Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 22, 2011


hi·a·tus /haɪˈeɪtəs/ Pronunciation[hahy-ey-tuhs]
–noun, plural -tus·es, -tus.

  1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

  2. any gap or opening.

  3. an indefinite period of time when most schools in the US are not in session and during which the primary contributor to this blog takes a break from posting while joining family in observance of the solstice, religious holidays, and the beginning of the new year.
[Origin: 1555–65; < L hiātus opening, gap, equiv. to hiā(re) to gape, open + -tus suffix of v. action]

Source: hiatus. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved July 15, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hiatus

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Hotbed of unhappiness

Leningrad/St. Petersburg was a center of political dissent 20+ years ago. One of the exports was a guy named Putin. It seems that St. Petersburg is not so enamored with its "favorite son" anymore.

Putin’s hometown turns against him
No city is more closely associated with Vladimir Putin’s rule than St. Petersburg. The Russian Prime Minister grew up in what was then Leningrad, and attended KGB school here. During his 12 years in power, Mr. Putin’s governments have poured billions into restoring the palaces, canals and bridges of this graceful former capital of the Russian empire.

But being showered with favouritism is no longer enough. The city that Mr. Putin says he “loves” is now a centre of the growing opposition to his rule.

According to the official – and hotly disputed – results of the country’s Dec. 4 parliamentary election, Mr. Putin’s United Russia party took 35 per cent of the vote in St. Petersburg, one the lowest levels of support in the country. It represented a rebuke for Mr. Putin, who took nearly three-quarters of the vote here when he last ran for president in 2004…

President Dmitry Medvedev is a St. Petersburg native too, as are most of Mr. Putin’s inner circle of advisers and cabinet ministers. Russians elsewhere grumble about the powerful “St. Petersburg clan” and this city’s disproportionate political and economic influence over the rest of the country.

But Sergei Shelin, one of the city’s best-known journalists, said St. Petersburgers no longer see Mr. Putin as one of their own. “Ten years ago, it mattered that Putin was from St. Petersburg. But the St. Petersburg clan and St. Petersburg, the city, are different things. People don’t see themselves as part of this clan. … If Putin actually gets the real information through all his filters, it must personally bother him that his hometown doesn’t love him any more.”

Part of the reason St. Petersburg – Russia’s most open and Westernized city – has turned on Mr. Putin is that he has proven to be anything but the reformer many had hoped he was. Before he was unexpectedly anointed Boris Yeltsin’s successor, Mr. Putin served a deputy to the liberal governor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Many here expected Mr. Putin would follow Mr. Sobchak’s liberal course once he got to the Kremlin.

Instead, Mr. Putin has taken Russia several strides back toward its Soviet past, with both the media and the officially registered opposition parties being brought under tight Kremlin control.

Last week, Mr. Sobchak’s daughter, Ksenia, joined the opposition protests in Moscow. “I can no longer just silently watch what is happening in my country,” the 30-year-old socialite, who has known Mr. Putin since she was a young girl, wrote on her Twitter account. “The point of no return has been passed.”

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Compliments from the IMF

The International Monetary Fund is most often cited as telling poor countries what they have to do in order to qualify for fiscal help. Nigeria's President Jonathan got compliments instead. I'll be interested in hearing what the IMF head says about Nigeria a few years from now. (In over 40 years of studying Nigeria, I've gone through more "optimistic-pessimistic cycles" than I can count.)

Lagarde praises Nigeria's economic efforts
IMF head Christine Lagarde, who is visiting Africa, has praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's efforts to transform his country's economy…

Ms Largarde is visiting Africa for the first time as head of the IMF…

"My mission is to come and listen and appreciate and understand exactly what economy programme will be implemented in Nigeria, and the initiative and leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan," Ms Lagarde said.

"I was extremely impressed with... the energy and pace at which he wants to transform the economy, create jobs and focus on agriculture."

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Bookkeeping in Nigeria

A rentier state is one which receives most of its revenue by selling products in the global market. It means that the government doesn't have to tax citizens much and often feels little responsibility to spend its income for the good of the general public.

An article in Vanguard (Lagos) offers some details on November's income and its distribution in Nigeria.

(As of December 16, US$1.00 = 161.8 Naira; 1 Naira = US$0.0062.)

FG, States, LGs Share N612 Billion
The three tiers of government, yesterday, shared a total of N612.077 billion as their allocations from the federally collected revenue for the month of November, which would be used for their December expenditure…

Detailed analysis of distribution showed that the Federal Government took a total of N194.666 billion made up of N194.132 billion from the Statutory Allocation, representing its 52.68 per cent under the existing sharing formula and another N7.534 billion , representing 15 per cent under the VAT revenue sub- head.

The states and local governments shared the balance based on their allocated revenue formula of 26.72 per cent and 20.60 per cent respectively.

The nine oil producing states got an additional N42.048 billion, representing 13 per cent of the oil revenue generated under the month of November. Similarly, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, received N4.1 billion, representing 4 per cent of revenue it generated to cover cost of collection. The Nigerian Customs Service also receive the sum of N2.763 billion, representing 7 per cent of its revenue to cover duties' collection cost.

Other blog entries about rentier states:
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The north-south divide in the UK

The example raised by the Institute for Public Policy Research North is a prime example of the cleavage between the southern UK and the north (including, of course, Scotland).

Rationale or rationalization, there are reasons why so much public money is spent in the south (Conservative Party territory). But northern (Labour Party territory) interests hint that the real reasons are political.

Transport spending 'skewed towards London'
The government spends more money on transport projects for Londoners than on those for the rest of the country combined, a think tank says.

The Institute for Public Policy Research North says £2,700 is spent per person in London compared with £5 per head in the north-east of England…

The government says its investment strategy is to maximise economic benefits for the country as a whole.

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR North, said: "Skewed spending benefiting London and the south-east is nothing new but these new figures are truly shocking and will strike most people as deeply unfair."

The BBC's Transport Correspondent Richard Lister says the report claims the infrastructure strategy is "entrenching the North-South divide"…

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Election returns from the UK

But the "Bus-Pass Elvis Party" won 93 votes!

Miliband hails Labour win in Feltham and Heston
Labour leader Ed Miliband says his party's victory in the Feltham and Heston by-election is "a verdict on the government's failed economic plan".

Winning candidate Seema Malhotra secured victory in the west London seat with an increased majority of 6,203 over the Tories, a swing of 8.6%…

The by-election was prompted by the death last month of Labour MP Alan Keen…

Ms Malhotra grew up in Feltham, and went to school in Heston. She was an adviser to Harriet Harman during her stint as Leader of the Opposition in 2010…

The full results were:

Seema Malhotra, Labour - 12,639 (54.42%, +10.79%)
Mark Bowen, Conservative - 6,436 (27.71%, -6.32%)
Roger Crouch, Liberal Democrats - 1,364 (5.87%, -7.87%)
Andrew Charalambous, UKIP - 1,276 (5.49%, +3.45%)
David Furness, BNP - 540 (2.33%, -1.21%)
Daniel Goldsmith, Green - 426 (1.83%, +0.74%)
Roger Cooper, English Democrats - 322 (1.39%)
George Hallam, London People Before Profit - 128 (0.55%)
David Bishop, Bus-Pass Elvis Party - 93 (0.40%)

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Say again?

It seemed like a typical press release from the Chinese government, but I read it anyway. When I finished I had to ask, "What was he talking about?"

Senior Chinese leader urges efforts to improve social management
Senior Chinese leader Zhou Yongkang has reiterated that more efforts should be made to promote social management in line with the socialist market-oriented economic system...

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, addresses a seminar on social management innovation attended by leaders from nine northern provinces and autonomous regions in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 2, 2011.

While Zhou praised the efforts of local authorities to enhance social management, he said the current social management mechanism is not keeping pace with social and economic development, a failure particularly damaging to the market-oriented economy.

He urged delegates to innovate in social management by taking overall consideration and conducting systematic study of China's economic development, improving the well-being of the people and social stability.

He also reiterated the importance of improving social management by promoting practices nationwide derived from good community-level experience, adding that the community-level organs are make-or-break.

The job of improving social management should go deep in community-level organs, with increasing allocation of manpower and material resources, said Zhou.

It turns out that a later revision of the press release offered some hints about what "social management" is.

Senior Chinese leader calls for improved social management of prisoners, drug addicts, HIV carriers
Senior leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Zhou Yongkang has called for improved services and social management for prisoners, drug addicts, mental patients and HIV carriers.

Services for and management of these members of society are critical to social stability and harmony, said Zhou, who is a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

Despite notable progress, blind spots, management loopholes and potential safety hazards remain, Zhou said at a conference Monday.

Zhou advocates an approach that combines both education and assistance in an effort to ensure these people observe law and discipline, and to "live in harmony with society."

Zhou also underlined the importance of showing due respect to these groups and protecting their legitimate interests…

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Communists as landlords

The conjunction of brazen theft by public officials, determined villagers, and proximity to foreign reporters has made one village in China famous. There are regular reports of protests and resistance from hundreds of villages, but most of them are beyond the reach of reporters like Andrew Jacobs.

What's the ruling party to do when it is cast in the role it assigned to landlords 80 years ago?

Chinese Village Locked in Rebellion Against Authorities
A long-running dispute between farmers and local officials in southern China exploded into open rebellion this week after villagers chased away government leaders, set up roadblocks and began arming themselves with homemade weapons, residents said.

The conflict in Wukan, a coastal settlement near the country’s booming industrial heartland in Guangdong Province, escalated on Monday after residents learned that one of the representatives they had selected to negotiate with the local Communist Party had died in police custody…

Spasms of social unrest in China have become increasingly common, a reflection of the widening income gap and deepening unhappiness with official corruption and an unresponsive justice system.

But the clashes in Wukan, which first erupted in September, appear to be unusual for their longevity — and for the brazenness of the participants…

The unrest began in September, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the seizure of agricultural land they said was illegally taken by government officials. The land was sold to developers, they said, but the farmers ended up with little or no compensation. After two days of protests, during which police vehicles were destroyed and government buildings ransacked, riot police moved in with what residents described as excessive brutality.

With order restored, local officials vowed to investigate the villager’s land-grab claims. Two village party officials were fired and the authorities made an offer that is rare in China’s top-down political system: county party officials would negotiate with a group of village representatives chosen by popular consensus.

A butcher named Xue Jinbo was among the 13 people chosen…

Last Friday, the authorities responded by sending in a group of plain-clothes policemen who grabbed five of the representatives, including Mr. Xue.

Two days later, he was dead…

Although government censors blocked news of the latest unrest, the state-run Xinhua news agency weighed in on the “rumors” about Mr. Xue’s death, saying he had died of cardiac arrest a day after confessing to his role in the riots of in September…

The top party official in Shanwei, Zheng Yanxiong, said Mr. Xue’s death would nonetheless be investigated, but he warned residents against using their suspicions to fuel unrest.

“The government will strive to settle all related problems and hopes the village will not be instigated into staging further riots,” Mr. Zheng said.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Real candidate or not?

Once again, the question has been raised about Prokhorov's political activity. Is he more than a candidate that will help United Russia?

Prokhorov’s entry into Russian race could complicate Putin’s plans
In a move that may further shake the Putin government’s firm political grip, tycoon and NBA franchise owner Mikhail Prokhorov announced he will run for the presidency.

Though other opposition leaders quickly alleged that Monday’s surprise decision is a Kremlin ploy to split the vote, the mining magnate and owner of the New Jersey Nets could be a galvanizing figure to the thousands of Russians protesting alleged election fraud and widespread corruption…

The last time Mr. Prokhorov tried his hand at Russian politics, he lasted just four months before he was forced out, seemingly a victim of his own growing popularity. The 46-year-old tycoon was outspoken in his disgust at the time, blaming a “puppet master” inside the Kremlin for his ouster as the head of a pro-business party in September.

Now, depending on whom you believe, he is either challenging the puppet masters directly, or willfully joining the show…

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and a key leader of the street protests, told the Interfax news agency that he believes Mr. Prokhorov’s candidacy is a Kremlin project aimed at defusing public anger over the parliamentary elections by creating the impression that the coming presidential vote will be a competitive one.

Former chess champion Garry Kasparov, a long-time critic of Mr. Putin, was more direct. “Prokhorov is a puppet,” he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “The Kremlin is desperate to create a distraction and this is another effort to create the illusion of choice to mollify the Russian middle class, to get them out of the streets.”…

Challenging the Kremlin comes with enormous risks, even for the ultra-rich. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest man until he became outspoken in his criticism of Mr. Putin. He has been in prison since 2003, convicted on tax evasion and embezzlement charges that were widely seen as politically motivated.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thanks, but no thanks

Why would the beneficiaries of Russia's economy protest its politics? That doesn't happen in other countries, does it?

Boosted by Putin, Russia’s Middle Class Turns on Him
Here is the rub for Vladimir V. Putin: The people who stood outside the Kremlin on Saturday, chanting epithets directed at him, are the ones who have prospered greatly during his 12 years in power.

They were well traveled and well mannered; they wore hipster glasses. They were wonky (some held aloft graphs showing statistical deviations that they said proved election fraud). In short, they were young urban professionals, a group that benefited handsomely from Moscow’s skyrocketing real estate market and the trickle-down effect of the nation’s oil wealth…

It is a paradox, but one that has been documented by social scientists: the residents of Moscow and other large cities tend to express greater frustration with Prime Minister Putin as his government has helped make them wealthier. One explanation is the high level of public corruption here, which threatens new personal wealth. A second is a phenomenon seen in Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, that economic growth can inadvertently undermine autocratic rule by creating an urban professional class that clamors for new political rights…

It must be frustrating for Mr. Putin that those now protesting have enjoyed growing wealth while he has been the country’s predominant figure, first as president and now as prime minister. From 2000, the year he assumed the presidency, until 2008, wages, adjusted for inflation, grew at an average of nearly 15 percent a year. But while salaries are still rising, they are increasing much more slowly today — at an average of 1.3 percent per year since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, according to data compiled by Citibank.

And as they become wealthier, residents of cities are prone to venting their frustration with the political system…

If there was a single catalyst to the recent events, it was probably Mr. Putin’s unilateral announcement in September that he would run again for the presidency, in effect swapping places with Mr. Medvedev. Some Russians now snidely refer to this as “rokirovka” — the Russian word for castling in chess, the move in which a rook and the king are moved at the same time, to shelter the king…

In addition to the New York Times report, Dr. Thomas Remington, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science at Emory University, wrote in The Monkey Cage blog about the Russian middle class.

If you assign this to students, be sure to point out the irony and sarcasm in parts of Remington's commentary.

Russia: Middle Class Rising
Press reports in both Russia and the US of the large-scale protests against election fraud in Moscow and other large cities are characterizing this movement as the political mobilization of the Russian “middle class.”…

Kremlin [insider] Vladislav Surkov understands this point well. Earlier this year he attempted to breathe life into the crumbling Right Cause party by recruiting oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov to head it. But Prokhorov’s refusal to limit his electoral ambitions to the small share of the vote Surkov was willing to concede to him wrecked the project. A few days ago, after the fiasco of the Duma election—the poor official results for United Russia, the widespread and well-documented use of ballot-stuffing, manipulation of absentee voting certificates, and after-hours revisions of local vote tallies—Surkov again pointed out that Russia needs a political party for the “disgruntled urban communities” that believe in quaint ideas of political rights and fair elections…

But are we seeing the rise of the middle class?… Big cities contain clusters of educated, internet-savvy, self-aware, and politically engaged citizens. As if testing the classic Verba-Schlozman-Brady model of political participation, they have the grievances to motivate their involvement in civic protest (“because they want to”), they have the ability to communicate (“because they can”), and they summon one another to turn out for rallies and collective acts of protest (“because someone asked them”).

There is a proto-middle class in Russia, but it is divided straight down the middle between those in the private sector and those in the budget [public] sector. The recent election protests are not the revolt of the middle class, but a result of the gradual establishment of a real civil society with growing self-confidence and an awareness of its rights that is taking on board the opportunities for mobilization granted by the new communications technologies.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An uphill struggle

To get an idea of what reforms the coalition government says it's trying to carry out, here's The Economist on welfare reform in the UK.

The unemployed are suffering, but things aren't easy for the government that is trying to find an affordable solution.

Nice work if you can find it
The government has set about a thorough reform of benefits. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, wants to replace six housing and work benefits with a single universal credit…

But the Work Programme, launched in June, is the big idea for getting more people off handouts. It has commissioned 18 main providers to deliver 40 contracts across Britain at a cost of up to £5 billion. Seven-year contracts to remove the uncertainty of changeable government schemes are coupled with incentives to get people into long-term jobs and keep them there.

EOS, [one of the contractors]… has attempted to replicate workplaces. Local firms can set up shop in its employment centres to try out employees. From a gallery above the shop floor, prospective bosses can look down on those going about their tasks and select the most diligent workers. Trade skills like plumbing and basic construction are taught, while in classrooms, jobseekers—known as “clients”—learn how to use the internet and personal networks to sniff out local jobs…

Besides delightful things like a gym, a café and free computer facilities lurks the threat of benefits forfeited. EOS quickly sends out reminders to those referred by jobcentres who fail to turn up. After that, they are notified that welfare payments can be withdrawn. No figures are yet available for how often this has happened, though Chris Grayling, the minister responsible for the measures, insists that the threat is “already changing behaviour”…

Some believe that the payment-by-results system itself is failing. Ian Mulheirn of the Social Market Foundation, a pro-reform think-tank, says the scheme is in danger of financial collapse because many contractors are missing their targets: “The only question is when ministers will face up to it.” He estimates that even the most efficient schemes can move only 10% more people to jobs who would not have found work by themselves…

As the jobless figures continue to rise, some unfashionable ideas are returning. Graeme Cook, an analyst with the Institute for Public Policy Research, a centre-left think-tank, believes that the coalition should provide state-sponsored jobs to ensure that young and long-term jobseekers don’t stay in the cold for too long. Although the coalition formally resists this New Labour-era idea, the chancellor recently agreed to provide some wage subsidies for companies employing people who have struggled to find work—and to channel £300m into apprenticeship schemes…

The coalition’s impatience with what David Cameron, the prime minister, calls “sick-note culture” is laudable. So is its determination to make state handouts a last resort rather than a way of life—a goal that eluded the previous government, which nonetheless threw a lot more money at the problem. Opinion polls show strong support for an overhaul of welfare. But over-hyping the impact of a single programme when the stubborn central problem is slow economic growth does not seem wise…

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Look over here

Mikhail Prokhorov has been flirting with politics for quite awhile. Some of the flirting has been done with the cooperation of Putin and Medvedev. Now, he seems to be taking on the leadership directly. Or has he been recruited as Potemkin Village candidate?

Billionaire to Oppose Putin in Russian Presidential Election
Amid a crescendo of complaints from Russians fed up with the country’s tightly controlled political system, two prominent figures — a billionaire industrialist and the recently ousted finance minister — sought to fill a void in the opposition leadership on Monday.

Mikhail D. Prokhorov announced his plan to contest the Russian presidency on Monday in Moscow.

The billionaire, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, who owns shares in a major gold mining company and an array of other ventures in Russia as well as the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise in the United States, said he will run for president, challenging Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

“I made a decision, probably the most serious decision in my life: I am going to the presidential election,” Mr. Prohkorov said at a news conference. He has barely appeared in public since mid-September, when he was dramatically removed as the head of a pro-business party, Just Cause, after clashing with Kremlin political strategists.

“You may remember, the Kremlin removed me and my allies from Just Cause, and we were not allowed to do what we wanted,” he said. “It is not in my nature to stop halfway. So for the last two and a half months we sat and worked, very calmly and quietly, and we created all the infrastructure to collect two million signatures,” which are needed to get on the ballot…

For Mr. Prokhorov, whose business interests include a stake in the Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn, his leap into presidential politics could be risky. He is the first wealthy businessman to pursue a political goal in Russia against the governing authorities since the 2003 arrest of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the former chairman of the Yukos Oil Company, who was jailed after he began financing an opposition party. He remains in prison.

The Kremlin is clearly considering blessing a liberal party, after the backlash that has emerged in recent days.

In an interview that was posted Tuesday on the Web site of Ekho Moskvy radio station, Kremlin strategist Vladislav Y. Surkov said he supported the creation of “a mass liberal party or, more precisely, a party for the annoyed urban communities,” and that in order for Russia’s political system to survive, it needed to open up to “new players.”

Previous blog posts about Mr. Prokhorov

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No, look over there

It seems to be a political axiom: if things aren't going well domestically, get people to focus on international issues.

Putin's doing it. Can you find examples of other politicians doing it?

Putin Contends Clinton Incited Unrest Over Vote
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday of inciting unrest in Russia, as he grappled with the prospect of large-scale political protest for the first time in his more than decade-long rule.

In a rare personal accusation, Mr. Putin said Mrs. Clinton had sent “a signal” to “some actors in our country” after Sunday’s parliamentary elections, which were condemned as fraudulent by both international and Russian observers…

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Friday, December 09, 2011

More expert analysis on Russia

Dr. Joshua Tucker quotes Dr. Graeme Robertson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Robertson is "an expert on protest in Russia."

The Beginning of the End of the Putin Regime as We have Known It
Most people, myself included… were surprised by the results of the Russian Duma elections last Sunday. But the protests that have followed, in Moscow, St. Petersburg and across the country, should be less surprising. Far from being spontaneous or unexpected, this week’s protests are the result of years of campaigning and organizing by the anti-system opposition…

[T]he Russian state’s counter-mobilization capacity is extremely strong. Nashi, Mestnie, Moldaya Gvardia and other pro-government youth groups have been organizing large events in key locations in Moscow. On Tuesday, some 17 000 young people participated in a pro-government meeting in front of giant pictures of outgoing President, Dmitrii Medvedev (an unlikely subject for a personality cult if ever there was one!)…

The final key element in this story is the Russian political elite, which to date remains strongly behind the Putin/Medvedev project…

In this regard, the current situation in Russia is completely different from events in Serbia, Ukraine or Georgia. There is no credible political alternative to the current administration and defections from the ruling party are highly unlikely…

So it is unlikely (not impossible – but don’t bet on it) that this week’s protests will prevent the new Duma taking its seats, or Vladimir Putin returning to the presidency. Nevertheless, the events of this week are significant. The opposition that was born in the pensioners’ protests in 2005 has come of age, and protest in the streets is signaling the beginning of the end of the Putin regime as we have known it.

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Academic thoughts on the Russian election results

Joshua Tucker, political science professor at New York University, offers some thoughts on the recent Russian elections and quotes Vladimir Gelman of the European University of Saint Petersburg on why "voters are not fools."

Tucker describes the Russian system as a "competitive authoritarian regime." To my understanding, he means pretty much the same thing that Fareed Zakaria described in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec 1997) as an "illiberal democracy." Zakaria's label has been used frequently in comparative politics and in AP materials.

Voters are Not Fools: A Response to the 2011 Russian Parliamentary Elections
By now, we all know the score in terms of Russian elections. An election is called, the state employs its “administrative resources” to ensure huge advantages for the ruling party or candidate, a little bit of fraud is added in when necessary… and, voila! The ruling regime returns to power with a crushing victory… and absolute control of the parliament and the presidential apparatus…

However something interesting happened over the weekend. The competitive authoritarian regime par excellence, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, went to the polls in a parliamentary election and lost votes from the previous election. And seats. Quite a lot of them actually. Yes, the ruling United Russia party will still have a majority in parliament, but it will be a much smaller majority than its previous majority…

What exactly does this mean??? Things like this are not supposed to happen. We are pleased to welcome with a first response to the election Vladimir Gelman of the European University of Saint Petersburg: "The famous American political scientist V.O.Key in his 1966 book, “The Responsible Electorate”, posted a well-known maxim: “Voters are not fools”. Since then, it has been oft-cited in descriptions and explanations of voting behavior in electoral democracies. December 4, 2011, proved this wisdom for the case of voting behavior under electoral authoritarian regimes. It is especially true in Russia, where voters experienced more than a decade of relatively open electoral competition and have not forgot it as yet despite numerous efforts put forth by the Kremlin. Even though the party of power, United Russia (also known by its nickname as “the party of swindlers and thieves”), was able to get a majority of seats in the State Duma (238 out of 450 seats), still its officially reported electoral results were below 50%, and in some big cities even well below 30-35%. Yet, it was far from what political scientists call as “stunning” elections when authoritarian regimes collapsed because of unexpected opening of ballot boxes (similarly to what happens in the Soviet 1989 elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies). However, even under conditions as uneven as the playing field of Russia’s electoral authoritarianism act of voting might become a weapon of the weak citizens against the strong state, if citizens employ efficient strategies of their political resistance…"

[Gelman's whole article (in Russian)]

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Democracy in a war zone

It's been implied all along, but Mexico's president has said out loud that narco-gangs threaten the country's democratic regime.

Mexico's Calderon says drug gangs threatening democracy
Organised crime poses an "open threat" to democracy in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has warned.

Mr Calderon said attempts by drug gangs to manipulate elections was a "new and worrying fact".

Speaking as his sixth and final year in office began, Mr Calderon also defended his decision to use troops to tackle the cartels.

Mr Calderon's speech comes as political campaigns are intensifying ahead of next July's presidential poll…

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The fiction of elections

Sharon LaFraniere, writing in the New York Times, describes more examples of the success of the Chinese Communist Party in keeping independent candidates out of office.

Alarmed by Independent Candidates, Chinese Authorities Crack Down
Periodic elections to neighborhood People’s Congresses are as close to participatory democracy as this nation comes. Of the many grass-roots candidates running here this year, Qiao Mu, an energetic 41-year-old journalism professor in the capital, seemed one of the better bets.

Qiao Mu, a professor who ran for office in Beijing, holding a T-Shirt that says, “I won't be able to speak for you if there's no vote.”

He was well known and liked on the campus of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, his election district. He ran an innovative campaign, making full use of social networks and other Internet tools. He amassed a cadre of enthusiastic student campaigners, and he aimed for practical improvements in campus life: a faster Internet connection and permission for students to study in the spare classrooms instead of the crowded cafeteria.

He lost anyway. A university vice president — a largely unknown personage whose campaign amounted to some posters — collected three times as many votes.

Mr. Qiao said authorities did all they could to stymie him, keeping his name off the ballot, threatening his student volunteers, even forcibly collecting the red bookmarks he had printed with the slogan: “I am the master of my ballot.”

“The harassment started from the very beginning,” he said in an interview in his university office, still cluttered with campaign paraphernalia he never got to distribute. “It is a shame, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “All we did was follow China’s Constitution and election law.”

His experience demonstrates an underlying political doctrine of today’s China: while Chinese leaders speak in favor of political reform, local authorities routinely deny voters the chance to freely choose a political representative.

Such official machinations have become more obvious and more intense this year — a telling indicator of the government’s paranoia over a greatly increased pool of independent candidates, even given the near powerlessness of the congresses…

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Sarah Palin moment in Mexico?

Does a president need to be an intellectual? Need he be literate? Does he need to mindful of what he reads?

Mexican poll contender Pena Nieto falters at book event
Mexico's leading presidential contender Enrique Pena Nieto gave new ammunition to his critics this weekend.

Asked to name three books that had had an impact on him, he floundered before saying that, as an adolescent, he had been influenced by the Bible.

Political opponents have often accused Mr Pena Nieto - a handsome and telegenic politician married to a television actress - of being "hollow"…

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Warn the protesters

Putin and his henchmen may think that arresting protest leaders will help them improve their poll results for the presidential election. What do you think?

Jailing Opposition Leaders, Russia Moves to Quell Election Protests
On the morning after thousands of people protested parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by irregularities, two prominent opposition figures who appeared at the demonstration remained under arrest…

One of the men, Ilya Yashin, a leader of the Solidarity movement, was found guilty by a judge of organizing an unauthorized rally and disobeying police orders, and was given a sentence of 15 days in prison… The other man, the anticorruption blogger Alexei Navalny, was expected to face similar charges…

Meanwhile, in a show of strength intended to counter the opposition voices, more than 10,000 supporters of the government, including members of a the pro-Kremlin youth movement, Nashi, attended a celebratory rally in the capital on Tuesday. The group gathered near Red Square before a stage with portraits of Mr. Putin and President Dmitri A. Medvedev. Supporters of United Russia have said the results in Sunday’s election represented a “clean victory.”…

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Implications for political culture

Andrew J. Orzel who teaches in Alexandria, VA, posted a link to this Pew Research Center poll on the College Board discussion list. The poll results might be a way of opening discussion about comparative government and politics. There are many bits of data and implications for politics and policies. It would be preferable to have greater diversity in the countries considered, but this task is huge already.

There is a good section on the polling methodology and it's possible to download a PDF version of the full report.

The American-Western European Values Gap
As has long been the case, American values differ from those of Western Europeans in many important ways. Most notably, Americans are more individualistic and are less supportive of a strong safety net than are the publics of Britain, France, Germany and Spain. Americans are also considerably more religious than Western Europeans…

These differences between Americans and Western Europeans echo findings from previous surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center. However, the current polling shows the American public is coming closer to Europeans in not seeing their culture as superior to that of other nations…

These are among the findings from a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Spain from March 21 to April 14 as part of the broader 23-nation poll in spring 2011…

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Preliminary results from Russia

The BBC reported these results Monday evening.

Russia election: Hundreds rally against Putin in Moscow
Several thousand people have taken to the streets of Moscow shouting "Down with Putin" as international observers in Russia's parliamentary elections speak of flagrant violations…

United Russia won the election, but with a sharp drop in its support, ahead of Mr Putin's bid to return to the presidency next March.

Electoral officials said the party had just under 50%, down from 64% in 2007…

Electoral Commission head Vladimir Churov said United Russia should have a slim majority, with 238 seats out of 450.

This would mean the party losing its current two-thirds majority which had allowed it to change the constitution unchallenged.

Mr Churov said the Communist Party was in second place with 19.2% of the vote, giving it 92 seats.

A Just Russia was in third place with 13.2% and 64 seats, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) had 11.7% and 56, he added…

United Russia's slim Duma majority
The Duma has 450 seats. Parties not making the Duma's 5% threshold: Yabloko, 3.3%, Patriots of Russia 0.97%, Right Cause 0.59%
Source: Electoral Commission. Results are based on 96% of the vote. Turnout was 60%.

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Growth for votes

The Chinese rulers must be looking at this Russian example and worrying even more about maintaining economic growth.

This article from last week predicted the dismal results for United Russia in yesterday's election.

In Quiet Part of Russia, Putin’s Party Loses Steam
It was a grim-faced crowd that gathered last week at the Palace of Culture in this village, making its way past decrepit housing blocks, broken streetlights and a statue of Lenin.

The governor had driven in from the regional capital, and detachments of pretty girls in blue smocks were handing out flags for United Russia, the party that serves as an extension of the Kremlin’s power.

Workers for United Russia, the country's main political party, helped prepare Arsenyevo for a visit by Gov. Vladimir S. Gruzdev, a rising political star.

But the villagers were not in a holiday mood. They wanted to complain…

United Russia can no longer count on voters in places like Tula, an industrial region about 120 miles south of Moscow where many residents say that their quality of life has stopped rising… With competition all but eliminated, Russia’s political system depends heavily on its leaders’ popularity to provide legitimacy. As winter settles in, that no longer feels assured…

An array of pay raises and public projects have been announced in recent weeks. Vladimir S. Gruzdev, a rising political star who was installed as governor in August, holds marathon town hall meetings reminiscent of reality television, dressing down local apparatchiks like a populist Donald Trump. Arsenyevo has only 4,900 residents, but they got three and a half hours with Mr. Gruzdev this month. They then scattered into the dark, some impressed, some skeptical…

In an interview afterward, Mr. Gruzdev said these were routine outings by a new governor, and unrelated to the elections. He acknowledged, however, that his popularity was helping the party…

In any case, he says, the authorities have little to fear from the parliamentary elections.

The real hazard will come months from now, when all the posters have been taken down and an already bitter electorate faces stark economic realities, Alexei V. Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow said. The campaign season has uncovered “something happening in our society, a very important process,” he argued, as Russians — people accustomed to 7 percent growth rates — reassess Mr. Putin and United Russia through an increasingly critical lens.

“People have the expectation that at least things won’t be worse,” he said. “And it will probably be worse.”

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Initial returns from Russia

It appears that United Russia might lose its two-thirds majority in the Duma. What limits will that put on the presumed new presidency of Vladimir Putin?

Putin's United Russia party suffers poll setback
Early returns from Russia's parliamentary polls point to a sharp drop in support for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

With 75% of ballots counted, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had 50% of the vote, down from 64% in 2007…

If the result is confirmed, United Russia could lose its current two-thirds majority which allowed it to change the constitution unchallenged…

The election commission said the Communist Party was in second place with 19.3% of the vote.

A Just Russia was in third place with 13% and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) had 11.8%, the election commission said…

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg, in Moscow, says if confirmed, the result will be a significant embarrassment to Mr Putin, three months before he is scheduled to run again for the Russian presidency…

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Corruption is so 20th century

When in power, the PRI had a reputation for corruption. Out of power, the party leaders have struggled to shed that stigma. That probably explains why the new party head resigned under pressure pretty quickly.

Loan scandal topples head of Mexico's PRI party
Humberto Moreira, president of Mexico's former ruling party, quit his post Friday amid a swelling financial scandal that threatened to throw off the party's bid to retake power in next year's elections.

Moreira has been hammered for months by charges that in his previous job as governor of the northern state of Coahuila, he left it saddled with $3 billion in debts, at least partly due to loans allegedly sought using falsified documents…

Humberto Moreira announced his resignation before a televised gathering of the PRI's political council, saying he would not allow a "war in the media" to hurt his party.

The debt controversy was becoming a drag on the PRI even as early polls show it poised to retake power in Mexico 12 years after being unseated. The scandal threatened to remind voters of the sort of graft that characterized the PRI's 70-year reign just when it is seeking to promote a fresh, cleaned-up image…

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Technocrats and democracy

The new governments in Greece and Italy have been described by journalists as led by technocrats.

The concept of technocrat is not well described in most textbooks. Often, the concept only comes up in discussions about the rivalries between the political dinosaurios who ran the old version of the PRI and the technocrats who want to take power in the party.

So, what's a technocrat? If having technocrats in charge in Greece and Italy is a good idea now, are there disadvantages? Are there similar disadvantages for Mexico as the new PRI is poised to return to power? And why does no one talk about the technocrats who run most of the modern parts of Iran's economy (like the nuclear industry and the military)? Are there technocrats in other countries? Who are they? How do they affect governance and politics?

The Economist published an article about Greece and Italy, but it sheds light indirectly on the countries your students are studying. It might be worth their attention.

Technocrats, Minds like machines: Government by experts sounds tempting, especially in a crisis. It can work. But brief stints have the best chances
EVEN before Plato conceived the philosopher-king, people yearned for clever, dispassionate and principled government. When the usual run of rulers proves cowardly, indecisive or discredited, turning to the wisdom and expertise of a technocrat, as both Italy and Greece have done in recent days, is particularly tempting.

Part of the attraction of the term “technocrat”, however, is that the label is so stretchy. Does it mean just any expert in government, or one from outside politics? How many technocrats, and in which positions, justify a government’s “technocratic” label? Does such an administration operate within the political system, or supplant it? For how long? Can a technocrat evolve into a politician and vice versa? The answers are imprecise and shift over time…

When political power is not publicly contested at all, electability is irrelevant and expertise can give the ambitious an edge. In China all but one of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee are engineers. This marks a shift… And it may be temporary. Li Keqiang, likely to take over from Wen Jiabao as prime minister in 2013, has degrees in law and economics….

It is not only one-party states that like technocracy. Military officers justifying a coup may use technocratic parlance when they highlight their independence of lobbies and their focus on the national interest…

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

British politics, a case study

Here's an example of how British politics works. Your students could follow the words and actions of the major players for the next several weeks or months.

Britons Strike Over Extended Austerity Measures
Hundreds of thousands of public employees walked off their jobs in schools, hospitals, airports, courtrooms, libraries, museums and government offices on Wednesday, as British workers became the latest in Europe to demonstrate mass fury at government austerity measures.

The one-day strike was the biggest here since the 1970s… This time, the immediate issue was Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to require public employees to work for more years and pay more toward their pensions each month.

But the strikers’ anger goes far deep.. Many strikers said that the policy of decreasing welfare benefits and tax credits while also making huge cuts across the board in all government departments had left them struggling at a time of rapidly rising prices…

The strike came just after more bad news from the government. The chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced Tuesday that because of a swiftly worsening economic outlook that had thrown off his deficit-reduction timetable, public employees’ wages would be frozen for two more years, on top of an existing two-year freeze. He also said that new budget cuts meant that the public sector would lose hundreds of thousands more jobs than he had previously said, and warned that if Europe slid into recession again, Britain would probably follow…

There were angry scenes in Parliament on Wednesday, as the prime minister clashed with Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, over the causes and effects of the strike. Mr. Miliband, whose party receives large financial contributions from the unions, did not explicitly endorse the walkout. But, in a reference to Mr. Osborne, Mr. Miliband said that he sympathized with the grievances of workers who earn in a year “what the chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday.”…

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Teaching Comparative (a thought)

Teaching comparative government and politics is a complex process. Once in a while I have in insight into that process. Here's one of them.

I often had to remind my students that comparative politics was a political science course and not a history course. Nearly all of my students were veterans of history courses where they had learned well how to do historical analysis.

Some of them wanted to continue to do that kind of analysis in this political science course. They were usually disappointed in the results. I had to remind them that in comparative government and politics, analysis involved less history and more politics.

Thus, when answering a question like, "How did the UK end up with a coalition government in 2010?" the analysis should not begin with an explanation of what happened at Runnymede in 1215. At most, a political science analysis might begin with Margaret Thatcher's "revolution." More likely, an explanation should begin with economic woes, the war in Iraq, and public disillusionment with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. However, a credible answer might begin with the performance of Nick Clegg in the first-ever televised candidates' debate during the most recent election.

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Words from the future president

The Chinese news agency Xinhua begins to introduce China's next president by highlighting a recent speech where he said all the right things.

Xi Jinping stresses training of "new brooms"
Senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Xi Jinping on Wednesday stressed the training of newly inaugurated officials during this year's local leadership reshuffling.

Xi Jinping (C), a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and also president of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, talks with some students of the school at a symposium in Beijing, China, Nov. 23, 2011.

As officials at local levels were reorganized this year, a number of new leaders took office. It's imperative to build their leadership capacity as well as to make them excellent Party members, Xi… said…

Xi also stressed that personal integrity is the most important criterion for selecting officials, and those who always hold on to their principles and never shy away from duties are preferred.

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