In divorce courts, there may be truth in the cliché that if both sides are unhappy, then it must be a fair settlement. Elections are a different matter: the outcome must be perceived to be fair. When the candidates start crying foul even before voting is over — and when they have plenty to cry foul about — it means democracy in danger, not democracy at work.
After last week’s violent, tainted and chaotic first round of presidential and local elections, Afghanistan is at such a point; and democracy is its bulwark against a relapse into the bloodletting and destruction of the Nineties.… Seguir leyendo »
Beware what you wish for. Birth control was one of the resounding policy successes of the last quarter of the last century. In the early 1970s, women worldwide were bearing an average of 4.3 children; populations in some of the poorest countries were doubling at breakneck speed and demographers were predicting that the world would contain 16 billion or more people before the demographic express hit the buffers of famine and war.
Alarmed, governments threw themselves into family planning — nowhere more strenuously than in China. In 1979 Deng Xiaoping unceremoniously binned Mao’s proclamation, “China’s strength is its countless people”, introducing a coercive “one child” policy buttressed by penalties ranging from heavy fines to compulsory abortions.… Seguir leyendo »
In 80 cities across the globe this weekend, demonstrators belatedly gathered in support of Iran’s voters. But international solidarity has taken a full six weeks since the stolen elections to manifest itself, and many people outside Iran must have wondered whether it was not too late to “make a difference”. Iran’s million-strong post-election armies of protest have been bludgeoned off the streets by vicious militias, cut off from each other and the outside world by a draconian and expensive censorship drive, and terrorised by shootings, disappearances and the open use of confessions obtained by torture.
On the surface, “order” has been enforced.… Seguir leyendo »
Even before G8 planners started adding first five, then a dozen, and now double that number of governments to the guest list, the shrunken time frames and swollen agendas of G8 summits had long ceased to offer much scope for deep thinking — indeed, any thinking at all.
Carefully choreographed formal proceedings traditionally oblige each leader to zip through the “to do” list — how to save the global economy, save free trade, save the planet, feed it; and, finally, ah yes, though we’re not sure how, how to stop North Korea and Iran going nuclear.
In the expanded G8+ sessions there is no way to buck convention but in the session on foreign policy with which they kick off today, eight powerful politicians should break with tradition and do some real thinking.… Seguir leyendo »
The blusterbuss that is Silvio Berlusconi is firing full blast and all Italy is, yet again, watching him fight his way out of his latest troubles. They include his umpteenth brush with Italy’s magistrates, a damning legal judgment that he bribed David Mills, the British lawyer, a cool $600,000 to commit perjury; divorce, for the second time, in this Catholic country – a divorce blamed by Veronica Lario, his wife, on her septuagenarian spouse’s “consorting with minors”; and his implausible friendship with a Neapolitan family remarkable only for the beauty of Noemi Letizia, their daughter.
Any one of these scandals would destroy most politicians.… Seguir leyendo »
“Never buy emeralds,” I was once told by a millionaire: “They're so easy to fake you might just as well go for green glass.” Being spectacularly impecunious at the time, I just thought how right F.Scott Fitzgerald was that “the rich are different from you and me, they have more money”. But here is a deadly serious reason not to buy emeralds now. Your necklace or cufflinks could be paying for the Taleban mortars, roadside bombs and suicide belts used against British troops in Helmand and in the Taleban's “holy war” for nuclear-armed Pakistan that saw its thuggish militias move heavy weapons last week to within 60 miles of Islamabad.… Seguir leyendo »
It is hard to decide which is more despicable, the virulent untruths issuing from the Kremlin or the readiness of gas-starved European politicians to gang up on Ukraine. Russia's insistence that the gas is there, if Ukraine would only pump it through, is pure KGB-speak.
Tuesday's ceremonial reopening of the taps that Gazprom should never have turned off was a propaganda stunt, no more. What went through was a trickle, halted after a few hours. Not only that, but Gazprom insisted that its “trial” shipment be moved along a pipeline that Ukraine needs for domestic use, to supply Odessa and other cities.… Seguir leyendo »
The past decade has been little short of amazing. Storms that might once have driven the world on to the rocks of recession - the Asian and Russian financial meltdowns, 9/11 and the grim and costly business of confronting Islamist terrorism, not to mention a slew of exceptionally destructive natural disasters - have been weathered with surprising ease.
The grim predictions as the last century ended were that an open, increasingly globalised and technology-driven world economy would condemn Western workers to “a race to the bottom”, in a fruitless struggle to compete with China and other low-cost producers. Instead, the rising Asian tide lifted all boats, even some rickety African ones, boosting job prospects and average incomes in almost every corner of the globe.… Seguir leyendo »
The soothsayers surrounding Than Shwe, the paranoid general at the apex of Burma's monstrous military regime, are in high favour. Their prophecies of civil unrest followed by a great natural disaster swayed his decision three years ago to move the capital north to Naypyidaw (“abode of kings”), an isolated eyrie remote from storm-blasted Rangoon and the fetid sea of devastated or obliterated townships, bloated corpses and destitute survivors that the fertile Irrawaddy delta has become.
Naypyidaw was untouched by Cyclone Nargis. The only “damage” was to the telephone, on which Than Shwe was said to be unable to take calls all week, not even from Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General.… Seguir leyendo »
Europe's most controversial and unscrupulous, and by foreigners most underestimated, politician has surpassed himself. Not only has Silvio Berlusconi won the Italian premiership for a third time, and with a convincing majority in both houses of the Italian parliament that he alone confidently predicted; he has emerged the winner in a contest that, to wide surprise, has produced a political earthquake.
In anger and frustration, voters have swept away the Italy of dozens of parties and factions. Only six of the 26 parties in the outgoing parliament have secured seats - and not one of these went to Italy's several brands of communist, consigned to oblivion along with their allies, the Greens.… Seguir leyendo »
The rails carrying China's showcase high-altitude train to Tibet began sinking into melting permafrost within months of its triumphant opening two years ago. This was no mere technical setback for a pioneering engineering feat; for Beijing, it was essential for the Qinghai-Lhasa railway to function perfectly because it was above all things a political project. Conceived a century ago by Sun Yat-sen, the father of the revolution, the point of finally realising his near-impossible and hugely expensive dream was to set the final seal on China's benevolent “embrace” of Tibet.
That official narrative of unity and harmony between China and Tibet, exposed to the world as a sham as anti-Chinese resentment boils over in Tibetan monasteries and towns far across western China, is vitally important to Beijing for two reasons.… Seguir leyendo »
Two years ago, an impressive 83 per cent of Italian voters turned out in an election that neither Silvio Berlusconi nor Romano Prodi deserved to win. Italy's choice lay between a sleek snake-oil merchant who had done culpably little with a record five years in power, and a rumpled political cobbler whose chances of getting anything done at all were slight.
Italians take politics far more seriously than they will admit, and they ended up pitching the verdict just right. Out went the Centre Right, but Mr Prodi's nine-party jumble of centrists, socialists, greens and reds got only a hair-fine majority, putting it on probation from the word go.… Seguir leyendo »
Back in 2001 China's Olympic bid committee argued that awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing would “help the development of human rights”. The message was intended for foreign, not Chinese ears, but it has spread through more than a million Chinese chat rooms and 20 million blogs. Not only intellectuals, but elder statesmen within the Communist Party and even groups of semi-literate farmers are seizing their chance to air their grievances in a year when China's treatment of its citizens will be under scrutiny as never before.
China intended the Olympics to be the $40 billion showcase for its triumphant economic revival, but, as Beijing grooms half a million “volunteers” to take visitors helpfully in hand, the authorities are nervously realising that, with more than 20,000 journalists expected in town, it will be harder than they expected to hide from view the tensions and gross inequalities resulting from its chaotic dash for growth, or the reality that the political system is badly out of step with a rapidly changing society.… Seguir leyendo »
When China joined Russia last January to veto a fairly mild United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Burma to free political prisoners and improve its abominable human rights record, Beijing’s Ambassador at the UN helpfully explained that “no country is perfect” and that “similar problems exist in other countries”. Including, as he of course did not say, China.
The parallels may not seem all that obvious this week. Leaving aside the contrast between China’s boom economy and the misery inflicted on all Burmese by the military regime’s cruelty and incompetence, political repression in China these days stops short of organised mass rape and (outside China’s vast lao gai “reform by labour” camps) systemic forced labour.… Seguir leyendo »
Why did he do it? Why conjure up unquiet ghosts? Why now? Vietnam is not only, as President Bush rather flatly put it, “a complex and painful subject” for Americans. The V-word is lodged in folk memory as an unwinnable war that America should never have fought, that wasted blood and treasure, and that, most woundingly, bitterly split the nation.
Vietnam, even today, is a powerful political toxin. Probably the only American politician who can talk about Vietnam without risk is the war hero John McCain. John Kerry tried the “veteran who wants out of Iraq” line in the 2004 presidential elections; the unwanted effect was to remind the nation of his career as an anti-Vietnam protester.… Seguir leyendo »
Angka. Duch. Monosyllables that, 30 years on, Cambodians can barely be induced to utter, even within the family, so unbearable is the pain, the abiding fear, and also the eerily generalised guilt those words invoke.
Angka, “the collective”: the murderous Khmer Rouge forbade people to attach names or faces to the regime that was bent on crushing all traces of identity out of them.
Duch, the Year Zero sobriquet of Kaing Khek Ieu: now a born-again Christian, but between 1975 and 1979 the Angka’s methodical torture master. This week, a full decade after it was agreed that Khmer Rouge leaders should face trial, he became the first of Pol Pot’s henchmen to be indicted for crimes against humanity.… Seguir leyendo »