Saturday, May 12, 2007

Scots, Samoans, Timorese, and so on in that order

Blair Quits

The big news this week is that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has finally announced a date for his resignation. He will leave office on June 27, 2007. Mr. Blair's been in office since May 7, 1997, so after he resigns he'll have been in office for almost exactly 10 years in all. It's a long reign by British standards, but not unusually so. Mrs. Thatcher was in power for 11.5.

Mr. Blair will resign as leader of his Labor Party first, however, allowing the party to elect a new leader to replace him. Everyone predicts the winner of that election will be Gordon Brown, the uncharismatic Scot who presently runs the British ministry of finance. Brown is considered to be the architect of the economic growth and prosperity Britain experienced in the late 90's and early 2000's, which, as I noted on my other site, is one of the few aspects of the Blair legacy still regarded favorably by the British people. Shortly after Mr. Brown is made head of the Labor Party Blair will formally step down as Prime Minister, and Queen Elizabeth II will in turn appoint Brown as the new PM, in accordance with British parliamentary practice. Watch The Queen to see how that works.

Oh, those Scots!

Another landmark piece of Blair's legacy was the 1999 creation of a semi-autonomous Scottish parliament. This was designed to be an institution that would help placate nationalist sentiment in Scotland by allowing the Scottish people a greater level of political control over their own regional affairs, and thus lessening the degree in which Scotland was directly administered by London.

For the last eight years the Scottish parliament- and thus the Scottish government- has been controlled by the Labor Party of Blair and Brown. This came to an end on May 3, however, when Scottish voters narrowly gave the new plurality of seats to the Scottish Nationalist Party. The SNP, as the name may suggest, is an outwardly nationalist party with separatist ambitions. They seek to make Scotland into an independent state within the European Union and Commonwealth. This is, of course, a pretty radical position to take, making the defeat of Labor particularly embarrassing for the London government, especially when one considers why the Scottish parliament was cooked up in the first place. And on the year of the 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland, no less!

But all is not necessarily lost. The SNP only has a one-seat plurality, meaning Labor and the other, smaller parties still outnumber it. It is very possible that those minority parties may in turn gang up, forming a coalition government to keep the SNP out of power. Stay tuned!

And Northern Ireland

Rev. Paisley- you remember him- was sworn in as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland today. Well "First Minister," actually, if you want to get technical about it. A member of Sein Fein became Deputy Prime Minister, but Gerry Adams got nothing.

Outside of the UK...

East Timor

Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta (seen here) won the run-off election in East Timor, and will become that country's second president on May 20.

East Timor was a colony of Portugal well into the 1970's, a reflection of the stubborn manner in which the Portuguese dictatorship tried to hold onto all of its colonial possessions for as long as humanly possible. The Portuguese regime was deposed by leftist forces in 1974, and the new government moved to quickly abandon all of its colonies.

The quick pullout of Portugal plunged East Timor into a civil war, as Marxists fought with rightists to establish control over the new country.

Then in 1975 the neighboring Indonesians invaded, to ensure the victory of the anti-Marxist side. As people who read Noam Chomsky books know, the invasion was a very bloody affair with a very high cost in human lives, yet was also largely ignored by much of the world. The great powers were busy with Israel and Vietnam and stuff.

The plight of East Timor under Indonesian military occupation became something as a cause celeb as the years went on, however. Exiled activists like Mr. Ramos-Horta did much to bring world attention back to the tragedy. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

In 1999 the Indonesians finally left, and the Indonesian Governor of East Timor was replaced by a UN-appointed Administrator from Brazil named Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Mello was a great man who was later killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq. It is really quite tragic how often his name comes up when you study the history of post-war nations.

The East Timorians drafted a constitution and held their first elections in 2001, with Xanana Gusmao becoming first president and Mari Alkatiri becoming first Prime Minister. The country formally stopped being under UN administration in 2002.

Mr. Ramos-Horta succeeded to the office of Prime Minister in 2006 after Mr. Alkatiri resigned amid increasing domestic chaos. And now he's going to be the new President, replacing Xanana Gusmao.

Mr. Gusamo was the only world leader whose name started with the letter "X." Mr. Ramos-Horta will now become one of the world's only two leaders who holds a Nobel Peace Prize. The other is Oscar Arias, the moderate president of Costa Rica who got the award in 1987 for helping mediate the end of the Central American civil wars of the 1980's.


Talking of former colonies....
The Micronesians got a new president yesterday. His name is Manny Mori. He's the former vice president and a longtime Congressman.

"Micronesia" consists of a bunch of tiny Pacific islands that used to belong to the United States. In the 1970's the Micronesians began to demand independence. There was a famous exchange with Henry Kissinger on the matter.

Q: Mr. Kissinger, what about the possibility of Micronesia becoming independent?
A: There are only 90,000 people out there. Who gives a damn?
And so they became independent in 1979. Well sort of. The terms of their independence was carefully negotiated with the United States, and as a result their post-independent constitution has given the US a lot of influence over the now-sovereign country. America retains the right to build military bases in Micronesia and manage the country's defenses. Micronesians are also encouraged to "consult" with the US government before making foreign policy decisions. This is why Micronesia is one of the only countries in the world that ever supports the United States in UN General Assembly votes on controversial matters.

Of course it's not all one-sided... the US heavily subsidizes the Micronesian economy as well. Hundreds of millions of American tax dollars go to Micronesia every year to keep their welfare state afloat.

The Micronesian system of government is vaguely based on the US model, but more streamlined. There is only one house of Congress, which consists of one Senator for each of the four Micronesian states, plus 10 Representatives chosen based on rep-by-pop. The Congress is also the Electoral College, and elects the President and Vice President once every four years. The President has to be an incumbent Senator. Mr. Manny Mori is the seventh president since independence.

And Lastly....

Some sad news. Malietoa Tanumafili II, the Chief of Samoa has died. He was 94 years old- the world's oldest head of state.

Samoa is another tiny little country in the Pacific Ocean. It was part of New Zealand until 1962, at which point it became independent. They decided to become a constitutional monarchy, but they couldn't quite decide who to make their first paramount chief. So they gave two people the job, Malietoa Tanumafili II and Tupua Tamasese Mea'ole. Things got easier the next year when Mea'ole died, making the other guy sole Chief-for-Life.

Now that he's dead, however, the country will cease being a monarchy and become a republic, in accordance with constitutional amendments passed during his reign. The head of state will henceforth be elected by the Samoan parliament for a five-year term of office.

There are two places in the world called Samoa; this Samoa and American Samoa, which is a US territory. "Plain" Samoa used to be called "Western Samoa" until 1997, at which point they changed their name to just "Samoa." The American Samoans thought this was quite an arrogant thing to do.


Joseph said...

A few points for you on Britain, JJ.

1) It's spelt the LaboUr Party, and it's also spelt Sinn Fein.
2) Hope is lost on Scotland. The SNP will form the next government as a minority, because the Liberal Democrats - the fourth party in the Scottish Parliament - won't work with Labour or the SNP, and the Conservative Party - the third - won't work with anyone which has been known long before the election. The Scottish Greens working with the Scottish Nationalists means they will be the biggest group.
3) Actually, it's not that radical. There have long been a lot of pro-independence Scots, and the movement's been gaining steam for fifty years. Scottish independence is not a radical position. The SNP also got in on sorts on an anti-Labour message, which helped.
4) Reverend Paisley has turned far, far, far to the centre on the peace process, and the co-operation has shocked most people, along with the increasing toning down of his anti-Catholic rhetoric. It's often joked over here that someone's captured the real Ian Paisley ;)
5) Gordon Brown is shocking everyone by being not uncharismatic, to be honest. His kick-off speech for his campaign brought praise from just about everyone, including the ultra-right Daily Mail editorialists, and that's saying something.

Anonymous said...

Xanana might become PM of Timor-Leste, so there is a chance that there will still be a world leader whose name starts with "X".

eparses said...

The section on Micronesia has a small error, JJ.

Micronesia gained independence in 1986, under the Compact as you noted. The 1979 date you have is the date the Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, and Kosrae districts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) gained self-government.