Monthly Archives: November 2017

Corruption, Poverty & Elitism: Mugabe’s Legacy in Zimbabwe

By Andrei Popoviciu, a 3rd year International Relations student in the War Studies department at KCL. Because of his strong interest in journalism, he is editor in chief of IR Today and runs a weekly podcast called IR Unedited on KCL Radio.

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ROBERT MUGABE BY JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

On November 14th, 2017 Zimbabwean military troops drove tanks into the capital city, Harare. They patrolled the streets, blocked access to government buildings and took over the state television station to insist that “this is not a military takeover.” But it clearly was. Troops invaded the presidential palace and put the president, Robert Mugabe, in custody. The military assured everyone that the president is safe and secure together with his family. The African Union (AU) chief said the political crisis in Zimbabwe “seems like a coup”, while calling on the military to restore constitutional order. Today, on the 21st of November, Mugabe resigned after being ousted from the party but not without a fight. However, in all this political turmoil and fight over influence, the people of Zimbabwe have been forgotten.

 

After a military coup, it is common to assume that the next step is a transfer of power.  However, it is very clear that this was no revolution. It is rather a fight between the country’s elites. Zimbabwe is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and what we’re seeing is a fight to keep it that way. Once praised as a war hero and a Marxist guerrilla, Robert Mugabe helped Zimbabwe gain independence from Britain in 1980. He became president under Zimbabwe’s new constitution with the wide support of the people. But soon he digressed into a repressive dictator, securing his power through aggression and threats. Reports by the New York Times[2], the Economist[3] and the Guardian[4] show Mugabe sponsoring torture and killing his political opposition.

 

Within a generation, Mr. Mugabe has turned an entire country upside down. Now that Mugabe is 93 years old (the oldest head of state in the world) and in poor health, the fight for political influence is more intense than ever. The scramble for political influence and for office reached its peak. Consequently, this has caused a split in Mugabe’s own party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

 

On one side, we have the old guard led by Mugabe’s former VP – Emmerson Mnangagwa. Like Mugabe, he fought for Zimbabwe’s independence and has a past that include human rights abuses against political opponents and ethnic minorities. As an old friend to Mugabe and VP since 2014, Mnangagwa was the apparent heir for many years due to the strong support from ZANU-PF and the military. But all that changed on November 6th when Mugabe’s government said that Mnangagwa had exhibited traits of disloyalty and fired him.[5]

 

Picture2PHILIMON BULAWAYO/REUTERS

The reason for firing his VP stems from Mugabe’s wish to assign someone else as head of state. Grace Mugabe was the obvious choice for him. Hence, his support for his wife taking his place after he dies was not hidden. She has recently risen in power within the party, but remains extremely unpopular nation-wide due to her luxurious ways of life and extravagant shopping habits, earning her the nickname “Gucci Grace”.  Nonetheless, her involvement and wish to take over the vice presidency (and later the presidency) together with Mnangagwa being fired, might have been the trigger of the coup that ended Mugabe’s 37 year reign.

 

The military has sided with Mnangagwa as the next leader, and on November 15th they took control of the capital under the curtain of a “guardian coup” in the alleged interest of the people and the country. Zimbabwe’s military says it has seized power to target “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, who it is said is “safe and sound” in custody. However, their interests seem to be more self-motivated: they want to secure their own power. They have control over lucrative farming, mining operations and access to foreign currency. To keep this power, they need a united ZANU PF who faces elections scheduled in 2018.  Thus, on the 19th of November, they ousted Mugabe as the party leader and gave Mnangagwa the position. As the new party leader, he now had the full support of the party together with the support of the military. On the same day, under the pressure of an impeachment ultimatum, Mugabe delivered a lengthy and long-awaited speech, with the expectation that he would announce his resignation. Living up to his persistent reputation, he failed to do so while shocking everyone of how determined he is to hold the grip of Zimbabwe.

 

All changed on the 21st of November after lawmakers began impeaching proceedings against him. Mugabe, a man who once said that “only God will remove me” – resigned as the president of Zimbabwe on the same day. Statesmen and lawmakers have erupted into cheers together with the people in the streets. The political rival of ZANU PF, Movement for Democratic Change, seconded the motion for impeachment and showed how there was a striking sign of the consensus in the political class that Mr. Mugabe had to go.

 

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However, something is missing from all of this. The people of Zimbabwe. Whoever ends up in charge, Mnangagwa, the military, or Grace Mugabe, corruption will continue. All these actors want to keep the status quo, but for the general population, the status quo is a society of unequal opportunity and poverty. These power imbalances and the elitism of the country have kept back the economic and social development of Zimbabwe. Seizing power and control over the political apparatus seems to have been the key thing Mugabe and the political class have focused on since gaining independence.

 

During Mugabe’s 37 years of leadership, massive corruption was common place. There have been repeated allegation of Mugabe and his cabinet embezzling money from diamond and mining industries.[6] He is known for his aggressive hand in supressing opposition and the violent crackdowns he led together with the country’s Fifth Brigade when he was believed to have killed up to 20,000 people, mostly opposition supporters. He was accused of rigging elections and squashing any whim of political opposition while even winning the state-owned lottery in 2000.[7]

 

Moreover, Zimbabwe’s flourishing economy began to disintegrate after a program of land seizures from white farmers, and agricultural output plummeted and inflation soared. Transparency International estimated that Zimbabwe loses a billion dollars a year to corruption.[8] All this while Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered.[9] Almost a quarter of Zimbabweans are currently in need of food assistance and 72% live in poverty.[10] At one point in 2008 inflation hit the rate of 231,000,000% and GDP growth has been stagnant according to the World Bank in 2017.[11] This has made Zimbabwe one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, a problem it shares with much of the region. Hence, why low levels of economic growth and high levels of poverty are common conditions in African states that have experienced military coups.

 

South African state media reported that “it has reliably learnt that Zimbabwe is likely to have a transitional government”.[12] Also, international and regional response show leaders trying to stabilise the crisis through diplomatic assistance.  South African Defense and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo arrived in Zimbabwe for discussions with authorities, according to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.[13] UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutters has appealed for “calm, nonviolence and restraint,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement to CNN.[14]

 

What is uncertain in the near future is Zimbabwe’s political leadership. What is not is that Zimbabwe’s elites are fighting over their own interests while the people are forgotten.

 

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-42004816

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/world/africa/16zimbabwe.html

[3] http://www.economist.com/node/2797085

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/28/record-levels-of-assault-abduction-and-torture-reported-in-zimbabwe

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/world/africa/zimbabwe-mugabe-mnangagwa.html

[6] http://www.thezimbabwean.co/2016/05/robert-mugabes-corruption-1980-2014/

[7] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/621895.stm

[8]https://www.transparency.org/whatwedo/answer/zimbabwe_overview_of_corruption_and_anti_corruption

[9] https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/02/economist-explains-20

[10] http://www1.wfp.org/countries/zimbabwe

[11] https://data.worldbank.org/country/zimbabwe

[12] https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/02/economist-explains-20

[13] http://www.thezimbabwean.co/2017/11/live-zuma-sending-minister-defence-minister-state-security-zimbabwe/

[14] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/16/africa/zimbabwe-unrest/

 

 

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Could the Veneto and Lombardy referendums determine a stronger north-south division in Italy after the decisive vote?

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A poster with instructions about Lombardy’s autonomy referendum is seen at a polling station in Lozza near Varese, northern Italy, October 22, 2017.

By Chiara Valenti, a 3rd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London. 

Abstract:

Throughout its 150 years of unification, Italy has suffered from a north-south divide based on an array of socio-economic shortcomings between regions. Regionalist parties in Italy have adopted this disparity to fuel their political agenda and back political claims. The most recent of European regionalist events has sourced from this issue, as the Lega Nord – Italy’s North-based regionalist party – called for a referendum in two of Italy’s most prosperous regions asking the respective populations if they wanted their regional representatives to move for greater regional autonomy. This request has fallen under criticism for different reasons, but a main concern is if the consequent vote will deepen the existing divide within Italy. This article will first examine the motivations for the referendums and their critiques; then analyse the Lega Nord’s political project and offer critiques; then examine the reasons for the economic divide between the North and South of Italy; and finally, conclude by arguing that the results of these referendums will not be what deepens this chasm between North and South but the rhetoric from which they stem and Italy’s inability to profit from the South’s undervalued resources.

Introduction:

On October 22, 2017, the latest of regionalist events in Europe took place, as the political party known as Lega Nord (Northern League) held referendums in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto requesting greater regional autonomy. Such autonomy would give the regions more control over their finances and administration. It is worth noting that unlike the Catalonian referendum, this referendum was legal as the Italian Constitution allows it. Nonetheless, the party’s move was brought under fire by a variety of criticisms. Firstly, the plebiscites costed 55 million euros, a cost that is essentially unnecessary as the Italian constitution gives each region the ability to expand their powers via dialogue with the central government without public vote. This process has recently been undertaken by the Emilia-Romagna region. Lega Nord’s Luca Zaia and Roberto Maroni, the party’s leaders for the Veneto and Lombardy regions respectively, claim that their attempts at dialogue with Rome have been ignored despite proof that says otherwise. Secondly, the call for the public vote is an evident attempt to bolster support for Lega Nord before the upcoming March 2018 elections, as greater autonomy has been a long-standing promise of the party. Finally, the party’s rhetoric behind the incentives for greater autonomy are a representation of the greater socio-economic chasms between the North and South of Italy that have plagued the country since its unification 150 years ago.

Lombardy makes up 20% of the country’s GDP with Milan as its economic capital, while Veneto makes up another 10% of the GDP as the main exporter of Prosecco[1].  Zaia and Maroni argue that in addition to their taxes, they each send 50 billion euros more than what they get in return in public spending because of their regions’ economic prosperity.[2] Consequently, the Lega Nord argues that as a result of bureaucracy and a biased central government the South reaps the benefits of the North’s hard work. The party claims that by achieving greater regional autonomy they would have greater economic freedom, in addition to more control over immigration, education systems, and industries within the region. Accordingly, the referendums were held to send a message to Rome that the people of the Lombardy and Veneto regions are determined to gain more autonomy. The result, 95% of voters who cast ballots, 57% being in Veneto and 39% in Lombardy, opted to vote “yes” to more autonomy, according to officials in both regions.[3] This result is not surprising as these regions have always been major supporters of the Lega Nord’s anti-South rhetoric and motion to detach from Italy to different extents. However, to understand whether or not, and why, these referendums could determine an even stronger north-south division in Italy, it is necessary to examine the reasons for this divide and the ways in which the Lega Nord has used and exacerbated these chasms.

The Lega Nord’s political project:

Lega Nord is one of the many regionalist political parties in Italy, and its demands for greater regional autonomy are part of a wider trend amongst regional parties across Europe. Lega Nord does differ from other forms of European regionalism, such as those in Catalonia, in that the party’s political project is not based in an area with historic claims to nationhood. Rather, the party has opted to invent an ethnicity for the North of Italy, based on the rejection of the concept of the Italian nation-state called Padania. Padania, the Latin term for the basin of the River Po, has never existed geographically or historically, but the Lega Nord has attempted to construct it so to justify its political claims for the protection of the region’s economic interests. The party has been successful in creating this ‘ethnicity’ by exploiting the issues faced by citizens of northern Italy, through interpreting and adapting their concerns to its own political project. Lega Nord’s argument is that the South of Italy is the bearer of all wrong within Italian politics and society, and Italy’s central government is corrupt, wasteful, bureaucratic, and biased towards the South.[4] This strong anti-Southern discourse is the main element within Lega Nord’s political agenda, and it is what allows it to create a socio-cultural identity for the North by using the South as the ‘other’ to fear.

Many of the claims the party makes in regards to the South are misleading and inaccurate stereotypes, but the party’s ability to reproduce such anti-South sentiment in the North is the reason for its growth.  One of the party’s main arguments throughout its existence, and one of the main push factors for the referendum, are the economic differences between the North and the South which the party ascribes to the alleged contrasts in culture and mentality, claiming that the north has a superior value system and culture than the lazy and egoistic South. “Although this clearly misses the real and full explanation for the socio-economic differences between the North and South of Italy, it is a powerful discourse for the party and one which is seen as a correct interpretation by a good deal of supporters and activists of the party.”[5] From these inaccurate identity depictions, Lega Nord has argued that the South maintains its languor as it reaps the benefits of the North’s high-producing economy, explaining the demand for greater regional autonomy to better reap the benefits of their economy alone. In othering the South the Lega Nord has managed to articulate a socio-cultural identity for the North. It has utilised racist ideology, based on cultural rather than biological differentialism, and accompanied it with a racist subtext through which negatively evaluated characteristics are attributed to the ‘other’.[6]

 

The origins of the North-South divide:

This chasm between the North and South of Italy has been a long-standing feature of the Italian nation-state from its creation. It developed after unification in 1861, and stemmed from the South’s inability to match the industrial progress of the north. However, it is an inability that is linked to a broader, national development failure rather than the inferior value system and culture tied to the South by the Lega Nord. After Italian unification the main factor that separated the North and South of the country was the process of industrialization. While the North was able to industrialize because of its natural endowments that attracted factories, the South did not. This is because Italy began industrializing through the second wave of industrialization instead of the first. Had the state developed the technological know-how correctly, Italian development would have been faster and more contemporary, as it would have depended on human resources, with proper training across the territory, leading to a more balanced development between North and South.

As the industrial divide became more and more evident in the post-WWII era the Italian government made massive policy interventions in favour of the Mezzogiorno, the South, through what was called the Cassa del Mezzogiorno. This policy’s goal was to promote economic development in the South through the creation of infrastructure via funding from the more prosperous Northern regions. However, this policy did not create the conditions for autonomous development. Rather, supporting capital-intensive activities instead of promoting tourism for example, in an area so abundant in labour as the South of Italy, turned out to be short-sighted—a mistake probably attributable to the economic milieu of the time. These mistakes became evident during the 1970s crisis, which involved the collapse of a large part of the new heavy industries in the South. Once the top-down strategy failed Italy lacked a new or consistent approach, and instead regional policy was redirected towards unproductive expenditures, in such a way that it probably even favoured the enforcement of organized crime and the decline of social capital.”[7] Nevertheless, the South was crucial to the economic development in the North, as it was the South of Italy which served the dual purpose of providing an extensive market for products produced in the North as well as a source of relatively cheap and skilled labour. Therefore, the economic development of the North of Italy was facilitated by its links to the South, a truth that the Lega Nord does not acknowledge in its political rhetoric.

Conclusion:

Thus, when asking whether the results alone of these referendums will determine a stronger north-south division within Italy it is evident the answer is no. This is because these referendums, although symbolic, hold no true political weight as it is up to Rome to make the final decision. Moreover, greater regional autonomy would not translate to an absolute secession from the nation-state as political and economic collaboration with the South would still be required to certain extents. However, it is the long-standing, racist, and inaccurate rhetoric behind Lega Nord’s reasoning for the referendums that is deepening the divide. This same rhetoric is what leads to an underestimation of the economic potential of the South in terms of agriculture and tourism alone. An underestimation that is based on a population’s ignorance of their territory’s potential, an ignorance which is then exploited by regionalist parties like the Lega Nord. The issue has always been the same – economic disparity between the North and South of Italy. Thus, the solution would be to reign in the South’s economic potential and make use of it, stripping the Lega Nord of its imperative discourse of how the North’s successful economies should not be used to fund poorer areas in the south of Italy.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Giuffrida, Angela. “Italian regions go to the polls in Europe’s latest referendums on autonomy.” The Guardian. October 20, 2017. Accessed November 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/italian-regions-go-to-the-polls-in-europes-latest-referendums-on-autonomy.

[2] IBID

[3] Masters, James, and Valentina Di Donato. “Two Italian regions vote overwhelmingly for greater autonomy.” CNN. October 23, 2017. Accessed November 2017. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/21/europe/italy-lombardy-veneto-vote/index.html.

[4] Giordano, Benito. “A Place Called Padania?” European Urban and Regional Studies6, no. 3 (1999): 215-30. doi:10.1177/096977649900600303.

[5] Giordano, Benito. “Italian regionalism or ‘Padanian’ nationalism — the political project of the Lega Nord in Italian politics.” Political Geography19, no. 4 (2000): 445-71. doi:10.1016/s0962-6298(99)00088-8.

[6] Bull, Anna Cento, and Mark Gilbert. “The Lega Nord and the Politics of Secession in Italy.” 2001. doi:10.1057/9781403919984, p. 174

[7] Fenoaltea, Stefano. “I due fallimenti della storia economica: il periodo post-unitario.” RIVISTA DI POLITICA ECONOMICA, March & april 2007, 341-58.

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Catalonia: “Chronicle of a Coup Foretold

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By Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro, a first year History and International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London, and author of the diplomatic history book “Limitando el Poder, 1871-1939: Historia de la Diplomacia Occidental”

The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters. The world was shocked on October 1st: many people were because the images of police charges against voters in Catalonia; Spain was because of the disloyal and rebellious course that a democratic institution, the Generalitat of Catalonia, had chosen to follow, stepping outside of any legal parameters.  The independence referendum held by the Catalonian regional government has been the greatest challenge to Spanish constitutionalism since the failed military coup of February 1981: held without any guarantees or electoral census, the referendum wasn’t an expression of democracy but of disloyalty and treachery. The referendum, and the later proclamation of independence in Catalonia, was the sad finale of coup d’état organised by democratic leaders.   Yet this coup, disguised with democratic principles, goes far beyond October 1st: for over a month, democratic boundaries and freedoms were defiled by the regional government and those loyal to it. For over a month, those who claimed to be crusading for democracy, outraged the freedom and the liberties of the citizens of Spain and Catalonia: this is the chronicle of their coup foretold.

The origins of the coup Catalonia is the region with the largest self-government prerogatives in Europe: the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the Statutes of Catalan Autonomy (1979 and 2006) give the Generalitat (Government) powers over Education, Treasury, Taxation, Commerce, Tourism, Health, Agriculture, Police…; these offices are held by the consellers (councillors or regional ministers).  The financial crisis of 2008 hit Spain badly, causing economic and social hardship. Catalonia, the second richest region in the country, also suffered greatly. In a policy of inter-territorial solidarity, Catalans felt their money was being increasingly taxed by the central government and used to support poorer regions of Spain: this was the genesis of the myth of “España nos roba” (Spain steals from us), created by the right-wing nationalistic president, Artur Mas, who was trying to cover up the precarious economic situation and several corruption scandals within his party (CiU). Thus, the sentiment of independentism started to mushroom once again in Catalonia: Mas’ government pledged to call for a referendum of independence with which to break from Spain. The Spanish Constitution provides with legal parameters and procedures to do so was any region to desire its independence: Catalans didn’t proceed by these legal parameters and several times denied debating their project in the Chamber of Deputies.  In 2016 the pro-independence coalition Junts Pel Sí won the autonomic elections and, thanks to the parliamentary support of the anti-capitalist party CUP, managed to form a government in Catalonia although Carles Puigdemont, and not Mas, was now in charge. His government started developing an anti-constitutional policy seeking a unilateral declaration of independence in October 2017, after a referendum was held. Amidst the growing tension between Barcelona and Madrid, Puigdemont refused to negotiate with the central government: his unilateral and illegal referendum was the immovable condition for any prior negotiation with Madrid.   Spanish government couldn’t accept.

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The Parliament of Catalonia after the Autonomic Elections of 2016: Junts Pel Sí had 62 deputies but needed CUP’s support to achieve absolute majority (68). Grey= Junts pel Sí (pro-independence); Yellow = CUP (pro-independence, anti-Capitalist); Blue = PPC (Conservative); Red= PSC (Socialist); Orange= Ciutadans (Centre); Purple=Podem (Extreme Left) (Wikipedia – Parlament de Catalunya, 28/3/2016)

The coup: the laws of Referendum and Political Transience

In early September 2017, Puigdemont and his parliamentary group began their coup, which was to culminate in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence of late October. Using their majority in the Regional Parliament and their control over the Chamber’s presidency (held by Carme Forcadell, member of Junts Pel Sí), Puigdemont started bypassing all of his constitutional obligations: the Parliament’s agenda was subsequently and suddenly changed to the convenience of Junts Pel Sí without informing any of the other parties in the Chamber, on-going commissions regarding Health, Education or other topics were suspended, and government refused to undergo the control of the Chamber – something it is obliged to do weekly. No longer would President Puigdemont answer the questions of the Opposition or intervene in Parliament, always under the aegis of loyal Forcadell. In the meantime, Puigdemont’s government allied with the pro-independence associations (Catalan National Assembly, of which Forcadell was a member, and Omnium Cultural), beginning to use coercive measures to promote independentism among Catalans – the leaders of these associations are currently imprisoned, charged with the crimes of sedition and intimidation.  The coup’s machinery began on September 6th, when Mrs Forcadell altered the Parliament’s agenda without informing the Opposition’s deputies: Parliament’s organisms, monopolised by Junts Pel Sí members, approved Forcadell’s petition to change the agenda and vote two laws proposed by the government: the law calling for a referendum on October 1st and the Law of Political Transience, which would proclaim a republic and open a constituent process after the referendum.

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The deputies of the Opposition leave the chamber in protest for the illegal modification of the parliamentary agenda. The laws were voted without the Opposition present in the Chamber (El País (6/9/2017) picture by Massimiliano Minocri)

After 40 years of dictatorship, in which the entrance to the Parliament of Catalonia had been walled, Junts Pel Sí had once again expelled democracy from the Chamber. Forcadell went through with the vote; the Opposition’s claims weren’t taken into consideration nor were the Chamber’s letrados (high lawyers) allowed to speak against the presidency’s illegal acts. Parliament’s Regulation was broken; Junts Pel Sí celebrated with a loud applause, claiming to be one step closer to freedom from oppressive and non-democratic Spain.  The following days, the Spanish Constitutional Court declared both laws illegal and outside constitutional parameters.

The referendum and beyond: Article 155

Despite the Constitutional Court’s verdict, Puigdemont and his allies continued to organise an illegal referendum using public funds.  On October 1st, the referendum was hold without any guarantees or electoral census. Having already been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court, judges ordered National Police officers and Civil Guards to seize the ballot boxes and close the polling stations illegally opened for the referendum. Many mayors of Catalan towns denounced having been threatened to open polling stations in their municipalities. In the meantime, Catalan autonomic police (under Puidgemont’s control) hindered National Police officers’ actions and refused to abide judicial orders: their captain, Major Trapero, ordered them to do so, under pressure from Puigdemont’s government.

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The pro-independence associations Puigdemont had been closely working with encouraged violent resistance against police forces. Amidst the chaos, many people took the opportunity to vote several occasions in different polling stations; later that day, the Catalonian government stated that means had been in place to avoid this situation and totally denied it. Once again, the referendum was declared illegal by high judicial organisms. Only Puigdemont and his allies recognised the result. King Philip VI addressed his people on October 3rd and delegitimised the referendum. No country or international institution recognised the results nor Puigdemont’s Declaration of Independence on October 27th. Supported by the Constitution, Mariano Rajoy’s government, after giving Puigdemont several opportunities of coming back to legality, implemented Article 155 which, with the support of the Senate, gave the government full powers to restore legality in a rebellious region. On October 27th, a few hours after the Declaration, Rajoy dismissed Puigdemont and his councillors, taking over the autonomic government and calling an Autonomic Election on December 21st.

The international community supported Rajoy and his government. Soon after their destitution, Puigdemont and four councillors fled to Belgium; the Vice-president and the remaining members of government were imprisoned, accused of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement. Puigdemont’s departure to Belgium accelerated the process by which Justice Lamela ordered the arrest of other government members, fearing they could also flee.  The political turmoil unleashed by Puigdemont has had catastrophic effects on Catalonia: not only has the economy suffered from the exodus of over 1000 firms since mid-September, but the society has been morally fractured between those for independence and those against it. In the midst of the crisis, the Catalan economy is growing at a slower rate and the whole of Spain’s economic recovery process has been endangered. Puigdemont had several occasions of withdrawing from his claim and calling and Autonomic election before Article 155 was implemented, yet he rejected these options and fled leaving his colleagues behind. Was this the president supposed to bring prosperity and international recognition to the Catalan Republic?  Spain has proved to be a strong democracy in which the rule of law is invincible. Puigdemont’s adventure was born cloven and without any possibility of success. The members of his government now await a firm judicial verdict which could sentence them to thirty years in prison, and he is under an international order of arrest.  Illegality after illegality, defiance after defiance, Puigdemont has pledged the greatest challenge to Spanish democracy since Tejero’s military coup in 1981. But, just like him, Puigdemont has failed to break Spanish democracy and its national sovereignty. What he though was a crusade against the oppressive Spanish state turned out to be a chimera: Spanish democracy remains strong and firm against anything which can endanger the rights and liberties of the Spanish people.

 

 

 

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What does ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ mean for China and the world?

xi

By Coline Traverson,  a second-year undergraduate student in War Studies interested in environmental security, human rights and international politics.

If you had tried to contact anyone in China from abroad last week, you might have realised that it was close to impossible due to a heightened Internet censorship. Surprisingly, this is not a worrying trend due to the increase in communications’ surveillance which is perhaps a regular occurrence. Every five years in October, the Chinese Internet goes on lockdown, highlighting the sensitivity of what is without a doubt the most important event in Chinese politics – the National Party Congress (NPC). Over this crucial week, the 2268 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s legislative assembly convene in Beijing to elect the new top leaders of the party, among which is the General Secretary. Though the Congress is the formalisation of decisions taken behind closed doors by the party’s leadership than the expression of the people’s will, the outcome is shaped by a set of informal norms that guarantee a smooth transfer of power. However, this year’s NPC, 19th of the sort, marks a rupture in the history of the CCP as Xi Jinping, renewed General Secretary for 5 years, seems determined to break the conventions.

 A National Party Congress that feels like a coronation

Decision-making at the top of the party has 3 characteristics: it stems from a ‘collective leadership’, it is made through consensus of the top leaders, and the top leaders are each specialised in a policy area. This collective leadership is what makes China an ‘inner-party democracy’ – ever since the beginning of the CCP, decisions for the country have been made by a small group of party officials and never by a single leader (except for the more authoritarian periods of Mao’s leadership). In today’s China, the top officials and decision-makers are the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

 The Standing Committee is elected every five years during the National Party Congress, whose delegates represent China’s 31 provincial-level party administrations, alongside the Politburo, the Central Military Commission (CMC), the Central Committee, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the General Secretary. Though it is a bottom-up organisation in theory, it is very much the opposite in practice, the General Secretary being assured to govern for at least 2 mandates (10 years) and choosing the members of the Standing Committee for his 2nd mandate so as to place potential successors in his trusted circle of ‘co-leaders’. This process is totally informal – Chinese politics are currently going through an institutionalisation of all these rules – but it has nonetheless given us a way to interpret and predict Chinese elections in the past.

 Thus, in the midst of all these unwritten conventions, we have to keep in mind a few primordial rules: the General Secretary stays on for 2 mandates; the retirement age for party’s officials is 68; officials are promoted according to their seniority; and during his 2nd mandate, the General Secretary will promote two relatively young officials to the Standing Committee, giving them increasing responsibilities so as to train them to the succession.

Using this reading grid, what happened during this year’s National Party Congress?

 The Standing Committee for Xi’s first mandate was constituted by General Secretary Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and five other members among whom was Wang Qishan, Xi’s key ally in the government’s anti-corruption purge. Many suspected that Xi, 64, would keep Wang, 69, to break the retirement rule and open the possibility to run for a 3rd mandate in 2022 despite his own age – however, Wang Qishan was indeed forced to retire. Xi and his Premier are the only ones remaining on the committee, the 5 new members having been promoted according to their seniority, as they should be, and representing both Xi’s faction and Xi’s ‘opposition’ (the Communist Youth League, more liberal). However, they are all from the 5th generation of party officials born in the 50s – upholding the succession tradition would have required the promotion of a duo from the 6th generation to the committee. Among the new members, only 3 of them would be young enough to become General Secretary in 2022, but they would not be able to stay on for 2 mandates. Neither Hu Chunhua or Chen Min’er, serious candidates to succeed Xi, were promoted.

Then, the question of 2022’s elections is open: will Xi Jinping stay for a 3rd mandate at the top of the party, thus breaking the retirement rule, while leaving the Presidency (limited to 2 mandates) to another man? Since Tiananmen’s protests in 1989, the General Secretary also occupies the positions of President (top of the government) and Chairman of the CMC (top of the military); Xi could then decide to keep one of the positions while nominating one of his allies as President, the Presidency being subordinated to the party’s Secretary anyway.

However, the most notable and significant particularity of this year’s NPC is the definition of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ in the party’s charter. As trivial as it might sound from a Western perspective, the fact that his ideas are added with his name has just made Xi the most powerful party leader since Mao Zedong: though most leaders have contributed to the party’s charters with their ideas, Mao and Deng were the only two leaders so far whose thoughts had been embedded in the constitution with their names– and Deng Xiaoping Theory was added after his death. Xi Jinping Thought is not just words on paper: as the new dogma of the Communist party, it is now to be taught in Chinese universities, while ‘study groups’ are being organised in the country to spread the news of this ‘New Era’.[1]

 Xi Jinping Thought shines through his 5 years’ exercise of power

What is Socialism with Chinese Characteristics?

‘We must keep on strengthening the party’s ability to lead politically, to guide through theory, to organise the people, and to inspire society, thus ensuring that the party’s great vitality and strong ability are forever maintained.’[2]

 Among the 14 elements that constitute the Thought, the supremacy of the CCP over every aspect of Chinese society and politics is primordial – a major change from Deng Thought that advocated for a greater separation between the party and the state. During his first term, Xi’s belief in the one-party rule motivated him to strengthen the party’s administration, notably by reactivating 77,000 weak party branches in villages, schools and small communities across China.[3] Strict rules concerning NGOs, religious practices and Internet were enforced, leading to the detainment of human rights lawyers and activists. He also launched an aggressive anti-corruption campaign to purge the party, instil discipline and loyalty in the ranks, and inspire respect from the population. This strengthening in control will be pursued and extended during his second term, notably with the creation of a National Supervision Commission, a state anti-graft body that will be coupled to the party’s infamous anti-graft institution, the CCDI.

 ‘China’s economy has been transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.’ 2,

 Faced with social and economic challenges that resulted in an ‘unbalanced and inadequate development’, China’s poverty rates have gone down but the wealth gap has widened in the recent years. Xi Jinping is faced with two objectives for his economic policy: the ‘first centennial goal’ is to build a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2021, the ‘second centennial goal’ is to become a ‘fully developed nation’ by 2049. Xi seems to be on track to realise the first centennial goal, but according to Louis Kuijs from Oxford Economics, his preference for politics over economics has been detrimental to the efficiency of the system (a very Chinese problem).[4] The General Secretary has thus renewed his commitment to fighting inequality in China; however, the path that Xi will use to achieve this objective is still unclear as he seems committed to both continue to open up the Chinese economy to foreign companies while increasing government’s intervention.

 ‘Openness brings progress for ourselves, seclusions leaves one behind. China will not close its doors to the world, we will only become more and more open.’ 2

 Finally, as a major turn from Deng’s foreign policy, the Xi Jinping Thought stresses the fact that China should become an active actor and leader in international affairs. Xi had already distinguished himself with an aggressive policy concerning the territorial disputes China entertains with most of its neighbors while restructuring the military. The importance given to the military is highlighted by 11th point of Xi’s Thought, which proclaims the ‘absolute leadership’ of the CCP over the PLA – also, at this year’s NPC, an impressive 90% of the military delegates will be first-time delegates, the largest turnover of the military elite in the history of the party.[5] However, a specificity of this year’s Politburo points to Xi’s preference for diplomacy rather than military coercion: for the first time since 2003, a diplomat, Yang Jiechi, head of China’s foreign policy establishment, has been promoted to the Politburo. Commenting on this leadership shuffle, Ma Zhengang, a former Chinese ambassador to Britain, stated that ‘we are seeing an unprecedented transition of China’s role, which will not be confined to domestic interests but demonstrate more interest in having a greater say on global issues.’[6] The One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative that should facilitate trade between the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Africa which costs an estimated $26 trillion -, the country’s first foreign military base in Djibouti and the strong Chinese commitment to the Paris’ climate agreement are all examples of Xi’s strategy to weigh more in international affairs through soft power, development aids and the definition of a global ‘common destiny’.

 What implications for China and the World?

 The CCP’s Third Era is likely to make China a – if not The – superpower, directly competing with the U.S. for hegemony. In domestic affairs, ‘China Dream’ is a nationalist appeal to restore the country’s greatness and will be achieved at the cost of less tolerance for diverging views. Xi has renewed his belief in the strength of the one-party rule that is a real asset on the international scene as it portrays a certain form of political stability. To be expected: an increase in the repression of the civil society and in censorship while the grip of the party tightens over every aspect of Chineses’ lives, as well as a continuation of the anti-graft purges and a concentration of powers on Core Leader Xi Jinping.[7] The way the government succeeds in handling the demographic and economic transition will also be decisive for the country.

 In international affairs, China has grand ambitions as explained in ‘China and its superpower diplomacy’, a documentary screened in every school of the country last September under the direct order of the CCP.[8] As China does not benefit from the same aura the US does with its American way of life, its soft power relies primarily on innovation, the promotion of a South-South cooperation and development aids. Xi Jinping has massively increased investments in technology during his first term, and the number of Chinese tech unicorns (start-ups valued at more than $1 billion) has gone from 10 three years ago to more than 50 today. 3 On its way to become the world’s leader in futuristic technology, the country also seems to have understood, unlike President Trump’s climate change deniers, that environmental responsibility is likely to become a powerful lever of influence in the international community, especially in regards to developing countries in South East-Asia who are directly suffering from climate change. Xi’s intentions in that regard were clear as he announced in 2015 that he would establish an RMB 20 billion South-South Climate Cooperation Fund.[9] Though China’s record on the matter is not bright, the health issues resulting from the over-pollution has led to protests from the population and the need to work for ‘energy conservation and environmental protection’ constituted the 9th point of Xi’s Thought.

 Still pursuing its South-South cooperation strategy, China’s dedication to foreign aid has been growing quickly ever since the beginning of the century, averaging a growth of 29.4% from 2004 to 2009.[10] According to AidData, Beijing has spent a total of $354.3 billion in 140 countries between 2000 to 2014 against $394.6 billion for the US, the world’s biggest contributor. China’s foreign policy is very different from the American one in that regard: when Official Development Assistance (ODA), constituted of concessional loans and intended for welfare, accounts for more than 90% of the US foreign aid budget, it only represents about 20% of the Chinese funding. The remaining China’s finance is constituted of Other Official Flows (OOF) which are non-concessional loans primarily intended for commercial purposes.[11] China’s foreign policy is therefore based on reciprocity – the aids provided go largely to infrastructure and transport building so as to secure trading partners and energy supplies. Another big difference is that, unlike the Americans, the Chinese government does not distribute aids on governance criteria, upholding its non-interference policy: 13 out of the 20 top borrowers from China ranked ‘bad’ on the World Bank’s indicator for rule of law.[12]

 OBOR, the ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative described by Xi as a contemporary Silk Road, is the very embodiment of the new Chinese leadership’s conception of active international initiative. It would consist of a huge infrastructure network from the Asia-Pacific to Western Europe and Africa. In theory, the project could concern 65% of the world’s population and three-quarters of global energy resources.[13] Facilitating China’s trade with the rest of the world, it would also contribute to the development of regions with a very heavy infrastructure deficit, thus placing China as the world’s major provider of economic development assistance. Still blurry as Beijing invites anyone who wishes to hop on, the plans of itineraries, pictured on the map below, show the extent of Xi’s ambition.

 Unb

However, though China’s South East-Asian neighbours will be direct beneficiaries from this initiative, the project also appears as threatening to most of them as it overlaps on disputed areas in the Chinese Sea and feeds suspicions over China’s real motives.

 Indeed, Asian countries have faced an increasingly emboldened China ever since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, especially when it comes to territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Though territorial disputes in that area are nothing new, the country has become particularly aggressive in its foreign policy and has multiplied provocative military actions in the region such as this July when Chinese warships circumnavigated Japan, its long-time rival.[1] Recent Reuters images show China building surface-to-air missile launcher facilities on the disputed Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam. The country also had its tensest 72-days-stand-off with India this year because of another territorial dispute with Bhutan (India’s ally) over the Doklam Plateau, at the tri junction point between China, Bhutan and India. While Indian and Chinese troops were jostling for control over this highly strategic location, Chinese officials showed a high level of aggressiveness and confidence in their statements, barely hiding the threat behind them as they reminded India to ‘not push [its] luck and cling to any fantasies’.[2]

 In that tense context, the adoption of Xi Jinping Thought as the party’s dogma comes as a confirmation of regional fears: the ‘Chinese dream’, defined as a ‘national rejuvenation’ by the President, is a direct appeal to the Chinese Imperial tradition in a contemporary setting. We can expect from Xi Jinping second-term a large emphasis put on the PLA, which is now under absolute control of the CCP. The army will surely be reduced to focus on professionalism and skills, China’s adventurism in the South China Sea will continue as OBOR infrastructures secure energy supply routes and the number of foreign military bases like the one in Djibouti is likely to increase, under the guise of humanitarian efforts. In reaction, alliances are forming to try and counter China’s regional hegemony: the announcement on October 30th of Japan’s $9 billion aid to Philippine President Duterte, who will chair the upcoming ASEAN meetings in November, is not a coincidence. As Japan feels threatened and thinks about amending the pacifist Article 9 of its Constitution, the way China and the US deals with North Korea will be decisive in the power struggle that is East-Asian politics.

 Bibliography

[1] Howard French, ‘China’s Dangerous Game’, The Atlantic, November 2014

[2] Wu Qian, statement on August 4th 2017

[1] Tom Philips, ‘Xi Jinping Thought to be taught in China’s universities’, South China Morning Post, October 27th 2017

[2] ‘The road ahead for China – in Xi Jinping’s words’, South China Morning Post, October 18th 2017

[3] Viola Zhou, Sidney Leng, ‘What has Xi Jinping achieved in his first years as China’s leader ?’, South China Morning Post, October 17th 2017

[4] ‘Being Xi Jinping : the difficult art of juggling growth and control after China’s Communist Party congress’, South China Morning Post, October 10th 2017

[5] Cheng Li, ‘Forecasting China’s largest ever turnover of military elite at the 19th Party Congress’, Brookings, September 18th 2017

[6] Shi Jiangtao, ‘It’s a good day for China’s diplomats as foreign policy chief lands seat on Politburo’, South China Morning Post, October 25th 2017

[7] Nectar Gan, ‘Xi Jinping Thought – the Communist Party’s tighter grip on China in 16 characters’, South China Morning Post, October 25th 2017

[8] Alain Frachon, ‘La Chine redevient une superpuissance globale’, Le Monde, October 21st 2017

[9] Shrey Das, ‘Climate Change and China’s Mission’, Modern Diplomacy, October 10th 2017

[10] ‘China’s Foreign Aid’, UNICEF, 2011

[11] ‘China’s Global Development Footprint’, AidData, 2017

[12] Nyshka Chandran, ‘5 charts that show how China is spending billions in foreign aid’, CNBC, October 13th 2017

[13] Charlie Campbell, ‘China Says It’s Building The New Silk Road’, TIME, May 12th 2017

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