Tag Archives: power-sharing

Northern Ireland struggles to form government after close vote

Arlene Foster’s year as first minister ended calamitously with the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, the fall of her government and early elections. (Facebook)

It was  first set of regional elections in the United Kingdom since Brexit. 

But the impending conundrum of Brexit’s impact on Northern Ireland — the future of vital EU subsidy funds and the reintroduction of a land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that had become all but invisible within the European Union — wasn’t the only issue on the minds of Northern Irish voters when they went to the polls last Thursday.

The snap election followed a corruption scandal implicating first minister Arlene Foster — leader of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — that caused then-deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to resign from the power-sharing executive, forcing new elections, just 10 months after the prior 2016 elections.

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RELATED: Why Northern Ireland is the most serious
obstacle to Article 50’s invocation

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Politics in Northern Ireland runs along long-defined sectarian lines. Most of the region’s Protestant voters support either of the two main unionist parties — the socially conservative and pro-Brexit DUP or the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which backed the ‘Remain’ side in last June’s Brexit referendum. Most of the region’s Catholic voters support either of the two republican parties — the more leftist Sinn Féin or the more moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), both of which are fiercely anti-Brexit. An increasing minority of voters, however, support the non-sectarian, centrist and liberal Alliance Party.

Since the late 1990s, when the Blair government introduced devolution and a regional parliament at Stormont, and when the DUP and Sinn Féin displaced the UUP and the SDLP, respectively, as the leading unionist and republican parties, the DUP has always won first place in regional elections. That nearly changed last Thursday, as Sinn Féin came within just 1,168 votes of overtaking the DUP as the most popular party.

It leaves the DUP with just one more seat than Sinn Féin and below the crucial number of 30 that it needs to veto policies. Without 30 seats, the DUP will no longer be able to block marriage equality (Northern Ireland lags as the only UK region that hasn’t permitted same-sex marriage) or an Irish language bill that would give Gaelic equal status with English in public institutions. It was high-handed for Foster — and Peter Robinson before her — to block the popular will on both of those issues over the last decade. That, in turn, is not helping the DUP in its bid to negotiate a new power-sharing deal with Sinn Féin.

More consequentially, it leaves unionists with a clear minority for the first time since devolution — just 40 seats in the 90-seat parliament (the number of deputies dropped from 108 members for the 2017 election). Most crucially of all, the election result creates a new equilibrium for the post-election talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which are now one week into a three-week deadline to form a new power-sharing executive, as guided by the British government’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire. Continue reading Northern Ireland struggles to form government after close vote

Post-election, what comes next for Zimbabwe?

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We didn’t know results of Zimbabwe’s Wednesday national elections, but it was clear from the first unofficial reports that it was going to be a huge victory for Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), as every ‘election’ has been in the 33 years since Zimbabwe won majority rule and independence from the United Kingdom. zimbabwe new icon

That’s exactly what the Zimbabwe Election Commission has reported over the weekend: Mugabe has defeated Morgan Tsvangirai, the country’s prime minister and leader of the opposition MDC-T (Movement for Democratic Change) by a margin of 61% to 34%, with Welshman Ncube in third place with 2.7%.  In addition, the ZANU-PF has won 159 seats in the 210-member House of Assembly, the lower house of Zimbabwe’s parliament, to just 51 for the MDC-T.  That’s a loss of 49 seats for the MDC-T over the last parliament, and a gain of 59 for the ZANU-PF, giving Mugabe’s party the two-thirds majority it needs to amend Zimbabwe’s newly adopted constitution.

Tsvangirai and the MDC-T have rejected the results as a ‘huge farce’ amid plenty of reason to doubt the election’s fairness, but there are also reasons to believe that Tsvangirai made key strategic blunders that will leave him on the sidelines of Zimbabwean policymaking as the country turns to the question of who might ultimately succeed Mugabe.  It is that ‘election’ — an election with an incredibly small coterie of voters — that will ultimately matter more to Zimbabwe, no matter how rigged Wednesday’s vote. Continue reading Post-election, what comes next for Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe looks to ghosts past, present and future in key general election vote today

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It’s easy to forget that when Robert Mugabe first came to power in 1980, after a long guerrilla campaign against the white minority rule of Ian Smith in what was then still known as Rhodesia, life in Zimbabwe was optimistic. zimbabwe new icon

A tale of post-colonial hell

Despite his declarations that he wanted a one-party Marxist state as the more aggressive of three competing nationalist leaders, Mugabe (pictured above), the leader of the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) overwhelmingly won Zimbabwe’s first majority-rule election with just a hint of the political intimidation and violence that would be a harbinger of Mugabe’s rule to come.  After the initial 1980 vote, with an air of magnanimity, Mugabe ushered in a post-independence era of optimism.  He refused to harass the white minority of Zimbabwe, even retaining Ken Flower, Zimbabwe’s chief intelligence official, who had once been responsible for trying to assassinate Mugabe.  More importantly for the black majority that could now express representative power in the country, Mugabe briskly set about enacting a program of improving education and health care for the masses, with promises of long-awaited land reform to come.

The honeymoon didn’t last long, and Mugabe turned first on his fellow nationalist rebels, the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), whose leader Joshua Nkomo initially served as secretary of home affairs in 1981 and 1982.  Mugabe, who called Nkomo a ‘cobra in a house,’ turned on the ZAPU following a trumped-up scandal over alleged ZAPU arms caches, added that, like a cobra, Nkomo should be attacked and his head destroyed.  Mugabe, who had been clandestinely constructing a secret ‘fifth brigade’ of soldiers loyal to Mugabe alone, began what would be a five-year campaign to subjugate the ZAPU.  The fight took on the ugly shades of ethnic cleansing for the next five years, with the ZANU-PF and military brigades loyal to Mugabe, from the Shona ethnic group, largely harassing — and in some cases using a food embargo with the active goal of starving — the ZAPU supporters, largely based in southwestern Zimbabwe among the Ndebele ethnic group.

About 80% of Zimbabwe’s population of 12.75 million people today is Shona, an ethnic group that predominates throughout Zimbabwe and parts of southern Mozambique and that speaks Shona, a Bantu family language.  But another 15% of the population belongs to the Ndebele ethnic group, which is clustered in the two provinces of Matabeleland, especially in the south (see below a province-level map of Zimbabwe’s 2008 results, which show Matabeleland, even two decades later, is an area of anti-Mugabe sentiment).  Their northern Ndebele language is also a Bantu language, but belongs to the separate Nguni group of languages that also includes Zulu and Xhosa, the former nearly universally understood in South Africa and the latter an important minority language of about one-fifth of southeastern South Africa, and Swazi, spoken largely in Swaziland.

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Notwithstanding the violence, residents in Matabeleland voted overwhelmingly for the ZAPU in the 1985 parliamentary elections, which led to ever more oppression.  Nkomo essentially surrendered two years later, and Mugabe signed a unity agreement in 1987 that formally merged the ZAPU into the ZANU-PF and offered a general amnesty from an otherwise needlessly brutal effort to establish a one-party state.

In the meanwhile, the optimism with which a newly independent Zimbabwe launched had flagged.  Mugabe had already begun his longstanding campaign against white settlers in Zimbabwe with threats of expropriation of land, and the economy had already started its long, slow retreat under the weight of Mugabe’s new social spending, the inefficiencies of state-run industry and the rampant corruption that increased with Mugabe’s patronage-based rule. Continue reading Zimbabwe looks to ghosts past, present and future in key general election vote today