When Moon Jae-in (문재인) won his party’s nomination last Monday, news outlets across the globe immediately proclaimed that the progressive’s nomination all but assured Moon’s victory in the snap presidential election set to take place on May 9.
Nevertheless, the next 27 days promise to be some of the most tumultuous in the history of South Korean democracy, with former president Park Geun-hye (박근혜) under arrest on bribery and other corruption charges and with US president Donald Trump’s administration taking an increasingly bellicose line over North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Park’s removal from office brought forward the presidential election previously scheduled for December.
Last week’s primaries among all of South Korea’s major parties have effectively settled the presidential field. Almost immediately, though, Moon’s opponents started lining up behind another progressive alternative — former software engineer and entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo (안철수), who kicked off his general election campaign by taking a ride on Seoul’s subways. The hint wasn’t subtle: Ahn is an outsider who understands the problems of everyday Koreans.
It set off an election dynamic that polls say, all of a sudden, is now too close to call.
The sudden Moon-Ahn horse race elevates a long-simmering rivalry that’s defined the South Korean opposition for the better part of the 2010s. Moon and Ahn both hold relatively left-wing views by the standards of South Korean politics. But Ahn is increasingly viewed as more pro-American, given Moon’s skepticism about the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system that North Korea and China view as an American provocation. While both Moon and Ahn previously opposed THAAD, which could deploy within weeks, the two candidates are now voicing at least qualified support for its deployment if North Korea’s aggression continues. But Moon has warned that THAAD’s deployment should be halted if North Korea resumes negotiations and freezes its nuclear weapons program.
More broadly, South Korean business elites like that Ahn comes from an entrepreneurial background. Idealistic voters, meanwhile, consider Ahn an untainted maverick who can break the cycle of corruption that’s dogged several administrations from both the left and the right and the ‘chaebol’ conglomerates than dominate the South Korean economy. (Notably, Samsung CEO Jay Y. Lee (이재용) was arrested in February as a result of the wide-ranging corruption scandal that engulfed Park’s presidency, accused of paying up to $40 million in bribes to Park in exchange for favorable treatment for Samsung).
The former education minister, and more recently, rebel backbencher, clinched the nomination of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) over one-time favorite, former prime minister Manuel Valls. He did so with a hearty serving of left-wing economic policies designed to drive the party’s base and recapture leftists voters who, according to polls, had abandoned the Socialists for the communist candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Instead of a Hamon party coronation, French voters instead watches the wheels fall off the campaign of former prime minister François Fillon, previously the frontrunner to win the second-round runoff in May.
Not surprisingly, Fillon’s undoing is a corruption scandal, and it has left an already topsy-turvy presidential election even more uncertain. Fillon came from behind to defeat a former president (Nicolas Sarkozy) and a trusted and moderate former prime minister and former foreign minister (Alain Juppé) to win a surprise victory in the presidential primary for the center-right Les Républicains last November.
The mostly satirical and sometimes investigative Canard enchaîné last week reported that Fillon’s wife, Penelope, received over €500,000 from public funds for a job that she allegedly never performed when Fillon was a member of the French parliament and prime minister under Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012. Since that story broke, it’s been alleged that the amount totals something more like €900,000, and that Fillon paid additional amounts of around €84,000 to his children for equally cozy sinecures.
Penelope Fillon was born in Wales, and unlike some of the previous leading ladies of the Élysée, is quite averse to publicity, claiming as recently as last year that she preferred to stay at home at the Fillon country estate, decrying, as recently as last year, said she wasn’t involved at all in her husband’s professional or political life. After Sarkozy’s bling-bling presidency and whirlwind romance of singer Carla Bruni, and the odd dynamics among incumbent president François Hollande’s former consort Valérie Trierweiler, his former partner (and presidential candidate) Ségolène Royal and his various other romantic interests, Fillon’s reticence was just fine with French voters.
That is, until they found out that Penelope Fillon earned nearly a million euros in public funds for, apparently, very little work. It’s not great, as a candidate for the presidency, to defend nepotism, let alone the notion that your wife actually performed the work in question that merited such a cushy and reliable salary.
Fillon’s Thatcherite platform calls for eliminating a half-million public-sector jobs to cut wasteful spending. Moreover, he won the Republican nomination by contrasting his previously squeaky-clean record with that of the ethically challenged Sarkozy and with Juppé, whose most recent prominence came after a long period in the wilderness induced his own corruption conviction. So the charges against Fillon are just about fatal. It’s hard to imagine that he can survive the hypocrisy of his current position.
While Fillon has said that he will not drop out of the race unless French police formally open an investigation (presumably well after the election this spring), he may be forced out of the race from sheer embarrassment and collapse in support. As the scandal continues to unfold, the latest Kantar Sofres poll shows him at 22%, now falling behind the anti-immigration, anti-EU leader of the Front national (FN) Marine Le Pen (25%) and nearly tied with the independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a former Hollande minister (21%). Hamon, buoyed by his surprise Socialist nomination, drew 15% and Mélenchon drew 10%.
The fear for Republicans is that Fillon will be so damaged that he fails to make it to the May runoff (or falters against Le Pen in the runoff), but not so damaged that he must quit the race. A defiant Fillon in recent days has tried to hide behind his wife and railed against shadowy figures that he claims are trying to bring down his candidacy, and that he can provide proof that his wife’s work was legal and valid.
No one believes him.
French police raided parliamentary offices earlier this week, and investigators are closing in on the one-time frontrunner, whose odds of winning the election are plummeting.
Even if Fillon does drop out of the race, there’s no consensus Plan B among French conservatives. Juppé, the runner-up in the November nomination contest, would be the natural replacement. In fact, Juppé might even prove the more formidable candidate because he can bring more centrist voters to the Republicans than the socially and economically conservative Fillon. But he has ruled out stepping in as Fillon’s replacement. Though Juppé could change his mind, there are any number of potential candidates who could step in: Sarkozy himself, former ecology minister and Paris mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet or former agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire. No one knows.
So where does this leave the rest of the field?
It’s great news for Le Pen, who has struggled to win more than 25% of first-round voters, who can now rail against the hypocrisy and corruption of the political elite. Even if Fillon drops out and Republicans find a replacement, ‘Penelopegate’ is a gift to the hard right, and more conservative voters will now be giving the Front national a second look. Le Pen herself is under a cloud because of her refusal to reimburse the European Parliament for €300,000 in misused funds.
Most immediately, Fillon’s collapse will help Macron, another vaguely centrist independent, though none of Macron’s message of neoliberal reform, avowed defense of the European Union and immigration, his background as an investment banker nor his recent record as a top aide to Hollande and former industry minister in Hollande’s government seem to fit the current moment of populism and nationalism. Fillon also hopes to win over centrist voters who feel Hamon veers too far from the Socialist Party’s social democracy and too close to hard-left bona fide socialism.
Fillon’s collapse might also give another center-right figure, François Bayrou, an opening. Bayrou, who has run for president three times in the past and is something of a gadfly in French politics, still managed to win 18.5% of the vote in the 2007 election (against Sarkozy and Royal). Without a strong conservative in the race, Bayrou could still emerge as the sole moderate untainted by Hollande’s deeply unpopular Socialist government. Though he has downplayed the likelihood of a fourth run, Bayrou hasn’t completely shut the door, and Fillon’s collapse could give him the platform to reconsider.
Though the Democratic Alliance (DA) didn’t win the greatest number of votes in local elections in Johannesburg municipality in the country’s local elections on August 3, the party’s mayoral hopeful, Herman Mashaba, was elected Monday as mayor in the most populous municipality of South Africa.
Mashaba, a successful businessman who hopes to bring a more market-driven approach to running the South African metropolis, won the votes of 144 council members, ousting the popular incumbent Parks Tau of the African National Congress (ANC), who won just 125 votes. Another DA official, Vasco Da Gama (no relation to the explorer), was also elected speaker of the Johannesburg council on a chaotic day in which one of the ANC’s council members collapsed and died amid the voting.
Greater Johannesburg, with around 7.5 million people, is the third-most populous metropolitan area in sub-Saharan Africa, after Lagos and Kinshasa-Brazzaville. It’s an amazing opportunity for the DA to weaken the two-decade grip that the ANC has held on power in South Africa and most of its major cities (excepting Cape Town and Western Cape province, which have become strongholds for the Democratic Alliance).
That the ANC — Nelson Mandela’s ANC (!) — still the only party to rule post-apartheid South Africa, and not by a small margin, has lost control of Johannesburg is an incredible blow. The ANC’s woes are compounded by clearer losses to the DA in two other municipalities: Nelson Mandela Bay, a municipality that includes Port Elizabeth, the largest city of Eastern Cape province; and Tshwane, which includes Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative and executive capital.
Under a new, youthful black South African leader in Mmusi Maimane, the Democratic Alliance will now have three years and three cities to demonstrate that it is ready to compete directly with the ANC across the entire country and govern in a responsible manner. Under the leadership of Maimane and several fresh faces, the Democratic Alliance seems to be shedding its unfair image as a party of white South Africans devoted to defending white interests. Mashaba, 56 years old, is a well-known businessman who founded a hair care products company, Black Like Me, in the 1980s, and leveraged his success to build a wide business empire.
A popular figure from television and a neophyte to national politics rides a wave of populist protest against corruption, incompetence and the status quo to the top of the polls. First, he co-opts the nationalist message of conservatives, rattles against the supposed wrongs of neighboring countries and aligns himself with some of the country’s most reactionary forces. He then faces off against a former first lady, whose social democratic credentials are overshadowed by suspicions and whispers of corruption and foul play. Easily, that man wins the presidency, making easy work of both the country’s conservative movement and the former first lady.
It’s not the United States and it’s not Donald Trump, now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
It’s Jimmy Morales, the populist comedian who won an overwhelming victory in last September’s presidential election in Guatemala.
But you might be excused for confusing the two.
For much of the last 11 months, as Trump has come to dominate American politics, the most immediate comparison in international politics has been former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It’s true that there are many similarities — both are wealthy, older- than-average figures and both are right-wing populists with a penchant for blunt talk who rose to prominence as political outsiders.
But unlike Berlusconi, who owns much of the private Italian media, Trump doesn’t actually control any of the American media. What’s more important, though, is that Trump has done so well in presidential politics in spite of his wealth and business prowess. Michael Bloomberg and dozens of other businessmen are far wealthier and far more powerful, but they’re not presumptive nominees of a major U.S. political party. Trump won the Republican nomination without deploying significant personal wealth and, indeed, he won with just a fraction of the amounts spent by competing Republican campaigns and their various super PACs.
Rather, Trump’s political success is due to his amazing abilities for self-promotion and self-branding, honed after decades of selling the ‘Trump’ brand and after 14 seasons starring in the reality television series The Apprentice. At this point, Trump-as-presidential-nominee owes his success to media personality, not any particular real estate canny.
Shortly after the December general election, I wrote that Spain faced three possible choices — a German-style grand coalition, a Portuguese-style ‘coalition of the left’ or a Greek-style stalemate and fresh elections.
Spain chose the Greek option.
Five months after a national election ripped apart Spain’s decades-long two-party system, the failure of the country’s four major parties to reach a coalition agreement means that Spain’s voters will once again go to the polls on June 26 for a fresh vote, after a deadline ran out on midnight Tuesday to find a viable government.
Notably, the rerun of Spain’s national elections will fall just three days after the United Kingdom votes on whether to leave the European Union, a critical vote for the entire continent.
The problem is that, with talks stalled for any conceivable governing majority, the Spanish electorate seems set to repeat results similar to last December’s election. For now, markets are not unduly spooked by the political impasse in Madrid, but continued uncertainty through the second half of 2016 could prove different if no clear government emerges from the new elections and, presumably, a new round of coalition talks brokered by Spain’s young new king, Felipe VI.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff might not make it through the end of her term in January 2019.
On March 12, Rousseff’s main coalition partner, the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) announced that it would take a full month to reconsider its support for Rousseff, currently in her second term and what amounts to the fourth consecutive term of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party) that began with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s 2002 election victory.
Since mid-March, the drive to impeach Rousseff has only intensified, with prosecutors seeking to interview and possibly detain Lula da Silva himself, the godfather of not just the Brazilian left but the entire Latin American left. Rousseff attempted to appoint Lula da Silva as her chief of staff to give him the kind of ministerial role that he would need to evade potential investigation, though Brazil’s supreme court blocking the appointment in short order. Though Rousseff herself has not been personally implicated in the Petrobras scandal (whereby officials gave kickbacks to politicians in exchange for inflated construction contracts), investigators believe that Lula da Silva might be more deeply involved.
Lula da Silva, incredibly, might be arrested at any moment, which would almost certainly accelerate the push to impeach Rousseff on obscure charges about obfuscation of Brazil’s state finances during the 2014 election campaign. Also, incredibly, impeachment isn’t the only way that Rousseff might be forced from office. If it emerges that she won the 2014 presidential election through illicit money, she and the vice president could be removed through the cassação process that could vacated the election altogether.
Either way, the presidency would end up in either the hands of the PMDB: in the case of impeachment, vice president Michel Temer or, in the case that the 2014 election is annulled, the speaker of the Brazilian congress’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), Eduardo Cunha.
Rising from the ashes of a widespread corruption scandal that tarred Italy’s entire political elite, Berlusconi, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, rose from 1994’s power vacuum to what would become nearly two decades dominating Italian politics. Though he lost power less than a year after his first election, he stormed back to power in 2001. Despite a short-lived turn in 2006 to the center-left’s Romano Prodi, Berlusconi once again returned in 2008. Forced to resign in 2011 amid a debt crisis, Berlusconi still led the Italian right to what amounts to a draw in the 2013 election.
It’s as if Italian voters just couldn’t help themselves, such was the spectacle of a showman that the Italian media dubbed ‘Il cavaliere,’ the ‘knight.’ Time and again, Berlusconi’s charms proved irresistible. It’s not out of the question that he might mount yet another comeback by the time that the 2018 elections roll around. Continue reading Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi→
Without a doubt, the victory of the anti-chavista opposition in the December 6 elections was one of the most improbable and most impressive wins in world politics in 2015.
With a two-thirds majority that the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable) is still trying to defend from attacks from the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, United Socialist Party of Venezuela), the opposition today took control of the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government. That will continue to be true, no matter if the PSUV tries to invalidate a handful of MUD deputies or if president Nicolas Maduro tries to create an alternative chavista-dominated popular assembly.
For the first time since 1999, the chavistas haven’t controlled the National Assembly. Naturally, it was a momentous occasion. For now, the Venezuelan people seem firmly behind the opposition, in the hopes that they can push Maduro toward reforms to provide economic relief after years of socialist policies and, perhaps more damningly, widespread corruption, handouts to socialist allies like Cuba and Nicaragua and mismanagement of PdVSA, the state petroleum company, which has only accelerated losses stemming from the global decline in oil prices.
But that’s also why it’s so disappointing that the MUD coalition chose as the president of the National Assembly the 72-year-old Henry Ramos Allup, a longtime fixture on the Venezuelan opposition and a throwback to the ancien régime that proved so corrupt and incapable that it opened the path to Hugo Chávez’s perfectly democratic election to the Venezuelan presidency in 1998.
Let’s start with the good news. Ramos Allup, it’s true, was chosen through a democratic process, an internal vote among the 112 MUD deputies. He easily defeated Julio Borges, another opposition figure close to former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, by a vote of 63 to 49 over the weekend. He’s one of the few figures within the opposition to have some experience of Venezuelan governance before chavismo and, truth be told, he’s a tough and wily character who will not easily be rolled. (Though, almost immediately after the new majority took power in the National Assembly, the chavista deputies, including the former Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, promptly walked out).
Though it was the most competitive presidential election in the history of democratic Tanzania, the ruling party candidate, public works minister John Magufuli easily won the election last Sunday in results announced earlier today by Tanzania’s elections commission.
Magufuli emerged as a dark-horse candidate of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, Party of the Revolution) after a contentious fight left former prime minister Edward Lowassa and foreign minister Bernard Membe (the favorite of outgoing president Jakaya Kikwete) both precluded from contention.
Earlier this summer, the spurned Lowassa decided instead to depart for the opposition camp, becoming the presidential challenger for a coalition that includes Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (popularly known simply as Chadema), a liberal opposition party formed in 1992.
Tanzania’s electoral commission announced that Magufuli won 58.46% of the vote while Lowassa won just 39.97%. The CCF is also expected to win a majority of the 357 seats in Tanzania’s Bunge, the unicameral parliament.
Lowassa, who served as Kikwete’s prime minister from 2005 to 2008, left office in scandal and mired under allegations of corruption. While his political power and support base made him the most potent possible challenger for Chadema, it also tarred the previously anti-corruption opposition party. No longer would Chadema necessarily be the party of change nor would it be the party of transparency and good government, and its 2010 presidential candidate Wilbrod Slaa left the party and endorsed Magufuli.
Magufuli, age 55, swatted away criticisms of old age and ill health, at one point doing push-ups on the campaign trail to demonstrate his vigor. The showdown between him and Lowassa was among the most contested election campaigns in the country’s history, with both candidates vying for an electorate that’s one of the world’s youngest — 50% of the population is between the ages of 18 and 32.
As expected, former comic actor Jimmy Morales won Guatemala’s presidential runoff Sunday, besting former first lady Sandra Torres by a margin of more than two-to-one.
Riding a wave of widespread popular discontent with a political elite widely seen as corrupt — including former vice president Roxana Baldetti and former president Otto Pérez Molina, both of whom are in jail pending corruption charges — Morales easily captured the presidency with over 67% of the vote.
As a political neophyte, Morales will have a steep learning curve in office, especially if he wants to carry forward the agenda of electoral and political reforms that can could make Guatemala’s government more permanently transparent and accountable.
Though he ran under the banner of a small conservative party founded a few years ago by retired conservative generals, the Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN, National Convergence Front), it holds just 11 seats in Guatemala’s unicameral Congreso (Congress). That means that Morales is going to have to build a congressional majority nearly from scratch. The good news is that Guatemala’s political parties are so personality-driven that the collapse of Pérez Molina, Torres and former presidential frontrunner Manuel Baldizón means there will be ample room for legislators to join the Morales bandwagon. The bad news is that many of those legislators are part of Guatemala’s corruption problem, and they have no incentive to enact reforms that will make graft even more difficult and establish roadblocks to the political financing they will need to further their own political careers.
Meanwhile, Morales’s landslide obscures the fact that a lot of Guatemalans — even those who voted for him — are worried about the right-wing flavor of his campaign. Though Morales attracted a broad coalition of voters who are eager to flush the corrupt political elite out of power, there’s far more hesitation about Morales himself.
A socially conservative evangelical, Morales is anti-abortion, anti-LGBT rights and he has the support of much of the military elite, through the FCN and otherwise. He’s argued for the outright annexation of Belize, for example, and he’s otherwise embraced nationalist positions. Other critics point out that many of his skits, over a long career in television, are rooted in racial and ethnic stereotypes, which could breed distrust among indigenous Mayan and other communities that have often been mistreated by Guatemala’s military and democratic governments alike.
If September 2014 was the month when Scottish independence made global headlines, it might be September 2015 when Catalan independence has its breakthrough — at least if regional president Artur Mas has his way.
Barely 10 months after Catalonia’s regional government held a non-binding referendum on independence, and just three months before the Spanish general election, Catalan voters will elect a new regional parliament in a campaign that Mas has been waging for months as a de facto referendum on the region’s future status within — or outside of — Spain.
Mas, the presidential candidate of the cross-ideological Junts pel Sí (Together for Yes) coalition, argues that a victory for the pro-independence forces will give him the leverage he needs to demand negotiations with Spain’s central government. Spain’s conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy, however, has steadfastly refused to discuss autonomy with Mas, let alone an independence referendum. Rajoy contends that any independence process is illegal, and Spain’s constitutional court ruled that last year’s November referendum was illegal. Though Mas backed down and canceled the vote, he nevertheless provoked Madrid by holding a non-binding plebiscite to flex the muscles of the Catalan independence movement. In turn, Rajoy’s refusal to discuss the matter or even permit an in-out referendum has alienated Catalan voters who might not otherwise be enthusiastic about independence.
At face value, Catalans are merely going to the polls on September 27 to elect the 135 members of the regional parliament. But after the Greek eurozone showdown earlier the summer threatened the eurozone’s stability and split Europe’s north and south, and even as the ongoing refugee crisis is threatening the integrity of the borders-free Schengen zone, splitting Europe’s west and east, the cause of Catalan independence could become the European Union’s next fashionable crisis.
Mas promises that if the Catalan electorate gives Junts pel Sí a majority in the Catalan parliament, however narrow, it will be sufficient to launch an 18-month process that will result in the region’s independence and promulgate a new Catalan constitution.
Within 48 hours of the decision of Guatemala’s Congress to lift president Otto Pérez Molina’s immunity form prosecution, the former army general met with charges of bribery and tax evasion and was warned not to leave the country. Early Thursday morning, he resigned the presidency — the first time that judicial pressure against corruption has forced out a Guatemalan president.
It’s the second time that a judicial process has attempted to hold a top official accountable in recent years. In 2013, a tribunal convicted Efraín Ríos Montt, the country’s military leader from 1982 to 1983, of genocide and crimes of humanity for his role in the massacre of at least 10,000 Ixil Mayans. Though Guatemala’s constitutional court eventually overturned the conviction, the 89-year-old Ríos Montt will undergo a retrial, though his attorneys argue he is mentally unfit for any trial or sentence.
The new acting president is Alejandro Maldonado, the 79-year-old who took over as vice president when Roxana Baldetti resigned (and she is now also facing trial for corruption charges). Maldonado is a former foreign minister, former ambassador to the United Nations and to Mexico, and he briefly served as the president of Guatemala’s constitutional court. It will be Maldonado who hands over power to the winner of Guatemala’s election this autumn.
Amid the high-stake drama, Guatemala’s presidential candidates are positioning for the general election set to take place this Sunday, September 6. After months of protests, Pérez Molina’s resignation seems most likely to benefit the independent candidacy of Jimmy Morales, a political neophyte and comedian who has run an anti-corruption campaign mixed with elements of social conservatism, populism and nationalism, though he has not been incredibly forthcoming about policy proposals. Some polls this week showed Morales overtaking frontrunner Manuel Baldizón. Like Pérez Molina, Baldizón is a longtime politician of the Guatemalan right, and Baldizón’s party, Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER, Renewed Democratic Liberty), is rumored to have financing ties to drug cartels and other corrupt elements within the country. Baldizón, the runner-up in the 2011 election, is running on the slogan, ‘Le toca,’ which translates to ‘His turn.’
Sandra Torres, the former first lady and Álvaro Colom’s ex-wife, is running as the candidate of the center-left Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE, National Unity of Hope). Zury Ríos, the daughter of the former military dictator, is running as the candidate of the right-wing Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG, Guatemalan Republican Front).
If, as expected, no candidate wins an outright majority, the top two candidate will compete in an October 25 runoff. Voters will also elect the 158 members of the Guatemalan Congress on Sunday, which could give LIDER a firm hold on the legislative branch — even if an anti-corruption wave pushes Baldizón into second or third place on the presidential ballot.
Six days before Guatemalans go to the polls to choose a successor to president Otto Pérez Molina, the country’s congress voted to strip the term-limited incumbent of his immunity, opening the way for what might become the first prosecution of a Guatemalan president on corruption charges in Guatemala.
The vote today in Guatemala’s Congress was historic, and it will make Sunday’s unpredictable general election even more difficult to forecast. But it wasn’t exactly a bombshell, even though it seems like a key turning point in the gradual maturation of Central American democracy and law.
When Pérez Molina, a retired army general, took office, he quickly found himself on Washington’s bad side when he argued for drug legalization as a solution to the decades-long failures of the US-led war on drugs. At home, however, he was regarded as a tough-on-crime conservative whose military background might help police efforts to reduce drug- and gang-related violence, despite murmurs about his role in various human rights abuses during Guatemala’s sprawling decades-long civil war that reached a gruesome nadir in the early 1980s.
During his presidency, however, Guatemalans became increasingly angry over the corruption that, at best, took place on Pérez Molina’s watch and that, at worst, directly implicates Pérez Molina (pictured above). So far, 14 ministers have resigned as a result of a wide-ranging customs fraud scheme, referred to as La Línea, including seven ministers in August alone and finance minister Dorval Carías last week. Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala’s first female vice president, resigned in May and is now in prison pending trial on corruption charges. Pérez Molina continues to deny any wrongdoing on his part, and he defiantly refused to resign just last week in a press conference, buttressed perhaps with the support of Guatemala’s wealthiest businessman, telecom magnate Mario López Estrada.
Since a United Nations report first revealed the customs scandal in April, however, many Guatemalans have grown skeptical of Pérez Molina’s claims of innocence and, though he survived a congressional vote to remove his immunity last month, prosecutors later announced that they believed Pérez Molina is implicated in the customs scandal. Today’s congressional decision will allow prosecutors to move forward with tax evasion, money laundering or other corruption charges, and it makes it much less likely that Pérez Molina will survive in office until January, when Guatemala’s next president will assume power. Notably, even members of the conservative Partido Patriota (PP, Patriot Party) that Pérez Molina founded in 2001 supported the decision to lift his immunity, the recommendation of a congressional committee examining the scandal.
Corruption is rampant in the region, but voters are increasingly engaged and have started pushing back against the perception of widespread graft. Protesters in Honduras this summer are demanding accountability from officials, and in last year’s Costa Rican election, outgoing president Laura Chinchilla’s administration was seen as so scandal–plagued that her party’s candidate, San Jose mayor Johnny Araya, withdrew from a runoff rather than face a shellacking from his rival, the soft-spoken diplomat and political neophyte Luis Guillermo Solís.
When a country’s prime minister is targeted in a corruption inquiry, you’d expect him to protest vigorously, using every political and governmental lever to bolster his support.
Faced with his own troubles and an investigation by Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (known by its Romanian acronym DNA), prime minister Victor Ponta has apparently done the opposite — citing the need for recovery from a knee surgery, Romania’s prime minister notified the country that he would be stepping down on an interim basis of up to 45 days. For now, deputy prime minister Gabriel Oprea is now the acting prime minister while Ponta remains in Istanbul recuperating.
It’s an odd decision, though, and Ponta’s decision to leave the country within days of corruption charges could embolden his political enemies, though his center-left Partidul Social Democrat (PSD, Social Democratic Party) and its allies have a strong majority in Romania’s parliament.
The National Anti-Corruption Directorate alleges that while working as a lawyer in 2007, Ponta (pictured above) received €40,000 for legal work that he didn’t perform from another attorney — who Ponta later appointed to his cabinet. For now, Ponta’s parliamentary majority refuses to lift his immunity, and his allies are even threatening to weaken the anti-graft laws under which the DNA has stepped up its scrutiny of the entirety of Romania’s political elite. The country consistently ranks among the most corrupt countries in the European Union alongside Bulgaria, both of which joined the European Union in 2007. Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis, a political rival who faced off against Ponta in last year’s presidential election, has already called on Ponta to step down. That’s unlikely — and fresh parliamentary elections in Romania aren’t due until 2016.
The chief prosecutor of the DNA, Laura Codruța Kövesi, has empowered the role of an institution that was founded only in 2002 — under her watch, the office won a conviction against Adrian Năstase, Romania’s prime minister between 2000 and 2004, on corruption charges, among many others.
Of Mexico’s four largest parties, at least as of the last election, only one managed to increase its vote share between 2012 and 2015 — the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM, Ecologist Green Party of Mexico).
Since its foundation in 1993, the party has developed a cynical reputation for corruption than any particular devotion to the traditional left-wing, environmentalist causes of green parties throughout the world. Nevertheless, if preliminary estimates are correct, the PVEM will have won more than 7% of the vote in Mexico’s midterm elections, which means that it will almost certainly hold more the fourth-largest bloc of seats in the 500-member Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican Congress.
That’s astounding in an environment where Mexicans rank political corruption at the top of their concerns, alongside drug violence and above even a sluggish, uneven economy.
With the exception of the 2000 election, when the Greens backed conservative maverick Vicente Fox for the presidency, the party has been a reliable junior partner for the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Party of the Institutional Revolution) and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Together with the Greens and another small party, Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL, New Alliance), the PRI is expected to hold a narrow legislative majority.
That’s not necessarily great news for Peña Nieto, whose personal reputation has been compromised by financial scandals surrounding himself, his wife and close colleagues, and whose party — certainly not impervious to corruption — remains highly distrusted after governing Mexico uninterrupted for seven decades until Fox’s 2000 election.
The Green Party, however, seems to thrill in flouting election law — Mexico’s new electoral authority, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE, National Electoral Institute) fined the party over $20 million in May after it illegally financed campaign advertisements. One sports personality said he was offered 200,000 pesos by the party to support it on election day via Twitter.
Its leader, Jorge Emilio González, the son of the party’s founder, known as El Niño Verde, has a black-hat playboy image of a corrupt baron. His reputation never fully recovered from videotapes that showed him apparently negotiating $2 million in bribes in relation to a shady land deal in Cancun.
Jo Tuckman, writing for The Guardian, finds that the PVEM draws disgust from analysts across the board as a party of ‘false greens’ that often acts more like an organized crime cartel controlled by the González family:
“The Greens concentrate the bad elements of Mexican politics and take them to an extreme,” said political analyst Jesús Silva Herzog. “There are sinister figures in all the big parties, but there are some respectable ones too. I cannot think of a single respectable figure in the Green Party.”