s election day once again in India, and today marks the fifth phase of the nine-phase marathon to determine India’s national government. Indians today will elect 121 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). That makes today’s round, just barely, the most important of all nine phases. Together with the April 24 phase next week, Indians will choose 43% of the seats in the entire Lok Sabha in just two rounds of voting.  India Flag Icon

So what are the keys to the voting in today’s phase?

Here’s our trusty map of India’s states, as a reference point before we jump into the state-by-state breakdown:

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Karnataka

The biggest prize is the south-central state of Karnataka, a state of over 61 million Indians, home to Bangalore and India’s high-tech sector. All of its 28 representatives to the Lok Sabha will be elected in today’s voting.

More than any other state in India, it’s been especially impermeable to the ‘Modi wave’ that polls predict will lift the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, to power.

In the May 2013 state elections, the BJP lost control of the Karnataka state government, terminating the BJP’s historic first government in India’s south. The loss had less to do with Modi than with corruption and infighting within the state party. Nonetheless, the  BJP was wiped out, losing 72 seats in the state assembly, and damaging its reputation in advance of this year’s national elections.

With the memories of the disastrous BJP state government still fresh, Karnataka could be the rare bright spot for India’s governing party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which could pick up eight seats for a total of 14, according to the latest NDTV poll.

One of the marquee contests is in the Bangalore South constituency, where Congress’s candidate is Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekan, running against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar. 

Rajasthan 

The BJP’s most impressive victory in last November’s state elections occurred in the arid, western state of Rajasthan, India’s eight-most populous state, where Congress lost 75 seats and the BJP gained 84 in the state’s legislative assembly. It was the BJP’s best-ever performance and Congress’s worst-ever performance.

So Modi has high hopes here, in a state that lies just north of his own home state of Gujarat — if the BJP runs away with this election and forms India’s next government, it will be largely because of the lopsided  victories it’s expected to win here and elsewhere in India’s north.

Twenty constituencies, out of a total of 25, will vote in Rajasthan today, including the historic city of Jodhpur (pictured above).

Continue reading

India’s ‘Mr. Clean’ seeks fourth term in Odisha elections

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Naveen Patnaik is one of India’s longest-serving chief ministers — and one of its most popular.India Flag Icon

Though his chances of winning a fourth consecutive term in Odisha’s state government are high, he faces a difficult challenge in state elections that are being held concurrently with national elections to determine India’s next government. Odisha holds the second of two phases — the first was on April 10 — to elect its 21 representatives to the national parliament, as well as all 147 members of its state-level Legislative Assembly.

Odisha, with 41.95 million residents, is basically as populous as Argentina. It’s a sprawling state on the central coast of eastern India, nudged to the southwest of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Formerly known as Orissa, the state is the home of most of India’s Oriya/Odia language speakers. It’s one of the most Hindu states in India (over 94% of the population), with a larger Christian population (2.4%) than Muslim population (2.1%).

Politics in Odisha are essentially a three-party affair, including the familiar national parties, the center-left Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and the center-right, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी).

But echoing an increasing trend throughout India, the dominant state-level party for more than a decade now has been the Biju Janata Dal (BJD, ବିଜୁ ଜନତା ଦଳ), which holds an overwhelming advantage in the Legislative Assembly:

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Patnaik, like so many Indian politicians, is the son of another prominent politician – Biju Patnaik, who served as chief minster in the 1960s and again in the 1990s.  Continue reading

Bouteflika headed for controversial fourth term

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Though Algeria quickly became one of the first countries where the ‘Arab Spring’ protests gained momentum three years ago, its longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is almost certain to win a fourth term in Thursday’s presidential election. Algeria_Flag_Icon

Algerians, like many others throughout north Africa and the Middle East, coalesced in protest of higher prices, massive unemployment and the general lack of economic progress. But with memories of Algeria’s brutal, decade-long civil war of the 1990s still fresh, it was enough for Bouteflika (pictured above) to agree to end the 19-year period of ‘emergency rule,’ lift some of his government’s more oppressive measures against political expression and introduce subsidies to lower the price of food and other necessities.

Besides, most Algerians thought, he would be too old at age 77 to run for a fourth term. Nonetheless, despite a campaign to convince Algerian voters to boycott tomorrow’s vote, Bouteflika will theoretically extend his rule through 2019.

But Bouteflika’s reelection campaign says less about Bouteflika than it does about the power struggle bubbling beneath the surface. Frail and unable to walk, Bouteflika suffered a stroke last year and spent four months receiving medical treatment in Paris. No one thinks he’ll last another five years. At a recent meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry, he could barely stand up or and he seemed unable to speak clearly.

So why not groom a successor and let Bouteflika slip into a comfortable retirement? Continue reading

Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy

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Earlier this month, Nigeria ‘recalibrated’ the way it calculates its gross domestic product to more effectively capture the real value of its economy.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s a step that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are taking — including Ghana in 2010 and Kenya this year — as they refine the tools they use to measure GDP growth. Nigeria, for example, hadn’t recalculated its base since 1990. Perplexingly, e-commerce, telecommunications and the country’s growing film industry (‘Nollywood’) hadn’t previously been captured.

Not surprisingly, the recalibration caused Nigeria’s official GDP to leap by nearly 75% to around $510 billion, making it Africa’s largest economy. That shouldn’t come a surprise to anyone, in light of predictions that Nigeria would overtake South Africa sometime by the end of the decade. Nigeria is the epitome of the newly emerging Africa. Lagos, its sprawling port, is now Africa’s largest city, recently surpassing Cairo. Its population, already Africa’s largest at 173.6 million, could surpass the US population within the next three decades or so.

But Nigeria’s newfound status is more the beginning of a journey than its terminus, a journey that will become especially pertinent to global affairs throughout the 21st century as Nigeria’s impact begins to rival that of China’s or India’s.

But today, Nigeria’s GDP per capita, even after the rebasing, is just around $3,000. That’s less than one-half the level of GDP per capita in South Africa, which is around $6,600. Though the stakes of Nigeria’s relative success or failure will become increasingly important to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and to global emerging markets in the years ahead, there’s no guarantee that Nigeria, 54 years after its independence, won’t succumb to state failure.

Nigeria spent its first decade stuck in a tripartite ethnic struggle that ended in a devastating civil war, followed by bouts of military rule from which it emerged imperfectly in 1999. Lingering security challenges, like those posed by Boko Haram, a Muslim insurgency from Nigeria’s northeast, continue to expose the country’s ethnic tensions and the religious and socioeconomic gap between the relatively prosperous Christian south and the relatively underdeveloped Muslim north. Incipient political institutions plagued by a culture of corruption for decades, with less than fully formed democratic norms, could easily erase the stability gains made since the 1999 return to democracy. Although oil wealth has since the 1960s given Nigeria a financial means to solve its lengthy list of developmental, educational, and environmental problems, the mismanagement of oil revenues have so far transformed the wealth into a classic resources curse.

Existential challenges

Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

Even before independence, British colonial rule divided what is today’s Nigeria into a Northern Protectorate and a Southern Protectorate, and the two parts of today’s Nigeria were governed, nearly until 1960, as discrete units. Continue reading

Why the US needs to start thinking about a Scottish policy

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I write in The National Interest on Tuesday that as the pro-independence ‘Yes’ campaign narrows the gap with unionists in advance of the September 19 referendum, and it becomes more feasible that Scotland could become an independent, sovereign country, the United States needs to start thinking about a cohesive foreign policy regarding Scotland.scotlandUSflag

First minister Alex Salmond (pictured above in New York earlier this month) is leading the ‘Yes’ campaign, and he’s been a thorn in US-British relations for quite some time — both to US president George W. Bush (Salmond vehemently opposed the US invasion of Iraq) and to Barack Obama (Salmond’s government in 2009 released Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, on health grounds).

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RELATED: Momentum shifts in favor of Scottish independence

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But if Scotland becomes an independent country, it will require a huge rethink for the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom, and the economic, diplomatic and security  consequences of what would presumably be a ‘special’ tripartite relationship among the United States, Scotland and the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

Though polls still show that the ‘No’ camp is leading, U.S. policymakers should be taking the possibility of an independent Scotland more seriously and, accordingly, preparing for the possible repercussions of a successful ‘Yes’ vote for U.S.-Scottish relations.

No third country has a greater stake in the outcome of the Scottish vote than the United States, which would have to reconfigure its ‘special relationship’ with what presumably would be the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,’ while formulating a wholly new relationship with an independent Scotland. It’s a relationship that the United States has never had to consider seriously, given that when Scotland and England merged with the Act of Union in 17o7, the original American colonies were still sixty-nine years away from declaring independence.

Do read the whole piece here

Photo credit to Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images.

Libya hits new security low as interim prime minister resigns

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Just a little over a week after Libya’s prime minister Ali Zaidan was sacked over the country’s deteriorating security situation, its newly appointed interim prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni has resigned after threats on his life and the lives of his family members. Libya_Flag_Icon

In the United States and Europe, Libya long ago fell from the headlines, despite the support that NATO allies provided to the rebels that sought to oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But over three years after Gaddafi fell from power (he was captured during an attempt to escape his hometown of Sirte and brutally murdered by a mob), Libya is not in particularly good shape.

Oil production has allegedly fallen to just 12.5% of its Gaddafi-era levels, as the central government and regional militias play a game of tug-of-war over potential oil revenues. Meanwhile, the Libyan government is unable to guarantee security throughout much of the country, especially outside Tripoli.

Al-Thinni (pictured above), who formerly served as Libya’s defense minister, made it clear that he’s stepping down after an attempted attack on him and his family:

“My family and I suffered a brutal attack last night and shooting terrified local residents and put lives in danger,” Thinni said in a letter addressed to the [General National Congress] and published on the official Prime Ministry website. “I will not accept one drop of blood to be spilled because of me and I will not allow myself as Prime Minister to be a reason for Libyans fighting.”

Much of the problem lies in the eastern region of Cyrenaica, the cradle of the Libyan revolution against Gaddafi, and a traditional stronghold of opposition to Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. Continue reading

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