Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Disunited islands

The UK wants out of the EU. Scotland wants a vote on independence. There's some sentiment in Northern Ireland for union with the Republic of Ireland. Now there's talk of the Shetland Islands gaining independence from Scotland. Where will this all end? (And the beginning of this course, you thought defining "United Kingdom" was complicated.)

A Lump of Rock, an Otter and a Secessionist
With gray clouds building and rain slanting in over the Atlantic, Stuart Hill pointed to a small lump of land inhabited by an otter, a few seals and a variety of seabirds.
Croft (farm) in the Shetlands
To the rest of the world, this barren, inhospitable and largely inaccessible rock off the coastline of the Shetland Islands is a part of Scotland, on the northernmost tip of Britain. To Mr. Hill, it is the sovereign state of Forvik, whose independence he proclaimed in 2008, arguing that it — along with the oil-rich Shetland Islands themselves — is legally neither part of Scotland nor Britain…

Yet, while many Shetlanders regard Mr. Hill as an eccentric, a growing number are being drawn to calls for more independence for their remote and scenic isles…

Shetlands
Even though Gary Robinson, leader of the Shetland Islands Council, opposes independence, he favors more autonomy. To that end, he is pursuing links beyond Edinburgh and London, through the Nordic Council, which includes Denmark and Norway, as well as the Faroe and Aland Islands…

Unleashed by Britain’s planned withdrawal from the European Union,… the debate underscores the forces of fragmentation threatening to turn the United Kingdom into a contradiction in terms.

Shaped by their Viking, rather than Celtic, roots, the Shetlands have a unique culture. Small Shetland ponies are a frequent sight in much of its panoramic landscape, and the red and blue houses of parts of its capital, Lerwick, look more Nordic than British…

To critics, discussion of independence for a tiny clutch of islands, while far-fetched, underscores the growing risk of the post-Brexit Balkanization of Britain.

[T]he local member of the British Parliament, Alistair Carmichael… concedes… that Shetland’s relationship with power centers can be strained.

“We have a history of having to push water uphill against Edinburgh,” he said. “From London, you get benign neglect, but you get patronized from Edinburgh.”…

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Details from Nigeria

It seems that the major suspect in the corruption that resulted in the discovery of $43million in an apartment.

Nigeria's Buhari suspends spy chief after $43m found in Lagos
Nigeria's foreign spy chief Ayo Oke has been suspended after anti-corruption officers found more than $43m (£34m) in a flat in the main city, Lagos, the president's office has said…

Mr Oke has not yet commented.

However, unnamed intelligence officials told local media that the money was kept in the flat for covert operations…

In a statement, his office said he had also suspended his close aide, David Babachir Lawal, pending an investigation into contracts awarded to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the north-east…

A three-member panel, led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, will investigate both cases, Mr Buhari's office added…

The panel has been ordered to report within 14 days on who authorised the release of the money to the NIA and whether any laws or security procedures had been breached, Mr Buhari's office added…

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Choosing UK candidates

No primary elections. No caucuses. Since candidates do not have to reside in the constituency from which they are elected, party big shots have a big say in who the candidates are.

General election 2017: Can parties select candidates in time?
Britain's political parties are in a race against time to get candidates in place for the snap election. They had been working on the assumption that there would not be an election until May 2020, but now have just three weeks to put names forward.

Any British, Irish or eligible Commonwealth citizen over the age of 18 - who meets the qualification criteria - can stand, provided they can scrape together a £500 deposit. The deadline for submitting an application is Wednesday, 11 May.

Here is how the parties' efforts are going:

Labour

Labour has said all of its 229 MPs will be automatically re-selected - they had until 17:00 BST on Thursday, April 20, to say whether they wanted to stand again or not…

All Labour candidates in England will be selected by members of the party's ruling National Executive Committee and regional board members.

Local Labour Party branches, who normally get to choose candidates, will not get a say "due to the exceptional snap general election circumstances"…

Labour in Scotland and Wales will shortly announce their own selection plans.

Conservatives

The Conservative Party has also changed its normal selection procedures and is short-listing candidates for target seats without inviting applications.

"Inevitably it has to be a somewhat shorter process than we usually use," says a leaked letter to would-be Tory candidates published by Conservative Home.

The party's 330 MPs will be re-selected, unless they have decided to stand down…

The Scottish National Party

All 54 of the SNP's existing MPs are expected to stand again…

The Liberal Democrats

The party selected 326 candidates last year and a further 70 or so before the snap election was announced.

It advertised for the remaining vacancies and is hoping to have candidates in all 650 seats by early next week.

All candidates are selected by local parties, in line with national party guidelines on gender balance and ethnic diversity.

UK Independence Party

A UKIP spokesman told the BBC… "Our candidate selection process will begin shortly, with candidates being adopted over the course of the next week, and we will be fielding candidates nationwide."

The Green Party of England and Wales

[A] party spokeswoman said… said local parties were currently selecting candidates…

Plaid Cymru

The party, which currently has three MPs, is selecting its candidates next week - the choice is made by local party members…

Northern Ireland parties

With talks still going on at Stormont about restoring devolved government, none of the parties is thought to have selected candidates yet for the general election.

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Don't even think about it

The Communist Party of China is reading the Chinese version of tweets. Don't say anything wrong.

China’s party officials warned not to cross ‘red lines’ while using WeChat: Disciplinary watchdog identifies eight prohibited behaviours
Disparaging party policies, sharing pornography and spreading rumours are among eight “red lines” Chinese Communist Party officials must not cross while using WeChat, a popular social media platform, the ruling party’s disciplinary watchdog has instructed.

As with many other large organisations that seek to moderate their members’ social media presence, the 88-million-member Chinese Communist Party has been attempting to control the words and acts of its officials on WeChat…

According to a notice… the other prohibited behaviours are accepting electronic “red envelopes” of money transfers, vote-rigging, leaking confidential information, opening online shops and publishing “inappropriate” statements…

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Friday, April 21, 2017

One complication of many

What takes precedence? UK sovereignty? EU treaties? historical fishing rights? the British navy?

Denmark to contest UK efforts to 'take back control' of fisheries
The British government’s plan to “take back control” of its waters after leaving the EU is about to be challenged by a claim from Denmark that its fishermen have a historical right to access to the seas around Britain dating back to the 1400s.

Officials in Copenhagen have mined the archives to build a legal case that could potentially be fought in the international court of justice in The Hague, although officials hasten to say that this is not their intention.

Denmark is seeking a Brexit deal that recognises the right of its fleet to continue to exploit a hundred shared stocks of species such as cod, herring, mackerel, plaice and sand eel…

The development suggests that leaving the EU will not reap the dividends promised by prominent leave campaigners, including the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who has claimed that the union’s “crazy” common fisheries policy has halved UK employment in the industry…

Denmark’s foreign affairs minister, Anders Samuelsen, told the Guardian the issue was crucial to many communities in Denmark and that they would be making their case through the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

“Danish fishermen have historically been fishing across the North Sea. The common fisheries policy in the EU has regulated this, based on historical rights and preserving our common stocks that don’t follow economic zones,” he said…

The Danish MEP Ole Christensen, who sits on the committee, said: “If, and I am really not hoping for this, UK and EU27 does not reach an agreement, it would be terrible for both parties.

“If we are not able to fish in UK waters and the UK cannot export their catch to the EU27, it will hurt everyone, not least the people who make their living in the sector. For the sake of everyone, we need to keep an open mind and work on getting a fair deal.” …

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

The next step in Iran

The contest for presidency of Iran is ready for the next step.

Hassan Rouhani faces tough re-election race as candidate list closes
Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s moderate president who is seeking re-election, faces a boisterous race after heavyweight conservative figures critical of his landmark nuclear agreement with the west put themselves up to challenge him.

Registration for candidates in Iran’s presidential elections next month ended on Saturday, with a record number of 1,636 people putting their names on the list, including 137 women. On Friday, Rouhani… register[ed] to run for a second term…

The list of presidential hopefuls has been sent to the guardian council, a powerful body of jurists and clerics, which began a five-day vetting process on Sunday. A limited number of candidates are usually allowed through…

This year, all eyes are on the council to see if it will approve Ahmadinejad…

“Rouhani is not in as strong a position as we think he is, because he delivered the JCPOA [nuclear deal]. JCPOA in Iran is not seen as a giant triumph, and for me the problem is the way Rouhani sold it,” Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St Andrews said.

“He has stablised the economy, but I think he made a number of very exaggerated claims, and he is now paying the price in the popular mood. But in an open election I think people would vote for Rouhani . Rouhani is the best of a bad choice, but at the same time I don’t think he’s as clear a winner as some people in the west would like to think.”

Although women have registered, all female nominees have previously been blocked from running. Azam Talaghani, a former MP and the daughter of a prominent revolutionary ayatollah, is among the women who have put their names on the list to test whether the authorities would allow women to run.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Separation of Communist Party of China and the functions of government?

From an outsider's perspective (and probably those of most textbook authors) there's little doubt about the locus of ultimate political power in China. So when Chinese officials argue for integrating the decision making power of the Party with the policy enacting power of the regime, those of us from far away can only wonder what they're talking about. Wang Qishan's statement at the article's end says it all, to me, an observer from far outside.

The article comes from the South China Morning Post, a generally pro-Chinese newspaper published in Hong Kong.

Why is China blurring the line between party and state
Wang Qishan
Ridding the Communist Party of corruption while leaving its absolute grip on power untouched was a daunting task, party anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan admitted two years ago.

Now, with many corrupt officials in jail, he’s spearheading an effort to combine the party and government corruption watchdogs into a super anti-graft organisation – the National Supervisory Commission.

While some have welcomed the move… it has also stoked concerns the restructuring marks the beginning of a fusing of the state and the party, making the prospect of liberal political reform even more remote.

At a meeting in February explaining the creation of the commission, Wang raised eyebrows when he said “there is no such thing as separation between the party and the government”.

“There is only a division of functions,” he said. “We must take a clear position and be straightforward on this issue.”

Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1980 laid part of the blame for problems such as stifling bureaucracy on the conflicting powers of party cadres and government officials.

The concept of the separation of party and state, later written into the top-level political report at the party’s 13th national congress in 1987, urged the party to only take part in major decisions and retreat from daily government operations.

It was part of an effort to tackle excessive concentration of power, seen by the party as the root of the political mayhem during the Mao Zedong era…

Attempts at further political reform have stalled for decades following the leadership shake-up that accompanied the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989. Party committees were reinstated in government institutions…

Wang’s remark was affirmation of an ongoing trend of further mingling the party and the government…

Last year, for the first time, the party’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee began hearing reports from the State Council (China’s cabinet), the National People’s Congress (its legislature), the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (its top political advisory body), the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, which investigates and prosecutes offenders…

American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, told an audience at the US Council on Foreign Relations he had asked Wang if he could ever envision a time when China’s courts could be independent.

“And his answer was absolutely not. It’ll never happen,” Fukuyama said. “The Communist Party must remain in control. He was not ambiguous on that point.”

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Get 'em while they're down

PM May has called for a new election in the UK. The opposition is disorganized and weak.

Theresa May to seek snap election for 8 June
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to call a snap general election on 8 June.

She said Britain needed certainty, stability and strong leadership following the EU referendum…

There will be a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday to approve the election plan - the prime minister needs two thirds of MPs to vote in favour to hold a vote before the next scheduled election date of 2020…

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Political standards for lawyers

China announced new standards for lawyers, the first one being "political performance."

China’s Communist Party to evaluate lawyers based on ‘political performance’
China is tightening its grip on the legal sector, with plans for a ­professional standard based to a great extent on each lawyer’s “political performance”…

Under the new system, lawyers will be classified into nine specialist areas, ranging from criminal law to intellectual property law. The system would help people seeking legal services to narrow their search, the notice said.

But lawyers would have to meet four criteria to be listed, the top one being political correctness, followed by record of “integrity”, length of experience and professional skills.

The political performance assessment includes supporting the Communist Party’s leadership and “socialist rule by law”, abiding by the constitution and law, and observing the legal profession’s ethics and discipline.

Length of service and professional abilities were the last criteria, the notice said.

Guangzhou-based lawyer Chen Jinxue said the move would not directly affect rights lawyers who relied on personal reputation rather than party allegiance to attract clients.

But the move would “marginalise and isolate lawyers who focus on human rights cases and those who seek to challenge unfair judicial practices”, he said…

Many said the rules were draconian, while others said they were designed to silence lawyers critical of the authorities. Under the amendments, law firms could have their licences revoked permanently if their lawyers pressured judicial authorities…

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