Friday, March 30, 2007

Prime Ministers Ahoy

French-Canadian separatism delt blow

There was big news in Canada this week with the re-election of Jean Charest as prime minister of Quebec.

Quebec is a province of Canada, yet it resents this status. As the only predominantly French-speaking region left in North America, the Quebecers tend to have strong nationalist ambitions and aren't merely content to be lumped in with the nine other "equal provinces" that make up the Canadian federation.

Quebec politics is thus dominated by a nationalist discourse, though the various political parties disagree how to best obtain maximum benefit for the Quebec nation and its people. The Parti Quebecois believes Quebec should leave Canada and become an independent country, while the Liberal Party believes Quebec should stay within Canada, and try to reform the federation from within. These two parties have taken turns governing the province over the last 30 years. Obviously the PQ's time in power hasn't been that successful or they'd be gone by now.

Anyway, Premier Charest is a Liberal. But he is unpopular and in the early days everyone figured he would probably lose the next election. But they underestimated the incompetence of the new leader of the PQ, Andre Boisclair. Monsieur Boisclair is a homosexual and a former cocaine addict, which I suppose are handicaps one can overcome in the super-liberal Quebec political climate. Hewas also very uncharismatic and gaffe-prone, however, and under his leadership the separatists squandered the ample lead they once held. In Monday's election the PQ dropped to third place.

But it was not all good news for the Premier. Charest's party lost a lot of seats in the parliament to the "Democratic Action" party led by Mario Dumont. Dumont is a charismatic right-winger who has achieved a rapid rise in the world of Quebec politics, greatly upsetting the traditional two-party system in the process. He now holds enough seats to significantly influence the agenda of Mr. Charest's newly-weakened government.

Dumont is a nationalist like the rest of them, though he no longer favors outright separation. He does favor a dramatic re-writing of the Canadian constitution in order to give Quebec more powers, though. Among other things he wants the province to be renamed "The Autonomous State of Quebec."

Unrest in Kyrgyzstan

After just two months in office the prime minister of Kyrgyzstan has resigned.

The country separated from the Soviet Union in 1991 and for the next 14 years was ruled by Askar Akayev, a former Soviet scientist. In 2005 they had one of those faddish Eastern European revolutions named after something colorful and deposed him (in this case the "Tulip Revolution"). A longtime opposition politician named Kurmanbek Bakiyev was installed in his place.

But Mr. Bakiyev has not proved to be very popular. Democratic reforms have not been occurring fast enough, and critics say he's just instituted a different kind of oligarchy, except this time under his party. There have been large protests to get him to step down recently, with more looming on the horizon.

On Thursday the President instituted what this article calls "the latest in a series of attempts to take the wind out of opposition sails" and appointed one of his leading political opponents, Almazbek Atambayev, as the new PM. As is so often the case in so many nations, giving more authority to the prime minister is seen as a key way of appeasing the mob.

More prime minister news

In writing this blog I have come to realize just how dime-a-dozen prime ministers are in most of the world. Living in a country where the Prime Minister is basically the supreme elected dictator, controlling all levels of governance with his iron grip, it's always quite a contrast to see that in much of the world a PM is basically just an unimportant figurehead appointed for largely symbolic, partisan reasons.

In the Ivory Coast the President appointed a new prime minister on Thursday. The move is an attempt to unite the various factions of the civil war-prone nation under a government of national unity.

The new PM's name is Guillaume Soro, and he's been a longtime anti-government rebel leader. He tried to launch a coup in 2002, but his people and the president have since made peace. His appointment as PM is this first symbolic step in instituting inclusive multi-party elections.

Since 1985 the Ivory Coast has officially asked the rest of the world not to call it by that name. They prefer the original French name, Côte d'Ivoire. You can't just go around translating the names of countries into your own language just because it's more convenient, they said. After all, we don't call Belarus "White Russia" anymore, even though that's what the name literally means.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Some sad news

Tragedy in Yerevan

So the Prime Minister of Armenia died today. Andranik Margaryan was his name. He was a fairly young man, only 55. But he had heart problems and they caught up with him this morning.

He is actually the second prime minister of that country to die in the last eight years. In 1999 Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan was assassinated after rebels stormed the parliament and started shooting up the place. Vazgen was then replaced as prime minister by his younger brother Aram, who was then promptly fired and replaced by the late Mr. Maragaryan.

Armenia is another country with a bit of a revolving door at the PM's office. Whoever is chosen to replace Maragaryan will be the 11th prime minister since Armenia separated from the USSR in 1990. Only two presidents though. I wonder which office holds more power...

Local nerd to continue governing city-state

Donald Tsang was re-elected as CEO of Hong Kong this weekend. The Hong Kong Chief Executive is chosen through a convoluted system which the Chinese government considers "democratic" but no one else does. Basically there is this "council of voters" which consists of about 800 people. The Chinese government appoints the majority of them, but some are also elected by citizens of Hong Kong themselves. But only certain citizens who are members of certain elite professions deemed worthy to vote by the People's government.

There was some hope that the Chinese would bow to the demands of democratic activists in Hong Kong and turn the CEO into a truly elected office, chosen by all citizens in a general election. But no. The council voted 81% in favor of giving Mr. Tsang a second term.

Tsang is one of the few world leaders who wears a bow-tie. The only other one I can think of off-hand is Toomas Hendrik, the president of Estonia.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Developments of Early March

I apologize for the big gap in updates. I have been quite busy with various political-related initiatives in my own life.

Let's take a look at some of the developments which have occurred since the last update:

Duck replaces Sook

On March 7, the Prime Minister of South Korea, Miss Han Myung-Sook resigned. She had served in office for exactly one session of parliament, which is the typical way it works in the South Korean system. Their prime ministers are basically just figureheads who symbolically head the legislature, while the president holds all real power. Miss Han remains more popular than most, however, which has led many to speculate she has abandoned the job in order to run for president in the December 2007 elections.

Miss Han was the second woman to ever serve as Prime Minister of Korea, although the first one, Chang Sang, only held office for a period of 20 days in 2002. She failed to be ratified by parliament when it was revealed that, among other things, she never actually went to Princeton as she claimed on her resume.

The new Prime Minister of South Korea is named Han Duck Soo. He's the former minister of finance or something.

Northern Ireland to attempt unity once again

March 7 also saw the United Kingdom hold parliamentary elections for the disputed territory of Northern Ireland.

Unsurprising to anyone who knows anything about the place, in Northern Ireland elections the voters tend to elect their legislators along strictly religious / nationalist lines. This in turn always results in a horribly polarized parliament. Protestants who favor unity with Britain still hold a demographic majority in NI, so they always win a plurality of seats thanks to strictly demographic voting. Separatist Catholics always form a strong opposition, and politicians from the two groups refuse to get along- much like their constituents.

This election was no different. The Protestant parties won 54 seats while the Catholics won 44.

The two main Northern Irish political parties are led by old men who have been around forever. The separatist Sinn Fein is led by a bearded gentleman named Gerry Adams. He is a former member of the Irish Republican Army, the infamous anti-British terror group (though he denies it). When Bill Clinton invited him to the White House in 1994 Margaret Thatcher said the gesture was horribly offensive to Brits, and rhetorically asked how Americans would feel if she invited Timothy McVeigh to come and visit the Queen. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher hated him so much she actually banned British television from broadcasting his voice on the air.

The leader of the pro-British Protestant Democratic Unionist Party is Ian Paisley (seen here), an 80-year-old Presbyterian priest. He really hates Catholics. Imagine the most hysterical, bigoted, anti-Catholic remark possible and Reverend Paisley has probably said it. He's called Pope John Paul II the anti-Christ on numerous occasions, for example, including at least once to his face.

Paisley is now going to become the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and Gerry Adams will likely become minister of something-or-other. Both parties have softened up a bit in recent years, and now say they are prepared, in theory, to work together and form a joint government of national unity.

This was supposed to happen in 2002, but at the last minute the parties refused to work together so Tony Blair suspended the Northern Irish government and imposed direct rule from London. Since Britain has no constitution he's allowed to do that kind of thing. He might do it again if this national unity business never actually materializes.

African country holds election

The small African nation of Mauritania held presidential elections on the 11th- the first democratic elections in the country's history. Former cabinet minister Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi won 25% of the vote while longtime opposition politician Ahmed Ould Daddah won 21%. Since no one won a majority, the two men will be forced to undergo a second, sudden-death round of elections where all the minor candidates are excluded. I've always liked that system of electing people. I wish we used it in this country.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Horrible sham country gets horrible sham president

Russian Prez Vladimir Putin appointed a new president of Chechnya the other day. I was going to make this just a brief post, but the history of Chechan leadership is interesting, and deserves a fuller explanation.

Basically the Russians have been fighting with the Chechens forever. An Islamic people, they were originally annexed by the Czar's Army in 1859. The Soviets proceeded to spent many decades figuring out how to best govern them. From 1957 to 1991 Chechnya was part of something called the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. A puppet state within the USSR, in other words, not unlike Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan.

Then in 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart and the Chechen government declared independence, as was the style at the time. But unlike many of its other colonies the Russians weren't prepared to let Chechnya go without a fight. In 1994 Yetlsin's forces invaded the country and assassinated its rebel president. There was a tenuous cease-fire in the late 90's and the Russians agreed to negotiate independence in 2001. But then Putin invaded the country a second time in 1999. The civil war has gotten much more gruesome and bloody since then as Putin- who has no interest in negotiating Independence- tries desperately to establish firm Russian authority over the rebellious, Islamic republic.

The leadership of Chechnya is quite muddled. Here's a timeline

1) Dzhokhar Dudayev was elected as the president of Chechnya right after the Soviet Union broke down in 1991. He was assassinated by the Russians in 1996.

2) Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was acting president from 1996 to 1997. He presided over the peace deal that saw the Russians withdrawal most of their forces.

3) Former Soviet colonel Aslan Maskhadov was elected in 1997 and the Russians agreed to recognize his government as legitimate. Pro-Chechen terrorist attacks in Russia prompted Putin to blame Maskhadov for stirring shit up, and in 1999 Russia broke off relations with his government.

Putin instead installed Nikolay Koshman as Chechen head of state. There have been two rival governments in Chechnya ever since, one of whom are the heirs of the pro-Moscow Koshman, the other the heirs of the pro-independence Maskahadov.

FORK ONE

4) The Russians killed Maskhadov in 2005. An Islamist cleric named Sheikh Abdul Halim replaced him, but then the Russians killed him too.

5) The current rebel president (since June of '06) is Doku Umarov, a longtime rebel leader.

FORK TWO

4) Putin's guy, Koshman, was replaced in 2000 by Akhmad Kadyrov. Kadyrov was assassinated by Chechen rebels in 2005.

5) Kadyrov was replaced by an austere (and very pro-Russia) Chechen politician named Alu Alkhanov. He is basically the only guy in this story who did not get horribly murdered in some way. Putin liked him so much he made him his minister of justice and recalled him from his job in Chechnya.

6) On March 4 Alkhanov's replacement was confirmed. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov and he's the son of the late Akhmad Kadyrov mentioned above. He is considered to be a very cruel, pro-Russian, anti-rebel hardliner, a fact which I am sure has nothing to do with the circumstances surrounding his father's death.

Neither of the Chechen regimes are democratic. The rebel presidents used to be elected, but now they're more or less just installed by a little terrorist fiat. The pro-Russian presidents were originally chosen through crooked sham elections in which the guy Putin liked always won by 80% or more. But evidently even that was too democratic, so in 2004 Putin changed the constitution and made it so he gets to appoint the presidents himself.

So that's Chechnya. Don't go there.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

SURVIVED- Prime Minister Prodi of Italy. The President of the Republic refused his resignation and instead forced him to undergo a new vote of confidence in the parliament. They voted to keep him in office. 162 to 157 in the Senate and 342 to 253 in the House of Deputies.

RE-ELECTED- Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal was re-elected on Sunday with 55% of the vote. Senegal is one of Africa's more stable nations with a fairly functional democracy. It's the only country on the continent to never have experienced a military coup.

GRUDGINGLY RE-APPOINTED- another new prime minister in the republic of Gueina. As noted in a previous post, the unions had been demanding the President appoint a strong, independent PM to institute a greater "check" on executive power in the Gueinean government. The president tried to install some hack politician, but the unions continued their protests, even after martial law was imposed. The President blinked first, and has now appointed the respected diplomat Lansana Kouyate as PM. He vows to be an effective administrator.

BEATIFIED- Well, not quite, but evidently the Tanzanian branch of the Roman Catholic Church has been pressing for Pope Benedict to beatify the late president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere. Beatification of course being step one on the status to full-on sainthood. Nyerere was one of Africa's first post-colonial presidents and is admired throughout the continent as an inspiring symbol of nationalism and independence. In a poll on the "greatest Africans of all time" he was ranked number four.

President Nyerere was a humble and strongly religious man, but he was also a socialist dictator who badly mismanaged his nation's economy and repressed political freedom. But by African standards his rule was downright pleasant, hence the movement to sanctify him.

The last head of state to be beatified was the late Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Karl the First (1916-1918). Pope John Paul praised him for his commitment to securing peace in the First World War.

The late Governor General of Canada, Georges Vanier, is another Head of State who has been proposed for beatification. He was a heroic soldier who fought in the First World War and then later served as a European diplomat in WW2. He tried to encourage his country to accept fleeing Jewish refugees from Europe when most of the Canadian government was strongly against such an idea. I hope he gets beatified before Nyerere.