Tahitians indifferent to independence movement in weekend elections


Although you may be aware of Malaysia’s blockbuster elections yesterday and even elections held yesterday in the 60 million-plus Indian state of Karnataka, you may not have realized that French Polynesia also held elections on May 5.french polynesia

Polynésie française exists officially as an overseas country within the French republic — and its most well-known and populous component is the island of Tahiti (around 70% of the country’s population), though the entire French Polynesian nation comprises a huge group of islands over a wide swath in the south Pacific Ocean.

Though its population, at around 270,000 people, is less than you’d find in Iceland, French Polynesia’s islands cover an area larger than Europe, and they are a highly strategic holding for France, which has controversially engaged in nuclear testing on one of the islands, Fangataufa, most recently in 1995.

The high commissioner, Jean-Pierre Laflaquière, and the French government, which sits nearly 10,000 miles away, holds the final say on the ‘overseas country’s’ policy on justice, security, defense and even its education.  That’s one reason why the independence movement has attracted more attention in recent years, including as in the lead-up to Sunday’s election for the territorial assembly.

Politics in French Polynesia is dominated by the personal rivalry between two leaders: its current president Oscar Temaru (pictured above) and the leader of the opposing, conservative, anti-independence Tāhōʻēraʻa Huiraʻatira (Popular Rally), Gaston Flosse.  Flosse dominated local politics for decades until 2004, when Temaru first won local elections, though power has revolved among Flosse, Temaru and Flosse’s one-time ally, Gaston Tong Sang.  Temaru leads the more leftist, pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira (People’s Servant), one of several parties that comprise the larger Union pour la Démocratie (Union for the Democracy) coalition that Temaru also heads.

Temaru has spent his entire political career of four decades in pursuit of one goal — full independence for French Polynesia.  It’s a goal that Temaru appeared to be closer to achieving in the past couple of years, winning support from the French Polynesian assembly in 2011 for a petition to place French Polynesia back on the United Nations’s list of nations to be decolonized.  Sunday’s result is widely seen as a result of discontent over an unemployment rate of between 20% and 30% and a poverty rate of around 20% throughout the islands rather than a rebuke against independence, though it’s hardly clear that Tahitians and the rest of French Polynesia remain incredibly enthusiastic about independence.

Following Sunday’s election, power seems likely to revolve once again from Temaru to Flosse, which means that the flickers of life for French Polynesian independence are likely to recede in the coming years.  Continue reading Tahitians indifferent to independence movement in weekend elections

Former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti is dead



No one quite personified post-war, ‘First Republic’ Italy more than Giulio Andreotti.Italy Flag Icon

Andreotti’s death today, at age 94, ends a career that spanned from the 1950s well beyond the end of the ‘First Republic,’ through the collapse of the hegemony of Italy’s Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy), and well into the contemporary era as one of Italy’s ‘senators for life.’

Andreotti is being remembered today for his triumphs — seven times a prime minister, first in 1972 and for the final time in 1992, he represented Italy throughout the Cold War and affirmed Italy’s close ties throughout the post-war years with the United States.

Divo Giulio‘ (Divine Julius) to his supporters and Belzebú (Beelzebub) to his opponents, Andreotti and his legacy remain just as complicated in death as in life, and his career’s ups and downs coincided with some of Italy’s most traumatic national tragedies, and it’s impossible to judge his career in the context of today’s political climate, but rather of the climate of post-war Italy, where tensions ran strong following a civil war between partisans and fascist supporters that settled, only over decades, into the broad left and right of today’s Italian politics.

His life inspired a 2008 biopic, Il Divo, that helped explain the Byzantine nature of post-war Italian politics to an international audience, and he presided over an era that saw Italy transformed from a country ravaged by war and 20 years of Benito Mussolini’s fascist rule into one of Western Europe’s strongest economies and a member of the G-7 group of world economies.  At a time when the rest of southern Europe remained under the thumb of right-wing and military dictatorships and eastern Europe remained behind the iron-curtained influence of the communist Soviet Union, Andreotti and the Christian Democracy that he personified led Italy to a period of economic prosperity and pluralistic democracy, however imperfect.

The most traumatic of those imperfections includes the kidnapping and assassination of his more leftist Christian Democratic friend and colleague, Aldo Moro, who served as prime minister in the 1960s and again from 1974 to 1976.  The performance of the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI, Italian Communist Party) in the 1976 elections had reached its highest level in Italian history, and Moro (pictured below), among others, turned to an unprecedented coalition with the PCI.  Moro, however, was abducted on the streets of Rome in March 1978 by the leftist terrorist group, the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades).

As prime minister once again, Andreotti refused to negotiate with Moro’s kidnappers, despite pleas from many within even his own government and from Moro himself.  By May 1978, Moro had been killed and his corpse thrown in an old car, and Andreotti himself was the recipient of charges of incompetence, at the least, and malfeasance, at the worst, in letting political motivations override the priority of securing the release of a popular Italian political leader.  DC-PCI cooperation ended — for good — shortly thereafter, much to the delight of the DC’s more right-wing members and to the delight of Italy’s American allies.  Though the assassination took place 35 years ago, key questions about Moro’s death remain unanswered amid a web of conspiracy theories and the revelation of other programs — such as the existence of NATO’s Operation Gladio, a ‘stay-behind’ anti-communist operation in post-war Italy and the existence of the shady, Masonic lodge Propaganda Due (‘P2’) to which much of Italy’s post-war political elite belonged.  Continue reading Former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti is dead

Six reasons why Malaysia’s BN-led government held on to power in Sunday’s election


Malaysia’s incumbent government, headed by prime minister Najib Razak, has won Sunday’s landmark parliamentary elections, returning the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition and its largest party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to power, extending the UMNO’s 55 consecutive years of rule.malaysia flag

The race was the most closely contested in Malaysian history, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR, People’s Alliance) waging the most tenacious and successful campaign to date.  If Pakatan Rakyat delivered a shock to Malaysia’s ruling elite in the March 2008 elections by depriving it of the two-thirds majority it had enjoyed (and with it, the power to amend Malaysia’s constitution), the May 2013 elections proved that the opposition can present a campaign with a genuine shot at winning.

The Pakatan Rakyat appears to have come up short — the Barisan Nasional will return to office, with Najib (pictured above) winning his first popular mandate since replacing his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in 2009 following the poor results of the 2008 elections.  According to official results, the Barisan Nasional will hold 133 seats (the UMNO holding 126 of them) to just 89 seats for the Pakatan Rakyat in the 222-member Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).  That’s a 14-seat swing — seven seats less for the governing coalition and seven seats more for the opposition.

In one sense, it’s a win for the Pakatan Rakyat, which has had the best election result in Malaysian history, and it stands a good shot of building upon Sunday’s results to win power in the next elections.  Najib’s role as prime minister may even be in doubt following the Barisan Nasional‘s less-than-vigorous victory.  In another sense, it’s obviously a disappointment because the opposition failed to make sufficient inroads among ethnic Malays to win after a campaign that saw Malaysians divide largely on class, age and ethnic lines, with ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians supporting the Pakatan Rakyat and a majority of ethnic Malays supporting the Barisan Nasional, despite a growing mass of younger and more urban ethnic Malays supporting the opposition.

Indeed, the Barisan Nasional‘s two other major constituent groups, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), were nearly wiped out — the MCA won just six seats and the MIC none at all.  Ironically, that makes the UMNO itself even more dominant, even as the result confirms that the Barisan Nasional has lost nearly all of its support beyond ethnic Malays, which bodes precariously for its future.  Ethnic Malays constitute a little over 50% of the country’s population, while ethnic Chinese account for around 24% and ethnic Indians for 7%.

So what happened — what made the difference in Sunday’s election to push what was widely seen as a toss-up election to the incumbent?

Here are six reasons. Continue reading Six reasons why Malaysia’s BN-led government held on to power in Sunday’s election