Tag Archives: election

Implications of the Israeli Elections

Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party defined pre-election polls and won a resounding (and surprising) victory in yesterday’s election, capturing 23.2 percent of the popular vote (and 30 seats), finishing well ahead of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, which garnered 18.7 percent of the vote (and 24 seats).

Polling data had suggested that Netanyahu’s party would lose control of the Knesset (parliament), causing Netanyahu to tack to the right in recent days. In campaign interviews over the past few days, Netanyahu declared his strong opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, effectively declaring there would be no two-state solution during his tenure. He also promised to expand Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem, the portion of the city viewed by Palestinians as the future capital of their country. Earlier, Netanyahu had also declared a hardline stance against Iran. On all three issues, Netanyahu broke with the United States. The results are also likely to catalyze pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move forward with a human rights lawsuit against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

What do you think? How will Netanyahu’s reelection affect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program?

Presidential Politics and US Foreign Policy

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney last week sparked a new controversy when he criticized President Barak Obama’s response to the ongoing crisis in the Libya. On Tuesday, just hours after US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed in an attack by Islamic militants against the US Embassy in Benghazi, Romney asserted that the United States should not apologize for American values to appease Islamic extremists.

However, Romney soon came under intense criticism, including criticism from within his own party, for distorting the chain of events in Libya and appearing to try to score political points from the tragedy. The statement Romney referenced in his comments was apparently issued by the US Embassy in Libya before the attack which killed Stephens and his colleagues, in an effort to diffuse the growing crisis there. That statement, which was not approved by State Department or Administration officials in Washington before its release, read in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Because of missteps during his recent trips to Great Britain and Israel, Romney’s foreign policy credentials were already under suspicion. And following his statements on the Libyan attacks, Romney suffered even more criticism. In its coverage, CBS News asked, “How Badly did Romney Botch His Response to Libya Attack?” Their answer: pretty badly. A growing chorus of critiques from key Republican figures has been heard. Among those chiming in have been Steve Schmidt, senior campaign advisor to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, John Sununu, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R, NY). Others, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner have been silent.

However, it remains to be seen how Romney’s misstep will affect the presidential election. Obama was already polling ahead of Romney, following the closure of the convention season. And there’s an old belief in presidential politics that foreign policy doesn’t win an election. Still, with the campaign season growing short, Romney would likely better be served focusing on the domestic economy rather than developments in the Middle East if he hopes to best Obama come November.

What do you think: Was it a mistake for the Romney campaign to release its statement? Will it affect the November election? Or will the electorate focus on domestic issues instead?

Development, China Style

Angola's Presidential Ballot

Angola’s Presidential Ballot

Angolans are voting in the country’s second national election since the end of a 27 year civil war a decade ago. Incumbent President José Eduardo dos Santos, whose ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) has governed the country since 1979, is expended to soundly win reelection.

Angola today is a far cry from the country ravaged by a 27 year war involving three separate liberation movements and external intervention by the former Soviet Union, Cuba, the United States, and apartheid South Africa. That war, which resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 Angolans, left deep scars on the country. But today, Angola is growing rapidly. Angola is home to extensive oil reserves, and has experienced rapid, double-digit economic growth since the 1990s. Between 2001 and 2010, Angola experienced the highest rate of economic growth in eh world, averaging 11.1 percent per year.

But Angola’s development has not been without its shortcomings. Despite its rapid economic growth, most Angolans remain desperately poor. Life expectancy and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world. And economic inequality has increased, as a relatively privileged few benefit from the country’s newfound wealth while most continue to live in poverty.

As the New York Time notes,

Angola is one of several African countries that have molded their governments, in an unspoken fashion, on what is widely known as the Chinese model. Leaders who have been in power for decades in countries like Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda have delivered considerable economic growth and, by some measures, improvements in health, education and development.

Leaders of these nations, all of them scarred by internal conflict, have offered their citizens an implicit bargain of development and stability in exchange for robust democracy.

An election poster of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda

An election poster of the ruling MPLA party in Luanda

The exact nature of the “Chinese model of development” is contested. Nevertheless, at its core, Chinese development was defined by a combination of selective economic liberalization combined with continued political control. China’s economic opening was the result of specific and selective political decisions made by the Chinese Communist Party. Further, Chinese development brought into question the link between democracy and capitalism that hand long been assumed in the development literature. Angola, like many other developing countries, appears to be moving towards that model, encouraging economic liberalization while restricting political liberalization and democratization.

Certainly there is historical reason to question the connection between democracy and development. South Korea, for example, experienced rapid economic growth by selectively liberalizing the economy (in the context of extensive state regulations, much like China) but simultaneously maintained a repressive and undemocratic government. Indeed, South Korean economic development, which averaged an impressive 9.2 percent per year from 1961 to 1979, occurred largely while the country was a military dictatorship. Clearly the relationship between democracy and development is not clear cut.

What do you think? Does China present an alternative model for economic development in Africa? How does Chinese development differ from the historical patterns of industrialization and development experienced in the West? And perhaps most importantly, how are democracy and development connected?

British Elections, 2010

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

The British elections scheduled to take place on May 6 are shaping up to be very interesting. The initial lead enjoyed by the Conservatives has evaporated. Although Labour has not been able to overcome their failings in the polls, the Liberal Democrats—the perennial third party of British politics—is making a contest of it. On Thursday night, the country held its first live televised debate between the three major candidates for Prime Minister. Most accounts of the debate  suggest that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, won the debate, with both Gordon Brown, the leader of the Labour Party and current Prime Minister, and James Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, performing poorly. Polling after the debate confirms this analysis, with the Liberal Democrats enjoying a considerable bump in support and the election becoming a statistical dead heat between England’s three parties.

If the election results hold, the British parliament will become a very interesting place indeed. A coalition government would likely be necessary, forcing one or more of the larger parties to seek partners in their effort to establish a government. While such coalitions are common in the parliamentary systems of continental Europe, England has traditionally maintained a two-party system like the United States, with Labour and the Conservatives alternating control of the legislature much like the Democrats and Republicans alternate in the United States. Coalition governments tend to be less stable and usually force parties to compromise their agendas with other parties.

What’s more, Nick Clegg would likely become the kingmaker in any new government, providing the support of the traditional third party of British politics, the Liberal Democrats, to the coalition partner in exchange for policy concessions. Such concessions would certainly force either party to the left.

The British elections could potentially carry other important implications as well. The Economist’s Charlemagne’s Notebook blog contends this week that observers in the European Union are hoping for a Liberal Democrat win because they view the Lib Dem’s leader, Nick Clegg, as being the most pro-Europe of the major candidates. His experience working in both the European Commission and the European Parliament certainly lends credence to this possibility.

All of this depends on whether the Liberal Democrats are able to translate their popular support into seats in the parliament. The first-past-the-post electoral system of the United Kingdom (like that of the United States) does not directly translate popular support into representation. The candidate that wins the plurality of votes in a riding (or district) wins that seat, even if they fail to secure a majority of the vote. If, for example, the Liberal Democrats win 30 percent of the vote across the country, but that support is evenly distributed, they could win far fewer seats—perhaps as little as 15-20 percent of the seats. Conversely, Labour and Conservaites, who enjoy geographically concentrated representation, may be able to translate a similar 30 percent of the vote into as much as 40 percent of the seats in parliament.

Whatever happens, the British election will be an interesting one to watch. Follow along at the BBC’s Election 2010 website.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President Barack Obama has been busy on the diplomatic front this week. On Thursday, Obama announced his administration would cancel President George Bush’s proposed deployment of a missile defense system to Eastern Europe.  The missile defense system would have involved deployment of radar systems to Poland and the Czech Republic, a move which the Russian government insisted undermined its own national security and necessitated the expansion of its missile systems into Eastern Europe. Although the Russian government denied there was a quid-pro-quo agreement for the U.S. move, the Obama administration is hoping that the change in U.S. policy will help improve relations with Russia and lead to greater cooperation in other areas, including addressing the situation in Iran. However, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded to the announcement with a demand for greater U.S. concessions, including support for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, leading some analysts to speculate that the United States had miscalculated if it believed that its policy change in missile defense would result in a dramatic shift in Russian policy.

On Saturday, the White House announced that President Obama would hold a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba on Tuesday. Obama hopes that the meeting will restart peace talks, which reached an impasse last year. U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy to address the stalled talks for more than a week, but Netanyahu remains under domestic political pressure not to make any concessions on the expansion of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, a key obstacle for the Palestinians.

In other news from the past week:

1. Last week’s meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party raised questions about who will succeed Hu Jintao as the country’s leader. Most analysts had believed that Vice President Xi Jinping was Hu’s heir apparent, poised to take control of the party (and the country) after Hu steps down in 2012. When Xi was named to the Politburo in 2009, it was assumed that his elevation would follow the same path as Hu’s. Hu’s political power rests in his control of three offices: Secretary General of the Communist Party, President of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi was expected to be nominated to succeed Hu as Chairman of the Central Military Commission on Friday, but no announcement from the Central Committee was forthcoming. Although some analysts believe that Xi’s appointment may be announced at a later date, others believe that Hu may be trying to retain control of key positions, including head of the military, after his 2012 retirement.

2. Efforts to resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan continued over the weekend, as closed-door meetings between foreign envoys, opposition leaders, and representatives of President Hamid Karzai discussed the future of the country. Although President Karzai was declared the winner of last month’s presidential elections by the Afghan elections commission, most observers believe that the vote was badly flawed, with the European Union suggesting that as many as 1 million of Karzai’s votes (which would represent more than ¼ of all votes cast in the election) should be viewed as suspect. Seeking to address the political standoff, the West is pushing for a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan that would see Karzai claim the presidency but would considerably weaken the office, transferring significant political authority to appointed technocrats.

3. On Thursday, Islamic insurgents launched a suicide bomb attack against African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia, in a move retaliating against a U.S. strike that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nebhan, a suspected al-Qaeda leader. The African Union force, comprised primarily of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, remains understaffed despite being responsible for addressing the threat posed by Islamic radicals intent on toppling the fragile government.

4. The government of Venezuela has been busy courting foreign assistance in developing its oil production facilities. The Venezulan government last week announced the discovery of a “very large” pocket of natural gas offshore, following a similar announcement by the government of Brazil. The Venezulean government announced that it had signed a $20 billion deal with the Russian government and a $16 billion with the Chinese government to expand oil production in the country by as much as 1.35 million barrels per day.

5. The campaign around the Irish ratification vote on the Treaty of Lisbon, scheduled for October 2, has entered full swing. Charlie McCreevy, Ireland’s European Commissioner, delivered a strongly-worded speech to the business community in Dublin suggesting that “international investors would take flight” from the country if it rejected the Treaty. The Treaty, viewed as vital to the continued growth and expansion of the European Union, was rejected by Irish voters in 2008, sparking a furious round of diplomacy to get the Treaty passed. But many observers are forecasting another no vote by Ireland in October could lead to the defeat of the Treaty in other Euroskeptic countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week for the U.S. economy. According to figures released on Thursday, the U.S. trade deficit jumped by 16.3 percent to $32 billion in June, a figure sharply higher than the $27 billion that had been forecast. The dramatic increase in imports was fueled by the “Cash for Clunkers” program, which led to a dramatic increase in auto imports. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that the poverty rate had increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent in 2008. The poverty rate, which is defined as the number of people with an annual income of less than $11,200 (or less than $22,000 for a family of four), increased as a result of the global economic downturn. Home foreclosures also remain near their record high level. The troubled status of the U.S. economy led the Federal Reserve to indicate that it would be unlikely to raise interest rates in the first half of next year.

In news from outside the U.S. economy last week:

1. A trade dispute between the United States and China may be headed to the World Trade Organization for resolution. The United States last week imposed a new duty on tires manufactured in China, less than one week after it also imposed higher tariffs on Chinese steel piping. A spokesperson for the Chinese government condemned the move as protectionism, warning that “a chain reaction of trade protectionist measures that could slow the current pace of revival in the world economy.” Observers fear that the Chinese could respond with higher tariffs on U.S. agricultural and automotive exports, potentially sparking a trade war. But in an interesting editorial in the Financial Times, Clyde Prestowiz argued that the imposition of higher tariffs on Chinese exports to the Untied States could potentially help the push for free trade.

2. With the German election just a couple of weeks away, campaigning is in full force, and observers are already working through the numerous possible coalition arrangements. But in perhaps the most interesting development to date, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück last week called for the imposition of a new global tax on international financial transaction, the proceeds of which would be used to repay governments for the cost of fiscal stimulus packages and bank rescue operations. While not dismissing the idea out of hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the proposal “electioneering.” Steinbrück’s call follows a similar proposal made by the Chair of the British Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner, and could make for interesting discussions at the upcoming G20 summit.

3. The counting process in the Afghan elections continues to drag on. Although incumbent President Hamid Karzai now has enough votes to win the disputed presidential election outright, according to the most recent results of the Independent Election Commission, widespread irregularities have led to calls for partial recounts. On Sunday, the IEC agreed to move forward with discussions on a recount, but it stopped short of spelling out precisely what votes would or would not be included. The Electoral Complains Commission, a body established by the United Nations to observe elections and investigate allegations of fraud, noted “clear and convincing” evidence of fraud and vote rigging in southern provinces which went heavily towards Karzai.

4. The first high-level contact between the government of Zimbabwe and the west took place on Sunday, as the European Union’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development and the Swedish Prime Minister (who also holds the European Union’s rotating presidency) met with representatives of the Zimbabwean government in Harare. The meeting is the first high-level contact since the European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002. While the European Union delegation remained noncommittal regarding the future direction of contact with the Zimbabwean government, stating only that “We’re entering a new phase. The [power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe] was an important step forward, but much more needs to be done. The key to re-engagement is the full implementation of the political agreement.” The status of the power sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe remains uncertain, as President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, continue to struggle over the distribution of political authority within the country.

5. The government of Guatemala last week declared a “state of calamity” in response to the widespread hunger gripping the country. The World Food Programme estimated that the country would require an immediate shipment of 20 tons of food the worst affected areas in order to stave off starvation. Alvar Colom, Guatemala’s president, said that global climate change was affecting the El Niño, causing a massive drought in the northeastern portion of the country. But Colom was also critical of the high level of inequality in the country, observing that “There is food, but those who go hungry have no money to buy it.” Critics also note that poorly defined land rights, narcoviolence, and alleged corruption have also undermined food production. According to the World Food Programme, half of all children under five in Guatemala suffer from malnutrition.

And in a bonus story for this week:

6. After more than three months since the general election, the political situation in Lebanon remains cloudy. On Thursday, Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western majority, resigned as prime minister designee, despite performing well-above expectations in June’s elections. According to Hariri, the country’s parliamentary minority blocked efforts to develop a coalition government, leaving the country in a period of political uncertainty.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been a weekend of high-profile political resignations in the United States and China. On Sunday Morning, President Barack Obama’s top environmental policy adviser, Van Jones, reigned after it became public he had signed a petition alleging U.S. government involvement in the September 11th attacks. Jones had also been a key player in the Color of Change group, which has spent considerable money trying to influence the tenor of the health care debate in the United States. His resignation comes at a poor time for the administration, which is simultaneously trying to salvage passage of health insurance reform legislation in the U.S. Congress, address the ongoing economic downturn, and beginning to consider efforts to address climate change and green jobs, Jones’ area of expertise.

On Saturday, the Chinese government fired the top party official in Urumqi, where ethnic unrest has been raging between ethnic Uighurs and the majority Han. Li Zhi, the Chinese Community Party Secretary for the city of Urumqi, was replaced by Zhu Jailun, who had previously served as the head of the regional law-and-order committee. Li’s firing has also raised speculation that regional party boss, Wang Lequan, may also be forced from office. In firing Li, the Chinese government is hoping to quell unrest and prevent another outbreak of violence like that of July, when almost 200 people were killed in ethnic violence.

And on Friday, the head of Google’s China operations, Lee Kai-Fu, resigned. Lee was responsible for the launch of Google.cn, Google’s Chinese-language search engine. But Google’s operations in China have been marred by tensions with the Chinese government and debates over the degree to which the company should allow the Chinese government to censor search results. Lee’s resignation came amid a new round of tensions, with some inside Google arguing that the company should reconsider its efforts to break into the Chinese market.

In other news from the last week:

1. The G20 concluded two days of meetings in London on Saturday with a preliminary outline for tougher regulations on financial institutions. While the final statement stopped short of imposing limits on financial bonuses, it would increase the size of capital reserves and require the development of “living wills” for banks, and require that banks retain a portion of loans they sell as asset-backed securities. But the G20 avoided dealing with some of the most controversial elements of banking reform, choosing instead to forward those issues to the Financial Stability Board, an institution comprised of central bank governors and treasury secretaries from around the world. 

2. The situation in Afghanistan continues to be marred by uncertainty. On Friday, a NATO airstrike against two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban killed an estimated 90 people, nearly all of whom were civilians, according to local village elders. The airstrike provoked an angry response among Afghans, and represented yet another setback for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. On Sunday it became apparent that the NATO airstrike was ordered by German commanders on the ground, a fact which will likely play an important role in upcoming German elections. The European Union issued a statement criticizing the airstrike on Saturday, one day before EU foreign ministers were scheduled to meet to consider efforts to improve stabilization efforts in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, results from the Afghan election continue to trickle in. By Sunday, the Independent Electoral Commission had tabulated returns from just almost ¾ of country’s polling stations. So far, incumbent President Hamid Karzai leads his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah 48.6% to 31.7%. Under Afghan law, the winner must receive an absolute majority of votes cast, so if Karzai is unable to secure at least 50% of the vote, a runoff election would be held in October. But accusations of voting rigging continue to be raised, particularly by Abdullah, who contends that the vote was characterized by widespread fraud. The IEC announced that it had excluded an unknown number of votes from 447 polling stations in which suspicious returns had been found. But the scope of electoral fraud remains unknown.

3. The World Trade Organization issued its preliminary ruling in the U.S. dispute against EU assistance to aircraft manufacturer Airbus. Although the report is still confidential and the final report will not be issued for several months, the WTO panel found that some of the estimated €3 billion offered by the EU to Airbus was an unfair subsidy. Nevertheless, both sides are claiming victory. The WTO panel dismissed 70% of the U.S. claims against the EU and several of its member states, including France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, which the U.S. had claimed offered as much as $15 billion in illegal loans since the 1970s. Although the United States is celebrating the decision, the European Union is withholding its formal reaction until its case against U.S. subsidies to Boeing is resolved. In a case filed at the WTO several years ago, the European Union accused the United States of offering more than $27 billion in illegal assistance in the form of tax breaks, research contracts, and defense spending. A ruling on that case is expected within the next few months. 

4. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moving forward with a plan to expand settlement activity in the West Bank, offering approval for the construction of hundreds of new homes. The United States government was quick to condemn the move, asserting, according to White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs, “The U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop.” Netanyahu is under pressure from rightwing member of his coalition to remove restrictions on new settlements in the West Bank. But the status of settlements in the West Bank remains a key stumbling block in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and Israel’s decision to increase settlement activity will likely undermine hopes for progress in rekindling stalled peace talks when President Obama’s Middle East Envoy, George Mitchell, visits Israel next week.

5. Last week’s presidential elections in the West African state of Gabon sparked violence after the ruling party candidate, Ali Ben Bongo, claimed victory. Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, had been Africa’s longest serving ruler, presiding over Gabon since 1967. Under his rule, Gabon’s oil and wood resources were used to expand his personal wealth.  At the time of his death, he was under investigation by the French government, which had identified 39 properties, 9 cars, and more than 70 bank accounts owned by the dictator in France alone. Sunday’s announcement that Ali Ben Bongo had won a plurality of the vote to win the presidency sparked unrest by the supporters of his two rivals, former interior minister Andre Mba Obame and opposition figure Pierre Mamboundou, each of whom received approximately 25 percent of the vote. Supporters of Obame and Mamboundou targeted the French embassy and facilities owned by foreign oil companies. But according to the French government, the election “took place in acceptable conditions.”