Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

16
Jul

Thailand’s Inevitable Revolution

Written on July 16, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

In recent weeks, the military junta in Thailand has been working hard on rehabilitating its image. A battalion of soft-spoken diplomats has been dispatched on an international charm offensive, lecturing policymakers and journalists on their good intentions and popular support. Just don’t ask them to prove it in an election.

Their efforts are aimed at promoting a distorted understanding of events — an exercise that the United States and Europe seem all too willing to accept. They want the world to believe that the May 22, 2014, military coup is somehow a “normal” feature of Thailand’s political culture, and as such, the junta should get a free pass.

If things continue along this path, we are due to have a replay of the aftermath of the 2006 coup. At the time, Western governments eventually gave their support to the military’s plan to introduce a new constitution that severely watered down representation and allowed them to keep appointees permanently entrenched in the Constitutional Court and Senate. It’s little wonder why the situation has culminated in violence and repression once again several years later, and undoubtedly what will happen if they remain unchallenged in 2014.

The military has already prepared its transition. A provisional constitution drafted by the junta will be introduced containing less than 50 sections. A cabinet will be formed in September as well as a 250-member “reform council,” all filled with people exclusively handpicked by the coup, which will then be followed by an election where the military will be able to re-install their colleagues in the Democrat Party — otherwise known as “The Party of the Army.”

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a member of the Election Commission, has already chillingly told European diplomats only “moral” people will be allowed to win the elections.

The recent revelation that planning for this coup began four years ago, with close coordination between the accused murderer former Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban (and former Democrat Party member) and General Prayuth Chan-ocha, should raise major red flags. This coup wasn’t a last resort or necessity to solve political deadlock — it was a premeditated, calculated agenda to steal control of the instruments of power and demolish a popularly elected government.

What must be understood about Thailand’s seemingly endless cycle of coups and repression is that this is not necessarily a political struggle, but a struggle against history. There is an unstoppable and growing political awakening taking place that is crashing up against traditional elites who view their fellow citizens as feudal serfs.

Since 1932, Thailand has never seen a period of true political stability due to this struggle. In her excellent book “Revolution Interrupted,” the academic Tyrell Haberkorn describes Thailand’s history as occasional periods of silence punctuated by violent cycles of coups and repression. The protagonists may change, but the role of the Thai Army is always the same.

Today we are in a silent period, where opposition to the coup has been frozen through threats, intimidation, interrogations and show trials. There are credible rumors of atrocities taking place far from the public eye, while right in the center of Bangkok people have reportedly been arrested for reading Orwell, holding sandwiches and carrying signs with slogans such as “Long live USA.”

Such wildly repressive behavior is what we have come to expect from the people who brought us the 1976 Thammasat University massacre and the 2010 Bangkok massacre. These acts of unaccountable violence and repression by the military are likely to continue, as no member of the Army has ever suffered a loss of “prestige” for toppling an elected government or ordering troops to fire upon protesters.

How we react to the Thai coup matters. As the Australian academic Nicholas Farrelly has argued, the actions of the U.S. government in response to Thailand’s past coups has guaranteed “any stigma associated with military government never overwhelmed international acceptance.”

It’s time for a new approach. The junta’s transition plan must be rejected and understood for what it is: a blatant attempt by one minority to dominate the majority. The soldiers must be told to return to the barracks and stay there. The U.S. government as well as the European Union must demand an immediate handover to an independent civilian administration that is capable of overseeing free and fair elections, leading to a new constitution by the people through elected representatives, not coup-appointed figures.

Most important, targeted sanctions must be immediately applied against members of the Thai army to restrict their travel privileges and freeze their bank accounts, as well as those of the businesses and corporations that sponsored the overthrow of the government. These individuals committed a grave crime, and it is time they be treated as criminals.

The reason why we no longer see regular military coups in places like Africa and Latin America is because it has become internationally unacceptable. There’s no reason to expect any less from Thailand, especially given the tide of history.

Robert Amsterdam serves as international counsel to the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy.

Published on July 16, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

10
Jul

The US takes great pains not to be seen to interfere in other people’s elections. In Afghanistan, any whiff of involvement is deeply toxic. Everyone remembers the 2009 poll and repeated allegations that American officials were manipulating the vote – allegations confirmed by Robert Gates’s memoir this year, in which the former defence secretary said US diplomats tried to tilt the playing field to nudge Hamid Karzai from power.

So it would have taken a lot to get Barack Obama to pick up the telephone and call Afghanistan’s election candidates last night, warning them they would lose aid if they tried to seize power unconstitutionally.

That phone call is a sign of the worst case scenario that foreign governments are entertaining: a shadow government formed by Abdullah Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance figure, and civil war. Iraq’s bleak headlines may offer a glimpse of Afghanistan’s future.

But even the best case scenario is looking like a disaster, leaving the West’s carefully honed exit plans in tatters. That plan demands a string of medium-term commitments to ensure that Afghanistan can make the jump to sustainability, demands that will have to remain on hold as the election crisis is resolved one way or another.

With combat troops heading home this year, Kabul is yet to sign a security deal with Washington to allow trainers and special forces to stay until 2016. That will not happen until a new president is installed.

In September, Nato nations will gather for a summit in Wales. World leaders will discuss everything from cybersecurity to the unfolding emergency in Iraq. Afghanistan needs to muscle its way high up the agenda, and perhaps try to persuade Nato countries to fund not just the 228,500 troops agreed but something closer to the 350,000 or so currently deployed.

That’s not going to happen if we have weeks and weeks of election squabbling, a president backed by only half the country – or Hamid Karzai in his last lame duck weeks – attending the summit.

Figures released by the United Nations today show the problem. The death toll in the first six months of this year shows a 17 per cent rise on last year to more than 1500. The figures reflect that more of the fighting is taking place close to inhabited areas.

Never mind the worst case scenario, and a total breakdown into Iraq-style conflict. Even the best case scenarios will slow down the international aid that Afghanistan needs if it is to have any hope of a stable, secure future.

Rob Crilly is Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Before that he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.

Published on 9 July in http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk

4
Jul

Hollande sets his sights on sarkozy

Written on July 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

Nicolas Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday for corruption and abusing his position of power

François Hollande had pictured it for years: Nicolas Sarkozy, his vanquished adversary in the 2012 presidential election, slumped in the back of a Citroën saloon, his necktie loosened, his face grey with fatigue, after a gruelling 15-hour interrogation. Sarkozy has been charged with corruption and illegal use of his influence. He now faces, in theory, up to 10 years in jail and a fine of one million euros.

He had faced charges before (the previous ones, accusations that he received money from the L’Oréal billionairess Liliane Bettencourt, were dismissed last year) but this was the first time he, or indeed any former president, had been held in custody for a day. And Twitter went crazy for it.

It has been open season on Nicolas Sarkozy ever since President Hollande was inaugurated on May 15 2012. Never an easy-going, approachable character, François Hollande has a mean, vindictive streak: like Louis XI, he won’t be happy until Sarkozy is in a fillette, one of those small cages that hold enemies in a crouching position. After all, Sarkozy remains Hollande’s most dangerous adversary in 2017. The important thing is to stop him from running: which is why, every time Hollande’s ratings plummet, a new accusation is levied against his predecessor.

Judge after judge has initiated proceedings. These are for anything from dodgy party financing, to authorising bribes relating to the sale of French warships to Pakistan two decades ago, to taking money from Libya’s then dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, for his victorious 2007 election campaign.

Whenever one case became unstuck, another one started up. Judges authorised the tapping of Sarko’s phone, as well as his lawyer’s, for eight months – officially to follow up on the Libyan accusations. This yielded nothing; but soon other judges started dropping by to listen to the tapes, “trawling at random for interesting stuff”, one told Canard Enchaîné, the well-informed satirical weekly, never friendly to Sarkozy, months ago. This yielded the recordings that led to Tuesday’s interrogation.

Sarkozy himself has called such methods “Stasi-like”, and it would be logical to see such tainted evidence – collected indiscriminately, without a specific warrant – thrown out of court. He is accused in this instance of trying to bribe a senior judge with promises of a plum job in the Monaco judiciary in exchange for information on the state of his case in the Bettencourt accusations. The senior judge was unconnected to the case, and as it happens did not get the Monaco job.

Sarkozy is also accused of trying to obtain protected information. The irony is that a good deal of the Sarkozy tapes, supposedly protected by the same confidentiality, have been published by the Mediapart investigative website, headed by a respected former Le Monde journalist, Edwy Plenel, who happens to be a long-time personal friend of Hollande’s.

Sarkozy’s friends will also point out that one of the two judges conducting the current investigation, Claire Thépaut, is an active member of the most Leftist judges’ union, the Syndicat de la Magistrature. She signed an anti-Sarkozy column during the 2012 campaign, describing herself as a “personal foe” of the president’s, while formally supporting Hollande’s challenge. Yet now she will decide whether the former president will go to trial over the latest accusations – at the risk of making him look more and more like a martyr to his partisans.

There is a wealth of additional cases to bring: so if not this time, something may yet stick to Sarkozy. At least this is what the Hollande crowd hopes, because Sarkozy, like Freddy Krueger in the horror movies, is just getting angrier and angrier – and he will get back at them if he ever wins again.

By Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

Published on 3 July in the Telegraph , http://www.telegraph.co.uk

5
Jun

elections

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected in a landslide, officials said on Wednesday, capturing another seven-year term in the middle of a bloody three-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country.

Syria‘s parliament speaker, Jihad Lahan, announced the final results from Tuesday’s election, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%. Laham said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. The supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42%.

After the results were released, Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry. On the streets of the capital, men cheered and whistled. Some broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!”

Assad’s victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. Voting was held only in government-controlled areas, excluding huge tracks of northern and eastern Syria that are in rebel hands. The opposition and its western allies, including the United States, have denounced the election as a farce.

The win boosts Assad’s support base, and provides further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power.

For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on the ballot. In previous presidential elections, Assad and before him his father, Hafez Assad, were elected in single candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-no ballots.

The government has sought to present this vote as a democratic solution to Syria’s three-year conflict, although a win for Assad is certain to prolong the war. Much of northern and eastern Syria is in rebel hands, and those in the armed opposition show no signs of relenting in their fight to oust Assad.

The war, which activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, has left the international community deeply divided, with the US and its allies backing the revolt against Assad, who enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.

That division persisted in perceptions of Tuesday’s vote.

In Beirut, US secretary of state John Kerry sharply criticized the Syrian election, calling it “a great big zero.” He said it can’t be considered fair “because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”

“Nothing has changed from the day before the election and the day after. Nothing,” Kerry said during a one-day visit to the Lebanese capital. “The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same.”

The European Union joined the US in condemning the election, saying in a statement that “it cannot be considered as a genuinely democratic vote.”

In Damascus, meanwhile, a delegation led by the government’s chief international supporters said Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election in over four decades was transparent and free, and would pave the way for “stability and national agreement.”

The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations on Tuesday. In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s committee on national security, the delegation blamed the US and its allies for “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”

Published on 4 June in http://www.theguardian.com

29
May

With its triumph in Sunday's European election, Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National is hoping to move from the margins to the mainstream.

Marine Le Pen shed tears of joy after her triumph in European Parliament elections on Sunday. When she arrived after midnight at a Parisian night club for the victory celebration with her fellow party members, the head of the far-right Front National (FN) embraced fans and family before letting the champagne flow. Marine’s father Jean-Marie, who was re-elected to the EU body for the seventh time, was also on hand to congratulate his daughter. “It was a historic victory,” he said.

By Monday morning, the emotional evening had already been forgotten and strategists were once again busy at work at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre. Until Sunday’s election, the Front National had occupied but three seats in European Parliament — one each for Marine, her father and his political companion Bruno Gollnisch — and had led a largely unnoticed existence on the political fringes in Brussels. Now, though, the party’s caucus will grow by 21 representatives.

After pulling in a triumphant 25 percent of the vote, the Front National will now have the largest number of seats of any French political party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen has every intention of using the party’s presence at parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and Brussels for political gain. Some within the far-right in France are already considering their political futures — all the way up to the presidential palace in Paris.

The ‘Long March’

The first step in the “long march,” as Marine Le Pen has termed it, is the creation of a party group in the European Parliament comprised of skeptics of the euro common currency, EU opponents and the far-right or right-wing populists. Doing so would provide the parties with greater access to money and key posts and would also raise their profile. To create a group, at least 25 members of parliament from seven different EU member states must join together in a bloc. Given the divergent ideologies on Europe’s right wing, that won’t be an easy task.

The only true support Le Pen can count on is from the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. Right-wing populist parties in Belgium and the Netherlands failed to deliver on Sunday, managing only disappointing results. Meanwhile, radical political forces in Denmark and Britain have said they will not join an alliance with the Front National.

Despite Le Pen’s triumph — which the front pages of France’s newspapers described as a “Big Bang,” a “repudiation” and even an “earthquake” — right-wing populists will remain a minority among the 751 members of the European Parliament. “They won’t have enough influence to determine policy direction,” FN expert Joel Gombin told French news station BFM. “On the contrary,” the sociologist said. “The relatively good showing of the euro opponents will force existing EU parties to increase their cooperation.”

That, though, is of little consequence for Le Pen and the Front National. This election cycle clearly demonstrated that the party’s anti-EU message, and its criticism of an EU that takes power away from member states, is attractive to both workers and young voters.

To be sure, the French far right’s success is also the product of French voters’ frustration with the country’s economic malaise and a growing disillusionment with established political parties. Indeed, the Socialists and the conservative UMP are increasingly perceived as being muddled, unreliable or even corrupt. To capitalize, Marine Le Pen has refashioned Front National’s ideology from the ground up, and now appears to many in France as a modern and dynamic force.

Conquering France One Step at a Time

Thus, Sunday’s success is seen as but a stage victory among Front National’s leaders. They have set their sights on more than EU institutions in Brussels; they also want power back home. “Conquer France first, then destroy Europe,” Louis Alliot, deputy head of the party as well as Marine Le Pen’s companion, said of the strategy.

With 4.5 million votes, the party didn’t fare as well on Sunday as it did during the 2012 presidential election, when it attracted 6.5 million French voters. Still, the party did manage to attract around 11 percent of all eligible voters, which has sparked hopes among FN supporters for the 2017 presidential campaign.

In order to position Marine Le Pen as a realistic alternative to the mainstream parties, the far-right is focusing on conquering the country one step at a time. Next year’s regional elections could prove decisive. Of the 21 regional administrative bodies where elections are to be held, 20 are currently led by the Socialists.If the left fares as poorly in those elections as it did on Sunday — the Socialists managed just 14 percent — the FN could profit from its continued decline. Marine Le Pen could also stand a real chance in a match-up against President François Hollande. Current polls show that, with a public approval rating of just 11 percent, Hollande is the most unpopular president of France in decades.

But is Le Pen’s shot at the presidential palace little more than wishful thinking? “In the past, the Front National has only had bastions of support in certain areas,” says political scientist Gombin. “But with this election, FN has become a national party. Next to the traditional left and right, it has now risen to become France’s third political force.”

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey

By Stefan Simons in Paris

http://www.spiegel.de, Published on May 27th.