Musharraf didn’t need the Peshawar High Court to render him politically irrelevant


Pakistan’s former leader, Pervez Musharraf, has been barred from Pakistani civilian politics for life, following a ruling this week by the Peshawar High Court, the highest court in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan Flag Icon

Musharraf, who took power as army chief of staff in 1999, ousting prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the time, left office in 2008 to the first truly free and fair elections since the 1997 election that Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N, اکستان مسلم لیگ ن) won.

After five years outside the country, Musharraf was hoping to return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile under the banner of his newly formed (as of 2010, at least) All Pakistan Muslim League (APML, آل پاکستان مسلم لیگ).  The faction that supported Musharraf throughout the 2000s, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (پاکستان مسلم لیگ ق, or the PML-Q), is no longer much of a factor, and what remains of the PML-Q now supports the ruling — and fading — Pakistan People’s Party (PPP, پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی‎).

Though the PPP is struggling in advance of the May 11 elections, Musharraf has never been thought the likely benefactor.  Instead, Sharif, the prime minister that Musharraf ousted over a decade ago and who returned to Pakistan from his own exile in late 2007, leads polls in the May elections and is expected to win on the basis of his party’s wide support in Punjab province, the country’s most populous by far.

Musharraf retains pockets of support, especially within Pakistan’s military.  But when he returned to the country on March 24, only about 300 supporters even bothered to greet him at Karachi’s airport.  Things have gone downhill ever since for Musharraf, whose recent lifetime political ban is the least of his legal worries.  Musharraf was disqualified from running by election officials in four locations throughout the country, and he’s now subject to at least three other investigations, one of which forced him to flee a courtroom earlier in April over charges that he committed treason for declaring emergency rule in 2007.  Even more immediately, he’s been placed under house arrest in respect of the investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who returned from her own exile in 2007 as well to run for office at the head of the PPP.  Musharraf isn’t believed to have actively participated or planned the bombing and shooting  attack, but he’s been accused of failing to provide Bhutto sufficient protection at the time.   Continue reading Musharraf didn’t need the Peshawar High Court to render him politically irrelevant

Gunnlaugsson now unexpectedly in line to form Icelandic government


Despite the fact that Iceland’s long-ruling Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) won about 2% more in voter support in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, it looks like Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the leader of the second-place Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party), will have the first shot at forming a government.Iceland Flag Icon

That’s because both parties ultimately won 19 seats each in the Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, surprisingly decided to give Gunnlaugsson the first shot at forming the next Icelandic government.

The decision shines a spotlight on the fact that in many countries, the head of state has quite an influential role in determining who will be the next head of government — in this case, it seems like Gunnlaugsson will nonetheless be on track to become the next prime minister, not the leader of the Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson.

It makes some intuitive sense — the Progressives have by far the most momentum, having garnered nearly an additional 10% of the vote in the 2013 election, and although the Independence Party won the vote in Reykjavík and the small southwestern region of Iceland surrounding Reykjavík, the Progressives won more votes in all of the other regions of the country (though they are more sparsely populated).

Although all signals from both Gunnlaugsson and Benediktsson are that they’ll form a center-right coalition, one possibility that I hadn’t considered is that Gunnlaugsson might join forces with other parties, leaving the Independence Party outside of government.

That seems unlikely, of course, but it’s an avenue that’s more open to the Progressives than the Independence Party, given that the Progressives can make a marginally better argument that they represent a rupture from both the Independence Party that dominated Icelandic government in the decades prior to 2009 and the more recent government led by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and the Samfylkingin (Social Democratic Alliance) and their coalition partners, the Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð (Left-Green Movement).

Mathematically, a government needs 32 seats for a majority in the 63-member Alþingi.

Conceivably, and this is now in the realm of pure speculation, that means that Gunnlaugsson could team up with the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement for a 35-seat majority, though that seems nearly suicidal, given that the two parties suffered the heaviest losses in the recent election.  It seems even more unlikely given the Social Democratic Alliance’s support for joining the European Union, a position that both the Independence Party and the Progressives — and even the Left-Green Movement — oppose.

But another path might include a Progressive-led government that draws on support from the anti-EU membership Left-Green Movement and the most successful of the two newest parties in the Alþingi, Björt framtíð (Bright Future) — that would bring exactly 32 seats.  Bright Future was founded both by former Social Democrats and Progressives, which means that, despite its pro-EU membership views, Bright Future could be an easier coalition partner for the Progressives.

What’s clear is that, for now, Gunnlaugsson would appear to have the greatest number of options, including several novel paths to a government that could shake up Icelandic politics more than we thought even over the weekend.

Gettin’ Raucous in Caracas

Here’s a piece I wrote for an LGBT website on the Caracas gay scene a couple of weeks ago– and how the election season put a damper on exploring Caracas’s nightlife.  It’s not my typical foreign policy analysis, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it nonetheless if you ever find yourselves with a free night in Venezuela’s capital.


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CARACAS, Venezuela — Perched in a valley of a mountain range that runs along the Caribbean coast on the northern rim of South America, Caracas isn’t exactly the first thing you think of when you think gay destination.Venezuela Flag Icon

But you’d be surprised at how much fun life could be in the capital of the Bolivarian Republic — Sean Penn can’t be completely wrong, right?

My chief obstacle was the ley seca, the dry law that went into effect at 6 p.m. Friday night in advance of last Sunday’s election.   Nothing kills a South American party faster than public teetotaling, though Venezuelans had figured how to circumvent that law fairly discreetly after a similar dry spell following the death of former president Hugo Chávez and another during semana santa (Holy Week).  But the state of things left nightlife a bit more subdued than it would have otherwise been.

Being stuck in Caracas during election season isn’t all bad, though.  In a society that now, more than ever, is incredibly political polarized, gay life is one of the few parts of Venezuelan society where chavistas — the followers of Chávez and his successor, president-elect Nicolás Maduro — mix with opposition supporters.

Unlike in the United States, both sides court the gay demographic, and early in the most recent campaign, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles lashed out at Maduro for using homophobic language to slur Capriles (he’s called Capriles a ‘little princess’), arguing that there’s no place for the kind of machismo language that ostracizes and excludes gay Venezuelans.  Despite Maduro’s language, the Venezuelan government hasn’t been wholly bad for LGBT rights.  Chávez’s 1999 constitution attempted to include language banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, though Chávez in 1999 outlawed discrimination by statute.

Capriles, for the record, is fairly easy on the eyes and incredibly fit, in contrast to either Maduro or Chávez.  He’s also single, though he’s been linked to numerous women in the past, so don’t get any ideas.

Notwithstanding the pre-election ley seca, and the post-election tension, which continues even now to threaten Venezuela’s political stability, I still found some time to see the best of gay Caracas while covering the election and its policy issues.

Don’t expect Buenos Aires or Rio — Caracas isn’t a hard-dancing party town.  Instead, expect a surprisingly sophisticated mixed scene — the term in Caracas for the more gay-friendly scene is ‘en ambiente,’ but really the entire neighborhoods of Altamira and Chacao, as some of Caracas’s safest neighborhoods, come alive with a chill scene at night.  Forget what you’ve heard about the ‘murder capital’ of the world — Altamira and Chacao are walkable by night with the precautions you’d use in New York or Los Angeles.

I was lucky to have Julian Eduardo — a.k.a Stayfree — to show me around town.  He’s an icon of gay life in Caracas as one of the first Venezuelans to come out publicly, and he was for a while one of the hosts of a popular television show, ‘Noches de perros,’ making him one of the first openly gay figures on Venezuelan television.  He said that Caracas has become increasingly sensitive to LGBT issues over the past decade.  Though gay life in Venezuela may not be as out and proud as in countries like Argentina and Uruguay, which have both enacted gay marriage (Uruguay did so last week), gay life in Venezuela is a mellow thing, especially in the capital.

So, for instance, check out Puto Bar, which is Chacao’s answer to a hipster dive with great music, cheap drinks and a fun mixed, en ambiente scene where there’s usually even more action outside among the smoking area than inside with the night’s live set.  There were quite a few boys with some assets worth, ahem, expropriating, faster than you can say ‘Mister Danger.’ Continue reading Gettin’ Raucous in Caracas