Kenyan Supreme Court upholds Kenyatta victory


It was just a 10-minute statement on a Saturday night at 5 p.m., Nairobi time, but it was enough to effectively end any post-election uncertainty.kenya

Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld the declaration of victory of Jubilee coalition candidate Uhuru Kenyatta as president by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission after a tense week of hearings, partial recounts and waiting.  Kenyatta will be sworn in on April 9.

The unanimous ruling of the six-judge panel effectively ends prime minister Raila Odinga’s legal (and political) challenge to Kenyatta’s victory — Kenyatta defeated Odinga (pictured above) with a first-round victory of just 50.07% to 43.31, avoiding a direct runoff by just 0.07%.

So the United States and the European Union will now have to find out how to work with someone who’s still technically a defendant for war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

Read all of Suffragio‘s coverage of the March 4 general election here.

Longtime conservative Albertan premier Ralph Klein has died

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No one symbolized the conservatism of western Canada more than Ralph Klein, who died today at age 70.

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Elected Alberta’s premier in 1992, Klein served until 2006, championing the ‘Alberta Advantage,’ and presiding over what became Canada’s wealthiest province, the heartland of today’s Conservative Party.

Tory leader Stephen Harper has represented a Calgary riding in the House of Commons since 1993, and the Reform Party, later the Canadian Alliance, got its start among Calgarian conservatives like Harper and Preston Manning.  Harper engineered a merger with the then-decimated Progressive Conservative Party at the national level, resulting in the united center-right government he leads today.

Klein, who remained firmly planted in Albertan provincial politics, nonetheless became the ideological godfather of the more fiscally conservative, more Western, and more aggressive conservatism that came to Canadian federal politics in the early 2000s under Harper.

Despite his resignation (with a push from his Progressive Conservative colleagues) as premier in 2006, Klein’s legacy may also be one of the reasons that Albertan premier Alison Redford, despite slumping polls, held on to win a full term as premier in the April 2012 Albertan provincial election in the face of a more stridently populist and socially conservative challenge from the newer Wildrose Party.  The win continued a Progressive Conservative run of power that’s been uninterrupted since 1971.

As Don Braid of The Calgary Herald writes, much of Klein’s legacy is in his campaign to eliminate Alberta’s debt:

It’s deeply ironic that at the moment of his death, Ralph Klein’s legacy has been formally overturned, as a new wave of Alberta politicians revert to debt, borrowing and deficit as the chief tools of government. Klein banned those things. He paid off debt and then made it illegal. A man who knew how to squeeze a penny, he was the perfect leader to throw off the crushing debt Alberta faced when he took office in late 1992.

Read it all, but there’s much more from The Calgary Herald here, including this video and this timeline of his life.

Colby Cosh at MacLean’s notes his legacy on debt, but also on federalism and the assertion of Alberta’s growing regional power, despite Klein’s prickly attitude toward eastern Canada — he once termed eastern migrants to his province ‘creeps and bums’:

The ways in which Ralph Klein is misunderstood outside Alberta seem to mirror the ways in which Alberta itself is misunderstood; although attachment to religion is actually lower in Alberta than in Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces, it is Alberta that is thought of as an atavistic, “socially conservative” hate factory. The real difference between Alberta and other provinces is more structural than ideological or religious. Alberta has a strong lingering streak of laissez-faire utilitarianism because most of its citizens are no more than a generation removed from those who came here for jobs.

The Globe and Mail gathers some of Klein’s more memorable quotes here, including this quintessential quote from when he was Calgary’s mayor from 1980 to 1989:

“Everyone knows I have sins. I eat too much. I still drink. I gamble and, God forbid, I still see some of my old friends.” – In April, 1982, explaining how he hadn’t let being mayor completely alter his lifestyle.

The Toronto Star‘s Petti Fong considers Klein’s relationship with the Chinese community here, and Don Martin’s take at The National Post here.

Photo credit to John Ulan of the Canadian Press.

Bachelet enters Chilean presidential race as top contender


Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile on Wednesday, wasting no time in declaring her much-awaited candidacy for president, with an air of inevitability that makes former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s hold on the U.S. presidency in 2016 seem tenuous.chile

Bachelet (pictured above), who previously served as president from 2006 to 2010, and more recently as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, would be the first Chilean president in the post-Pinochet era to win a second term to the presidency.

Under the Chilean constitution, no president may run for reelection, though presidents can return for non-consecutive terms.

She is almost certainly a shoo-in to win the presidential nomination of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy), usually known simply as the Concertación, the coalition of center-left parties that has dominated Chilean politics in the era following the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Bachelet is also the favorite to win the general election on November 17 — although incumbent Sebastián Piñera will not be on the ballot, he’s had a turbulent time as president since his election in 2010.  Piñera’s greatest contribution to Chilean democracy may well have been his election — after running a moderate, respectful campaign, his election marked the return of conservatives to power for the first time since Pinochet left office, trumpeting the full normalization of Chilean politics.

But Piñera will leave office relatively unpopular — despite his government’s successful rescue of 33 trapped miners in October 2010, more recent troubles, such as rising poverty, income inequality and massive student protests in 2011 and 2012 in favor of the creation of new public universities, the end of for-profit education, and a new system to facilitate the financing of secondary education, have left his administration unloved and mocked for its numerous hiccups and misfortunes — so-called piñericosas.

The two likely candidates to challenge Bachelet will face off in a June primary among the parties of the Coalición por el Cambio (Coalition for Change), which formed in 2009 to boost Piñera’s campaign as a merger of two parties (and some other smaller parties):

  • The Unión Democrata Independiente (UDI, Independent Democratic Union), a party formed in the early 1980s among civilian supporters of Pinochet’s economic policies and military rule, and which moderated itself in the early 2000s.
  • Renovación Nacional (RN, National Renewal), which broke away from the UDI over the issue of the 1988 plebiscite on Pinochet’s continued rule — although RN ultimately largely supported Pinochet’s reelection, it originally favored an alternative candidate.  Piñera himself comes from the RN leadership, not from the UDI.

The UDI’s has indicated that its candidate will be independent Laurence Golborne, an engineer by training and the former CEO of Cencosud, a Chilean retailer.  He was, until recently, the Chilean minister of public works and before that, the former minister of mining and energy, where he became very popular in the wake of the government’s successful 2010 Copiapó mine rescue.  The RN candidate, Andrés Allamand, until recently, was Chile’s defense minister.

A CEP Chile poll in early January showed 49% favored Bachelet, while 11% supported Golborne and just 5% backed Allamand.  Another late January poll showed Bachelet leading 42% to 15% for Golborne and 5% for Allamand.

That lead will invariably narrow between now and November, however, when the center-right candidate emerges in June.  Despite the highest income inequality in the Organization for Economic Development (note that Chile is the only South American OECD country), Chile’s strong mining industry has powered growth rates of 6% since 2011, its GDP actually growing faster than before a temporary dip during the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

It’s quite incredible to think that the Concertación, which controlled the Chilean presidency from 1990 to 2010, held consecutive power three years longer than the military mostly under Pinochet (17 years).  The Concertación includes four parties: Continue reading Bachelet enters Chilean presidential race as top contender

Book review: ‘Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela’ by Rory Carroll


I’ve been reading an increasing amount of material in advance of the Venezuelan presidential election on April 14 (and will be covering it in Caracas), so luckily for me, Rory Carroll’s newly released book on the Chávez era was right on cue.Venezuela Flag Icon

Like most thoughtful writing on Chávez and chavismo, Carroll notes how incredibly complex the phenomenon has been — Chávez is neither hero nor villain, and he captures with credibility the reasons why Chávez was, and remains, so popular with a majority of Venezuelans, especially the country’s poorest.

It’s a fascinating read throughout, very highly recommended — I learned something about Venezuela on nearly every page.

The most jaw-dropping parts of the book are those that explain the ‘through-the-looking-glass’ nature of Miraflores, the presidential palace, and El Silencio, the colonial Caracas neighborhood that’s home to Venezuela’s government ministries.

This part of the book felt inspired by Ryszard Kapuściński’s The Emperor, a short (perhaps fictionalized) work on the final years of Ethiopian emperor Haile Sellassie II’s reign, so thick does the sycophancy hang in the air among Venezuela’s ministers — ministers nervously laugh over Chávez’s public claim that capitalism may have killed off life on Mars, and they fret when suddenly Chávez appeared in a yellow shirt (not the trademark red shirt that had become associated with his Bolivarian revolution) and announced there was too much read.  What follows is something out of Kapuściński or even Kafka:

Consternation around the palace. What to do? Some ministers hesitantly abandoned the color, worrying it was a trick.  Others flashed just a bit of red, trying to gauge the correct level.  When, a few weeks later, the comandante resumed wearing red again without elaboration, the crisis passed, and ministers reverted to red.

The winner of the survival game, Jorge Giordani, Chávez’s longtime finance minister, comes off as especially craven and incompetent, the ‘monk,’ a man of austere personal finances who turned a blind eye to widespread corruption and economic mismanagement, all while expending energy to retain his own favor in the administration.

The Castros in Cuba come off as wily as ever, having tapped into Chávez a willing disciple (or, less charitably, a dupe) to provide the ostracized island with precious fuel subsidies and cheap credit, and the relatively rapid infiltration of the G2 Cuban intelligence apparatus into Chávez’s security regime.

Here too are also details from the ill-fated April 11, 2002 coup against Chávez, and Carroll here paints one of the most damning portraits of Pedro Carmona, who took power for just hours and who, ‘drunk with power,’ literally failed to fit into the gold-plated sphinx chair, feet dangling, in the presidential office in Miraflores.

There are anecdotes a-plenty, too, like the episode of ¡Alo, Presidente! in which Carroll is invited to ask Chávez a question, lobs a mildly critical question, and is treated to a long diatribe about colonialism in the New World, Christopher Columbus and, oddly enough, given Carroll’s Irish background, the British monarchy.

We meet Giovanni Scutaro, tailor to chavismo (and, one suspects, everyone with enough money for fashion in Caracas), the American writer and Chávez enthusiast Eva Gollinger, and Baldo Sansó, a fast-talking executive at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Later in 2010 during an energy shortage, we’re treated to Chávez counseling Venezuela to take three-minute showers:

‘Some people sing in the shower, in the shower half an hour.  No, kids, three minutes is more than enough.  I’ve counted, three minutes, and I don’t stink.’ He wagged his finger. ‘If you are going to lie back in the bath, with the soap, and you turn on the, what’s it called, the Jacuzzi… Imagine that, what kind of communism is that? We’re not in times of Jacuzzi.’

But it’s not all fun and games and showers.

Despite the histrionics of U.S. conservatives and others, Chávez’s administration been a largely bloodless regime, though there are plenty of chilling tales human rights shortcomings: stories of folks like Raúl Baduel, who was imprisoned on a politically motivated conviction after asserting the separation of the Venezuelan military from politics and becoming increasingly critical of Chávez’s rule, and María Lourdes Afiuni, a judge who delivered an acquittal of disgraced superstar Eligio Cedeño, who thereupon found herself imprisoned.  We also meet the Nuñez brothers of the El Cementerio barrio, caught in a bleak life-and-death struggle for survival as the leaders of El Cementerio’s gang in the rough hills above the Caracas valley.

Though Carroll could hardly have known his book would emerge nearly simultaneous with the death of Chávez, its publication comes at a time when both Venezuelans and non-Venezuelans are wondering about what comes next — under either Nicolás Maduro or Henrique Capriles.

I would have liked to see more discussion on how chavismo actually replicates many of the elements of the petrostate of the regimes that preceded it in Venezuela, and in other petrostate regimes throughout the world, as well as more discussion of the future of chavismo after Chávez, but those are topics that could easily be volumes of their own.  And it’s notable that neither Maduro nor Capriles play a starring role over the past 14 years.  Máduro himself is a bit player in the book, a sycophant who’s managed to survive in El Silencio from the earliest days of Chávez’s ‘Movement for a Fifth Republic’:

Whatever hour Chávez phoned, whatever law he wanted amended or revoked, Maduro assented.  He became head of the assembly in 2005 and then, despite not speaking any foreign languages, foreign minister in 2006, a post he held for six years.  He crisscrossed the world following Chávez’s orderes and reading Chávez’s script, never deviating, never ad-libbing, never proposing his own initiatives… When the comandante praised Maduro in public — ‘Look at Nicolás there, handsome in his suit, not driving a bus anymore’ — he just smiled.  Foreign ambassadors said the foreign minister grew into his job but that he never took a big decision.  Only Chávez was allowed to shine, so Maduro did not shine.  And thus he prospered.  He acquired an extensive wardrobe, put on weight, grew thick around the trunk.

That perhaps explains why Maduro, not the more cunning current assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, won Chávez’s pre-death endorsement as his successor.

Carroll begins with an anecdote from an interview from beloved Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez, who wrote the following about Chávez on the eve of his inauguration in 1999:

While he sauntered off with his bodyguards of decorated officers and close friends, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had just been traveling and chatting pleasantly with two opposing men.  One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country.  The other, an illusionist, who could pass into the history books as just another despot.

Carroll’s sophisticated treatment of chavismo produces examples of all of the above — Chávez as savior, Chávez as illusionist and Chávez as despot — and takes chavismo up as a mirror to reflect how all of those impressions have marked Venezuela for the past decade and a half.

First Past the Post: March 28-29


Light links at the end of this week, apologies!

East and South Asia

Pervez Musharraf goes to court.

Things are getting real on the Korean peninsula.

Via Tyler Cowen, a defense of the Chinese political system.

North America

It’s a fool’s errand to stand in the way of this, but here’s the meat-and-potatoes argument against same-sex marriage in the United States.


A former Bush administration Latin American official argues that United States actually tried to save Hugo Chávez’s life, and Foreign Policy prints it.

Latin America / Caribbean

Bolivia is about to become the Saudi Arabia of lithium.

Chilean student protests become heated.

Argentina tangoes one step closer to a sovereign default.

Perú controversially reinstates a military draft.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya awaits a Supreme Court ruling Saturday.

Fallout from the CAR coup.

Can you imagine Barack Obama on a trip like the one Xi Jinping is now finishing — in Congo?


No new government in Italy after a day of talks headed by president Giorgio Napolitano.

Banks reopened in Cyprus.

Felix Salmon wonders if Cyprus will take the Ecuadorian path.

Middle East and North Africa

A comeback for Najib Mikati as Lebanon’s prime minister?


Seven people who could be appointed Italy’s next technocratic prime minister


With the failure of centrosinistra (center-left) leader Pier Luigi Bersani to form a government after a week of talks, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano now faces a tough 24 hours of consultations with the other key players in the Italian parliament.Italy Flag Icon

The path now becomes perilous — for Napolitano, above all, who remains just about the only respected public official left in Italy:

  • Of course, as I noted earlier today, upon further consultation with the various players on Friday, Napolitano could give Bersani, the leader of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), more time to cobble together a government.  That doesn’t seem so incredibly likely to succeed.
  • Napolitano could also appoint Bersani as prime minister to try to win a vote of confidence in the upper house of the Senato, essentially daring Silvio Berlusconi’s centrodestra (center-right) coalition to reject him, though it seems unlikely that Napolitano would do so if there’s a chance Bersani would lose the vote.  If Bersani loses, he’ll be left as a discredited caretaker prime minister, and Napolitano will have suffered a political defeat as well, limiting his future maneuverability.
  • Another option is simply to leave prime minister Mario Monti (pictured above shaking hands with Italian senator Emma Bonino) in place as a pro forma caretaker — this is the ‘Belgian’ option: a parliament with no real government.  That could well cause Italian bond yields to rise or otherwise call into question Italy’s capability for long-term reform.  That’s especially true if you think the eurozone is primarily a political crisis rather than an economic one.

Another option, of course, would be for Napolitano to appoint a new technocratic prime minister, though that carries risks as well, especially coming after the political rejection of Monti’s pro-reform, centrist coalition in the February elections.  Monti was appointed as a technocratic prime minister in November 2011 with the support of both the PD and Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom).  In late 2011 and early 2012, Monti’s government instituted reforms to reduce tax evasion, increased taxes, pension reform that reduces early retirement, and he instituted some modest labor reforms as well, though they’ve not had the sweeping effect Italy’s economy may need to revitalize its labor market.

But Monti’s government stalled and Italy went to early elections in February when Berlusconi and the PdL pulled its support from Monti’s government, and Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, leading the protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) actively ran against Monti’s reforms and attacked Monti as little more than an errand-boy for Brussels and Berlin.

So if neither Bersani nor Monti appear workable choices, to whom could Napolitano turn in the event of yet another technocratic government?  Such a government would have a very limited mandate for, say, electing a new president (which the new parliament must accomplish in May 2013 before new snap elections could even be held), carrying out the execution of Italy’s 2013 budget and perhaps even overseeing a change in the election law.

Here are seven potential candidates to keep an eye on in the days ahead: Continue reading Seven people who could be appointed Italy’s next technocratic prime minister

Italian government now rests in hands of Napolitano, Italy’s president


After a week of consultations with the various factions in Italy’s parliament, Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and of the broader centrosinistra (center-left) coalition, has failed to form a government, Bersani informed Italian president Giorgio Napolitano earlier today — although his coalition controls an absolute majority of seats in the lower house of Italy’s parliament, no one controls a majority in the Senato, the upper house.Italy Flag Icon

The deadlock has resulted for two main reasons.

First, Bersani refuses to join a ‘grand coalition’ with Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) and the broader centrodestra (center-right) coalition — this week, Bersani again turned down the offer of a ‘grand coalition’ that would have made Bersani premier and Berlusconi’s top lieutenant, former justice minister Angelino Alfano, vice premier.  In exchange for the center-right’s support to prop up his premiership, however, Berlusconi has essentially demanded that the next president be a moderate or conservative acceptable to Berlusconi (don’t rule out the notion that Berlusconi conceivably meant Berlusconi himself).

Second, Beppe Grillo and his populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) refuses to join a coalition with either the centrosinistra or the centrodestra, either formally or informally.  The best that the Five Star Movement legislators have offered is to provide their support on an issue-by-issue basis, though Grillo called both the right and the left ‘whoremonger fathers’ on his blog yesterday.  This isn’t a man who wants to compromise.

An exasperated Bersani was already calling for a ‘government of miracles‘ on Tuesday (obviously not a good sign) and yesterday joked that only someone insane would want to lead Italy’s government.

Those lines have essentially been drawn since the immediate result of the election became clear.  So there was never much optimism that Bersani would succeed.

So the big question now is: what happens next?

All eyes on Napolitano

The key player at this point is Napolitano (pictured above), who will now spend the next 24 hours talking to the parties to see if they really, really won’t support a Bersani government.

Although he hasn’t unlocked a deal over the past week, Bersani has not yet renounced the mandate that Napolitano gave him last Friday to form a government, and he could convince Napolitano to appoint him prime minister anyway in order to the parliament in an attempt to try to squeak through a vote of no confidence.

But as Open Europe noted yesterday, a failure would leave Bersani in place as the default caretaker prime minister:  Continue reading Italian government now rests in hands of Napolitano, Italy’s president

WIth referendum call, Tusk gently backs away from eurozone


The economic blogosphere is lighting up over reports that Polish prime minister Donald Tusk is now talking about a referendum for his country to join the eurozone.Poland_Flag_Icon

That’s a big deal on the surface — with 40 million people, Poland is the largest European Union member after the United Kingdom not to use the single currency, and it’s one of eastern Europe’s fastest-growing economies.

Paul Krugman at The New York Times and Dylan Matthews at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog are on the case, with very solid arguments for why Poland is crazy to want to join the eurozone.  Writes Matthews:

It’s fair enough if Poland wants to develop closer ties to its European neighbors. But as [Krugman notes], joining the euro would deprive Poland of the strategy that allowed it to weather the recession so effectively. The key to the Polish miracle was massive currency devaluation.

Krugman and Matthews both highlight that the Polish key to outperforming the rest of Europe has been its ability to devalue the złoty and control its own monetary policy.  It’s also helped that Poland has one of Europe’s lowest public debt loads — around 55% of GDP, compared to Germany’s 80% public debt load or 90% in France.

If you need to look any further for counterfactual proof, take a look at former East Germany, where economic growth still lacks former West Germany — despite the overwhelmingly strong political rationale for Germany reunification, it’s not clear that a currency union with West Germany made economic sense for East Germany, let alone a currency union with France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have all grown at more rapid rates in the past two decades.

Krugman writes, ‘It really does make you want to bang your head against a wall.’

But they should probably calm down, because Poland is as unlikely as ever to join the eurozone — Tusk isn’t taking a gamble so much as he’s taking a bath on the Polish currency issue by pushing its resolution to sometime ‘at the end of the decade‘ — and far after the next Polish election.

Over two-thirds of Polish voters oppose eurozone membership, and those numbers seem unlikely to change anytime soon, given the chaos we’ve seen in peripheral eurozone countries from Cyprus to Portugal.

Tusk (pictured above with European Council president Herman van Rompuy), who has long been in favor of eurozone membership for Poland, is looking for a way out, not a way in. Facing reelection in 2015 for his liberal center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), Tusk certainly doesn’t want to go to voters with the albatross of eurozone support around his neck. Continue reading WIth referendum call, Tusk gently backs away from eurozone

Gaspar defends Portuguese economic program at Brookings


Portuguese finance minister Vítor Gaspar (pictured above) spoke to a small audience at the Brookings Institution Tuesday, notably less than 36 hours after Cyprus and the ‘troika’ of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed on the terms for a Cypriot bailout — the fifth such eurozone bailout during the currency zone’s sovereign debt crisis.portugal flag

Of course, Portugal is one of those of other five countries, and Gaspar, for the past 21 months, has been responsible for implementing the terms of Portugal’s own bailout program.

Gaspar presented as optimistic a case as possible for Portugal’s current economic state on Tuesday. But he admitted that despite gains in lowering the country’s budget deficit, restoring Portuguese banks to greater health, and boosting the growth of Portuguese exports (the latter as much a sign of painful ‘internal devaluation’ of wages and incomes within Portugal as any sign of newfound productivity or competitiveness), Portugal’s GDP growth and employment rate remain problematic.  The Portuguese economy contracted by 1.6% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2012, and is expected to contract by a further 2.3% in 2013, while its unemployment rate, as of the last quarter of 2012, is 16.9%, its highest level yet.

As Gaspar noted, Portugal’s economy — second only to Italy’s — was already on the ropes when it entered the eurozone.  In particular, from 1990 to 2012, he claimed that the Portuguese economy marked a poorer performance than either Japan during its ‘lost decade’ or the United States during the Great Depression.  Regardless of whether that’s exactly right, there’s no denying that Portugal has faced long-term structural problems — since 2000, it’s notched GDP growth in excess of 2% just once (in 2007, when it grew by 2.37%, and that was at the height of the eurozone and global credit boom).

Gaspar placed much of the blame on Portugal’s failure to pursue macroeconomic stability in accordance with ‘best practices’ — i.e., Portugal simply failed to adjust properly upon accession to the eurozone 14 years ago.

Gaspar serves under prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho, whose liberal, center-right Partido Social Democrata (PSD, Social Democratic Party) came to power in the last election in coalition with the more socially conservative Centro Democrático e Social – Partido Popular (CDS-PP, Democratic and Social Center — People’s Party).

Among his solutions are greater EU-level banking union as a means of reducing the risk premium associated with peripheral economies such as Portugal’s — Gaspar added that the higher borrowing costs that constitute financial headwinds, especially in the context of budgetary adjustment.

But it was surprising not to hear any mention of the emigration of up to 1 million Portuguese from the country over the past 14 years — and nearly 250,000 since 2011 alone.  Passos Coelho in late 2011 was criticized when he suggested that young, enterprising Portuguese citizens should emigrate to Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Brazil in South America, or to Angola in southeastern Africa, still in the throes of an oil boom.  Angolan visas issued to Portuguese nationals jumped from just 156 in the year 2006 to nearly 150,000 by mid-2012.

Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony, apparently issues 200 visas a day to Portuguese nationals.

Invariably, that escape valve has kept Portuguese unemployment lower than the rates over 25% recorded in Spain and Greece.

Edward Hugh at A Fistful of Euros has made a very compelling case that the emigration of younger, working age Portuguese, combined with a decreasing birth rate and greater longevity has resulted in relatively fewer workers contributing to pensions and health care for relatively greater numbers of retirees, placing extraordinary long-term fiscal pressure on Portugal, given the lackluster expectations for future growth: Continue reading Gaspar defends Portuguese economic program at Brookings

In death, the Chávez cult has become even creepier


If you already thought that Venezuela was the Turkmenistan of Latin American politics, you need no further proof than the latest stunt on Tuesday from acting president Nicolás Maduro.Venezuela Flag Icon

In the clip below, Maduro has launched an oversized check up to the heavens to a grateful Hugo Chávez, representing the dividends received by CANTV, the Venezuelan telephone company that Chávez nationalized in 2007.  It’s another great find from Caracas Chronicles, which has been on quite a roll in the post-Chávez era in covering Venezuelan politics:

‘!Vuela, Vuela!, ¡en homenaje al Comandante!,’ Maduro exclaims (‘Fly! Fly! In tribute to the comandante!’), as red balloons (red symbolizing the color most associated with Chávez) float the check of 1,800 million bolívars upward to the skies.

As outrageous as it seems, it’s part of a series of impressions that the post-Chávez era is featuring an even creepier cult of personality in Venezuela than when el comandante was alive.

It began with the plans — now apparently aborted — to embalm Chávez and place him on display, just like Vladimir Lenin is on display in Moscow or Mao Zedong is on display in Beijing.  Those plans were belatedly phased out after officials determined that officials had waited too long after Chávez’s death in order to embalm him.

Then there are the over-the-top tributes like this, mingling the legacy of Chávez with that of Venezuelan founding father Simón Bolívar and other left-wing martyrs, and even Chávez’s Cuban benefactors have a thorough celebration of his life at Granma. 

Maduro even joked (or was it a serious claim?) that Chávez, his place in heaven secured, nudged God to make Argentine cardinal Jose Maria Bergoglio the world’s first Latin American pope.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, like in Turkmenistan, Maduro started trying to rename the months of the calendar after Chávez — there’s even a snarky website,, that tracks the number of Maduro’s mentions of Chávez on the campaign pre-campaign trail.

But the massive miles-long queues of people waiting to pay tribute to Chávez in death, and an extremely elegant funeral that drew nearly every leader in Latin America from Chile to México, with a ley seca (dry law) implemented to keep life in Caracas especially a bit more subdued in the potentially challenging days following Chávez’s death should have been enough to mark the extremely oversized impact that Chávez played within Venezuela’s political system — and above all in the spoils system that funneled oil wealth from the government to its supporters, from top government officials on downward.

All of this and Venezuela’s formal campaign season doesn’t even kick off until April 1.

French public intellectual Bernard Henri-Lévy has already decried the growing chavismo cult of personality:

What is less known, something that we will regret overlooking as the posthumous cult of Chávez swells and grows more toxic, is that this “21st-century socialist,” this supposedly tireless “defender of human rights,” ruled by muzzling the media, shutting down television stations that were critical of him, and denying the opposition access to the state news networks.

For Chávez supporters, there are certainly myriad policy reasons to support Maduro in the upcoming election over challenger Henrique Capriles — like him or not, he fundamentally transferred Venezuela’s oil wealth to the poorest Venezuelans in amounts unknown in nearly a century of the country’s oil wealth.  You can argue that Chávez’s redistribution of wealth has been inefficient, that his expropriations and other economic policies have left Venezuela mired in debt, a pariah of the global financial system and ill-prepared for the day that oil prices drop, and that other more moderate regimes from Perú to Brazil have notched records of poverty reduction just as impressive as — or more so than — Venezuela under chavismo. Continue reading In death, the Chávez cult has become even creepier

First Past the Post: March 27


East and South Asia

More threats from North Korea.

New protests in Bangladesh among those still gathered at Shahbagh.

North America

Ezra Klein’s wrap-up of the main arguments in Tuesday’s same-sex marriage case (on Proposition 8 in California) before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Total coverage of the Prop 8 case from SCOTUSBlog.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a second case on same-sex marriage rights today — the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The New Democratic Party holds a 20-point lead over the Liberal Party in upcoming British Columbia provincial elections.


Acting president Nicolás Maduro appoints a new chair of the foreign exchange management committee.

Venezuela has loaned $2.1 million to Nicaragua in the past four years. [Spanish]

Presidential challenger Henrique Capriles pledges to protect the misiones of former president Hugo Chávez.  [Spanish]

Latin America / Caribbean

Problems with the stadium in Rio de Janeiro that was to be used in the upcoming 2016 summer Olympics.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Spiegel interviews Malian coup leader Amadou Sanogo.

Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda appears before the International Criminal Court.

Former Zambian president Rupiah Banda (pictured above) pleads not guilty over oil-related charges.

International implications of the rebel coup in the Central African Republic.

Kenya’s top court delivers a setback to the challenge of presidential candidate and prime minister Raila Odinga.


Former British foreign secretary, onetime Labour leadership contender (he lost the Labour leadership to brother Ed) David Miliband will leave Parliament to head the International Rescue Committee in New York.

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk opens a path for a referendum on Poland’s eurozone membership (sometime after 2015).

Former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing thinks Germany finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble should be president of the Eurogroup.

Doubts about Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi has resigned over the flap over Italian marines in India.

Still no movement in the Italian government formation process, with center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani running out of time.

Google gets aggressive with Sweden for coining the term ‘ungoogleable’ (‘ogooglebar‘ in Swedish).

Pope Francis has shunned the papal apartments in the Vatican for something simpler.

Croatia will become the 28th member of the European Union on July 1.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria’s opposition gets a seat at the Arab League’s table.

New curbs on the right to protest in Egypt.

Prime minister Najib Mikati may lead a new national unity government in Lebanon (very good news, if true).

Speculation about Jordan’s new government.

Photo of the Day: Henry Kissinger meets Li Keqiang


So this is pretty amazing.China Flag Icon

Henry Kissinger, the U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser who paved the way for U.S. president Richard M. Nixon’s historic visit in February 1972 and thereafter, the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations, met with Li Keqiang (李克强), the new premier of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday:

[Li] said China is willing to work with the US to develop an unprecedented type of relationship in order to allow both sides to benefit from bilateral cooperation and play their due roles in maintaining world peace.

Kissinger highlighted the vital importance of US-China relations in promoting world peace and development, suggesting that both sides should work on long-term planning and strengthen communication to foster ties.

It must have been quite a stunning chat, considering that the current ‘Fifth Generation’ of leadership is essentially four generations of Chinese governance removed from the generation that Kissinger and Nixon encountered — Chinese premier Zhao Enlai (周恩来) and Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong (毛泽东).  Like him or love him, Kissinger remains one of the top old-school Sinologists in the United States, writing at age 89 a new book, On China, just last year.  When Nixon visited China, Li was just 17 years old.  The change that China has seen in the ensuing 41 years is one of the most amazing transformations of any human society in such a short period of time.

More background here on Li from my seven-part series from November 2012 on the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党).  Li speaks fluent English; unlike many of his colleagues on the Standing Committee, he is a protégé of Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) and unlike Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平), Li is not a princeling.  An economic reformer, Li served as the Party secretary of Henan province previously, and he’s emphasized since becoming premier that his chief tasks will be to roll back Chinese government spending in favor of private sector development, corruption and the massive size of Chinese government bureaucracy, and tackling the growing gap between China’s rich and poor.

First Past the Post: March 26


East and South Asia

Bangladesh marks 42 years of independence today.

A third way for India in 2014?

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar wins ‘backward’ status for his region.

South Korea President Park Guen-hye’s sixth nominee withdraws — this time the nominee for chairman of the Fair Trade Commission.

China’s new first lady Peng Liyuan is making a fashion statement.

A poor reception on Sunday for the return of former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf.

Mir Hazar Khan Khoso is sworn in as Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister.

Japan and the European Union to start free trade negotiations.

North America

The U.S. Supreme Court (pictured above) will consider gay marriage in California — and the successful ballot measure (Proposition 8) that revoked it — today.

Did the U.S.-led Iraqi war cause the Great Recession?

Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty goes to China.


A very good summary of the past seven days of pre-campaigning, courtesy Caracas Chronicles.

An English translation of an El Universal interview with presidential candidate Henrique Capriles: acting president Nicolás Maduro is ‘a fascist in his own right’ and a ‘lousy imitation of Chávez.’

Maduro warns that ‘outside experts’ are sabotaging the country’s electricity supply.  [Spanish]

El baile de ‘Nicolás’ and el beso de Nicolas (though Al Gore’s beso was better in 2000). [Spanish]

Here’s the kiss:

Latin America / Caribbean

All you wanted to know about the Mexican economy, courtesy Marginal Revolution.

Colorado candidate Horacio Cartes leads polls to become Paraguay’s next president.  [Spanish]

Georges Henry Honorat, a top official to Haiti’s president, has been killed in his home.

México’s lower house has passed president Enrique Peña Nieto’s telecommunications reforms.

Salvadorans want sainthood for slain priest Oscár Romero.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya’s Supreme Court has ordered a new recount of some of the March 4 presidential election results.

The Central African Republic’s new rebel leaders are suspending the centrafrique constitution.

Former Zambian president Rupiah Banda is arrested.

Ghana has a George Walker Bush highway?

The European Union lifts many of its sanctions on Zimbabwe following its March 16 constitutional referendum.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front holds its first congress after the death of Meles Zenawi.


Cypriot banks will remain closed until Thursday.

Far left French leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused of anti-Semitism?

Spiegel interviews former World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

Spain’s economy minister is worried about Cypriot contagion.

Russia and Former Soviet Union

Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky died by hanging, according to UK officials.

Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan has responded to opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, still on hunger strike in protest of the February presidential election results.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt has arrested five top opposition activists.

Erin Cunninghanm at Global Post asks if Qatar is abandoning Egypt.

Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad in trouble?


An interactive map of world hunger.

Does Pier Luigi Bersani believe in miracles?


UPDATE, March 26, 8 a.m. ET: So with a day left to form a government, Bersani is set to meet Berlusconi’s allies today.  Governments of miracles do, in fact, sometimes happen for those who want to be prime minister enough. 

* * * * * 

The latest on the attempts by centrosinistra (center-left) leader Pier Luigi Bersani to form a government:Italy Flag Icon

Bersani expressed the urgency of Italy’s dilemma.

“The situation is dramatic. We need a government. In fact we need a government capable of performing miracles,” he told reporters at parliament where he was meeting union leaders, seeking support for modest economic reforms.

And so the coalition courtship continues, even as the eurozone goes through another wrenching crisis over a country with 0.2% of the eurozone GDP that controls about half of its internationally recognized territory.

Bersani blew off yet another attempt by centrodestra (center-right) leader Silvio Berlusconi to form a ‘grand coalition’ with Bersani as premier and former justice minister Angelino Alfano as vice premier in exchange for choosing a candidate for president amenable to Berlusconi’s allies when current president Giorgio Napolitano’s term ends in May.  Despite predictions of oblivion, Berlusconi came within 0.4% of beating Bersani’s coalition in elections last month, so of course it’s in the once-again ascendant Berlusconi’s interest to demand either entering government or new elections, which polls show Berlusconi would now win.

Silvio, you sexy thing.

Napolitano gave Bersani a mandate to form a coalition government on Friday (here’s my bleak take on some of Italy’s options over the weekend).  Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement), has ruled out even an informal alliance to prop up a Bersani-led government — Bersani and the center-left have a majority in the lower house of the Italian parliament, but not in the upper house.

Did Bersani watch the same near-disaster in Nicosia and Brussels that I did over the weekend?

All he’s got in his arsenal is to talk about a government of miracles?

If that’s really all Bersani has in his quiver at this point, it’s not surprising that Italians believe he doesn’t deserve to be prime minister.  What a mess.

Something tells me that Florence mayor Matteo Renzi will be replacing Bersani as the leader of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) — in hours or days, not weeks.

Mikati’s resignation need not set off immediate alarms about Lebanon’s future


In Lebanon, elections are both much less and much more than what we typically think of as elections. Lebanon

Given that the country’s constitution mandates that the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of the national assembly a Shi’a Muslim, it’s not a surprise that parliamentary elections are a carefully stage-managed process of allocating seats to Lebanon’s national assembly (مجلس النواب) to ensure half of the seats (64) go to Muslims and another half (64) go to Christians — specific allocations guarantee a set number of seats for each of Lebanon’s 22 confessionals.

So the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister Najib Mikati (pictured above) on Friday should be seen as a prologue to the electoral choreography, given that new elections are due in June when the current parliamentary terms ends.  Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman has accepted Mikati’s resignation, but asked Mikati to stay on as a caretaker prime minister until a new prime minister can be announced.

It should not necessarily be seen as a warning sign that Lebanon is invariably descending into chaos or that it is doomed to be drawn into Syria’s civil war, notwithstanding the latest clashes in Tripoli, which seem to have quieted since the weekend.

Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city on its northern coast near the Syrian border, is especially geared toward tension, with its own Sunni majority and Alawite minority mirroring the demographic dynamic in Syria.  But despite some high-profile kidnappings in the Bekaa Valley last August, and flare-ups from time to time in Tripoli, Lebanon has done a reasonable job in avoiding the same fate as Syria.

That’s in no small part due to the resolve of many (though not all) of Lebanon’s political elite to keep Lebanon from returning to the era of civil war that devastated the country in the late 1970s and 1980s, though as the Syrian civil war approaches its two-year anniversary, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Lebanese leaders to remain neutral in the conflict.  That became especially true after a car bomb blast in Beirut last October killed Lebanon’s top intelligence official, Wissam al-Hassan, a longtime Hariri ally — his assassination is widely believed to have been engineered by Syrian — or even Hezbollah (حزب الله‎) — forces.  Hezbollah is also widely believed of actively supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime with military force inside Syria, because Assad (together with Iran’s regime) are the two major lines of political and monetary support for Hezbollah.  If Assad falls in Syria, Hezbollah will no longer be able to look to Damascus for patronage.

So while Mikati’s resignation need not mean an irreparable retreat for Lebanon, it nonetheless portends a difficult few months ahead — the key stumbling block is agreeing to an election law in advance of elections or, at minimum, the agreement for an electoral supervision body to oversee the planned June 9 poll.  Another solution might include the extension of a national unity government with a minor delay of the elections.

The next step lies with Suleiman, who could call a ‘national dialogue’ among all of Lebanon’s political leaders in hopes of achieving at least a caretaker government to see through the implementation of a law that will clear the path for new elections.   Continue reading Mikati’s resignation need not set off immediate alarms about Lebanon’s future