Tsipras: Austerity will send us ‘directly to the hell’

It was somewhat of a coup for Christiane Amanpour to get an interview in English with SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.

With new elections scheduled in Greece for June 17 and with the radical left SYRIZA leading and/or tied with the center-right New Democracy for first place, Tsipras has become the face of Greece’s anti-austerity front.

Even in English, you can understand how his brazen charm and direct message — he has refused to accept the harsh budget cuts demanded in exchange for Greece’s bailout — has made him one of the most popular politician in Greece.

But I don’t think he did his cause any favors here — it’s mostly his limited command of English, I suppose, but he came across more as a Greek communist Balki Bartokomous* than as a mature leader ready to reassure the European Central Bank, the European Commission, Angel Merkel, Christine Lagarde or, frankly, even the Greek people. Continue reading Tsipras: Austerity will send us ‘directly to the hell’

Netanyahu’s new broad unity coalition a week later: winners and losers

It’s been more than a week since Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a staggeringly unexpected coalition with his main opposition, Kadima.

Netanyahu’s prior coalition in the Knesset (Israeli’s 120-seat parliament) already included his own hawkish Likud Party (27 seats), the populist, nationalist and secular Yisrael Beiteinu (15 seats), whose leader Avigdor Lieberman has served as Israel’s deputy prime minister and its minister of foreign affairs, several haredim, ultra-orthodox parties, the largest of which is Shas (11 seats), and Independence (5 seats), a breakaway segment of former Labor Party members loyal to defense minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak.

In the 2009 election, Kadima — the party, which means ‘forward’ in Hebrew, was founded by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 with members of the Labor Party to support Sharon’s disengagement plan and was the party of his successor, Ehud Olmert — actually won a greater number of seats (28 seats) under leader Tzipi Livni.

The deal leaves the Labor Party, with its eight seats, as the primary opposition in the Knesset.

Kadima’s March 2012 leadership election saw Livni defeated by Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister under Sharon.  It took Mofaz, who once called Netanyahu a “liar” and pledged not to join a Netanyahu government, only two months to join the Netanyahu government, as acting vice prime minister, thereby giving Netanyahu a 94-seat coalition, the widest such Israeli government in 28 years.

Why the coalition, just 24 hours after Netanyahu had called for early elections?

Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for The Atlantic, suggested seven must-read reasons last week, ranging from a potential strike on Iran to giving Netanyahu the centrist support to negotiate with the Palestinians to allowing Netanyahu and Lieberman to push forward with a reform of the Tal Law to provide an alternative form of national service for currently-exempt ultraorthodox Israelis from the two-year military service requirement.

For Kadima, the answer is simple: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Whatever the reason, the conventional wisdom has been fairly standard across the board:
  • It’s a masterstroke for Netanyahu, who will now have another year and a half as prime minister with the widest government possible.
  • It’s nearly a masterstroke for Mofaz and Kadima, which polls suggested would have lost many seats in a September election.
  • It’s a good deal for Barak, whose Independence slate might not have even returned to the Knesset in early elections, and whose support Netanyahu has always coveted.
  • It’s decent news for the haredim parties, which did not want elections and which can now, having been part of the government for three years, can protest any reforms to the Tal Law, leave the government, and have a pertinent campaign issue in 2013.
  • It’s bad news for Labor under its new leader Shelly Yachimovich, as it would have been the main winner in early elections — taking many of the seats Kadima was set to lose.
  • It’s also bad news for Yair Lapid, the new force in Israeli politics whose new political party / vehicle Yesh Atid (‘There is a Future’) will now be shut out of the Knesset for at least 18 more months, in which time his momentum may stall.
  • It’s horrible news for Livni, who quit the Knesset in early May, days before the unity deal was announced.  Continue reading Netanyahu’s new broad unity coalition a week later: winners and losers

New York a swing state — in Dominican presidential election

Electoral geography fans, take note: New York could be the deciding constituency in Sunday’s Dominican presidential vote:

Thanks to a law passed in 1997, expatriate Dominicans no longer have to fly to the country’s capital of Santo Domingo to vote in presidential elections. Dominicans voted locally for the first time in 2004 and tens of thousands of Dominican expatriates registered to vote for the 2012 contest – making New York one of the island nation’s most important constituencies in the neck-and-neck election scheduled for May 20….

On Feb. 5, the Board reported that it had registered 328,649 Dominicans living abroad in countries such as the U.S., Canada, Spain and Italy—about 5 percent of the total pool of 6.5 million registered voters, according to the JCE.

The number of Dominican residents of New York City registered to vote has almost doubled over the last four years, from 55,989 in 2008 to over 103,000 today….

About 20 percent of the Dominican Republic’s nearly 10 million citizens currently live abroad. The majority, over 1.4 million Dominicans, live in the U.S., according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Almost half of them, approximately 674,000, live in New York State. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Pennsylvania also have high Dominican populations.

Voters in New York help make the U.S.-based voting bloc larger than 27 of 31 provinces within the Dominican Republic.

Indeed, both major presidential candidates visited New York — as well as Miami and New Jersey — over Holy Week and Easter, when campaigning traditionally pauses in the Dominican Republic.

Sunday’s election will see a tight race between Danilo Medina, the candidate of the centrist Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (the Dominican Liberation Party) and Hipólito Mejía, former president from 2000 to 2004 and candidate of the center-left Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (the Dominican Revolutionary Party).  Outgoing PLD president Leonel Fernández defeated Mejía in 2004, but is term-limited by the Dominican constitution to just two four-year terms.  Mejía, in turn, defeated Medina in the 2000 race.

Although many Dominican business interests and voters looking for change support Mejía, other voters are wary of Mejía’s first term in the early 2000s, which coincided with an economic crisis that improved after Fernández’s election in 2004.

Within Dominican politics, both parties are seen as fairly leftist, although the PLD is seen has having moved to a more centrist position (although it was once further left than the PRD).  The third major party, the Partido Reformista Social Cristiano (Social Christian Reformist Party) was once the major center-right of the Dominican Republic, and was the party of longtime former president Joaquín Balaguer, who governed the Dominican Republic from 1960 to 1962, from 1966 to 1978 and again from 1986 to 1996.  The PRSC is not fielding a candidate, however, in this election, and its supporters are backing both Medina and Mejía.

The Santo Domingo-based Hoy shows Medina with a slight 54% lead over Mejía’s 44%, as both campaigns launched their final swings this week.