To many in Iran this was supposed to be an election of firsts: the first time candidates engaged in vigorous debates on television, the first time a candidate’s wife became such a dynamic voice in a campaign, and what many were hoping – the first time an incumbent President was elected out of office. During the two-week campaign season, there was a buzz and excitement about the elections not seen in years. The urban elite had grown disillusioned with Iranian politics after witnessing the limits of change under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who ruled from 1997 until 2005. Voter malaise set in as they came to view the presidential elections as only a nominal change in leadership with power ultimately in the hands of the clerical establishment.
However, the widespread repercussions of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s populist, hard-line policies proved that, to a certain degree, elections do matter. With increased repression at home, a reeling economy, and an excessively confrontational stance on the world stage, many segments of Iranian society were ready for change. Their hopes were personified in Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was a veteran of the 1979 Revolution, but had stayed out of politics for the last 20 years. In the final days of the campaign, millions of Iranians took to the streets, many sporting green ribbons that became a symbol for Mousavi, and many declaring their determination to vote for the first time. It seemed odd that a bland technocrat such as Mousavi, who was Prime Minister from 1980 to 1989 and responsible for the purging of political dissidents, would become the voice for the reformist camp.
Yet it is precisely because of Mousavi’s competent management of the economy during the Iran-Iraq war and his ability to bridge the conservative-liberal divide through a return to the true principles of the Revolution, that he was seen as a viable candidate. With a surge of support among women, youth, and the urban middle class (groups that would normally stay home on election day but felt they had a large stake in this election) it looked like Mousavi had a real chance of defeating Ahmadinejad. The excitement led to record turnout of 85 percent, a factor that should have allowed for a Mousavi victory or at the very least for a second-round runoff. But like all things in Iran’s opaque political structure, the outcome proved to be unpredictable.
Moldova’s revolution is not over as the outcomes of April 5 parliamentary elections are not clear yet. There is a very interesting article in the Foreign Policy on how the Twitter technology is helping young Moldovans when all other means of communication are cut off during a government-orchestrated information blackout.
Cellphones and text messaging are widely believed to have played a crucial role in fostering the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (or at least, making the protests as widespread and successful as they were) … Could it be that five years after the famous protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square another technology – Twitter – will usher in another revolution in neighbouring Moldova? Will we remember the events that are now unfolding in Chisinau not by the color of the flags but by the social-networking technology used?
Read the full article: http://neteffect.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/04/07/moldovas_twitter_revolution
Those of us who are South Asia watchers had a particularly exciting time of it this weekend as President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan chose to stand back and allow Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry resume his role in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. But the reinstatement of the chief justice is only a first step in righting rule of law in Pakistan. The editors of one of Pakistan’s largest English language newspapers, The Dawn, put out a particularly good summary of the complex situation in today’s publication.
The chief justice’s situation came into question back in March 2007, when then-president Pervez Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Chaudry over a difference of opinion on constitutional interpretation. Since then, Pakistan has seen its first free election in almost a decade, the departure of Musharraf, and the ongoing wrangling between President Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The editorial in The Dawn cites some key areas of focus for the next few months in Pakistan as the judiciary and the government try to sort out the mess, particularly noting the importance of division of powers.
Having been returned to office on the back of a popular movement, Chief Justice Chaudhry will feel the pressure to be the people’s champion. That may well be necessary in certain circumstances, but the Supreme Court must not become a policymaker. If, for example, the people don’t like the government’s food or fiscal policy, the corrective measure is to vote it out in the next election. Judicial intervention may be popular, but what is popular at any given time isn’t what is best from the perspective of systemic stability.
Stayed tuned for new developments. Pakistan may be moving towards democracy, but the roller coaster ride is sure to continue in the near future. Given the long history of animosity between the president and the chief justice, it will be interesting to see if the president can ride out what will surely be a contentious battle over his right to remain out of jail on old corruption charges, waived under the Musharraf government before Zardari and his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, returned to Pakistan.
On December 2nd, the Thai Constitutional Court ruled against the governing coalition parties led by People Power Party (PPP) on vote-buying charges and ordered the parties to disband. The incumbent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was ousted shortly afterwards, ending a several-month long anti-government protest by the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which largely represents the urban elite. The ruling would seem to support the PAD’s persistent claim that Somchai was not a proper, democratic leader but another corrupt proxy of the hated Thaksin clan. Democracy, it would appear, has prevailed, though at huge expense: Thailand’s reputation as a safe business environment and friendly tourist destination has been shattered.
However, some argue that the court’s ruling, the protests, and the silence of Thailand’s respected King effectively constituted a political coup of the government that, while unpopular among the middle class, was nevertheless elected by the people at large.
The King’s role in recent events has been a particularly hot topic. The country’s revered symbol did not intervene in the stalemate between the PAD and the PPP. His silence spoke volumes with many interpreting this as tacit approval of the PAD demonstrations. Sharing this point of view, the Economist magazine of this week featured a story entitled ”A Right Royal Mess” that discusses the critical and controversial role that King Bhumibol Adulyadej has played in Thailand’s modern political development and the recent “yellow-shirt” protests.
CS Monitor has a very interesting piece – on monks with guns - profiling a new model of dissent in Burma. As you may remember from protests last year, young monks were particularly proactive in calling for change in Burma (is it a coincidence that young monks were also a lot more vocal in Tibet earlier this year?). Now, dissatisfied with the slow pace of reforms,
they are calling for fresh tactics, from teaching human rights theory to stockpiling arms.
Its a dual approach full of contradictions. On the one hand, young monks are increasingly talking about using violence to stand up to oppression – something that goes against the very nature of Buddhism. On the other hand, they are also exploring new ways of reaching out to people, including education on the basics of political theory and human rights.
Whether right or wrong, one thing is certain – young people are shaking things up in seeking new ways to effect change. Lack of youth enthusiasm is not generally a problem – channeling that enthusiasm in a proper direction is a greater challenge.
Against the backdrop of the upcoming local elections on April 8 and the arrest of over 300 members of the country’s biggest opposition group, Egypt is at a critical juncture along its path towards political and economic development with contradictions that are pulling this most populous country in the region in critically opposite directions. With 40 percent of its population living below the poverty line, the Egyptian economy is witnessing consistent growth and is attracting billions of dollars in foreign direct investment. This remarkable dichotomy is dangerously pushing the country along a perilous tight rope between either becoming the success story of economic reform in the region or driving the country into failure and instability.
At a time when the global economy is teetering on the brink of recession and financial disaster, the market-oriented government of Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif —and especially his reform-minded economic portfolio cabinet members—has partnered with the country’s private sector to guide the country along an economic reform package that has become the envy of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. In its “Doing Business 2008” report, the World Bank rated Egypt the world’s top reformer, indicating that “…starting a business at the one-stop shop in Assiut or Alexandria is now as easy and almost as fast as it is in the capital.”
These reforms and other factors have led the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange (CASE) to outgain other markets in the Arab world. The Egyptian stock market, under the leadership of its reformist chairman Maged Shawki, surged 51 percent last year, and is up close to 10 percent this year already. Egypt has become an attractive destination for Gulf institutional and individual investors flush with billions of dollars from an unprecedented oil revenue bonanza. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) reached $11 billion last year, a record. The Egyptian economy has so far shrugged off negative effects from a global slowdown and enjoyed growth of over 7 percent last year, and is on pace to match or beat that this year, the fastest in decades.
It is apparent to visitors of this country that the wealthy sector of Egyptian society is enjoying this new expansion of the economy and American-style consumerism is in display at plush neighborhoods of Cairo. New elite of professionals at investment firms and children of big business owners are buying new fancy cars, shopping at new, elegant shopping malls, eating out at lavish restaurants, and sipping lattes at swanky coffee shops. This new spending is, in turn, fueling an increase in profits for companies such as banks, carmakers, and real estate developers, but is in dire contrast with the desolate lives of the rest of Egyptians, which are also painfully in plain view all over the country. This new wealth and opportunity has enigmatically not penetrated beyond a thin layer of Egyptian elite.
Zimbabwe continues to supply entries for record books – unfortunately, not of a good kind. This time its the news that the central bank will be printing 10,000,000 dollar bills. Sounds like a lot. Well, its not. Its not even enough to buy a hamburger in a cafe. And, with the way things are going in the country, you may be lucky if you find anything to buy – especially, since goods are disappering from the store shelves into the black market as police are attempting to prosecute entrepreneurs for raising prices. I wonder, why, unlike many others, Zimbabwe hasn’t been able to benefit from high global prices on natural resources (of which it has plenty)? Some think corruption is one of the major reasons.