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

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Another week, another crisis in Ukraine.Ukraine Flag Icon

Just days after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered to resign after two parties left the five-month ruling coalition that formed in the wake of Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from office back in February.

Those five months have witnessed an incredible amount of activity in Ukraine: Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the rise of Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, the May election of Petro Poroshenko as the country’s new president, and the crash of Flight MH17.

Those two parties, the right-wing nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Всеукраїнське об’єднання «Свобода») and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR, Український демократичний альянс за реформи) of newly elected Kiev mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko, ostensibly left the government over the onerous conditions that Yatsenyuk was trying to enact into law pursuant to the $17 billion loan package provided by the International Monetary Fund, which contemplates that Ukraine will bring its budgets closer into balance. It’s understandable that lawmakers aren’t keen to introduce austerity measures with an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine and with the economy still in shambles — it could contract by as much as 6.5% this year, and the Ukrainian hryvnia has lost nearly 30% of its value so far in 2014.

But Svoboda and UDAR, which joined the pro-Western government alongside Yatsenyuk’s own  ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Batkivshchyna, Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), knew the strings attached to the IMF loan from the outset.

Why now?  Continue reading

West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is as much a crisis of governance as health


It’s a fluke of random nature that the fearsome Ebola virus is endemic to some of the poorest and least governable countries in the world. sierra leone flagliberiaguinea

But unlike in central Africa, where previous outbreaks were controlled through limited mobility of local populations, the current outbreak, centered in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is afflicting a corner of the world that features far greater travel.

So while central African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo are hardly equipped to deal with modern epidemics, the epidemiological limitations of prior Ebola outbreaks haven’t always required the kind of national mobilization that’s now necessary to bring the west African outbreak under control. Though all three west African countries have worked to build governing institutions, they are all barely a decade removed from some of the most fearsome civil wars in recent African history. That’s left all three countries with populations loathe to trust public health officials, making the Ebola outbreak west Africa’s most difficult governance  crisis since the end of its civil wars in the early 2000s.

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Though the three countries in the middle of the current crisis are relatively small, the news that Ebola has now travelled to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, via a US citizen no less, has raised concerns that Ebola could also spread even farther. Though the Nigerian government’s rapid response in quarantining and monitoring those exposed to Ebola was impressive, there are already worries that Ebola has crossed the border into Mali, where the government is still battling to unite the country after a disabling civil war with northern Tuareg separatists (and an influx of international Islamist jihadists).

The outbreak is already, by far, the deadliest in history, infecting 1,201 and killing 672, as of July 25, according to the World Health Organization. in the three countries since the first case was reported in Guinea in February.

So what exactly are the political and historical backgrounds of the three countries in the maelstrom of the current Ebola outbreak? And how equipped are they to handle a full-blown epidemic?

Continue reading

Hernández selectively blames US for child migrant crisis

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When you talk to Hondurans on the streets of San Pedro Sula, they’ll tell you they are more afraid of the police than of drug traffickers or gang members.USflaghonduras flag icon

In a county where drug traffickers offer far higher payoffs than the salaries constrained by stretched national and local budgets, today’s hero is tomorrow’s villain, and the line between good guys and bad guys has become impossible to draw. Corruption runs high and impunity runs even higher in a country where the judicial system is incapable of prosecuting a shockingly high number of violent  incidents.

Yet when Honduras’s new president Juan Orlando Hernández (pictured above at the US Capitol) came to the United States last week to meet with US president Barack Obama, he pointed fingers at US policymakers for the sudden wave of child migrants from Central America to the US border seeking asylum — 57,000 this year and counting, more than 25,000 alone from Honduras.

With nearly 8.5 million people, Honduras is the second-most populous country in Central America (after Guatemala with 14.4 million) and in the current crisis, many more child migrants have arrived at the US border from Honduras than from either Guatemala or El Salvador. For example, more children have arrived from San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s northern industrial hub than from all of Guatemala. Though Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, isn’t exactly the world’s safest city, it’s a tranquil oasis compared to San Pedro Sula and the northern coast, which is plagued with the worst of the drug-related violence that has given Honduras the world’s highest murder rate — 79.7 homicides per 100,000, amounting to around 18.5 homicides a day.

That’s one reason why the Obama administration is allegedly considering the unusual step of allowing refugees to seek asylum directly within Honduras, modeled after former programs developed for war-torn Vietnam and ravaged Haiti, a tacit acknowledgment that the human rights situation has reached dire levels.

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RELATED: Unaccompanied minors? Blame a century of US Central American policy.

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When Hernández came to the United States last week, he was quick to blame coyotes for turning their predatory sights to Central America, and he was quick to blame the US immigration reform debate for creating ‘ambiguity’ about US policy. But above all, Hernández noted that US demand for illegal drugs fuels the trafficking that so afflicts Honduras today: Continue reading

Burundi sets presidential election for June 26, 2015

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The troubled east African country of Burundi has set its parliamentary and presidential election dates, establishing the timeline by which Burundi’s fragile government could fall into political (or even ethnic) conflict.burundi

Burundi will hold parliamentary elections on May 26, 2015 with its presidential election to take place exactly one month later on June 26.

Isolated as the poorest and the only French-speaking country within the mostly English-speaking East African Community (EAC), Burundi has increasingly assumed an atmosphere of fear and repression as the 2015 elections approach. It’s widely believed that Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza is planning to seek a third term in office, despite constitution restrictions to the contrary.

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RELATED: As world remembers Rwanda genocide,
Burundi tilts into political crisis

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That’s left the Burundian opposition increasingly soured on participating the upcoming vote, and it could well boycott the 2015 elections, much as it did the 2010 elections.

Even if Nkurunziza declines to run, pulling back from the brink of a political crisis, his governing Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD, National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy) will almost certainly try to keep a tight grip on power. With the increasing stranglehold that Nkurunziza has taken over the country in the past decade, however, that shouldn’t prove difficult.  Continue reading

Orbán designs to transform Hungary into ‘illiberal’ state

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It sounds like a headline from the European version of The Onion, but Viktor Orbán, just months out from winning a landslide reelection in April, has announced his intentions to turn Hungary into an ‘illiberal state,’ modeled after China or Russia:Hungary Flag Icon

The global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive,” Orban said on July 26 at a retreat of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Baile Tusnad,Romania.

“I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” Orban said, according to the video of his speech on the government’s website. He listed Russia, Turkey and China as examples of “successful” nations, “none of which is liberal and some of which aren’t even democracies.”

It’s hard to know just how seriously to take Orbán’s latest comments.

If his first government, over a decade ago, was traditionally liberal conservative, Orbán’s most recent term was marked by more nationalist, illiberal and authoritarian tendencies. It’s not hard to believe that, with a two-thirds majority behind him, Orbán could turn fully away from liberal democracy and toward illiberal authoritarianism in his third term.

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RELATED: Hungarian election results : A historic win for Orbán

RELATED: Lessons from Hungary’s election –
and challenges for its future

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Other Hungarian commentators argue that Orbán’s emphasis was on the liberal market system and its failures during the 2008-09 global financial crisis. In that sense, Orbán may have been calling merely for a shift from a European social welfare state to a more state capitalist model. Though Orbán came to power as a liberal market proponent, his 2010-14 government engaged in healthy spending on public works programs,  nationalized Hungary’s private pensions system and introduced the highest VAT rate in the European Union (27%) in a bid to end Hungary’s  €20 billion post-crisis loan program with the International Monetary Fund. Nonetheless, even significant moves in that direction could spook global markets, send the Hungarian forint plummeting or dampen growth and investment.

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Orbán’s weekend speech came as he, like Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured above, right, with Orbán), has called for restrictions on international NGOs throughout the country. Though Hungarians revolted in 1956 against Soviet rule and in favor of freedom and democracy in one of the most dramatic Iron Curtain revolutions of the Cold War, Hungarian relations with Russia today are arguably better than Hungary’s relations with leading EU member-states. Orbán, who burst onto Hungary’s political scene a quarter-century ago as an anti-communist activist, signed a $14 billion lending deal with Russia in January in pursuit of greater nuclear energy.

If Orbán goes through with plans to eliminate liberal democracy in Hungary, which has been a member of the European Union for a decade, it would cause an immediate crisis for the incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.  Continue reading

Indonesia post-mortem: why young, cosmopolitan voters chose Prabowo

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Last Thursday, the United States-Indonesia Society and the International Republican Institute held a briefing of data from R. R. William Liddle, a professor emeritus of political science at The Ohio State University and one of the leading US experts on Indonesian politics, government and culture. Indonesia Flag

Dr. Liddle brought with him a compelling set of exit polling data conducted by Saiful Mujani, a Jakarta-based research and consulting firm.

The data provided the strongest narrative details yet for how Jakarta governor Joko Wododo (‘Jokowi’) effectively outpaced former general Prabowo Subianto in what was Indonesia’s most fiercely and closely contested election since the introduction of direct voting for the presidency in 2004.

For example, it may be counterintuitive, but younger, urban voters appeared to prefer, by a slight margin, Prabowo to Jokowi. After all the talk of Jokowi as the younger candidate of hope and of reform, the ‘Barack Obama’ of Indonesia after his meteoric rise from Solo mayor to Jakarta governor to, now, president-elect, it isn’t necessarily intuitive that Jokowi edged his way to the Indonesian presidency on the support of relatively poorer, rural and older voters.

Voters by age

Voters under 21 years old supported Jokowi by a margin of just 53% to 47%, but voters over 55 supported Prabowo by a margin of 59% to 41%. Though you might expect younger voters to be most enthusiastic for a relatively young, modern president, they opted for Prabowo, nine years Jokowi’s senior.

One possibility is that younger voters don’t entirely remember Indonesia’s authoritarian age, but older voters remember only too well the human rights abuses of Suharto’s three-decade reign and, most especially, the economic pain of the financial crisis of 1997-99 that brought down Suharto’s ‘New Order.’ Given Prabowo’s ties to the regime — he was a top Suharto-era general and he used to be married to Suharto’s daughter — older voters might have been warier about supporting the former general, given his checkered past.

Rural and urban voters and voters by class

Rural voters preferred Jokowi by a margin of 56% to 44%, but Prabowo narrowly won urban voters by a margin of 51% to 49%. The data also showed that ‘white-collar’ voters supported Prabowo by 55% to 45%, while ‘blue-collar’ voters backed Jokowi by 54% to 46%.

Again, it’s a fascinating turn, considering Prabowo’s emphasis on economic nationalism that, in most countries, finds a greater audience among the least economically powerful. Wall Street bankers and investment attorneys in the United States, for example, are much less likely to support protectionist policies than, say, blue-collar ironworkers or manufacturers who acutely feel the sting of global competition.

As Liddle noted, there might be several reasons for Prabowo’s apparent strength among educated, successful, cosmopolitan Indonesians. One of them is the way that Jokowi framed himself as a ‘common man’ candidate — not a president who, like Prabowo, comes from the Indonesian elite, educated in international schools and has exquisite English-language skills. Prabowo, throughout the campaign, effectively demonstrated that his much greater exposure to the United States and the wider world, and many cosmopolitan voters found that quality reassuring.

Voters by religion

Islamic voters narrowly favored Prabowo by a margin of 51% to 49%, while non-Islamic voters overwhelmingly backed Jokowi by an 80% to 20% margin. That’s not surprising, given that three of the four major Islamist parties backed Prabowo and that his running mate, Hatta Rajasa, former coordinating minister for economics, is the leader of the Islamist Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN, National Mandate Party). It’s also not surprising in light of the whispering campaign that Jokowi is secretly Christian. The predominantly Hindu island of Bali, for example, has always been a stronghold for Jokowi’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan), and Jokowi did particularly well in predominantly Christian areas, such as Papua. It also explains why Prabowo won Indonesia’s most populous province, West Java, home to some of Indonesia’s most conservative Muslims – with 46.3 million people, West Java contains nearly 19% of the country’s population.

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The Javanese-Sundanese split

The data indicate that Jokowi triumphed among the Javanese by a margin of 56% to 44%, while Prabowo won the Sundanese by a margin of 80% to 20%. That explains why, despite Prabowo’s West Java breakthrough, with a heavy Sunda population, Jokowi narrowly won Jakarta (9.6 million) and East Java (37.5 million), and he racked up an even more solid victory in Yogyakarta (3.5 million) and Central Java (32.4 million), the traditional Javanese homeland. Among non-Javanese and non-Sundanese voters, Jokowi won by a margin of 53% to 47%. While Prabowo generally won more provinces in Sumatra, for example, Jokowi won the most populous province, North Sumatra (13 million), and Jokowi’s running mate Jusuf Kalla may have helped Jokowi win much of the island of Sulawesi.

The most interesting finding of the survey, though? Continue reading

Unaccompanied minors? Blame a century of US Central American policy.

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At a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center with three Central American  foreign ministers, moderator Steve Inskeep, the host of NPR’s Morning Edition, began the hourlong talk with a simple question about the rise of unaccompanied minors to the United States:  USflaghonduras flag iconel salvadorguatemala flag icon

Who is to blame?

Speaking to an overflow crowd in Washington, DC yesterday, the three foreign ministers — Honduras’s Mireya Agüero, Guatemala’s Fernando Carrera and El Salvador’s Hugo Martínez – shared a half-dozen or more credible reasons for the phenomenon, which has resulted in a wave of 57,000 minors from the three countries coming to the United States since the beginning of 2014.

Borders that remain too porous and governments unwilling or unable to devote more funds to secure them.

The fearsome sway of street gangs that recruit young kids into a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and illegality, leaving the three Central American countries with some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Coyotes that, unable to persuade Mexicans to cross the border, have now turned their sights to Central Americans.

Governments that lack the resources to provide the kind of health care, education and legal institutions that could form the backbone of viable middle-class prosperity, leaving growing numbers of Central Americans looking to the United States for a better life.

Lectures from US presidents and policymakers that go unmatched with the kind of financial assistance to build truly pluralistic democratic societies.

Today, with US president Barack Obama holding an unprecedented four-way meeting with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, US policy in Central America is making more headlines than at any time since perhaps the Cold War, and it’s the latest round in a polarizing debate over immigration to the United States, with the Obama administration now seeking $3.7 billion in funds from the US Congress to help stem the illegal flow of Central Americans across the border, often at great risk, especially among women and children.

Obviously, like any social phenomenon, the reasons for the influx of unaccompanied minors are complex, and they involve the economics of drug trafficking, the social dynamics of poverty and urban gang violence, and a lack of opportunities for growing populations aspiring to middle-class prosperity. It’s not an impossible dream because countries like Belize, Panamá and Costa Rica are largely achieving it throughout Central America.

Even more complex are the underlying conditions in the three countries that form the background to the current migration crisis, and the roots of those conditions go back decades, with plenty of US interference in the region.

Conservatives rail against Obama’s steps to provide a smoother path to citizenship for the children of migrants who have lived virtually their whole lives in the United States, and even Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández yesterday blamed the ‘ambiguity’ of the US immigration reform debate for the surge in child migration. Texas governor Rick Perry last month blamed the Obama administration’s ‘failure of diplomacy,’ and has made a show of sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texan border. Liberals, meanwhile, argue that former US president George W. Bush failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform when he had the ability to do so a decade ago.

Certainly, there’s plenty of blame among both Republican and Democratic governments in the past two decades.

But so much of the current debate in the United States overlooks the background of how Central America – and especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — came to be countries of such violence, corruption, insecurity and relative poverty. It also overlooks a significant US role in the region that’s often been marked by dishonorable intentions that has its roots in early 20th century American imperialism, the brutality of zero-sum Cold War realpolitik, and the insanity of a ‘drug war’ policy that almost every major US policymaker agrees has been a failure and that, to this day, incorporates a significant US military presence. Continue reading

New PSOE leader Sánchez faces uphill struggle to unite Spanish left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so fast.  Continue reading

It’s official: Jokowi wins Indonesian presidential election

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

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

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

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

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RELATED: What Jokowi’s apparent victory in Indonesia means

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

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

So what happens next?

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

Netanyahu now depends on Palestinian Fatah-Hamas disunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malaysia Flight 17 will hasten Ukraine-Russia cooperation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Programming note: Off to Newfoundland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Latest Iraqi parliamentary steps indicate Maliki’s replacement

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo of the day: Xi meets Modi

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

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

MAKING WORLD POLITICS LESS FOREIGN