Botswana’s Khama, newly reelected, faces showdown over succession

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In Botswana, diamonds may not be forever, but its newly reelected president Ian Khama may hope that the Khama family is nonetheless forever– and he is facing severe parliamentary and judicial pushback.botswana-flag

Fresh off an election campaign that was fiercely contested, at least by the standards of south-central Africa, Khama is already making waves by attempting to install his brother Tshekedi Khama as vice president, clearing the way for him to win the presidency in 2018, when the term-limited incumbent will not be able to run.

Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), has controlled the country since its independence in 1966, and his father, Seretse Khama, founded the BDP in 1961 and served as Botswana’s first president until his death in 1980. Khama, who served as vice president between 1998 and 2008, when former president Festus Mogae stepped down, comes from a powerful royal family among the Twsana ethnic group, to which 80% of Botswana’s population belongs.

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By just about every standard, Botswana — a country of just over 2 million people — is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s success stories. It’s a country where elections are generally free and fair, and where good governance is a reality, not just an aspiration.

The BDP, for the first time since independence, won less than 50% of the vote, for example, in the most recent October 24 general election, though it continues to hold a governing majority in the 63-member National Assembly:

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The BDP won 37 seats, on the basis of 46.5% of the vote, boosted mainly by its longtime supporters across rural Botswana. Its chief opposition, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), a coalition of different parties united under the leadership of human rights attorney Duma Boko, won 17 seats on the strength of 30.0% of the vote, chiefly from disenchanted urban voters in the capital city of Gaborone. A third party, the social democratic Botswana Congress Party (BCP), won another 20.4% of the vote and three seats.

But the election may pale in comparison with the fight that now appears underway between Khama and Botswana’s parliament, including many members of Khama’s own governing party, which is divided into a Khama-led faction and a more independent faction pushing for greater constitutional reforms.  Continue reading

Sankara ghost hangs over Burkina Faso turmoil

sankaraPhoto credit to Pascal George/AFP.

Only seven world leaders have held office longer than Burkina Faso’s president Blaise Compaoré. His place on that list, however, may be coming to a swift end today, amid chaotic protests in the capital city of Ouagadougou, when protesters set the parliament on fire.burkina faso flag icon

For the entirety of his 27-year rule in the Sahelian country, the specter of his predecessor, Thomas Sankara, hung over his reign, possibly now more than ever — the equatorial Banquo to Compaoré’s Macbeth.

Sankara took power, like every single one of his predecessors, in a coup. He did so, in 1983, with Compaoré’s help, and with the charisma of a post-independence African ‘Che’ Guevara, promising to bring an honest and socialist government to his country, which he renamed ‘Burkina Faso,’ or ‘the land of the honest people,’  instead of the more colonial Upper Volta (‘Haute-Volta‘).

Though Sankara was hardly democratic, he enjoyed a groundswell of genuine support, and his brutal assassination just four years later (for which most analysts blame Compaoré) ended a burst of dynamic governance through which Sankara attempted nothing less than a renaissance for Burkina Faso. With mixed roots among both the Mossi and Fulani ethnic groups, Sankara personified the two dominant peoples that comprise a majority of Burkina Faso’s population.

In addition to giving the country a new name and a new national anthem (Sankara, a guitar player, wrote it himself), he turned to an ambitious program of social welfare initiatives. He vaccinated the country’s children against diseases like yellow fever, started a national literacy campaign, took steps to reverse desertification through ‘green’ policies, redistributed land for greater crop production and, in a nod to women’s rights, outlawed female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages, problems that still plague many sub-Saharan Africa countries today. He was also the first African leader to recognize publicly the health threat that HIV/AIDS could cause. Two decades later, by contrast, South African president Thabo Mbeki was still denying the scientific link between HIV and AIDS.

Known for his personal integrity, he sold the government’s fleet of Mercedes and replaced them with much-cheaper Renaults. He opposed foreign aid, but simultaneously demanded debt forgiveness from France and other Western countries.

To be fair, Sankara was no saint. Continue reading

Tunisian election results: the (secular) empire strikes back

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Behind all the happy headlines ushering in the ‘secular victory’ in Tunisia’s Sunday parliamentary elections, there’s a darker possibility lurking.tunisia flag

Tunisia’s newly constituted secular party, Nidaa Tounes (حركة نداء تونس‎, Call of Tunisia),  narrowly defeated Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda (حركة النهضة‎) in the first regular parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring revolution that ousted former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Official results announced hours ago confirmed the victory, which gives Nidaa Tounes a plurality, but  not an outright majority, in Tunisia’s 217-member, unicameral parliament.

Under the new election law, 199 members of the assembly are elected across 33 single-member and multi-member constituencies, with 18 representatives elected from six overseas constituencies.

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The risks of Ennahda are well-known to US and European policymakers, who have long doubted that Islamist movements can also be inclusive and democratic. Though Tunisia’s Islam is mild by the standards of the Arabian peninsula, the Levant and even neighboring Libya, secular Tunisians feared that Ennahda would overreach in the same way as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in his one year as Egypt’s president, endangering the relatively liberal social climate that Tunisians enjoyed, even under the Ben Ali regime.

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RELATED: How Tunisia became the success story of the Arab Spring

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Those fears, despite a rise in violence from fundamentalist Islamists earlier this summer, were always overwrought. Ennahda, which won the first parliamentary elections to Tunisia’s post-Ben Ali constituent assembly in October 2011, has a much more mixed record in government. Tunisians are still unsatisfied about the state of the economy and, especially, unemployment three years after economic factors played a huge role in the protests that led to Ben Ali’s overthrow and kicked off the ‘Arab spring’ revolutions across the Muslim world.

But Ennahda, despite a political crisis that forced its government to resign in January 2014, nevertheless bridged Tunisia from the authoritarian Ben Ali era to the promulgation of a new constitution. In respect of Tunisia’s new democratic system, Ennahda leadership conceded victory, based on preliminary results released Monday.

Rachid al-Ghannouchi, who founded Ennahda in 1981, was a longtime champion of greater democracy in Tunisia, and he has always been painfully mindful of the political divisions that plunged neighboring Algeria into a civil war in the 1990s and the miscalculations of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the increasingly chaotic anarchy in neighboring Libya.

But in Nidaa Tounes, Tunisians have elected into government a patchwork alliance of liberals, labor unions and technocrats and officials with experience that goes back not just to the Ben Ali era, but to Tunisia’s first post-independence president, the long-serving Habib Bourguiba.

That brings another risk — that the rem ants of the Ben Ali and Bourguiba regimes could develop such a stranglehold on Tunisia’s governmental institutions that the country returns to the kind of de facto soft-authoritarian, if secular, state that preceded the spectacular January 2011 revolution that resulted in Ben Ali’s forced resignation.

Tunisian affairs tend toward moderation, among both the Islamist and secular camps. Even during the Bourguiba regime, Tunisia pushed forward with some of the most progressive rights within North Africa and the Middle East, especially as regards women’s rights. So while the prevailing sentiment after Tunisia’s elections should be relief that the vote took place with virtually no disruption, and that Ennahda quickly admitted defeat and indicated its intent to hand over power to Nidaa Tounes, there’s room for concern about the fragility of Tunisia’s nascent democracy.

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No one personifies the ties to the old regime more than Beji Caid Essebsi, the Nidaa Tounes leader, who is also the frontrunner in the Tunisian presidential election set for November 23. Essebsi (pictured above), now age 87, was an advisor to Bourguiba from the first moments of Tunisia’s independence, and he served as the head of Bourguiba’s national police, interior minister and foreign minister, and he served in Tunisia’s parliament during the Ben Ali era. Continue reading

Sata’s death gives Zambia a white president in Guy Scott

Guest post by Andrew J. Novak

scottsataPhoto credit to Amos Gumulira.

After months of rumors about his declining health, Zambian president Michael Chilufya Sata died in a London hospital last night at age 77.zambia

Sata had missed important public events over the past several weeks, including a prominent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, and he appeared unwell at the opening of the Zambian parliament on September 19. Reflecting a level of secrecy that became characteristic of Sata’s three years in office, the Zambian government has still not disclosed the nature of his illness.

Sata was elected in September 2011 on his fourth attempt when he defeated then-president Rupiah Banda, who had himself succeeded president Levy Mwanawasa in 2008 when Mwanawasa died and Banda won reelection by a soft margin three months later. Sata’s death — not unexpected, but swirled in secrecy — is reminiscent of Mwanawasa’s incapacitation. His stroke in summer 2008 sparked widespread rumors and even premature announcements of his death until his condition finally deteriorated in August 2008.

Just as in 2008, the Zambian government has been on ‘autopilot’ since Sata’s health started to fail. And also as in 2008, a new interim leader was appointed, with new elections to be held within 90 days under the Zambian constitution.

This time, however, the situation in Zambia has generated significantly more interest than in 2008, with vice president Guy Scott, an economist and agricultural entrepreneur from Livingstone in southern Zambia, has taken the helm as Zambia’s leader.

Scott is also white, the son of two Scottish immigrants who moved to what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia before World War Two, which makes him the first white head of state in mainland sub-Saharan Africa since F.W. de Klerk ruled apartheid South Africa in 1994 and the first white leader of a democratically elected government (though it’s worth noting that Ian Khama, Botswana’s president, was reelected last weekend after a contentious race, and is of mixed-race descent).  Continue reading

Ukraine election results: Unsurprising win for pro-Western parties

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Since most of the pro-Russian parts of Ukraine are still engaged in a low-grade revolt against Kiev’s pro-Western government, it’s not a surprise that the results of October 26’s snap parliamentary elections were good news for pro-Western parties.Ukraine Flag Icon

The message of the parliamentary election isn’t quite as awful as ‘Ukraine is doomed,’ but it’s hard to take away a lot of comfort that the troubled country is on the right path to political unity and economic progress.

With turnout across eastern Ukraine depressed, most acutely in Donetsk and Luhansk, it makes sense that Ukraine’s new president emerged with the largest number of projected seats in Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, after Sunday’s elections.

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The Petro Poroshenko Bloc (Блок Петра Порошенка) formalizes the electoral alliance that Poroshenko made prior to the May 25 presidential election with heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who was elected Kiev’s mayor earlier this year.

But the new government of Ukraine will invariably look much like the old one — a coalition between Poroshenko and former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose resignation triggered the snap elections earlier this summer.  Then, as now, it’s something of a mystery why new elections were so pressing when Kiev is still struggling to regain control of the eastern regions from pro-Russian separatists.

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RELATED: Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?

RELATED: Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

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Yatsenyuk’s bloc, the People’s Front (Народний фронт), won more absolute votes, according to preliminary results, and another new bloc, Self Reliance (Самопоміч, ‘Samopomich‘), the vehicle of Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi emerged as the surprisingly strong third-place winner.

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Though some sort of Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk coalition seems the likeliest outcome, the two rivals are already sniping over which bloc should lead the coalition talks.  Continue reading

Vásquez charges into second round of Uruguayan vote

tabarevazquezPhoto credit to República.

One of the most salient facts that’s been repeated over the course of this year’s presidential elections in Latin America — first Colombia, then Bolivia and, of course, Brazil last weekend — is that just two incumbents have lost reelection bids in more than three decades of growing regional democracy.uruguay

That’s true, of course.*

But many countries in Latin America limit presidents to a single lifetime term or, at least, prohibit reelection.

That’s the case in Uruguay, where presidents are not eligible for reelection, though they are eligible to run for a second non-consecutive term. That’s why Tabaré Vásquez, Uruguay’s former president, is the nominee of the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) and why he nearly won the first round of the Uruguayan presidential election outright on Sunday.

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Vásquez is vying to win a third consecutive term for Frente Amplio, following the administration of his former agricultural minister, José Mujica, who has pursued a more socially progressive agenda since 2010 than Vásquez implemented between 2005 and 2010. Vásquez, back in 2009, actually preferred that his finance minister to Mujica. But Mujica’s wide following on the Uruguayan left powered him to the coalition’s presidential nomination.

As president, Mujica (who was elected as a senator on Sunday) signed into law a bill legalizing abortion that Vásquez once vetoed. He has also, famously, introduced the most comprehensive marijuana legalization reforms within Latin America, while espousing an aura of almost extreme humility.

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RELATED: Meet José Mujica, the Uruguayan president who’s on the path to legalizing marijuana

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Though a Vásquez restoration would hew Uruguayan policy slightly more to the center, the fate of Mujica’s efforts to legalize marijuana use and other policy matters, including a pledge to take in prisoners from the US facility on Guantánamo Bay, hinge on Vásquez’s victory in the November 30 runoff.  Continue reading

Toronto’s Ford era is over (for now)

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As usual, the supporters of Rob and Doug Ford proved a potent force in Toronto’s municipal politics, bringing the mayor’s elder brother much closer than polls predicted to winning the city’s mayoral election tonight.Canada Flag Iconontariotoronto

John Tory, however, the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, managed to unite center-right and moderate voters, narrowly edging out Ford (pictured above) and third-placed candidate Olivia Chow.

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Chow, a former city councillor and the widow of Jack Layton, the former leader of the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP), began the race earlier this year as its frontrunner. Since July, however, Chow sunk to third place, falling behind Rob Ford who, until his cancer diagnosis in September, was still running for reelection. Incredibly, both Fords commanded a strong core of supporters among the self-proclaimed ‘Ford Nation,’ despite a turbulent four years in which the mayor admitted to crack cocaine use and alcohol abuse, was stripped of many of his executive powers by the Toronto city council, and attended a recovery program for substance addiction.

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RELATED: Rob Ford’s crack cocaine scandal, urban politics and the new face of 21st century Canada

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Such was the power of Ford’s everyman charm that he retained the loyalty of the suburban and working-class voters that fueled Ford Nation. His supporters include a surprisingly high number of racial and ethnic minorities, despite Ford’s sometimes culturally uncomfortable moments (swearing, perhaps drunkenly, in Jamaican patois, for instance). The lingering regard with which ‘Ford Nation’ held for Rob meant that Doug Ford was always a potent candidate for mayor.

Notably, Rob, whose chemotherapy treatments limited his campaigning, still won a seat on the city council from Ward 2 in his native Etobicoke with around 59% of the vote — it’s the seat that he held in 2010 when he was elected mayor. Opponents breathing a sign of relief at Doug Ford’s loss tonight might not want to relax too much. A wiser and healthier Rob Ford could easily return in 2018 as a formidable candidate.  Continue reading

Brazil election results: What to expect from Dilma’s second term

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It was the closest presidential race since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985.brazil

Ultimately, the benefits of incumbency and the track record of poverty reduction were enough to push Dilma Rousseff to reelection against an alliance between her center-right opponent, Aécio Neves, and former candidate Marina Silva, who finished third in the October 5 first-round vote.

Rousseff narrowly defeated Neves by a margin of 51.52% to 48.38% in Sunday’s vote, giving the center-left Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) a fourth consecutive term in power.

Neves, the candidate of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), came from behind to win a spot in the runoff after Silva’s candidacy imploded earlier this year. Silva, a former environmental minister who assumed the presidential nomination of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), after its initial candidate, former Pernambuco governor Eduardo Campos, died in an airplane crash in mid-August.

Neves, who served as a highly regarded governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-most populous state, from 2002 to 2010, is a member of the Brazilian Senado (Senate), and he challenged Rousseff aggressively for several high-profile corruption cases, most recently revelations of kickbacks to PT politicians and their allies from Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.

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RELATED: Petrobras scandal highlights 12 years of Brazilian corruption

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The electorate predictably split between the PT’s supporters in the relatively poorer northeast and the PSDB’s more conservative base in the relatively wealthier southeast. Rousseff narrowly won the crucial battlegrounds of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, though the PT’s support dropped sharply from its levels in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 elections.

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Nevertheless, Rousseff’s PT-led coalition will enjoy a large congressional majority. Voters chose all 513 members of the lower house of the Brazilian congress, the Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies) in the October 5 round.

That’s notwithstanding moderate losses for the PT and its largest partner, the ideologically vapid Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB), largely at the hands of the Partido Social Democrático (PSD, Social Democratic Party), a party formed in 2011 by former São Paulo mayor Gilberto Kassab and a handful of PSDB and other centrist dissenters, who are also part of Rousseff’s coalition.

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So what does Rousseff’s reelection mean for Brazil and for the wider Latin American region? Continue reading

Jokowi takes office in Indonesia as cabinet choices await

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

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

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

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RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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Jokowi’s cabinet… TBD

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

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

A robust Prabowo-led opposition

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

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

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

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

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

Golkar leadership battle could be a gamechanger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Hart deserved better than the dregs of NI peace

GaryHartPhoto credit to Getty Images.

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

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

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

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

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

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RELATED: No eulogies for Paisleyism

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

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

Four lessons as Modi wave extends to Maharashtra, Haryana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Gough Whitlam, Australia’s progressive martyr

whitlamPhoto credit to UPI/Bettman Newsphotos.

Gough Whitlam served as Australia’s prime minister for just three years, but the tumultuous Whitlam era gave the country its most severe constitutional crisis, a universal health care program,  diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China and a progressive statesman whose spirit continues to guide the Australian left today. Notably, his short-lived government was the only one headed by the center-left Australian Labor Party between 1949 and 1983.australia new

Whitlam, who died today at age 98, left office in 1975 after Australia’s governor-general, Sir John Kerr, controversially dismissed him as prime minister, transforming Whitlam into something of a martyr. Whitlam lived for nearly four decades to watch seven more prime ministers come and go, including the internecine battles between the two prime ministers from within his own Labor Party between 2007 and 2013, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Whitlam personified the hope of the new post-war generation when he came to power in 1972, the first center-left prime minister in over two decades. Despite the opposition of the newly dethroned center-right Coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country National Party, Whitlam introduced a whirlwind of legislation. He  created a national healthcare system, Medicare (initially ‘Medibank’), abolished student university fees, eliminated the federal death penalty, withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam and, most controversially at the time, recognized Beijing over  Taipei. Within Australia, Whitlam delivered to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory representation in the Australian parliament’s upper house, the Senate, fought for environmental protections for the Great Barrier Reef (including a ban on offshore oil drilling) and delivered greater control over tribal lands in the Northern Territory for Australia’s indigenous population.

He introduced Australian, rather than British, passports and he replaced ‘God Save the Queen’ with an Australian national anthem. Decades later, he would team up with his former Liberal rivals to support an Australian republic in an unsuccessful 1999 referendum.

There’s no real direct analog to Whitlam in the United States, but you might think of him as Australia’s combination of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter — all in one person and packed into three very tumultuous and very active years in office.  Continue reading

Four things Dilma must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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Plagued by corruption scandals, a sinking Brazilian economy, protests from young voters who scorn politics as usual and howls from an investor class that has lost faith in her ability to govern effectively, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff could become the first president to lose reelection since the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985.brazil

In the first round of the Brazilian elections on October 5, she led the presidential vote against her center-right rival Aécio Neves by a margin of 41.59% to 33.55%, and she effectively vanquished former environmental minister Marina Silva, who emerged in late August as the chief threat to Rousseff’s reelection.

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

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Rousseff now faces a united opposition front — Silva earlier this week endorsed Neves, the candidate of the opposition Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party). Notably, Rousseff’s governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) lost 18 seats in the lower house of the Brazilian national congress.

Accordingly, Rousseff faces a tough fight against Neves, the popular former Minas Gerais governor, and polls show that she very narrowly trails Neves in the October 26 runoff.

As in any election, however, an incumbent like Rousseff has a strong case. Here are the four things she must do to maximize her bid for reelection and a fourth term for the PT. Continue reading

Five things Neves must do to win the Brazilian presidency

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Fresh off a surprising victory in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election, Aécio Neves suddenly seems like a man with a real chance at leading the first center-right administration in 12 years. brazil

As Brazilian voters focus on the campaign for the October 26 runoff, the second post-election Datafolha poll gives Neves, the former governor of Minas Gerais and the candidate of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), a slight lead of 45% to 43%.

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

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It’s not the first time, however, that a poll has showed a challenger leading incumbent Dilma Rousseff, who is hoping to win a fourth consecutive term for her governing, center-left Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party). For much of the month and a half preceding the October 5 vote, Rousseff trailed Marina Silva, who unexpectedly finished in third place after vaunting to the top of polls, when she suddenly replaced Eduardo Campos, who died in an August 13 airplane crash. As the presidential candidate of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB, Brazilian Socialist Party), Silva hoped to thread a third way between the traditional left and right.

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RELATED: Five reasons why one-time frontrunner Silva tanked

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But a steady stream of negative advertising successfully beat back the Silva challenge, and Rousseff is now counting on the same machine to defeat Neves. Unlike in the first round, however, Neves will enjoy equal access to television airtime, so he’ll be on much more solid footing against Rousseff than Silva was.

Fresh off their first debate, however, Neves is still very much in the game. Here are the five things he needs to do between now and October 26 to become Brazil’s next president.

Continue reading

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN