Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

13
Nov

A new era in Myanmar

Written on November 13, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

FOR once the headline of the Global New Light of Myanmar, the rag that churns out the paranoid delusions of Myanmar’s ruling generals, told the real story: “Dawn of a New Era”. Even before a final result is declared, it is plain that the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace-prize winner, has won by a landslide in Myanmar’s first free, but far from fair, election in 25 years.

The NLD seems likely to have won enough seats to secure a majority—even with a quarter of the parliamentary seats reserved for the army. That is a remarkable victory for Miss Suu Kyi, a vindication of her policy of compromise with the generals and a repudiation of decades of military rule (see article). One of Asia’s most isolated and brutal dictatorships may thus be setting a democratic example to an ever more autocratic neighbourhood: in recent years Thailand has suffered a military coup (again), China and Vietnam have been locking up more dissenters and bloggers than ever and Malaysia’s government has clung to power only through rigged elections.

Amid the euphoria though, there is a nagging fear that Myanmar’s generals will seek to frustrate the people’s will. The early signs are that they will not do so blatantly, as they did when they ignored Miss Suu Kyi’s last general-election success in 1990. But apart from their parliamentary block, the generals retain control of the army, police and key ministries as well as much of the civil service. The army-inspired constitution ensures that Miss Suu Kyi cannot become president. Read more…

Published on Nov. 13 in the Economist

 

21
Oct

Is the China Model Better Than Democracy?

Written on October 21, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights

Is the China Model Better Than Democracy?

On Oct. 15, Daniel A. Bell, the author of The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, sat on a panel hosted by Asia Society’s China File Presents series. The event, co-hosted by the New York Review of Books, also included panelists Timothy Garton Ash, Zhang Taisu, Andrew Nathan, and others, who discussed with Bell the question his book addresses — does China have an identifiable political model, and if so, what is it? The following ChinaFile conversation includes excerpts, edited for clarity, of that discussion.

Daniel A. Bell, chair professor of the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University in Beijing and director of the Berggruen Philosophy and Culture Center:

For much of Chinese imperial history, public officials were selected first by examination and then by performance evaluations at lower levels of government. The fascinating thing is that this system has been reestablished in form over the past 30 years in China — highly imperfectly, as we’ll see. When this idea hit me, I began writing op-eds, and I was severely criticized by my liberal friends and my Confucian friends who asked, “What’s happened to this guy? He’s become a staunch defender of the government.” But that’s not what I mean.

I call my method contextual political theory: the idea that a political theorist should aim to make coherent and rationally defensible the leading political ideals of a society. I happen to find myself in China, so what are the leading political ideals of Chinese society? I label it “vertical democratic meritocracy,” the ideal that has informed political reform in China over the past 30 years. But there is still a huge gap between the ideal and the practice. This ideal is good, at least reasonably good, and can and should continue to inspire political reform in China in the foreseeable future.

What is this idea of “vertical democratic meritocracy”? This is the idea that democracy works well at lower levels of government. This is a view that Western political theorists have argued, starting with Aristotle, Montesquieu, and Rousseau. If you have a small political community the issues are fairly easy to understand, and you know the moral character of the leaders you’re choosing, thus making a strong case for democracy at the lower level. But, in a huge country, as you go up the political chain of command, the issues become more complex and mistakes become more costly. Read more…

 

By Daniel A. Bell, Timothy Garton Ash, Andrew J. Nathan, Taisu Zhang; October 19, 2015; http://foreignpolicy.com

 

 

28
Sep

Defeat and victory

Written on September 28, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

No one can ignore this result. Everyone, including the government, must react. The elections held in Catalonia on Sunday night were incredibly significant. Despite the confusion over the character of the vote – was it a plebiscite or an election – and despite the poor quality of the debate during the campaign, the voter turnout was extraordinary, setting a historic record for regional elections of this kind.

In effect, the turnout not only exceeded that of the 2012 polls, but all of those that came before. What’s more, the number of voters rose in all areas, whether urban or rural. As such, the September 27 polls should bring about great consequences.

But what are those consequences? The outgoing regional premier, Artur Mas, positioned the vote as a plebiscite on the future of the region. “We want a plebiscite and that is what we will have,” he said at the close of the campaign. Meanwhile, Antonio Baños, the leader of the CUP party, a radical pro-independence group, stated before the polls that the pro-secession forces would need to win at least “50% of the votes, because these elections are a plebiscite.

As EL PAÍS pointed out before the elections were held, the desired character of a plebiscite on independence was deceptive, given the nature of the elections – people were voting for parties, not a single question – and due to the lack of a legal framework.

With nearly 100% of the votes counted, the pro-secession parties did not reach half of the votes cast. But it is clear that the Catalan citizens have revealed themselves to be severely fractured into two blocs. The plebiscite on independence that the pro-independence groups wanted has been lost. This is a fundamental factor, in particular in an international context – especially when in other countries voting on similar questions an ample majority is usually required (Montenegro, Quebec, for example). Read more…

 

Published on 28/09 in elpais.com

8
Sep

THOSE of us outside Europe are watching the unbelievable images of the Keleti train station in Budapest, the corpse of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the desperate Syrian families chancing their lives on the night trip to the Greek islands — and we keep being told this is a European problem.

The Syrian civil war has created more than four million refugees. The United States has taken in about 1,500 of them. The United States and its allies are at war with the Islamic State in Syria — fine, everyone agrees they are a threat — but don’t we have some responsibility toward the refugees fleeing the combat? If we’ve been arming Syrian rebels, shouldn’t we also be helping the people trying to get out of their way? If we’ve failed to broker peace in Syria, can’t we help the people who can’t wait for peace any longer?

It’s not just the United States that keeps pretending the refugee catastrophe is a European problem. Look at countries that pride themselves on being havens for the homeless. Canada, where I come from? As few as 1,074 Syrians, as of August. Australia? No more than 2,200. Brazil? Fewer than 2,000, as of May.

The worst are the petro states. As of last count by Amnesty International, how many Syrian refugees have the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia taken in? Zero. Many of them have been funneling arms into Syria for years, and what have they done to give new homes to the four million people trying to flee? Nothing.

The brunt of the crisis has fallen on the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese. Funding appeals by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have failed to meet their targets. The squalor in the refugee camps has become unendurable. Now the refugees have decided, en masse, that if the international community won’t help them, if neither Russia nor the United States is going to force the war to an end, they won’t wait any longer. They are coming our way. And we are surprised?

Blaming the Europeans is an alibi and the rest of our excuses — like the refugees don’t have the right papers — are sickening. Read more…

Published on 5 Sept. in http://www.nytimes.com; Michael Ignatieff is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

17
Aug

Iraq’s reforms may help it avoid Lebanon’s sectarian fateYesterday afternoon, Iraq’s parliament approved some of the most significant changes to the country’s political system since the 2003 invasion.

Most analysts have focused on the proposals of prime minister Haider Al Abadi that tackle corruption. But the reforms also have another aspect, one that has the potential to fundamentally change how democratic politics is done in Iraq. Whether that change will be for the better is as yet unknown.

Mr Al Abadi proposed removing the positions of the two vice-presidents and three deputy prime ministers. The two vice-presidents were meant to be shared between the Sunni and Shia communities (one and two respectively), and the three deputy prime ministers divided among Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities. When it was first proposed, in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, it was an inelegant solution to a problem of representation.

Mr Al Abadi has also banned a quota system across ministries, which, again, had a sectarian element meant to placate various communities. He has replaced it with a committee to oversee appointments – chosen by him.

If the old system of allocating political positions based on religion sounds familiar, that is because it has been tried before, in Lebanon.

Read more…

Published on Aug. 11 in http://www.thenational.ae by Faisal Al Yafai

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