Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Election of aristocrats

Electing aristocrats? It seems to be an oxymoron. But it's going on now in the UK's House of Lords.

House of Lords: 27 hereditary peers stand in election
A seat in the House of Lords is up for grabs, with 27 hereditary peers vying to join or, in several cases, re-join the Upper House.

The result of the "by-election" [was] triggered by the death of Lord Lyell…
House of Lords session

Among the candidates are relatives of ex-premiers Harold Macmillan and David Lloyd George and Lord Harlech, who at 30 would be among the youngest peers.

All peers currently sitting in the Lords were entitled to vote…

Under current conventions, when a hereditary peer dies, a by-election is held to elect a successor. This election was open to all those with hereditary titles on the register kept by the Clerk of the Parliaments…

The 27 contenders were asked to make the case for themselves in a series of short statements and potted biographies, in which they was also asked to indicate their political allegiances…

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Russian media integration

Media integration in Russia is done less directly than in China, but the results are very similar.

In Putin’s Russia, the hollowed-out media mirrors the state
Today, the three major Russian TV channels are either directly owned by the state, operating as state enterprises… or owned by a subsidiary of one of Russia’s largest oil and gas companies…

Members of Putin’s administration – today it’s his deputy chief of staff Alexey Gromov – control the political coverage and decide both what foreign and domestic policies are to be covered, and how and, more importantly, what is not to be covered…

The editors-in-chief of all the major media in Russia attend regular “strategy meetings” with Putin’s staffers. It’s like Fight Club: no member will admit to its existence – but it’s fairly easy to deduce, given how coordinated the coverage is on the most watched TV shows across all three major news channels…

In their minds, reporters working for state news outlets – which effectively are almost all news outlets in Russia – are public servants first and journalists second (if at all)…

Today, the Russian state employs both hard and soft power to further its grip on the country’s media. New restrictive laws are passed with dispiriting predictability: foreign media franchise owners are forced out of their stakes in international brands such as Forbes or Esquire based in Russia, fines and other penalties are introduced for not covering controversial subjects such as terrorism and drug abuse in terms that “do not explicitly discourage the behaviour”. Independent outlets are threatened into self-censorship and choked of the things they need to survive – such as cable services or access to print shops – if they don’t comply…

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hard power and soft power

The most recent (March 25) issue of The Economist has a great pair of articles. One on China's use of soft power and another on Russia's use of hard power.

China is spending billions to make the world love it
IMAGES of China beam out from a giant electronic billboard on Times Square in the heart of New York city: ancient temples, neon-lit skyscrapers and sun-drenched paddy fields. Xinhua, a news service run by the Chinese government, is proclaiming the “new perspective” offered by its English-language television channel. In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, children play beneath hoardings advertising swanky, Chinese-built apartment complexes in the city. Buyers are promised “a new lifestyle”. Across the world, children study Mandarin in programmes funded by the Chinese state. Some of them in Delaware don traditional Chinese robes and bow to their teachers on Confucius Day.

… [T]he Chinese government has been trying to sell the country itself as a brand—one that has the ability to attract people from other countries in the way that America does with its culture, products and values…

In the Middle East, Russia is reasserting its power
THE black fur hat looked odd on a Libyan warlord. But fur is de rigueur in wintertime Moscow, which has become an essential stop for Middle Eastern leaders like Khalifa Haftar, who visited twice in 2016. This month his rival, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli, dropped by. Jordan’s King Abdullah, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu have all stopped at the Kremlin for audiences with Vladimir Putin this year.

The visitors are a sign of Russia’s growing activity in the Middle East. “The policy is wider than just Syria,” says Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think-tank. Russia’s interests in the region include security, arms sales and oil. But most important, the Middle East offers a platform to reinforce Russia’s status as a global power. “Those who have strong positions there will have strong positions in the world,” says Fyodor Lukyanov of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, a government advisory body.

Serving as a power-broker in Syria has helped Russia to cultivate relationships. It strives to maintain contacts across the Sunni-Shia and Israeli-Arab divides. While fighting alongside Iran in Syria, Mr Putin helped broker an oil-supply pact with Saudi Arabia. He has also developed a rapport with Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repaired ties with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the downing of a Russian jet over Syria, and maintained friendly links with Israel’s Mr Netanyahu, even angling for a more active role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…

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Murderous journalism

Politics is deadly in Russia. In Mexico journalism is deadly.

Miroslava Breach third Mexican journalist to be killed this month
Breach
A journalist has been shot dead in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the third to be killed in the country this month.

Miroslava Breach was shot eight times in her car outside her home in the state capital, Chihuahua…

Mrs Breach had reported on organised crime, drug-trafficking and corruption for a national newspaper, La Jornada, and a regional newspaper, Norte de Juarez.

The gunmen left a note saying: "For being a loud-mouth."…

The Committee to Protect Journalists… says 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992.

See also: List of journalists and media workers killed in Mexico


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Murderous politics

Russian politics can be deadly.

Russian Agent Killed Lawmaker in Kiev, Ukraine Officials Say
The assassin who gunned down a prominent Russian opposition figure on a sidewalk in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev was identified by Ukrainian officials on Friday as a 28-year-old Russian agent…
Voronenkov's body removed
The gunman was himself grievously wounded by a bodyguard for the target, Denis N. Voronenkov, and subsequently died in the hospital. The allegation was immediately dismissed by Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, as “absurd.”

Mr. Voronenkov was a member of the Russian Parliament before defecting to Ukraine last year…

A former prosecutor before joining Parliament, Mr. Voronenkov had socialized with people in Mr. Putin’s circle…

Critics and opponents of Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have been assassinated in a variety of ways over the years, often in spectacular fashion so as to send a message, Kremlin watchers say. The most celebrated was the poisoning of Alexander V. Litvinenko with a rare and deadly radioactive isotope, polonium 210, administered in a drink in the Millennium Hotel in London in 2006.

When the prominent opposition figure Boris Y. Nemtsov was murdered in 2015, his body fell on the sidewalk of a bridge with the Kremlin and the domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral as a backdrop.

Sometimes the killings are more prosaic. Numerous potential witnesses to the death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer who died of neglect in a Russian prison, have disappeared, been poisoned or suffered “heart attacks” that were later found to be the result of ingesting a rare Chinese herb.

See also:Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways

See also:Key Putin Opponent Arrested in Moscow During Anti-Corruption Protests



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Friday, March 24, 2017

Media integration in China

I suspect that media integration as conceived by leaders of the Communist Party of China means something very different from that imagined by Westerners.

Senior CPC leader calls for media integration
A senior Communist Party of China (CPC) leader, on Wednesday called for media integration and creating favorable public opinion for the upcoming party congress.

Liu Yunshan
Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, made the remarks during an inspection tour of the People's Daily.

Liu urged staff on the newspaper to make more new media products and extend their influence to the Internet. He also stressed that new media should shoulder social responsibility and guide online public opinion.

"Media integration needs to abide the CPC's ideology and the Marxist idea of the press," Liu said. "Content is the key to the development of media integration, and more new media workers must be trained."…

Liu said the most important issue for the Chinese media this year was preparing for the 19th National Congress of the CPC.

He called for strengthening political responsibility, enhancing representation of mainstream public opinion, and providing opinion for the stability of the economy and society.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does China need more than criminal law?

The more things change in China, the more obvious is the need for civil law.

China finally starts to write a proper civil code
THE National People’s Congress (NPC)… wrapped up its annual session… Usually its business is unremarkable. This year, however, a piece of legislation that was passed on the final day may prove unusually important. It is known by the unlovely name of the General Principles of Civil Law. It sets the stage for China to pass its first civil code, an overarching law governing legal disputes other than those involving crimes…

[U]nder Communist rule, China has muddled through without a unified civil code. It has bits of one. It passed an inheritance law in 1985, a contract law in 1999 and a property law in 2007. But there are big gaps and inconsistencies…

China’s current leaders… hope [a civil code] will provide a stable legal framework for a rapidly evolving society racked by increasingly complex disputes. In 2014 they decided to try again, aiming to write one by 2020. This week’s approval of the code’s general principles is the first fruit. It covers everything from individual rights and the statute of limitations to whether fetuses can own property (they can).

Some of the new principles have been set out before. Privacy rights, for example, are in the tort bill of 2009. But their inclusion in the revised preamble gives them more authority.

Not all the changes are for the better. In a section on protecting personal reputations, the new preamble makes it an offence to defame “heroes and martyrs”. That is likely to have a chilling effect on historical inquiry…

A civil code—embracing laws of property, contract, inheritance, family and marriage—will not guarantee fairness. The Communist Party will continue to ignore the law when it wants to. But for all the legal system’s flaws, many people still use it. The code may make it less opaque and outdated, and judges’ lives easier.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mexico's next president?

It's been asked before. Now it's being asked again.

Mexico’s populist would-be president
WHEN Andrés Manuel López Obrador winds up a stump speech in the main square of Jilotepec, a small town in the eastern state of Veracruz, the crowd surges forward. It takes him 15 minutes to pass through the commotion of backslapping, selfies and jabbing microphones to reach the car parked outside the tent where he spoke. The point of the rally is to promote Mr López Obrador’s party, Morena, in municipal elections to be held in Veracruz in June. But his main goal is much bigger: to win Mexico’s presidency on his third attempt, in 2018.

López Obrador
That is a prospect that thrills some Mexicans and terrifies others. A figure of national consequence for more than 20 years, AMLO, as he is often called, has fulminated against privilege, corruption and the political establishment. Sweep away all that, he tells poor Mexicans, and their lives will improve…

Mexico, like some richer countries, may now want more drastic politics. Voters are enraged by corruption, crime, which is rising again after a drop, and feeble economic growth…

AMLO proposes to answer graft with his own incorruptibility, and Donald Trump’s nationalism with a fiery nationalism of his own…

Mr López Obrador is the early front-runner for next year’s election… In a one-round election, he could win with as little as 30% of the vote. If that happens, Mexico will embark on a perilous political experiment.

He began his political career in the southern state of Tabasco as an operative of the PRI… As an official of the National Indigenous Institute he spent five years living with the Chontal, an Indian community. Hence his preoccupation with the poorest Mexicans…

His talent for political showmanship helped make him mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005. He ran twice for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, losing to Mr Peña in the second contest. In 2014 he split from the PRD over its support for Mr Peña’s economic reforms and founded Morena, the Movement of National Regeneration…

As Mexico City’s mayor, Mr López Obrador caused less mayhem than his image suggested he might. He built roads and introduced a small universal pension… He left office with an approval rating of 84%…

For now, Mr López Obrador has the political field to himself. Morena is basically a one-man party, which means its quota of party-propaganda broadcasts can focus on promoting him. Other parties have to divide their resources among various politicians…

The PRI’s nominee for president, whoever it is, will be tainted by association with the current government. The likeliest PAN candidate, Margarita Zavala, is popular, but she is the wife of a former president, Felipe Calderón, who is widely blamed for an upsurge of violence provoked by his inept crackdown on crime. The PRD has little support…

His victory is no sure thing. His momentum would be slowed if Morena does badly in the governor’s election in the State of Mexico in June. Anybody-but-AMLO voters could unite behind one candidate; nearly half of voters have a negative view of him, a much higher share than for any other potential candidate. He has a talent for self-destruction. In 2006 his 16-point lead vanished after he refused to participate in the first televised debate and called the president, Vicente Fox, chachalaca, a bird noted for its loud cackle.

Much of Mexico’s elite prays that such buffoonery will again prove his undoing. But he has become smoother and more disciplined. The danger is that, even if he is shrewder about obtaining power, he may be no wiser about how to exercise it.

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