Archive for January, 2010

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Moldova’s Political Brinksmanship

January 25, 2010

Vlad Filat - Getty Images

Moldova’s Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, stopped by Washington on Thursday to sign an agreement with the State Department’s Millennium Challenge Corporation. Under the $262 million “poverty reduction grant,” Moldova will receive funding for a variety of transportation, agriculture, and irrigation projects.

For Filat, leader of Europe’s poorest country, the funding—and its associated political benefits—could not come a moment too soon. Filat’s liberal four-party coalition came to power following parliamentary elections that ousted the former Soviet state’s long-ruling Communist Party. The coalition, which has 53 seats in Moldova’s 101-member parliament, has been under intense pressure since coming to power last summer. It has so far failed to find enough parliamentary support from the Communist opposition to elect a president—which requires a 61-vote supermajority—meaning snap elections are likely to be forced this year. These elections would be Moldova‘s third in just over a year.

Speaking at an event organized by CSIS later that day, Filat said of Moldova’s political deadlock, “We cannot allow that this vicious circle of political games and elections continue endlessly.”

“If we do not approach with ability and responsibility, this inheritance of the past could compromise the European dream of the new generation and diminish the chances of this to have a decent life in a normal European state.”

-by Brian Forest

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Will Uribe Get a Third Term?

January 20, 2010

A woman stands near a poster that in Spanish reads "No more Uribe. No to re-election", in a street of Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia, on September 17, 2009. Polls show Uribe would have a large lead over potential rivals should he decide to run again in this country of 44 million people. At the beginning of the month, Uribe cleared a major hurdle to serving a third term as lawmakers approved holding a referendum on whether he could run again, though the move must still be endorsed by the Constitutional Court before a referendum can be held. RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images

With elections slated for May 30th, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s second term in office is fast drawing to a close. Elected in 2002, he has served the last eight years with distinction.  Even the ever-reserved Economist summed up his two terms enthusiastically:
 
Mr. Uribe “has made his country a better and safer place. Through tireless and determined leadership and by expanding the security forces, backed by American aid, he has reduced the FARC guerrillas from a mortal threat to the democratic state to a scattered…band. He persuaded tens of thousands of right-wing paramilitaries to disband… Greater security has helped to bring a revival of economic growth and national self-confidence”

At the end of eight years of stellar leadership, however, Mr. Uribe is not ready to step aside.  Despite Colombia’s term limits (which currently limit a leader to two stints as president), he is actively pushing a referendum to amend the constitution to allow him a go at a third term.  Mr. Uribe already enjoyed a successful campaign for just such a measure in 2006.  Four years on, judging from his wild popularity and last week’s endorsement by the country’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez, there is no reason to doubt a second triumph.

Why then is the very same publication that printed the glowing praise of the Colombian President now calling for his retirement?

It is easy to criticize the threats to democracy posed by men like Hugo Chavez and the Iranian Ayatollahs.  For them, politics and policy are one and the same, and because of ideology their constituents suffer at the hands of ineptitude.  It might seem rash to compare Chavez’s utter disregard for his country’s institutions with Mr. Uribe’s genuine concern for his people and their government, but the true test of a democracy is its capacity to transfer power peacefully.   Colombia does not have a good track record when it comes to this essential function, and Mr. Uribe’s unwillingness to let go of the reins threatens to undo his good work.

The risks are many and serious and Mr. Uribe has good reason to want to stay. Take the case of Pakistan, where good leadership nearly prevented catastrophe.  The strong willed leadership of Pervez Musharraf held the country peaceably (mostly) together (although loosely) for nearly a decade.  Now, after finally relinquishing power in 2008, we may be watching a nuclear state fall to terrorists.

The same is unlikely to occur in Colombia, and the Pakistani comparison serves as hyperbole. It is true, though, that less than 10 years ago many observers were predicting the failure of the Colombian state. 

Today, things are very different.  The country is safer and richer.  So much so, the Travel Channel even filmed an episode of a popular show there recently, granting Colombia the ultimate first world endorsement.

If and when Mr. Uribe is successful in securing a third term as Colombia’s president, most Colombians will sigh with relief.  But if 2014 holds more of the same, it may be too late to save Colombia’s bright future.

-By Nathaniel Foote

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Another Blow for Brown

January 8, 2010

Gordon Brown just can’t catch a break.

Just months away from a general election, the British prime minister has been forced to deal with yet another intra-party challenge to his leadership — this time by two former ministers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon. The pair penned a letter to MPs of Brown’s Labour party on Wednesday requesting a secret ballot on his leadership.

Brown has tried to waive off the episode as a “storm in a teacup” and worked forcefully to rally his Cabinet around him. While it’s uncertain that such a vote would even be legal under Labour rules, far more worrying for the prime minister, are reports that Hewitt and Hoon were urged to move at the behest of Brown’s own deputy, Harriet Harman. According to The Telegraph, a Labour rebel was quoted as saying, “There is no question that Harriet put Patricia up to this. Patricia clearly thought that if she moved, Harriet would come out in support. Then it didn’t happen.” There has also be speculation that David Milliband, Brown’s foreign minister, encouraged the move.

Both Harman and Milliband are seen as likely candidates to succeed Brown should be step down. The opposition Conservatives are well ahead in the polls and, barring a leadership change, few give Labour much chance of winning the election this spring. Should a new leader succeed in elbowing Brown aside before the election, polls point to the possibility of a “hung Parliament,” where no party has an overall majority and Labour could theoretically remain in power.

While Hewitt is seen as close to the Blarite wing of the party, Hoon served in Brown’s cabinet as chief whip, one of the most senior positions within the government. There are reports that Brown offered Hoon a job at NATO just days before his leadership challenge.

-by Brian J. Forest

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How Will the Dominoes Fall?

January 8, 2010

Human rights activists and the international community as a whole often consider the ultimate goal of their work in a certain area to be the eventual diffusion of rights protections, peace or development to other countries in the region. Knowing this, the situation can quickly become nightmarish when international observers are forced to watch as rights abuses and chaos spread quickly from one country to another.

This is the situation that’s potentially being played out in sub-Saharan Africa with regards to legislating homophobia. While the news of Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexual legislation is more than troublesome on its own, it become even more disconcerting when one is forced to consider the possibility that this scenario could be spreading across the continent.

Homophobia is already widespread throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa for a number of complex reasons (many of which are detailed here), but the current legislation proposed in Uganda may be igniting passions throughout the region and inspiring a rash of anti-LGBT policy creation. Citing evidence from Rwanda, Kate Dailey at Newsweek does an excellent job of evaluating this so-called African Domino Theory. And new reports from Malawi continue to suggest that this theory may have some merit.

What this theory ignores, however, is that the dominoes could essentially fall either way. There has been an opposite (if not equal) reaction to this anti-gay push: African LGBT activists have become bolder, more vocal and more recognized on the international stage. Ugandan activist Val Kalende has become world-renowned for her bravery in speaking out against her government’s treatment of homosexuals, while the possible clampdown in Malawi was spurred by two men putting their freedom and safety at risk to allegedly engage in an illegal same-sex marriage

For concerned members of the international community this phenomenon is potentially good news. While many African governments respond negatively to policy recommendations from the West, human rights activists are often welcomed by determined, but often monetarily and numbers-challenged, LGBT groups in the region.

Only time will tell how the situation in Uganda will play out and whether it will have an effect, in one way or another, on the rest of the continent. Until then, international observers will have to remain especially vigilant when it comes to monitoring the safety of the region’s sexual minorities.

-by John Bavoso

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A Lost Decade?

January 7, 2010

As we reflect on the past decade in the United States, one cannot help but feel a certain nostalgia—albeit a somewhat misplaced one—for the more benign days of the late 20th century, when Monica Lewinsky and O.J. Simpson devoured hours of media coverage, and the U.S. stock and housing markets were both booming in an age of growing middle-class prosperity. Today, siting amidst a world of financial stagnation and terror aplenty, it is easy to forget that, while the United States may not be hegemon it once was, the global community as a whole appears to have actually progressed a great deal, and not always at the expense of America

The 2000s were a decade of adolescent superpowers making their way in the world: the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and Russia come to mind.  Shanghai and Dubai, rather than New York and London, appeared to be sailing ahead without a care in the world, oblivious to customary ideas of what it meant to grow at an “acceptable” pace. To many Americans, the rise of these teenage superpowers portended a frightening contraction of American power. 

There is folly in this reasoning, however: in a more economically interdependent world, we all rise and fall together. China’s economy depends a great deal on its ability to export goods cheaply to relatively wealthy consumers in the U.S. and the West, and the Dubai model is—as recent history has taught us—fueled by Western financial speculation as much as it is by growth in productive capacity.

Even terror—this phenomenon that appeared to explode this decade on the American scene—much of it can be attributed to the growing pains of a reforming Muslim and Arab world, as uncomfortable with its own obvious faults as it is with Western intervention in the region.  Indeed, lest anyone forget—Iraq today is a functioning, relatively liberal democracy (albeit a somewhat corrupt one). Nearly a decade ago, when this author visited Iraq, there were tens of thousands of portraits of the “dear leader” Saddam hanging around Baghdad, reminded visitors and citizens alike that freedom was not on the menu in Iraq.

While Afghanistan and Pakistan remain unsettled and the financial markets are only slowly starting to creep back towards a state of normalcy, one can utilize this seemingly “lost decade” as an important lesson learned for the American hyper power.  Humility and modesty are indeed virtues of the truly powerful, and perhaps the America of the 2010s will build upon the many “lessons learned” to grow and prosper in a more thoughtful, middle-aged kind of way. 

But then again, maybe we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past…who really knows?  What is known to this author, despite the doom and gloom of the past decade, is that all the building blocks of a truly revitalized United States—and with it, the rest of the globalized world—are sitting quietly before us. The next steps—either forward or backwards—are up to us.

-by Rami Turayhi