Sunday, January 6, 2008

New URL

We've Moved!

Please Visit the New Location:
http://headofstateupdate.wordpress.com/

Friday, January 4, 2008

Year Two

Due to popular demand, I have decided to continue Head of State Update for another year.

However, I have really grown to hate Blogger, which makes blogging into a bafflingly frustrating ordeal, due to its horrible interface.

Therefore, Head of State Update 2008 will be hosted on WordPress, a much better blogging server. This site will remain here as my 2007 archive.

So head on over to the new site, and check out my first post detailing what I believe to be the Top 10 Head of State stories of 2007.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

December pt. 2

It has now been officially one year since I started Head of State Update. It's been a lot of fun, and a lot of work. It's no secret that my dedication in keeping the thing consistently updated has notably declined, largely because of of the other professional obligations in my life.

Are you interested in seeing Head of State Update continue for another year? Post your comments.

Anyway, let us finish DECEMBER

Solomons Stabalize Sans Sogavare

The parliament of the Solomon Islands voted no-confidence in their Prime Minister on December 13, booting him from office. Mr. Manasseh Sogavare had been in office for little over a year, taking office in May of 2006.

The Solomons is a very unstable and dangerous country, fraught by considerable turmoil. There are 27 islands in all, and their various tribal populations have taken to killing each other with renewed intensity over the last decade or so. There was a coup in 2000, and the Australians dispatched peacekeepers shortly after, helping stabilize the country.

The first post-coup elections were held in 2006, which resulted in a crazy mess of parties getting elected. The parliament only has 50 seats, but there are nine different parties represented more or less equally, which has made the country virtually ungovernable. They couldn't even decide who to elect as governor general, let alone prime minister.

They've now gone through four prime ministers in three years. The new guy's name is Derek Sikua. He used to be a member of the Sogavare administration, but jumped ship as that regime began to go downhill. The hope is that Prime Minister Sikua, a western-educated professor, will finally bring a clean, accountable, and stable government to the Islands, though I suppose it's just as likely that some scandal will end up turning the parliament against him, in time, and the Solomons will become the Pacific's new Nauru (see last post).

Not Much New in Kyrgyzstan

Igor Chudinov was elected as Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan on Christmas eve, a week after his political party swept to victory in the parliamentary elections. This is a bit of a non-event, and is unlikely to change much. Prime Minister Igor is an ally of the sitting president, a man who is accused of rigging elections, consolidating power, and basically betraying all the principles of the 2005 pro-democratic revolution that brought him to power.

New Presidents, one left, one right

Bigger news was to be had in South Korea, where former businessman Lee Myung Bak of the "Grand National Party" was elected president on December 19. A pro-business conservative, President Bak hopes to usher in greater economic growth in his nation's already very strong economy, through a series of reforms he (seriously) refers to as "Myung Baknomics."

Slovenia also got a new president that week, with Danilo Türk taking office as head of state of the Republic on December 22.

President Türk is a professor, and a career diplomat who has served time at both the UN and EU. I've noticed some news reports have been referring to him as an "independent," but that's only half-true. In the Slovenian system of government, which has a ton of political parties, the presidential candidates are always nominally independents. They then have to win the endorsement of numerous political parties in order to win the national election. So, in Mr. Türk's case, he was able to win the endorsement of most of the left-wing parties, while his opponent, Lojze Peterle, had the backing of the conservative ones.

There has been some concern that the leftist Mr. Türk will not be able to work well with a parliament controlled by conservative parties. The Prime Minister even speculated about resigning, rather than work with the new president. But cooler heads have prevailed and the country will now try its hand at embracing government by bi-partisanship. How's that been going in the US, by the way?

Death in Pakistan

Lastly, the most dramatic, and sad news of the month (if not year) was the December 27 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Ms. Bhutto was the two-time PM of Pakistan during the brief periods in which the Prime Minister was the highest office in the country (the Pakistani constitution has been amended to shreds, and they've changed from being under presidential rule to prime ministerial rule a couple of times). When she was first elected in 1988, it marked the first time ever that a woman had been placed in charge of a Muslim country.

Of course, Ms. Bhutto had the advantage of being the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the guy who ruled Pakistan for much of the 1970's before being overthrown and sentenced to death by one of Pakistan's many military governments. When he died, Ms. Bhutto became "leader for life" of his political party, and emerged as a critic of the military regime, eventually sweeping to power once the generals stood down and democratic elections were held.

As I cartooned about on my other site, history is sort of repeating itself now, but in the Marxian way, with the first time as tragedy, and the second time as a farce. The new leader-for-life of the Bhutto party is 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto, Ms. Bhutto's son. The young Mr. Bhutto is hardly ready for the role that history has thrust upon him, however, and he's too young to even legally hold elected office in Pakistan anyway. So his succession is largely symbolic, and it remains to be seen as to who the true "new Bhutto of Pakistan" will be.

Monday, December 31, 2007

I don't do a lot of meta-posting on this blog, but I did happen upon an interesting site the other day I thought would be worth sharing.

Executed Today is a cool daily blog that is, as the name implies, all about executions. But what is quite interesting is his special section on past executions of heads of state, as well as his little chart on which current heads of state may be most at risk of getting executed someday.

Check it out if you are feeling morbid.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December!

Well December is almost over, let's see what's happened so far.

DECEMBER- PART ONE

Belgium stumbles along blindly


Belgium has really been a strange case. Way back in June I reported that Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt lost his bid for re-election, with his liberal coalition being turfed in favor of a new conservative coalition headed by Yves Leterme. I, like most ignorant non-European types, expected Mr. Leterme to assume office as the new PM very shortly afterwards. How wrong I was.

Belgium, as I noted in my original post, is an enormously divided country, where people live in two distinct lingusitic communities, one Dutch, one French, that have very little to do with each other. These communities have very different interests, and as a result there are no "national" political parties in Belgium, only regional ones. The French socialists, the Dutch conservatives, etc.

Ordinarily, the like-minded politicians put aside their regional differences and form coalitions based on ideology. People expected Mr. Leterme, who is a Dutch conservative, to form an alliance with the French conservatives. But this hasn't happened, largely because the differences between the Belgium right have become inconsolable. The French right, who are the smaller group, want the Belgian federal government strengthened, to ensure they will continue to hold power over national policy. The Dutchies, however, favor just the opposite, and want the federal government to decentralize power to the regions, weakening national authority.

Mr. Leterme has spent the last six months trying to piece some sort of coalition together, but none of the parties, not even the non-conservatives, are willing to play ball. It's quite sad, really. Outside observers have wondered if all this turmoil spells "the end of Belgium," and will usher in a formal separation of the two language communities into two distinct countries. This idea has long been fairly mainstream in Belgium. It's actually surprisingly common for Belgians themselves to speak cynically about how "fake" or "artificial" their nation is. Everyone is aware that the country was only invented to stop France and Germany from invading each other, so it's sometimes hard to develop a true attachment to a nationality that has so obviously been manufactured.

The King of Belgium, Albert the Second, and the Parliament of Belgium have now both agreed to extend the term of Prime Minister Verhofstadt until March. By then, the hope is that the situation will finally be resolved, and a new government and Prime Minister will be able to take over. But do not hold your breath.

Loyalist installed in Togo

In the aftermath of his party's re-election, on December 3, President Faure Gnassingb of Togo promoted his minister of urban development, Mr. Komlan Mally, to Prime Minister. A largely unknown presidential loyalist, his appointment angered the opposition parties, who were naively expecting a more conciliatory nominee. Sour grapes, says the President, noting that if the opposition people wanted their guy to be president they should have won the majority of seats in the parliament.

Latvian leader resigns amid- what else- allegations!

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis of Latvia resigned on December 5. In office since 2004, Kalvitis had recently become "embattled," which in media-speak means his friends-to-enemies ratio was getting more and more lopsided.

Kalvitis had become unpopular because he tried to fire the Latvian anti-corruption officer, who in turn said that firing the anti-corruption officer was a very corrupt thing to do. So Kalvitis ended up resigning after much acrimony and outrage, both from the opposition and within his own administration.

On December 20, the President of Lativa appointed former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis to be Kalvitis' replacement. Godmanis, who last held office way back in 1990-1993, is a bit of a elder statesman in Latvia, having served as a key anti-Communist leader during the Soviet days. When Latvia left the USSR, he was appointed the first post-Soviet Prime Minister, though the country quickly spiraled into economic turmoil and he had to resign two years later. He never left politics, though, and continued to serve as a member of parliament and cabinet minister, including a job under Prime Minister Kalvitis.

Ukraine gets second chance at woman-rule

So there is this controversial Princess Leia-esque woman in the Ukraine named Yuliya Tymoshenko.

In the 90's, she was president of the biggest oil firm in the country, the United Energy Systems of Ukraine. She became one of the country's richest women, but according to her official biography on her website, her company was too successful for its own good. Apparently the greedy and jealous Ukranian government decided to sue her on trumped up charges, in order to get their grubby hands on her profits. Less biased sources say that Ms. Tymoshenko was a crooked businesswoman who was probably committing all sorts of crimes of her own— embezzling money, dodging taxes, giving kickbacks to her pals, that sort of thing.

But anyhow, according to her bio:

"The succession of events left only two choices for Yulia Tymoshenko: to stay in the big business and be engaged in confrontation with the state officials or to become a politician and fight for the independence of business from authority and for the state liberalization"
She chose the latter course, and became a conservative politician in the Ukrainian parliament, opposing the socialist, Russian-backed government of President Leonid Kuchma. When Kuchma resigned in 2004, his party and the Putin regime tried to engineer the election of Viktor Yanukovych with much corruption and shenanigans.

Outrage over this triggered a series of events known as the "Orange Revolution" which eventually culimated in the rejection of Mr. Yanukovych and the election of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who became president in 2005 despite nearly dying in a poisoning plot.

Shortly after taking office, President Yushchenko
appointed Ms. Tymoshenko as his prime minister. But clashes soon followed. Tymoshenko favors very hardline libertarian economic policies, and in power she pursued an aggressive agenda of privatization and cutbacks that divided the Orange coalition that had brought her to power. So the President fired her, and she turned against him, founding her own political party, which she of course named after herself, as she is quite a vain woman.

In this March's election, her party won a plurality of seats in the Ukranian parliament, and on December 18 she was formally elected Prime Minister by the parliament once again. PresidentYushchenko has agreed to work with her, but let's see if the feuds of the past resurface.

Nauru

The tiny island country of Nauru impeached their president on December 19.

I will admit that I knew very little about Nauru prior to this, other than it is a tiny tropical place somewhere in the South Pacific. But apparently they have a very whacko political culture over there.

Nauru was originally a German colony, then was administered by the Australians after the First World War, then it became a fully independent republic in 1968. This guy named HammerDeRoburt, who was the supreme chief of the island or whatever during the colonial days, became the first president.

Early on, President Hammer (fun name) established a convention that if he didn't get his own way, he would resign. And then when the parliament conceded to whatever issue he was pushing, they would agree to re-elect him. So Hammer resigned four times and was re-elected nine times, which doesn't add up mathematically I know, but you have to understand that sometimes he was just calling parliament's bluff.

Hammer died in 1992, and there were a bunch of new presidents after him, who all resigned and were re-elected a bunch of times. Sometimes they were also impeached, then re-elected. They've had around 30 presidential terms in 40 years as a result, though less than a dozen actual presidents.

This madness works because there are only 18 people in the Nauru parliament, which makes it about the same size as the student council at my university. In other countries, resignations and impeachments and things seem dramatic, but Nauru is so small such events are really just little petty games of personal vendettas and politicking.

Ludwig Scotty was elected president of Nauru in May of 2003. Four months later he was impeached, and Mr. Ren Harris was elected president for the fourth time in his political career (previous terms: 1999-2000, 2001-2003, and a different period of 2003). In June of 2004 President Harris was impeached again, and Ludwig Scotty became president for the second time.

Following President Scotty's (they have such fun names in that country) second impeachment on December 19, newcomer Marcus Stephen was elected to replace him. President Stephen has never been president before, so let us all hope that his career will be filled with many happy impeachments and re-elections.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What happened in November

It's been almost a month since my last update, so I reckon its high time to summarize the events of the past month.


November 5- Donald Tusk is sworn in as Prime Minister of Poland, replacing one half of the Kaczynski brothers. Tusk is the leader of the moderate "Civic Platform" party, and pledged to course a moderate agenda. The first thing he did was put forth the moderate proposal to pull Polish pull troops out of Iraq, but keep them in Afghanistan.


November 7- The amusingly-named Prime Minister Miyeegombo Enkhbold of Mongolia resigned, after internal strife in his political party forced him out. This was not hugely relevant; the Mongolian political system is quite unstable, and Mongolian PMs rarely serve more than a year in office. On November 22 the parliament chose Sanj Bayar to be the new prime minister.

Both Mr. Enkhbold and Mr. Bayer are members of what used to be known as the Mongolian Communist Party. Their gang ruled the country from 1912 to the fall of Communism in the mid-1990's. But the party, survived, moderating itself into the modern "People's Revolutionary Party" which accepts democracy and the existence of a free-market economy. After an absence during the 90's, they were voted back into power in 2000.

November 13- Togo is a crooked little French country in Africa. From 1967 to 2005 it was ruled by the tyrannical Gnassingbe Eyadema, then when he died his untalented son Faure took over. This outraged the west, which said Africa should really stop doing this sort of thing. So the EU cut off aid.

Eager to regain legitimacy, President Faure called presidential elections, which he then won. He then began to talk to the opposition parties about holding a free and fair parliamentary election. In order to ensure these were conducted under unbiased eyes, he then picked an opposition politician named Yawovi Agboyibo to be his prime minister for the duration of the election.

The parliamentary election concluded on October 14, with the President's party winning 50 of the 81 seats. On November 13 Prime Minister Agboyibo resigned, saying his "job was done." It's kind of sad things didn't end in a more dramatic way. The President will now likely install some hack of his own in Agboyibo's place.

November 16- Things have been going cuckoo bananas in Pakistan recently, as I am sure you know. The hope I reported on earlier, that General Musharaff might enter into some sort of power-sharing dealie with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto seems to have been dashed in the wake of... well, the General's imposition of martial law and arrest of Ms. Bhutto.

General Musharaff chose to go medieval at precisely the worst possible opportunity, at a time when there was an enormous amount of pressure for him to finally embrace a transition to fully democratic rule. His imposition of martial law thus alienated his regime from many of his former backers, including the United States, so now Musharaff is scrambling to assure the world that, no really, I'm serious about the democracy stuff.


The General announced that parliamentary elections would be held in January, and in anticipation he appointed Muhammadmian Soomro the chairman of the Pakistani Senate to be his new, caretaker prime minister (or as they call the office in that country, "grand vizier") for the duration of the election period.


I am learning that this "appoint a special PM to supervise elections" is actually quite a common practice in third-world countries, where the public generally believes that incumbent politicians are too crooked to be trusted. Mr. Soomoro is a well-respected and independent guy, so let's hope he brings some much-needed legitimacy to Pakistani democracy.


November 23- Since 1998, the President of Lebanon has been Monsieur Emile LaHoud. He was very pro-Syria, and when he came to office he supported what was then the status quo, namely Syria's military occupation of his country, and the ensuring political subordination.

Then in the spring of 2005 there was the so-called Cedar Revolution in which thousands of anti-Syrian Lebanese protesters took to the streets to demonstrate. In the aftermath, Syria ended up withdrawing all her troops, LaHoud's prime minister resigned, and in the emergency elections that followed, anti-Syrian parties won 72 of the 128 of the seats in the legislature.

Everyone was happy, at first, but there were still outstanding problems to address. President LaHoud remained in office, and many of the anti-Syria parties in the parliament were members of Hizbollah, the fundamentalist terror group. Hizbollah hates Israel, and in the Summer of 2006 there was this odd and complicated war between Israel and the part of Lebanon that supports Hizbollah.

Anyhow... President LaHoud's term was set to end on November 23, and in the Lebanese political system it is the job of the parliament to chose a replacement. But since the parliament is polarized between fundies and moderates, they were unable to make a decision. The Hizbollah members often boycotted the election sessions, which prevented the parliament from obtaining quorum, and thus making a decision.

So on the morning of November 23 LaHoud left office, with no one to replace him. LaHoud declared that he was giving his powers to the armed forces, but Prime Minister Fuad Saniora contests this, and considers himself to be the "acitng president" in the absence of a proper one. This situation is obviously going to explode into a huge political crisis, so let's all watch eagerly.


November 28- Almazbek Atambayev, who we remember was appointed prime minister of the vowel-less republic of Kyrgyzstan last March, resigned today. The Associated Press says this was done in anticipation of the country's December elections.

Kyrgyzstan is ruled by a strong president who has become fairly unpopular recently. So he appointed Atambayev to be his PM. Atambayev is the leader of the opposition party, so this was supposed to show that the President is a great guy who unites everyone. But now the election is around the corner, so both men need to stop pretending to like each other.

John Howard, the lovable four-term Prime Minister of Australia was booted from office last week. He'd been in power since 1996. That was probably too long, because the Australians had grown tired of him.

Howard was a strong conservative, and was something of a godfather figure to conservative politicians in other countries, especially Canada and the United States. He loudly and unapologetically opposed things that were quite unfashionable to oppose, such as same-sex marriage, immigration, and the Kyoto Accord, while simultaneously embracing things that were supposed to be unpopular, such as the Iraq War, George W. Bush, and the British Monarchy. And he was enormously successful, defying a great deal of conventional wisdom in the process.

But the new conventional wisdom was that Howard was a fool to run for a fifth term in office, and this time, the pundits were right.

The fellow who beat Howard is Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd. Unlike Howard, Rudd was never a professional politician, and has in fact came quite late to electoral politics. For most of his adult life he was a bureaucrat of some sort, working behind the scenes in the foreign office, the state of Queensland, and then the national Labor Party.

Rudd will be the first left-wing PM in over a decade. Australia is a pretty conservative country overall. Since the war they've had about 40 years of rule by the conservative party (which is oddly actually called the "Liberal Party") compared to only 20 from the Labourites.



Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weird Countries


I read a lot of political and history books, but not a lot of fiction. But it doesn't matter, because reality is frequently much stranger than fiction anyway. When you study the politics of other countries you frequently come across stories that are so thoroughly bizarre they couldn't even pass as plots of a second-rate drug story paperback.

For example, imagine someone wrote a book in which a country was ruled by two identical twins, one of whom was president, while the other was prime minister. And they were both former movie stars. It sounds absurd, but that's the government of Poland I am describing, where two twin brothers, Lech Kaczynski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski controll both executive offices of the republic.

But not for much longer. Poland had parliamentary elections last week and the brothers' right-wing party was dealt a harsh blow. The moderate Civic Platform won 209 of 460 seats meaning they will now get to choose a new prime minister and undermine the powers of the president. It was an amusing era while it lasted.

Meanwhile, we have Argentina, where the president's wife was elected president yesterday. This hardly even seems like news. The entire Argentine political system is based around wives becoming president.

In the 1940's the country was ruled by Colonel Juan Peron, an extreme populist who had no coherent ideology other than giving "the people" (as defined by him) what they wanted. And the people liked him, largely because of his beautiful, shrewish wife Evita, who bossed him around behind the scenes. They made a musical about it, as I am sure you know.

Evita wanted to be president herself, so Juan tried to promote her to vice president so he could resign sometime down the line and let her take over. But she died of Cancer and the military overthrew him, so that plan never came to be.

Exiled in Spain for almost 20 years, Juan Peron met a nightclub dancer named Isabel and they married. Then the political tides began to turn in Argentina, and the political elites begged Juan to come back and be president again. By then it was 1973 and Peron was quite old, but he agreed anyway.

Desperate to reclaim his past success, Juan tried to present Isabel as the second-coming of Evita. But where Evita had been shrewd and intellectual, Isabel was ditzy and disinterested. She had absolutely no political experience and her interest in Argentina was little more than a natural outcome of being in the right place at the right time.

But Peron made her vice president regardless, and people went along with it. But then Peron died a year later, and Isabel became president, and the political and military elites began to second-guess turning a blind eye.

Isabel was overthrown after less than a year in office. It was a sad end to Latin America's first female president, and her downfall led to the rise of a very vicious right-wing military dictatorship that killed a lot of people and invaded the Falkland Islands, among other things.

In 1983 democracy returned to Argentina. The new presidents embraced radical free-market reforms in an effort to turn around the country's crumbling economy, which had been badly mismanaged by years of corruption and incompetence from the ruling juntas.

But for a number of reasons (look it up, I'm no economist) the reforms never really did what they were supposed to do. Unemployment, inflation, and corruption continued to thrive, reaching a peak in 2001 when angry Argentines took to the streets in protest over their worsening wages and increasingly worthless currency.

What happened next was sort of comically tragic. Sensing the president was likely to resign soon, the vice president resigned. Then, the president did. In accordance with the law of succession, the president of the senate then became acting president, but he resigned two days later. The Congress then appointed one of the state governors to be acting president, but that guy resigned as well after a week in office. The president of the senate then resigned again, in order to prevent becoming acting president again, and the presidency passed to the president of the House of Representatives. He resigned two days later, and the Congress appointed another governor to serve as acting prez. His name was Eduardo Duhalde, and he had the sanity to call for emergency elections.

In 2003 Duhalde lost, and Governor Nestor Kirchner was elected as Argentina's first non-acting president in several years. Kirchner was a fiery Peronist who wanted to return the country to the populist "third way" of the late president, and away from the free-market worship of his successors. During the last four years he's pursued an eclectic bunch of policies which have generally made him quite popular. He's been a strong proponent of persecuting former members of the military regime, and foreign policy wise he's taken a pretty consistently anti-American stance, that while not quite in Hugo Chavez land, has earned him a lot of the same praise from the left.

Kirchner surprised many when he announced he would not run for a second term. The nomination of the Peronist party he leads was instead given to his wife (and sitting senator) Cristina. Unlike Evita and Isabel, Cristina has been a successful politician in her own right. She's been in the game even longer than Nestor himself, in fact. The two are thus the ultimate power couple, with careers that feed off each other. Some pundits have even speculated that the two may be planning a "take turns" approach to the presidency, since Nestor could conceivably run for a non-consecutive second term in 2011 and then she again in 2015.

Would this sound believable if you read it in a romance novel?