Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

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…

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Keeping rivals off the ballot

Here's an example of how to run a procedural democracy.

Aleksei Navalny, Viable Putin Rival, Is Barred From a Presidential Run
A Russian court on Wednesday effectively derailed a presidential run by Aleksei A. Navalny — the only opposition candidate with a broad, enthusiastic popular following — by reviving a four-year-old criminal conviction…

The best chance for a competitive race came to a screeching halt on Wednesday, however, when a district court in the small city of Kirov, nearly 500 miles northeast of Moscow, pronounced Mr. Navalny guilty of defrauding a state company. Russian law bars anyone with a criminal conviction from seeking elected office…

Since he first came to power in January 2000, Mr. Putin and his allies have gone to great lengths to silence or undermine all critical voices in Russia. It has been almost two years since the still-mysterious assassination of Boris Nemtsov, another charismatic opposition figure…

Russian television is largely back under government control, as it was during Soviet times, along with most formerly independent news agencies. More than 100 nongovernmental organizations working on issues including the environment, civic education and fighting the spread of AIDS have been declared “foreign agents,” forcing many to close.

Mr. Navalny was the driving force behind large street protests in 2011, 2012 and 2013 that unnerved Mr. Putin. He has also repeatedly embarrassed senior officials by accusing them of corruption, exposing their lavish mansions and other perquisites that seem beyond the reach of a public servant earning a modest government salary.

In recent years, Mr. Navalny became the prime example of how the government would use the courts to entangle critics. In addition to the conviction revived on Wednesday, he has been accused of defrauding a French perfume company…

Mr. Navalny, who called the Kirov fraud charges baseless and politically motivated, responded to the latest judgment against him with defiance. “Putin and his gang of thieves are afraid to face us in elections,” he wrote on Twitter. “Rightly so: We will win.”

Russian political analysts suggested that the prospect of Mr. Navalny’s gaining a national platform to further criticize Mr. Putin had proved too much for the Kremlin hierarchy to tolerate.

“The danger associated with Mr. Navalny is easy to explain,” Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, director of the Center for Postindustrial Studies in Moscow, wrote in an email. “If allowed to run, he will disseminate his corruption findings more widely than ever — and this disturbs very much Mr. Putin and his gang.”…

Even before the verdict was announced, the government moved to shut down the logistics for his presidential run. On Tuesday, Russia’s leading information technology company, Yandex, unplugged the online account that Mr. Navalny had used to collect money from supporters.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

China's plans for farming

This sounds as specific as some Executive Orders signed in Washington, D.C., but it does hint at the awareness of issues by the top leaders.

Economic Watch: Agricultural reform key to China's prosperity
China's first central document of 2017 promises to maintain the drive to resolve rural issues on the road to a moderately prosperous society by 2020.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council released a document on supply-side structural reform in the agriculture sector…

Rural areas should make greater strides toward a moderately well-off society by raising agricultural efficiency and farmers' incomes, and promoting green production, the document said…

Rice harvest
Building the kind of moderately prosperous society China's leaders envisage by 2020 means doubling 2010 GDP and residents' incomes, while lifting the whole population above the poverty line.

The urban-rural income gap continued to narrow last year, with per capita disposable income of rural residents rising 6.2 percent compared to only 5.6 percent among the urban population…

A better deal for farmers, along with ensuring food security, are central to the planned reform…

During the reform process, it is imperative that national grain security be guaranteed… Output dropped slightly in 2016, ending a 12-year rising streak, but still the second highest year on record…

A chain of innovation centers will be created, and clean production that uses less water will be promoted and polluted soil be rehabilitated…

Public private partnerships, subsidies and special rural development funds are just some of the ways the government will encourage investment…

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Local government in a unitary system

When a regime is described as unitary, the important feature is that there is only one sovereign center of power. But does that mean that the national government exercises all government power?

Well, we probably would find it unreasonable for the British Parliament to run garbage collection throughout the country.

Council (public) housing
The key is that Parliament delegates to local authorities certain powers. According to Wikipedia, there are 418 major local councils and a larger number of town councils. In cities, the councils serve thousands of people. In rural areas they perform services for communities of less than 2,500 people. One of the best known services is public housing (council housing). The town councils also do things like operating play grounds, providing public toilets, maintaining bridal paths, and cleaning war memorials.

As Parliament deals with public spending and deficits, the local councils face criticism for profligate spending.

Britain’s local councils face financial crisis
Britain is in the middle of a painful fiscal squeeze. Since 2010 the budget deficit has been reduced from 10% to 4% of GDP; by 2020 it is forecast to be almost eliminated. To achieve this, the government has slashed spending. Hardest hit has been the Department for Communities and Local Government, which provides councils with most of their funding. And so local authorities have been forced to embark on an epic economy drive. Their spending on public services will be 22% lower this year than in 2010… What do Britain’s cities look like after such a crash diet?

Councils’ biggest area of spending is adult social care, which makes up about a third of their budget… Liverpool’s spending on adult social-care has fallen from £222m in 2010 to £130m, even as an ageing population has increased demand…

Local authorities have come up with various ruses to save money. Several… are economising by collecting rubbish only every other week, for instance. Liverpool has shed 3,000 staff and handed some of its libraries over to community organisations to run…

There is little scope for councils to raise taxes. Although they disburse about a quarter of all government spending, they are responsible for raising less than 10% of taxes, making England one of Europe’s most centralised countries. But this is changing. In some places, things have become dire enough for local politicians to propose special referendums to increase council tax, a levy on property…

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

ScotExit The divisions in the UK remain and might be getting more serious.

Anger as Michael Fallon dismisses second referendum
Scottish nationalist politicians have reacted angrily after a senior British minister said the UK would not support a second independence referendum.

Fallon
In an interview with Scottish newspaper The Herald on Wednesday, Britain's Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said nationalists could "forget" about UK help for another vote.

Calls for a second referendum over Scottish independence have increased since Scotland, unlike England, voted to remain in the European Union by a margin of 62 percent to 38…

The SNP has made continued membership of the EU, particularly its single market, one of their flagship policies. Its leaders have threatened another independence vote to ensure that Scotland remains.

Fallon's comments drew angry rebukes from senior Scottish politicians, including Sturgeon…

"Not content with trying to drag us out of EU against our will, with the support of just one MP out of 59 in Scotland, they are now suggesting they might try to block the nation's right to choose a different path.

"Any Tory bid to block a referendum would be a democratic outrage, but would only succeed in boosting support for both a referendum and for independence itself" [a spokesperson for Sturgeon said].

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

in·ter·mit·tent

Pronunciation: \-ˈmi-tənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin intermittent-, intermittens, present participle of intermittere
Date: 1601
: coming and going at intervals : not continuous ; also : occasional
— in·ter·mit·tent·ly adverb
Source: Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Intermittent
Retrieved 15 May 2015



It's vacation time in the cold north. I'm escaping the cold for a few days and unlikely to add to this collection while I'm gone.

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Monday, February 06, 2017

Politics of illness

The president is out of the country for medical reasons. Will politics be more dangerous than disease?

Nigeria's President Buhari extends medical leave in UK
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the parliament to extend his medical leave in the UK, amid concerns that his health may be worse than officials are publicly saying…

An official statement said he had been advised by doctors to await the results of a series of tests…

Analysts say that Mr Buhari's extended absence could further erode confidence in his administration which is already under pressure due to a weak economy and the conflict with Boko Haram Islamist militants in the north-east of the country…

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Domestic politics become international

One interpretation of Iran's actions beyond its borders (in Syria, for example) and within its borders (this missile test) is that they are elements of the domestic political run up to this year's elections. Hardliners are flexing their muscles (military) to demonstrate their positions and power.

Iran: Missile tests not in violation of nuclear deal
Iran's missile tests do not involve rockets with nuclear warheads and are not part of a historic deal signed two years ago by world powers, according to the country's foreign minister…

Addressing reporters alongside his visiting French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Zarif said: "The missile issue is not part of the nuclear deal."

Reiterating Iran's traditional stance, Zarif said his country's missiles are "not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead"…

The reported test drew wide condemnation as many feared it could be in violation of a UN resolution adopted in 2015 prohibiting ballistic missile tests designed to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The resolution was part of the nuclear deal between Iran and the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany…

Speaking from Tehran, France's foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault voiced "concern" over the reported test…

He said the continued tests are "contrary to the spirit" of the Security Council resolution…

Meanwhile, Russia said the test by Iran does not contravene the UN resolution.

"Such actions, if they took place, do not breach the resolution," Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency, saying demands for UN talks were aimed at "heating up the situation".

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