Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

19
Sep

The Union now has an epochal chance

Written on September 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, News

A Union Jack and Saltire flags blow in the wind near to Glen Coe on March 24, 2014 in Glen Coe, Scotland.

Like the battle of Waterloo, the battle for Scotland was a damn close-run thing. The effects of Thursday’s no vote are enormous – though not as massive as the consequences of a yes would have been.

The vote against independence means, above all, that the 307-year Union survives. It therefore means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN security council. It means Scotland will get more devolution. It means David Cameron will not be forced out. It means any Ed Miliband-led government elected next May has the chance to serve a full term, not find itself without a majority in 2016, when the Scots would have left. It means the pollsters got it right, Madrid will sleep a little more easily, and it means the banks will open on Friday morning as usual.

But the battlefield is still full of resonant lessons. The win, though close, was decisive. It looks like a 54%-46% or thereabouts. That’s not as good as it looked like being a couple of months ago. But it’s a lot more decisive than the recent polls had hinted. Second, it was women who saved the union. In the polls, men were decisively in favour of yes. The yes campaign was in some sense a guy thing. Men wanted to make a break with the Scotland they inhabit. Women didn’t. Third, this was to a significant degree a class vote too. Richer Scotland stuck with the union — so no did very well in a lot of traditonal SNP areas. Poorer Scotland, Labour Scotland, slipped towards yes, handing Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire to the independence camp. Gordon Brown stopped the slippage from becoming a rout, perhaps, but the questions for Labour — and for left politics more broadly — are profound.

For Scots, the no vote means relief for some, despair for others, both on the grand scale. For those who dreamed that a yes vote would take Scots on a journey to a land of milk, oil and honey, the mood this morning will be grim. Something that thousands of Scots wanted to be wonderful or merely just to witness has disappeared. The anticlimax will be cruel and crushing. For others, the majority, there will be thankfulness above all but uneasiness too. Thursday’s vote exposed a Scotland divided down the middle and against itself. Healing that hurt will not be easy or quick. It’s time to put away all flags.

The immediate political question now suddenly moves to London. Gordon Brown promised last week that work will start on Friday on drawing up the terms of a new devolution settlement. That may be a promise too far after the red-eyed adrenalin-pumping exhaustion of the past few days. But the deal needs to be on the table by the end of next month. It will not be easy to reconcile all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local. But it is an epochal opportunity. The plan, like the banks, is too big to fail.

Alex Salmond and the SNP are not going anywhere. They will still govern Scotland until 2016. There will be speculation about Salmond’s position, and the SNP will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a second referendum pledge. More immediately, the SNP will have to decide whether to go all-out win to more Westminster seats in the 2015 general election, in order to hold the next government’s feet to the fire over thepromised devo-max settlement. Independence campaigners will feel gutted this morning. But they came within a whisker of ending the United Kingdom on Thursday. One day, perhaps soon, they will surely be back.

By Martin Kettle; Published on 19 Sept. in http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/19/scottish-independence-union-survived-put-away-flags

17
Sep

Europe’s Messy Political Divorces

Written on September 17, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Security

Divorce among couples rarely ends without scandal, and all the more  so with divorce between states. Those splits inevitably involve political and economic hardships, mutual recriminations and a complex and painful division of property. And even once this nightmare is over, the very presence of the other party causes interminable irritation and anger.

The only example that I can recall of a civilized “state divorce” in Europe was the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two parts — accomplished thanks to the efforts of former Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. To this day, the two “former spouses” maintain normal inter-state relations.

Divorce and separation remains a very real problem for Europe. Scotland’s agitation to leave the U.K., Catalonia’s attempts to escape the custody of Madrid and Novorossia’s bloody fight to break away from Ukraine are all ongoing issues.

And although each case is very different, they share one aspect in common: London, Madrid and Kiev are exerting great efforts to prevent those disunions. However, a strict interpretation of international law indicates that, in all three cases, those advocating separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. In 1945, the right to self-determination was included in the United Nations Charter. Then, in 1966, this right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still later, this right was confirmed in documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

What’s more, the concept of self-determination covers a wide range of possibilities and is defined as “The establishment of a sovereign and independent state, the free association with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people.” In theory, the people living in the area affected should resolve these disputes, without any outside interference. The UN Charter states that “all states shall, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter, encourage the right to self-determination, and shall respect that right.” The only problem is that nobody “respects” that right, much less “encourages” it.

There are several reasons for political leaders’ inability to honor their obligations, to greater or lesser degrees. First, the UN Charter also contains the contradictory principle of “the inviolability of borders” because after World War II the leading powers wanted to ensure stability by any means. Consequently, for every argument for self-determination, a persuasive counter-argument is available. The second reason is that the clause on self-determination was introduced during the collapse of the colonial system when the authors had the African states in mind. At that time, few colonial powers wanted to keep their states, and so their passage into freedom was relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody could have guessed that Scotland and Catalonia would one day invoke the same principle. There are many more examples besides those: the Ukrainian Donbass, Spain’s Basque region, Russia’s Chechnya and so on. The underlying problem with the current world order is that it has long outworn its original set of clothing and just plods on wearing the same old, uncomfortable and increasingly tattered rags. A prime example of this is the fact that the victors in World War II continue to control the UN Security Council, a completely inappropriate situation given the wealth and power of the world’s developing nations. But unfortunately, the fear of making desperately needed repairs to the structure of the UN has already led to numerous squabbles, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of the organization. Perhaps humanity will simply have to wait for another world war, after which the winners will spell out the new rules of the game for the few remaining survivors. No matter the international body, though, the world’s issues are not just about rules written on paper. The problem is the egoism that drives the world today. If not for this egoism, the Catalonians and Basques would create their own states and live in peace alongside Madrid and as a part of the European Union. Scotland would settle down. And if Kiev and Moscow had enough sense, it would avoid all this bloodshed by letting Novorossia go in whichever direction it wanted. Thus freed from that heavy burden, Kiev could finally pursue meaningful integration with Europe. However, Madrid will continue desperately clinging to Barcelona, London to Scotland and both Kiev and Moscow to the Donbass. Despite considering itself the leader of civilization, Europe has yet to learn how to formulate reasonable and sound policies. If only someone would follow the example set by Vaclav Havel.

Published on Sept. 14 by Pyotr Romanov in http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/europes-political-divorces-are-often-messy/507012.html

9
Sep

showdown in scotland

Written on September 9, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

 

GLASGOW, Scotland — All of a sudden, Scotland has gotten very interesting. That Scots would reject independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept. 18 has been conventional wisdom from Washington to Westminster for practically every day of a two-year-long campaign on the matter. But not anymore.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Scottish Twittersphere, febrile at the best of times, went into meltdown. A fresh poll had just been released showing the “No” camp just six points ahead of the “Yes” side. The same pollsters had put the No camp’s lead at 14 points in mid-August, and a whopping 22 points earlier the same month, excluding undecided voters. Yet the Sept. 1 poll was no outlier, as Peter Kellner, the doyen of British polling,explains. As if on cue, a Sept. 6 poll now has the Yes camp holding a 51-49 percent lead. 

The latest polls give a scientific sheen to what anyone who has spent time in Scotland in recent weeks has noticed: Support for independence is building. Looking out the window of my apartment in Glasgow, I can count half a dozen blue Yes stickers and a Scottish Saltire flag (a nationalist symbol) with the same motto across the street. Most have appeared within the last month. Across Scotland, particularly in poorer urban areas, the political landscape is shifting in the nationalists’ favor. Rumors are rife that Rupert Murdoch’s widely circulated tabloid, the Sun, will declare its support for independence in the coming week.

To be sure, a Yes outcome is still an outside bet with the bookmakers. But the odds are shortening — and fast.

***

What makes this surge all the more remarkable is that the charismatic leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, was widely seen as having lost a much-vaunted first debate with Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, on Aug. 5. Salmond was hotly tipped — one of his own MPs predicted a “slaughter” – but in front of a TV audience of almost 2 million (in a country of just over 5 million), Salmond struggled to answer questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use and how it would transition from the United Kingdom to separate statehood.

Despite Salmond’s televised travails, however, opinion polls rose slightly in favor of the nationalists after the debate. Then, in late August, he SNP leader wiped the floor with a lackluster Darling in the second and final live clash. Unsurprisingly, pro-United Kingdom spin doctors in the pressroom looked visibly worried.

Unionist solicitudes may have come too late. The “Better Together” campaign, as the No side is called, has maintained a relentlessly negative tone, which has earned it the nickname “Project Fear.” Just days before the latest opinion poll, a Better Together video featuring a housewifeunable to think about independence amid the clatter of family life was roundly criticized for being sexist and condescending — which is particularly damaging, as the female vote could prove decisive in just under two weeks’ time. The video went viral; even BuzzFeed picked up on the “Patronising BT Lady.”

Moreover, a parade of (mainly London-based) celebrities calling on Scotland to stay in the union was more cringe-inducing than voter-swaying. Warnings against independence from international leaders — whether Barack Obama or Tony Abbott — have also had little effect on the Scottish electorate. Read more…

Published on Sept. 8th in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/ by Peter Geoghegan

3
Sep

Hong Kong’s Democracy Dilemma

Written on September 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

HONG KONG — On Sunday the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress issued restrictive guidelines for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Shorn of its technical details, the proposal in effect gives Beijing the means to control who could run for the top office in Hong Kong: Voters would get to cast a ballot, but only for one of just a handful of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government.

“By endorsing this framework,” Cheung Man-kwong, a veteran politician of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, wrote, “China has in truth and in substance reneged on her promise to give Hong Kong universal suffrage.”

Three decades ago, when Beijing and the British government, which was in charge of Hong Kong then, were negotiating the terms of the territory’s handover back to China, Mr. Cheung was among those who supported “reunification” on the understanding that Hong Kong would eventually acquire a fully democratic system.

Now some officials here are urging residents to accept Beijing’s undemocratic proposal. They say its version of the one-person-one-vote proposition, however faulty, is “a bird in hand.” But other Hong Kongers rightly suspect that accepting that plan would be like drinking from a poisoned chalice. The Standing Committee’s announcement Sunday certainly came as a shock, after weeks of regular, large-scale protests by pro-democracy groups.

Beijing has made it clear that only someone who “loves the country and loves Hong Kong” is acceptable for the top post in Hong Kong and that screening candidates for that qualification is necessary for China’s national security. There are people here, according to top officials in Beijing, who still do not accept Hong Kong’s reunification with China and are conniving with foreign forces to subvert the Chinese government, using Hong Kong as a base.

It does not much matter whether Beijing really believes what it says. What matters is that what Beijing says is an excuse for its uncompromising position. And it matters that the people of Hong Kong now face a dilemma. They can either reject the framework proposed by Beijing knowing they will be offered no other. Or they can take it, and by validating with a pseudo-popular mandate Beijing’s selection of their chief executive, allow the Chinese government to assume complete control over Hong Kong’s affairs.

Once Beijing achieves complete control, there is no reason why it would allow Hong Kong’s system to democratize. The aggressive administration of the current chief executive, C.Y. Leung, has already been bypassing long-established good practices and principles without any effective checks and balances.

It is no secret that Beijing is dissatisfied with many features of the Hong Kong people’s way of life, including a free press and an independent judiciary that includes foreign judges. (Both institutions have faced political pressure.) This is largely because the Chinese government has very different ideas about the meaning of freedom and the rule of law. The premium it places on stability and national security, and the degree of stability and security it deems necessary, are poles apart from the common values of the Hong Kong community. And to Beijing, which remains imperial in habit, it is intolerable that Hong Kong’s ordinary people should put their will above that of the government.

Read more…

By Margaret Ng, published in the New York Times on Sept. 2

6
Aug

James Mwangi grew up on the slopes of the Aberdare Mountains in central Kenya. His father lost his life during the Mau Mau uprising against the colonial authorities. His mother raised seven children, making sure both the girls and the boys were well educated. Everybody in the family worked at a series of street businesses to pay the bills.

He made it to the University of Nairobi and became an accountant. The big Western banks were getting out of retail banking, figuring there was no money to be made catering to the poor. But, in 1993, Mwangi helped lead a small mutual aid organization, called Equity Building Society, into the vacuum.

The enterprise that became Equity Bank would give poor Kenyans access to bank accounts. Mwangi would cater to street vendors and small-scale farmers. At the time, according to a profile by Anver Versi in African Business Magazine, the firm had 27 employees and was losing about $58,000 a year.

Mwangi told the staff to emphasize customer care. He switched the firm’s emphasis from mortgage loans to small, targeted loans.

Kenyans got richer, the middle class boomed and Equity Bank surged. By 2011, Equity had 450 branches and a customer base of 8 million — nearly half of all bank accounts in the country. From 2000 to 2012, Equity’s pretax profit grew at an annual rate of 65 percent. In 2012, Mwangi was named the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year.

Mwangi’s story is a rags-to-riches Horatio Alger tale. Mwangi has also become a celebrated representative of the new African entrepreneurial class, who now define the continent as much as famine, malaria and the old scourges.

But Mwangi’s story is something else. It’s a salvo in an ideological war. With Equity, Mwangi demonstrated that democratic capitalism really can serve the masses. Decentralized, bottom-up capitalism can be the basis of widespread growth, even in emerging markets.

That theory is under threat. Over the past few months, we’ve seen the beginning of a global battle of regimes, an intellectual contest between centralized authoritarian capitalism and decentralized liberal democratic capitalism.

On July 26, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary gave a morbidly fascinating speech in which he argued that liberal capitalism’s day is done. The 2008 financial crisis revealed that decentralized liberal democracy leads to inequality, oligarchy, corruption and moral decline. When individuals are given maximum freedom, the strong end up stepping on the weak.

The future, he continued, belongs to illiberal regimes like China’s and Singapore’s — autocratic systems that put the interests of the community ahead of individual freedom; regimes that are organized for broad growth, not inequality.

Orban’s speech comes at a time when democracy is suffering a crisis of morale. Only 31 percent of Americans are “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, according to a 2013 Pew survey. Autocratic regimes — which feature populist economics, traditional social values, concentrated authority and hyped-up nationalism — are feeling confident and on the rise. Eighty-five percent of Chinese are very satisfied with their country’s course, according to the Pew survey.

It comes at a time when the battle of the regimes is playing out with special force in Africa. After the end of the Cold War, the number of African democracies shot upward. But many of those countries are now struggling politically (South Africa) or economically (Ghana). Meanwhile, authoritarian Rwanda is famously well managed.

China’s aggressive role in Africa is helping to support authoritarian tendencies across the continent, at least among the governing elites. Total Chinese trade with Africa has increased twentyfold since 2001. When Uganda was looking to hire a firm for an $8 billion rail expansion, only Chinese firms were invited to apply. Under Jacob Zuma, South Africa is trying to copy some Chinese features.

As Howard French, the author of “China’s Second Continent,” points out, China gives African authoritarians an investor who doesn’t ask too many questions. The centralized model represses unhappy minority groups. It gives local elites the illusion that if they concentrate power in their own hands they’ll be able to move decisively to lift their whole nation. (Every dictator thinks he’s Lee Kuan Yew.)

French notes that popular support for representative democracy runs deep in most African countries. But there have to be successful examples of capitalism for the masses. There have to be more Mwangis, a new style of emerging market hero, to renew faith in the system that makes such people possible.

President Obama is holding a summit meeting of African leaders in Washington this week. But U.S. influence on the continent is now pathetically small compared with the Chinese and Europeans. The joke among the attendees is that China invests money; America holds receptions.

But what happens in Africa will have global consequences in the battle of regimes. If African nations succumb to the delusion of autocracy, we’ll have Putins to deal with for decades to come.

Published on Aug. 4 in the http://www.nytimes.com by David Brooks

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