Monday, April 23, 2007

The World is a Complicated Place

Quite a bit of interesting news in the last couple of days....

Boris Yeltsin died today, I see. He of course was the first post-Communist President of Russia.

Yeltsin's career

Boris Yeltsin was mayor of Moscow from 1985 to 1987, but was fired from that job because his desires for reforms clashed with the timid agenda of Premier Gorbachav. Comrade Yeltsin then ran for a seat in the trendy new democratic parliament that Gorby established in 1989, as part of his Glasnost reforms.

In 1990 the parliament appointed Yeltsin to be Chairman of the Communist council that ran the "Russian Soviet Republic," the most large and powerful of the Soviet states. When he got bored of that he ran in the first democratic elections in Russian history, and was chosen to be the first President of the Russian Federation, which is what they were now calling the ex-USSR.

After an eventful eight-year term, President Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve, 1999. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became Acting President of the Federation, and the rest is history.

With Yeltsin's death, the number of living Russian presidents plummets from an all-time high of three to a pitiful two. Gorbachev is still alive at age 76. Yeltsin was 76 too, but was one month older.

Here are some fun trivia facts about Yeltsin
  • Near the end of his term his people toyed with a number of hare-brained schemes to let him subvert the constitution and stay in office forever. One idea was restoring the Russian monarchy under some young idiot prince, with Yeltsin serving as dictatorial "regent" until the kid came of age.

  • He appointed himself Prime Minister for a few hours in March of 1998 before his aides told him that such a thing was probably unconstitutional.

  • During the Second World War a number of his fingers were blown off by a grenade. You don't often see photos that highlight that fact, but here's a good one:

Elections in France

The much-watched French presidential election concluded predictably yesterday, with the first round of voting bringing good news for the two front-runners. Nicolas Sarkozy got 31% and Segolene Royal got 25%. Second round of voting to determine the final winner is set for May 6.

Suspension in Israel

The President of Israel, Moshe Katsav was suspended from office a while ago, remember that? At the time, the suspension was only supposed to be for three months, but today the President successfully lobbied the parliament to get it extended for another three. Since Mr. Katsav's term is already scheduled to end in late July, this extended suspension will ensure that he will never act as president again. "Why doesn't he just resign, then?" say his opponents. But resigning would be an admission of wrong-doing, and that would never do.

Mauritania becomes Democracy

Establishment favorite Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi evidently won the election as President of Mauritania a while ago. He was sworn in last Thursday, and appointed Zeine Ould Zeidane as his Prime Minister. Like their formal colonial power France, Mauritania does run-off voting. Mr. Abdallahi and Mr. Zeidane were both candidates in the first round, but only the former went on to round two. Zeidane threw his support behind Abdallahi, and clearly benefitted from doing so.

Regardless, Mr. Abdallahi's swearing-in was an important milestone, as it signaled that country's transition from military to democratic civilian rule. The outgoing President, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who has held office since staging a coup in 2005, stepped aside gracefully.

Other countries struggle with the concept

Nigeria had Presidential elections on the weekend, which were, by all accounts, an absolute mess. Pretty much everything that could go wrong, did. Violence, voter fraud, people not getting ballots, intimidation, international condemnation... the works. The incumbent party candidate evidently "won" but it seems very likely they'll have to do the entire election over again. There is just no way his victory will be accepted as legitimate in these circumstances.

East Timor also had elections a while ago... the results were officially declared today. Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta came in first, followed by opposition candidate Lu Olo. But once again, no one got over 50%, so there will be a run-off vote on May 9. But now the other candidates are all uppity. They say there was widespread corruption and irregularities during the vote, and are contesting the results to the High Court. So we'll see how that goes.


Deb G. said...

I wonder who'll win in France... Sarkozy is awful, but Royal is at least as bad.

J. Muller said...

I have a friend from France who follows French politics, and what she said is that Royal might be able to wrangle a victory if she can snag the centrist votes. She hopes Royal wins, though at this point she's not too happy with how things are looking.

Does anyone else find it ironic not only that a guy [Sarkozy] with immigrant parents would turn out so right-wing anti-immigrant nationalist, but he would do so in a country that has, in recent history, been quite critical of the right-wing government in America?

iod said...

What, no mention of the mock elections in Bhutan? I was ooking forward to your take on those.

Ron said...

The Russian federation and ex-USSR are two different things.
Russia in its current form is a federation of republics, territories and provinces... a rather complicated system. Given that, it is known as the Russian federation.
ex-USSR includes such republics as Ukraine, Belarus and so on.

An important point about Yeltsin that you have missed is that as the chairman of the Russian communist party he declared the Russian SR as independant from the Uniot before any other SR dared to do so... naturally as the head of the Russian SR he remained the leader of the Russian federation and eventually reelected for two terms

Rev83 said...

Actually, Lithuania was the first SSR to declare independence, in 1990, the year before the rest of the declarations.

Psudo said...

j. muller, it seems to me that immigrants and children of immigrants are more able to express criticism of immigration policy due to their perceived 'insider' view. The same way African-Americans can criticize black culture in the USA without being called racists.

Joe Henchman said...

To be fair, Yeltsin served two four-year terms, having been re-elected in 1996. The plunder of the country's assets in rigged privatization auctions in the run-up to that election was mainly a way to buy Yeltsin's re-election and keep the Communists from winning the presidency.