Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Constitution and reform in Mexico

Crime Threatens Democracy, Mexico’s President Warns
President Felipe Calderón said Wednesday that the future of democracy in Mexico was at stake in the government’s fight against official corruption and organized crime. He also criticized politicians whom he accused of wanting to return to the era when drug gangs were tolerated.

Mr. Calderón also called for making legislators more accountable to the public. He proposed reducing the number of federal lawmakers and allowing them to serve more than one term, making them eligible to face the judgment of voters by running for re-election...

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Monday, June 29, 2009

More analysis about Iranian politics

Albert R. Hunt, a columnist for Bloomberg News, offers another bit of good analysis of Iranian politics in the International Herald Tribune (republished by the New York Times).

Much of his analysis is about the politics of American foreign policy, but his ideas on Iranian politics might offer a good teaching model, although integrating all of the op-ed pieces cited here recently would be better. Each points to a salient feature or two. Time will tell if one of them was significantly more prescient.

Iran’s Politics Is All About Survival
The big picture in Iran, even more than a bottom-up street insurgency, is the clash of leading political and clerical figures.

“We are seeing a real division in Iran’s establishment,” says William Quandt, a University of Virginia professor...

We will never know who actually won the June 12 election; Iran’s leadership is weaker than imagined...

Almost nobody believes the Iranian declaration that the election was a lopsided win for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is conceivable he captured a slim majority or a plurality...

That Mr. Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, felt it necessary to immediately claim a landslide victory illustrates what a fragile hold these hard-liners have.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, is convinced this signals “the beginning of the end for the Iranian equivalent of the neocons, the radical ayatollahs who see the world as a battle between good and evil.”

[T]he political struggle... is on two different levels. One is between the two factions of the 1978-79 revolution — one led by Ayatollah Khamenei, the other by Mr. Rafsanjani, a cunning and controversial figure...

The second struggle is generational. Both sides invoke the slogans and tactics of the campaign used to overthrow the hated shah. Some three-quarters of Iranians were born in the last 30 years and have experienced none of those moments...

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Oil troubles in Nigeria

What effects would this have on Yar'Adua's presidency? Why do the legislators blame the oil companies for the problem?

And how likely are the Russian and Chinese investors to follow through on their deals if the government is unable to provide adequate protection for pipelines?

Crude Supplies to Refineries Will Dry up in 15 Days --NNPC
THE Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has warned that crude oil supply to refineries will dry up in 15 days if the vandalism of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta continues unabated...

NNPC's Group Managing Director, Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, raised the alarm over refinery supplies at an interactive session with the Rep. Abdul Ningi-led ad-hoc committee on the Niger Delta crisis...

Concerned about the insensitivity of the multinationals on the humanitarian condition in the area in their presentations, the lawmakers took turns in blaming the NNPC for failing to coordinate with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on the provision of relief materials to the people in the crisis area...

Militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) attacked the Ogoda Manifold-Brass Terminal pipeline... during the night of 18 and June...

Since it first started in early 2006, MEND attacks have shut in between 20% and 30% of Nigeria's output.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Still more on legitimacy in Iran

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed (the general manager of Al-Arabiya television) uses the term "regime" in this op-ed piece, but in political science terms, he's discussing the legitimacy of the government and its policies. (It's a common use of the term "regime" in reporting and public conversation.)

While popular support for the Supreme Leader, the president, and the government's policies might be in question, the threat to the legitimacy of the regime is indirect. People would have to be convinced that the system, not just the leadership, was to blame for the problems of the state. And we don't really have good indicators of nation-wide public sentiment in Iran.

Has the Regime Been Weakened?
[T]he regime of ayatollahs is not on the verge of collapse... However, the events have affected its leadership, legitimacy, reputation, and future. These events have most likely weakened it. The weakness of the regime will not be felt out in the open, but we will sense its signs in Iran's internal as well as external dealings no matter how much it pretends to be standing on its feet...

In the past, the Iranian regime boasted that it supports external movements... In the coming days, we will see that it will be forced to practice its old habits but as secretly as it can in order not to antagonize the Iranian public opinion... [T]he regime will be forced to increase domestic spending - which will place huge pressures on the budget... No matter what it costs... the regime will refrain from raising prices. It will be more determined to ensure the needs of the people from fuel to food supplies... The situation is not better in its external political relations. Major powers that support Iran, like China and Russia, will wait and reassess the domestic performance of the Iranian government...

As for the leadership establishment - the Supreme Guide, the president, and the Revolutionary Guard - we do not know how matters are proceeding there. If it is suffering from internal conflict, it will not be able to keep it a family secret for long...

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

More on legitimacy in Iran

The Economist is a valuable teaching tool. The latest edition, which arrived in my mailbox today, includes another of those gems of background and analysis that make this magazine worth its subscription price.

I know I've read most of these facts. I've read or made most of the implications. I doubt that I've read them all in one of the half-dozen texts or half-dozen other books I've read about Iran.

This article is one to "clip" and save as a supplement to whatever your students read. You can ask them to note the date on the clipping and update it from June 27, 2009, to whatever date in March or April of 2010 that they are studying about government and politics in Iran.

Iran's debate over theocracy: Why the turbans are at odds
THE Koran is the word of God, which every Muslim must follow, but its commands can be hard to interpret.* So people should submit to the rule of a properly trained religious scholar. The idea is a simple one, and the father figure of Iran’s revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made it the central principle of his Islamic state.

But the notion of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) has proved to be controversial as a religious doctrine and tricky in practice. The turbulence now sweeping Iran has many causes, among them a simple urge for freedom. Yet the tensions, inconsistencies and hypocrisies generated by trying to impose velayat-e faqih lie at the heart of its troubles.

Divisions among top Shia scholars are nothing new. In the main seminary towns of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran, followers of competing ayatollahs have frequently clashed, sometimes with fists. One recurring split has pitted scholars who believe they should stay outside politics against those who believe they must engage in it. Ayatollah Khomeini pushed this argument to a new level. His revolutionary constitution created the post of supreme leader, placing an unelected senior scholar in overall command of the country.

Many of his fellow ayatollahs saw this as an “innovation”, a bad word in Muslim jurisprudence, signifying an unsubstantiated departure from Islam’s founding texts. Some feared that immersion in worldly affairs would taint clerics and end by repelling believers from the faith. Others argued that democracy was a better way to divine God’s will, or that a committee of scholars, rather than a single man, would suit the leadership function better...

The doubters [of Khomeini's teachings] include not only leading scholars in the seminaries of Qom, but some of Ayatollah Khomeini’s closest associates, including prominent members of his own family...

One group of mid-ranking clerics has blasted the election as a fraud...

Many [other] Shia clergymen either depend on his largesse or hold loyalty to the state and its Islamic mission above matters of personal opinion. Besides, Mr Khamenei’s tenure has seen power steadily drain away from the clergy and towards Iran’s security services...

*See Egypt imam approves punctuation use in Quran for one example of why the Quran "can be hard to interpret."

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Regime legitimacy in Iran

Steve Wolfson referred me to Niccholas Kristof's New York Times column for Friday the 26th. Kristof asks a couple questions of fellow correspondent Roger Cohen who managed to be in Tehran after most foreign journalists were sent packing.

The first question and answer are certainly appropriate for comparative politics.

Questions About Iran? Ask a Witness.
Roger, what’s your take on where things go from here? Obviously there is huge disaffection for the regime, but how much of a problem is that? The Shah’s regime lost its legitimacy in 1953 but survived another quarter-century. It always seems to me that what matters to a regime’s survival is less its popularity than its ability to count on a security force to suppress the people. When that comes into doubt, as in Iran in 1979, East Germany in 1989 or Indonesia in 1998, then dictatorships collapse. But when the army stands reasonably firm, as in Burma since 1988 or China since 1989, then the dictatorship holds. And since this Iranian regime can clearly count on the Revolutionary Guard to open fire to end unrest, what hope is there for change soon?

Thanks, Nick. Certainly dictatorships can hold onto power through force against the will of the majority of the population, and that likely will be the case for some time yet in Iran. But some important shifts have occurred over the past two weeks that will, I think, weaken the regime. Millions of Iranians who were in a position of reluctant acquiescence, unhappy with the regime but believing they could reform and live with it, have moved into outright opposition. The highest office in the Islamic Republic, that of the supreme leader, has been weakened, because Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lost the lofty mantle of arbiter, explicitly joining the hardline faction of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The brazen extent of the fraud was such that significant swathes of the religious and political establishment have dissented. Not since the first years after the revolution have there been such open splits in the hierarchy. And Ahmadinejad has emerged as the most polarizing figure in Iranian politics in decades.

The price of survival for the revolutionary establishment, in the medium term, may be throwing him overboard. I could see that happening. I also think that current attacks on the United States will give way to more conciliatory gestures as the regime tries to shore up its position through talks with the US that would be extremely popular at home. President Obama will face a delicate dilemma in deciding how and whether to maintain his outreach.

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Parastatals in charge

Gas flaring in Nigeria is not just an environmental disaster. It is an awful thing to live near and it's like burning huge piles of money. Time will tell if the Russians can do any better than the Western European companies at eliminating flames, noise, and smoke.

Gazprom seals $2.5bn Nigeria deal
Russia's energy giant Gazprom has signed a $2.5bn (£1.53bn) deal with Nigeria's state operated NNPC, to invest in a new joint venture.

The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria.

Analysts say the move could further strengthen Russia's role in supplying natural gas to Europe...

See also:

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rule of law

What conditions are necessary to claim that rule of law is effective? China has the law, but it doesn't appear to have rule of law. What's preventing the effective establishment of rule of law?

Despite Law, Job Conditions Worsen in China
A year and a half after a landmark labor law took effect in China, experts say conditions have actually deteriorated in southern China’s export-oriented factories, which produce many of America’s less expensive retail goods.

With China’s exports reeling and unemployment rising because of the global slowdown, there is growing evidence that factories are ignoring or evading the new law, and that the government is reluctant to enforce it.

Government critics say authorities fear that a crackdown on violators could lead to mass layoffs and even social unrest...

But workers are fighting back. Earlier this month, the government said Chinese courts were trying to cope with a soaring number of labor disputes, apparently from workers emboldened by the promise of the new contract labor law...

The law requires that all employees have a written contract that complies with minimum wage and safety requirements. It also strengthens the monopoly state-run labor union and makes it more difficult for companies to use temporary workers or to dismiss employees.

Western companies that outsource to China say they have stepped up their monitoring of supplier factories to ensure they comply with the law. But they acknowledge that ensuring compliance is challenging in China...

China’s huge and complicated labor market has long thrived on cheap labor and lax regulation. In recent years, labor rights advocates say they have seen incremental gains for workers. But they say there are growing signs of labor abuse...

[F]actory owners say that labor law enforcement has been weak and selective for years, and changing the rules now could lead to chaos, drive up prices and force many factories out of business...

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vote for nobody because nobody can solve our problems

I vaguely remember a semi-comic campaign during one election urging people to write in "nobody" because nobody could solve the nation's problems. In Mexico, the call is to vote for Nulo because it's the only way to get the message that politics as usual isn't working.

Disgruntled Mexicans Plan an Election Message to Politicians: We Prefer Nobody
With Mexico’s midterm elections two weeks away, the most spirited campaigning has been for a candidate with no name, no face and no particular policy positions. Call him Nulo.

Nulo — Spanish for null and void — is drawing support from disgruntled Mexicans who say the country’s politicians are focused more on their own power games than on the people they are supposed to serve...

Support for the Voto Nulo campaign has spread on the Internet, where supporters extol the virtues of sending Mexican political parties a stark message: Voting for nothing is better than backing the politicians currently running the country.

Mexico was essentially a one-party state until 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, finally lost its grip on the presidency. But a sense of frustration has developed in recent years as more choices on the ballot have not, in the minds of many Mexicans, translated into a more responsive government...

Just how much support Nulo will receive is unclear, although the Federal Election Institute, the public body that oversees the voting, has taken it seriously enough to put forward a counter campaign, and seven of the eight political parties in Mexico City gathered the other day to argue against the Nulo effort...

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Competition for the G8?

The population of international organizations, formal like the SCO or informal like BRIC, is growing. What does that portend for the government and politics in member countries? Is this more than just a bunch more obscurely-named organizations (like NATO, EU, or SEATO) that students have to wade through in their textbooks?

The leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states and observer nations have a group photo taken with the leader of Afghanistan, a guest country of the SCO, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on June 16, 2009.

Emerging Economic Powers Meet in Russia
Leaders of some of the world’s most powerful economies gathered Tuesday to discuss how they can exert more control over the global financial system as it takes its first wobbly steps toward recovery.

Yet not an American or Western European was in the bunch.

The first summit meeting of the so-called BRIC group — Brazil, Russia, India and China — was intended to underscore the rising economic clout of these four major developing countries and their demand for a greater voice in the world. And Russia, the group’s host and ideological provocateur, was especially interested in using the summit to fire a shot across Washington’s bow...

The BRIC countries comprise about 15 percent of the world economy and, perhaps more important, have about 40 percent of global currency reserves. Brazil, India and China have also weathered the financial crisis better than the world as a whole...

SCO leaders conclude summit with calls for enhanced cooperation to tackle regional, int'l issues
Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) concluded their annual summit on Tuesday with calls for constructive dialogues and enhanced cooperation to tackle regional and international issues...

The summit was attended by heads of state of SCO member countries -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and leaders of SCO observer nations -- Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran.

Also present at the meeting were Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, a guest country of the SCO, and representatives of the United Nations and some other regional and international organizations...

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Monday, June 22, 2009


In the 1930s, the mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota let everybody know that wanted criminals would not be arrested in his city if they obeyed the law while in town. St. Paul became a refuge for some big name crooks for awhile. Now, a Mexican mayor seems to be making a similar offer.

Mexico candidate: Drug gangs contact all hopefuls
A ruling party mayoral candidate in Mexico's richest city told his supporters that drug traffickers have contacted all leading political contenders in the country seeking their loyalty ahead of elections next month.

Mauricio Fernandez's discussion with a group of supporters in a suburb of Monterrey [below] – a leaked recording of which was broadcast throughout Mexico... – is a remarkably frank description of how the brutal gangs try to control political leaders, which is a key concern of President Felipe Calderon in his fight against drug cartels.

The candidate also acknowledged that the Beltran Levya cartel controls drug smuggling in his city of San Pedro Garza and suggested that as mayor he would avoid confronting the gang to maintain peace, comments that undermined Calderon's drive to show that the government and his National Action Party, or PAN, are tough on organized crime.

Fernandez's campaign was thrown into turmoil by the recording, but he stood by the comments, saying he was merely telling the truth. He denied meeting with any traffickers during this campaign and said he rejected efforts by gangsters to buy his loyalty when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Nuevo Leon state six years ago.

"I am stating the reality that my city is living," Fernandez told MVS Radio. "I don't have any reason to hide it."

PAN had no immediate comment on the recording, nor was it clear how the government would react...

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Politics and statistics and Iran

Ken Halla, who posts wonderful and useful things on US Government Teachers Blog, pointed out that Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right blog, for which he made a name during last fall's US election, has posted a number of interesting items about the Iranian election.

"The Ayatollah's Flawed Logic"
"Iranian Leadership Split On Response"
"Karroubi's Unlucky 7's?"
"Unconvincing (to me) Use of Benford's Law to Demonstrate Election Fraud in Iran"
"Ahmadinejad's Rural Votes"
"If He Did It"
"Recount in Iran?"
"Polling Predicted Intimidation -- and Not Necessarily Ahmadinejad's Victory"
"Iran Does Have Some Fishy Numbers"
"Iranian Election Results by Province"
"Statistical Report Purporting to Show Rigged Iranian Election Is Flawed"
"Polling and Voting in Iran's Friday Election"

Thanks, Ken.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Evidence of fraud in Iran?

Melody Dickison sent me a link to a paper by Walter R. Mebane, Jr. of the University of Michigan. It's a statistical analysis of Iranian voting results from 2005 and 2009.

Note on the presidential election in Iran, June 2009

I don't understand any of the statistics, but I sort of understand the conclusion [emphasis mine]:

In general, combining the first-stage 2005 and 2009 data conveys the impression that while natural political processes significantly contributed to the election outcome, outcomes in many towns were produced by very different processes. The natural processes in 2009 have Ahmadinejad tending to do best in towns where his support in 2005 was highest and tending to do worst in towns where turnout surged the most. But in more than half of the towns where comparisons to the first-stage 2005 results are feasible, Ahmadinejad’s vote counts are not at all or only poorly described by the naturalistic model. Much more often than not, these poorly modeled observations have vote counts for Ahmadinejad that are greater than the naturalistic model would imply. While it is not possible given only the current data to say for sure whether this reflects natural complexity in the political processes or artificial manipulations, the numerous outliers comport more with the idea that there was widespread fraud than with the idea that all the departures from the model are benign.

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More factors to consider

Henry Newman, writing in The Guardian (UK), reminds us of some other factors to consider in understanding the developments in Iran.

Iran's triangle of power
[Historically,] a triangle of factors proved fundamental: popular support, clerical opposition and the involvement of the bazaars. If history teaches us anything, the mass protests of the last week that have followed Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's coup d'état cannot succeed without the support of the bazaar and some Shia clergy...

In Qom, the Assembly of Experts is soon to hold an emergency meeting; the 86 clerical members have the power to dismiss the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. At the assembly's head is ex-president and plutocrat, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, a Mir Hossein Mousavi supporter. Rafsanjani is rumoured to have been in Qom, Iran's holiest city, to persuade the clerical elite to oppose Ahmadinejad...

One factor heightening the potential for divisions within the Shia religious elite, is the absence of a centralised clerical hierarchy. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is not Shia Islam's most respected religious figure, despite his political power in Iran. Khamenei was hastily promoted to ayatollah... at the 11th hour, as successor to Khomeini. According to the original Khomeinist model of government, the most religiously qualified cleric should be Supreme Leader. This was patently not Khamenei and so his selection in 1989 provoked concern amongst the religious...

In Shia Islam believers have the choice to select the cleric (marja) they wish to follow. As a result there is a strong pressure for religious figures to attract flocks of believers. Without believers, clerics lack access to power (political and intellectual) and finances (through religious taxes and donations). Historically this religious "survival of the fittest" encouraged some clerics to align their judgments with the prevailing collective sentiment. As protesters continue to shake the country we should expect ever more fatwas in their support...

Given the widespread protests and growing clerical opposition, at least within Iran, the missing element is a wholesale bazaar strike. Traditional bazaars retain sizeable economic and political clout, despite the emergence of a new post-revolutionary plutocracy interconnected with powerful quasi-governmental charities, the bonyads. Although bazaaris tend to be conservatives they have become frustrated by spiraling inflation and harder sanctions under Ahmadinejad's administration; in October of last year, bazaars across Iran went on strike to oppose a new sales tax. The tax was swiftly suspended. Recently most media reports have neglected the bazaar; however, there were some rumours of pending strikes covered by the BBC.

A confluence of popular mass protests, clerical dissent and bazaar strikes would not necessarily spell revolution in Iran. It would however have enormous symbolic importance for a population well versed in its own revolutionary history.

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A textbook supplement

Who are the Basiji? What is the Basij? Neil MacFarquhar provided a partial answer in his New York Times article:

Shadowy Iranian Vigilantes Vow Bolder Action
Iranians shudder at the violence unleashed in their cities at night, with the shadowy vigilantes known as Basijis beating, looting and sometimes gunning down protesters they tracked during the day...

The word Basij means roughly mass mobilization in Persian, and the original organization consisted of all the civilian volunteers whom the Ayatollah Khomeini urged to go fight on the front in the Iran-Iraq war. Some of them died while tromping across mine fields toward Iraq.

The Basij was reinvented in the late 1990s, Iran experts said, after the government felt that it had lost control of the streets during spontaneous celebrations when Iran won a spot in the World Cup soccer championship in 1998 and again during student protests in 1999. “They decided to invest in a force that could take over the streets that didn’t look like a military deployment,” said an Iran analyst who did not want to be identified because of his involvement in the events...

The Basij was nominally part of the Revolutionary Guards... Nearly every mosque in Iran has a room marked Paygah-e-Basij or Basij base, which serves as a kind of Islamic club where students study the Koran, organize sports teams and plan field trips.

Some members are religious zealots, and some are not. Most members are lower-middle-class youths who enjoy certain benefits by joining. They can skip the required military service, can obtain reserved spots in the universities and also receive a small stipend...

During a short-lived student protest at Tehran University in 2003, the Basijis roared around on motorcycles and were trucked in on military vehicles. They hit students with chains, lobbed bricks at their heads and beat them with long wooden truncheons...

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after taking office in 2005, tried to create a more formal organization for the Basij, with an official budget, but the Revolutionary Guards rejected the move, Iran analysts said...

The huge numbers of people who have turned out to protest the election results in recent days have presented somewhat of a problem for the Basij: there are too many demonstrators to enable the vigilantes to intimidate people in their customary way. At times when the Basijis have tried to attack demonstrators, the crowd has turned on them, beating the vigilantes and setting their motorcycles on fire.

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Don't hold on to outdated assumptions

The New York Times published an opinion piece by a "student in Iran who, for reasons of safety, did not want to be identified by his full name."

The writer seeks to disabuse us of the "truths" we learned about Iran in the past. It is certainly addressed to me.

A Different Iranian Revolution
WE look over this wall of marching people to see what our friends in the United States are saying about us... To our great dismay, what we find is that in important sectors of the American press a disturbing counternarrative is emerging: That perhaps this election wasn’t a fraud after all. That the United States shouldn’t rush in with complaints of democracy denied, and that perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the president the Iranian people truly want (and, by extension, deserve).

Do not believe it. Those so-called experts warning Americans to be leery of claims of fraud by the opposition are basing their arguments on an outdated understanding of Iran that has little to do with the reality of what we here are experiencing during these singular days...

[T]he United States seems able to view our country only through anxieties left over from the 1979 revolution. In the “how did we lose Iran?” assessments after the overthrow of the shah, many American intelligence agents and policy makers decided that their great mistake was to spend too much time canoodling with the royal family and intellectual elites of the capital. Commentators now are worried that, by siding with the opposition today, the United States will once again fall into the trap of backing the losing side.

But the fact is, Tehran is not the Iranian anomaly it was 30 years ago. It has become more like the rest of the country...

And, of course, Iran in 2009... is not the same as Iran in 1979. Just as Tehran’s neighborhoods cannot be fixed in time, the cultural lives of Iranians have greatly changed in the past 30 years. The postrevolutionary period has seen the expansion of education, the entry of women into the work force in large numbers, and changing patterns of marriage and even of divorce...

Let’s also forget the polls, carried out in May by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, that have been making the rounds this past week, with numbers that showed Mr. Ahmadinejad well ahead in the election, even in Mr. Moussavi’s hometown, Tabriz. Maybe last month Mr. Ahmadinejad was indeed on his way to victory. But then came the debates...

Such a major shift has happened before. A month before the 1997 elections, the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, was trouncing his opponents in surveys. Then, a week before the vote, the tide changed, bringing to power a reformer, Mohammad Khatami.

The reason for this fluidity in voter preference is simple. Iran has no real political parties that can command a fixed number of predictable votes. With elections driven primarily by personality politics, Iranians are always swing voters...

Anything is possible because very little in politics or social life has been made systematic. We used to joke that if you leave Tehran for three months you’ll come back to a new city...

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Like 1968 or 1989?

An op-ed piece by Mark LeVine, professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the University of California Irvine and author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam on the al Jazeera web site offers some more historical and political analysis.

Even if this doesn't work as student reading, it's a good way to enlarge your own understanding.

Iran on the brink?
[T]he Iranian elite has been caught... off-guard and is still trying to read its own society to understand how broad is the societal discontent reflected in the mass protests.

This calculus is crucial...

It will determine whether the Iranian power elite - that is, the political-religious-military-security leadership who control the levers of state violence - moves towards negotiation and reconciliation between the increasingly distant sides, or moves to crush the mounting opposition with large-scale violence...

What seems evident as the crisis deepens is that Ayatollah Khamenei, who most commentators have long assumed holds near absolute power in the country as Supreme Leader, is in a weaker position than previously believed. The collective religious and military leadership, along with the Revolutionary Guard, will likely have a lot of input into determining what course the government takes.

And it is certainly questionable whether these factions have shared core interests during this crisis, as the Revolutionary Guard - from whose ranks President Ahmadinejad emerged - is both culturally more conservative and economically more populist than much of the political and religious leadership.

The religious establishment is itself split into hard-line, moderate and more progressive factions, each of whose members are tied to factions within the economic, political and security elite, producing a complex and potentially volatile set of competing and contradictory loyalties and interests...

[I]f the protests do not lose steam in the coming days, the leadership could decide that the opposition is too broad and deeply rooted to attempt to crush it.

In this case, it would have little choice but to cave in to the protesters' demands or face losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the broader Iranian public...

Iran could quickly approach a Tiananmen moment, in which the Iranian government calculates that crushing the pro-reform opposition will give it time to push the reformers back in the closet for the foreseeable future, and push the cosmopolitan liberal-cultural elite who have the ability to leave, to do so...

But what allowed the Communist party in China to maintain its hegemony rather than merely dominance over Chinese society was its willingness to liberalise culturally at the same time as it closed down politically...

If Ahmadinejad has been railing against "velvet revolutionaries" since he took office, he is today counting on the situation in Iran resembling the Czechoslovakia of 1968 rather than 1989.

Yet with one of the world's youngest populations and an increasingly urban, educated and sophisticated citizenry, it is hard to know how long the Iranian government can continue to impose its conservative moral values upon a bourgeois-aspiring, culturally open technocratic class whose expertise and loyalty will be crucial for Iran's long-term social, economic and political development...

But Iran today is a very different place than during the early days of the revolution.

Iran long ago lost the singular, collective will that enabled the revolution; the protesters are no longer imbued with the idea of bi-kodi, or self-annihilation, martyrdom and complete self-sacrifice that toppled the Shah and helped the country withstand eight years of brutal war with Iraq.

The majority of Iranians, particularly young people, even, one can imagine, the poorer and less educated ones overly represented among the Revolutionary Guard would prefer to focus on its counterpart, khod-sazi, or self-construction, as the better attitude with which to build their society today.

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Political change

Bridget Kendall's essay on the BBC web site would be a good teaching tool when considering varieties of political change. If you can look beyond the daily events, it's often possible to find good teaching materials at times of crisis.

Iran and lessons from history
The shadow of history hovers over Iran at the moment.

And it is not just the student protests 30 years ago, which helped bring down the Shah and which launched the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, that are worth recalling.

Also relevant is what happened 20 years ago. 1989 was the start of the transformation of the Soviet Bloc...

And that upheaval tangentially helped inspire another collapse: the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa...

But let us not forget June 2009 also marks 20 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, when a popular Chinese uprising failed in its bid to get a ruling Communist elite to accept greater democracy. It is a reminder that student revolts do not always succeed in their ambitions.

So how do these transformations happen? What makes a top down, or bottom up revolution successful? And what are the factors that can stop a popular movement in its tracks, or mean that it will peter out without getting anywhere?...

But perhaps, in conclusion, there are two key issues to watch: whether a government is prepared to use force, and whether it can effectively control the information space...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More analysis of Iranian politics

Neil MacFarquhar's analysis in the New York Times is instructive.

Iran’s Latest Protests Are Seen as the Toughest to Stop
The Iranian government tolerated student-led uprisings in 1999 and 2003 for only a few days before unleashing fearsome crackdowns, sending Basij vigilantes onto campuses, where they flung a few students from the windows; bloodied as many heads as they could with bricks, chains or truncheons; and jailed scores.

Similar intimidation tactics have been on display over the past few days with little result...

First, there is the sheer size of these demonstrations, with protests that are not limited to students, but cut across generations and economic classes. Second, there is a more pronounced, if still nebulous, leadership centered around the leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has adopted an openly hard-edged attitude toward the government. Third, the current crisis was inspired by common anger over a national election, not the more narrow issues students took to heart...

“This is an order of magnitude different from those earlier demonstrations,” said Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan... “In the earlier student demonstrations, people were saying that the hard-liners were doing things that were wrong. What these demonstrators are saying is that the regime has become so corrupt and so dictatorial that it has become rotten to the core.”...

Mr. Moussavi was a staunch leftist in an era when such leaders admired Che Guevara, and he served as prime minister of Iran during the 1980s when postrevolutionary battles with guerrilla movements left between 10,000 and 20,000 people dead, noted Professor Cole. He is viewed as a much tougher fighter than Mr. Khatami, an ayatollah who came from the very clerical class that runs the country.

“Moussavi was around in some tough times, he has not shown any signs of being intimidated by all this,” said Gary Sick, a senior scholar at Columbia University...

Finally, there has been a critical shift in alliances. In the earlier uprisings, it was basically the reformists calling for change, opposed by both the religious hard-liners and the more pragmatic conservatives. This time, the pragmatists and the reformists have joined forces against the hard-liners, analysts said...

“I expect the situation to polarize further, and given the character of this regime, I think it is a matter of time before they roll in the tanks,” said Professor Cole.

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Another analysis of Iranian politics

This comes in an unsigned analysis from Al Jazeera.

Get out your Iranian government organization chart (or look at the one from the BBC) and find where the men discussed here are positioned. I think that will help explain much about how the political system in Iran is working right now.

Supreme leader under pressure
Iranians have taken to the streets in the wake of the country's disputed elections, but behind the public face of the election protests lies a deeper power struggle.

In the corridors of power, analysts see a battle between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the reformist former president.

Khamenei had publicly endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadeinejad, the incumbent president, whose resounding election victory over Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main rival, prompted a wave of protests and allegations of voter fraud.

Rafsanjani, on the other hand, has been a vocal critic of the president.

One of Iran's richest men, Rafsanjani, like Mousavi, is also one of the old guard of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

"It [the election dispute] represents the conflict between two schools of thought in Iran," Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor in Middle East politics at the University of Jordan, told Al Jazeera.

"The first one, which is represented by the supreme leader, says Iran should stay a revolutionary state, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wants the state to move on - to become a modern state, a pragmatic state..."

The supreme leader's decision-making powers are said to be absolute, but Iran's Assembly of Experts also wield considerable political clout.

Rafsanjani is chairman of the 86-member body, which appoints the supreme leader and monitors his performance.

It seems unlikely that Rafsanjani would move to oust Khamenei, but the assembly could - in theory, at least - remove the supreme leader from office, if his actions are deemed un-Islamic or if he is unable to carry out his sworn duties...

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another take on Iranian politics

In an interview with Professor William Beeman, chair of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology Department who has written several books about Iran, most recently, The Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs, reporter Sharon Schmickle wrote on MinnPost,

"Foreign journalists typically focus on Iran's upper classes and connect with those who tweet, blog and frequent Facebook. But that is not by any means a cross section of the Iranian electorate. It leaves out Ahmadinejad's base: the poor and the rural residents who are less connected with the world and less inclined to talk with strangers.

"Within his more pious and conservative constituency, Ahmadinejad is respected as a straight arrow, the rare politician who abhors corruption and even declines to take the salary that comes with the presidential office. Over the years, Ahmadinejad and Iran's higher powers have differed, but he now stands as the leader who could salvage and solidify the Islamic Republic's control. In that regard, many Iranians see him as the man for this troubled time.

"'Polling and reporting did not take into account huge sectors of the population that who were supporting Ahmadinejad,' Beeman said..."

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Another take on reform in UK's Parliament

Patrick Wintour, writing in The Guardian, notes that PM Brown is "scrambling to assemble a more radical final year agenda..." in hopes of staving off a landslide loss in the next election. Could your students predict likely results of the changes Brown proposes?

Gordon Brown promises to hand power back to parliament
Gordon Brown... endorsed radical measures to put a revived parliament back at the centre of British political life, in a reform package designed to revive his flagging constitutional agenda and restore MPs' lost credibility.

The prime minister set out ideas to curb the power of whips and surrender to MPs important controls over the way Westminster business is conducted. In future, MPs would elect all select committees, take control of the Commons' business programme, and be given a greater chance to introduce legislation...

[Labour MP Tony] Wright argues, in common with other MPs, that the expenses scandal and lack of respect for parliament stemmed partly from the fact that the role of MPs trying to hold the government to account had been reduced to one of "heckling a steamroller"...

David Cameron said the prime minister's proposals were a smokescreen to distract attention from Brown's loss of authority, and used prime minister's questions to call for an immediate general election. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, urged Brown to cancel the Commons' 72-day summer break to ensure the reforms are in place by the autumn...

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Monday, June 15, 2009

And why didn't I hear about this earlier?

I know I don't see all the news that fits or even most of it. But I did read a lot about the Iranian presidential campaign in the last month.

However, I never read a reference to The Center for Public Opinion's poll of Iranian voters. All I recall, especially from the past couple weeks, are reports about how the challenger to President Ahmadinejad was gaining popularity and had a real chance to defeat the incumbent.

I was skeptical and suspicious that the Western reporters were spending too much time hanging out with those Iranians who spoke English and not spending enough time with the masses. This survey suggests that, for whatever reasons, the journalists were misled.

The authors of this op-ed piece are identified by the Washington Post as "Ken Ballen... president of Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, a nonprofit institute that researches attitudes toward extremism and Patrick Doherty... deputy director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The groups' May 11-20 polling consisted of 1,001 interviews across Iran and had a 3.1 percentage point margin of error."

The Iranian People Speak
The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin -- greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election.

While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran's provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead...

The breadth of Ahmadinejad's support was apparent in our preelection survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.

Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.

The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians... Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud...

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"Corruption" fights back

It's not just in Nigeria that efforts to eliminate corruption are failing. It seems that everyone in Nigeria agrees that an electrical power infrastructure is necessary for future development, but the billions of naria spent so far have only poured some foundations and bought equipment that now sits is storage. Who is to blame? Where did the money go? The people with the money don't want anyone to find out.

Battle to Halt Graft Scourge in Africa Ebbs
The fight against corruption in Africa’s most pivotal nations is faltering as public agencies investigating wrongdoing by powerful politicians have been undermined or disbanded and officials leading the charge have been dismissed, subjected to death threats and driven into exile.

“We are witnessing an era of major backtracking on the anticorruption drive,” said Daniel Kaufmann, an authority on corruption who works at the Brookings Institution. “And one of the most poignant illustrations is the fate of the few anticorruption commissions that have had courageous leadership. They’re either embattled or dead.”

Experts, prosecutors and watchdog groups say they fear that major setbacks to anticorruption efforts in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are weakening the resolve to root out graft, a stubborn scourge that saps money needed to combat poverty and disease in the world’s poorest region...

In oil-rich Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, where watchdog groups say efforts to combat corruption are backsliding, Nuhu Ribadu [above], who built a well-trained staff of investigators at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said he fled his homeland into self-imposed exile in England in December. Officials had sent Mr. Ribadu away to a training course a year earlier, soon after his agency charged a wealthy, politically connected former governor with trying to bribe officials on his staff with huge sacks stuffed with $15 million in $100 bills. Mr. Ribadu, who was dismissed from the police force last year, said he had received death threats and was fired upon in September by assailants.

“If you fight corruption, it fights you back,” he said...

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

A real election?

Was it a real campaign and election? Or were Western observers and journalists misled by watching and reporting on only a select portion of the country and electorate? Of course, we could be skeptical of results reported by the BBC that "show Mr Ahmadinejad winning strongly even in the heartland of Mr Mousavi..."

Ahmadinejad wins Iran presidential election
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been re-elected as president of Iran in a resounding victory, the interior minister says.

He won some 62.6% of the vote in an election marked by a turnout of more than 80%, official figures show...

Iran's Supreme Leader congratulated Mr Ahmadinejad on his win...

In a statement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the high turnout and described the count as a huge success and called for calm in the aftermath of the result.

"Other honourable candidates must refrain from any kind of provocative and distrustful words or deeds," the ayatollah said...

Mr Mousavi issued a statement shortly after 1300 local time (0930 GMT) on Saturday, after the scale of the hard-line president's victory became clear.

The former prime minister dismissed the election result as deeply flawed.

"I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," the Reuters news agency reported him as saying.

"The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny."...

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Friday, June 12, 2009

What kind of regime does Iran have?

Joshua Tucker professor of political science at NYU, writing on the blog, "The Monkey Cage," asks the question. He also asks whether political scientists have an adequate conceptual vocabulary to describe the Iranian regime.

Just What is Iran?
As Iranians head to the polls today for presidential elections in apparently huge numbers, I wanted to throw out the question of whether political science actually has a good label for the Iranian regime.

[W]e essentially have three working regime types these days. There are democracies... There are the classic non-democracies... Then there is the world’s newest, and increasingly popular, regime type, which Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way have labeled competitive authoritarian regimes...

So what does this mean for Iran’s regime type?... Does a simple authoritarian-theocracy capture it? Or does that miss the fact that apparently competitive elections can and do occur in this country, even if they are in many ways limited (but not completely controlled) by the authorities?

The name of the blog, "The Monkey Cage," comes from an H. L. Mencken quote, "Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage."

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Cleavages and conflict

When ethnic and economic cleavages coincide, theory says the divisions are strengthened. What happens then, if population growth and climate change dissolve the geographic cleavages that kept those groups apart?

Nomad-Farmer Clashes Increase as Pasture Shrinks
Amid deadly clashes with farmers and expulsion orders by state authorities, thousands of nomadic herders in Nigeria do not know where to turn.

The latest clashes, in Plateau state state on 6 and 7 June, started with the alleged killing of an ethnic Chala woman by some Fulani nomads in a dispute over her farmland... family members of the slain woman killed two Fulani pastoralists in a reprisal attack...

A local expert says effects of climate change are partly to blame for the disputes. Northern nomadic communities are increasingly moving southwards as climate change turns their grazing land into desert...

"Given the volatility of Wase [in Plateau state]... that has witnessed communal unrest and remains a flash point, the arrival of the migrants became a matter of security concern to the immediate communities, traditional rulers and the local government council," said Plateau information commissioner Yenlong. "Our action is based on security considerations and not on ethnic or sectarian motives."

Ethno-religious clashes in the town of Jos, in northern Plateau, in November 2008 claimed hundreds of lives...

Politics is polarized along ethnic and religious lines in Plateau state, partly because of the way Nigerian politics defines local rights by whether or not residents are indigenous. Many Muslims are not considered indigenous and feel dominated by Christian-dominated party rule, according to Nigeria analysts.

The areas in question are federal grazing reserves, earmarked as international cattle routes since 1956...

See also:

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Anti-establishment in Tehran

One more thing about Iran as the election approaches.

The BBC's Jane Corbin interviews two young outsiders and notices a couple changes on the streets of Tehran from her time there sixteen years ago. From that she makes some sweeping generalizations. Watch the election results to see how accurate they are.

Rap, blogs and the political mix
[T]he Tehran I discovered was a capital of contrasts, reflecting a true - and deepening - divide in this nation of 72 million people...

On the streets, many push the limits of Islamic dress code, despite the lurking presence of the morality police...

People here told me that while they remain committed to the values of the Islamic Revolution, they are hungry for all that modern life has to offer.

On the streets, many push the limits of Islamic dress code, despite the lurking presence of the morality police, at the ready to arrest those deemed to have gone too far.

At the moment, that fashion is for brightly coloured silk headscarves and big sunglasses. Instead of conservative black head coverings and flowing robes, many women today are sporting a shock of dyed blonde hair pushed out provocatively from under their headscarves.

The trends extend to the popularity of plastic surgery...

The conservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tries hard to keep a tight lid on the country...

But thanks to the youthful make-up of today, there is also a thriving underground scene of musicians, artists and bloggers. These are the people who are changing Iranian society in ways which are beyond the reach of those who control the political arena...

Information is spread here in ways which are difficult for the Islamic authorities to stop. Television is state-controlled but at least a third of Iranians have satellite dishes, offering glimpses of the world beyond its borders.

The government is nervous about the BBC's popular new Persian Service, beamed in from outside. Thanks to home computers, rather than the internet cafes of a decade ago, monitoring of the internet is largely beyond the reach of the authorities...

Many young Iranians say they are not interested in politics and that their society will change regardless of their leaders, even if it is a slow process...

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on Iranian campaigning

The votes aren't in and the supreme leader hasn't publicly told people how to vote yet, but some of the candidates are behaving like the Iranian presidential race is a real campaign.

In Iran, Harsh Talk as Election Nears
The leading candidates are accusing each other of corruption, bribery and torture. The wife of the strongest challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to sue him for defaming her. And every night, parts of the capital become a screaming, honking bacchanal, with thousands of young men dancing and brawling in the streets until dawn.

The presidential campaign, now in its final week, has reached a level of passion and acrimony almost unheard-of in Iran...

[M]any Iranians say the campaign’s raucous tone is due largely to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s unexpectedly fierce rhetorical attacks...

Many people say a critical moment was last Wednesday’s nationally televised debate, in which the president opened with a furious attack on Mr. Moussavi. Mr. Ahmadinejad seemed to spare no one, accusing his conservative and liberal opponents of being corrupt.

But the most shocking thrust, to some viewers, was when he... accused Ms. Rahnavard [Mr. Moussavi’s wife] — a respected professor of political science — of entering a graduate program without taking the entrance exam and other, lesser violations of university policy...

To some extent, the invective and the carnival atmosphere reflect a ritual loosening of the rules every four years during campaign season. If the pent-up energies seem a little wilder this time, that may be a reflection of the crackdown on social freedoms that has taken place under Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who says he wants to return Iran to the zealous piety of the 1979 revolution.

Still, many Iranians say the loosening of tongues may signal a broader shift.

“This will become a wave that cannot be stopped,” said Saeed Leylaz, an economist who was briefly a minister in the previous reform-oriented government. “If the president can say these things about corruption and not be punished, others will say them, too. This is unprecedented and will have consequences.”...

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

It looks like a campaign

Ahmadinejad and Mousavi rallies bring Tehran to halt
Iran's election contest intensified today...

Mousavi voters formed a human chain they claimed ran the entire 15-mile length of Valiasr Avenue, the capital's main north-south road, the impressive turnout underscoring the formidable challenge that Mousavi represents.

The Ahmadinejad camp mounted its own rally, bussing in thousands of supporters to the city's enormous open-air prayer ground in a carnival-type atmosphere...

The contrast between the camps could not have been starker. Mousavi supporters are predominantly young and urbane...

Ahmadinejad's supporters were showered with free flags, posters and stickers, and bottled water to cope with the extreme heat. Many images portrayed him with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, who stands at the apex of the Islamic republic's complex system of government...

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Nigerian rule of law

If you've heard complaints by police and prosecutors about limitations on the use of illegally-gathered evidence, you can understand Mrs. Farida Waziri's complaints about the rule of law in Nigeria.

However, after reading the second article below, her complaints seem strange. Most people in Nigerian prisons have not been convicted of crimes. It could be that Mrs. Waziri is dealing with an elite population of criminals. There are significant differences between elite and grassroots politics in Nigeria, so we should suspect that there are significant differences between elite and grassroots law enforcement.

Rule of Law Frustrates Anti-Corruption War - Farida

President Umaru Musa Yar'adua's campaign for rule of law is frustrating the war against corruption in the country, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mrs. Farida Waziri has said...

She said, "Rule of law is stalling and affecting our operations because people are arrested an arraigned before the court and the judge only to be released the next day on bail. Honestly we are getting frustrated, because the man you pick up looks you into the eye and tell you ,you are wasting your time" Mrs. Waziri called for the establishment of special courts where suspects of economic and financial crimes can be tried within six months. "These courts should be independent. This is because the political officers who commits such offence are not sent to jail except the small ones" the EFCC boss explained...

Mass break-out from Nigerian jail

Over 150 inmates have broken out of an overcrowded prison in Nigeria's south-east during a midnight escape bid.

The police and army have returned all but 20 of the inmates who jumped to freedom after making a hole in the cell ceiling...

"The prisoners who escaped were agitated at the serious delays in the judicial process," Comptroller General of Nigeria's prison service Olushola Ogundipe told journalists.

In Enugu prison, 724 prisoners out of the total prison population of 987 have not been convicted.

Prisoners can be jailed for years without court sentences...

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Party leaders meet

Imagine the PAN leaders from Mexico meeting with Labour leaders in London. Why is the meeting of a United Russia leader with a Communist Party of China leader different? Is it different? Was it more than just a meeting of party leaders?

Chinese, Russian ruling parties launch dialogue mechanism

Representatives from the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the ruling United Russia Party met Tuesday to exchange views on the international financial crisis...

[Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping] hailed the Sino-Russian relationship when meeting with [United Russia Party's council presidium secretary Vyacheslav Volodin] before the ceremony [shown above], saying that China would work with Russia to promote stable and healthy growth of the ties, in a bid to benefit the two nations and peoples...

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Corruption of the system in Mexico

Mexico drug traffickers corrupt politics
There are few places in Mexico that better illustrate the way traffickers have corrupted the political system from its very foundation than Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon.

A relatively new and particularly violent group, La Familia Michoacana, is undermining the electoral system and day-to-day governance of this south-central state, pushing an agenda that goes beyond the usual money-only interests of drug cartels.

Whether by intimidation, purchase or direct order, drug gangs can sometimes dictate who is a candidate and who is not, and put some of their own people in races -- a perversion, critics say, of democracy itself.

Just last week it became clear how deeply embedded La Familia is. Federal authorities detained 10 mayors and 20 other local officials as part of a drug investigation...

Dozens of mayors, city hall officials and politicians have been killed or abducted in Michoacan as La Familia has extended its control in the last couple of years...

Unlike some drug syndicates, La Familia goes beyond the production and transport of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and seeks political and social standing. It has created a cult-like mystique and developed pseudo-evangelical recruitment techniques that experts and law enforcement authorities say are unique in Mexico...

At least 83 of Michoacan's 113 municipalities are compromised by narcos, said a Mexican intelligence source speaking on condition of anonymity...

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 4, Tiananmen Square

I have studied and paid attention to Chinese politics since at least 1965.

During the summer of 1989, after watching the demonstrations and massacre of April, May, and June in (and around) Tiananmen Square I wrote an illustrated data base cataloging the events, the people, and the places relevant to the tragedies. I figure I spent about 400 hours on the project, which was published by the HyperMedia Clearing House (at the University of Colorado - Denver).

For several years, my students used the database in an exercise asking them to describe decision-making in the PRC.

For us geezers, the events of 1989, are powerful memories, and what happened in Beijing was one of many dramatic episodes that year. It's not so relevant today to the study of government and politics in the PRC. Here's one of the reasons.

Tiananmen anniversary unimportant to China's youth

In his baggy shorts hanging below the knees, Puma sneakers and spiky hair, Wang Kangkang is hip to the present, clueless about the past.

Although he comes often to see the nightly ceremony of the Chinese flag being lowered at Tiananmen Square, he doesn't know what happened here in 1989 and doesn't really care.

"Well, it happened before I was born," the 19-year-old said, looking down at his sneakered feet as the crowd shuffled out of the vast expanse of concrete on a balmy evening. "In any case, it's history. Why should we dwell on the past?"..

Apathy as much as censorship has pushed the events of 1989 into the dark recesses of history.

The young Chinese -- one graying activist calls them "the stupid generation" -- remain willfully ignorant about the past...

The activists of the 1980s, many of them still involved with political issues, despair over the attitudes of the younger generation.

"This is the stupid generation. They were raised on Coca-Cola and Western movies and they're very isolated from their country's history," said Zhang Shihe, 56, a blogger and political activist...

Zhou Shuyang, 23, who works in marketing for a European company, speaks fluent English and is tech-savvy enough to get around the "Great Firewall of China" and read whatever she likes online.

But she fully supports the government's efforts to restrict the information.

"If there is too much freedom, all sorts of false rumors can spread on the Internet," she said. "It's not easy to control such a big and diverse country as China."

Zhou added, "For me right now, I feel satisfied with my life, my country. I seldom think about politics."...

Jeremiah Jenne, an American historian teaching and researching in Beijing wrote the following in his blog, "Jottings from the Granite Studio."

Back in Beijing in the middle of a blackout

I’m now back in Beijing and seem to have landed into the middle of a history blackout. I’ve said it before, but nothing makes the CCP look more like a bunch of Kim Jong-il wannabes then when they pull one of these periodic returns to the bad old days of information blackouts and official stupidity...

The ridiculous measures being undertaken in this pathetic campaign of official amnesia include increasing the thug count on the streets of Beijing, the exile of several octogenarians out of the capital, the censoring of foreign satellite signals, the interdiction of foreign newspapers, and even the blocking of social networking sites like Twitter...

This is the CCP in full-blown ninny mode.

The truth is that few remembrances of June 4th will occur on the mainland...

But what’s astonishing to me though is that a country with such a rich intellectual and historical tradition would be content to take such a profoundly anti-intellectual approach to history, but I guess such is the “culture” of learning in today’s PRC, which can best be summed up as “Take a test, memorize your lessons, graduate, shut up, quit thinking, and buy a damn car.”

If I sound a little testy, it’s because I am. When history is swept under the rug, it can begin to rot and that stench is the smell of fear, the odor of a government which cannot tolerate ideas or perspectives with which it disagrees...

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ten years of democracy in Nigeria?

Pains, Gains of a Decade of Democracy
In his farewell speech on May 28, 1999, the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar declared that it was time for the military to return to its constitutional role of defending the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to him, "We must, forever, resist and renounce the seduction and temptation of political power and office. We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. It is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast, changing world, in which new political and social values are transcendent."...

Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his acceptance speech titled "Restoration of confidence in government" said he was aware of the widespread cynicism and total lack of confidence in government arising from the bad faith, deceit and evil actions of the past administrations". He then promised to implement quickly and decisively, measures that would restore confidence in governance...

Obasanjo spent eight years before handing over to the incumbent President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua...

Opinion leaders are generally happy with the civilian rule on the ground that it is the only form of governance that can guarantee improved economy like what obtains in some other countries and also guarantee the triumph of the will of the people through genuine representation at all tiers of government as enshrined in democratic tenets.

This belief no doubt, was responsible for the political stability in Nigeria from May 29, 1999 to date. Unfortunately, Nigeria's democratic progress was marred by corruption, electoral malpractices, nepotism and lack of patriotism on the part of the leaders.

According to Chinedu Akuta, the Coordinator of Support Option A4 Group "Sincerely speaking, the only gain we have got in the past 10 years of democracy in Nigeria is simply that we have had a civilian regime..."

Analysts are of the opinion that the ten years of self-governance in Nigeria has not impacted positively on the lives of the people as leaders have not delivered the democracy dividends to the people...

But Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze , Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Information said that all is not bad for the decade of democracy in Nigeria. "It has been good but that does not mean that there have been no challenges..."

Senator Eze also said that the leaders cannot be totally blamed for the woes of the nation, rather he said that since democracy thrives more on the vigilance of the followership than on the vision of the leadership...

Imnakoya, who writes the blog, Grandiose Parlor, noted the tenth anniversary of civil government with an entry titled, "Ten years of democracy, has Nigeria fared better or worse?".
In what sector of the society has democracy made the most difference in Nigeria?

Is it in freedom of speech; accountability and rule of law; human rights and improved standard of living — reflected in lower crime rate; better education, improved access to health care and increasing socioeconomic status?

Sadly none of those indicators has improved over the last 10 years in Nigeria.

Democracy has not had significant and direct benefit to the people, particularly those at the lower strata of society, for one simple reason. The majority of the office holders and politicians lack genuine social agenda and the aptitude to bring about sustainable changes in the society.

Public service is not the motivating factor in Nigerian politics, at least over the last 10 years. The lure of power for personal gains is.

And would you agree that this singular factor has contributed in making Nigeria more undemocratic today than 10 years ago?

Why Democracy is On Course - Yar'Adua
PRESIDENT Umaru Yar'Adua said yesterday that the nations' democratic governance has lasted 10 years, uninterrupted... because of the deep-rooted loyalty and professionalism of the officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces...

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

No independent civil society in China

The Party/government in China continues to do whatever it sees as necessary to prevent the establishment and organization of any civil society outside of official control.

China Said to Harass Rights Lawyers
Chinese legal authorities have threatened to delay or deny the renewal of legal licenses for 18 top civil rights lawyers, escalating the use of a tactic they have used to put pressure lawyers they consider troublesome, two human rights advocacy groups have charged...

The authorities in China have frequently sought to silence or intimidate activist lawyers by holding up the annual renewal of their licenses to practice law. But the widespread use of the bureaucratic technique against top lawyers in the capital is rare...

Some of those threatened have been attacked and beaten as well...

Government pressure on activist lawyers appears to be increasing this year, Chinese Human Rights Defenders stated, as Chinese officials seek to guarantee public order during a stretch of politically sensitive dates, including the 20th anniversary of the bloody assault on Tiananmen Square prodemocracy demonstrators on June 4.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Conservative leader proposes constitutional changes in the UK

Are the proposals real or just campaign rhetoric? How do they measure up by the standards suggested by the New York Times reporter and The Economist editors? (See Two Analyses.)

British Conservative leader Cameron calls for sweeping reforms in wake of expenses scandal
Conservative Party leader David Cameron called Tuesday for sweeping reforms to Britain's political system, part of an aggressive damage-control campaign that has made him the only political figure to gain ground from a scandal over lawmakers' expenses.

Cameron — widely expected to be the next prime minister — is now on record as wanting to find ways to increase the authority of parliament and limit the prime minister's powers, possibly by ending the leader's ability to schedule elections.

"We will begin a massive redistribution of power in our country, from the powerful to the powerless, from the political elite to the man and the woman in the street," he said...

He also detailed plans to slash the number of lawmakers by at least 10 percent and to give voters the chance to have proposals backed by large petitions debated by the Commons. And he pledged to reverse a ban on parliamentary proceedings being shown on YouTube...

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Two analyses

Even next year, when we know more about the fallout, these two bits of journalistic analysis might be useful teaching tools when you're trying to help students understand representative government and parliamentary regimes.

Retrieve these articles now. Put them in your teaching file for next year. Dig them out in September or January (or whenever it is that you're teaching about the UK) and see if they're still relevant and helpful. Then add a couple other articles to update things.

Beneath a British Scandal, Deeper Furies

To speak of a “political revolution” in Britain would seem chimerical were it not for the number of times the possibility has been raised these days... Suddenly, the talk is of a political system grown petrified, and in urgent need of a root-and-branch overhaul that restores the accountability of politicians — and of the government — to the people.

The alarm has been stirred by an upsurge in public anger over venality that seems to have run like a virus through the House of Commons...

[T]he mood of anger is palpable in every pub and on every bus and train. It concerns far more than the latest scandal, touching grievances that have been building gradually for at least 30 years — perhaps for nearly a century — about the growth of a self-serving political class, arrogant habits of rule and an inward-looking cadre of senior civil servants, for all of which the most appropriate adjective seems to be “high-handed.”

Now the popular resentment has reached proportions that are drawing comparisons to the situation 180 years ago, when the Great Reform Act of 1832 was speeded through Parliament by riots in several cities...

[C]ritics had also noted that the reforms that began in earnest in 1832 began to be rolled back as early as World War I, with governments claiming ever-widening statutory powers, and imposing their will roughshod through their control of pliant parliamentary majorities. The result, the critics say, has been an entrenchment of “parliamentary dictatorship,” with the only moment of meaningful accountability for governments coming at general elections that are held, in normal circumstances, every four or five years...

[P]ressure for change has been growing; that pressure feeds on public disaffection with the way unpopular policies have been pushed through with only a minimum of parliamentary scrutiny, and sometimes with debate cut short by the government. The watershed, historically, may prove to have been Britain’s decision to join the United States in the 2003 invasion of Iraq...

Political climate change
OVER the past century, the British have lost a lot—their empire, their military might, their economic leadership and even their sense of superiority. But they still reckoned that they had one of the best parliaments in the world...

That is why the revelations of the past two weeks—that MPs have been picking taxpayers’ pockets, pushing the rules to breaking point on second-home mortgage relief, massage chairs, moat-clearing and the like—have been such a shock. The public is apoplectic...

A vast array of solutions are being rushed forward. Broadly, they fit into three categories. There is an electoral solution: the opposition Tories want a general election to let the people sweep the cursed crooks from office (and themselves into it). There is a range of constitutional reforms, from fewer MPs to proportional representation. And there is institutional spring cleaning—changing the allowances system, improving MPs’ usefulness and getting rid of the most grievous offenders. This newspaper is not afraid of calling for elections or constitutional change, but in this particular situation the emphasis, especially now, should be on the last set of proposals. That is because this crisis—no matter how shameful the offences involved—is institutional, not constitutional...

Begin with the idea of an election. The prospect of a fresh start is certainly alluring...

If an election were called next week, Britain might well end up with a Parliament for the next five years that is defined entirely by its views on claiming for bath plugs, rather than on how to get the country out of the worst recession in 70 years.

The same yes-but-not-now logic applies to the calls for constitutional reform... You could re-engineer great swathes of Westminster—bring in an elected House of Lords, introduce a Bill of Rights, design open primaries for MPs, scrap the first-past-the-post electoral system—and it would not make a shred of difference if the people elected were left in charge of claiming their own expenses amid a “course-you-can-chum” culture...

So focus on making a misused organisation work. Finding a new speaker is the first task...

The second task is to deal with the most egregious envelope-pushers...

The third job is changing the way MPs’ finances are regulated...

Do these three things quickly and much of the sting will be drawn. That still leaves room to begin a broad review of the workings of Parliament and to tackle the constitutional issues.

One reason for Westminster’s longer-run woes is that the job of an MP has become less appealing to capable independent minds... A leaching of authority to the executive has left MPs too dependent for advancement on the goodwill of party higher-ups... That could be corrected by giving more, not less, power to MPs—for instance by setting up permanent committees with long-serving members, more expert staff and power to compel evidence.

As for an election, one is due within a year. Better to save that great accounting for a time when voters care about something bigger than the dodgy expenses of some errant MPs.

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