The Economist‘s cover story this week features “The Beginning of the End of Putin,” with a thoughtful piece looking beyond Sunday’s election and a companion piece about how different Russia is today from the Russia that first elected Putin in 2000 — it is presumed that Putin will win, likely in the first round, and likely with some amount of electoral fraud, which was so comically and blatantly deployed in the December 2011 parliamentary elections to the Duma.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the election, there’s some doubt as to whether Putin will countenance any of the rising protests of the Russia middle class:
Putin is already making noises about running for reelection in 2018, which would keep him in office until 2024.
He’s refused to a re-run of the Duma elections from December, which were notoriously fraud ridden, sometime to comic effect, as shown in clips on YouTube.
News reports have placed in doubt whether current President Dmitri Medvedev, one time a proponent of more liberal reforms in Russia, will return to the prime minister’s office when Putin returns to the Kremlin.
All of which means that the popular response to Sunday’s vote matters more than the actual vote itself.
The fundamental question is not whether the inevitable Russian protests following the vote will grow, but whether the standoff will end like in Iran in 2009 or Tunisia in 2011. Stay tuned.
In the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, which was widely seen as rigged by incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, key leaders of the opposition, which came to be known as the “Green movement,” are boycotting today’s election, including former moderate president Mohammad Khatami, and many reformers — including presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and moderate refomer Mehdi Karroubi — remain under house arrest.
Accordingly, given that fewer reformers were allowed to stand for legislative elections, with other Green movement leaders laced under house arrest or otherwise quieted, and with the remaining reformers simply boycotting today’s election, it is expected that various groups of conservatives will win decisively today and make further gains. In particular, the election has pitted one group of pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives against another group of more anti-Ahmadinejad (and pro-Khamenei) conservatives, as described today in an editorial in The New York Times by Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, a professor of international law and adviser to Mousavi, who declared today’s election a farce:
There are no genuine ideological differences between these factions; what motivates them is a lust for power and control of the country’s oil wealth. And they are competing in a polemical race to describe how they would “stamp out” what, in official spin, is labeled as the “remnants of the sedition” — officialese for Iran’s popular Green protest movement, which was brutally attacked three years ago but has nevertheless survived. Continue reading Iranian parliamentary elections: in the shadows of 2009 and 2013→
Just three months ago, the video shown above from yet another EU summit set tongues wagging on both sides of the English Channel: was French President Nicolas Sarkozy so angry with UK Prime Minister David Cameron that he’d brush past his outstretched hand?
Cameron had just exercised the United Kingdom’s first-ever veto of a European Union fiscal treaty that would have brought the EU countries into greater fiscal policy alignment (presumably toward more austerity, as favored by Cameron, Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel). Although the remaining 26 EU countries signed up to a “compact” of the EU countries (sans the UK), the exercise of the veto was very much in keeping with the UK’s longtime role as Europe’s most stubborn citizen, much to the anguish of Sarkozy and the rest of Europe.
Frecnh presidential frontrunner François Hollande went to London yesterday, campaigning in a city with som many French residents that it’s often called Paris-on-the-Thames. A clip from The Guardian above shows Hollande meeting with the UK Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband at King’s College, London.
Traditionally, most French voters based in the UK have been based in London and, in particular, the City of London, home to London’s financial industry, one of the world’s centers of global finance. With over 400,000 French residents, it is home to more French citizens than all but Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, and typically, those French voters have leaned to the right.
In the ensuing 18 days, the media spotlight will shift to three key questions:
Can Wade win a runoff vote? Almost two-thirds of the electorate voted against Wade. To win a runoff vote, Wade would have to (i) retain all of his first-round support, (ii) win around one of every four of the anti-Wade voters in the first round and (iii) win more than 50% of any new voters who participate in the second round. This seems like an implausible hurdle for the unpopular incumbent.
What would Sall do as President? Greater scrutiny will now fall on Sall, his former ties to Wade, his falling out with Wade and charges of money laundering and corruption. He will certainly have to discuss his role in the Wade administration and its lack of policy progress. Already, however, Sall has pledged to abide the two-term presidential limit and has advocated reducing the presidential term back to five years (Wade’s constitutional changes had increased the term to seven).
Can the opposition effectively unite against Wade? Another prime minister, Moustapha Niasse, placed third with 13.2% of the vote. Niasse is already on record as supporting a unified opposition against Wade, whose candidacy — potentially in violation of the constitutional two-term limit — has sparked protests across the country. The broad-based M23 coalition and other groups are well placed to bring together all of the opposition candidates to discuss a unified left-right front under Sall’s second-round candidacy. Barring any deal between Wade and Sall, it appears very likely that the Wade opposition will be unified, in some degree, behind Sall.
It’s been a relatively steady week and a half since French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced his candidacy for reelection with a mix of populist stances with respect to France and steady-ship statesmanship with respect to Europe, all the while showing some of the frenetic energy that won the Élysée in 2007.
The first crop of post-announcement polls show that Sarkozy is catching up to Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande in the first round, but still faces a double-digit gap in a second-round runoff against Hollande.
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.
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?→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.