Ghani wins Afghan presidency, agrees to dubious power-sharing agreement

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Afghanistan’s election recount is over, but no one knows anything about the extent of the vote totals.afghanistan flag

That’s because Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former UN official and former finance minister, was summarily declared the winner only after agreeing a power-sharing deal with challenger Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and the runner-up to Hamid Karzai in the fraud-riddled presidential election of 2009. Afghanistan’s election commission didn’t even release the purported election results, in part because after three months of post-election limbo, we might not ever know who really won the June 14 runoff.

Ghani will be sworn in as president within the next two weeks, and Abdullah will serve as ‘chief executive officer’ in the new government.

If that sounds vague, it’s because it is.  Continue reading

Scottish referendum results: winners and losers

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The results are in, and Scotland did not vote yesterday to become a sovereign, independent country.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Scottish residents — and all British citizens — will wake up today to find that, however narrowly, the United Kingdom will remain as united today as it was yesterday, from a formal standpoint.

With all 32 local councils reporting, the ‘Yes’ camp has won 1.618 million votes (44.7% of the vote) against 2.002 million votes (55.3% of the vote) in favor of remaining within the British union, capping a 19-month campaign that resulted in a staggering 84.6% turnout in Thursday’s vote.

Moreover, ‘Yes’ won four councils, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city:

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But the close call has shaken the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s vote will now dominate the political agenda in the final eight months before the entire country votes in a general election next May, for better or worse.

So who comes out of the referendum’s marathon campaign looking better? Who comes out of the campaign bruised? Here’s Suffragio‘s tally of the winners and losers, following what must be one of the most historic elections of the 2010s in one of the world’s oldest democracies.

The Winners

1. Scottish nationalism 

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The nationalists lost Thursday’s referendum. So why are they still ‘winners’ in a political sense? Continue reading

Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

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Today, residents of Scotland, a region of 5.3 million people, will vote in referendum that’s been scheduled for 19 months, and that will ask one simple question:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The answer could change the economic, social and cultural outcomes of the lives of both English and Scottish residents for generations to come.

With polls set to open shortly, Suffragio looks at ten policy (and other) issues that Scots are considering as they cast their ballots, either to become an independent state or to remain part of the United Kingdom. Continue reading

If Scotland votes ‘No,’ what will devolution-max entail?

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One of the biggest carrots that the ‘Better Together’ campaign is dangling to undecided voters in the week before tomorrow’s Scottish independence referendum is the concept of ‘devo-max’ — the idea that London will deliver ever greater devolution of policymaking powers to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

Conservative prime minister David Cameron, Liberal Democratic deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband on Tuesday together signed a high-profile pledge to give Scotland greater powers, even without reducing the amount of financial support Scotland currently receives from Westminster.

That is, of course, if Scots vote ‘No’ to independence.

It’s a vow that nationalist leaders, including Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, were quick to dismiss as last-minute gasps of desperation not to be trusted. Salmond, among others, noted that it was Cameron’s insistence on a straight in-or-out vote that eliminated a possible third option for a more federal United Kingdom or some form of devo-max when the two leaders agreed the referendum in March 2013.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown has argued for months that a ‘No’ vote would necessarily require a debate over additional devolution. It might have been strategically wiser if British party leaders, as well as the leaders of the ‘Better Together’ campaign like former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, had acknowledged the devo-max option earlier. That may be one reason why Brown, who engineered Scottish devolution upon Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, has emerged as such a strong champion for the ‘No’ campaign, despite his national defeat in the 2010 general election. His speech today, less than 24 hours before polls open, was one of the best of the campaign (on either side) and maybe the best of his career.

If a ‘Yes’ vote could endanger Cameron’s premiership, a ‘No’ vote tomorrow could alter Brown’s legacy for the positive.

But as politicians from the left and the right have descended upon Scotland in the last week, with polls showing a much tighter contest than the anti-independence campaign ever anticipated, it’s worth considering three questions about the latest promise of further devolution:

  • Has Scotland effectively used its local governance powers in the past 15 years?
  • What additional powers might Scotland be granted as part of ‘devo-max’?
  • With a general election approaching in May 2015, and with the governing Conservative base firmly rooted in England, is the promise of devo-max something Cameron can legitimately deliver, in light of grumbling from English Tories increasingly frustrated about concessions to Scotland?

Continue reading

Thuringia and Brandenburg election results: Left, AfD on the rise

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With the world’s attention more focused on Scotland’s independence referendum this week — or even on Sweden’s national elections — it’s tempting to give short shrift to two state elections in eastern Germany last weekend. But, taken together, they portend major implications for the future of German politics.

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The first is the now undeniable rise of the conservative, eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany). Having narrowly missed the 5% threshold to win seats at the national level last September, the AfD won nearly 10% the August 31 elections in the eastern state of Saxony.

In the September 14 elections, the AfD blew past 10% in both states — winning 12.2% of the ‘list’ vote in Brandenburg and 10.6% of the vote in Thuringia. Not only has the AfD displaced the fast-withering Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party), it now threatens to steal both social and economic conservative voters from the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, Christian Democratic Union) of three-term chancellor Angela Merkel. Years of Merkel’s cautious pragmatism and two ‘grand coalition’ governments may have caught up to the CDU, giving the AfD a wide berth on the German right.

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RELATED: CDU wins Saxony, but faces tougher road in two weeks’ time

RELATED: Left hopes to make eastern breakthrough in
German state elections

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Meanwhile, Germany’s socialist party,  Die Linke (Left Party), will continue as the junior partner to the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, Social Democratic Party) in the Brandenburg state government. More extraordinarily, it has supplanted the SPD as the clear party of the left in Thuringia.

Its leader, Bodo Ramelow (pictured above) could become the state’s next minister-president, which would mark the first time that the  Left has controlled any state government in Germany. Established after reunification as the remnants of the former East German socialist party, it now also includes a significant band of former disaffected left-wing SPD members and supporters.

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Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government

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Stefan Löfven should have savored Sunday night — as Sweden’s election results came in, his center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) emerged as the top vote-winner by an 8% margin, and Löfven is the overwhelming favorite to become Sweden’s next prime minister.Sweden

Monday morning was a different story.

Despite winning the election, the Social Democrats won just 31.2% of the vote, a relatively low total for the party that dominated Swedish government throughout much of the 20th century. In the last two elections, in 2006 and 2010, when outgoing prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt routed the Social Democrats, the party still won 35.0% and 30.7%, respectively.

The last time they won an election, under Göran Persson in 2002, the Social Democrats won 39.9% of the vote. The results from September 14, however, leave Löfven (pictured above) with just 113 seats in the 349-member Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.

sweden 2014If the big loser of the election was Reinfeldt’s center-right Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party), which lost 23 seats, the big winner was the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which gained 29 seats on a platform of limiting Sweden’s generous asylum policy that in 2014 is expected to welcome more than 100,000 refugees to the country, many from war-torn Syria and Iraq. It’s a point of pride for Reinfeldt, presumably, that he spent much of the campaign extolling the compassionate values of his government, even if those costs limited his ability to promise greater welfare spending.

The rest of Sweden’s parties all made relatively small gains or losses — no other party gained or lost more than five seats in total.

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RELATED: Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver
3rd term to Reinfeldt

RELATED
: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Those dynamics, however, leave Löfven in an unenviable position. Though the Sweden Democrats have clearly made the greatest gains in this election, neither the Reinfeldt-led center-right nor the Löfven center-left are willing to bring the anti-immigrant party into government, despite the efforts of its boyish leader, Jimmie Åkesson, to moderate the party’s harder nationalist (and sometimes neo-nazi and xenophobic) edges. One marvels to wonder his well his party might have done had it not been dogged by scandals that forced eight candidates out of the race after news outlets revealed their racist online commentary.

A hung parliament — and no majority for Sweden’s left

But that’s left the Riksdag without a clear majority. After the 2010 elections, the Moderates and their three allies, which together constitute the Alliansen, formed a minority government with 172 seats. Unofficially, the Swedish Democrats often delivered enough votes for Reinfeldt to fill the three-vote gap that his government needed. Löfven cannot count on the unofficial support of Åkesson’s right-wingers. Moreover, after the stunning results for the Sweden Democrats, there are now 49 seats, not 20, that are politically untouchable.

Löfven’s most natural allies, the Miljöpartiet (Green Party), actually lost a seat, falling to 21 seats. Together, with 134 seats, that leaves the Red-Green coalition 41 seats short of a majority.

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After Independence Day: The Road Ahead for an Independent Scotland

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Guest post by Michael J. Geary

With three days to go before Scotland votes on whether to cut the cord on its 300-year relationship with London, opinion polls indicate that the final result is simply too close to call.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The ‘Yes’ campaign had narrowed the gap and last week’s polls have forced London and the British establishment to take evasive action. Some called on Queen Elizabeth II, on vacation at her Scottish estate, to make a statement in support of maintaining the Union. Others, fearing that the wind was behind the pro-independence movement, have adopted more Machiavellian tactics with claims that banks would abandon Scotland if the ‘Yes’ side won. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England repeated that an independent Scotland could not use the pound. Most of the claims made by London seem as dodgy as the dossier that made the case for Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war; most of it does not stand up to objective scrutiny. But if ‘Team Independence’ wins on 18 September, what are Edinburgh’s immediate objectives and challenges?

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RELATED: How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

RELATED: Why would an independent Scotland want to keep the pound?

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Scotland is not the first sub-territorial entity to seek independence and will not be the last. There are almost 60 secessionist movements worldwide with claims to independence. Most face similar challenges post-independence, but modern Scotland is better equipped than most to successfully navigate these obstacles but examining past precedents.

Ireland exited the United Kingdom in 1921; Armageddon did not follow, although it did experience a brief civil war over the terms of the independence agreement, having failed to secure Northern Ireland. The Free State government adopted a new Irish pound, which was for a number of decades pegged to sterling and monitored by a currency commission. Dublin had no central bank until 1943 and the Bank of Ireland acted as banker to the government until the early 1970s. Having left the Commonwealth, Ireland sought greater interdependence from Great Britain through full membership of all the main international organizations, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Communities.

For Scotland, the first 18 months after a ‘Yes’ result will be crucial not only for finding a solution to the currency question but also in securing membership within the international community. Continue reading

No eulogies for Paisleyism

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Ian Paisley was a small man, and he led a small movement that forestalled peace in Northern Ireland for decades, withholding from Protestant and Catholic families alike the economic and social progress that accrued to virtually the rest of western Europe, and inflaming sectarian tribalism that still haunts Northern Ireland’s cultural fabric in the 21st century.United Kingdom Flag Iconnorthernireland

Upon his death today at age 88, he’ll be feted as a statesman in too-long-to-read eulogies prepared long ago in The Guardian and The New York Times.

Those eulogies will note that Paisley, at age 81, finally agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Irish Republicans, making him Northern Ireland’s first minister from 2007 until his retirement in 2008. It was a decade after he opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that generally ended active fighting between Northern Ireland’s Protestant loyalists and Catholic republicans. Those eulogies will show pictures of Paisley smiling and laughing with his nemesis, Martin McGuinness, the Northern Irish leader of Sinn Féin who continues to serve as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in a power-sharing coalition with Paisley’s successor, Peter Robinson.

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They were nicknamed the ‘Chuckle Brothers,’ though it’s hard to find too much to laugh about in the deaths of over 3,500 people during three decades of fighting that tore apart families and stunted the growth of a country all in the name of religious nationalism.

Paisley’s critics argue that his 11th hour conversion to power-sharing was a cynical maneuver — with the knowledge that reverting to the violent era of the Troubles was impossible, Paisley moved to cement his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as the natural party of Protestant governance in Northern Ireland, displacing the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and David Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to enact the Good Friday Agreement.

Cynical or not, Paisley’s late-in-life conversion is a fact, and it won’t be the first time that politicians have taken self-serving actions. In exchange for the power-sharing agreement, Paisley will be remembered today as a statesman with a peerage, not a garden-variety terrorist. That’s just politics, and Paisley made the smart move. He saw, a decade after Good Friday, that the train was well out of the station, and he jumped on at the last minute.

And so much the better for Northern Ireland that he did.

But he took a damned ugly path to get there. Continue reading

Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver 3rd term to Reinfeldt

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When Swedes finish voting on Sunday in general election, they might find that, to their astonishment, the only party with the seats to deliver a majority coalition is the one that both the right and left have treated as politically radioactive for years.Sweden

In the final days of the campaign, the race has tightened between the four-party center-right alliance headed by two-term prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt (pictured above) and the loose confederation of social democrats, greens and socialists that would rally behind Stefan Löfven, the former labor union leader who now heads Sweden’s center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party), which essentially created the Swedish social welfare state in the 20th century.

If the results are close, it could leave the balance of power in the hands of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), even though the party entered the final week of the campaign crippled after news reports revealed racist online commentary of several of the party’s candidates.

Though Löfven’s Social Democrats (and the left, generally) have held a polling lead for much of the the past year, a September 1-4 Sifo poll from showed the left’s generic lead falling to less than 4.9%. A more recent September 8-9 Sifo survey showed the left recovering a greater margin of 7.8%. But up to one-third of the Swedish electorate may still be undecided going into the election on Sunday, making predictions difficult.

Despite Löfven’s lead, many voters approve of Reinfeldt’s performance over the past eight years, most especially as his record relates to the Swedish economy. Sweden has emerged from both the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the 2010-12 eurozone crisis with stronger economic growth than much of the rest of the European Union. While unemployment is still probably too high at around 8%, the rate is slowly declining. But Swedes don’t dislike Reinfeldt. It’s that that Swedes are ready for a change, and Löfven’s moderate social democratic approach would bring more continuity than rupture.

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RELATED: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Though the two Sifo polls this month showed support for the Sweden Democrats dropping from 10.4% to 8.9%, even a ‘poor’ showing would eclipse their previous high point in the 2010 election, when they won 5.7% of the vote. The 2010 breakthrough was a watershed moment for Sweden’s far right — much to the dismay of the rest of the political spectrum. Suddenly, a far-right party that had never held any seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, now held 20.

So even if the Sweden Democrats under-perform in the 2014 election (they won around 9.7% in the May European elections), they could still hold a large enough bloc of seats to deny either the Reinfeldt-led right or the Löfven-led left a majority.

Though the current center-right government has only a minority in the Riksdag, it has often unofficially leaned on the Sweden Democrats for support, though it’s also turned to the Miljöpartiet (Green Party) as necessary on issues like refugees and asylum.

Continue reading

The 13 key EU players in the proposed Juncker Commission

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On Wednesday, the incoming president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above), released full details on the proposed commissioners within his Commission, which will serve as the chief executive and administrative body of the European Union between 2014 and 2019.European_Union

The most important feature of the proposed Juncker Commission is that he’s introduced the greatest amount of hierarchy in an institution that used to be flat. It’s not a secret that some portfolios have always been more desirable than others, especially as the Commission has expanded to include all 28 member-states. But Juncker has introduced a first vice president and five vice presidents, who will also serve alongside Italy’s foreign minister Federica Mogherini, who was appointed two weeks ago to serve as Commission vice president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

The delegation of so much power to five ‘super-commissioners’ with roving, supervisory briefs indicates that Juncker intends to be a much less hands-on Commission president that his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. But it also reflects a Commission that, including Luxembourg’s Juncker, contains five former prime ministers (Finland, Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia).  It also contains four incumbents (Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and Austria) who have served throughout the full second term of the Barroso Commission. That makes the Juncker Commission possibly the most distinguished in EU history.

Each commissioner must be approved by the European parliament and, while individual nominees have had troubles in the past, the parliament typically approves the vast majority of a Commission president’s appointments, all of whom were nominated by their respective national governments.

With nine women, it’s not as unbalanced as feared even a week or two ago, and with 14 members of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), eight members of the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES) and five members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), it generally reflects the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, though some social democrats and socialists are grumbling that the left doesn’t have enough representation.

So what can we expect from this illustrious college of commissioners?

Here’s a look at the 13 most important players in the proposed Commission (aside from Juncker and Mogherini, of course). Continue reading

Who is Nicola Sturgeon? Meet the star of the SNP’s rising generation.

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If there’s one person who will benefit no matter how Scotland votes in its too-close-to-call independence referendum on September 18, it is deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has taken a high-profile role leading the ‘Yes’ campaign that supports Scottish independence.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

When Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) became first minister in May 2007, just eight years after Scotland’s initial elections for its local parliament in Holyrood, Sturgeon became his deputy, and she has served as the deputy leader of the SNP since 2004.

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RELATED: How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

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If Salmond suffers a defeat in next week’s referendum, the 44-year-old Sturgeon, a popular figure in Scotland, might soon replace the 59-year old Salmond in government. Some SNP deputies are already arguing that, if the ‘Yes’ camp doesn’t win next Thursday, Salmond should resign and allow Sturgeon to become first minister, in much the same way that Tories in Westminster are arguing that British prime minister David Cameron would have to step down if the ‘Yes’ campaign wins.

With polls now showing that the ‘Yes’ campaign has essentially caught up with the ‘No’ campaign, a close defeat may yet be a victory for Salmond. As in Québec in 1980, a narrow loss wouldn’t foreclose another possible vote in a decade’s time. But it might be difficult, after losing Scotland’s best chance at independence, for Salmond to lead the SNP into a campaign for a third consecutive term in the next elections, which must be held before 2016. Moreover, another term as first minister is a letdown from the much headier notion of becoming sovereign Scotland’s first prime minister.

On the other hand, if the ‘Yes’ camp pulls off the victory that just a week ago seemed out of its grasp, Sturgeon would almost certainly rise to deputy prime minister in an independent Scotland, just as much the heir apparent to Salmond then as now. As women flock toward independence, according to many polls, Sturgeon may be the ‘Yes’ campaign’s secret weapon.

The bottom line is that Sturgeon is the favorite to become, within the decade, either Scotland’s next first minister (within the existing UK system) or its second prime minister as an independent country.

In light of all of the questions — including Scotland’s currency and EU membership — that would be settled in its first chaotic years as an independent nation-state, Scotland’s future leadership is one of the key variables in whether it would become viable as a new state.

So what exactly would Sturgeon bring in the way of political skill and states(wo)manship?

Continue reading

Five thoughts on Obama’s ISIS announcement

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So much for US president Barack Obama’s statement last week* that the United States doesn’t have a strategy to combat the Islamic State group (الدولة الإسلامية‎) in Syria, which has taken control of eastern Syria and, more alarmingly, large parts of northern and western Iraq.USflag

In a stunning address for a president whose 2008 election owed greatly to his stand against the US war, Obama announced that he would lead a broad coalition to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ Islamic State, and it will include airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria and the deployment of 425 more ‘military advisers’ to Iraq.

Obama compared the new US military action against Islamic State in the same category as the Obama administration’s targeted efforts in Yemen and Somalia and against al-Qaeda. Furthermore, he warned that the operations would not involve combat troops or significant ground forces. In that sense, it’s true that Obama’s latest mission against Islamic State is more like its previous efforts against Islamic radicals elsewhere and less like the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But that’s not the whole story. As the Obama administration’s efforts continue to unfold, here are five points worth keeping in mind that explain why the United States is entering arguably its fourth war (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) in the Middle East since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, what’s at stake going forward, and what the future might hold for the United States and the region.  Continue reading

As Putin blusters over Kazakhstan, what follows Nazarbayev?

Last week, with the world’s attention on the NATO summit and Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin made some eyebrow-raising comments about Kazakhstan, the sprawling Central Asian country that straddles Russia, China and other former Soviet republics.kazakhstan

Just days after meeting with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev (pictured above, left, with Putin), who joined the Minsk summit that brokered last week’s ceasefire between the Ukrainian central government and pro-Russian rebels, Putin fielded a question about Kazakhstan from an audience member at an youth forum in Russia:

“He created a state in a territory that had never had a state before,” Putin said during the Aug. 29 visit, according to a Kremlin transcript. “The Kazakhs never had any statehood. He created it.”

Putin’s comments caused a stir in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic of 17.9 million people, which has emerged as the largest economy of central Asia.

Many Kazakhstanis are worried that Russia’s newly muscular stand with respect to its ‘near-abroad,’ especially as it concerns ethnic Russians outside Russia, could mean trouble for the country in the future. Having won its independence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s leaders have watched the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine warily, especially after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

Nearly 23.7% of Kazakhstan’s citizens are ethnic Russians (compared to 63.1% Kazakh, 2.9% Uzbek, 2.1% Ukrainian, 1.4% Uighur and 1.3% Tatar). Many of them are concentrated in northern Kazakhstan, and there’s a fair share of speculation that one of the purposes of Nazarbayev’s decision to move the capital of Kazakhstan from Almaty, still the country’s largest city and its financial and cultural capital, to Astana, farther to the north, is to create a bulwark against Russia.

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Notwithstanding Putin’s comments, there’s been a Kazakh national identity since at least the end of the 15th century, when a united Kazakh khanate emerged. Over the years, however, the khanate splintered and by the 17th century, the lands of today’s Kazakhstan came under control of the Russian empire.

Though a Kazakh state existed briefly between 1917 and 1920, it quickly became a Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Kazakhs took more than their share of abuse at the hands of Soviet officials throughout the 20th century. Many Kazakhs were forced to serve in gulags, many of which were established in what is today northern Kazakhstan. Eastern Kazakhstan’s Semipalatinsk became the chief nuclear weapons testing site in the Soviet Union, which led to massive radiation exposure among local residents.

That’s one of the reasons Nazarbayev quickly gave up his country’s nuclear arsenal when he returned over 1,200 nuclear warheads to Russia in the early 1990s and destroying Semipalatinsk. Kazakhstan, in the course of less than a decade, went from being the country with the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal to being a nuclear-free country and a case study in effective non-proliferation, even though Kazakhstan remains the world’s largest exporter of uranium. Nazarbayev’s stand on nuclear non-proliferation, and his cooperation with US military goals in Afghanistan and central Asia, are one of the reasons that he’s won so much popularity in Washington over the years.

But if Putin’s grasp of Kazakh nationalism was somewhat dodgy, his comments were felt so ominously in Kazakhstan because of the skill with which Nazarbayev has guided Kazakhstan since the Soviet era. Putin is essentially correct that no one is more fundamental to Kazakhstan’s national identity and independence today than Nazarbayev. With no clear successor — or process for succession — in sight, the obvious worry is that Putin and/or Russia could fill any power gap when Nazarbayev dies or leaves office.

Continue reading

How an independent Scotland could enter the EU

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One of the most vexing questions of the current campaign for Scottish independence is how easily it might be for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag IconEuropean_Union

As a constituent part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has been part of the European Union and its predecessor, the European Economic Community, since 1972, the date of the first EEC enlargement, when Ireland and Denmark also joined.

As such, Scotland has been exempt from several conditions that would be required of an independent country seeking EU membership today. Scotland hasn’t had to join the eurozone or become a member of the Schengen zone, which allows all EU citizens to travel freely throughout 26 of the 28 member states (Ireland and the United Kingdom are the exceptions). It has also received some of the benefit of those rebates that Margaret Thatcher clawed back from Europe in the 1980s.

An independent Scotland might be forced to accept, at least in principle, joining either or both of the the eurozone the Schengen zone as a condition of re-accession to the European Union. The former could complicate the assurances that Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has tried to give that Scotland could continue using the British pound and, like Ireland today, share open borders with what remains of the United Kingdom. Continue reading

If Scotland votes for independence, will David Cameron resign?

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It was another Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillian, who explained in just five short words how governments can crumble with such spectacular suddenness:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Events, my dear boy, events.

Today, his Tory successor, British prime minister, David Cameron faces one of the biggest events of the history of his country — the possible disintegration of the British union, as the chances of a Scottish vote in favor of independence in 10 days rise dramatically.

As polls show that the campaign has rapidly narrowed (the ‘No’ campaign had a 20-point lead just last month), and with handful of polls now showing that the ‘Yes’ campaign has taken a narrow lead just days before the September 18 referendum, Cameron now suddenly faces the prospect that he’ll be the prime minister on whose watch Great Britain simply dissolved.

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RELATED: Why would an independent Scotland
even want to keep the pound?

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It was Cameron, after all, who agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond last year to hold a referendum, and it was Cameron who demanded a straight in/out vote — no third option for ‘devolution max’ or a federalized version of the United Kingdom.

So if Cameron loses Scotland, must Cameron go?

Victory for the independence camp would cause nearly as great a political earthquake in the rest of the United Kingdom as in Scotland. It would leave rest of the United Kingdom — England, Wales and Northern Ireland — to pick up the pieces of what was once a global superpower. All three major parties, including the center-left Labour Party and the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, fully opposed independence. So a ‘Yes’ victory would be a repudiation, from Scotland at least, of the entire political mainstream.

Cameron’s position, in particular, would be especially vulnerable as the prime minister who allowed the great British union to fall apart.

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MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN