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.


Walker said...

Your ahead of me since, as an American, I don't fully understand the difference between a president and a prime minister

iod said...

What, you mean like the French can't call the US "États-Unis"?

Walker - it really depends on the country you're in. In some places the PM is like your president, in some places the president is like Canada's queen, in some places the PM is a figurehead (only he's not the head. A figuretorso?), in some places, like France, the PM and prez share power in some odd formula.

Psudo said...

Most commonly, a Prime Minister is the head of government while the President is the head of state. That is, the President is expected to be somehow symbolic of national values or ideals and to promote national unity, while the Head of Government actually runs the government and does all the partisan stuff and is replaced often.

In the US system, it is assumed that the government has no role exempt as it serves the people, so we combine both powers into one head office selected from, empowered by, and responsible to the people. He, too, is replaced often.

Some criticize the lack of stability brought about by the US system, with the head of state (and, thus, the national character) replaced so often. Long-serving legislators and lifetime Supreme Court justice appointments minimize the instability.

Symbolically, the supreme law of the US Constitution serves the role of stabilizer and unifier of the United States; an ideal rather than a person.

Anonymous said...

A lot of places have PMs running the show and el presidente only as a boring decor (Poland, Israel to name a few).

Also, we like to call Belrus "Białoruś" and the other one is "Wybrzeże Kości Słoniowej". Name more fitting for a hotel resort than city, not an entire country. If I were them, I would go for totally new name.
Is that even possible - amend the constitution and rename the whole country?

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