Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dissent is not the same as effective opposition

In Putin's Russia, allowing a few thousand people to demonstrate in a few isolated areas of a few cities doesn't threaten the government. It might offer the impression of a free civil society (procedural democracy). Is it real?

March to remember murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov
Thousands of Russians have marched in the capital, Moscow, in memory of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader murdered two years ago, calling for further investigations into his killing.
Moscow demonstration
Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who became an outspoken critic of longtime President Vladimir Putin, was shot in February 2015…

At the time, Nemtsov, 55, was working on a report that he said proved Russia's direct involvement in a separatist rebellion that has raged in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Russia has denied the accusations.

Five men accused of murdering Nemtsov went on trial in October 2016…

"We gathered here to demand bringing of Boris Nemtsov's killers to justice, not only its performers but also its organisers and those who ordered it," Ilya Yashin, a Russian opposition activist and an organiser of the march, told Reuters news agency…

Police put the number of marchers at 5,000, but a group of voluntary observers said there were more than 15,000 demonstrators.

The authorities blocked off several streets in central Moscow for Sunday's event, sealing in the marchers with metal fencing guarded by police…

After the march, thousands of people went to lay flowers on the site on the central Moscow bridge where Nemtsov was killed.

"It's at times like this, particularly on the anniversary of Boris Nemtsov's death, where you can kind of check in with the opposition and take the pulse of how [strong] the movement is," Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from the march, said.

"What we are finding at the moment is that there is still obviously a good number of people devoted to the cause to keeping the idea of a more democratic, a more liberal Russia alive, but it's an uphill struggle for these people. They are not the majority in the country…

Similar rallies to honour Nemtsov took place in cities across Russia, including St Petersburg and his hometown of Nizhny Novgorod…

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Mixed results

By-elections in two constituencies yielded mixed results. Tories won a formerly safe Labour seat, but the Labour candidate defeated the new leader of UKIP in the other.

Labour Loses Seat to Tories but Defeats UKIP Leader in British Voting
Ms Harrison, new Tory MP
For decades, voters in Copeland, in the northwest of England, have elected parliamentary candidates from Britain’s opposition Labour Party so regularly that their support was almost taken for granted.

That came to an abrupt end early on Friday, when a candidate from the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Theresa May took the seat in a by-election…

[T]here was a more encouraging result in a second contest, in Stoke-on-Trent Central, where it emerged victorious over the right-wing populist U.K. Independence Party, known as UKIP. In the process, it comfortably defeated the party’s new leader, Paul Nuttall, who had gambled by running there personally.

The loss was a big reversal for Mr. Nuttall, who is trying to establish a new identity for UKIP [which] has sought to appeal to voters in working-class communities who normally vote Labour…

In Copeland, Ms. Harrison won with 13,748 votes to 11,601 for Gillian Troughton of Labour.

In Stoke-on-Trent Central, Gareth Snell was elected for Labour with 7,853 votes, compared with 5,233 votes for Mr. Nuttall of UKIP…

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Beneath the surface in Iran

Most reporting about Iran focuses on high level political maneuvering. Heshmat Alavi, a commentator for Al Arabiya offers some "lower-level" details. Can you identify the political orientation of the reporter?

Ahwaz protests in Iran: A sign of things to come?
Tensions continue to rise between the new US administration and Iran with a series of actions and reactions…

All the while, what should not go neglected is the simmering status inside Iran. The society is considered a powder keg as unrest continues to grow after 38 years of the mullahs’ atrocious dictatorship. The last four years of the so-called “moderate” or “reformist” Iranian President Hassan Rowhani has also failed to yield any demands raised by the people despite claiming to hold the “key” to all problems.

The city of Ahwaz in southwest Iran has been the scene of continuous unrest, as locals are protesting a slate of disastrous plans implemented by the mullahs’ regime to reroute Karoon River…

These projects include also the diversion of waters from Karkhe River… mainly implemented by the Revolutionary Guards, has fruited a long list of dried local lakes and ponds.

Pollution in Ahwaz
The result has been nothing but increasing air pollution and water and power being frequently cut off…

However, the most concerning aspect of the entire situation for the regime involves the growing number of street protests that began on February 12th and continued for at least a week in the face of numerous warnings issued by the repressive state security apparatus.

And despite heavy security measures to prevent any escalation of such rallies, even a gathering brewed in Tehran’s Vanak Square where protesters expressed solidarity with their fellow countrymen and chanted against the mullahs’ regime.

While demonstrators were protesting the lack of vital daily services, the atmosphere quickly grew political with the crowd beginning to chant “Death to tyranny,” “Death to repression,” “We the people of Ahvaz will not accept oppression,” Expel incompetent officials,” “Ahwaz is our city, clean air is our right,” and “Shame on state police.”…

While the province is rich in oil, the locals have yet to enjoy any benefits…

The regime responded to the unrest by issuing a statement warning people to refrain from “illegal gatherings” and serious action will be taken against any and all violators.

Riot police units have also been dispatched to Ahwaz, in addition to additional forces from neighboring provinces. Authorities banned many Western reporters from visiting the city, raising even more concerns about the regime’s true intentions.

The regime continues to fail to respond to the people’s demands, as all the country’s budget is allocated to warmongering across the region, including Iran’s involvement in Syria, the regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and a massive crackdown machine missioned to clamp down on any dissent and resorting to atrocious human rights violations in the process.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime's support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, and the controversial nuclear program.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Threatening the opposition

Way back when I began teaching comparative government and politics, I clipped an article for my students about Diane Abbot's first electoral victory. After all, she was the first female Black MP. It seemed a sign of change. Now, Abbott is a senior member of the Labour shadow cabinet and is considered newsworthy because she's being threatened. Is that a sign of change?

Diane Abbott on abuse of MPs: 'My staff try not to let me go out alone'
Abbott
Diane Abbott has revealed her staff try not to let her walk around her Hackney constituency alone after the murder of fellow Labour MP Jo Cox…

The shadow home secretary, who in 1987 became the first black woman to be elected as an MP, said she had been personally affected by the scale of abuse she has suffered, which reached a peak in recent weeks during a furore over which way she would vote on the government’s Brexit bill.

“When Jo Cox died… " she told the Guardian’s political editor Anushka Asthana, presenting on LBC. “I try not to walk around on my own any more. I don’t drive, I used to drive around Hackney on my own and I don’t do that any more and I’m getting new alarms and security on my house. It’s just a horrible atmosphere out there particularly if you are a woman MP and particularly if you’re a black MP.”…

Online abuse had become “turbo-charged”, Abbott said. “It’s it’s almost as if they want to drive some of us out of politics.

“Now you can press a button and threaten to rape someone. The more some of these guys see this stuff online, they more they become encouraged and emboldened.” …

Yvette Cooper, the former shadow home secretary, has said online harassment and abuse is “stifling debate and ruining lives”, while Maria Miller, the Tory former cabinet minister who now chairs parliament’s women and equality committee, has also called for action…

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shutting down civil society

None of these facts are new information. But it's good to see it again in one place. It's also good to review what civil society is, the roles it can play in the public sphere, and the theory behind the idea that the Communist Party is the only legitimate civil society organization in China.

China takes aim at civil society in systematic crackdown: report
China’s muzzling of lawyers, labour activists, journalists and gender campaigners amounts to a systematic attempt to choke off civil society, an effort that took on new seriousness last year, said the authors of a new report on human rights in [China]…

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has criminally detained hundreds of people involved in defending human rights. Many have been deprived of rights to a lawyer and fair trial, and their treatment has been marred by an “alarming prevalence of torture to force confessions,” said the 2016 annual report by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy coalition of non-governmental organizations.

Security laws and rules for overseas NGOs that came into force last year give the Chinese state “draconian” new powers to “expand already strict control over independent organizations, including their funding sources, staffing, and activities,” the report states.

Mr. Xi and his administration “are really intent on shutting off any avenue for civil society to participate in the improvement of the Chinese nation,” said Frances Eve, a researcher for Chinese Human Rights Defenders…

“The government is saying, ‘you’re not allowed to participate. This is something that only we the Communist Party can do,’ ” Ms. Eve said…

Chinese authorities have waged a public campaign against what they have called foreign and hostile forces, accusing the U.S. in particular of funnelling money into China to foment unrest and destabilize society in the name of undermining the Communist Party.

Activists and lawyers routinely disappear for months, in violation of Chinese standards for prompt notification of families…

Authorities, however, have said they treated human-rights lawyers according to the law, in an effort to prevent conspiracies that could drag China into chaos.

A militaristic video posted to the website of the Chinese Supreme People’s Court last summer… lists dissident leaders and human-rights lawyers as “agents of Western powers.”…

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sinking Mexican city

Here's an environmental issue that illustrates the capacity of the state. Will Mexico lose its capital and its government?

Climate change is threatening to push a crowded capital toward a breaking point.
Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, [is] sinking, collapsing in on itself…

Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further…

It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse…
Props for tilted buildings
The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders…

For many cities around the world, adapting to climate change is a route to long-term prosperity. That’s the good news, where societies are willing to listen. But adaptation can also be costly and slow. It can run counter to the rhythms of political campaigns and headlong into powerful, entrenched interests, confounding business as usual…

Unlike traffic jams or crime, climate change isn’t something most people easily feel or see. It is certainly not what residents in Mexico City talk about every day. But it is like an approaching storm, straining an already precarious social fabric and threatening to push a great city toward a breaking point…

Overseeing the city’s water supply is a thin, patient man with the war-weary air of an old general: Ramón Aguirre Díaz, director of the Water System of Mexico City, is unusually frank about the perils ahead…

If it stops raining in the reservoirs where the city gets its water, “we’re facing a potential disaster,” he said. “There is no way we can provide enough trucks of water to deal with that scenario.”

“If we have the problems that California and São Paulo have had,” he added, “there is the serious possibility of unrest.”…

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How big a deal?

President Buhari may be in London for medical care, but back in Nigeria, the anti-corruption campaign goes on.

Is this such a big deal that the government is threatened? How about the regime? (BTW: Know anyone who gets or gives gifts worth $10 million? Can you pass my name to them?)

Nigeria seizes $10 million from ex-state oil manager
 
Nigeria's anti-corruption agency says agents seized nearly $10 million from a safe in a slum building belonging to a former manager of the state oil company.

Spokesman Wilson Uwujaren of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says intelligence led to a raid last week on the building in northern Kaduna city, where agents uncovered "a staggering sum of 9,772,800. U.S. dollars and another sum of 74,000 pounds sterling cash."

Yakubu
He says the loot was hidden in a fire-proof safe and has been claimed by building owner Andrew Yakubu, who was managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. from 2012 to 2014. Yakubu said the money was gifts, according to Friday's statement from Uwujaren.

Yakubu is already awaiting trial on charges of money laundering…

Commission chairman Ibrahim Magu, meanwhile, said Thursday the agency had recovered $385 million worth of looted cash in 2016…

Magu said the commission secured 135 convictions last year, though none have been of high-profile former Cabinet ministers or senior civil servants…

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

Just The Facts! 2nd edition is a concise guide to concepts, terminology, and examples that will appear on May's exam.


Just The Facts! is available. Order HERE.

Amazon's customers gave this book a 5-star rating.