Good golly, Miss Mali

Perhaps this was inevitable, given that the coup leaders who deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré have wavered with indecisiveness in the face of international and regional backlash since taking power on March 21.

But the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad declared the north’s independence Friday, making an already tense situation worse.

It is ironic to note that Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo led the original Mali coup out of frustration that the current administration was not doing enough to retard the progress of the Tuareg rebels, but it seems as if the latest move has somewhat stymied the coup’s newly installed government, Comité national pour le redressement de la démocratie et la restauration de la démocratie et la restauration de l’état (“CNRDRE”).

The Mali dynamic has featured some of the same north-south tensions as Sudan — but in reverse: in Mali, the northern, nomadic Tuaregs have long complained of mistreatment and a lack of support from Bamako and the south, where the majority of Malians live.  While the overwhelming majority of Mali is Muslim, the Tuaregs have more in common with Algeria and Libya than with southern Mali, which has correspondingly more cultural ties to other west African Francophone countries like Senegal.

With plenty of access to arms from the recent campaign in Libya to Mali’s north and the example of South Sudan to Mali’s east, it is not exactly surprising that this could have happened.  Unlike with South Sudan, however, the fear among the United States and Europe that al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist groups could turn the north into a terrorist haven, don’t expect the international community to leap at the opportunity to recognize the new nation of Azawad anytime soon.

So it’s looking like Mali is even further removed from holding a new presidential election anytime soon, which was originally scheduled for April 29.

A shift in tone about Chávez’s health

It sounds like Hugo Chávez’s cancer may be taking a turn for the worst, if his teary-eyed moment at a pre-Easter service is any indication. 

From the always superb Caracas Chronicles:

As he customarily does, Chávez turned a religious service into a revival session-cum-political rally-cum-touchingly televised cinematic cliffhanger. He wept, prayed for his life to be spared, and movingly thanked his family for their support.

I don’t want to be too cynical about this, and I am willing to forgive the uncomfortable use of a religious service for … something else. To me, the most noteworthy aspect of this is the shift in tone.

I’ve noted in the past that chavismo without Chávez does not have a promising future — but that may not be the best news for presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

Capriles has been tied with Chávez in polls in advance of October’s presidential election, although the latest poll from Caracas-based Datanalysis, released on March 29, shows Chávez with a 44.7% to 31.4% lead over Capriles.

Nonetheless, there remains a chance that Chávez’s death or incapacity could trigger any number of events that could supersede the election, including a coup by Chávez’s ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela or a coup by Chávez opponents.

North Korea’s vote is anti-Lee, anti-Park

There are few world relationships trickier than the politics between North Korea and South Korea.

But two flavors of news from North Korea have shaped the upcoming South Korean legislative elections:

  • North Korea has announced its intention to launch a satellite and long-range rocket into orbit between April 12 and 16 in honor of Kim Il-Sung.
  • North Korea is not being shy about its hope that President Lee Myung-bak’s Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) loses next Wednesday’s legislative elections.

It is difficult to know just what impact the North Korean issue will have on the election, the main focus of which has been the South Korean economy.  Lee has reversed the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors that marked the 2000s, where South Korea pushed comparatively more aid to North Korea — instead, he has taken a harder-line stance against Pyongyang.  At the same time, Cho Myung-chul, who defected from the North in 1994, is running on the Saenuri Party ticket to become the first defector to stand in the South Korean parliament.

At the same time, Pyongyang is increasing that rhetoric in none too subtle ways against Lee and the current leader of the Saenuri Party, Park Geun-hye.  Pyongyang’s Korean Council for Reconciliation today called Park a “dictator’s daughter” (Park is the daughter of former South Korean president Park Chung-hee, who was South Korea’s leader from 1961 to 1979 whose commitment to economic progress was somewhat greater than his commitment to political liberalization):

“A dictator’s bloodline cannot change away from its viciousness…all walks of life in the South must not be deceived by Park and her clique, and must judge the conservative traitors through the elections,” it said.

“We, along with all the Korean people, will never allow the ghosts of the dictatorship to make a comeback,” it said in a statement carried by the official news agency.

The North Korean government newspaper christened Park as a “Judas” with an “unlimited greed for power”.

Park met North Korea’s leader, the late Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang in 2002 — they are pictured above in, um, happier times.  Kim died in December 2011 and his son, Kim Jong-un, has succeeded him, although the extent of Kim Jong-un’s power and the direction he’ll try to take North Korea remains murky.

I’m not sure how that is going to play with South Korean voters — most likely, they will probably just ignore the North’s clumsy attempts at political interference, just as they seem to ignore South Korean politicians who try to gain political advantage from any perceived threat from the North:

“Voters see any North Korean action more as Pyongyang strengthening its rhetoric to escalate tensions rather than a real national security threat or an actual move to attack the South,” said Lee Taek Soo, president of Seoul-based polling service Realmeter. “Parties have also abused the threat of North Korea in past elections, so voters have learned their lesson.”

The latest poll from Realmeter, conducted from March 27 to 30, shows the Saenuri Party with a slight uptick in support at 39.8%.  The chief opposition party, the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) garners 30.5% and its coalition partner, the Unified Progressive Party wins 8.1%.