Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Campaigning behind Kremlin walls

Neil MacFarquhar, writing in The New York Times, thinks the election that's important in Russia is the one in 2024, not 2018. I'd keep in mind the fact that Putin's party has a majority in the Duma that's large enough to change the constitution whenever it (and Putin) desires.

Putin’s Re-election Is Assured. Let the Succession Fight Begin.
Ask Russian analysts to describe the coming presidential election campaign, and their answers contain a uniform theme: a circus, a carnival, a sideshow.

What they do not call it is a real election.

With the victory of President Vladimir V. Putin assured, the real contest, analysts said, is the bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred fight to determine who or what comes after him by the end of his next six years in office, in 2024. What might be called the Court of Putin — the top 40 to 50 people in the Kremlin and their oligarch allies — will spend the coming presidential term brawling over that future.

When Mr. Putin confirmed last week that he would run again, he might as well have been firing the starting gun for the race toward his succession. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third-consecutive term, his fifth total, in 2024.

“The election itself does not matter at all,” said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a
Pavlosky
political analyst and former Kremlin consultant. The people around the president, he added, “are deciding the question of who they themselves will be after Putin. That is the main motive behind this fight: It is a struggle for a place in the system after Putin is gone.”…

This jockeying for power is expected to offer all the drama that the March 2018 presidential race sorely lacks. Cloistered, for now, mostly behind the Kremlin walls, the intrigues are expected to burst into public view with increasing frequency as the end of Mr. Putin’s next term approaches…

“You cannot hide the enormous tension, the enormous degree of uncertainty within the Russian elite,” said Konstantin Gaaze, who contributes political analysis to the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a policy research organization. “They will do stupid things; they will blackmail each other; they will write reports about each other and bring them to Putin.”…

“Today we have Putin’s Russia,” Mr. Pavlovsky said. “If Putin is gone, Putin’s Russia also has to go. That is also a dangerous situation. His entourage understands this and wants to preserve Putin’s Russia after he is gone.”

So the various factions within the Putin Court will seek to convince the president to name an heir apparent who best preserves their collective interests…

The more Mr. Putin becomes a lame duck, analysts said, the less influence he may have in choosing a successor and the more Kremlin insiders will assert themselves…

“What matters now is your own potential independent of Putin,” Mr. Pavlovsky said, “because the moment is rapidly approaching when Putin will not be able to help you.”

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

PRI sidelined?

A new coalition and a new candidate for president. And the PRI is mentioned only only in passing. How did that happen?

Mexican opposition leader Anaya to seek presidency in coalition
Mexican opposition leader Ricardo Anaya said on Sunday he would seek to win the presidency in a left-right alliance after stepping down as head of the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Anaya
Anaya resigned as leader of the PAN on Saturday, a day after his party officially joined forces with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Citizens Movement party in the “For Mexico in Front” coalition.

If selected, Anaya will likely take on leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and former Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, who is seeking the nomination for the ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

“This corrupt and inefficient PRI government has been an absolute national disaster,” Anaya said on Sunday…

The left-right coalition on Friday presented its official request with the electoral institute to compete in the July 2018 vote. The group must still pick its leader, with Anaya, who had been leader of the PAN since 2015, considered the front-runner…

Anaya, 38, has faced criticism in the Mexican press for his family’s “inexplicable” level of wealth, although he denies any wrongdoing.

In a voter poll published on Wednesday, Anaya came in second behind Lopez Obrador, who leads the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party, but ahead of [PRI's] Meade…

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Starting or startling a new comparative course

This video presents one of the memes I liked to use to introduce the course. It would also work well to wake up an existing class.

How not to be ignorant about the world
[Look up the late Hans Rosling and GapMinder at Youtube for more wonderful little messages.]



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Monday, December 11, 2017

What makes a nation state sovereign?

Is an uncensored Internet a threat to national sovereignty? Why would anyone think it is?

Xi Jinping renews ‘cyber sovereignty’ call at China’s top meeting of internet minds
In a letter read out to the conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, by Communist Party publicity chief Huang Kunming, Xi said developments online were raising many new challenges to sovereignty and security, and China was “willing to work with the international community to respect cyberspace sovereignty and promote partnerships”.

The letter underscores Xi’s previous cyber sovereignty calls to the conference in which he has promoted the idea that all countries have the right to regulate the internet within their own borders…

Xi’s presidency has coincided with extraordinary growth and tighter censorship online in China. Tencent and Alibaba are now among the world’s most valued internet companies…

The growth has been in large part due to the widespread use of internet applications in China, making the country a leader in services from cashless payments to bike sharing…

The idea that each country has the right to censor and regulate the internet is taking root elsewhere. For example, Russia temporarily blocked Tencent’s social media app WeChat in May because it did not comply with local regulations…

China was also last in terms of internet freedom in a survey last month by Freedom House, a US pro-democracy group that lists Google among its funders…

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Social Mobility in the UK

It appears that inequality in the UK, like that in the USA, is growing, and that government efforts to stem the growing divide are now a political issue. Has it always been so?

Social mobility board quits over lack of progress
All four members of the board of the government's Social Mobility Commission have stood down in protest at the lack of progress towards a "fairer Britain".

Ex-Labour minister Alan Milburn, who chairs the commission, said he had "little hope" the current government could make the "necessary" progress.

The government was too focused on Brexit to deal with the issue, he said.

The government said Mr Milburn's term had come to an end and it had already decided to get some "fresh blood" in.

The commission is charged with monitoring the government's progress in "freeing children from poverty and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential"…

In a report published last week, the commission said economic, social and local divisions laid bare by the Brexit vote needed to be addressed to prevent a rise in far right or hard left extremism…

The process of appointing a new chairperson and commissioners would begin as soon as possible, [the government] added…

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said the resignations came as "no surprise".

"As inequality has grown under the Tories, social mobility has totally stalled," he said.

"How well people do in life is still based on class background rather than on talent or effort."

Analysis by BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake

Sour grapes? Political point scoring?

Neither, according to the former Labour minister and his colleagues on the board who include a former Conservative education secretary.

Their frustration demonstrates the extent to which Brexit is all-consuming for the government.

Leaving the EU is taking up so much time, energy and effort that there is little capacity for anything else to get done.

Even on an issue which is a personal priority for the prime minister.

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Reform without reform

Can you explain why this situation would not arise in China? Which other country you're studying is this situation most likely to occur and why?

Mexico’s Government Is Blocking Its Own Anti-Corruption Drive, Commissioners Say
Mexico’s landmark anti-corruption drive, inaugurated by President Enrique Peña Nieto under intense pressure to answer the scandals jolting his administration, is being blocked by the government’s refusal to cooperate on some of the biggest cases facing the nation, according to members of the commission coordinating the effort…

Marred by scandals that have embroiled his administration, his allies and even his own family, Mr. Peña Nieto agreed to the creation of a broad anti-corruption system last year that was enshrined in the Constitution, a watershed moment in Mexico.

But after nine months of pushing to examine the kind of corruption that ignited public outrage and brought the new watchdog into existence, some of its most prominent members say they have been stymied every step of the way, unable to make the most basic headway.

After announcing the new system with great fanfare, they say, the government is now refusing to allow any serious investigations into its actions…

In principle, regular citizens are at the helm of the new system, giving them the power to ensure that it works in the interest of the Mexican people, not the government.

But in interviews, all five members of the special citizen commission recited a long inventory of obstacles placed before them by the government.

None of the 18 judges who are supposed to oversee anti-corruption cases have been appointed by lawmakers. The prosecutor empowered under the new system to pursue investigations independently has not been named…

A big part of the problem, the commission members contend, is that their power is rooted in title only. All significant decisions have to be made by a collection of seven agencies. But six of them come from different branches of government, leaving the citizen’s commission, which technically oversees the entire process, heavily outvoted…

For many Mexicans, the new anti-corruption system — and particularly the power of citizens to coordinate it — showed that the government, when pushed hard enough, might finally combat the impunity that defines much of life in Mexico.

But many civil society leaders, including some who helped engineer the creation of the anti-corruption system, say they have fallen prey to a familiar trick: The government creates a panel to address a major issue, only to starve it of resources, inhibit its progress or ignore it…

The anti-corruption drive is still missing its independent prosecutor, arguably the most important person in the entire operation. The selection has been frozen in the legislature…

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Complications of planning and control

For decades, China's government has used the system of hukou permits to control where people can live. With population of Beijing reaching declared limits, the government needs to adjust the permit system.

China's registration permit overhaul to give migrant workers welfare and education access
China has passed an ordinance on its nationwide registration permit system to give hundreds of millions of its migrant workers living in cities far from their birthplaces access to welfare services such as compulsory education

The existing system of household registration has long been blamed for social instability; even those workers who have lived in adopted cities for many years are not entitled to the same benefits as locals because they do not have a household registration for their new places of residence.

Academics said the new system would improve migrant workers' right to basic welfare, including access to schooling, but more would have to be done before those with rural household registrations had the same privileges as their urban counterparts, or those leaving small towns and cities shared the benefits of permanent big-city residents.

The official ordinance has yet to be announced, but a draft, sent out for pubic consultation last year, promised residence permit holders who had moved to cities away from their birthplaces for at least six months would be eligible for nine basic public services… The ordinance is part of the Beijing efforts to reform the household registration system known as the hukou, which it had hoped to complete by 2020.

The residence permit system will allow migrants to become permanent residents if they meet certain requirements, such as staying in adopted cities for a long enough period, or making social insurance payments over a period of years… "Extra-large" cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai with populations of many millions, have the strictest requirements.

[Lu Jiehua, professor of sociology at Peking University] said the residence permit system was aimed at meeting the demands of more than 250 million migrant workers and eventually give them the same privileges as permanent residents.

The draft sets basic principles for all types of cities, but big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - with better social resources such as schools, hospitals and social benefits - will make it harder for immigrants to share equal entitlements.

"The Ministry of Public Security had hoped that it would be able to set up a new household registration system by 2020, but it now looks very unlikely that the reform will be completed by then," Lu said.


In Beijing, the rich and poor are shocked
On the evening of November 18th a fire broke out at a warehouse-cum-apartment block in a shantytown in southern Beijing populated by migrants—poor workers from rural areas of China whom district officials sometimes call “low-end people”. Nineteen migrants died, including seven low-end children.

[The Bejing] city government has a maximum target size for the capital’s population: 23m in 2020, only 1m more than in 2016. To achieve this, the authorities have been booting out vulnerable people: migrants from the countryside. Their places of work are being closed down. Substandard housing, the only sort they can afford, is being condemned as unsafe. Activists say 3m migrants have been evicted from Beijing and other big cities in the past five years…

The day after the disaster Cai Qi, the Communist Party chief of Beijing municipality, announced a citywide fire-safety inspection. This quickly morphed into mass evictions, starting in the shantytown. The police went round nearby buildings that had been slated for demolition, handing out eviction notices and giving people a few hours to leave. Water and electricity supplies were cut off… The line of the dispossessed snaked into the night, looking for somewhere to rest. “It looks like Beijing is not for people like us,” said one…
Where to go? Where to go?
Hitherto in the capital, middle-class scandals and the travails of poverty have usually unfolded as if on different planets… Those concerned about posh schools or house prices rarely worried about the problems of migrants and vice versa… [but] a fierce online reaction has broken through the divisions that usually separate middle-class scandals from those affecting the poor…

Unusually, some of the criticism has been overtly political. More than 100 people, including public intellectuals, signed a petition saying the evictions were illegal, an abuse of human rights and “clearly the government’s responsibility”. With heavy irony, another commentator wrote that just one month after a five-yearly party congress in Beijing, the city government was providing a taste of the “splendid future” promised at the gathering…

At the congress Mr Xi argued that social inequality and the gap between rich and poor were the biggest problems facing China. In particular, party officials fear, younger migrants, born in cities to parents who themselves migrated in the 1980s, could prove a threat to social stability because they have had little or no education in their urban homes, no longer have connections to the countryside as their parents did and—for some of the men—will not be able to marry because of a skewed sex ratio. These are the people who are being evicted from Beijing.

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