STORY NUMBER ONE
India has a new president! And a woman at that.
India is one of many countries where the president is a useless figurehead. But the election process is probably one of the most complicated political procedures in the world, a fact due to the sheer size of India. The winning candidate must secure a majority of votes by the Indian parliament and all 28 of India's state legislatures. That's over 4,000 politicians to win over. Luckily the country has a very rigid party hierarchy, so legislators generally vote the way their leaders tell them.
Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the majority Indian Congress Party and the most powerful politician in the country, decided that her country needed a woman president. Perhaps she was just bitter because she didn't get to be Prime Minister back in 2004, even though she won the friggin election. So anyway, as leader of the country's most dominant political party, Ms. Gandhi nominated her pal Pratibha Patil to be the new president of India. Ms. Patil was the Governor of Rajasthan, India's largest state, and a loyal party hack. On July 21 she won the vote handily, with 2,931 votes, or around 65%.
Governor Patil was sworn in four days later, on the 25th. Even though the Indian presidency is not powerful, the Indian people take the symbolism of the office seriously, so it was something of a big deal to finally have a woman president. In the past they have had Muslim and Sikh presidents, as well as a president from the much-hated "untouchables" caste.
Here's a picture of the new president performing one of her typical roles:
STORY NUMBER TWO
Another historic first occurred for women in the Commonwealth of Antigua and Barbuda. In early July the Prime Minister appointed Louise Lake-Tack as the country's first female Governor-General.
Ms. Lake-Tack was a longtime lawyer and low-level judge who worked in both A&B and England. But she was never a particularly famous or important figure in either country. She was however, a loyal supporter and fundraiser of the political party of the current Antiguan Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer. So Spencer appointed her Governor-General, much to the outrage of the opposition parties, who accused Spenny of using the nation's highest post as a shallow patronage appointment. All the opposition politicians refused to attend the inauguration ceremony in protest.
Counting Ms. Lake-Tack, Antigua and Barbuda has had three governor-generals in all, since the country became independent from the UK in 1981. The last colonial governor, Sir Wilfred E. Jacobs, served in the new position for 12 years. Then from 1993 to 2007 the post was held by Sir James Carlisle, a famous dentist. In small countries it is sometimes hard to scrounge up famous people.
STORY NUMBER THREE
Bhutan is a fundamentalist Bhuddist monarchy located between India and China. They tend to be a very self-aggrandizing lot, and often make the Dinseyesque claim of being "the happiest country on Earth." But the happiest place on Earth has a rather authoritarian system of government, under all-powerful king and no voting.
But things are slowly starting to change. Last year the longtime king resigned, and his 27-year-old son took the throne, supposedly to usher in a new era of more enlightened leadership. The new king proceeded to call for the country's first elections, which are scheduled to occur in March of '09.
In preparation for this historic event, Khandu Wangchuk, the royal Prime Minister resigned on July 31. He was replaced by Kinzang Dorji, who will serve as acting PM until a new one can be elected in March. Mr. Wangchuck hopes to run in the race, but thinks it would be a conflict if he stays in office during the election. So we shall see how things go.
So yeah. Those were the three most relevant things that happened while I was gone, head of state wise. Stay tuned for the resumption of regular updates!