Tag Archives: democracy

Venezuela and Democratic Authoritarianism

17918957_1462042380482674_517359125_n.jpg

By Victoria Noya, a Venezuelan 3rd year International Development student, currently studying abroad in East Asia.

On December 2015 many Venezuelans gained new hope and optimism for their country, as the Opposition party secured three fifths of seats at the National Assembly, the legislative branch of Venezuela’s government. This was arguably a democratic victory that countered the government’s long standing authoritarian behaviour. However, as many expected, that optimism was short-lived. The Supreme Court, which abides by every whim and fancy of the central government, would go on to prohibit the legislature from naming a handful of members of the electoral council. Nevertheless, since the Venezuelan government has been playing a hybrid regime of authoritarian action with democratic facade and discourse, it came as a huge surprise when on March 29th, under the pretence of the National Assembly’s “contempt”, the Supreme Court decided to usurp the National Assembly[1], ruling that all the National Assembly’s powers would go to the Supreme Court. This has been interpreted by many as a “self-inflicted coup d’état”[2], since what was once a political body that kept the authoritarian regime in check, would no longer continue to do so.

For about 15 years Venezuelans have been living under a de facto dictatorship. At least in the sense that all democratic activity is in some way either restricted or influenced by the government. For example, freedom of speech, a right that goes hand in hand with democracy. Although the government has never spoken against it, it just so happened that throughout the past 15 years, news agencies that are anti-Chavez have been bought up one by one, by entities with Chavista agendas. This type of corruption seeps into essentially every industry that Venezuela has left. Additionally, it is the vox populi that elections are rigged. The subtlety of the government’s totalitarianism was key to establishing Venezuela’s government as a hybrid regime, and it allowed the president and his party to legitimately remain in power. March 29th wouldn’t be the first time the Supreme Court had abused its power, but it would be the first time that their grasp for power was so blunt.

Since March 29th, many peaceful protests led by the opposition have  turned violent, an occurrence that for the past couple of years, is no longer unusual. The blunt decision sparked outrage, since Venezuelans have never actively, perhaps not even knowingly, supported the government’s authoritarianism. This is why the interpretation of “self-inflicted coup d’etat” isn’t quite accurate, it’s more like the government was being honest about what they are: an authoritarian dictatorship. Whether it be because of international or internal pressure, President Maduro later urged the Supreme Court to reverse their decision[3], which only means that the government is back to being dishonest, and that nothing is going to change in the future.

Before I go on, it is important to expand where Venezuela finds itself now. With the progression of Chavez’s presidency, so grew a new political ideology: Chavismo. This populist anti-US ideology gained much popularity among the lower classes, who were told that the government would support them and that their hardships were at the hand of the upper classes as well as US “imperialism”. This repeated discourse over more than 15 years created a social divide that had never existed before. The divide is exemplified in political elections, where Chavistas are extremely loyal to Chavez and his legacy, and society is divided by an intense hostility between die-hard Chavistas and Opposition followers. After Chavez’s death, his legacy remained. The government has targeted the passionate loyalty of Chavistas to ensure power, which means that even under Maduro, a widely unpopular president, Chavistas are unlikely to turn to the Opposition. Insanely high crime rates add to the heightened tensions and fear that has become part of Venezuelan’s daily life, to the point that all new cars being bought are bulletproof – that is, if there even are cars to sell and enough money to buy them, given that inflation is at 800%[4]. Venezuela’s chaotic wasteland of an economy depends on oil exports. The 2014 drop in oil prices had a drastic effect on the economy, but only because decades of high oil revenue with mass deprivatization and virtually no investment in industry or infrastructure, meant the country was not equipped to deal with a sudden drop in government revenue. Today, shortages and scarcity has become the norm in Venezuela: there is no food and no medicine, and prolonged water and electricity cuts are more likely than not. Protests are a regular occurrence, most often for food and medicine shortages, and most recently expressing their disappointment at the Supreme Court.

Given the state of Venezuela today, it is easy to see why the Supreme Court chose to solidify the government’s power. The government likely felt they were losing their grasp on the country due to the economic and social turmoil it faces. That being said, I fear that President Maduro’s demand that the Supreme Court reverse its decision means that any change in the social or political sphere of the country is very unlikely. Firstly, the Venezuelan people may interpret the National Assembly’s regained control as a victory, even though it is not. While the National Assembly was and is able to keep the central government in check to some extent, the Supreme Court and central government have always had more power and could play the National Assembly like a chessboard. Secondly, since it was President Maduro who publicly stated his disapproval of the Supreme Court’s actions, the “blame” is shifted from the central government to the Supreme Court, thus shedding the government in a false democratic light, and solidifying its popularity among voters. Furthermore, banning the leader of the Opposition[5], Henrique Capriles, from candidacy in the upcoming 2018 elections is the same behaviour displayed by the central government since the Opposition began gaining recognition, long before Chavez’s passing. It is with a heavy heart that I give a pessimistic prediction of Venezuela’s future, regardless of any external factor, the core problem is the central government’s reluctance to give up power no matter the cost to society.

Bibliography:

[1] The Economist, Venezuela leaps towards dictatorship, March 2017

[2] Luis Almagro, secretary-general of OAS, The Economist March 2017

[3] The Economist, The Venezuelan Government’s Abortive Power Grab, April 2017

[4] Reuters, CNBC, Venezuela 2016 inflation hits 800 percent, GDP shrinks 19 percent: Document, Jan 2017

[5] Ulmer and Ellsworth, Leading Venezuela Opposition figure barred from office 15 years, April 2017

PHOTO: JUAN BARRETO / AFP

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Romania finally making its first steps towards democracy?

Unbenannt

By Luca Patriniche, a first-year History undergraduate at King’s College London

The newly-appointed Social-Democratic (PSD, now in coalition with ALDE) government of Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency ordinance (OUG13), during the night of 31 January 2017, which alters the Romanian penal code and reduces penalties for abuses of power. The order stipulated more lenient punishments for corruption. There was also an amnesty for those convicted of certain corruption offenses, which amounts essentially to the legalization of corruption. PSD proposed further measures that would ban protests deemed to be of “extremist nature” and free from jail those serving sentences of up to five years for offenses including abuse of power. All these measures would be a clear breach of democratic principles – they bear an uncanny resemblance to the new measures passed secretively in the night by the illiberal Law & Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Similarly to PiS, PSD’s first line of defense to criticism is their pro-social measures to ‘help the poor’, that are ‘the will of the people’.

The main beneficiary of PSD’s ordinance would have been the PSD president Liviu Dragnea. PSD won parliamentary elections in December 2016 with 46% of the vote, but President Klaus Iohannis (of the National Liberal Party, or PNL)’s anti-corruption drive since 2014 bars those with convictions from public office, thus preventing a Dragnea premiership. Dragnea has a suspended two-year sentence for vote-rigging and is being prosecuted in a separate case for abuse of power. The proposed changes would likely be made with the intention of making Dragnea prime minister. The changes would pardon and shorten the sentences of those convicted of corruption, including of many PSD politicians, and allow future abuses of power.

For a week after 31 January 2017, there was every night (in temperatures often below minus 10 degrees Celsius) between 300,000 and 600,000 people protesting in Romania (population of 20 million), making them the biggest protests since the Revolution of December 1989 against Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The protests have continued, albeit in much smaller numbers, as protestors want to ensure the Grindeanu government does not try to introduce a watered-down version of the ordinance after the proposals were withdrawn and Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned. They call for the resignation of the entire Grindeanu cabinet. There were large protests outside Romania as well, in the Romanian diaspora of 4 million (compared to 20 million in Romania).

“Awaken, Romanian, from the deadly slumber into which the barbaric tyrants have sunk you!”[1] These opening lines of the Romanian national anthem, a song often sung at the protests for its message of liberty and patriotism, show the cynicism of the protestors and the mismatch between the reality of political, economic and social life in Romania and the optimism that followed the 1989 revolution. Corruption continues to pervade everyday life in Romania, and many are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the country’s trajectory in the past 28 years and its prospects, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries that are perceived to have transitioned more successfully since 1989. The protests are in favour of well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions.

Other popular slogans showed the same bitterness. Referring to the defensive way in which former Justice Minister Iordache avoided uncomfortable questions 24 times at a single press conference with “altă întrebare” (“another question”, in English), there were also cries of “altă întrebare, altu’ între bare” (“another question, another one behind bars”), calling for Iordache’s imprisonment. Protesters denounced the PSD as the “red plague” and declared that Ceaușescu was not, in fact, dead, but alive and simply disguised as Dragnea. References were also made to the 1990 ‘Golaniad’ protests against the transitional National Salvation Front (FSN) government of Ion Iliescu, during which the protestors often sang: “Better to be dead than a communist!” That 1990 protest called for the barring of former Communist Party (PCR) officials from public office; people have the grievance today that old members of the party, or those who formed advantageous connections pre-1989, are still privileged, or even that the style of governance today and lack of transparency and integrity resembles the old days.

Other popular slogans refer to the PSD’s late-night decree signings (“like thieves in the middle of the night”) or the anti-democratic nature of the decrees (“in a democracy, thieves stay in jail”) , but they all use the idea of this PSD government and many before them since 1989 having consistently stolen and blighted Romania’s chances to improve herself. Cynicism and bitterness reflect the national feeling about politics since 1989.

To understand this latest bout of anger at politics, one should consider the last year and a half in Romanian politics. The fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest in October 2015 killed 64 people. Already lax safety regulations were said to have been avoided by way of a bribe to the local council, thus helping the fire to spread. Corruption had killed. This sparked a wave of anti-government protest, eventually resulting in the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta (PSD), himself facing allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, plagiarism of his doctoral thesis, and of being involved in the suspicious ‘suicide’ of a prosecutor. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA), under Laura Kövesi, continued Iohannises anti-corruption drive with renewed strength, arresting many politicians. After one year of technocratic government, the December 2016 parliamentary elections returned the PSD to power. The fact that a new party, the urgently-named Save Romania Union (USR) came third, being led by Nicușor Dan (an academic turned activist) and Clotilde Armand (a French businesswoman turned activist), shows the dire situation in Romanian politics. PSD then proposed Sevil Shaiddeh for prime minister, which President Iohannis vetoed on the grounds of her inexperience and thus vulnerability to being exploited by Dragnea, as well as because of her husband’s previous role as a minister for tropical and subtropical fruit in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry from 1988 to 2010, the government of Assad. This sparked a minor constitutional crisis which ended with the eventual formation of the Grindeanu government in January 2017, whose actions have provoked the recent protests.

he above does not answer the question but is essential to understanding the nature of the protests and having an idea of how successful protest can be. The fact that hundreds of thousands, a sizeable chunk of the Romanian population, turned out to protest peacefully, often in bitterly cold weather, shows great determination. The fact that the government soon backed down on its proposals and that Iordache resigned shows that protest can have a significant impact on policy. This would appear to be the first step towards true democracy and rule of law. The effectiveness of protest in causing political change depends on local conditions such as the flexibility of rulers and the determination, co-ordination, and mobilization of protesters. In Romania’s case, these factors in 2017 were, at least at face value, very much in favour of the protesters. However, the victory for the protesters is provisional; there is a long battle for them to safeguard Romanian democracy.

Romanians’ resilience is commendable given 28 years of underwhelming political development and proposed political changes that are clearly anti-democratic, and which endangers much-needed attempts by Iohannis and the DNA to fight the corruption that is endemic and damaging to the Romanian economy and society.

The protests inspired civic creativity. Considering again the protest slogans, one can see they show bitterness, but they also show humour and creativity; a hint of positivity, in other words. They show a unique Romanian style of protest. The protest has been common in Romania since 2012. Protesters are therefore energetic, enthusiastic and organized. Volunteers provide protesters with food and tea and keep peace amongst the protesters, so as to avoid attracting police responses. The streets can thus act as the main guardians of democracy if the politicians are not so keen to protect it. The Romanian culture of protest since 2012 has tended to be less conflict-based than elsewhere and it makes use of modernity. The protesting becomes humorous – funny custom-made posters were used. A good example of this is a play on a Coca-Cola advert: “Enjoying Coca-Cola since 1886” became the sarcastic “Enjoying corruption since 1989”. Video projections of Romanian flags onto buildings and huge puppets, particularly of Dragnea in a prisoner’s uniform, have also been used. These show cynicism but also creativity and satire – protest is not about displaying anger, but it is satire instead. The protesters show passion but are good-natured and fun. “Distracție plăcută!” (“Have a good time!”) was often wished to those going to the protests. The protests’ humour and good-naturedness are advantageous because it makes the protests less obviously ideological and less antagonizing and more an occasion for unity against a clear problem of corruption.

Protesters have made good use of technology. It helps their cause as well as it has helped to gain significant international attention for these protests. Social media can be used to further deride incompetent politicians. Social media enables a leaderless, inclusive and fairly spontaneous movement. The protests have also echoed modern tastes; many slogans and signs resembled Facebook messages or tweets. #rezist has become synonymous for the 2017 protests. Iohannis’s election in 2014 was aided by many sharing a “keep calm and vote Iohannis” photo and by making him the most “liked” European politician on Facebook.

Romanian protests have also managed to unite those fed up with corruption and poor governance, providing unity across different socioeconomic groups. A Facebook video of an elderly Bucharest street cleaner went viral, as she was shouting passionately at the young protesters to rise up and to be brave Romanians and take back their country after the politicians stole it. A desire for the rule of law unites these people who previously might have been politically detached by disillusionment. They have consolidated their unity in the last few years since it has been more or less the same demographic that has been protesting at each wave. As these people tend to be young, there is an element of being different from mainstream society, often associated with the older generations and the poor, rural population, particularly as these groups are seen as voting PSD and seen as having been paid by PSD to stage counter-protests in PSD’s favour.

he humor, unity, creativity and modernity of the protests may well be able to cause real political change, but that would require a real grassroots anti-corruption movement, similar perhaps to Beppe Grillo in Italy. Despite the undeniable Romanian energy for protest, there is no such movement with the level of impact that Grillo has. There are further problems; the protesters were not united on certain issues, such as how to engage the police, after a few incidents of hooliganism. PSD remains dominant in Romanian politics also, despite all the bad press for it.

The DNA and Iohannis are spearheading the anti-corruption drive, but they are not innocent either. Iohannis risks politicizing the protests by declaring himself explicitly on the side of the protesters against the Grindeanu government, and the DNA’s quick prosecutions suggest it benefits from a privileged but questionable network of information-sharing.

A reform of public services and government institutions is needed for there to be a truly democratic political class. This would mean local authorities, national and state institutions need reform, like the army, police or postal service. Local and national authorities must be created such that they are compatible with a competent and honest Western EU state. This would mean cutting through the networks of influence, nepotism, and corruption that make up Romanian ‘godfather capitalism’, which combines several elements. First, there is the renewed influence of the Orthodox Church (Romania is currently building the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world in Bucharest), arguably primitive, unwanted and unnecessary. Second, there is almost exclusively non-violent corruption (bribery) and incompetence among untrained politicians. Third, the lack of training of politicians, exacerbated by a poorly-paid political class in a country where voters and politicians alike are not so much ideological as simply looking to make some extra money where possible, leads to incompetent, incoherent government. This puts the political class in conflict with the justice system, but collusion between the two sides blocks the transition to a truly democratic political class.

The minimum gross monthly salary in Romania is 1450 lei (about 235 euros); the average gross monthly salary is 3130 lei (about 685 euros). A deputy in the lower house of parliament has a starting monthly salary of 5400 lei (about 1180 euros), not including perks. Perks include a certain immunity from prosecution, which is useful when the justice system would otherwise pursue corrupt politicians. People are left with little money after their living costs, so find it difficult to save. Thus many voters are tempted by PSD promises of higher salaries and pensions. The politicians are better off, but still poor by European standards, and given their position of power, are likely to abuse it and try to make extra money where possible. This problem affects all. The only political ideology becomes to make extra money where possible. Politicians have frequently migrated across the political spectrum to different parties, including between PSD (centre-left) and PNL (centre-right). The result of prioritizing personal profit itself is the outcome of a lack of funding and incentives, leading to incompetent, incoherent and dishonest politicians and political parties.

This is added to the social problems that entrench the old power networks. The Romanian diaspora numbers almost 4 million. The younger generation is tempted to leave but the old and the poor (many of them PSD voters) remain and continue to vote PSD, which as the largest party, attracts the networks of corruption and dishonesty. The other parties are not necessarily less corrupt, but PSD enjoys an unhealthy political dominance. The inter-generational rift does not help. Furthermore, the quality of the education system, apart from a few good schools, is declining. Like other public services, quality is stagnant because of lack of funding and incompetence. As many jobs are in the public sector, Romania also has many individuals dependent on those in power, which only further entrenches dishonesty.

Protests are undeniably effective in Romania in bringing about the short-term change of policy and politicians. OUG13 was cancelled and Iordache resigned. That brought some relief from endemic corruption and satisfied citizens’ dissatisfaction with corrupt politicians. The magnitude and ingenious methods of the protests consolidate the street’s role as a visible and influential actor in politics and politicized many. International attention on Romania, partly a result of Romanians’ use of technology to make others abroad elsewhere aware of the situation, would certainly have pressured the government to act as it did. However, there are many rifts in Romanian society, as shown by the mostly old people who were at the pro-PSD counter-protests, having been told Iohannis would cut their pensions. Deep reform is needed to stem corruption and entrenched networks of elitism and dishonesty. The political system would have to become more coherent and honest as well. There are also the very tricky demographic problems to solve. The population is ageing and declining, and the young and skilled go abroad, so the result is that it is very difficult to put more funding into services like education. Political parties like USR offer hope of a more honest future, but there is still a long way to go before such parties become large enough to have influence. If the current young and educated generation keep to their ideals of honesty, then that is encouraging for the future. However, this should not disguise the fact that deep reform is needed. The protest was able to cause political change, but without deep reform, the post-1989 situation of stagnant political development may well continue, in other words, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.[2] A large grassroots political movement for honesty, of which these protests are a small first step, would surely be a step towards that. The protesters’ determination alone won’t bring true democracy, but one has to wait to see whether their determination can develop into a serious political movement to challenge the status quo.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Romanian National Anthem, Desteapta-te, Romane!, (lyrics by Andrei Muresanu)

[2] Daltrey, Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Direct Democracy in 2016: Digging our Own Graves

By Millie Radovic, 3rd year Anglo-Serbian student of BA International Relations at King’s College London and Chief Editor of International Relations Today.

 

direct-democracy-headline-from-the-leave-campaign

The infamous concept of the referendum has for decades been hailed as the epitome of democracy. After all, isn’t the ability to vote directly on an important issue yourself (as opposed to trusting your representative in office will) the most liberating of political situations to be in? Referenda are certainly a powerful campaign element in general elections: last year David Cameron achieved a Conservative majority in the UK parliament by promising the 2016 EU referendum, and this year Malcolm Turnbull won an election on the promise of holding a same-sex marriage plebiscite next year in Australia. So, electorates across the globe care about getting a say on major issues in their societies.

Yet, if 2016 is to go by, the information age does not seem to have produced enough socially and economically conscious voters. Referenda were held across the globe, and upon further research it is disappointing to see that most of them did not have very ‘democratic’ and empowering outcomes. The Foreign Policy magazine has conducted a poll on what the ‘worst referendum ever’ was in the history of modern direct democracy. Here is a list of notable referendums of this year alone, in order of just how terrible they were:



9. Senegalese Referendum on Constitutional Reform – YES

senegal-referendum

Let’s start off with a good one: citizens of Senegal have used their right to vote to actually democratise their country. Despite only a 38% turnout, the voters have by a 68% majority elected to:

  • Allow independents to run for the presidential post
  • Reaffirm the limit to two presidential terms.
  • Recognise in the constitution the status of the opposition leader and grant him official benefits
  • Give more power to local councils

In terms of outcomes of referendums this year, Senegal’s has had objectively the best.

Dear Senegal, congratulations and can you send ‘the West’ some tips on how we can hack this whole direct vote thing?



8. Colombian referendum on the FARC peace deal – NO

colombia-referendum


Meanwhile, heavily criticised by some, the Colombians have voted ‘No’ to their government’s landmark deal with the
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo. “No peace without justice” has been the slogan of the ‘No’ campaign, as they rejected the peace deal by arguing that FARC members must be subjected to detention for the crimes they have committed since the creation of the organisation. Ironically enough, days after the vote the Colombian president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the deal. Talk about a bittersweet moment there. Nevertheless, despite the controversies around it the Colombians can be said to have had the 2nd best referendum this year – congratulations to their voters for using their democratic rights to pursue their ideals and well-being.


7. The Swiss Referendum on Compulsory Income  – NO

Meanwhile the Swiss voted ‘No’ to introducing compulsory basic incomes for all adults of £1755. This initiative backed by over 100,000 signatures reflects the high cost of living in Switzerland, but was not backed by a single political party. It’s interesting to note in this particular case that in Switzerland popular initiatives and referenda are the usual way of decision making there, unlike in other countries on this list. On one hand, this referendum is the first of its kind and so would by any economically left-leaning voter be considered a big step forward, yet its outright rejection also arguably reflects the overall political attitudes in the country and as such stands are number 7.


6. Liechtenstein Family Allowances Act Referendum – NO

Meanwhile, another tax haven, Liechtenstein voted overwhelmingly against the proposed Family Allowance Act. 82% of those voting elected to reject making paid 20 months maternity leave compulsory for companies. The referendum highlights a key issue of the 21st century, how responsible should corporations be for their workers? Well, according to this small nation, not so responsible as to grant arguably immeasurably important opportunities for their female workers to raise their children without a second income or significant financial savings.

5. Dutch Referendum on the Ukraine Economic Deal – NO

 

dutch-referendum

Over in the Netherlands, the Dutch campaigners against tightening relations with Ukraine achieved a particular feat as they managed to ‘win’ the referendum despite only a 32% turnout. Those that did turn up to vote did so overwhelmingly against the Ukraine-European Union Treaty on closer political and economic ties. Many newspapers wrote about how this reflects the growing sentiment of Euroscepticism within the Netherlands, but does the low turnout not just reflect growing disinterest instead? In any case, the right wing Eurosceptic populists managed once again to emerge as victors this year. Fingers crossed that it does not indicate what the right wing politician Geert Wilders called “the beginning of the end”.


4. Thailand Constitutional Referendum – YES

thai-bombing

Over in South East Asia, just before the violence every traveller in the tourist haven would have heard about, the Thais voted to tighten military rule. With just over a 50% turnout, the Thais accepted a military-backed constitution that even stipulates that an unelected leader may take the post of prime minister ‘in the event of a political crisis’. Now here for once, we cannot simply blame ‘the people’ – though they were the ones to vote. No, here  a weak government manipulated by the military that held a referendum to bully people into voting to in many ways disenfranchise themselves should be blamed.


3. The United Kingdom’s EU Membership Referendum – YES

brexit-referendum

Only number 3? Yes, only number 3. Indeed there may not be a soul on the old continent that is not aware of what will mark the year of 2016 as the Brexit year. But, as catastrophic and sad it is that the United Kingdom has voted in to leave the European Union, no, it is not the worst thing to happen this year. It’s not even the worst thing to have happened in June. At least our tourists will benefit from our plummeting exchange rate (currently $1.25 to the pound).


2. Hungarian Referendum on EU Migrant Quotas – NO (invalid)

hungary-fence

It might seem wrong to put the Hungarian vote on quotas ahead of Brexit by some as it was after all invalid. But the fact that as many as 95% of those that turned up to vote rejected an EU quota on how many refugees they ought to take is striking. It reflects the sheer amount of xenophobia dominant within this EU member state, and the current political mood. For the sake of context, the proposed EU quota would have added 1,924 refugees to a population of 9.8 million. The turnout, luckily was too low for this referendum to be deemed valid. If anything, the failure of the referendum to attract voters shows that there are safe checks within the system to prevent radical minorities of enacting major changes, and hence shows limits to what populism can do through direct democracy right now. In any case, this suggests two things: firstly, that obviously not enough Hungarian citizens currently considered the referendum important enough to vote in it (they’re ‘on the fence’ dare I say), and secondly, that those who did reflect a worrying growing anti-Brussels sentiment across the whole of Europe.


1. Tajikistan Constitutional Referendum – YES

Lastly, the Tajik vote to eliminate presidential term limits definitely makes it to number one this year. Indeed, this former Soviet republic has been an authoritarian state since its inception. But quite literally voting to not vote again (at least not until President Emomali Rahmon passes away or gives up his post) may only be likened to the Weimar Republic Reichstag’s vote in 1933 to effectively abolish itself and begin Hitler’s dictatorship as chancellor. Now the question begs, can we blame Russia for this too?

tajik-referendum

And so there you have it, 2016 in referenda – whilst opinions may differ in terms of how they rank comparatively, there is certainly consensus that they often paint a grim picture of the average voter that gets a say in politics through them. That grim picture is one of a disengaged, socially ‘unconscious’ or even self-contradictory ‘average Joe’. One that either contradicts himself by effectively voting against peace and voting to not vote again, or votes against helping those in need, or even worse does not vote at all. Now does this reflect the use and value of referenda? Arguably, no. What it does reflect is the state of our society as a whole, as it should. A society dominated by, despite the many incredibly positive forces of globalization, fundamental social, economic, and political inequality. Inequality which is leading to growing cleavages, where ‘every man for himself’ translates into exercising voting rights not on moral consciousness, but your own personal needs.  

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

KCL reacts to Brexit

Compiled by your IR Today editorial team.

brexit___dr_meddy

51.9% Remain, 48.1% Leave. With a 72.2% turnout, Britain indeed has voted. 17, 410, 742 people ticked the ‘leave’ box, and without a doubt we all woke up in a different world yesterday. There are few politicians yet to make a statement and their thoughts clear on this, but here’s what the students from the War Studies department here at King’s have had to say on Britain’s decision to leave the European Union:
“As a non-EU national, the EU referendum does not affect me nor my government as much, except for the 10% drop in the exchange rate that made me quite happy for awhile. In short, my feelings towards the referendum is quite neutral. The only way it has directly affected me is that my boyfriend decided to put in £30 on Ladbrokes convinced that Britain would remain in the EU. Needless to say, there goes his savings for the next week. It was the only way we could have actively participated in the referendum as foreigners. Regardless, I’m confident that the UK would bounce back from the unexpected outcome. Surely, with two years to prepare, they would draft a deal with the EU in regards to its already existing trade, and they will never dismiss the EU completely. Personally, I can only hope that by UK leaving the EU, there will be less discrimination when it comes to nationality in the job market, thus maybe a more equal opportunity for non-EU migrants. At the end of the day, we must admit that both the Remain and Leave campaigns had extremely valid points. So instead of finding fault with others, the only way is to move forward and work towards what either side collectively hope for Britain.”

  • Gustika Jusuf-Hatta, 2nd year War Studies

 

“The division of the UK along the lines of big cities, Scotland, Northern Ireland, young people – towns, villages, the elderly, England and Wales is worrying. This vote both sharply highlighted it and potentially enhanced it. Sometimes it’s not easy to reconcile two neighbours that disagree and it will be very hard to bridge the gap between the age groups, regions, and other strata. This has little to do with the fact that the UK voted to leave, it would be the same in the case of a narrow Remain win. The question is: can the next PM be a unifying figure?”

  • Adam Holub, 3rd year International Relations

 

“When the UK votes leave and your life plan changes…”

  • Julia Nicolli, 3rd year International Relations

 

“I am incredulous. Revolting result.”

  • Tulio Konstantinovitch, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Looks like I’ll have to get married soon …”

  • Ilina Trendafilova, 3rd year International Relations

 

“I am disappointed, sad and worried that the UK voted to leave the EU. I may not be British, and I’m not quite sure of the consequences it will have for me as a Swiss, but I truly care about this country…about its culture, history and language that has been shaping my life since I am six years old. My British teachers and British friends whom I have learnt and interacted with so much. I do not believe this was the best way forward for the UK. However, I am sure that everyone who voted in this referendum either to Leave or Stay, despite disagreeing with most of people’s motives to Leave, voted believing this was the best option for their country. It is comforting to see how many friends were opposed to todays result but it pains me to see the UK so divided. 
Throughout the campaign there has been lies, there has been false information and lack of it too. That is what angers me most of all. But the decision has been made and I now just hope something good will come out of this in the end. Good luck UK, good luck EU…I hope this works out for both somehow”

  • Alexia Keller, 3rd year International Relations

 

“I love my country. While I am horrified by the results, I hope we can make the most of what’s going to happen. I want us to be successful. I want our friends in Europe to be successful. I hope the United Kingdom stays together. I hope our economy and international standing remains strong. I hope for the best. Good luck Great Britain.”

  • Ash Lawton Dharmasingham, 3rd year War Studies

 

“I didn’t stay up last night to follow the referendum. And I didn’t think much because I was too sure that Remain would win. So when I woke up it pretty much hit me just as hard as it probably hit the leaders of the EU. I wonder if they were sleeping as well and woke up like this..? This morning however I can’t stop thinking that this outcome to Leave is not simply a tragedy for the EU. Rather, it is, in my mind, equally a Wake Up Call to a continent that is struggling ever since the financial crisis of 2008. It’s existence lately has been marred by the Union’s constant attempts to survive one self-imposed crisis after the next, be it the austerity measures ripping apart Greece and other southern-located countries, the conflict with Russia, a refugee crisis, the seemingly unstoppable rise of far-right and far-left anti-EU parties, and others to name a few. Exacerbated by internal divisions that have been caused by the absence of a firm political or economic ideology, Europe in it’s current state is too weak to effectively combat internal threats to it’s existence. Perhaps Europe needed this. Perhaps Brexit will finally notify the EU of absolutely necessary political and economic change that it needs to survive. It previously survived close calls with opponents of it’s unifying vision, such as the slim defeat of the far-right candidate in Austria. Such a close call was not enough however for Britain. The EU must stop believing that it’s ideals and calls for unity are self-sufficient in restraining it’s opponents, because they are evidently not. It must deliver on it’s political and economic promises once again, or some other force will replace it swiftly. It seems like I wasn’t the only one sleeping through this referendum. The EU and it’s leaders did as well. Their failure can’t be projected any clearer, yet it is also provides our EU with the opportunity to change. Perhaps, this is the last opportunity they’ll have. (Also Cameron resigned so that’s interesting)”

  • Stanislav Skryabin, 2nd year International Relations 

 

“”The ship of democracy, that has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those on board.” -Grover Cleveland

Bigoted pensioners set a paradigm shift in determining a future Britain’s youth clearly does not want. Fear trumped logic.Well done Britain… Well done”

  • Ghenwa Minawi, 3rd year International Relations

 

“In actual disbelief right now.”

  • Edward Clear, 3rd year International Relations

 

“’They’ have done nothing. We, Great Britain, have voted to leave the European Union. We cannot dismiss this shift as a consequence solely of ignorance. Very quickly we must come to recognise that those who voted leave did so for a magnitude of reasons. This is not a result on migration nor one that does anything more than express the desire not to be ruled by a particular institution.

It is right now where being united matters. The challenges created are obstacles individual in their own right. Shedding the divisions of the campaign, we must now consider who leads us and where they lead us; demanding certainty without the sacrifice of sanity.

Very quickly the remain side must look above the rhetoric of their own campaign. There will be no war and the world will not end. Yet the economy will crumble faster, our policies on immigration will shift without our realising and our place on the world stage will be compromised; unless we remain united. Unless we understand that the issues we wake up to today are very different from the ideas we voted on yesterday- issues that require fresh thinking and renewed solidarity.”

  • Harry Johnson, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Few hours into ‪#‎Brexit‬ and Britain already lost monetary value, a Prime Minister, and its common sense to not give into the far right and populism. (Also note that as a European I can’t wait to go back to a country where about half the population just wants me to pack up and leave – what a time to be alive)”

  • Roberta Maggi, 3rd year International Relations

 

“I am gutted. I know many of you will be as well. Last night represented a massive change in the history of our country and one which is irreversible. I now speak directly to my age group, the 18-24 year olds amongst you. Votes like this can be crushing. When so many of our age group (estimated at 75%) voted for remain I know how devastating it can be to feel that we, those who must live with the ramifications of this vote for the longest, have been drowned out by the Euroscepticism of older generations. I know there will be a massive urge to protest, an urge to scream, an urge to say our voices have not been heard. And I understand that. But we are not helpless. We can still shape our future. We do not have to live in Little England. We can belong in a truly GREAT Britain.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the EU has never been perfect. EU internal protectionism has severely hampered the development of emerging economies, especially those in Africa, stopping the growth that these countries desperately need. Let us use this new position to be a beacon for hope and liberty. Let us use our newfound ‘independence’ to champion free trade, helping these emerging economies elevate themselves. Let us open our borders and our hearts, creating a real multicultural society that is fit for purpose in the globalized world. Finally, let us create a United Kingdom, rather than a divided one, and work together to make the best of this situation. “

  • Sam Wyatt, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Britain’s exit from the European Union has confirmed our worst fear: the gradual disintegration of the European project. Rather than dwell on today’s defeat, Brussels must look to the future, responding to current member-states’ concerns and devising strategies for the integration of EU hopefuls like Georgia and Ukraine. Adapting the EU won’t mean abandoning foundational values—instead, the EU will have to make a genuine effort to mitigate insecurity and placate Eurosceptic elements.”

  • Lincoln Pigman, 2nd year War Studies

 

“When the country you choose to live in, study and consume stabs you in the back… This is a sad sad day for Europe and even a worse one for Britain. ‪#‎Brexit‬

  • Jeanne Reimar, 2nd year International Relations

 

“Didn’t need an alarm clock this morning – I woke up to the sound of freedom.”

  • Ryan Austin, graduating in BA International Relations this summer.

 

“I am not upset, I am disappointed. This is unprecedented and what is even more alarming is that is due to the fact that the public is massively misinformed! Good luck, Britain, you will need it…God Save The Queen.. Literally.”

  • Joanna Kolev, 2nd year International Relations

 

“The British people have voted in the most democratic way possible. Some got what they wanted, some did not. However, democracy does not change its definition based upon what we believe being achieved or not. What matters now is that we move forward, no accusations of racism or cowardice from both sides should be said. That’s what it means to be a liberal Western Nation, to spit in the face of it and the actors involved smacks of totalitarianism.”

  • Will Reynolds, 2nd year War Studies

 

“Britain is that one dickhead that ruins everyone’s night by getting way too shitfaced and leaving the club early.”

  • Nikolai Berger, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Good luck out there, Britain.”

  • Ville Majamaa, graduating in BA International Relations this summer

 

“Congratulations Britain! You just played right into Putin’s hands, paving the way for realizing all of his hopes and dreams…who is next?”

  • Yoanna Boncheva, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Woah. Nativism wins, and the UK is out. Watch out France, Italy, and America, 2016-17 could be a very frightening year. Today’s a sad day.”

  • Jackson Webster, graduating in BA International Relations this summer

 

“UK, what have you done… This is going to have sad and grave consequences for the whole of Europe and most importantly for a whole generation of young Europeans… It’s a sad day for Europe, one which sets it back by decades, away from cooperation and back into isolationism…”

  • Kate Žejdlová, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Heartbroken at the result but we are Great Britain and we just have to keep going forward and getting greater. At the end of the day we live in a democracy and the right express our choice is key to our country and values. If this is what Britain wants then we cannot argue against it”

  • Shalini Chatterjee, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Brexit is basically England fatally embarassing itself at the global dinner table by getting drunk, being racist, walking out and then waking up the next morning with a massive hangover wondering what the fuck they did last night…”

  • Sam Forsythe, 3rd year War Studies and Philosophy

“It is too soon to decide what the implications will be, but it appears Britain has decided to leave. Although ironically this vote will mean positive things for my personal self-interest, I believe in the greater scheme of things it means negative things for my adopted country. I am saddened by the news, but hopeful that GREAT Britain will not allow it to irreversibly harm the economy or discourse on creating an open society. God save the queen, God save us all.”

  • Derek Eggleston, 2nd Year International Relations

 

“Sweden next please!”

  • Sofia Svensson, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Fuck off old people. Why is it that people over the age of 65 have an equal say as young people when they are gonna die soon. This is some serious BS ‪#‎novotesforover65s‬

  • Mark Connor, 3rd year International Relations

 

“Britain wtf.”

  • Agathe Destruhaut, 3rd year International Relations
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The incredible battle of Aung San Suu Kyi – transforming Myanmar from Military junta to a democracy

Sam Wyatt is a second-year student at King’s College London reading BA International Relations. He is also the East Asia and Pacific Editor International Relations Today.

It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

The news this week that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy have won majorities in both the upper and the lower house can be seen as a fantastic leap forward in Myanmar’s liberalization process (that started after the opposition boycotted the 2010 election). It can also be seen, and indeed must be seen, as the ultimate reward for Aung San Suu Kyi (henceforth Daw Suu), who since 1988 when her mother died has given her life towards the quest for democracy. The following article will explain the political ups and downs of this incredible woman, showing the personal toll she has had to bear because of the love of her country.

Born in 1945, Daw Suu was struck with tragedy from an early age when in 1947 her father Aung San, who had negotiated Burmese independence from the British and founded the Burmese army was assassinated by political rivals. Indeed this tragedy played a big part in Daw Suu’s quest for a free and fair Burma, longing for a world where political rivals could co-exist.

Between 1960 and 1988 Daw Suu actually spent very little time in Burma, instead residing in India, the USA and the UK where she worked for the UN and the India institutes once she’d completed her degree from Oxford University. However, influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and more specifically by Buddhist concepts, Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics in Burma to work for democratization, and helped found the National League for Democracy on 27 September 1988, quickly gaining attention from major officials who put her under house arrest on 20th July 1989. Offered freedom if she left the country, she refused showing the extent to which she cared about democracy. All the fervor Daw Suu created led to one of the most scandalous elections of all time. Having not held an election in over 30 years, the military junta decided to call an election, believing that a decisive victory would nip this hunt for democracy in the bud. However, the result was not anticipated. In fact, the NLD won a staggering 59% of the votes and 80% of the seats. Obviously the junta did not want to give up power and consequently the results were nullified and Daw Suu was put under house arrest again, where she would remain for 15 of the next 21 years. Indeed this house arrest had a very personal toll, when her husband, Michael Aris, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1997 and she could not visit him in the UK for fear of being excommunicated and banned from coming back to Myanmar.

Daw Suu’s eventual release from House arrest in 2010 came 6 days after a widely criticized election, which the opposition boycotted as they saw it as an unfair election. However, when by-elections were held in April 2012, to fill seats vacated by politicians who had taken government posts, she and her party contested seats, despite reservations. “Some are a little bit too optimistic about the situation,” she said in an interview before the vote. “We are cautiously optimistic. We are at the beginning of a road.”

She and the NLD won 43 of the 45 seats contested, in an emphatic statement of support. Weeks later, Ms Suu Kyi took the oath in parliament and became the leader of the opposition. And the following May, she embarked on a visit outside Myanmar for the first time in 24 years, in a sign of apparent confidence that its new leaders would allow her to return.

All this has led up to the historic moment this week where the military rule have accepted the results saying they have lost by a significant margin. We do not know what the future holds for Daw Suu, especially as a constitutional clause means she cannot become president (her sons hold British passports giving her ‘allegiance to a foreign power’) but we do know that she has played a big role in creating a more open and democratic Myanmar.

Tagged , , , ,