Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Comparative case studies

From Chicago, while waiting for a plane, here are some special spring break ideas.

Will Obasanjo arrange to stay in power after his term ends? Will Putin? Are similar news reports from the two countries the result of similar back room politics or the result of similar suspicions held by reporters?

Perhaps your students could evaluate the evidence for each of those suppositions.

From the Guardian (UK):

Putin Ally Seeks Longer Term for Leader

"Friday March 30, 2007 3:01 PM

"Russia's upper house speaker called Friday for constitutional changes that would allow President Vladimir Putin to remain in office beyond 2008 - a proposal that was quickly rejected by the Kremlin..."

An earlier article offered details on the upper house speaker:

From the Guardian (UK):

Putin Opposes Changing Constitution

"Friday March 30, 2007 11:16 AM

"Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of parliament...The proposal may be an effort by [Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of parliament]... to demonstrate loyalty to Putin. Mironov leads a new political party that will rely on Kremlin support in December parliamentary elections. He has previously urged Putin to stay in the job...

"Putin has suggested that he would step down but would seek to ensure a smooth transition by throwing his weight behind a favored candidate. The Kremlin appears to be grooming two potential successors, First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov."

If that comparative case study isn't attractive, how about an example of what Dr. Timothy C. Lim describes as a "within case" study -- comparing one subject over time.

You could ask your students to evaluate the comparative methods used by NBC reporter Jim Maceda. The online headline of his report is Putin’s ‘sovereign democracy’ looks familiar.

The lead paragraph is, "Vladimir Putin's Russia, in many ways, looks and feels like a new Soviet Union. The Russian president, who once praised democratic reform, now rules, some Russian experts say, like an old party chairman — crushing all opposition, cracking down on anti-government protests, even appointing mayors and regional governors."

Five video clips from the broadcast version of this report is available at the MSNBC news site.

Using Dr. Lim's critiques of Michael Moore's comparative study in Bowling for Columbine and John Stossel's comparative report on educational systems as guides, you could ask students to evaluate Maceda's comparative study of the Soviet Union and Putin's Russian regime.

You can download the introduction to Dr. Lim's book, Doing Comparative Politics from the publisher's web site for a description of his approach to the Michael Moore case.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Interruption of service

I'm off for spring break today. I'll be in the wilderness of Florida's west coast. Who knows if I'll be able to find an internet connection on the beach.

If I don't manage to post some valuable thoughts here, you could go back and review the archive for some gems.

Last night I looked at the first entries I made here last May and June. I'm surprised how well those comments have held their relevance.

Take a look:
Archives for May 2006
Archives for June 2006

As the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy advises on its cover, "Don't Panic."

Proposed legislation: a sign of a serious problem

The legislation described in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report excerpted below is less important than the issue of how serious a problem hate crimes are in Russia.

Critics Fear Draft Bill Will Cover Up Hate Crimes

"A bill under consideration in Russia's parliament would forbid the media from revealing the race or ethnicity of both suspected criminals and crime victims.

"The bill's supporters say such legislation is necessary to fight racism, but journalists and human rights activists say it will have the opposite effect.

"Each year in Russia, hundreds of ethnic minorities are attacked and scores are killed in what human rights activists describe as hate crimes.

"Proposed amendments to the media law would also forbid the publication or broadcast of the religion of crime suspects and victims.

"Journalists and human rights activists say the changes -- if enacted -- will actually do little to reduce racially motivated attacks -- and could actually make the situation worse.

"Oleg Panfilov, director of the Russian Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, says, 'If this law really comes into force, then people will not know about the victims of skinheads, nationalists, and fascists.'

"Police and prosecutors in Russia have long been reluctant to recognize racially motivated hate crimes as such. When such crimes are prosecuted at all, they tend to be treated as simple cases of 'hooliganism.'

"Analysts say legislation effectively banning the media from reporting on racial attacks would just push the problem deeper and deeper into the shadows.

"Galina Kozhevnikova, the deputy director of the Sova Center, a Moscow-based organization that tracks hate crimes, says her group has already witnessed a tendency to hide this kind of crime.

"'Even without any laws, newspapers are reporting less and less about these types of crimes when in reality they are happening more and more. This partially comes from the law enforcement bodies who are trying to hide the magnitude of the problem,' Kozhevnikova says..."

A Timeline Of Racial Incidents (2004-2006)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Minor party candidate in Nigeria dies

Look for more news on this development in the coming days.

Nigeria death fails to halt poll

The sudden death of an opposition candidate will not delay a presidential poll due to take place on April 21, Nigeria's electoral commission says... the Alliance for Democracy will be allowed to replace Adebayo Adefarati, who died Thursday.

Mr Adefarati, 79, seen as an outsider in the race, died in a hospital...

Mr Adeferati was governor of south-west Ondo State from 1999 to 2003, but lost a re-election bid in the April 2003 elections.

He was then nominated by his party as presidential candidate for Nigeria's forthcoming elections...

Civil and political society in Iran

Civil society in Iran faces tight controls, much like those in China. Or would your students prefer a different comparison? If so, why?

This RFE/RL report summarizes reports about protesting teachers.

For State, Teacher Protests Are Security Matter

"Teachers have gathered outside parliament in Tehran on four occasions since their first protest on February 4 to show their dissatisfaction with their salaries and other working conditions.

"The first demonstration was suppressed by security agents and riot police... The government is showing yet again -- as it has with similar collective expressions of discontent by feminists, bus drivers, and students -- that it has little patience for organized protests...

"Teachers have been asking for their salaries to be adjusted in keeping with other public-sector workers in a country where the annual inflation rate ranges from 12 to 20 percent -- according to the varying assertions of government officials and independent observers -- and where teachers' salaries have fallen behind the rising cost of living...

"Teachers were hoping to meet with Education Ministry officials... but met instead with members of the parliamentary presidium ... and the Sarullah Base (Qarargah-i Sarullah)... affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)...

"This was perhaps an indication of the state's security-oriented perspective on the issue. [Authorities] told the teachers' representatives that the meeting was not to negotiate over their demands but to inform them of measures parliament had decided in their favor...

"The Islamic republic's repressive response may also indicate a fear that small and specific protests, if tolerated, may flare up into large-scale demonstrations, as student protests purportedly did in Tehran in 1999..."

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Footnote to Chinese history

For historians among us, the scholar who writes the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio noticed a Guardian (UK) article I missed and wrote about the death of Mao Zedong's second son.

Xinhua reports Mao Zedong's son dead at 83.


Putin wins again

If a Shanghai "mafia" ran the state in China under Jiang Zemin, the St. Petersburg "mafia" is tightening its control of over the Russian state. The latest development was reported by the New York Times.

Putin Chum Picked as Elections Chief

"The central election committee, dominated by supporters of President Vladimir v. Putin, elected as its chairman a former colleague of Mr. Putin’s from St. Petersburg, Vladimir V. Churov. Mr. Churov, a member of the lower house of Parliament since 2003, worked with Mr. Putin in the St. Petersburg governor’s office in the 1990s. He replaces Aleksandr A. Veshnyakov, whom Mr. Putin ousted this month after he criticized new election laws. Russia is approaching elections for Parliament and president."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Separation of politics and religion

Anti-clericalism was a major theme of the revolution in Mexico. The clergy were aligned with the Mexican "ancien regime" and separation of church and state became a mainstay of the PRI-dominated government.

Issues about separation of church and politics resurfaced under PAN presidents Fox and Calderon -- notably in policies about religious schools.

A news report from al Jazeera offers some hints about how the politics are playing out, and about restrictions on the political activities of the clergy.

Mexicans protest over abortion bill

"A new abortion bill, proposed by Mexico's Democratic Revolution party, is set to start a protracted fight between the country's liberal lawmakers and conservative forces...

"Several thousand abortion opponents marched through Mexico City...

"Led by Norberto Rivera, the Mexico City Cardinal, the march covered 25 blocks to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe...

"In an echo of the vitriolic election campaign, the abortion debate pits Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution party (PRD) - which proposed the legalisation measure - against Calderon's conservative National Action party, which opposes it...

"Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the Vatican's top anti-abortion campaigner, who was in the capital for the Third International Pro-Life Congress, was not visibly present at Rivera's Mass.
"The Mexican constitution bars foreigners - including Lopez Trujillo and members of US anti-abortion groups currently attending the conference - from political activism...

"Mexican law prohibits political involvement by domestic religious leaders, although that provision has been weakly enforced - especially under the church-friendly PAN...

"The PRD argues that current Mexican law forces poor women to seek back-street operations, while the wealthy can travel to the US...
"The measure is expected to pass easily in Mexico City, a federal district with a PRD-dominated legislature that recently approved same-sex civil unions in the capital; but it will face a tougher passage at the federal level."

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Monday, March 26, 2007

When the news is old

The media in China exhibit the conservatism of an entrenched authoritarian regime. It's one of the ways used by Party officials to maintain power and authority. But it relies, in large part, on preventing things like the Internet from offering alternative versions of reality.

The report excerpted below is by Edward Cody and was published in the Washington Post.

In a Changing China, News Show Thrives With Timeworn Ways

"In the face of radical economic and social changes over the past two decades, the choreography of news has helped China retain its monopoly on power. All television stations and newspapers remain government-controlled; news reports are routinely organized by propaganda officials and bolstered by interviews with local Communist Party secretaries...

"[T]he official 7 p.m. Network News Broadcast [is] the government's flagship program. It has long occupied a status all its own, confined to old-style Communist orthodoxy with a tenacity that has its anchors looking like holdouts from the 1970s and its reports on public affairs like a party bulletin board.

"Network News Broadcast has become one of the world's most watched news programs...

"Leadership appearances on the program have followed the same script for years: The party chief, currently President Hu Jintao, is invariably shown first; followed by Wu Bangguo, head of the National People's Congress and the party's second-ranking member; followed by Wen Jiabao, premier and third-ranking member; and so on down the hierarchy. Each leader is allocated a certain number of seconds in front of the camera, Chinese media experts say, with the time for each one carefully regulated by the party propaganda department...

"Zhan Jiang, dean of the Journalism and Communication Department at Beijing's China Youth University for Political Sciences, said the 7 p.m. broadcast seems to have been reserved as a last stand by conservative party propaganda authorities reluctant to see the old ways disappear...

"Zhou Xiaopu, a professor at the Renmin University School of Journalism who has done research on the program, said the main viewers are China's legions of government and party officials, particularly in the provinces, and businessmen who want to keep up with the policies and attitudes that will affect their ability to make money..."

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

"We are half a step away from a police state."

The changes in Russia, according to one of Putin's critics, have reached a tipping point. The Guardian (UK) reported that an organizer of Saturday's protest in... Nizhny Novgorod, argued that "There isn't much point in talking about democracy in Russia any more."

The next time we teach about the political system in Russia, the narrative will be different than it was this semester. There will be a new president, and since the beginning of 2007, it has become more and more obvious that the regime is changing dramatically.

(Dr. Nick Hayes, historian and Russia expert said recently in a radio interview that Russia under Putin has become a mafia state, run by a tight-knit group of gangsters. Even if he's right, public opinion polls in Russia suggest that most people there are grateful for the stability of oppression.)

Excerpts from The Guardian report:

Supreme court ban on liberal party wipes out opposition to Putin

"Russia's next parliament is likely to have no genuine opposition after a court in Moscow yesterday banned a leading liberal party from standing in elections.

"Russia's supreme court announced that it had liquidated the small Republican party, claiming that it had violated electoral law by having too few members. The party is one of very few left in Russia that criticises President Vladimir Putin...

"Hundreds of demonstrators are expected to gather [Saturday] in Nizhny Novgorod... The protesters from The Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups, are expected to march despite attempts by pro-Kremlin officials to prevent them from demonstrating...

"The mayor's office announced a children's festival on the site of the proposed march, and blocked off the road to carry out what it said were urgent repairs.

"'Taking to the streets isn't our plan,' said Denis Bilunov, a member of the march's organising committee. 'But the problem is that the opposition is being pushed out of the legislative process. This is the only way we can protest legitimately. We are being barred from federal channels and from parliament.'...

"The Kremlin argues that its new electoral law - which says that all political parties must have 50,000 members and be represented in half of Russia's provinces - is meant to streamline Russia's untidy political scene. Critics say the legislation is designed to kill off smaller parties that oppose the Kremlin."

Backstory from The Guardian:

Russia's tiny opposition is represented in the current Duma by four or five MPs.

Pro-Kremlin parties predominate among the 447 deputies.
  • The small opposition Republican party, banned yesterday, was formed by defectors from the Soviet Communist party. It emerged in 1990 on the wave of liberalism encouraged by then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • The Republican party has one MP, Vladimir Ryzhkov; its other attempts to win seats have repeatedly failed. But it has played a solid role in the liberal opposition.
  • The liberal Yabloko party also has two MPs.
  • Two other anti-Putin MPs sit as independents.

In theory, the opposition includes Russia's Communist party and the far-right Liberal Democratic party. In reality, they rarely if ever voice opposition to the Kremlin, observers point out.

from the New York Times on March 25:

Russian Police Trample Anti-Putin Protest

"Riot police officers swarmed on a group of several dozen journalists and demonstrators on Saturday in Nizhny Novgorod... cutting off a protest against the government...

"The police, vastly outnumbering the protesters and wielding night sticks and metal shields, detained about 30 people... A protest organizer said the number of people detained at the raid was more than 100, plus another 100 who had been arrested in an earlier roundup..."

Public opinion and politics

World Public Opinion, like Angus Reid Global Monitor reports on the results of public opinion polls from all over the world.

Jim Lerch wrote about a World Public Opinion report highlighting a poll asking people about the role of religion in international conflicts. The headline was "Global Poll Finds that Religion and Culture are Not to Blame for Tensions between Islam and the West."

The report begins, "The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.

"While three in ten (29%) believe religious or cultural differences are the cause of tensions, a slight majority (52%) say tensions are due to conflicting interests."

While the overall results are interesting, Jim pointed to the results from Nigeria that were significantly different.

He wrote, "What makes it interesting for our Comparative Government class is Nigeria's opinion.  More than any other state by a large margin it seems to be saying that fundamental differences in religion are the cause of tension.  And which population is in a better position to know?  I also have to wonder how much of the perceived tension in Nigeria is caused by oil-related problems."

Two things come to my mind:
  1. Reinforcing or coinciding cleavages. Political cleavages are strengthened when they coincide with one another. The fact that Nigeria's oil is found in the "south south" where Christianity is most common means that the two factors reinforce each other. How does one separate the effects of the two?

    And if the country's political elite is mostly middle belt and northern and Muslim?

    It's not difficult to understand why the percentage of Nigerians seeing conflicts caused by "differences in religion and culture" is so high.

    I can't help but notice that while 56% of Nigerians hold that view and it's the highest percentage in the countries surveyed, the second highest percentage (38%) holding that view is in the United States of America. And one of the lowest percentages (19%) is reported in Russia, a country where hate crimes and cultural paranoia are frequently reported.

  2. So how do the responses of the AP countries compare (Iranians weren't surveyed)?
    • China: 14%
    • Mexico: 14%
    • Nigeria: 56%
    • Russia: 19%
    • UK: 29%

    And what are we to make of those comparisons? Do they tell us anything about political culture? economics? politics? governance?

Ask your students. It's one of those risky questions that might elicit no answers or too many un-thought-out stereotypes, or wonderful discussions, or some combination of those things.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The EU - 50 years old

The political issues evident in the EU are transnational, but they reflect the issues in member countries. The institutional issues seem to be mostly unique, but upon closer inspection, they too reflect the political arguments within the member countries.

If there's a way to summarize this article into a sentence or a little paragraph to update your textbook's account of the EU, that's probably all your students need. We need to be aware of more of the details and nuances involved in these complex issues.

The New York Times published this Reuters article.

Call for Ambitious Treaty Marks EU 50th Anniversary

"Europe's longest-serving leader [Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker] urged the European Union to finalize an ambitious reform treaty by the end of the year as leaders from 27 member states gathered in Berlin on Saturday to celebrate the bloc's 50th anniversary...

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel... will unveil the 'Berlin Declaration,' a statement on the bloc's values and achievements she hopes will generate new momentum for European unity after French and Dutch voters rejected the first EU constitution in 2005.

"The two-page statement... sets a 2009 deadline for giving the bloc... institutional reforms meant to [create] a long-term president and foreign minister, a simpler decision-making system and more say for the European and national parliaments.

"However, in a reflection of deep divisions about how to move forward, the declaration makes no specific reference to the constitution and avoids mentioning future enlargement -- one factor behind the French and Dutch no votes...

"The advent of Eurosceptical governments in Prague and Warsaw, as well as persistent public opposition in Britain, the Netherlands and France, mean Merkel's efforts to launch new treaty negotiations will be fraught with difficulty...

"Public support for membership has declined in many states because of fears the EU is failing to protect workers from globalisation, eroding national identities and meddling excessively in national affairs.

"A poll taken for the Eurosceptical Open Europe think-tank found nearly half of citizens in the euro zone would rather go back to the old national currencies they gave up in 2002..."

The article also noted that "Pope Benedict accused the EU of apostasy for refusing to mention Christianity in the Berlin Declaration." His statement represents the sentiment of many Christian conservatives in Europe. Another cleavage in the system.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Thinking curriculum

Linda Spoales, who teaches in Silver Spring, Maryland, asked about the transition (now nearly 2 years old) to the "new" Advanced Placement curriculum. I suspect the question reflects her own frustrations about trying to meet the needs of her students within all the limits on her time and other resources.

"Are teachers finding it harder to incorporate all the facets of the course now that their are six countries not five?"

Yes, people who taught the course before last year are having problems creating a course to meet the demands of the "new" AP curriculum. It takes time to adjust.

Not only are there now 6 countries, but there are admonitions from the course development committee and College Board officials that comparisons, concepts and theory are more important than they once were. So it's necessary to teach about things like democratization, legitimacy, economic restructuring, and globalization. (There's an 8-page glossary in my book.)

If we expect students to learn as much detail about structures and politics as before, all of us are going to be overwhelmed, or we're going to need a full year to teach the course. I think the course is still viable as a semester course.

As important as I think it is for students to begin thinking comparatively and recognizing and analyzing perspectives other than their own, most schools and most students can't "afford" to devote a whole school year to the course. Of course, I'm also convinced that an Advanced Placement course in U.S. Government and Politics can be successfully done in a semester. (And I taught one for 10 years.)

So, making the "new" comparative curriculum work takes rethinking and I think comparative methods, theory, and concepts ought to be a guide to that rethinking.

For instance, I don't think there's any need to talk about the House of Lords in the UK unless the discussion centers on a conceptual topic.

So when there's a debate in Parliament and the press about 1.) the value of democratic elections versus the value of "non-partisan" representation of the country and 2.) the purpose of upper houses in unitary states, it becomes a legitimate topic.

I'd want to follow up with a comparison of Lords to the quasi-legislative bodies in Iran and to the upper houses in the other AP countries.

Without those theoretical and comparative elements, I'd be satisfied with assigning the paragraph or two in the textbook about the Lords.

The AP exam is still half multiple-choice. I think you can ask conceptual and theoretical questions in a multiple-choice format, but the questions are mostly testing students' knowledge base. And my analysis of the sample FRQs and the FRQs from last year's exam, indicates that students are mostly being asked to "describe" things. So even those questions are primarily testing students' knowledge.

If you're still struggling to adjust, my best advice is to carry on thoughtfully. You can figure this out.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Policy dilemmas in China

As if the growing gap between rich (i.e. educated and urban) and poor (i.e. uneducated and rural) in China weren't a big enough problem, Howard French, writing in the New York Times reminds us of other challenges for the Chinese policy makers. What's a good Chinese Communist to do? The policy makers are caught between a rock of demographics and a hard place of economic restructuring.

On the other hand, what's a good capitalist to do? The UK has its own version of this problem. Russia, has a different problem: a declining life expectantcy.

Is there material for a comparative case study here?

China Scrambles for Stability as Its Workers Age

"The proportion of people 60 and older is growing faster in China than in any other major country, with the number of retirees set to double between 2005 and 2015... By midcentury... roughly 430 million people — about a third of the population — will be retirees.

"That increase will place enormous demands on the country’s finances and could threaten the underpinnings of the Chinese economy...

"Under the current two-tiered system, the retirement age for blue-collar urban workers is 50 for women and 55 for men, while for higher-grade professionals and government workers it is 55 for women and 60 for men. Obviously, raising the retirement ages would ease a substantial amount of pressure on the pension system. But there are no plans to do so, and raising the retirement ages would present another set of problems for the government, experts here say.

"Last year, for example, 4.13 million young Chinese graduated from universities, and fully 30 percent of them are still unemployed. Unemployment is high among those who are not university graduates, as well. Prolonging employment for older workers would make this predicament worse, possibly with volatile consequences.

"Breaking a lifelong promise and abruptly extending the retirement age would create another large class of malcontents..."

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Budget as a policy issue in the UK

Gordon Brown wants to succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and his latest (and probably last) budget proposal seems likely to pave the way for that transition. This report is from The Guardian (UK).

Brown springs budget surprise

"Gordon Brown pulled a big surprise today in probably his final budget as chancellor, cutting the basic rate of income tax by two pence from next April.

"Delivering a budget to 'expand prosperity and fairness for British families', the chancellor also announced big increases in education spending and higher tax rates for the most polluting cars...

"Perhaps conscious of his reputation as dour and controlling, Mr Brown's demeanour throughout was cheerful, and he cracked several jokes - calling colleagues 'comrades' in a self-deprecating reference to this week's accusation of his Stalinist tendencies.

"The Conservative leader, David Cameron, taken aback by the tax cut, accused Mr Brown of copying the Tory mantra of 'sharing the proceeds of growth'..."

Michael White's op-ed analysis in The Guardian suggests a bigger reason why Brown might begin his tenure as PM under sunny skies: Lucky chancellor has beaten Labour's economic voodoo

"Whatever happens to Gordon Brown from here on he has one major achievement to his credit of historic proportions.

"He has been chancellor of the British exchequer for ten years of steady economic growth. Barring an economic tsunami between now and late June - anything is possible - he will move into No 10 as one of those chancellors who (as he once put it) 'got out in time', not in disgrace.

"In doing so he will have beaten the voodoo which has haunted all Labour governments since 1924: the fear of economic failure, of debt, devaluation of the pound, of rising unemployment and public spending cuts..."

A follow-up from the BBC suggests further dimensions of the budget and attending policies. Isn't that just the way things go. Simple, single-issue news report leads to a multitude of other complex issues.

Brown denies Budget 'con trick'

"Chancellor Gordon Brown has rejected Conservatives' claims his Budget tax changes amounted to a 'con trick'.

"Mr Brown cut 2p off the basic tax rate, but he also axed the 10p starter rate, and changed the National Insurance limits, leaving few people better off.

"The Tories said lower earners would pay more income tax, while the Lib Dems say 'the poor are subsidising the rich'.

"But Mr Brown said the reforms had simplified the system and were 'in the best interests of the country'..."

The Budget at-a-glance from the BBC

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Continuing the Nigeria theme

To us on the outside, the differences might seem subtle and the disputes obscure, but to insiders they are the essence of politics.

It seems that a legislative committee examining the charges that have kept Vice-President Abubakar (commonly called Atiku) off the ballot for the presidential election wrote a report casting suspicion on President Obasanjo as well. When presidential pressure seemed likely to bury the report, the committee members publicly resigned.

I'd guess this episode is bad news for the vice-president's ambitions to get back on the ballot for next month's election and is likely to be another bit of pressure to keep Obasanjo from delaying his departure.

We'll see.

The BBC report was short on details. Nigeria graft shock resignations

"Members of a Nigerian Senate committee probing graft allegations against the president and his deputy have resigned.

"They say Senate leaders were interfering with their investigations..."

The Guardian (Lagos) had almost too many details: Senate's PTDF panel quits in protest

"DISCOMFORTING tension pervaded the Senate yesterday as all members of its seven-man special review committee on the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) resigned, despite having concluded their assignment.

"They expressed fears over the decision by the leadership of the legislative chamber to shift debate on its work to a later date which, according to them, could jeopardise their findings...

"The mass resignation notwithstanding, a member of the committee disclosed the kernel of its recommendations: Sanctions on both President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

"Obasanjo and Abubakar have traded accusations over each other's management of the fund, designated for the development of the nation's petroleum technology, but which both leaders say has been used to satisfy private needs...

"The Ndoma-Egba Committee had recommended that Vice President Abubakar be sanctioned for the way he managed PTDF while President Obasanjo be chided for approving projects outside the laws establishing the Fund...

"Chairman of the Committee, Umar Tsauri, said yesterday... that he was shocked when the report of the Committee which was slated for tabling, was removed from the Order Paper without his knowledge... 'If that happens and we go on recess on Thursday, that means the report will only be considered in May when we resume from recess...'

"On why the review committee did not recommend commencing impeachment proceedings against Obasanjo and Atiku, the Katsina-born senator said: 'What you would do first is to look at national interest; everybody in Nigeria today is looking forward to elections and we have no powers to take such a decision.'..."

Vanguard (Lagos) reported on this as well: Senate in crisis as PTDF review panellists resign

Its article noted that, "The resignations of the members conveyed in a letter dated March 20, 2007, allegedly followed persistent pressure from the Senate President that the Committee present an advance copy of its report to the Senate leadership for vetting.

"The instruction of the Senate President reportedly followed pressure on him from the Presidency to intervene and save President Olusegun Obasanjo from the odium of an indictment by the review panel."

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Nigerian presidential race

From the U.S., it may appear that the only thing going on with the Nigerian presidential election is the court case surrounding vice-president Abubakar's disqualification.

However, if you look at the Nigerian press, much more is visible. Here's where those links I pointed out yesterday become helpful.

From Guardian (Lagos), 19 March:
  • Ben Obi, AC warn against dictatorship, tenure extension

    "PRESIDENTIAL running mate, Chief Ben Ndi Obi, has urged Nigerians to view the hiccups around next month's general election, particularly the disqualification of Vice President Atiku Abubakar as another attempt at deliberately creating a chaotic atmosphere that will be used as an excuse to elongate the tenure of the Olusegun Obasanjo government..."

  • I will quit on May 29, says Obasanjo

    "IN a veiled reference to those who believe that the current administration still nurses an alleged third-term agenda, President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend in Benin said that the April polls must be held as scheduled and the winners sworn in on May 29..."

  • Police, INEC are President's tools, says Umar

    "FORMER Military Governor of Kaduna State and social critic, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), at the weekend accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the top hierarchy of the Nigeria Police of playing President Olusegun Obasanjo's script to prevent Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting for the Presidency in April..."

  • Buhari takes campaign to Abiola's home

    "ALL Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) presidential candidate, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), at the weekend took his presidential campaign to the Ikeja, Lagos home of the late Chief M. K. O Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 annulled presidential election..."

From Vanguard (Lagos)

  • Iwu, others get death threats

    "CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, and some other top officials of the Commission are said to have been receiving death threats from unknown quarters following last week’s disqualification of Vice President Atiku Abubakar from next month’s presidential race..."

  • Atiku, Buhari others in talks as Atiku refuses to opt out....Resumes campaign tomorrow

    "Presidential  candidates of some of the country’s major opposition political parties were last night locked in crucial talks in collective pursuit for a level playing ground in the forthcoming elections.

    "Those involved in the talks include Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the Action Congress (AC), Major General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and Prof. Pat Utomi of the African Democratic Congress (ADC)...

From This Day (Lagos)
  • INEC Justifies Stopping Atiku

    "In a move to justify its disqualification of Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting the April polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday said its stand has been vindicated by a recent judgment of Justice Binta Nyako over the eligibility of candidates contesting in the April elections..."

  • ...It’s an Invitation to Chaos, Says Ben Obi

    "Senator Ben Obi, running-mate of the Action Congress (AC) Presidential flag-bearer, has described Atiku’s disqualification by INEC, as a serious blow on the country’s democratic profile, saying those at the helm of affairs at the presidency and their  henchmen are by their conduct creating grounds for instability in the country..."

  • Danger Ahead of April Elections

    "In the last one week, there have been reports of violent clashes between supporters of some candidates in Ogun, Lagos, Ekiti, Kwara , Sokoto and Bauchi states..."

from The Abuja Inquirer (Abuja)
  • Anxiety mounts over Yar’Adua’s condition *Supporters, PDP in frantic moves *INEC faces Electoral Act dilemma

    When the rumour of the “death” of the PDP presidential candidate and incumbent governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua, broke last Wednesday and began to spread like wild fire, palpable suspense pervaded the land...

    Also, reports from the PDP national secretariat said the rumour of Yar’Adua’s death polarised the party’s officials along geo-political divides. Those from the South-South... were said to have held several meetings and told Yar’Adua’s running mate, to insist on flying the party’s flag as the presidential candidate and not to allow any other presidential candidate from the North to be nominated to replace Yar’Adua.

    But some Northern elements at the PDP secretariat were said to have held another separate meeting... and decided to reach out to one of the party’s presidential aspirants, who is a northerner like Yar’Adua, to replace Yar’Adua if the rumour of his death at a German hospital was confirmed...

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Primary or secondary source?

The Internet Public Library was begun as a class project at University of Michigan’s School of Information. Today, students from 14 institutions maintain a wonderful collection of materials available on the Web.

If you'd like your students to do research using newspapers in the countries they are studying, this is the place to get them started.

You could ask them to compare how a specific topic is reported in each country or you could ask them to compare the headlines on a specific day. There are enough newspapers listed that each student could read headlines and main articles for a couple of them.

Or you could probably think up something even more creative. If you do, tell us about it.

Here are the direct links to the listings for newspapers from selected countries:

Even more newspapers are linked at the Online Newspapers site:


Sunday, March 18, 2007

A rat poison named after you?

And if you don't pay the bribe, you can try to get revenge by naming a product after the official who had his hand out.

Official escapes rat poison label

"A Chinese official has escaped efforts by a rat poison manufacturer to name its products after him, China's state media reported...

"Xinhua suggested the application [to use the name] could have been caused by a personal dispute between the company - Shenyang Feilong Pharmaceutical Company - and Mr Zheng [the sacked head of the State Food and Drug Administration], who had reportedly ruled against one of [the company's] drugs in 1999.

"Mr Zheng is facing allegations he used his administration's drug approval powers to obtain bribes.

"Last week he was expelled from the Communist Party after a disciplinary committee ruled he should be 'severely punished'."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

French presidential campaigning

My apologies to those of you teaching the Advanced Placement course and trying to get details on 6 countries properly arranged in students' memories. But indulge us old teachers who taught about French politics between 1986 and 2005. When I read this report from the Washington Post I was reminded of my fascination with French presidential politics. And what delicious irony: the Socialist Party candidate is named Royal!

And for those of you unconcerned about teaching about France, you could compare how the French presidential race is shaping up to the upcoming election in Nigeria or even the early stages of the Russian "race."


Le Pen Joins Volatile Race For French Presidency

"Jean-Marie Le Pen, the anti-immigration politician who stunned France and the world by finishing second in this country's 2002 presidential contest, formally placed his name on this year's ballot Wednesday, adding new uncertainty to an increasingly volatile campaign.

"Barely six weeks from the April 22 vote, the French election has become close and unpredictable. The two longtime front-runners -- Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, and Socialist Party nominee Ségolène Royal, who is vying to become the first female president of France -- are facing a challenge from the surging campaign of François Bayrou of the Union for French Democracy.

"Polls indicate Bayrou is sapping support from both Sarkozy and Royal and has transformed the election into a three-way contest. In a survey published Sunday by the weekly newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Sarkozy was favored by 28 percent of the respondents, Royal and Bayrou by 23 percent each, and Le Pen by 13 percent...

"The volatility of the French campaign in its final weeks is a reflection of increasing voter frustration with the two candidates who have been leading the race for months -- Sarkozy, 52, and Royal, 53.

"Pollsters and political analysts say many voters are afraid of Sarkozy and his tough stands on such issues as immigration and law and order, and are concerned about gaffes by Royal suggesting she may not be up to the job of president.

"Bayrou, 55, has in the past worked with the country's ruling bloc, inheritor of the nationalist mantle of Charles de Gaulle. Bayrou made a previous run for the presidency and is now attempting to capitalize on the disillusionment with the candidates offered by the two largest parties.

"Bayrou has portrayed himself as an alternative for voters unhappy with the personalities or politics of Sarkozy and Royal. He has said he favors business reforms and reduction of the French debt, yet would maintain the country's strong social services network. He has said he would include people from all major parties in his cabinet.

"But voters have been drawn to him less for his policy positions, which often are amorphous, than for his image as an honest, straightforward politician...

"Of all the candidates, Le Pen has the most fiercely loyal followers, many of whom will not admit their support to pollsters. That is one reason why Le Pen's opponents view his candidacy with such concern; he usually wins a higher percentage of votes than surveys initially indicate.

"Although he was a lone wolf in the 2002 campaign, denouncing immigration and espousing protectionist social and trade policies, many of his views became part of mainstream political debate after violence and arson swept the country's suburban slums, populated largely by immigrants and their French-born offspring, in the fall of 2005.

"But many French are appalled by what they consider to be Le Pen's racist and anti-Semitic views..."

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Policy Making in Mexico

So, what are the forces behind policy making in Mexico? What are the factors that limit policy choices? This article from the Washington Post mentions some. Combined with information from their textbooks, what kind of list of forces and factors would your students produce?

Mexico's 69-Year-Old State Oil Firm Facing Threats to Its Stability

"Depleted reserves, crumbling pipelines, outdated technology and billions of dollars in debt... While Petroleos Mexicanos executives and union leaders prepare to deliver patriotic speeches and sing the national anthem Sunday on the 69th anniversary of the nationalization of Mexico's oil sector, many energy experts say Pemex needs to stop looking backward.

"... Government leaders and Pemex executives have been warning about the problems for years. But they haven't taken much action, in large part because the state-owned company is viewed as a national treasure... Mexicans are wary of any changes to its operation that could be seen as a threat to Mexican sovereignty...

"Mexico's constitution prohibits the company from forming production and exploration alliances with domestic and foreign private companies... No Mexican president -- even fiscally conservative, private enterprise-friendly leaders such as current President Felipe Calderón -- has ever suggested changing that...

"Oil experts say it is unlikely Mexico will see any significant energy sector proposals this year from Calderón, who is still recovering from a July election that he won by less than 1 percentage point over his rival, leftist firebrand Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

"López Obrador vehemently opposes private investment in the oil sector, and it was he who led massive marches in the late 1990s against privatizing the petrochemical industry...

"The issue is a serious one: The field is Mexico's largest single source of crude oil; oil provides nearly 40 percent of the government's revenue; and Mexico is one of the largest exporters of oil to the United States..."

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Rule of Law in Nigeria

The judicial system in Nigeria continues the process of creating a rule of law. How would your students evaluate the progress? What evidence would they look for in the future to further evaluate the state of the "rule of law" in Nigeria?

Nigeria governor sacking reversed

"An appeal court in Nigeria's central Plateau State has reversed last November's impeachment of its state governor, Joshua Dariye...

"He was accused of embezzling nearly $9m in public funds...

"Mr Dariye was sacked by eight of Plateau State's 24-member state house of assembly in a process that the court said was illegal.

"President Olusegun Obasanjo has been criticised for using his powers to target political opponents in a tough anti-corruption campaign."


Nigeria VP challenges poll list

"Nigeria's vice-president is challenging the electoral commission's decision to bar him from standing as a candidate in next month's presidential elections.

"Electoral officials say graft charges against Atiku Abubakar would have to be dropped for him to be eligible.

"His lawyers have been granted an accelerated hearing at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday...

"But the BBC's Sola Odunfa in Lagos says a final decision is unlikely to be delivered before early April because the parties will fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

"Our correspondent says if Mr Abubukar wins, Inec would have to postpone the poll in order to print and distribute ballots papers - which would have to carry his name, photograph and party emblem - for some 60m registered voters...

"Last week a high court ruling ruled Inec could not disqualify candidates, but electoral officials chose to interpret the constitution differently on Thursday.

"It omitted Mr Abubakar from its list of 24 presidential candidates eligible to run, saying that as he has been indicted for corruption he was disqualified.

"'Once you have been indicted, Inec cannot do anything about it,' Inec Chairman Maurice Iwu said..."

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Russia as reality rather than metaphor

Jim Lerch alerted us to PolicyPointers, and I found the following link to Stephen Kotkin's talk there.

I was going to add an excerpt from Kotkin's talk as a comment to one of the earlier entries here about Putin's Russia (like Leadership in Russia, that has links to several other articles.).

Then I read Kotkin's questioning of many of the assumptions and much of the reasoning behind the theme of "managed democracy" in Russia, which has gotten such attention in the press. I decided these ideas deserved more emphasis. Kotkin lays much of the blame for misinterpretation to ineffective reporting.

How would your students react to Kotkin's arguments? If you asked them to compare his reasoning with that presented by reporters cited in other entries here (or in other reporting) how well could they evaluate the arguments? My guess is that they'd need a bit of guidance from you to sort things out. The exercise would probably be worth it for the critical thinking process as well as mastering details of Russian governance and politics.

Russia under Putin: Toward Democracy or Dictatorship?

Stephen Kotkin is a professor of history and the director of Russian and Eurasian Studies program at Princeton University. This is the transcript of a talk Prof. Kotkin gave on February, 15, 2007, in Philadelphia.

"The answer to the question of today’s talk, Russia: toward democracy or dictatorship? is 'neither.' Russia is not a democracy, and it is not a dictatorship. Russia, like most countries of the world, has a ramshackle authoritarian system with some democratic trappings (some of which are meaningful). Russia is not in transition to or from anything. Russia is what it is.

"Here in the U.S., it seems much harder than it should be to get good information on and insight into Russia...

"American reportage on Russia generally obsesses about the Kremlin and the leader, Vladimir Putin. Putin dominates U.S. coverage of Russia far more than he dominates Russia...

"1. 'Kremlin Inc.' is something that anyone can readily understand. It signifies that a KGB-dominated Putin group has taken over Russia and controls the country politically and economically. It’s a wonderfully simple story, now perhaps the dominate view among U.S. commentators on Russia. But Kremlin Inc. is one of those pernicious half truths.

"The Russian political system lacks functioning political parties or other institutionalized mechanisms of elite recruitment. Instead it has an extremely personalistic system. Russian leaders appoint to positions of authority those people they went to school with, those from their home town, those from the places where they used to work...

"Putin’s regime falls far short of being a dictatorship... To outsiders, the strategy looks like centralization of all power in a disciplined pyramid, but on the inside the strategy looks like making sure that the ruling “team,” far from being united, is at each other’s throats... Its members compete incessantly...

"What keeps this divided, turbulent, unstable, misnamed Kremlin Inc. from spinning violently out of control is dependence on Putin...

"2. Russian society is enormously dynamic. According to professional studies by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, something like 20-25 percent of Russian society qualifies as solidly middle class... the Russian middle class is something we hear too little about (unlike the middle class in, say, China or India)...

"About half of the Russian middle class works for the state... the Russian middle class is smart, and it knows that if it gets political, it could lose its property and status. Individuals respond to incentives very well (economists are not totally wrong), and for the most part Russia’s middle class is not ready to sacrifice its position to push for the rule of law and democracy; rather, it is interested in preserving its wealth, in privileged access for its children to educational institutions and to career paths. So there is no push in Russia for democracy either from the top or the middle...

"Consolidation of dictatorship is not happening either, and society is a factor in that as well... Even though there is a strong current in Russian society appreciative of order, few people mistake order for dictatorship...

"3. [A] revived, assertive, resentful Russia is nothing to fear. Russia has state interests that are different from U.S. interests (or Japanese interests or Chinese interests)...

"Energy supply looks like a point of tremendous leverage for Russia, except energy’s a market, which entails a kind of codependency relationship. Russian suppliers have to find customers... if Russia’s state-owned companies fail to perform in market conditions, the market will eventually punish them... The problem with a market economy is that you actually have to run a company as a business, and if you do not, you will pay the price...

"When the Russia government gets assertive, mostly rhetorically, there’s little cause to worry, or even to react. Sure, other countries need to try to understand what Russian state interests are, so that there can be productive state-to-state relations based on mutual interests. But this is no different from relations with China, India, or any major country that seeks a place in an international system... A new cold war does not happen simply because Russia is suddenly semi-assertive again. Russia’s military is a shambles. Russia’s territory is much reduced... it barely has a sphere of influence. It lacks meaningful alliances. Its current political-economic model does not appeal to developing countries. True, Russia’s GDP has been growing at a rapid pace for eight years, but this is a good thing. In the belated recognition that Russia is a petrostate, the degree of diversification of Russia’s economy (biotech, software, aerospace, military hardware, food processing) is often missed. That, not posturing, will be the basis of Russian power, or lack thereof.

"The overall picture in Russia, therefore, is, first, a false stability in the regime... Second, Russia has a dynamic middle-class society that is stable, and mostly apolitical... Third, the world will have to get used to the newly assertive Russia... a strategic power in a very important location, with its own state interests, interests that are going to conflict with others’ interests sometimes. Still, there is no need to be alarmed. The problem with viewing Russia as a major threat is that the threat is mostly to itself, not to the outside world."

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Great Teaching Resource

Jim Lerch who teaches at the American School of Yaounde in Cameroon wrote to ask, "Have you seen the site PolicyPointers.org?

"Here is what it says about itself:

"'Welcome to Policypointers!

"'Policypointers is an online facility created to enable those involved in government, academe and the media to gain rapid access to the research and conclusions of think tanks, institutes and government departments around the world.

"'We believe that policymakers and those who influence the policymaking function can frequently learn from the research done and the results achieved in countries other than their own. This belief is the rationale for creating this website.

"'Policypointers is independent of any government, political party, financial or other influence. Not every think tank whose work is accessible via this website will be similarly independent and so users are advised to check the About Us page on the think tank websites that they access, for clues as to the standpoint from which these organisations approach their work.

"'Because of the nature of our mission, as described above, we will select reports and research for posting on this website according to the following criteria:
  1. That the work includes research or data. Thus, purely polemical work will not be covered, but we will post research-based campaigning reports on the site. In the case of policy areas such as foreign policy and governance we may also include items that are essentially commentary.

  2. That the findings or data within the work could have application outside the country in which it originates. For this reason, work which appears to be of parochial relevance only will not be posted. This does not mean that work must be international in scope to qualify for posting; merely that it could be useful in another country.'"

Jim added that there "is a fantastic download of Iranian public opinions. I found it by searching 'Iran.' The polling was done very recently and involves so many of the current events problems that we discuss in class. There are an endless number of lessons to be gained from that one source."

That document is indeed a wonderful resource. I went looking and found other recently posted links like

There are hundreds of other documents cataloged at PolicyPointers. I'd be tempted to assign students the task of searching for and evaluating articles relevant to my curriculum. The best ones would become part of the course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Managing by repression

The "managed democracy" in Russia relies on more than just manipulation of the electoral laws. It also relies -- like the Chinese version -- on stifling organized political activity that is not pre-approved by the powers-that-be.

Rebecca Small pointed me at this article from last Saturday's Washington Post that illustrates the Russian attempts to control independent opposition.

There were evidently politically-motivated riots in China last week as well, but details are just beginning to appear. If you want your students to do a comparative case study of authoritarian repression, start with the International Herald Tribune's report, "Thousands reportedly riot in China," and watch for further details as they emerge.

Breaking Putin's Cordon

"The Kremlin has been sending persistent signals that autonomous political activism will not be tolerated. As a result, political action on the streets has become highly risky in Russia, and those venturing to participate in events unwelcome by the government should be prepared to get in trouble...

"Last weekend, in an unusually large political protest in St. Petersburg, several thousand people defied a government ban on their rally, broke through police cordons and marched along the streets of Russia's second-largest city. The event was organized by Drugaya Rossiya (Other Russia), a medley of small opposition groups headed by political opponents of President Vladimir Putin such as former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former chess champion Garry Kasparov...

"While individuals may still exercise verbal dissent -- and smaller media outlets still pursue independent editorial positions, though they have been increasingly marginalized -- federal legislation has been repeatedly amended to broaden the government's authority to ban political gatherings...

"The relative permissiveness regarding verbal expression may be explained by the fact that the remaining media freedom exists at the mercy of the government. The Kremlin has ensured that most media outlets that are not state-owned are controlled by owners who are loyal to it...

"The Russian public remains largely apathetic and indifferent to infringements of its political rights and freedoms...

"But even if Drugaya Rossiya does not pose a real danger to the ruling elite, the Kremlin is not taking chances. Autonomous political activism and direct challenges to the president, no matter how marginal the challenger, are not allowed. Such actions have come to be regarded as illegitimate and are deemed disloyal to the state..."

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Thoughts on busy Chinese legislators

Global Voices Online is a non-profit global citizens’ media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. It intends to be a "guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs. Our global team of regional blogger-editors is working to find, aggregate, and track these conversations."

A recent topic covered by Global Voices Online is the meeting of China's National Peoples Congress.

Coverage begins with reactions to the photo of sleeping delegates (see The Answer is Diligence), continues with more substantive comments on the differences between this year's Congress and previous ones, and includes bloggers considering the role they've played in the process.

See: China: People’s Conferences

If you see potential teaching materials here, you'll also find coverage of

Managed elections

The Washington Post also reported on the local elections near St. Petersburg.

Pro-Putin Party Builds a Wide Lead -- Regional Vote Also Showcases a New Kremlin-Backed Group

"The pro-Kremlin United Russia party had commanding leads in 13 of 14 regional elections held Sunday... while the new Fair Russia party, which calls itself an opposition grouping but is favored by the presidential administration, was making a strong first-time showing.

"In the last major electoral contest before national parliamentary elections in December, the Kremlin took votes across the political spectrum, leaving it almost certain to control the next parliament as it manages the current one through United Russia's overwhelming majority, analysts said.

"The future evolution of Fair Russia, which relentlessly attacked United Russia during the campaign, remained a subject of debate here. Some analysts suggested that it might yet be a vehicle to expand the country's shrunken political discourse and inject a little competition into an almost completely controlled environment. The party is positioning itself as a left-wing alternative to United Russia...

"As an officially approved and now viable alternative to United Russia, Fair Russia is likely to continue to attract business sponsors and new members from the fractured opposition in advance of December's elections, analysts said.

"'Those who couldn't find their place in United Russia or see no hope elsewhere will now start moving to Fair Russia,' said Alexander Ivanchenko, director of the Independent Institute of Elections, a nongovernmental organization...

"Small opposition parties such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces [which recently were major political parties] were pushed off the ballot in a number of contests and fared poorly where they were able to compete.

"Leaders of these parties dismissed the elections as a farce, citing their absence from the ballot and the overwhelming advantage in finances and media exposure enjoyed by United Russia and Fair Russia..."

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Managing democracy in Russia

It seems that in Russia' "managed democracy" there might not be room for an independent, democratic scientific institution any more than there's room for more than Puntin's political party or the government's media. This report comes from the Washington Post.

Russia Seeks More Control At Academy Of Sciences

"The historic autonomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has pioneered fundamental research in Russia since its founding by Peter the Great three centuries ago, is under threat from government proposals to bring the institution under much tighter state control and end its academic freedom, according to academy members...

"Members of the academy, which in 1980 defied Soviet demands that it expel dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, view the plan as part of a broader trend of increased official control over key parts of Russian society...

"Under the government's plan, [the academy] and other foreign policy think tanks might come under the control of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"Government officials describe their efforts to give the academy a new basic charter as necessary to inject some efficiency into an academic cocoon run by an aging club of researchers too removed from the modern economy...

"The academy's senior members oversee a $1.2 billion budget, 400 research institutes and 200,000 researchers and staff members across Russia. The institution is self-governing. The funding of research, as well as personnel matters -- from who becomes a researcher to who enjoys the prestigious title of full membership, "academician" -- is determined by secret ballot...

"The government's model charter would abolish the direct and secret election of academy officers other than the president, including the heads of all institutes. They would instead be nominated by the academy's president and approved by its supervisory board..."

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Leadership in Russia

I've seen a lot of commentary about the "managed democracy" that Putin seems to be creating in Russia, but I hadn't given much thought to the St. Petersburg-Moscow rivalry. Chloe Arnold, writing on the RFE/RL web site has written about the origins of Putin's restructuring of the Russian regime.

This article also raises questions about leadership recruitment and about the characteristics of Russian leadership. I sense the opportunity for comparative case studies, perhaps as review exercises.

How does recruitment in Russia compare with that in China or Iran? Or in the UK or Mexico?

How do the characteristics needed for political leadership in Russia compare with those needed in Nigeria? Mexcio?

Russia: St. Petersburg -- The Cradle Of The Political Elite

"...St. Petersburg -- also known in the past as Petrograd and then Leningrad -- has long produced many members of Russia's ruling elites...

"Aleksander Smirnov is a historian and a guide [to] an exhibition called '300 Years Of St. Petersburg In Russian Politics.'

"'When Vladimir Putin became the president...' Smirnov said. 'He needed to establish a new kind of politics, because for him it was obvious that the regime of the 1990s would lead the country nowhere. But he couldn't rely on the politicians in Moscow, because they were too close to the people we call the 'oligarchs,' those people who got mixed up in corruption. For Putin it was important to bring in a new era of what he saw as the Petersburg phenomenon, the Petersburg mentality, and he could only do this by bringing in new faces. And so he chose his government from people that he knew personally.'...

"'Our exhibition is evidence of the fact that this is not the only episode when St. Petersburgers have been in power,' he says. 'Throughout the 20th century, the city on the Neva has attempted to nominate whole teams of St. Petersburgers, or individuals, who try to steer their own political course in Moscow.'...

"Yevgeny Artyomov, the director of the museum, says... 'Since Leningrad is known as the window on Europe, perhaps the fresh winds of democracy blow toward St. Petersburg faster than, say, to those living closer to Asia...'

"Smirnov doesn't entirely agree. He describes some of the traits that distinguish St. Petersburgers from other Russians.

"'The first is modernization,' he says. 'The second trait of political leaders from St. Petersburg -- well, I don't agree with those who say that they are democratic. On the contrary, many of them tend to be fond of strong authority, a strong personality who, because of this, takes all the responsibility.'...

"But for Irina Kondrashova, a lecturer at the St. Petersburg State Polytechnic Institute, the real concern is not that today's leaders come from one city.

"'What worries me is that all the political leaders from St. Petersburg come from one organization,' she says. 'The KGB has nothing to do with a geographic location. It's an organization. And I'd say it would be more useful to discuss that type of person -- the type that belongs to that organization, who was educated in that system and now lives by its rules. It seems to me that in the current situation it's not important where a person comes from, geographically speaking.'"

See also

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Informal power politics

On Friday, the RFE/RL web site posted an article by Vahid Sepehri that to me was confusing. It was vague and offered little explanation of the specific events it described. That might, in part, be a result of my own ignorance. It might also be a result of the limitations placed on those writing for a U.S. government-sponsored organization.

And the use of the term "pressure groups" might be a literal translation from Farsi, but it's not a good translation into the jargon of comparative politics.

The article was Iran: 'Pressure Groups' Maintain Role In Politics

"There are recent indications in Iran of a resurgence of what some politicians have ominously dubbed the 'pressure group.' It is a reference to an ill-defined set of people with radical political ideas and intransigent religious beliefs who have in the past exerted their 'pressure' by beating people or disrupting meetings.

"Their shadowy nature makes it difficult to discern a resurgence in a systematic way, but their activities arguably mirror the existence of perceived or actual political tensions between right-wingers and their critics...

"But the persistent trait of these lawless elements remains a surreptitious and sporadic nature. The culprits must maintain a relatively low profile in order to avoid public scandal or publicity that could force authorities to recognize their existence and act..."

I was confused by Sepehri's article. Was he talking about the basij or rouge elements of the Revolutionary Guard? Are the "pressure groups" violent low-level clerics? Who are these shadowy groups?

I went looking for more information and found an "executive summary" of Michael Rubin's 2001 book Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy web site. Even if it's a few years old, the book offers some specifics that helped me make sense of Sepehri's article. (This is one way we learn new things.)

"Hardline vigilante groups, generally referred to as 'pressure groups' (guruh-i fishar) in popular Iranian parlance, have long influenced Iranian politics and society during times of political tension... Seeming to operate with impunity, their actions threaten... to undercut Iranian domestic reform...

"Iranian pressure groups cannot be considered a part of the 'opposition' camp because, in reality, they act on behalf of various hardline factions within the government. Rather than attempt to overthrow the regime, pressure groups instead use violence, intimidation, and assassination as tools to affect government policy when they may not have the numerical strength or the power to do so through legal or legislative means.

"Several vigilante groups are operating in the Islamic Republic today. The three most prominent are listed below:
  • Ansar-i Hizbullah (Defenders of the Party of God) is best known for its involvement in the July 1999 storming of a Tehran University dormitory, an incident that sparked the worst rioting in the Islamic Republic in two decades.
  • The "Sa’id Imami Gang," composed of Intelligence Ministry operatives and named after the former deputy minister of intelligence, stands accused of murdering a number of Iranian intellectuals and dissidents during Khatami’s administration.
  • Fida’iyan-i Islam (Devotees of Islam) attacked a busload of visiting American businessmen in November 1998. They also appear to be linked to the Sa’id Imami Gang."

The summary of Rubin's book notes: "But hardline pressure groups are not a new phenomenon in Iran. They were also active during the period of tension that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as vigilante actions contributed toward the shaping of policy on many issues in the nascent Islamic Republic."

The first of those early groups Rubin identified was "Students Following the Line of the Imam," the group that President Ahmadinejad might have been associated with after the revolution.

Rubin also describes these characteristics of these "pressure groups:"
  • Vigilante groups are small... yet they have an impact on Iranian policy that is disproportionate to their size
  • Vigilante groups have official patronage... the pressure group is convenient to those in government who are interested in advancing certain goals outside of official channels... pressure groups have a history of surviving government crackdowns and re-activating after years of dormancy
  • Vigilante groups are operationally organized in cells based on informal networking. They mobilize quickly through both telephone alert and intelligence given by high-ranking individuals within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Ministry of Intelligence, and other security services.
  • The primary targets of vigilantes are those advocating reform in Iran...

Rubin also notes that "Vigilantes attack and intimidate writers, intellectuals, and reformers according to two possible scenarios.

"In the first scenario, the pressure groups precipitate an attack, suffer no adverse consequences for that action, and thereby win a battle against reform.

"In the second scenario, vigilante actions spark a crisis—as with the July 1999 Tehran University dormitory attack—and effectively create an excuse for the traditionally hardline IRGC, Basij volunteer forces, Law Enforcement Forces, and Intelligence Ministry to crack down on reform. Either way, the vigilante groups and their hardline supporters win, and the reformists lose."

Rubin's book was about the resurgence of the vigilante groups after the 2000 Majlis elections in which reformists did very well. Perhaps, Sepehri's article is describing another resurgence of vigilantes in response to Ahmadinejad's political troubles.

In any case and whatever we call them, the violent, extra-legal, "pressure groups" are an important element of Iranian politics, and our students should know about them.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Devolution in Northern Ireland

The votes in Northern Ireland are in. Whether devolution goes ahead now depends upon the actions of the leaders of the four major parties.

On Friday, the BBC reported partial election results:

Time 'critical' for NI devolution

"Secretary of State Peter Hain has warned he needs an answer from Northern Ireland parties by 25 March if 26 March deadline for devolution is to be met...

"The DUP and Sinn Fein have taken more than half the first preference votes between them in the assembly election.

"Mr Hain warned the assembly would close if the parties did not sign up to power sharing in the next two weeks...

"The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended since October 2002, amid allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont. A subsequent court case collapsed. Direct rule has been in place since that date."

On Saturday, the final results were in. Could your students understand the results well enough to explain the voting process? What did it mean that there were 250 candidates running in 18 constituencies for 108 seats in the assembly? And what explains the "first preferences" reference?

DUP top in NI assembly election

"Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party has emerged as the largest party in Northern Ireland's Assembly election.

"His party secured 36 of the 108 seats, with Sinn Fein taking 28. The Ulster Unionist Party won 18 seats, the SDLP 16, and the Alliance Party seven seats...

"The DUP got 30.1% of first preferences - up 4.4% from 2003 - while Sinn Fein got 26.2%, up 2.6%.

"Almost 250 candidates were standing in 18 constituencies in the proportional representation election...

"In third place in first preferences, the SDLP received 15.2% of first preferences, the Ulster Unionists 14.9% and Alliance 5.2%..."

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Friday, March 09, 2007

The answer is diligence

The question for me has always been, how do about 3,000 law makers gather for 10 days in Beijing and do a year's worth of legislating for a country of more than a billion people?

It must be a hard job, judging from this photo of delegates to the National Peoples Congress publshed on the Danwei blog.

The photo comes from a Chinese blog featuring Home Simpson in the title bar.

This reminds me of a story Mark Salzman tells in his book Iron and Silk about only being bored by meetings in China if you try to stay awake. Iron and Silk was also made into a movie.

Details on the movie from Internet Movie Database.

Buy the book at Amazon.com

Buy the DVD at Amazon.com

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An end to the House of Lords in the UK?

The analysis on the University of Puget Sound Politics and Government blog is well worth the time. It was posted by Patrick O'Neil, but written by his colleague Don Share, who is presently in London.

Farewell to Lords?

"Farewell to the Lords was Thursday’s headline in the Times of London, as the lower house of Parliament voted to alter fundamentally the composition of the House of Lords, the UK’s largely perfunctory upper house. This week’s advisory vote instructed the government to draw up legislation to make the upper house an entirely elected body (at present the body contains mostly appointed members)...

"The size of the majority (337-224) makes it virtually certain that legislation on Lords reform will pass relatively soon, especially since the measure was supported by members of all parties...

"In the UK simple majorities in the lower house can carry out major constitutional changes with relatively few checks. However, many fear that the creation of an elected upper house may actually endanger the House of Commons’ supremacy within the UK political system."

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Confusion of names

In the face of the confusing names for sub-national units of government in Russia, Rebecca Small asked perfectly logical questions: What is the difference between a republic, an oblast, and a krai? What is an okrug? What is the autonomous oblast?

I answered with the help of the anonymous Wikipedia authors (who we will consider as conditional authorities - correct them if they're wrong).

These are all various types of sub-national units of government in Russia. Some of them have Medieval origins; others are Soviet; still others have even older origins. There may be differences in the organization of the local government, but they are basically synonyms for "republic." (Local residents might rightly insist that their home "republic" is not like all the others, but political scientists have to deal with generalizations as well as technical specifics.)

Wikipedia says (I don't recognize any mistakes or biases in these entries, but that doesn't mean they are Right):
  1. Oblast refers to a type of administrative division in Slavic countries and in some countries of the former Soviet Union. [It] ... is often translated as "area", "zone", "province", or "region".

  2. Krai or kray (Russian: край) is a term used to refer to seven of Russia's 86 federal subjects. The term is often translated as territory, province, or region.

    In Russia, krais were historically vast territories located along the periphery of the country. Currently, however, the usage of the term is mostly traditional as some oblasts also fit this description and there is no difference in legal status between the krais and the oblasts.

  3. Okrug is a term to denote a subnational entity in some Eastern European Slavic states. Etymologically, the word is a calque of the German word Bezirk ("district"). Both okrug and Bezirk refer to something literally "encircled".

  4. Main article: "Subdivisions of Russia"

    In the present-day Russian Federation, the term okrug is... translated as "district..." and is used to describe the following types of divisions:
    • Federal Districts (federalny okrug), such as the Siberian Federal District;
    • Autonomous okrugs (avtonomny okrug), such as Koryak Autonomous Okrug;
    • Komi-Permyak Okrug, a territory with special status within Perm Krai.

    Okrug is also used to describe the administrative divisions of the two "federal cities" in Russia:
    • the administrative okrugs of Moscow are an upper-level administrative division.
    • the municipal okrugs of St. Petersburg are a lower-level administrative division.

    Furthermore, the designation okrug denotes several... administrative divisions:
    • okrugs, such as okrugs of Samara Oblast.
    • rural okrugs (selsky okrug), such as the rural okrugs of Adygea.
    • rural territorial okrugs (selsky territorialny okrug), such as the rural territorial okrugs of Murmansk Oblast.
    • stanitsa okrugs (stanichny okrug), such as the stanitsa okrugs of Krasnodar Krai.

I think that explains why most introductory textbooks don't go into depth on this subject. Happy generalizing.

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