Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What happened in November

It's been almost a month since my last update, so I reckon its high time to summarize the events of the past month.

November 5- Donald Tusk is sworn in as Prime Minister of Poland, replacing one half of the Kaczynski brothers. Tusk is the leader of the moderate "Civic Platform" party, and pledged to course a moderate agenda. The first thing he did was put forth the moderate proposal to pull Polish pull troops out of Iraq, but keep them in Afghanistan.

November 7- The amusingly-named Prime Minister Miyeegombo Enkhbold of Mongolia resigned, after internal strife in his political party forced him out. This was not hugely relevant; the Mongolian political system is quite unstable, and Mongolian PMs rarely serve more than a year in office. On November 22 the parliament chose Sanj Bayar to be the new prime minister.

Both Mr. Enkhbold and Mr. Bayer are members of what used to be known as the Mongolian Communist Party. Their gang ruled the country from 1912 to the fall of Communism in the mid-1990's. But the party, survived, moderating itself into the modern "People's Revolutionary Party" which accepts democracy and the existence of a free-market economy. After an absence during the 90's, they were voted back into power in 2000.

November 13- Togo is a crooked little French country in Africa. From 1967 to 2005 it was ruled by the tyrannical Gnassingbe Eyadema, then when he died his untalented son Faure took over. This outraged the west, which said Africa should really stop doing this sort of thing. So the EU cut off aid.

Eager to regain legitimacy, President Faure called presidential elections, which he then won. He then began to talk to the opposition parties about holding a free and fair parliamentary election. In order to ensure these were conducted under unbiased eyes, he then picked an opposition politician named Yawovi Agboyibo to be his prime minister for the duration of the election.

The parliamentary election concluded on October 14, with the President's party winning 50 of the 81 seats. On November 13 Prime Minister Agboyibo resigned, saying his "job was done." It's kind of sad things didn't end in a more dramatic way. The President will now likely install some hack of his own in Agboyibo's place.

November 16- Things have been going cuckoo bananas in Pakistan recently, as I am sure you know. The hope I reported on earlier, that General Musharaff might enter into some sort of power-sharing dealie with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto seems to have been dashed in the wake of... well, the General's imposition of martial law and arrest of Ms. Bhutto.

General Musharaff chose to go medieval at precisely the worst possible opportunity, at a time when there was an enormous amount of pressure for him to finally embrace a transition to fully democratic rule. His imposition of martial law thus alienated his regime from many of his former backers, including the United States, so now Musharaff is scrambling to assure the world that, no really, I'm serious about the democracy stuff.

The General announced that parliamentary elections would be held in January, and in anticipation he appointed Muhammadmian Soomro the chairman of the Pakistani Senate to be his new, caretaker prime minister (or as they call the office in that country, "grand vizier") for the duration of the election period.

I am learning that this "appoint a special PM to supervise elections" is actually quite a common practice in third-world countries, where the public generally believes that incumbent politicians are too crooked to be trusted. Mr. Soomoro is a well-respected and independent guy, so let's hope he brings some much-needed legitimacy to Pakistani democracy.

November 23- Since 1998, the President of Lebanon has been Monsieur Emile LaHoud. He was very pro-Syria, and when he came to office he supported what was then the status quo, namely Syria's military occupation of his country, and the ensuring political subordination.

Then in the spring of 2005 there was the so-called Cedar Revolution in which thousands of anti-Syrian Lebanese protesters took to the streets to demonstrate. In the aftermath, Syria ended up withdrawing all her troops, LaHoud's prime minister resigned, and in the emergency elections that followed, anti-Syrian parties won 72 of the 128 of the seats in the legislature.

Everyone was happy, at first, but there were still outstanding problems to address. President LaHoud remained in office, and many of the anti-Syria parties in the parliament were members of Hizbollah, the fundamentalist terror group. Hizbollah hates Israel, and in the Summer of 2006 there was this odd and complicated war between Israel and the part of Lebanon that supports Hizbollah.

Anyhow... President LaHoud's term was set to end on November 23, and in the Lebanese political system it is the job of the parliament to chose a replacement. But since the parliament is polarized between fundies and moderates, they were unable to make a decision. The Hizbollah members often boycotted the election sessions, which prevented the parliament from obtaining quorum, and thus making a decision.

So on the morning of November 23 LaHoud left office, with no one to replace him. LaHoud declared that he was giving his powers to the armed forces, but Prime Minister Fuad Saniora contests this, and considers himself to be the "acitng president" in the absence of a proper one. This situation is obviously going to explode into a huge political crisis, so let's all watch eagerly.

November 28- Almazbek Atambayev, who we remember was appointed prime minister of the vowel-less republic of Kyrgyzstan last March, resigned today. The Associated Press says this was done in anticipation of the country's December elections.

Kyrgyzstan is ruled by a strong president who has become fairly unpopular recently. So he appointed Atambayev to be his PM. Atambayev is the leader of the opposition party, so this was supposed to show that the President is a great guy who unites everyone. But now the election is around the corner, so both men need to stop pretending to like each other.

John Howard, the lovable four-term Prime Minister of Australia was booted from office last week. He'd been in power since 1996. That was probably too long, because the Australians had grown tired of him.

Howard was a strong conservative, and was something of a godfather figure to conservative politicians in other countries, especially Canada and the United States. He loudly and unapologetically opposed things that were quite unfashionable to oppose, such as same-sex marriage, immigration, and the Kyoto Accord, while simultaneously embracing things that were supposed to be unpopular, such as the Iraq War, George W. Bush, and the British Monarchy. And he was enormously successful, defying a great deal of conventional wisdom in the process.

But the new conventional wisdom was that Howard was a fool to run for a fifth term in office, and this time, the pundits were right.

The fellow who beat Howard is Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd. Unlike Howard, Rudd was never a professional politician, and has in fact came quite late to electoral politics. For most of his adult life he was a bureaucrat of some sort, working behind the scenes in the foreign office, the state of Queensland, and then the national Labor Party.

Rudd will be the first left-wing PM in over a decade. Australia is a pretty conservative country overall. Since the war they've had about 40 years of rule by the conservative party (which is oddly actually called the "Liberal Party") compared to only 20 from the Labourites.