Monday, December 31, 2007

I don't do a lot of meta-posting on this blog, but I did happen upon an interesting site the other day I thought would be worth sharing.

Executed Today is a cool daily blog that is, as the name implies, all about executions. But what is quite interesting is his special section on past executions of heads of state, as well as his little chart on which current heads of state may be most at risk of getting executed someday.

Check it out if you are feeling morbid.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December!

Well December is almost over, let's see what's happened so far.

DECEMBER- PART ONE

Belgium stumbles along blindly


Belgium has really been a strange case. Way back in June I reported that Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt lost his bid for re-election, with his liberal coalition being turfed in favor of a new conservative coalition headed by Yves Leterme. I, like most ignorant non-European types, expected Mr. Leterme to assume office as the new PM very shortly afterwards. How wrong I was.

Belgium, as I noted in my original post, is an enormously divided country, where people live in two distinct lingusitic communities, one Dutch, one French, that have very little to do with each other. These communities have very different interests, and as a result there are no "national" political parties in Belgium, only regional ones. The French socialists, the Dutch conservatives, etc.

Ordinarily, the like-minded politicians put aside their regional differences and form coalitions based on ideology. People expected Mr. Leterme, who is a Dutch conservative, to form an alliance with the French conservatives. But this hasn't happened, largely because the differences between the Belgium right have become inconsolable. The French right, who are the smaller group, want the Belgian federal government strengthened, to ensure they will continue to hold power over national policy. The Dutchies, however, favor just the opposite, and want the federal government to decentralize power to the regions, weakening national authority.

Mr. Leterme has spent the last six months trying to piece some sort of coalition together, but none of the parties, not even the non-conservatives, are willing to play ball. It's quite sad, really. Outside observers have wondered if all this turmoil spells "the end of Belgium," and will usher in a formal separation of the two language communities into two distinct countries. This idea has long been fairly mainstream in Belgium. It's actually surprisingly common for Belgians themselves to speak cynically about how "fake" or "artificial" their nation is. Everyone is aware that the country was only invented to stop France and Germany from invading each other, so it's sometimes hard to develop a true attachment to a nationality that has so obviously been manufactured.

The King of Belgium, Albert the Second, and the Parliament of Belgium have now both agreed to extend the term of Prime Minister Verhofstadt until March. By then, the hope is that the situation will finally be resolved, and a new government and Prime Minister will be able to take over. But do not hold your breath.

Loyalist installed in Togo

In the aftermath of his party's re-election, on December 3, President Faure Gnassingb of Togo promoted his minister of urban development, Mr. Komlan Mally, to Prime Minister. A largely unknown presidential loyalist, his appointment angered the opposition parties, who were naively expecting a more conciliatory nominee. Sour grapes, says the President, noting that if the opposition people wanted their guy to be president they should have won the majority of seats in the parliament.

Latvian leader resigns amid- what else- allegations!

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis of Latvia resigned on December 5. In office since 2004, Kalvitis had recently become "embattled," which in media-speak means his friends-to-enemies ratio was getting more and more lopsided.

Kalvitis had become unpopular because he tried to fire the Latvian anti-corruption officer, who in turn said that firing the anti-corruption officer was a very corrupt thing to do. So Kalvitis ended up resigning after much acrimony and outrage, both from the opposition and within his own administration.

On December 20, the President of Lativa appointed former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis to be Kalvitis' replacement. Godmanis, who last held office way back in 1990-1993, is a bit of a elder statesman in Latvia, having served as a key anti-Communist leader during the Soviet days. When Latvia left the USSR, he was appointed the first post-Soviet Prime Minister, though the country quickly spiraled into economic turmoil and he had to resign two years later. He never left politics, though, and continued to serve as a member of parliament and cabinet minister, including a job under Prime Minister Kalvitis.

Ukraine gets second chance at woman-rule

So there is this controversial Princess Leia-esque woman in the Ukraine named Yuliya Tymoshenko.

In the 90's, she was president of the biggest oil firm in the country, the United Energy Systems of Ukraine. She became one of the country's richest women, but according to her official biography on her website, her company was too successful for its own good. Apparently the greedy and jealous Ukranian government decided to sue her on trumped up charges, in order to get their grubby hands on her profits. Less biased sources say that Ms. Tymoshenko was a crooked businesswoman who was probably committing all sorts of crimes of her own— embezzling money, dodging taxes, giving kickbacks to her pals, that sort of thing.

But anyhow, according to her bio:

"The succession of events left only two choices for Yulia Tymoshenko: to stay in the big business and be engaged in confrontation with the state officials or to become a politician and fight for the independence of business from authority and for the state liberalization"
She chose the latter course, and became a conservative politician in the Ukrainian parliament, opposing the socialist, Russian-backed government of President Leonid Kuchma. When Kuchma resigned in 2004, his party and the Putin regime tried to engineer the election of Viktor Yanukovych with much corruption and shenanigans.

Outrage over this triggered a series of events known as the "Orange Revolution" which eventually culimated in the rejection of Mr. Yanukovych and the election of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who became president in 2005 despite nearly dying in a poisoning plot.

Shortly after taking office, President Yushchenko
appointed Ms. Tymoshenko as his prime minister. But clashes soon followed. Tymoshenko favors very hardline libertarian economic policies, and in power she pursued an aggressive agenda of privatization and cutbacks that divided the Orange coalition that had brought her to power. So the President fired her, and she turned against him, founding her own political party, which she of course named after herself, as she is quite a vain woman.

In this March's election, her party won a plurality of seats in the Ukranian parliament, and on December 18 she was formally elected Prime Minister by the parliament once again. PresidentYushchenko has agreed to work with her, but let's see if the feuds of the past resurface.

Nauru

The tiny island country of Nauru impeached their president on December 19.

I will admit that I knew very little about Nauru prior to this, other than it is a tiny tropical place somewhere in the South Pacific. But apparently they have a very whacko political culture over there.

Nauru was originally a German colony, then was administered by the Australians after the First World War, then it became a fully independent republic in 1968. This guy named HammerDeRoburt, who was the supreme chief of the island or whatever during the colonial days, became the first president.

Early on, President Hammer (fun name) established a convention that if he didn't get his own way, he would resign. And then when the parliament conceded to whatever issue he was pushing, they would agree to re-elect him. So Hammer resigned four times and was re-elected nine times, which doesn't add up mathematically I know, but you have to understand that sometimes he was just calling parliament's bluff.

Hammer died in 1992, and there were a bunch of new presidents after him, who all resigned and were re-elected a bunch of times. Sometimes they were also impeached, then re-elected. They've had around 30 presidential terms in 40 years as a result, though less than a dozen actual presidents.

This madness works because there are only 18 people in the Nauru parliament, which makes it about the same size as the student council at my university. In other countries, resignations and impeachments and things seem dramatic, but Nauru is so small such events are really just little petty games of personal vendettas and politicking.

Ludwig Scotty was elected president of Nauru in May of 2003. Four months later he was impeached, and Mr. Ren Harris was elected president for the fourth time in his political career (previous terms: 1999-2000, 2001-2003, and a different period of 2003). In June of 2004 President Harris was impeached again, and Ludwig Scotty became president for the second time.

Following President Scotty's (they have such fun names in that country) second impeachment on December 19, newcomer Marcus Stephen was elected to replace him. President Stephen has never been president before, so let us all hope that his career will be filled with many happy impeachments and re-elections.