All posts by Kevin Lees

It’s generally not a good sign…

…when the president of the country announces piece-meal election results in a press conference, bypassing the official state apparatus.

For the record, Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade declared that he is leading with about half of the votes counted with about 32% to 25% for former prime minister Macky Sall.

UPDATE: Wade has now acknowledged that the race will likely go to a runoff — to be held March 18, in which it is likely that all opposition candidates will form a united front against Wade’s reelection.

Kremlin Kops or Keystone Kops?

After a weekend in which anti-Putin protestors united in a ring of defiance around the Kremlin, truly wacky reports have surfaced of a potential assassination plot against Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, stymied by Ukrainian security forces:

The Russian prime minister’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told the BBC “this was absolutely a plot to kill the prime minister.”

It seems not outside the realm of possibility that Ukraine’s government, which is currently controlled by pro-Russian factions under pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, could be convinced to help legitimize the gravity of the plot.  Certainly, the Kremlin ploy helps to distract, in part, from anti-Putin protests just six days in advance of the first round of Russia’s presidential election.

In a piece in The Guardian yesterday, Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed by Putin a decade ago and removed as CEO of Yukos Oil, advocates a vote for any of the four opponents to Putin, thereby forcing Putin into a second-round runoff vote.  He compares the recent grassroots protests against Putin to the Arab Spring protests of 2011 that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt:

By forcing a second round we will push our country down the path of positive change. Presidential power that previously answered to no one would have to start listening to the people it serves. The state that until now took the monopolistic presidential power for granted would be more wary of its hold and start moderating its behaviour. The politicians who gathered the opposition votes could become a force to be reckoned with, a voice for articulating the thoughts and views that have been ignored before. The establishment would have to start negotiating with the opposition and an evolutionary transition could meaningfully begin. Continue reading Kremlin Kops or Keystone Kops?

Zhirinovsky vs. the donkey


In my ongoing series of odd campaign video from Russia’s upcoming presidential election vote, here’s ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky flogging a donkey from earlier this month.  It’s unclear what exactly the point is here.

Zhirinovsky is one of the truly scary clowns of Russia’s political scene. In 1995, he threw a box of juice at an opponent on television.  In 1996, he called for recreating the Russian Empire and expanding it to the Indian Ocean and reclaiming Alaska from the United States.  He once promised free vodka to all Russians if elected.  He’s anti-Zionist, anti-Caucuses, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Western, anti-African, and you really could fill a book with outrageous Zhirinovsky quotes.  Much, much more here, and that’s just for starters.

From a 1994 article:

In numerous speeches and articles, Zhirinovsky has promised to bury radioactive waste on the borders of the Baltic states, turn Kazakhstan into Russia’s back yard,” provoke internecine wars between the clans and the peoples of Russia’s so-called near abroad (the former Soviet Union) and occupy what will remain of it when the war is over. The masthead of his movement’s magazine, Zhirinovsky’s Hawk, displays a map of Russia that includes Finland, Poland and Alaska, in addition to all of the former Soviet republics.

Of course, his importance as a figure in Russian politics has long since ebbed from its high-water mark in 1995-96.  But I’ve considered him for over a decade the personification of Russia’s nationalist id, which can sometimes be quite ugly and dark indeed.

Senegal: Early returns indicate runoff

Early reports of returns from Senegal’s presidential election yesterday indicate that current president Abdoulaye Wade leads former prime minister Macky Sall in the first-round ballot by only a 24% to 21% margin, although other reports claimed Wade had around 32% to Sall’s 28%.

Without an outright majority, Wade (pictured above, top) would be forced into a runoff with Sall (pictured above, below) — presumably given the massive opposition to Wade’s run on the basis of a constitutional limit of two terms, it can be expected that the opposition, headed by M23 and other umbrella groups, including supporters of Youssou N’Dour (the popular rapper who was not permitted to stand in the presidential election), will unite behind Sall in the second round.

Given Senegal’s tradition as a nation that has generally respected democratic norms — there have been no coups and no civil wars there since independence in 1960 — Wade would presumably recognize a Sall second-round victory and step down from office.

The next key date is Friday, March 2, when official results are announced. Continue reading Senegal: Early returns indicate runoff

Senegal voting today

Voters in Senegal go to the polls today to determine whether President Abdoulaye Wade should be given a third term through 2019.

The leadup to the vote has been marked by tense — and sometimes violent — protests by opponents who claim that Wade’s reelection violates constitutional changes that Wade approved in 2001.  Wade himself was booed when he went to vote earlier today in his own district.

Thirteen opposition candidates were approved to run against Wade and are expected to split the anti-Wade vote, allowing the current president to score a first-round victory. Other candidates, including popular Senegalese rapper Youssou N’Dour were not permitted to stand for election.

Results will not be released, however, until March 2, and it’s anyone’s guess whether anti-Wade protests will accelerate if, as expected, Wade is announced as the winner.

A compromise by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, under which Wade would agree to serve for just two years if reelected, was rejected yesterday.

We need to talk about Kevin

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (and, as of three days ago, foreign minister) is busy this weekend working to secure as many votes as possible in the Labor Party leadership contest on Monday morning, called by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week.

The latest count, as of Friday, gave Gillard about 60 supporters in the 103-member caucus to just about 30 supporters for Rudd. So why is there such remaining doubt over the contest? Allegiances can change in 48 hours, especially as regards a secret ballot.  If Rudd significantly underpeforms, it could well draw a bright line to the infighting that has plagued Labor for the past three years; if he meets or exceeds expectations, don’t believe that this is the end of it.

Somewhat extraordinarily, a sitting prime minister has called a leadership contest as a referendum about her predecessor (and not herself). Continue reading We need to talk about Kevin

We need to talk about Julia

Footage from about 12 hours ago in which former prime minister and former foreign minister Kevin Rudd announced that he would challenge prime minister Julie Gillard.  In so doing, Rudd gave quite a bit of a show as to how he would go after Liberal Party / Coalition leader Tony Abbott as a man of the past.

I’ll have a little more later on what to expect in Monday’s vote and what comes next for Rudd, Gillard, the Labor Party and Australia.

For now, the state of play is that around 60 MPs have announced for Gillard, about 30 have announced for Rudd, and the latest polls show that Rudd is now the favorite to take on Abbott in a general election.

But a weekend can be a long time…

More evidence of Prokhorov’s seriousness

Not to be outdone by Putin’s sexy ads targeting younger Russian voters, Mikhail Prokhorov campaigns in rap yesterday in Russia.  If neither the New Jersey Nets and the presidential election don’t work out for Prokhorov, maybe he should team up with Jay-Z?

With the latest survey showing that Putin will win the first round of the March 4 presidential election with 66% of the vote (with Communist Party rival Gennady Zyuganov picking up just 15% of the vote for second place), it’s becoming clearer than ever that Prokhorov is not the serious candidate he perhaps once claimed.

Eventos, my dear boy, eventos

No sooner than a week after an opposition candidate was selected with greater-than-expected turnout in the opposition primary, we learned earlier this week that Venezuela president Hugo Chávez will return to Cuba Friday afternoon for surgery early next week, concerning a new lesion that he admits may well be malignant, coming just a year after cancer treatments and ongoing angst about the health of the cancer-stricken president.

With a fairly popular and united opposition candidate in Henrique Capriles giving Chávez his toughest contest in perhaps the entirety of his 13-year reign as president, Chávez’s health becomes the central issue for the foreseeable future in the election battle, with Chávez to be in Cuba for treatment and recovery for weeks thereafter.

The change of events leaves more questions than answers: Continue reading Eventos, my dear boy, eventos

Rudd-Gillard showdown looming in Australia

It’s been an extraordinary day in Australian politics, where Julia Gillard has called a leadership vote for Monday in the latest showdown of a long-simmering feud with foreign minister and former prime minister Kevin Rudd that has undermined the Labor Party almost since it took over government in 2007.

Rudd, who’s been visiting Washington, DC, resigned as foreign minister today in a press conference outside of Washington’s Willard Hotel, announced he will return immediately to Australia, indicating that he would stand for the leadership against Gillard:

I do not believe that Prime Minister Gillard can lead the Australian Labor Party to success in the next election. That is a deep belief, I believe it’s a belief also shared right across the Australian community…. Their overall argument to me is that they regard me as the best prospect to lead the Australian Labor Party successfully to the next elections, to save the Australian Labor Party and those next elections and to save the country from the ravages of an Abbott government.

One commentator said earlier today that the feud has left them both “screwed” — Rudd unable to win the leadership and Gillard unable to win the next election.
Meanwhile, Labor voices are already coming out loudly and strongly — mostly against Rudd.

A historical look at Senegalese democracy

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obsanjo arrived today in Dakar as a representative of the Economic Community of West African States to meet with the M23 opposition group, which is protesting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third presidential term as unconstitutional. (Ironically, Wade himself was among those who criticized Obsanjo in 2006 when he sought constitutional changes to allow for a third term as Nigeria’s president).

Meanwhile, technically illegal protests continue in Dakar in advance of Sunday’s vote, with tensions running high and occasionally spilling into deadly violence.

But with five days to go until it appears that the 85-year-old Wade will prevail to “win” a third term in office unitl the year 2019, just how strongly rooted is democracy in Senegal? Continue reading A historical look at Senegalese democracy

Porque no te callas?*

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez has launched a rip-snorting fusilade against opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles with some, ahem, choice words (video with subtitles below compliments of The Guardian):

My mission… (will be) to take off the mask, you low-life, because no matter how much you disguise it, low-life, you have a pig’s tail, a pig’s ears, and you snort like a pig.

Chávez apparently also refers to Capriles not by name, but by reference to el majunche, or “the crappy one.”

So glad to see that the race is off to such a promising start.

Continue reading Porque no te callas?*

Senegal turns deadly

More unrest today from Senegal, where protestors gathered in defiance of a government ban in opposition to President Abdoulaye Wade, who seeking a third term in the February 26 presidential election.

Wade argues that constitutional changes in 2001 limiting presidents to two terms in office do not apply to him because they were adopted only in the middle of his administration — the nation’s court approved his reelection bid in January, even as it disqualified opposition candidates such as popular Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour. Indeed, the rapper-led “Fed Up” coalition and the “m23” coalition of opposition parties have organized protests, but police are refusing to authorize permits on the basis of public security.

Already, four people are dead, and Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is choked with tear gas.  Not an auspicious omen for the next nine days or for the post-election governance of Senegal, which has traditionally been more a model of strong governance and economic strength in Africa that a model of political unrest.