Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, July 30, 2010

Elections and gridlock

The Economist offered a report on the state elections in Mexico and an analysis of what's going on and what's needed. Both are helpful explanations of Mexican politics and some of the stakes of the political process.

Joining forces
DURING the campaign ahead of Mexico’s state elections on July 4th, many feared that the gruesome run-up to the vote would overshadow the results. Two candidates were murdered, and countless others were intimidated: one would-be mayor found a decapitated corpse deposited outside his home. The atrocities, including four dead bodies hung from bridges on election day, were attributed to drug gangs reminding the country who rules the roost.

Yet the vote itself, in 14 of Mexico’s 31 states, provided a surprise that could redraw the country’s political map. The opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, took over the lower house of Congress from Felipe Calderón’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) in 2009. It had been forecast to sweep all 12 of this year’s contests for governorships before winning the presidency after Mr Calderón steps down in 2012. Instead, it took just nine, the same number it held before the vote.

The three states it lost, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa, had been ruled by the PRI for 81 years. They are bigger and more important than the three states the PRI snatched back in return…

The PRI lost its fiefs to an unlikely alliance between the PAN and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The pair have been bitter rivals since the PRD’s 2006 presidential candidate accused Mr Calderón of stealing the election. They are ideological opposites…

The parties are likely to repeat the tactic in next July’s race for governor in Mexico state, the country’s most populous…

The new alliance could affect policy as well as the horse race. Almost all of Mr Calderón’s legislative initiatives have been diluted or defeated in Congress. With PRD support, Mr Calderón could almost scrape together a legislative majority…

The PRI still holds Congress and 19 of the 31 governorships. But the July 4th vote has opened up new possibilities in a previously paralysed system.

Rising violence, fading hopes
ONE reason why traffic is so appalling in Mexico City is that drivers routinely block others from crossing road junctions rather than miss the chance to edge forward before the lights change. And so it is with the country’s politicians… here has been a broad consensus that Mexico needs thoroughgoing reform of its corporatist institutions and its oligopolistic economy if it is to create a vigorous, prosperous democracy. But the opposition has been reluctant to forfeit short-term advantage or anger privileged insiders—from teachers to television companies—by helping the government pass legislation…

The cost of Mexico’s paralysis is rising. The economy was badly hit by the great recession… An initially strong recovery now seems to be stuttering. At the same time Mr Calderón’s crusade against Mexico’s powerful drug gangs has prompted vicious turf wars in northern cities…

Part of the government’s problem is that it does not have enough clout to impose its authority on the country. In theory, Mr Calderón and the PRI’s most plausible presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, agree about the changes needed to bring that about. But in practice the PRI sees little reason to help Mr Calderón, since it hopes to cruise to victory in the presidential contest in 2012 by promising a dose of old-fashioned strong leadership after the PAN’s ineffectual tenure.

Voters may have other ideas. The PRI was expecting a clean sweep in the gubernatorial elections. Instead, in three of the most important states in play (see article), where its rule was marked by the corruption and cronyism Mexicans became familiar with when it ran the country, the PRI lost…

All three parties, but especially the PRI and the PAN, should take note. Whoever wins in the presidential election due in 2012 risks repeating the frustrations of the past ten years. All those who aspire to govern should sit down now and hammer out a set of political reforms which would give the next president a reasonable chance of carrying out his mandate. Otherwise Mexico risks continued gridlock, deeper disillusion with democracy and more violence.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Populism in the EU

One of the major criticisms of the EU has been the democratic deficit. The administrators are powerful. The nations are well-represented. The European bank has real economic clout. The EU court has wide sway in human rights. But the EU parliament, representing the citizens, seems the least influential body.

Here's a suggestion for change.

Europe Turns Ear Toward Voice of the People
The way Martin Kastler sees it, there ought to be a law prohibiting shops all across Europe from opening on Sundays, much as there has been for generations in his native Bavaria.

He has already begun collecting signatures of support. And soon, courtesy of a little debated clause in the new Lisbon Treaty, the European Union may be obliged to consider drawing up such legislation…

Long criticized as lacking democratic accountability, the European Union is about to give its 500 million citizens more say — if they can collect one million supporting signatures from a “significant” number of member countries…

[E]xperts say the European Union could soon see petitions on subjects as varied as banning bullfighting, burqas and genetically modified food; curbing offshore drilling; introducing new taxes; ending the exchange of financial data with the United States; and keeping Turkey out of the union.

Proponents hope the initiatives will be something of a team building exercise, too. Forced to collect signatures across borders, Europeans will finally, they hope, get to know one another, engage in Europewide debates and develop the elusive “European identity.”

But others see trouble brewing. What if the voice of the people turns out to be racist, politically unwieldy (think California referendums) or just plain frivolous? One online campaign in Portugal to force members of the national soccer team to grow mustaches claimed the support of 60,000 people recently…

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Transparency rules = transparent practices?

The rules are new and comprehensive. Will enforcement be comprehensive?

In move to fight corruption, Chinese officials now required to report marital status, location of families
China issued a new anti-corruption regulation Sunday to require officials to report changes in their marital status, the whereabouts of their spouses and children if they have moved abroad, personal incomes, housing as well as their family' s investments…

According to the regulation, if officials fail to report honestly or in a timely fashion, they would face punishment to various degrees, even as harsh as removal of official ranks….

New government transparency rules strike chord with public
Thousands of Chinese have joined a heated discussion about new rules that are designed to curb corruption and increase transparency about the assets of government officials…

The new rules have struck a public chord and almost 50,000 people had left comments on China's two biggest Internet portal websites on Monday. Thousands more were joining the discussion on other news sites and discussion forums…

Most of the published postings welcomed the new rules, but some said they should go further…

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Politics as usual for Nigeria

If Nigeria's political culture were more like Britain's we'd expect the return of Nuhu Ribadu to Nigeria to have a major impact on the politics of next year's presidential election. However, all there are at this point are big questions.

I'm just picky, but I don't like The Economist's editors choice of "prodigal" in this headline; "exiled" would be a more accurate description of his status in my mind.

A prodigal policeman returns
WHILE flitting between Oxford colleges and Washington think-tanks in the past 18 months, Nuhu Ribadu [left] kept insisting that what he really wanted was to go home. Nigeria’s former anti-corruption tsar was in self-imposed exile, having made powerful enemies while probing his country’s political elite. But last month he returned, setting tongues wagging about his next move.

As the first head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), set up in 2003, Mr Ribadu spent four years pursuing politicians and civil servants who were embezzling the country’s vast oil revenues. He was one of several youngish reformers brought into government by President Olusegun Obasanjo to shake up the corrupt political system, and for a few years they were given their heads. In particular, Mr Ribadu went after several of the country’s 36 state governors…

But few Nigerians who challenge vested interests are tolerated for very long. Mr Obasanjo’s reforming zeal ended in a squalid campaign to get his ruling party re-elected in 2007, at which point Mr Ribadu was deemed to be more of a nuisance than a help. He was sent on leave for a year with scant explanation. Fearing for his life, he fled abroad…

But Mr Ribadu’s fortunes have improved since Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s new president, took office in May…

The ease with which Mr Ribadu’s efforts were undermined shows how Nigeria’s progress still relies more on individuals than rules and institutions. When good people fall out of political favour, they can easily be ousted and their actions reversed. “In such a situation, one man’s legacy can be wiped out at a stroke,” laments Femi Falana, a campaigning lawyer who has often worked with Mr Ribadu.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Broadcast tomorrow on Mexican judicial system

Caroline Welch, who teaches at the Albany Academies in Albany, New York, pointed out the scheduled broadcast of Presumed Guilty, part of the POV series on PBS.

The scheduled broadcast s Tuesday, 27 July, but my local station hasn't scheduled it yet. If you can't catch a broadcast, the video is online until 4 August.

Presumed Guilty, A film by Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete
Imagine being picked up off the street, told you have committed a murder you know nothing about and then finding yourself sentenced to 20 years in jail. In December 2005 this happened to Toño Zúñiga in Mexico City and, like thousands of other innocent people, he was wrongfully imprisoned. The award-winning Presumed Guilty is the story of two young lawyers and their struggle to free Zúñiga...

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book recommendation

Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD Candidate at a large public research university in Northern California, currently in Beijing teaching history, doing archival research, and working on his dissertation. Writing in his blog, Jottings from the Granite Studio, has a book to recommend.

Jeremiah Jenne's Recommendation
I just finished Richard McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. Richard has a review on The Peking Duck and I agree with him that it’s a very good book, perhaps one of the best books produced for a general readership on Chinese politics in recent memory.

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The cost of corruption

I can only imagine a Party cadre saying something like, "Well, what do you expect when you allow people to vote?" That's perhaps taking advantage of a stereotype and some ethnocentrism, but some people in China seem to learning quickly about the potential for corruption.

Buying votes in China village polls 'costing more'
In China the cost of bribing a voter in a grassroots election can be more than 100 times greater than it used to be, according to a report in an official newspaper that covers legal affairs.

The Procuratorial Daily cited a probe by provincial prosecutors in Hainan province in the south of the country…

The prosecutors in Hainan found that candidates were most likely to try to bribe voters in villages where there were projects likely to attract investment from property developers or other businesses.

Often, officials profit from corruption when they get the chance to become involved in big deals…

The report says villagers told the prosecutors they used to be paid the equivalent of $1.50 (£0.98) for their support at the ballot box.

Today, in some villages, the figure has swelled to $177…

Village elections began in the late 1980s. They are held every three years. Candidates are selected in a process that some say is not always open and transparent.

Chinese people do not get the chance to elect any officials more senior than village leaders.

Reports of bribery and other problems in so-called grassroots elections surface fairly regularly in the official media.

They help convey the impression that democracy is a flawed concept.

Many Chinese will tell you they do not think voting should be introduced more widely because they do not think it works in poorer rural areas.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Comparative oil spills

If your students in the next school year remember the underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, Julia Baird, writing in Newsweek, offers a comparison with ecological disaster in Nigeria. The article is a good beginning for lessons about state capacity, corruption, and a rentier economy.

Oil’s Shame in Africa
It was hard to believe BP when it announced oil had stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, July 15. It had taken 87 days. There was relief but little jubilation: it will take many years to clean the shores and the birds, and for the sea to begin to repair itself from the onslaught of poisonous oil. Surely we can no longer call it a “spill”—it seems too light and trite a word.

What’s even more troubling is that in Nigeria, the country that has arguably suffered most from oil drilling, oil “accidents”—large and small—occur almost weekly, and we hear little about it. A lethal combination of sloppiness, corruption, weak regulation, and lack of accountability has meant that each year since the 1960s, there has been a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez’s into the Niger Delta. Large purple slicks cover once fertile fields, and rivers are clogged with oil leaked decades ago. It has been called the “black tide”: a stain of thick, gooey oil that has oozed over vast tracts of land and poisoned the air for millions of Africans. In some areas fish and birds have disappeared: the swamps are silent…

There are many reasons this has occurred: sabotage, faulty equipment, corroded infrastructure. The regulations are weak, rarely enforced, and there are few punitive measures to ensure that spills are managed, monitored, and cleaned up. The oil companies are, effectively, asked to self-regulate. The new Nigerian president, aptly named Goodluck Jonathan, has promised to hold them accountable, but the regulatory agencies are toothless, weakened by decades of rule by corrupt dictators who acted in concert with oil companies and siphoned off much of the oil wealth (80 percent of the state’s revenue comes from oil). The money that has come from oil drilling in Nigeria—$600 billion so far—has gone to very few; most Nigerians live in extreme poverty…

As Prof. Rebecca Bratspies from CUNY School of Law says, “Problems associated with oil production are usually invisible to those of us who consume vast quantities. We don’t see how dirty it is. [The gulf] is a more extreme version of daily events in Nigeria, where the oil companies have had a complete and total disregard for the environmental implications of their actions.”…

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

More division in Iran

Political cleavages among Iran's ruling elites are becoming more evident.

Iran’s President Now Aims at Rivals Among Conservatives
Having successfully suppressed the opposition uprising that followed last summer’s disputed presidential election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters are now renewing their efforts to marginalize another rival group — Iran’s traditional conservatives.

Conservative rivals of Mr. Ahmadinejad are fighting back, publicly accusing him of sidelining clerics and the Parliament, pursuing an “extremist” ideology, and scheming to consolidate control over all branches of Iran’s political system...

Mr. Ahmadinejad has often fed the traditional conservatives’ fears; he has referred to the divide among conservatives…

“I think we are seeing a kind of Iranian McCarthyism, with Ahmadinejad disposing of all the people who are not with him by accusing them of being anti-revolutionary or un-Islamic,” said an Iranian political analyst, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution...

The rift is partly a generational one, with Mr. Ahmadinejad leading a combative cohort of conservatives supported by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. On the other side is an older generation of leaders who derive their authority from their links to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Reformist lawmakers now represent a largely impotent minority in the Parliament...

The older conservatives, including clerics, lawmakers and leaders of the bazaar, which is the center of Iran’s ancient system of trade and commerce, have long questioned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s competence and even accused his ministers of corruption. But recently they have gone further, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction of distorting the principles of the Islamic Revolution and following a messianic cult that rejects the intermediary role of the clergy...

The divisions erupted last month when conservative members of Parliament voted to block Mr. Ahmadinejad’s efforts to seize control of Iran’s largest academic institution, Azad University, which has campuses throughout the country and enormous financial assets. The university was founded by Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a former president and one of the central figures among traditional conservatives...

Since then, another front has opened up against the administration. Members of Iran’s merchant class, the bazaaris, have risen up to challenge Mr. Ahmadinejad’s plans to squeeze them for more tax revenue. Tehran’s central Grand Bazaar, a vast, labyrinthine complex of arched tunnels and courtyards, has been closed in protest for more than a week, and the strike has spread to other major cities.

Though the political dimension of this dispute has yet to fully take shape, Iran’s merchant class has strong links with the traditional conservative party, the Motalefeh, whose members also have crucial positions in Azad University. Mr. Rafsanjani was once a member of Motalefeh and continues to maintain strong links with it…

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Classroom monitors

The Communist Party in China tries to have Party members in every nook and cranny to keep track of who's naughty and who's nice. It seems that the Iranian authorities have a similar plan.

Clerics to Work Within Schools of Iran’s Capital
Iran’s educational authorities will send 1,000 religious clerics into schools in Tehran to tamp down Western influence and political opposition, newspapers reported on Sunday…

The latest move appeared to be part of a wider social and cultural crackdown on the country’s youth…

Authorities also announced they were training pro-government forces to start blogs to increase the government’s influence on the Internet…

The head of the Basij militia force, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, told Fars last week that the force was planning to increase its Internet capability threefold by the Iranian new year next March…

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010


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. a period of three or four weeks during which the primary contributor to this blog takes a break from posting while on a major road trip to the mountain west during the hottest time of the year here on the edge of Great Plains.
[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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Sesame Square

The Sesame Street empire grows. Thanks to Jeremy Weate at Naijablog and his source for pointing out this article.

Nigeria gets its own Sesame Street
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, will bring the world’s most popular informal educator to Nigeria with an original, half-hour programming block called Sesame Square. It will be broadcast over three years on terrestrial TV.

By doing this, Sesame Workshop is hoping to address the fact that only 10% of the over 25 million pre-school children in Nigeria are enrolled in pre-school.

A co-production between Sesame Workshop in New York and Ileke Media in Nigeria, Sesame Square will feature age-appropriate content focused on educational messages and activities for Nigeria’s youngest viewers about reading, counting, and staying in school...

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Keeping up a united front

In the good old USSR, dissidents were usually dealt with by declaring them insane and locking them up in "asylums." Today, it seems that pre-trial detention, conviction, and prison are preferred.

Russian Mayor Irks Security Agency, and Suffers
LISTVYANKA, Russia — On the edge of this Siberian village is a resort with a veiled guest list and armed guards at the front gate. When local officials have expressed unease about what goes on inside, the reply has always been the same: do not interfere.

Two and half years ago, the village’s mayor, Tatyana Kazakova… filed a lawsuit against the resort, and asked the regional prosecutor to open a criminal inquiry.

A criminal inquiry was indeed opened — against Ms. Kazakova.

The resort belongs to the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B., and the F.S.B. arrested her and had her prosecuted.
She is now on trial in a case that has already become a disquieting example of the power of the security agency in today’s Russia…

The judge is expected to issue a verdict in Ms. Kazakova’s trial within the next few weeks. Her lawyers say, based on how the trial was conducted, that the judge does not seem open to the possibility that Ms. Kazakova is not guilty. She could face several years in prison.

Russia is a freer society than its Soviet predecessor, and the F.S.B. is smaller and less intrusive than the K.G.B. But the agency still functions mostly in secret, with an intimidating reputation and almost no oversight from other branches of government.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, the country’s paramount leader, is a former director of the F.S.B. and a former K.G.B. officer, and since his rise to power a decade ago, the agency has wielded tremendous influence in government and industry. Mr. Putin has appointed many former agency officers to senior positions. They are known as the siloviki, from the Russian word for “force.”…

And now, the Kremlin seems bent on making the F.S.B. even stronger. Parliament, controlled by Mr. Putin’s party, is in the process of approving legislation that would allow F.S.B. agents to warn people that their activities were “unacceptable” and leading toward a crime. The K.G.B. once employed a similar practice against Soviet dissidents…

The issue of pretrial punishment has drawn widespread attention in Russia in recent months after scandals surrounding two defendants who died in custody in Moscow…

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Soft power has been discussed here before, but it's been awhile since it has not been overwhelmed by war and conflict. China has brought the subject to the surface again. China's new English language news service is part of the projection of soft power.

China funds English TV news channel CNC World in push for soft power
China's state news agency launched an international English language news channel yesterday – the latest step in the government's multibillion-pound soft power push.

The authorities hope expanding foreign language media will help promote the country's image and viewpoint, and ultimately challenge the BBC or CNN. But the low-key launch of Xinhua's new CNC World channel suggests that day is some way off…

Stations such as al-Jazeera English have been welcomed as a counterbalance to Western media parochialism. But CNC World's launch is inevitably shadowed by China's extensive censorship…

Xinhua has bureaux in 130 countries and there is a growing number of experienced and professional Chinese journalists. But even allowing for teething problems, CNC World looked dreary beside its domestic rival CCTV, let alone CNN or al-Jazeera…

For the most part, items were brief and anodyne. But there were glimpses of the alternative news agenda that officials want to spread…

The government has been particularly keen to redress what it sees as biased and negative reporting by overseas media since the Tibetan riots and unrest in March 2008…

*an·o·dyne, adj., Capable of soothing or eliminating pain.
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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mexican election results

Daniel Wilson, writing at the blog Under the Volcano, offers details on the election results in a clear chart.

Elections: Preliminary results
Six of the 12 states with gubernatorial elections switched parties.  The PRI won states previously held by the PAN or PRD with a population of 3.5 million, but lost states with a population of 11.5 million. Voter participation rates in two of the states with the most drug violence–Chihuahua and Tamaulipas–were under 40%, but the vote took place peacefully and with few reported incidents anywhere...

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Iranian morality fashions for men

The "Modesty and Veil" festival is coming up later this month. That means men must join the campaign for proper hair cuts. Whether this is a sign of the growing power of social conservatives in Iran or another cleavage in the ruling elite is open to question.

Ponytail for men gets the chop in Iran
Iran's culture ministry has given its blessing to a number of "Islamic" haircuts for men, with ponytails failing to make the list, the ILNA news agency reported on Monday.

ILNA and other agencies carried pictures of mostly clean-shaven male models sporting short hair, some styled with gel, in a "journal of Iranian hairstyles approved by the ministry of (culture and Islamic) guidance."…

Iranian police carry out regular morality crackdowns, arresting and warning women in figure-hugging short coats and flimsy headscarves as well as men sporting spiky hair and tight, low-slung jeans…

Conservative clerics have called for firmer action against un-Islamic dressers and hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came under fire last month for expressing opposition to a tough police crackdown on immodest attire.

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LibDems reform package

The proposals are not new, but they've never been so close to the government. The reforms face a huge uphill route to enactment.

No. 2 Leader Unveils Plan to Overhaul British Politics
Describing Britain as “a fractured democracy,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg outlined a sweeping package of measures on Monday that he said would restore shattered public confidence, including a referendum on May 5 on a new voting system for Parliament.

The measures will include a bill to eliminate the prime minister’s traditional power to call a new election at any time during the five-year life of each parliament, among the prerogatives that have given British prime ministers a wide and sometimes overbearing authority in their dealings with legislators...

Speaking before the Commons, Mr. Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, partners with the Conservatives in the two-month-old government, called the changes an effort to “restore the trust in our political system that has been tested to its limits” by, among other things, last year’s scandal over abuses of parliamentary expenses…

A pledge by the Conservatives to hold a referendum on a new voting system was the price Mr. Clegg extracted for leading his party, the Liberal Democrats, into the coalition after the May election. The Liberals, Britain’s perennial third-place party, believe that the “alternative vote” system on which voters are to decide would give them a fairer share of seats than the current system…

Other proposed changes include a reduction of 50 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons; a redrawing of district boundaries to limit to 5 percent the variation between the number of voters in each district; a new recall power for voters when a lawmaker is found guilty of “serious wrongdoing”; a requirement that the House of Lords be either wholly or partly elected; and tighter rules for lobbyists, including that they enroll in a new parliamentary register.

The changes are expected to face strong opposition from powerful factions in the three major parties…

Nick Clegg's web site details his reform proposals

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Nashi gathers the faithful, but not the foreign

Old and new Russia can't seem to get their acts aligned.

Bureaucracy Stymies Pro-Kremlin Youth Retreat
For years, the Kremlin has sponsored a summer retreat where thousands of young people from across Russia, screened for ideology, camp on a lake and attend seminars with the country’s leaders and political experts. Outsiders have rarely been permitted.

This year, however, organizers announced that they would invite foreigners, hoping to promote more openness and an exchange of ideas with the rest of the world.

It has not turned out that way. Instead, it appears to have turned into an object lesson in how even a modest effort… can run aground on the unforgiving shoals of Russian bureaucracy...

[W]hen the retreat started Friday, dozens of the invited foreigners were not there because they had not been able to obtain Russian visas, according to interviews and Internet posts. The government agency that runs the retreat seemed at a loss to help them or explain why the visa process fell apart…

The retreat has long had close ties to a strident pro-Kremlin youth group called Nashi, (“Ours” in Russian). Under the leadership of Vladimir V. Putin, the prime minister and former president, the Kremlin created Nashi in response to the so-called color revolutions that brought pro-Western governments to power in former Soviet republics, particularly the one in Ukraine in 2004. It hoped that Nashi activists would help counter possible protests against the authorities in Russia…

Even before the visa problems, invitations to the foreigners stirred controversy because of the reputation of Nashi.

For years, the group held raucous pro-Kremlin rallies and harassed foreign diplomats in Moscow perceived as hostile to Russian interests…

While the retreat was supposed to change this year, some Russian critics pointed out that members of opposition groups were still barred from attending...

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Not too scared to vote

Perhaps the threats of violence were not a deterrent to voting in Mexico.

Mexican Democracy, Even Under Siege
Campaign offices had been bombed, candidates had been threatened and killed, and dead bodies were even hung from bridges on the morning of the polling.

But Mexico’s voters still turned out in relatively large numbers to choose new governors, mayors and state representatives over the weekend and managed to send an inspiring message amid all the violence: Mexico’s democracy, flawed as it may be, endures.

One of the nation’s most powerful factions — the country’s drug lords — had attempted to hijack the process. Through bloodshed, they managed to keep voter turnout down in some states and scare off many poll workers, prompting one former president of the Federal Election Institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde, to lament that this was the first Mexican election in which drug dealers played a visible role in interrupting the process.

But the polling went on and the results were accepted, with voters appearing to steer away from candidates with perceived links to traffickers…

Political analysts had predicted a huge victory for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the P.R.I., which ruled Mexico for 71 years before voters broke its grip on the country’s politics a decade ago. And the P.R.I. did take 9 of the 12 governorships that were up for grabs on Sunday…

The P.R.I. — a party that represented autocratic rule and is attempting to remake itself as an efficient pragmatic one — hung onto six states and gained three more…

But the P.R.I. was also handed its hat in the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, where its rule has been as sure a thing as the market opening for business…

“Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Sunday’s elections is that democracy is surprisingly healthy in Mexico,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington…

“Mexico remains an imperfect democracy, like all, but there do appear to be some mechanisms of accountability at work that allowed these elections to be meaningful referenda on local political performance,” Mr. Selee said...

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Income redistribution for economic growth

Marxism advocated economic equality as a human right. Socialism with Chinese characteristics appears to advocate economic equality as a tool of economic growth and promoting a harmonious society.

China plans income distribution reform
The global economic crisis has compelled China to adjust its industrial structure and hasten the pace of economic reform.

Top leaders have recently called for further adjustment of the national income distribution, to expand domestic spending and promote social harmony…

The China Democratic League, one of the eight non-Communist Parties, carried out a comprehensive study of income distribution in May. Zheng Gongcheng is one of the principals.

He says China urgently needs a wealth distribution revolution, based on giving priority to efficiency…

Zheng Gongcheng says China has to shift the focus of its economic growth engine from exports to domestic demand. And a system of "multiple distribution methods" should be established.

Zheng Gongcheng said, "The reform does not simply mean wealth redistribution and raising labor income. It relates to people's livelihood and social equality, transforming the economic structure to maintain a healthy development, and creating a comprehensive welfare system."

At present, the Chinese government is putting more emphasis on narrowing the income gap to defuse public complaints.

Premier Wen Jiabao has vowed to enhance a rational income distribution system, as it is an important manifestation of social fairness.

Professor Cai Hongbin says the reform is not only to distribute the “pie of social wealth” well, but also to make the pie bigger so everyone can benefit…

Whatever the means of reform, they all include raising wages. Putting money in workers' pockets will help accelerate China's growth.

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Monday, July 05, 2010

Reform in a "patronage-intensive" society

Eliminating corruption in Nigeria often seems to require reforms everywhere. Here's one example.

Nigeria's iron lady takes on fraudsters
Arunma Oteh, the woman tasked with the unenviable job of policing Nigeria's financial world, has a warm smile and a piercing stare…

Ms Oteh, [right] Nigeria's Securities and Exchange Commission boss, took up the post in January, bringing with her a tough surveillance and enforcement regime…

Last year, as major banks veered close to collapse, the government was forced into a $4bn (£2.67bn) bailout of nine lenders.

The central bank governor carried out a forensic cull - the so-called "Friday massacre" - sacking management teams at eight banks.

As the stock market fell, it became apparent some stockbrokers were involved in the scandal - collaborating in abuses ranging from insider share dealing to market manipulation and share price fixing.

Now Ms Oteh wants illegally gained profits made on the stock market to be "disgorged".

"We will restitute [restore lost money to] investors," she says…

And repairing the damage is not easy.

Insiders in the financial world describe an ugly fight-back aimed at Ms Oteh and her plans for tougher oversight and more transparency.

"Oteh faces severe resistance," said one economist, asking not to be named.

"It's coming from very influential, powerful individuals. It is a patronage-intensive society, and their influence extends well into government."…

But she says she will not give up.

"What gives me comfort is that the President, Goodluck Jonathan, is behind us. It's what he believes in.

"That makes me even more determined."

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

A vote to nowhere?

The LibDems were promised a referendum on voting changes in the coalition agreement. It remains to be seen if the vote will be meaningful.

Conservatives and Labour bid to disrupt voting reform
Nick Clegg's plan to reform the UK's electoral system was tonight caught in a pincer movement between Conservative backbenchers and elements of the Labour party, who both want to change the date of the referendum and potentially derail it…

The Liberal Democrats' opponents started to lay down the battle lines today after the Guardian revealed that Clegg would announce… that a referendum will be held on 5 May. The deputy prime minister wants to hold the vote on that date to maximise turnout as voters will be going to the polls in the local elections in England and the elections to the devolved bodies.

Downing Street confirmed that David Cameron would campaign for a no vote. Under the coalition agreement with the Lib Dems, the prime minister pledged the Tories would support legislation enabling a referendum. But he and his party would be free to campaign for a no vote…

[Shadow justice secretary, Jack] Straw said he would support a referendum on AV because Labour pledged to hold one in its general election manifesto. But he told Radio 4's The World at One: "There is an issue about the date. We have got to think about this."…

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Toward a two-party system?

All available parties are trying to cooperate and defeat the PRI. Can they do it? If they do, will it make a difference?

In Mexico, Unlikely Allies Hope to Defeat Resurgent Party
A decade ago, Mexico ended more than 70 years of control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party and elected an opposition president. But in Oaxaca, the PRI, as the party is known, has held fast through a vast party machine that dispenses patronage and often seems accountable to no one except the governor.

Map from Wikimedia Commons

The other parties believe that the only way to dislodge the PRI here is to unite across ideological lines against it. Mr. Cué is the candidate for a coalition of the conservative National Action Party and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, along with a couple of small parties…

To the party strategists in Mexico City, a win by Mr. Cué in Oaxaca will prove that a coalition is the best way to stop a return to the presidency by the PRI in the 2012 election.

The PRI has recovered — with an effective majority in the lower house of Congress and in state offices — through its rivals’ mistakes, said Daniel Lund, a Mexico City pollster and political analyst. The left has been divided, and President Felipe Calderón’s conservative party has lost ground amid the sluggish economy and the spiraling violence of the drug war.

The PRI has come back “by simply enduring and offering a vision of what was and what might be,” Mr. Lund said…

Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst at the Colegio de México in Mexico City, said that corruption in Oaxaca was so entrenched that he was skeptical that Mr. Cué would be able to make many changes if he won.

“Will he have the capacity for a major reform in Oaxaca, or will he be engulfed by the system?” Mr. Aguayo asked.

Esther Santiago López, 27, a Mixtec Indian woman with two children, said she had supported Mr. Cué until he allied with the conservative National Action Party. “They are the ones who repress the poor the most,” she said.

She has lost faith in all the traditional parties. “With each election, they give us a cap, a T-shirt and a bag,” she said. “They deceive us. They are just a bunch of rich people who pass the money around among themselves.”…

Still, the PRI has strong support in the state and the race is a tossup.

“The PRI gives more help,” said Salustia Cruz, 46, who displays a campaign poster of Mr. Pérez Magaña outside her house. She was especially grateful for the state government’s free mobile medical clinics...

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Friday, July 02, 2010

Numbers going up

The number of party members in China is huge. More party members than people in all but 16 countries in the world. But it's only 17% of the Chinese population.

China's communist party members near 78 mln
A senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) said Monday that the number of CPC members has increased to almost 78 million over the past six decades.

By the end of last year, the CPC had a total of 77.99 million members, about 116 times of the figure in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, Wang Qinfeng, deputy head of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, said at a press conference.

Last year, more than 20 million people applied to join the CPC and the Party recruited about 2 million new members, Wang said.

Of the total 78 million CPC members, about 18.5 million were under 35 years old, and close to 28 million held a college degree or above, he said.

Wang said more than 640,000 of the country's 2.77 million enterprises, including 438,000 non-public enterprises, had set up their own grassroots CPC party organs...

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Leftovers from the Abacha era

An Abacha-era official, with ties to a potential presidential candidate, is jailed in Jersey (not New Jersey). It's the tip of the Abacha kleptocracy iceberg. Other tips have shown up in Switzerland.

Jersey court jails former Nigerian dictator's business associate
In the 12 years since Nigeria's corrupt dictator General Sani Abacha died in office, investigators have struggled to find out what happened to the estimated £2.2bn he siphoned out of his country's coffers during his brutal five-year rule.

Though at least $700m (£470m) has been returned to Nigeria, only a handful of people have ever been put on trial for their role in the brazen kleptocracy.

But in a historic move, a court in Jersey has sentenced one of Abacha's business associates to six years in the island's only jail, after he deposited in a St Helier bank account tens of millions of pounds from a deal to provide overpriced trucks to the Nigerian army…

The money came from selling military vehicles to the Nigerian government at up to five times their actual price between 1996 and 1997 and then using the profit to pay bribes to top Nigerian officials, including Abacha and allegedly Colonel Mohammed Buba Marwa, Nigeria's current high commissioner to South Africa and a man touted as a future Nigerian president.

These two men were said to have received $100m (£66m), while Bhojwani's cut of the deal, according to the prosecution, was US$43.9m (£29.4m)…

Bhojwani himself never denied agreeing to overprice the trucks, but in a letter to the court maintained that his profit from the deal was actually around $25m (£16.6m), which grew to $43.9m (£29.4m) as a result of the way he invested it. While acknowledging that what he did was wrong, he said it was impossible to do business in Nigeria during Abacha's reign without paying enormous bribes…

Abacha family sues FG over criminal charge in Geneva
Two sons of the late Sani Abacha Mohammed and Abba, on Wednesday dragged the federal government before a Federal High Court, Abuja challenging the circumstances under which a criminal case was initiated against them in Geneva, Switzerland…

During the investigation, statements were obtained from the Abacha family by the investigative panel led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Peter Gana.

However, Mohammed and Abba said they “were not informed that the true purpose for which their statements were sought was to provide evidence for an investigation and their possible prosecution by the states of Jersey, the Authorities of Leichtenstein, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, France, the Bahamas and Switzerland...

The Abacha family is aggrieved that government reneged on its promised not to prosecute the family even after they had forfeited some $625,263,187.19 and 70,087,184.93 pounds as well as some assets in line with Decree 53, 1999…

Court rules Abacha son guilty
A Geneva court has sentenced the son of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha to a two-year suspended sentence for belonging to a criminal organisation.

Abba Abacha had been appealing against a 2009 guilty verdict on those charges as well as the court seizure of over $400 million in assets linked to his father, who died in 1998…

Abacha, 41, was accused of plundering his country’s accounts while his father was in power in the 1990s.

The court said that he had been part of the family structure set up by his father to pillage Nigerian resources.

According to the lawyer representing Nigeria, Abacha stashed over $400 million in the Bahamas and Luxembourg – assets that will now be confiscated following the court’s decision.

The Nigerian government is expected to ask for the funds to be handed over.

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