Posts Tagged ‘election’

It can only be Carrie Lam

March 20, 2017

I am probably not going to win many friends from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters by saying this, but on Sunday, when Hong Kong holds its “election” (in heavy quotes) for its next chief executive, only one candidate should be considered: Carrie Lam.

Or CY Leung 2.0 as she is somewhat disparagingly being called (CY Leung being the current chief executive).

A quick note on the election. In a democracy, the normal way of electing a head of state is for each member of the voting population to go to the polling booth and indicate who they would like to run the country.

But – and this is important – Hong Kong’s chief executive is not a head of state. It is the most senior official in Hong Kong’s governing body, which in turn is subservient to Beijing.

Hong Kong’s chief executive is not elected by every member of the voting-age population going to the polls. It is elected by a committee of 1200 members, many of whom have been hand-picked by Beijing.

Beijing have made it clear that they want Carrie Lam to replace CY Leung as chief executive.

And they should get their their way.

If Hong Kong was an independent nation, then one person stands head and shoulders above the others: John Tsang, the former financial secretary of the administration. An eloquent individual with a rational understanding of what needs to be done to improve Hong Kong’s lot. He also has a tough streak that seemingly belies his grandfathery moustache and the fact that in every publicity shot he has to be seen clutching a child.

But Hong Kong is not an independent nation and that is important.

It is part of Beijing, and if Beijing makes it clear that they want somebody as chief executive, then they should get what they want.

Hong Kong is a small and relatively insignificant region along the south coast of China. Very few people – either in or out of the territory – are seriously entertaining the notion of independence. And nor should they.

Much more can be achieved with Beijing as an ally than a foe, and the chief executive position is too important a matter for Beijing not to have their say.

But let this one go, maintain a sort of harmony and other victories can be had along the way.

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Let’s not forget the Greeks

September 27, 2013

Merkel is once again Chancellor of Germany – for those that missed the news a week ago. The victory was pretty convincing (although she did not win an outright majority and still needs to find a coalition partner) and a clear recognition by the German people that when it comes to management of the financial crisis, all in all, she hasn’t actually done all that bad.

For Germany.

Which, of course, in national elections is what counts. Germans, quite rightly, should vote for their leader according to what he or she can deliver in the national interest.

The problem is that these days we live in an ever-eurofied world, and too much of Angela Merkel’s management of the euro-crisis has been geared towards the national electorate. Screw the Greeks. They don’t cast a ballot in the German election. And there’s not actually all that many of them.

Media in Greece and Italy are understandably downcast about Merkel’s victory. I don’t read Greek, but here’s a taste from Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale in Italy.

For those that don’t speak Italian, here are the opening few lines in English:

“The Germans have rewarded, once again, the line of austerity, rigor and a pro-European grip that has devastated several countries of the Eurozone.  Thus, while the main economic indicators of the Old Continent seem to rotate the minus sign in percentages above zero and analysts begin to speak with a quiet optimism of ‘recovery’, the German management of the European Union in the hands of the [Merkel] has above all contributed to this injury.”

As the largest economy in Europe, and one of the more pro-European ones, Germany rightly had to take the lead in dealing with the crisis. Furthermore, the monetary union was created at Germany’s behest, so they honestly ought to step up and deal with it.

The problem is that national sentiments have triumphed, and in saving German creditors and doggedly refusing to consider a controlled default, Merkel and advisors have pushed Greece into depression.

It’s now time for Angela Merkel to step up and, with another term under her belt, really start to work towards addressing the continuing euro-crisis. This time for the good of Europe and not just the German electorate.

The problem is that I’m not sure she’s surrounding herself with the people best suited to tackling the crux of the problem. Here’s an op-ed in the FT written just before the election by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who suggests that everything is tickety-boo down euro-street. It now looks as though Mr Schäuble will stay on in his role.

This blog post offers a robust response to Mr Schäuble’s witterings. I make no apology that it comes from my uncle, although I would like to point out, as I am forced to on so many occasions, that we are two separate people and often hold quite different views.

In this case, though, I am compelled to concur and also ask: what exactly is the learned Mr Schäuble on about?

How to reinvent a party

May 4, 2013

When I embarked upon my journalism career, a good 12 or 13 years ago, I shared an office with Nigel Farage, who is now head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Well, ‘shared’ is perhaps a rather big word. Since he belongs to a party that chose not to recognise the legitimacy of Brussels, he rarely turned up at the European Parliament. When he did, we’d share a jovial bit of morning banter, eyes watering from the tobacco smoke that suddenly engulfed the room (this being before the European Union banned smoking in its buildings and then in much of Europe).

The one piece of advice that everyone seemed to be giving me at the time – even the eurosceptics – was: “If you’re serious about a career in the British media, be careful not to get too close to UKIP.”

This was at a time when UKIP only had three MEPs [Members of the European Parliament], and a definite reputation for being part of the loony fringe. The following European election – in 2004, I think – the number of UKIP MEPs jumped up to 11. They didn’t become any more normal, and they didn’t show any greater willingness to turn up for the turgid parliamentary plenaries.

This was at a time when people like Robert Kilroy-Silk, the rather pompous and blatantly xenophobic former BBC chat show host, were being drawn to the party. His invective against the Arabic world – “We owe Arabs nothing”, he spluttered, and then proceeded to explain why they should show some gratitude towards our puny island – grated with what might be considered mainstream voters. His obvious vanity – “I cannot hide my tan, or my looks and I don’t intend to, and I am not ashamed of either” – also didn’t sit well with the regular Joe Bloggs.

He was only the highest-profile member of what was, on the whole, turning out to be a rather nutty lot.

The problem with a party like UKIP, which was founded around the single premise that the UK should withdraw from the EU, has always been that it attracts nutters. Like the British National Party (BNP), UKIP was a perfect platform for xenophobic bigots to air their populist and hate-inspired views.

This was one of the main reasons why the more rational wing of the UK’s eurosceptic movement disliked UKIP so much. All one ever heard of the eurosceptism in the UK seemed to be: “those nutty UKIP folk are at it again”. It prevented a proper debate taking place about why leaving the EU might actually make sense for the UK. It didn’t go down too well with our European partners, and was probably one of the reasons why the then-British ambassador didn’t get invited to more sauerkraut or bouillabaisse soirées.

On Thursday, UKIP won an astonishing 147 local council seats in the England, 23% of the total seats available. Before the election, they just had 7. This surprised even Farage, who optimistically predicted they would get 100.

David Cameron, our PM, has been forced to eat his words, having previously dismissed the party as a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies. Gaining so many seats across the country, and in many areas that have not been traditionally UKIP territory, makes them seem anything but insane.

The march towards Thursday’s result started some time before the election, though. The past couple of years has seen the party’s leader, Farage, appearing everywhere. I’ve been absolutely astonished by the extent to which the BBC seems to have been embracing UKIP, portraying the party not as a fringe entity but as a serious force to be reckoned with. But then Farage always knew how to use the media.

Farage is a terrific orator and, whatever your views about Europe, when you listen to him he really seems to make sense. When he talks about the UK’s immigration policy, he really touches a chord with ordinary people. Of course something needs to be done about the UK – and the EU’s – daft and schizophrenic immigration policy; but few people tackle this issue. And few could tackle it with the aplomb that Farage has mastered. In silver tones, he repeats and repeats again that we’re not against foreigners, just those foreigners that are not going to contribute to society.

And who can argue against that? It’s positively seductive.

I’m not a huge fan of Farage. I knew him briefly – and always enjoyed our smoke-asphyxiating morning conversations, filled with humour and joviality – but I think he deserves tremendous credit for turning the party around, and positioning it squarely alongside the other three main parties.

This is even more astonishing given that UKIP, as noted above, was initially formed as a single-issue party. And I’m still not entirely sure what else it stands for. Nor, I imagine, are most of the electorate. Getting across this message will be the challenge for Farage over the next couple of years. And I’m certain he is up to it.

I’d just like to leave you with one further thing that the footage from the BBC news reports yesterday reminded me of. By Jove, the head of UKIP can really down a pint. Maybe that’s why the great British public voted for his party.

Why it won’t work

June 18, 2012

That was quite a close call thing. Those bloody Greeks almost brought down the euro. Thankfully, New Democracy got in and austerity measures can proceed apace. Angela Merkel will be chuffed.

Only it’s still damn unfair: this small nation of 11 million bullied into submission by Germany and the euro project.

The Greek conservative party New Democracy, under the leadership of Antonis Samaras, narrowly won the election, taking 29.7% of the vote, against 26.9% for Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party. New Democracy is happy to accept austerity measures in return for the latest bail-out for their economy. Syriza is not.

My reading of the result is that it wasn’t so much a cry of support for austerity. It was more an expression of fear that suddenly Greece could be ejected from the euro (something that none of the main parties, including Syriza, actually want). Like in any election where the EU has a vested interest, there was a great deal of scaremongering going on. “If you back Syriza and anti-austerity, then you’re going to be leaving the euro, with all the horrendous chaos that will cause,” was the general message.

Actually, what I believe would have happened is, had Syriza got in and torn up the anti-austerity measures, Merkel and other leaders would have been forced back to the table to renegotiate the conditions of the Greek bail out. They would not have summarily ejected the country from the cosy group. They want this project to succeed too badly. At whatever cost.

Why I believe the euro cannot work is that, so long as we have democracy and those pesky national interests to contend with, the solution that Europe really needs cannot be adopted.

What the euro needs and has always needed for it to work (as Merkel knows only too well) is a centralised fiscal apparatus along the lines of the US Federal Reserve. Anything less is just prolonging the agony and postponing calamity. It’s a good solution and it would work. Sell our national governments to Disney Land and have a United States of Europe.

The problem is those pesky national interests – and countries simply do not want to cede power to some centralised body. Smaller countries fear that it would benefit the most populous and powerful nations (i.e., Germany and France). Larger countries are probably not mature enough to use such a body for the good of all.

So, whilst Merkel and others might push for this much-need centralised mechanism, it will not work. As long as there are those pesky national interests.

The Greek election result has perhaps eased the pain for the time-being, but it has far from resolved the problem.

LMO should tread carefully

November 3, 2010

When it comes to Kenya, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the ICC, should proceed with extreme caution. Perhaps more so than any other country that he is dealing with.

Moreno-Ocampo has been promising to conclude his preliminary investigations by the end of the year, and with good reason. In 2012, Kenyans go to the polls again and, if something isn’t done to hold the perpetrators of the 2007 post-elctoral violence to account, the country could quite literally explode.

When I met human rights activist Maina Kiai in Nairobi a few months ago, he was talking about “another Rwanda”. Such fears have been around ever since the mid-1990s – by 1994, when Rwandans started butchering each other, Kenyans were already misbehaving at the polls. And perhaps such fears for 2012 are unfounded. But, even if it isn’t “another Rwanda”, things will certainly be messy.

That is why Moreno-Ocampo, who is still searching for a way to leave his stamp on international justice before his term expires in a couple of years, wants to bring somebody to bare for the 2007 election – so that it never happens again.

But there are already some signs that Moreno-Ocampo’s Kenya strategy is destined for failure at the hands of the wiley politicians that run the country. Because, although the names of those being investigated have not been released, it seems certain that a number of those in government will be implicated.

And, of course, many of those in government now want the chance to contest the elections in 2012. William Ruto, a wealthy landowner from the east, has particularly high aspirations – and many people are laying good odds on him being one of the people on the list.

Here is a very good article about the likeliest outcome of the ICC investigation, which should conclude in the next month or so. Basically, it seems likely that Moreno-Ocampo isn’t going to indict anyone for crimes against humanity. Rather, he is going to “invite” the alleged perpetrators to The Hague to answer for their crimes.

Aside from the fact that Moreno-Ocampo seems to have been diplomatically disingenuous, by revealing his plans to a member of the government that may or may not be close to the violence, the news is worrying for another reason.

I’m sure that, for Moreno-Ocampo, this probably seems the best choice, since many of those supposed villains are not actually in the power-sharing government. And, if Moreno-Ocampo irritates the government too much, then his investigators will lose all access that they need to do their job. It’s a fine balancing act and points to one of the biggest problems with the ICC.

But, as I’ve noted elsewhere, the Kenyan government is cunning and could easily frustrate Moreno-Ocampo until the 2012 elections, by which time it will be too late.

The laudable reason that Moreno-Ocampo wants to act now (i.e., this year), as he has made abundantly clear, is to prevent a repeat of the 2007 violence. But if he tip-toes softly around the issue, then he is in great danger of playing into the hands of the government, which is a complete insult to the victims that the ICC should be fighting for.

The likes of William Ruto want to stand in the next election. And they’re not going to do that by having their name dragged through the ICC. This is one “invitation” that the dignatories in State House might prefer to decline.

Here’s a couple of opinion pieces a colleague of mine wrote that show the cunning games the government plays:

Kenyan Cooperation Crucial to ICC Probe
Questions Over Kenya’s ICC Commitment



Dead presidents count

November 5, 2008

Those that ventured into downtown Khartoum this afternoon may just have noticed the appauling levels of traffic that criss-crossed through the streets – even worse than usual. I had never seen such total grid-lock before.

This grid-lock, I am informed, was all because of one former Sudanese President, who died yesterday. Al-Mirghani. A name that many non-Sudanese, even those that follow events in Sudan, will be unfamiliar with. Most will have heard of the Prime Minister with whom he served – Sidiq al-Mahdi – but not with al-Mirghani, despite the latter’s valiant efforts at making peace with the rebels (which may have not been so noticeable had Sidiq been left to his own devices) and his noble lineage. He came from the prestigious Khatim Sufi Sect, which claims descendency, probably with some degree of accuracy, back to Prophet Mohammed himself.

This explains why I now have blisters on my feet from walking so much. It was faster than taking the bus.

Of course, this blog entry might have been slightly more informative had I given my take on a President who is very much living rather than one recently deceased. I speak of course of the election of Barrack Obama – an outcome that, inevitably, almost every Sudanese I have spoken to is ecstatic about. But I don’t really have the energy to write about this. Blame it on the walking.

As I was trudging back through the dusty streets of Khartoum, I was accosted by three young Sudanese lads who called out to me, playfully, “Obama!” For a moment, I thought of pausing and setting them right – that I was British, in fact, and not American as they clearly thought. But then I checked myself. The Obamamania that has gripped Sudan, and indeed the wider Muslim world, seems, for now, to have given rise to a much more positive view of America and their voting nationals. So there really was no need to set things straight.

That’s about as insightful as my commentary gets today.

What’s this census all about, eh?

April 17, 2008

In certain tribal villages in South Sudan, mothers with large families have somehow got wind that a census is going to take place. Not that they really know what a census is. Rather, they have just about understood, listening to all the rhetoric, that someone wants to come and count their children. They don’t really know why, but they do know that, unless they take steps to hide their children, this census thing is going to put an evil curse on them.

In Darfur, images of angry demonstrators in IDP camps, brandishing banners viciously: no one is going to count us! They don’t know why they object so strongly to this census thing, but they do know one thing: that it’s all to do with politics (again), and that after they have been counted they are bound to be much worse off.

The educated ‘elite’ in the north and the south are planning to complete the census form with black pens. In remote regions of Darfur and south Sudan, they are readying the ink wells, where bemused villagers are going to be sticking thumbs before applying said digit to a dainty bit of white paper. They’re certainly going to remember the hilarity of sticking a thumb in a pot of ink, but they’re not really going to grasp why.

So what’s all this census thing about then? Does it matter and, if so, why? And why does it keep getting delayed? (It was supposed to take place on April 15, but has now been postponed to April 22 – see my article for why?)

When people talk about the census, they link it to the election due to take place in 2009 (insh’allah) and the referendum in 2011. But an interesting background briefing I had with a couple of Western diplomats say that both of these things can happen, more or less fairly, without the census. And I agreed. True, there would be a little more work involved, but in all fairness it’s about time that the UN staff recovered from their hangovers here long enough to actually do some work.

No, the true importance of the census lies in working out what money should go where: the so-called wealth sharing protocols of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Once the population is more-or-less worked out, the South knows how much oil revenue it should be getting, and the government can stop duping everyone (or the other way around).

And this is why there has been such a problem actually getting the census to take place. Both sides want to make sure that, when the count actually takes place, they are in the best positions. The latest complaint by the south is that not enough refugees have made it back home to give them a fair result. The more returning refugees that are south of the border come C-Day, the greater the population of the south and the more power and money they can claim from Khartoum.

Perhaps the most obvious example of all this politicking is poor Abeyi, a disputed region of South Kordofan where most of the country’s oil is. Edward Lino, a member of the SPLM, has just been appointed governor of the region – and has set about pitting the Ngok Dink against the Masseriya Arabs, in order to disrupt things in the region and move southerners into key areas. Meanwhile, the government stands accused, by those honest people at Human Rights Watch, of launching deliberate attacks in certain areas to dissuade refugees in the north from returning to the region. All this is in a confidential UN report, so it must be true.

Not that any of it really matters to the bemused women in Darfur with the blue, inky thumb. She’ll only remember C-Day for its strangeness. Not for the power it has to change the shape of Sudan; if only the two sides could be brave enough to let it get started.