Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Procedural democracy

I noticed that over the past couple weeks quite a few people have been reading a teaching comparative post titled "Procedural democracy" from April 2008. As I look at that post, I'm reminded that it does illuminate important features of that thing we call democracy.

With upcoming elections in Nigeria and the UK, the ideas might be great ones to focus on for a discussion or two. The concept might also be the basis for a valuable practice FRQ.

I've noted a couple dead links from the original, but here's a rerun.

Procedural Democracy

There's a philosophical debate in the ethereal heights of political science about what is required to label a regime democratic. (You can easily buy research papers on this topic if you search the Internet, but that "wouldn't be the cowboy way.")

[And, it's not just at lofty academic levels that these ideas emerge.  Dan Larson and Andrew Conneen wrote in the blog they write for AP students. (The entry I linked to is no longer online and was meant for students of U.S. Government and Politics, but the idea of substantive democracy stands out. It begins, "Elections alone do not make a democracy.")]

The debaters sort of argue over whether democratic procedures or widely-beneficial policies are more important when evaluating the nature of a regime.

Robert Dahl, who has been around long enough that I read at least one of his books over 40 years ago, is one of the participants. The Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University, seems to be a neo-Madisonian (in the Federalist 10 sense).

He has argued that democracy is a Platonic ideal, that can never be fully realized. However, if a regime meets some basic procedural criteria, it will produce a political system in which elites will compete for political power and authority. He calls this kind of system a polyarchy. Most commonly, people refer to regimes like that as pluralistic. The competing self-interests in such a system, according to Dahl (and Madison), will produce government in the interests of the citizenry.

The criteria that Dahl describes are elected officials; free, fair, and frequent elections; freedom of expression; alternative sources of information; associational autonomy; and inclusive citizenship. (Democracy and Its Critics, 1998)

Others argue that procedures are not all that's necessary for a democratic regime. They argue that economic, cultural, historical, and ideological factors can prevent an apparently democratic procedure from being democratic. Those critics might ask whether the UK had a democratic regime before World War I when only men were allowed to vote. They might ask whether the poverty of Mexican peasants, which leads some of them to sell their votes for t-shirts or patches of paved roads near their homes, negates the legal procedures for elections there. What if a change in government, brought about by a free and fair election changes no laws or policies but only the people in power?

These critics want to emphasize the statutory and policy results of government when defining democratic regimes. Instead of a merely procedural democracy, they want to see substantive democracy.

Charles Tilly, the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, might represent the critics of the procedural definition of democracy.

In his book Democracy, he asks about a regime, "Does this regime promote human welfare, individual freedom, security, equity, social equality, public deliberation, and peaceful conflict resolution? If so, we might be inclined to call it democratic regardless of how its constitution reads."

Tilly recognizes limitations on his approach. He also wrote, "Two troubles follow immediately, however, from any such definitional strategy. First, how do we handle tradeoffs among these estimable principles? If a given regime is desperately poor but its citizens enjoy rough equality, should we think of it as more democratic than a fairly prosperous but fiercely unequal regime?"

TradingMarkets.com, a once online investment advice service, offered this bit of description of the democratic nature of Russia's regime (it's a little premature in announcing the end of Putin's presidency and a little loose with its definition of "socialist," but the unnamed writer is probably a stock analyst, not a political scientist): Kremlin Twist.

"By now, everyone knows that Mr. Vladimir Putin stepped down from the chief Kremlin seat, and in his place, sits Mr. Dmitry Medvedev - a 42-year-old lawyer. And what do you know Mr. Medvedev, Putin's protégé was handpicked by the former president to run in Russia's nearly unopposed election. Of course, he not only won but it was a landslide victory. Oh, and by the by, guess who the new prime minister, is? It's former president Mr. Vladimir Putin; so how is that, for a Kremlin twist?

"For the former Soviet, it is a perfect combo of 'Putin Power' and a case of dotting i's and crossing t's, after all, no one wants to be accused of or labelled in running a socialist tight ship, of one man, one power..."

So, we should ask our students to consider whether Russia's regime meets the criteria to be labeled a procedural democracy. Then we should ask them to consider whether it meets the criteria to be labeled a substantive democracy.

And, in AP courses, we should ask them to consider the same things about Iran, Mexico, China, Nigeria and the UK. We should ask them to compare the countries they are studying on procedural and substantive criteria and to compare them with themselves over time. Does Mexico have a more substantive democracy now than it did in the 20th century? Does the Russian regime meet more of the characteristics of a procedural democracy than it did in 1990?

Good things to think about as we lead our students through rehearsals of critical thinking and recall.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Competitive election leading to disunity?

The incredible diversity of people, cultures, and languages in Nigeria makes unity fragile. Will a really competitive presidential election lead to a national breakup?

[I think it's more likely to lead to another military government.]

Nigeria election tensions raise spectre of break-up
The Feb. 14 vote pitting President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian popular in his southern oil-producing Niger Delta region and in the east, against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim favoured in the north and religiously mixed southwest, is already proving violent, with the electorate in Africa's biggest economy more polarised than for decades…

Ever since 1914, when Britain carved Nigeria out of a swathe of West Africa that was home to diverse peoples speaking more than 500 languages, it has been dogged by the question of how viable it is as a unified nation state.

However, most analysts say that even if serious bloodshed follows the election, as many expect, the worst-case scenario of a break-up of a country of 180 million people remains unlikely.

"Nigeria has an enormous capacity to absorb risk," the International Crisis Group's Africa director Comfort Ero said. "While there are significant concerns about the elections, we are not predicting break-up."

The last time a bit of Nigeria tried to secede, it triggered the 1960s Biafra civil war in which more than a million people died. After that it seemed Nigerians were better off together.

But as the election cycle has hotted up, some have floated the idea of division, and Boko Haram insurgents controlling territory the size of Belgium in the northeast are waging an increasingly bloody campaign for a breakaway Islamic state.

Separately, dozens of people die every month in ethnic violence in the Middle Belt, where the largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet across a patchwork of minority groups that are likely to be split between the two candidates.

"Nigeria is bursting at the seams with ethno-religious ... problems waiting to explode," columnist Bayo Oluwasanmi wrote in the African Herald Express, a local daily, last month.

"Competition in the coming 2015 presidential election could break the already tattered ties that keep Nigeria whole."…

Besides regional and ethnic differences, Buhari is also a protest vote for many who say Jonathan has failed to tackle insecurity and corruption, Nigerians' two biggest complaints, and who was seen as tough on both when he ruled in the 1980s…

Ultimately what makes these polls so dicey is that they are a genuine contest, said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By running in 2011 Jonathan broke an agreement with northern elites, in their minds at least, that it was the north's 'turn' to field a president. Now such regional deals are in tatters.

"In the past there has been a kind of consensus among the people who run Nigeria ... Elections at the presidential level were largely predetermined," Campbell said. "What we are talking about now are real elections, with a polarised electorate."

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Feeding a rapidly growing population

According to the CIA World Factbook, China has a land area of 9.5 million square kilometers. The USA has 9.8 million square kilometers. Of that land (according to the World Bank), 17% of the land in the USA is arable, while only 11.3% of China's land is arable. China's population is more than three times the population of the USA. How can China feed it's people? Will people eat "potato mud?"

China tries to reinvent the potato to feed its hungrier population
China has a new miracle food in its quest to feed its people’s ever hungrier mouths: the humble spud.

Authorities with the country’s Ministry of Agriculture recently decreed that the potato will be a central pillar of national efforts to increase harvests and feed a wealthier population with the means to buy more food…

A french fry factory in Harbin
“It seems like their intent is to re-engineer the food consumption patterns, to somehow induce people to eat potatoes instead of rice and wheat noodles,” said Fred Gale, a senior economist who tracks China for the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

The government of the water-starved country sees numerous virtues in a tuber that is drought-resistant and can be cultivated with less water and energy than other starches. The potato is also the only crop that can be grown nationwide and help raise incomes in rural areas…

But getting people to eat more spuds may require some potato propaganda. They don’t exist on the list of belly-filling staples, defined as rice, noodles, corn or bread-like products, that are usually eaten at the end of a meal to make sure no one goes away hungry…

The Chinese word for potato, tudou, has peasant connotations (a Chinese dish approximating mashed potatoes roughly translates to “potato mud”)…

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A poll from Nigeria

I mentioned that I hadn't seen any poll results from Nigeria to back up the wide-spread reports that the presidential race was very close. Well, here's a poll. It was done in December.

Elections 'Too Close to Call' in Nigeria, Says Major Survey
Nigeria's upcoming elections are likely to be the most competitive in the country's history, with the parties running neck-and-neck and the outcome "too close to call", according to a major survey of public opinion published in Lagos on Tuesday.

The survey, carried out by Afrobarometer, the leading continent-wide researcher of African public opinion, portrays Nigerians as people who are deeply unhappy with the country's trajectory, who believe the government is performing badly, and who also distrust the electoral process.

But it nevertheless shows that they still believe elections are the best way of choosing leaders and that the vast majority say they will probably turn out to vote on February 14…

Asked about their voting intentions, 42 percent of respondents chose the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), and 42 percent the principal challenger, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

When asked not who they would vote for, but who they expected to win, 40 percent said the PDP and 38 percent the APC. These figures are within the survey's margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percent…

Still, Nigerians are sceptical as to whether their votes will remove from office leaders who don't do what people want. Only 10 percent are confident this will happen, while 68 percent say elections do "not at all well" or "not very well" in removing unpopular leaders.

Regional political divisions are clearly shown when voting intentions are broken down by party:
  • South South: 65 percent will vote for the PDP; 20 percent for the APC
  • South East: 61 percent PDP; four percent APC
  • North Central: 45 percent PDP; 35 percent APC
  • North West: 59 percent APC; 20 percent PDP
  • South West: 46 percent APC; 19 percent PDP
  • North East: 44 percent APC; 43 percent PDP

The survey results can be downloaded from "Nigeria heads for closest election on record"

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Subversive soft power

Can materialism undermine a revolution? (Ask Chinese leaders.)

Note who the identity of the major players in this construction boom.

(My problem with this article is that it conflates an "Iranian Elite" with the middle class.)

Lavish Malls Sprouting Up to Attract Iranian Elite
The low rumble of powerful engines reverberated against the high-rises of Zaferanieh, an upmarket neighborhood, as Porsches and Mercedeses lined up to enter the multistory parking lot of a fancy new shopping mall, the Palladium, the latest addition to Tehran’s shopping scene.

Iran may be facing a dangerous economic abyss, with an empty treasury, historically low oil prices and the continuing damage of Western economic sanctions, but one indicator is going through the roof: Developers have broken ground on a record 400 shopping malls across the country, 65 in Tehran alone…

[T]he mall-building boom also reflects other factors, as construction and investment companies affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the police have led the way.

“Under sanctions, with nowhere else to invest, building shopping malls is the only lucrative business in Iran,” said Jamshid Edalatian, an economist. “The Guards, the police and other institutions are the ones who have money, so it is logical for them to invest in what makes a profit.”

Together with banks, wealthy individuals and powerful foundations, tax-exempt organizations that are supposed to care for the poor [bonyads], Iran’s security forces are building malls with Western-sounding names such as Rose, Mega Mall and Atlas Plaza. Their bright neon letters stand in sharp contrast to the revolutionary slogans painted on murals in surrounding neighborhoods, labeling consumerism a Western illness and taboo under Iran’s rigid ideology…

“We cater to what people desire to do: spending money, buying stuff and enjoying themselves as they shop,” said the owner of the Palladium, Hassan Raftari… Mr. Raftari led a business expansion into the construction of luxury apartment buildings. During his trips abroad, he said, he would always wonder why shopping in Iran was so boring…

Malls comparable to the Palladium are mushrooming across the city… not just for the rich. Around Tehran’s southern bus terminal, one of the poorer areas of the city, three malls are under construction…

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the state has dominated public spaces, using murals, the morals police and state media to emphasize what officials say are unchangeable revolutionary values. In private, though, Iranians have moved on, embracing satellite TV and the Internet, widening their world views and comparing their lives to those of people in Turkey, Malaysia, Europe and other popular destinations…

Mr. Edalatian, the economist and a member of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce… noted that the state prefers the shopping malls to the chaotic bazaars, as it is easier to collect value added taxes from them, currently at 8 percent.

“Try to get taxes from four million individual shops in our country,” he said. “The more centralized, the better.”…

“This mall is not only changing our shopping culture, it’s also a place where people are nice to each other. Most people you see here are smiling and not stressed out as they are elsewhere in this city,” said Mobin Cheraghi…

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Talking to the people

Televised debates between electoral candidates have been going on in the US for 50 years. The first televised debates in the UK took place in 2010. The results were not to everyone's liking. Thus there is a lot of shuffling and excuse making about arranging debates for the upcoming elections.

David Cameron is smart to duck a TV debate—but not right
Candidate onstage
BRITONS have admired America’s televised presidential debates since the first, between John F. Kennedy and a sweaty Richard Nixon, aired in 1960. But it took them half a century to adopt the practice. Though politicians often flirted with the idea, and broadcasters nagged, the more plausible of the party leaders (typically the incumbent) always vetoed it, sensing that he or she had more to lose than to gain…

Now prime minister, it is Mr Cameron’s turn to dither and bottle. On October 13th a consortium of broadcasters proposed three televised debates ahead of this May’s election… The prime minister prevaricated, then insisted that he would participate only if the Greens, like UKIP a small party that has surged in opinion polls, could take part too. Unpalatable to Labour—because the Greens could split the left-wing vote—and to broadcasters (who do not like to be pushed around) that is as close as Mr Cameron could come to refusing to take part.

On January 14th the leaders of Labour, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats all wrote to Mr Cameron urging him not to “deny the public the opportunity to see their leaders debate” out of self-interest. They encouraged the broadcasters to hold the debates regardless, leaving the prime ministerial podium empty if he continued to stall…

Mr Cameron’s foot-dragging is indeed self-interested. Voters tend to favour him as prime minister over Mr Miliband by a factor of two to one. As Philip Cowley, a political scientist at Nottingham University, has put it, the Labour leader will outperform expectations merely if he “comes on stage and doesn’t soil himself on camera”—let alone if he puts in the strong performance of which he sometimes shows himself capable…

That does not make the prime minister’s objection to excluding the Greens wrong on principle. That left-wing party now routinely polls ahead of the Lib Dems and won its first parliamentary seat four years before UKIP. Natalie Bennett, its leader, deserves a podium.

But nor does it make Mr Cameron’s stalling noble. A well-run televised debate makes people pay attention to the election: the first one in 2010 drew 10 million viewers. They are much better at teasing out politicians’ views than the tedious round of speeches, press conferences and staged visits to supporters’ houses that comprise a debate-free campaign. Britons should have the chance to see their leaders battle—as Mr Cameron argued so forcefully just five years ago.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Profile of Muhammadu Buhari

Nigerian Voters Look to Ex-Leader Who Ruled With Iron Hand to Loosen Militants’ Grip
With Nigeria’s presidential election only weeks away, Boko Haram’s unchecked rampaging here in the country’s north is helping to propel the 72-year-old general, Muhammadu Buhari, to the forefront.

After ruling Nigeria with an iron hand [for 20 months] 30 years ago as the country’s military leader, Mr. Buhari is now a serious threat at the ballot box, analysts say, in large part because of Boko Haram’s blood-soaked successes.

“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, said of Boko Haram…

Mr. Buhari’s tenure as Nigeria’s military ruler was brief: a 20-month stint in the 1980s, ended by another military coup. Yet it is remembered with trepidation by many Nigerians. His self-proclaimed “war against indiscipline” was carried to “sadistic levels, glorying in the humiliation of a people,” wrote the Nobel laureate and writer Wole Soyinka.

But Mr. Buhari’s supporters are far more interested in the instability shaking the north, urging a total overhaul of the lackluster fight against the Islamists…

“The resources meant for the military don’t go to the military; the bullets and boots don’t go to the soldiers,” said Hadiza Bala Usman, the main campaigner for the return of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last spring…

A retired general in the crowd of supporters… agreed, expressing anger that Boko Haram had gained the upper hand over Nigeria’s soldiers.

“The issue is lack of discipline; the commander has eaten his money,” he said, arguing that officers take money meant for soldiers, who then see little reason to obey orders.

In an interview, Mr. Buhari said that the times had changed and that he had changed with them.

“I operated as a military head of state,” he said. “Now I want to operate as a partisan politician in a multiparty setup. It’s a fundamental difference. Whatever law is on the ground, I will make sure it is respected.”

Yet it is Mr. Buhari’s long military career, not the respect for civil liberties he has proclaimed later in life, that will ultimately swing voters wary of his past, analysts say…

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Turning a blind eye to what's politically inconvenient?

The Nigerian president, running for reelection doesn't want to remind people of the failures of his government in combating Boko Haram. Will his rival bring up the issue?

[I have twice read that this presidential race is very hotly contested, but I have seen no polling data to back up that assertion.

As for the race being the hottest in Nigerian history, I seem to recall that one of the earliest elections was so close that the Supreme Court had to rule on which candidate had won.]

Blind to bloodshed
The attack [in Baga] on January 3rd may [have been] the bloodiest yet by Boko Haram, a jihadist group that has taken over swathes of north-eastern Nigeria…
Baga, Nigeria

What is clear, though, is that despite the horror, Nigeria’s rulers treat the war with indifference. President Goodluck Jonathan was quick to condemn the “monstrous” terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris. But as The Economist went to press, he had not uttered a word about Baga. *

His lieutenants argue that he cannot speak out because details of the attack are still hazy…

But there may be more cynical motives, too. Nigeria is due to hold elections on February 14th. Talking about the siege would draw attention to the government’s failure to curb the insurgents. The issue is particularly sensitive because Mr Jonathan, a southerner, is standing against a northern former army general, Muhammadu Buhari, who is tough on security.

The race is the tightest in the history of Nigerian civil rule…

Things are likely to get worse with the approach of the elections, often a time of violence in Nigeria. Some civil-rights activists worry that already-stretched army forces will be withdrawn from the northeast—either to protect polling stations around the country, or to help stuff the ballot boxes.

* Editor’s Note: After The Economist went to press, a press release from Mr Jonathan’s office said the president had made a surprise visit to Maiduguri on January 15th, nearly a fortnight after the attack on Baga, to hail the bravery of Nigerian troops and commiserate with a group of 900 displaced residents from Baga…

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Urban fighting in Nigeria

Most of the terrorism and warfare in Nigeria has been in rural areas and small towns — until now.

Boko Haram Attacks Major Nigerian City in a Sustained Assault
Maiduguri, the major city in Nigeria’s northeast, came under sustained attack from Boko Haram terrorists on Sunday morning…

This city of over two million people was attacked beginning late Saturday night from at least two directions by the militants from the Islamist insurgency, which effectively controls the territory surrounding the city. Loud explosions were heard in the center of the city, and small-arms fire and artillery in its suburbs…

By late Sunday morning, the attack appeared to have been repulsed by the Nigerian military. Officials said bombs dropped on insurgent positions had turned the tide of the battle here, but there were reports that a major military installation in a town to the north, Monguno, had fallen to the insurgents…

Initial reports suggested that civilian and military casualties here were substantial. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of residents fleeing the suburbs and rushing toward the city’s center. They also reported seeing some Nigerian troops moving away from the fighting, as in numerous previous engagements with the Islamists…

The sustained attack by the Islamists on the center of Nigerian state and military power in this section of the country — the city that was their movement’s birthplace — was one more indication that they are stepping up the pace of their offensive before a critical presidential election next month.

The attack came hours after Mr. Jonathan had left Maiduguri after a campaign speech…

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Voting in a war zone?

People in Nigeria have to "go home" to vote. The reporter doesn't explain exactly what that means, but for residents of refugee camps it might mean losing the chance to vote. Will this affect the results?

Nigerians made homeless by Boko Haram seen losing vote too
Nigerians fleeing a wave of killings by the Islamist group Boko Haram have already lost loved ones, livelihoods and most of their possessions. Now they seem likely to lose their vote.

A closely fought presidential election is to be held in a month’s time and the law states people must go home if they want to participate, posing a risk to the credibility of the poll in Africa’s biggest economy.

The electoral commission says it is rushing to distribute voter ID cards to the 1.5 million people who have been displaced…

Minawao camp in Cameroon
But for many voters the idea of going back to their home constituencies, as they legally must in order to cast their ballots, is too harrowing to contemplate.

President Goodluck Jonathan faces ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari in the Feb. 14 election, and there are grave doubts over whether voting can happen in swathes of the northeast overrun by rebels. As they are mostly opposition strongholds, Buhari stands to lose out the most…

The independent electoral commission (INEC) hopes it can find a away around the law… Giving out ID cards in refugee camps was itself a departure from the normal rules.

Nearly half of all registered voters nationwide have yet to receive new voter identification cards, the commission said on Tuesday, raising questions about preparations for the vote with just a month to go…

To illustrate the size of the problem, in Adamawa state, five Boko Haram-controlled local authorities account for 356,680 voters…

IDPs Will Not Be Disenfranchised in February Elections Says INEC
THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it was determined to ensure that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were not disenfranchised in the February elections...

To ensure that the IDPs exercise their franchise in the elections, INEC said it had scheduled a "crucial meeting" with stakeholders...

Stakeholders expected at the meeting... are representatives of the governments of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe as well as members and speakers of their Houses of Assembly.

Others, it said, included religious leaders, representatives of security agencies comprising, and civil society organizations...

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Delay elections in Nigeria?

Would a delay serve more than one purpose?

Security chief urges vote delay
Sambo Dasuki
Nigeria's national security adviser [Sambo Dasuki] has urged the electoral commission to delay next month's elections to allow more time for voter card distribution.

The polls are the first in Nigeria to require voters to have biometric cards.

Nigeria, wracked by a violent uprising by Islamists Boko Haram, is scheduled to hold the election on 14 February…

And he criticised "cowards" within Nigeria's armed forces for hampering the campaign against the insurgents.

"We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight," he told an audience at the Chatham House think-tank in London, adding "there is no high-level conspiracy within the army not to end the insurgency"…

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International or local terrorism

Mostly for teacher background.

The difference doesn't matter to the delegitimization of the Nigerian government, but it does matter to policy makers figuring out how to combat terrorism.

This op-ed piece is from The Monkey Cage in the Washington Post. The author, Hilary Matfess, is a student at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she works on issues of governance, security and development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Boko Haram is not al-Qaeda
The international community is abuzz… expressing solidarity with victims of the Parisian terrorist attacks and acknowledging that, not only have the Chibok girls not been “brought back,” but that Boko Haram has extended its power across northeastern Nigeria in a particularly brutal manner.

Observers and pundits have caved to the temptation to draw similarities between these attacks, highlighting the global scope of the jihadistthreat and rehashing the importance of a multilateral approach to the Global War on Terror…

Abubaker Shekau
Though Abubaker Shekau — the current head of Boko Haram — has expressed solidarity with the missions of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, partnerships between the groups have not developed…

More importantly, lumping these organizations together ignores the local conditions that give rise to their specific characteristics. Attempting to understand Boko Haram from a transnational perspective yields very little…

It’s critical to note that Boko Haram began as a largely non-violent (though anti-system) Muslim reform movement, targeting local imams and politicians that were unsympathetic to their strict interpretation of sharia law. The movement only became radicalized following the Nigerian government’s 2009 offensive, in which an estimated 700 people, including Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf, were killed by members of the Nigerian security sector, while members of the Joint Task Force engaged in egregious human rights abuses and violations of the rule of law…

In Nigeria, the long-standing economic and political marginalization of the north has prevented the government from mounting a robust response to Boko Haram, and has allowed the insurgency to gain access to sophisticated arms through Sahelian trade routes; the abuses of government forces have given Boko Haram a platform from which to mobilize and a motivation for their ideological goals.

Treating terrorism as a monolithic, global network serves a specific political agenda, mobilizing support for well-intentioned but homogenous and ineffective counter-terrorism programs. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism programs that fail to acknowledge the context and characteristics of specific movements have failed and will continue to fail.

The international community owes it to the survivors of such horrific attacks to assist in the design and implementation of effective programs, recognizing that while the struggle is global, all politics are local.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ah, crucial documents

In the USA, candidate Barack Obama was beset by a controversy over his "official" birth certificate. Now, Nigerian candidate Muhammadu Buhari is threatened with disqualification over his diplomas.

We Don't Have Copy of Buhari's WASC - Army
The Nigerian Army said yesterday it was not in possession of original copies of General Muhammadu Buhari's West Africa School Certificate (WASC) or statement of result.

It however added that Buhari's form at the point of documentation as officer indicated that the former Head of State obtained the WASC in 1961 with credits in five subjects including English Language…

Speaking in a press conference yesterday, Army spokesman Brigadier General Olajide Laleye said… "The media hype on retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari's credentials as well as the numerous requests made by individuals and corporate bodies to the Nigerian Army on this issue have necessitated that we provide the facts as contained in the retired senior officer's service record.

"Records available indicate that Major General M Buhari applied to join the military as a Form Six student of the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina on 18 Oct 1961.

"His application was duly endorsed by the Principal of the school, who also wrote a report on him and recommended him to be suitable for military commission…

'However, there is no available record to show that his process was followed in the 1960s.

"Nevertheless, the entry made on the NA Form 199A at the point of documentation after commission as an officer indicated that the former Head of State obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1961 with credits in relevant subjects: English Language, Geography, History, Health Science, Hausa and a pass in English Literature.

"Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC) nor statement of result of Major General M Buhari's WASC result is in his personal file…"

The ruling PDP has made Buhari's WASC an issue in the February 14 election in which he is President Goodluck Jonathan's main challenger…

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Rule of Ideology and Loyalty

Chinese President Xi tells local officials what he expects of them. Does he really mean rule of law? Or might he mean loyalty or ideological purity? Or does he mean that he expects them to be popular?

(Obscure Marxist reference: The explanation that "Experts said counties played a key role in connecting the grassroots with the upper echelons of the state… " sounds very much like the early industrial revolution analogy of "transmission belts" that Marx, Lenin, and Stalin referred to.)

Xi stresses role of county Party chiefs
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday lauded the role of county level governments, however, he underscored the integral role officials played in ensuring efficiency…

Xi said county-level governments had taken on more responsibility in the implementation of reform measures, the promotion of rule of law and the enforcement of strict Party discipline. Thus, Party chiefs must acknowledge their authority and exercise self-discipline in their work.

Counties are the joints that link the higher and lower levels of the Party and the government, Xi said, adding that county-level CPC committees were the "front-line headquarters" and county Party chiefs the "front-line commanders in chief"…

Experts said counties played a key role in connecting the grassroots with the upper echelons of the state, and the seminar showed efforts were being taken to consolidate primary-level authorities for the betterment of the whole country…

Loyalty to the Party, Xi stressed, is the most important criterion for assessing county Party chiefs and key posts at this level must be filled by those committed to the Party.

County Party chiefs will be surrounded by temptation. Without loyalty to the Party to ground them, they could be distracted by offers of money, sex or power, Xi warned.

"You must remember that you are the CPC's county Party chief and you report to the CPC," Xi said.

County cadres must steer their organizations along the right political path, as they themselves must follow the Party line and uphold their responsibilities to the CPC, Xi said.

Chu Songyan, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, said the seminar aimed to strengthen governance from the ground up.

"There is a Chinese saying that goes 'to run the country well, you must first start at the county'. [Which is similar to the] adage: 'A stable country comes with the stability of counties and prefectures'," said Chu.

"Whether a county is governed well is reflected by public opinion ," Chu added…

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Noted statistics

Since 2006, I've posted links here to 3,400 articles that I thought were related to teaching and learning about comparative politics. Whew!

And those articles have been seen 400,248 times by you, the readers. Whew! again.

Keep on looking at things here and suggesting things of value. (See the "Comments" link below.)

Every day, the importance of understanding each other seems to grow, and this is one way of promoting understanding. 

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.

What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools, the original version and v2.0 are available to help curriculum planning.

What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is NOW AVAILABLE.
Updated and ready to help.

Independent of what?

The headline says one thing. Later paragraphs say another. Which takes priority?

Xi asks party organs to support independent judicial system
President Xi Jinping ordered party departments on Tuesday to support judges and prosecutors to exercise their duties independently.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, made the remarks in a written instruction on political and legal work…

Party committees at all levels should set an example of abiding by the law, he wrote.

They should enable law enforcement agencies and judicial departments to work independently according to the Constitution and laws and "create a favorable environment" for them to do so, he wrote.

Meanwhile, the President noted that party committees should improve their leadership in judicial affairs, appointing qualified officials to take the lead, raise their political awareness and ensure their integrity.

Officials in law enforcement agencies and judicial departments should be loyal to the Party, to the state and the people, he wrote…

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Plea for help when the government can't help

Ignatius Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Jos, asks for help from Western powers because the Nigerian government and army seem helpless. How wide spread is that sentiment and how will it affect the coming election?

Nigerian archbishop accuses West
Ignatius Kaigama
The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, has accused the West of ignoring the threat of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram…

His warning came after 23 people were killed by three female suicide bombers, one reported to be 10 years old.

The weekend attacks come after reports that hundreds of people were killed last week during the capture by Boko Haram of the town of Baga in Borno state.

Archbishop Kaigama told the BBC's Newsday programme that the slaughter in Baga had shown that the Nigerian military was unable to tackle Boko Haram.

"It is a monumental tragedy. It has saddened all of Nigeria. But... we seem to be helpless. Because if we could stop Boko Haram, we would have done it right away. But they continue to attack, and kill and capture territories... with such impunity," he said…

In June, Britain said it would increase its military and educational aid to help Nigeria tackle Boko Haram.

The aid includes counter-insurgency training for troops, which is also being provided by the US military.

However, Nigeria has criticised the US for refusing to sell it weapons because of alleged human rights abuses committed by Nigerian troops…

Jos, where the archbishop is based, has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians and has faced attacks by Islamist militants, although it is some distance from Boko Haram's strongholds.

Jos, northeast of Abuja
Last month more than 30 people were killed in twin bomb attacks on a market there.

Churches have also been targeted in what are believed to be attempts by the militants to foment religious tension…

Analysis By Will Ross, BBC News, Lagos
The violence is relentless and increasingly shocking…

Sometimes Nigeria's military has recorded successes…

But the military faces a mountainous task trying to protect civilians from the bombers and gunmen who are spread over a large area of the north-east and although officials don't like to hear it, they have often been overpowered and failed to protect civilians….

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam. It is a great companion for your trip through the comparative government and politics course.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Case study about political leadership

Juliette Zener who teaches in Belmont, MA, pointed out this case study about the importance of party leaders in elections.

The study was done by Archie Brown, an emeritus professor of politics, University of Oxford, and the author, most recently, of The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age.

Can you evaluate his contentions using another case study?

Do party leaders really win elections?
The idea that party leaders are decisively important in the winning or losing of general elections is implicit in much political journalism and it is a belief that some political leaders themselves - Tony Blair, in particular - have been eager to propagate.

It is very rarely true.

It is only in an extremely close-run race that the personality of the leader and the gulf between that leader's standing and the popularity of his or her principal opponent can make the difference between victory and defeat.

It is not even particularly uncommon for the political party of the less popular leader of the two main parties to be the one that wins the election.

Thus, for example, although journalists still write of "Margaret Thatcher's rout of James Callaghan", the Labour leader was some 20 points ahead of Mrs Thatcher on the eve of the Conservative victory in the 1979 election.

It was not Thatcher who defeated Callaghan but the Conservative Party that defeated Labour…

Since all the available evidence suggests that the May 2015 election is likely to be a cliff-hanger, with a distinct possibility that once again no one party will have an overall majority, does this mean that journalists' excessive focus on the top leader might for once be justified? Probably not…

The two main political parties would be well advised to give ample interview time to other front-benchers rather than over-expose David Cameron and Ed Miliband in what, thanks to the fixed election date, is going to be a very long campaign by British standards - four whole months…

The rise of UKIP, however, is not because it has a leader of exceptional ability - he has the gift of the gab but we don't know, and may never know, if he would make a good minister…

The rise of the SNP over the past two decades has often been attributed to the exceptional ability of its leader, Alex Salmond.

There is no denying his political talent, but yet again this is a case of a particular leader being used to explain too much.

Following the seamless transition to the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon - also, indeed, a formidable politician - support for the party has simply continued to grow.

The SNP have said that in no circumstances will they prop up a Conservative government, but - at a price - they might uphold a Labour administration.

That has very far-reaching implications.

If it led to the predictable English backlash, this would be grist for the mill of the separatist party, but bad news in the longer term for Labour - and for the continuing existence of the British state within its present boundaries.

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A valuable explanation of the AP course to supplement your textbook.
What You Need to Know SIXTH edition.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Africa ignored?

Suzanne Bailey, who teaches in Huntsville, AL, pointed this out. Thought provoking, no?

Why no 'Je suis Charlie' moment for Boko Haram's victims?

The Second Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Sixth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.

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Guardianship of the people?

The saint of the Iranian Islamic revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, advocated an Islamic government that put the will of the people under the guardianship of a jurist (a well-respected and educated cleric like himself). So, there is a way, under the Iranian constitution, for popular referenda. Is President Rouhani now serious about holding popular votes on policy issues?

Rouhani's reference, at the end of the article, is to bonyads, the so-called charitable foundations that took over businesses of people who left Iran during and after the '79 revolution. The foundations are controlled by powerful clerics and leaders of the Revolutionary Guards. The bonyads provide huge incomes to those who control them.

Iran Leader Suggests Direct Votes on Issues
Iran’s president said Sunday that he might invoke a powerful but neglected tool in his fight with hard-liners, suggesting the possibility of organizing direct referendums that would bypass the institutions the conservatives control and give more of a voice to Iranian voters.

President Hassan Rouhani, speaking during a conference on the country’s economic problems, said that Iranians were entitled to have major issues put to a nationwide vote, as described in the 1979 Constitution…

In the opaque world of Iranian politics his remarks are a clear warning to hard-liners, who control the Parliament, key decision-making councils, the state-run media, the security forces and the intelligence services, but who have a shrinking base of support in the country…

Any popular referendum would be troubling to hard-liners because it would be likely to produce results reflective of the changes in Iranian society. These days, most Iranians are urbanized, according to official figures, and seemingly less interested in the radicalism promoted by some Iranian leaders. Because most Iranians are not allowed to organize themselves, or to form parties or even social groups, their opinions are often muffled by official ideological pronouncements and propaganda…

“The president is threatening the hard-liners that he is not afraid to use such a powerful tool,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government. Mr. Ghorbanpour said that most people supported the president’s desire for change, and that a referendum would reflect that…

While the hard-liners control Parliament, and a referendum would have to be approved by two-thirds of the lawmakers, just by proposing such a measure Mr. Rouhani would put enormous pressure on his opponents.

“If they would say no to a referendum proposed by the government, it would mean they would say flat out no to the people,” Mr. Ghorbanpour said…

In another jab at his rivals, Mr. Rouhani repeated his criticism of organizations controlled by hard-liners that engage in often very lucrative economic activities but refuse to pay taxes.

“Everyone should pay taxes,” Mr. Rouhani said. “This government, without being afraid of anybody or any institution, will tell the story to the people when it is about people’s interests.”

Sue Witmer, who teaches in Pennsylvania, then pointed out two blog entries from RFE/RL that reinforce the messages of the New York Times article.

(Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari.)

Analysts Weigh In On Rohani's Call For Referendums
And as Professor Nader Hashemi, who teaches Middle Eastern politics at the University of Denver, explains, the "hysterical reaction" from hard-liners is unsurprising:

"This is not a surprise to me because it shines a spot on the crisis of legitimacy facing the Islamic Republic, specifically its authoritarian and non-democratic nature. The preferences of the Iranian people, specifically the sizeable Iranian youth population and the urban and middle classes, are at odds with the policies of Iranian hardliners. The threat of including their voices in policy decisions (i.e. the threat of democracy) has petrified the Iranian conservative establishment. It is precisely and exactly for this reason that they protesting so vociferously against Rouhani today."...

News Analysis: Rohani Makes His Move
In a remarkable speech on January 4, Hassan Rohani called for taxing huge economic enterprises and conglomerates that currently are exempted from taxation but constitute close to half of Iran's economic turnover. Rohani also criticized the monopolistic nature of these enterprises, calling for an open and competitive economic system.

Who controls these monopolistic enterprises? Mostly, it's the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and clerical circles who have been opposing a nuclear deal, making clear that his message was for them...

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ideology resurgent

A couple New York Times reporters have picked up the theme in China of using ideology to substitute for rule of law in the political culture. The task is made more difficult by another theme: change and growth.

Maoists in China, Given New Life, Attack Dissent
They pounce on bloggers who dare mock their beloved Chairman Mao. They scour the nation’s classrooms and newspapers for strains of Western-inspired liberal heresies. And they have taken down professors, journalists and others deemed disloyal to Communist Party orthodoxy.

China’s Maoist ideologues are resurgent after languishing in the political desert, buoyed by President Xi Jinping’s traditionalist tilt and emboldened by internal party decrees that have declared open season on Chinese academics, artists and party cadres seen as insufficiently red…

Two years into a sweeping offensive against dissent, Mr. Xi has been intensifying his focus on perceived ideological opponents…

In instructions published last week, Mr. Xi urged universities to “enhance guidance over thinking and keep a tight grip on leading ideological work in higher education,” Xinhua, the official news agency, reported.

In internal decrees, he has been blunter, attacking liberal thinking as a pernicious threat that has contaminated the Communist Party’s ranks, and calling on officials to purge the nation of ideas that run counter to modern China’s Marxist-Leninist foundations…

The latter-day Maoists, whose influence had faltered before Mr. Xi came to power, have also been encouraged by another internal document, Document No. 30, which reinforces warnings that Western-inspired notions of media independence, “universal values” and criticism of Mao threaten the party’s survival…

China’s old guard leftists are a loose network of officials and former officials, sons and daughters of party veterans, and ardently anti-Western academics and journalists… [W]hile their direct influence on the party leadership has been circumscribed, they have served as the party’s eager ideological inquisitors.

Analysts say it is unlikely Mr. Xi wants to take China back to Mao’s puritanical era, but doctrinaire Communists see him as a useful ally, and his directives as a license to attack liberal critics of the party...

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Soft power or hard power?

Is there a Chinese version of the Internet in our future? Is there a Western version of the Internet in China's future? What is a nationalist Internet (besides an oxymoron)?

China seeks to export its vision of the Internet
China, the country that perfected breaking the Internet, has of late been on a campaign to convince the rest of the world that its approach to digital networks is worth spreading. It’s an effort led by Lu Wei, the man whose chief responsibilities include overseeing the Great Firewall of China, whose heavy veil of censorship is responsible for the damage China has done to the Internet inside its borders.

In November, Mr. Lu was among the headline speakers at China’s first-ever World Internet Conference… In December, he flew to Silicon Valley… He appeared at a Washington Internet forum… A few days later, he published an article in the Huffington Post that, in a tidy 1,397 words, laid out China’s vision for what the Internet should look like.

Mr. Lu… is on a new mission to convert others to his vision of how the Internet should be run: that digital networks should not allow the unimpeded flow of information, but should instead fall under the “cybersovereignty” of individual nations.

Asked whether he would consider allowing Facebook in, he was more direct: “I can choose who will be a guest in my home.” He wants others to assert the same power.

It’s a controversial notion, since China has used its control of the Internet to silence dissent, spread propaganda and delete chapters of history . It has also exported its firewall technology to others, notably to African regimes looking for their own god-like powers over online content…

In a recent column in state media, Fang Xingdong noted that China increasingly has the “hard power” to exert its will.

“China boasts the largest number of Internet users and also world famous companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. The Chinese market will be critical in reshaping the cyberlandscape in the next decade,” wrote Mr. Fang, director of the Centre for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications…

Many nations are also newly skeptical of U.S. leadership in cyberspace, following the Edward Snowden revelations of rampant spying. “The U.S. is no longer seen as a benevolent steward of the Internet system,” said Mr. Creemers.

“The whole idea that Cisco routers, which power the Chinese Internet, might have CIA backdoors installed is a huge concern in Chinese policy circles.” China appears to be taking swift action, saying it wants home-grown technology to supplant foreign-sourced goods in sensitive banking, military and other applications by 2020.

That action underscores the risk to western corporations of China’s new Internet assertiveness…

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What You Need to Know SIXTH edition is a useful addition to your library.

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