Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hard power and soft power

The most recent (March 25) issue of The Economist has a great pair of articles. One on China's use of soft power and another on Russia's use of hard power.

China is spending billions to make the world love it
IMAGES of China beam out from a giant electronic billboard on Times Square in the heart of New York city: ancient temples, neon-lit skyscrapers and sun-drenched paddy fields. Xinhua, a news service run by the Chinese government, is proclaiming the “new perspective” offered by its English-language television channel. In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, children play beneath hoardings advertising swanky, Chinese-built apartment complexes in the city. Buyers are promised “a new lifestyle”. Across the world, children study Mandarin in programmes funded by the Chinese state. Some of them in Delaware don traditional Chinese robes and bow to their teachers on Confucius Day.

… [T]he Chinese government has been trying to sell the country itself as a brand—one that has the ability to attract people from other countries in the way that America does with its culture, products and values…

In the Middle East, Russia is reasserting its power
THE black fur hat looked odd on a Libyan warlord. But fur is de rigueur in wintertime Moscow, which has become an essential stop for Middle Eastern leaders like Khalifa Haftar, who visited twice in 2016. This month his rival, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, dropped by. Jordan’s King Abdullah, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu have all stopped at the Kremlin for audiences with Vladimir Putin this year.

The visitors are a sign of Russia’s growing activity in the Middle East. “The policy is wider than just Syria,” says Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank. Russia’s interests in the region include security, arms sales and oil. But most important, the Middle East offers a platform to reinforce Russia’s status as a global power. “Those who have strong positions there will have strong positions in the world,” says Fyodor Lukyanov of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, a government advisory body.

Serving as a power-broker in Syria has helped Russia to cultivate relationships. It strives to maintain contacts across the Sunni-Shia and Israeli-Arab divides. While fighting alongside Iran in Syria, Mr Putin helped broker an oil-supply pact with Saudi Arabia. He has also developed a rapport with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repaired ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the downing of a Russian jet over Syria, and maintained friendly links with Israel’s Mr Netanyahu, even angling for a more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

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Murderous journalism

Politics is deadly in Russia. In Mexico journalism is deadly.

Miroslava Breach third Mexican journalist to be killed this month
Breach
A journalist has been shot dead in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the third to be killed in the country this month.

Miroslava Breach was shot eight times in her car outside her home in the state capital, Chihuahua…

Mrs Breach had reported on organised crime, drug-trafficking and corruption for a national newspaper, La Jornada, and a regional newspaper, Norte de Juarez.

The gunmen left a note saying: "For being a loud-mouth."…

The Committee to Protect Journalists… says 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992.

See also: List of journalists and media workers killed in Mexico


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Murderous politics

Russian politics can be deadly.

Russian Agent Killed Lawmaker in Kiev, Ukraine Officials Say
The assassin who gunned down a prominent Russian opposition figure on a sidewalk in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev was identified by Ukrainian officials on Friday as a 28-year-old Russian agent…
Voronenkov's body removed
The gunman was himself grievously wounded by a bodyguard for the target, Denis N. Voronenkov, and subsequently died in the hospital. The allegation was immediately dismissed by Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, as “absurd.”

Mr. Voronenkov was a member of the Russian Parliament before defecting to Ukraine last year…

A former prosecutor before joining Parliament, Mr. Voronenkov had socialized with people in Mr. Putin’s circle…

Critics and opponents of Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have been assassinated in a variety of ways over the years, often in spectacular fashion so as to send a message, Kremlin watchers say. The most celebrated was the poisoning of Alexander V. Litvinenko with a rare and deadly radioactive isotope, polonium 210, administered in a drink in the Millennium Hotel in London in 2006.

When the prominent opposition figure Boris Y. Nemtsov was murdered in 2015, his body fell on the sidewalk of a bridge with the Kremlin and the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral as a backdrop.

Sometimes the killings are more prosaic. Numerous potential witnesses to the death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of neglect in a Russian prison, have disappeared, been poisoned or suffered “heart attacks” that were later found to be the result of ingesting a rare Chinese herb.

See also:Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways

See also:Key Putin Opponent Arrested in Moscow During Anti-Corruption Protests



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Friday, March 24, 2017

Media integration in China

I suspect that media integration as conceived by leaders of the Communist Party of China means something very different from that imagined by Westerners.

Senior CPC leader calls for media integration
A senior Communist Party of China (CPC) leader, on Wednesday called for media integration and creating favorable public opinion for the upcoming party congress.

Liu Yunshan
Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, made the remarks during an inspection tour of the People's Daily.

Liu urged staff on the newspaper to make more new media products and extend their influence to the Internet. He also stressed that new media should shoulder social responsibility and guide online public opinion.

"Media integration needs to abide the CPC's ideology and the Marxist idea of the press," Liu said. "Content is the key to the development of media integration, and more new media workers must be trained."…

Liu said the most important issue for the Chinese media this year was preparing for the 19th National Congress of the CPC.

He called for strengthening political responsibility, enhancing representation of mainstream public opinion, and providing opinion for the stability of the economy and society.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does China need more than criminal law?

The more things change in China, the more obvious is the need for civil law.

China finally starts to write a proper civil code
THE National People’s Congress (NPC)… wrapped up its annual session… Usually its business is unremarkable. This year, however, a piece of legislation that was passed on the final day may prove unusually important. It is known by the unlovely name of the General Principles of Civil Law. It sets the stage for China to pass its first civil code, an overarching law governing legal disputes other than those involving crimes…

[U]nder Communist rule, China has muddled through without a unified civil code. It has bits of one. It passed an inheritance law in 1985, a contract law in 1999 and a property law in 2007. But there are big gaps and inconsistencies…

China’s current leaders… hope [a civil code] will provide a stable legal framework for a rapidly evolving society racked by increasingly complex disputes. In 2014 they decided to try again, aiming to write one by 2020. This week’s approval of the code’s general principles is the first fruit. It covers everything from individual rights and the statute of limitations to whether fetuses can own property (they can).

Some of the new principles have been set out before. Privacy rights, for example, are in the tort bill of 2009. But their inclusion in the revised preamble gives them more authority.

Not all the changes are for the better. In a section on protecting personal reputations, the new preamble makes it an offence to defame “heroes and martyrs”. That is likely to have a chilling effect on historical inquiry…

A civil code—embracing laws of property, contract, inheritance, family and marriage—will not guarantee fairness. The Communist Party will continue to ignore the law when it wants to. But for all the legal system’s flaws, many people still use it. The code may make it less opaque and outdated, and judges’ lives easier.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mexico's next president?

It's been asked before. Now it's being asked again.

Mexico’s populist would-be president
WHEN Andrés Manuel López Obrador winds up a stump speech in the main square of Jilotepec, a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz, the crowd surges forward. It takes him 15 minutes to pass through the commotion of backslapping, selfies and jabbing microphones to reach the car parked outside the tent where he spoke. The point of the rally is to promote Mr López Obrador’s party, Morena, in municipal elections to be held in Veracruz in June. But his main goal is much bigger: to win Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt, in 2018.

López Obrador
That is a prospect that thrills some Mexicans and terrifies others. A figure of national consequence for more than 20 years, AMLO, as he is often called, has fulminated against privilege, corruption and the political establishment. Sweep away all that, he tells poor Mexicans, and their lives will improve…

Mexico, like some richer countries, may now want more drastic politics. Voters are enraged by corruption, crime, which is rising again after a drop, and feeble economic growth…

AMLO proposes to answer graft with his own incorruptibility, and Donald Trump’s nationalism with a fiery nationalism of his own…

Mr López Obrador is the early front-runner for next year’s election… In a one-round election, he could win with as little as 30% of the vote. If that happens, Mexico will embark on a perilous political experiment.

He began his political career in the southern state of Tabasco as an operative of the PRI… As an official of the National Indigenous Institute he spent five years living with the Chontal, an Indian community. Hence his preoccupation with the poorest Mexicans…

His talent for political showmanship helped make him mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005. He ran twice for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, losing to Mr Peña in the second contest. In 2014 he split from the PRD over its support for Mr Peña’s economic reforms and founded Morena, the Movement of National Regeneration…

As Mexico City’s mayor, Mr López Obrador caused less mayhem than his image suggested he might. He built roads and introduced a small universal pension… He left office with an approval rating of 84%…

For now, Mr López Obrador has the political field to himself. Morena is basically a one-man party, which means its quota of party-propaganda broadcasts can focus on promoting him. Other parties have to divide their resources among various politicians…

The PRI’s nominee for president, whoever it is, will be tainted by association with the current government. The likeliest PAN candidate, Margarita Zavala, is popular, but she is the wife of a former president, Felipe Calderón, who is widely blamed for an upsurge of violence provoked by his inept crackdown on crime. The PRD has little support…

His victory is no sure thing. His momentum would be slowed if Morena does badly in the governor’s election in the State of Mexico in June. Anybody-but-AMLO voters could unite behind one candidate; nearly half of voters have a negative view of him, a much higher share than for any other potential candidate. He has a talent for self-destruction. In 2006 his 16-point lead vanished after he refused to participate in the first televised debate and called the president, Vicente Fox, chachalaca, a bird noted for its loud cackle.

Much of Mexico’s elite prays that such buffoonery will again prove his undoing. But he has become smoother and more disciplined. The danger is that, even if he is shrewder about obtaining power, he may be no wiser about how to exercise it.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Procedural elections

Three Norwegian political scientists try to explain why dictators hold elections. Does what they say apply to China? to Iran? to Mexico? to Russia? to Nigeria?

You’d think dictators would avoid elections. Here’s why they don’t.
Elections are a hallmark of democracy. So why do dictatorships around the world also hold them? While autocratic elections are often characterized as “sham elections,” with the official vote winner clear beforehand, elections in fact have systematic and substantial effects on the durability of dictatorships.

In a recent article in World Politics, we examine 389 elections in 259 dictatorships…

Elections often bring regime-threatening protests or coup d’etats — and that’s why they’re so dangerous to autocratic regimes. But autocrats also gain something from holding elections… Elections confer long-term benefits. The regime can co-opt members of the opposition, for instance, or learn more about the strength of the opposition. Elections also help dictators build a strong organizational apparatus and signal their strength to intimidate potential opponents.

The flip side… is that elections also can produce short-term instability by enabling opposition groups to coordinate their actions right around when the election takes place…

We find clear evidence that the period around and right after an autocratic election — and during the election year in particular — is associated with a greatly increased risk of regime breakdown…

There’s also some evidence, although not as clear-cut, that holding elections makes for more stable dictatorships in the long term…

Here’s how these long-term benefits played out in Mexico’s autocratic regimes from 1929 to 2000. The party in power, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for decades managed to conduct elections without seeing major threats to its grip on power.

In fact, studies by political scientists argue that the PRI used these elections as a device to prolong its rule. The party used elections to selectively co-opt supporters — but deter opponents by displaying organizational strength and broad public appeal. These stabilizing effects continued long past election day…

Our research indicates that opposition actors in autocratic regimes may find a unique window for dissent around election time, when autocratic incumbents are particularly vulnerable…

Authors: Carl Henrik Knutsen is professor of political science at the University of Oslo, Håvard Mokleiv Nygård is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and Tore Wig is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Sharpen your critical thinking skills

Up until a decade ago, Chinese government propaganda was easy to spot. It was full of stock phrases and awkward English and paranoia. Not so much anymore. PR execs with degrees from American universities?

China's political propaganda gets a digital makeover
China has been trying and failing for years to get its people, especially its young people, to care about its political system. Could it now be close to working out how to do just this?

Every March, the National People Congress (NPC), China's biggest annual political event, goes virtually unnoticed by the vast majority of the Chinese people…

But as the propaganda platform shifted from rice paper to LED screens, the government has developed new tricks.

One of its first big successes was the music video of "Shisanwu", the 13th Five-Year Plan, which came out in 2015. So how do you sell the idea of the 13th five-year social and economic development strategy to young people?
Shisanwu

An animated music video with a foreign band singing in English of course.

It became an instant hit on social media with young people talking about it, sharing it and even learning to sing it…

The Chinese State Council also released a series of newsy digital videos featuring people's wishes in the run-up to the congress.

They even interviewed carefully-chosen celebrities, such as Hu Weiwei, entrepreneur and founder of China's most successful shared electronic bikes and a viral sensation in China…

The propaganda initiative has even stretched as far as a group on WeChat, China's most popular social media app…
WeChat screen

Critics say it's the same old propaganda, just on new platforms.

But they show a desire to innovate on the part of the government and state-run media and engage the public on the platforms where they know people prize such innovation.

They can claim success in one respect: at the very least they are getting young people to talk about the congress.

Five years ago this was not happening.

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