For one week anti-government protests have been taking place in Thailand. Demonstrators, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, former Deputy Prime Minister, seek to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of power. She is the sister of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by the military in 2006 under accusations of corruption. Now, mobilizations began because the PM attempted to pass a law that would allow her brother, currently in self-imposed exile in Dubai, to return to Thailand without facing any kind of trial. The lower chamber of Parliament initially approved the legislation, but the Senate rejected it; in spite of this, people continued in the streets. Thaugsuban accuses the PM of being nothing more than a puppet of her brother, and that with their corruption the siblings have made a lot of damage to the country, for which it is imperative that they leave.
Notwithstanding perceptions of corruption, the Shinawatra siblings have maintained support in Thailand. Thaksin was elected by a landslide in 2001, and re-elected five years later. During his second term he faced serious challenges, including judicial corruption accusations and assassination attempts. It has been suggested that behind this opposition to Thaksin and his ousting in 2006 was the economic elite of the country, who despise what they call his populist policies of, for example, maintaining a very high (yet expensive, inefficient, and export-damaging) rice subsidy. At the same time, he was the source of controversy for allegedly allowing the use of death squads in the fight against drug trafficking and for failing to neutralize a small insurgency in the south of the country. A large portion of anti-government protests in 2010 demanded Thaksin’s return from exile to Thailand and that he resumed his political career. In such occasion, the government decided to use the force against the protestors, causing many injuries and deaths. This fueled support for Thaksin’s sister Yingluck electoral campaign, who became Prime Minister in 2011.
Yingluck has insisted she will not yield to protests. Now, demonstrators demand anticipated elections. She has refused saying the country is in such a state of upheaval that there are no conditions to go to the polls. And, possibly learning the lessons from 2006 and 2010, she has refused to use the force: as they sacked her brother out of power, the military could not have a firm commitment to defend her either, and using the security forces could only bring about more violence and opposition against her. Furthermore, in an interview Yingluck spoke of defending Thai democracy, mentioning institutions should prevail over force. She might or might not believe this, but this statement suggests she is aware that Thais support democracy and are not willing to stand corruption, abuses of security forces, or the imposition of a ruler by some sort of mediator. For the time being, caution has been her strategy.
In spite of the opposition she generates, the most valuable asset of Yingluck, in fact, could be her expressed defense of democracy. Although the accusations of corruption against her and her brother cannot be simply dismissed, she cleanly won the election in 2011, accepted the defeat in the Senate of the law granting amnesty to her brother, and has not made any evident move to damage the media that sides with the protestors. In contrast, the protests leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, has spoken the idea that a non-elected council should appoint the immediate successor of Shinawatra, and has made it clear that he is willing to go as far as it is necessary to fight the Shinawatra corruption. It is unclear what his role would be in such a non-elected council neither on the successor government (for each case: would he help to pick its members?, would he be a member?). Anyhow, he seems to be much more risk prone than the PM.
Protestors want Shinawatra out. But it is not clear what they want instead, neither that the process of Yingluck leaving power would be very democratic. Furthermore, the siblings receive support from some sectors of the population, mainly the most impoverished. Yet mobilizations are becoming increasingly violent, up to the point that today there was their first fatal victim. Ousting rulers does not necessarily contribute to maintain or to strengthen democracy: they are very disruptive events, extra-institutional, and their outcome is very uncertain. Instead, enhancing accountability mechanisms, which was in part what originated protests this time, helps to improve the institutional environment for a democracy. Reforms keeping this in mind could contribute to calm down the current instability in Thailand.
Today, the winner of the second multiparty elections in the Maldives (an archipelago to the west of India, with a population of about 330,000 people, overwhelmingly Islamic), Abdulla Yameen, will be sworn as President. For some students of transitions from authoritarian regimes, the second electoral process is central in assessing the progress of the democratization process. If a turnover of the party in power takes places, or if not, if the contest is qualified as free and fair, then it is acknowledged that opposition is allowed to have a voice in the public discourse and that there are spaces open for contestation. Under this light, it can be thought that democratization is advancing in the Maldives. However, although not necessarily dismissing such statement, a revision of the weeks leading to Yameen’s election illustrate the need to pay attention not only to the outcome of the election, but the circumstances in which it was carried out.
After thirty years of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s rule, President Mohamed Nasheed was elected in 2008. In the midst of protests from the police and the military in reaction to his attempt to have the top criminal judge arrested under charges of being bought off by Gayoom, he left power in 2012 in a situation he called a coup. Mohamed Waheed, the Vice President, took over the government. Following the expected calendar, elections were called for in September 07, 2013. His popularity remained high, as surveys projected Nasheed as the winner of the election. He got 45% of the vote, and in second place with 25% of the tally came Abdula Yameen, half brother of former dictator Gayoom and who would eventually be elected. As no one received the absolute majority of the vote, the electoral law provided for a runoff between the two top contenders.
It was then that the electoral struggle began in the Maldives. After complaints of irregularities pressed by the third place in the race, businessman Gasim Ibrahim (namely that votes had been casted on behalf of dead people or ineligible voters; observers did not share this view), the Supreme Court first suspended the runoff and then annulled the results of the original election. So, the contest was rescheduled for October 19. However, on the eve of this fresh exercise, it was cancelled: just one of the candidates, Ibrahim, complied with the requisite of all participants approving the electoral registry. Notably, it was the police that prevented electoral material from being distributed. Hence, a third attempt to carry out the election was planned for November 9.
In the meantime, President Waheed was receiving major criticism for his handling of the situation. Himself a candidate, he was forced to step down from the race. At the same time, he expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the election set for October 19. In the end, he reacted to the mounting pressure and stopped pursuing his goal by leaving the ballot. Furthermore, citizens began protesting calling for politicians to end this turmoil, as instability was affecting the Maldivian economy, heavily dependent on tourism.
The November 9 election occurred as planned. But, as in the first attempt, there was no candidate obtaining more than 50% of the vote: Nasheed was the first place with 47% of the vote, again this result being short of the required absolute majority. The original election plan stated that if a runoff was necessary it would have to be carried out on the next day, on the 10th, as President Waheed’s term expired on the 11th. However, just hours before polls opened, the Supreme Court decided that the second phase could not take place immediately after, but should be delayed until the 16th. The reason for this is unclear, but it seems related to pressure from Yameen, who asked for more time to campaign. Rather reluctantly, President Waheed requested for an extension of his tenure for one more week. Himself and the Court received widespread criticism within and outside the country for this unexpected move.
Finally, the election took place on the 16th. Somewhat surprisingly, although Yameen had constantly been in second place in the previous attempted elections, he won the runoff with 51.3% of the vote. Ex President Nasheed accepted his defeat.
After the original election was held, it took more than two months and four tries to elect the new president. This turmoil could cast doubt on the stability of the Maldivian democratic institutions, as electoral processes can be interfered with and, even, stopped. At the same time, it can be alleged that, with the possible exception of the last deferral of the contest, interruptions in the electoral process always took place because regulations had not been attended, and they counted with the approval of the Supreme Court. Further, there are no indications that the incumbent president was trying to hold on to power or that he was rigging the ballot.
Maldivians must take their time to sit down and discuss what went wrong in this occasion. Was the time frame too short, so that electoral disputes had to be solved as soon as possible without adequate deliberation by the Supreme Court? Was the fact that it was the country’s second election that arouse suspicions leading everyone to check on and complain about everyone else, obstructing the smoothness of the process? Or was it that the intention to be fully respectful of the law ended up making the process stiff? Were there institutions other than electoral regulations that played against governance in the country? The Maldives second election did end with an elected president, and democratization can be said to have taken root. But there are many issues pending for the country’s third election, scheduled for 2018.
By Simon Zhichao Yi
The contemporary liberal intellectual circle in China is primarily frequented by scholars, lawyers, active writers for both traditional and new media, as well as important members of the Communist Party and government officials. They are liberal in that they accept fundamental principles of democracy, rule of law and above all they recognize universal values such as human rights, as understood in the West. We often read their criticism of the Chinese government and the Communist Party. It is, however, rare to see their explicit criticism of one particular high official of the regime. Since the rise of Bo Xilai in Chongqing, liberal intellectuals in China have shown strong detestation towards the then rising political star, and continued to criticize him and his policies even after his fall.
Why hate Bo Xilai? In order to understand the reason for this intense dislike, it is necessary to briefly review Bo Xilai’s history and the essence of his Chongqing Model. Bo Xilai is the son of Bo Yibo, one of the main leaders of the Party of Deng Xiaoping’s generation. Bo Xilai first came to be widely known by the public while serving as the major of the northern industrial city of Dalian. After his seemingly successful career as the Minister of Commerce, to the surprise of all, he was made the Party Secretary of Chongqing(1) (instead of assuming a more important position in the central leadership). Driven by his ambition to return to Beijing, Bo initiated his “Sing the Red, Strike the Black” campaign claiming to revive revolutionary literature, music and culture, and crackdown on criminal organizations and corrupt officials. In 2012 Bo Xilai was arrested, he was convicted of corruption and abuse of power, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the summer of 2013.
The Chongqing Model, including the “Sing the Red and Strike the Black” campaign, was a series of campaigns and policies implemented by Bo in his municipality with the belief that such a model could create the necessary public opinion and political capital to pave Bo Xilai’s road to the Standing Committee of the Party. The model aimed to resuscitate the remaining nostalgia for Mao’s era in Chinese society and win support of the lower stratum of the society which is deeply troubled by corruption, social decay and inequality. But to liberal intellectuals, the campaigns and the entire Chongqing Model were a revival of Maoist Cultural Revolution. The campaigns did not only remind liberal intellectuals of the horrifying years under Mao’s rule which most of them experienced, they also made them fear that such a model may destroy the rule of law that is still extremely weak in China, endanger the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping and bring China back to the red era of Mao Zedong. Clearly Bo’s Model in Chongqing was much more complicated than what was reported on Chongqing Daily.
Prof. He Weifang (2) of Peking University Law School was among the first ones to publicly challenge and criticize Bo’s campaign. In his “Open Letter to Chongqing Fellow-Jurists” He Weifang stated:
“ …so many things have happened in this, things that cause one to feel that time has been dialed back, that the Cultural Revolution is being replayed, and that the ideal of rule of law is right now being lost. That’s right, I’m pointing to the “campaign of crackdown on criminal forces”…Throughout this whole “campaign against crime” we have seen the furious unfolding of mass-movement-style law enforcement and administration of justice, Within a short eight months, the authorities rounded up close to 5,000 “criminally involved” persons by means of informing (or so-called “letters and denunciations by the masses”). Along with this we had one-hundred or so “special case teams”carrying out wholesale arrest, prosecution and trial proceedings with so-called ‘Chongqing speed’”
He Weifang also used an example warning of the destruction of the rule of law and due process in Chongqing:
“As the diary of Judge Wang Lixin (王立新), posted to the official website of the Supreme People’s Court ahead of the hearing of the Wen Qiang case (文强案) on appeal, clearly shows, police, prosecutors and the courts [in Chongqing] worked in concert, preparing cases without any separation of responsibilities…For a number of important cases, the chief judge, the attorney-general and the police chief will hold meetings and work in a coordinated fashion, so that the cases decided before they ever even go to trial. The eventual hearing of the case is a mere formality.”
Prof. Tong Zhiwei of East China University of Politics and Law published a series of reports condemning Bo’s policies when the campaign in Chongqing was at its peak. Tong explained that what was implemented in Chongqing was an “Anti-Criminal Social Management” or a form of strict Social Control disguised as a crackdown on crimes. This type of social management, according to Tong, not only violated the Chinese Constitution but also the Constitution of the Communist Party in that it trampled the legally protected rights of citizens and party members through unlawful confiscation of private property, arrests, and torture. Another characteristic of Bo’s policy which severely harmed the Constitution, according to Tong, was that Bo’s so called anti-criminal crackdown targeted primarily the private sector. A dozen of the richest private entrepreneurs in Chongqing were persecuted, jailed and sentenced without proper evidence.(3)
Strict social control, ruining of the rule of law, destruction of the private economy and personal will becoming superior to the constitutions of the Party and State, legions of red flags, revolutionary songs and music were well-known characteristics of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It is almost natural that Bo Xilai and his Chongqing Model displaying similar characteristics, triggered such furious reactions of the liberal intellectuals. In fact after Bo Xilai was arrested in March 2012, Hu Deping (4), a prominent reformer in the Party, said that the fall of Bo Xilai signed the collapse of the extreme left within the Party.
(My note of gratitude to Tyler Knarr and Jeffrey Goldberg for their patient review of this short article)
(1) Although Party Secretary of Chongqing is also a member of the Politburo, the position is considered lower in political status compared to Party Secretaries of Shanghai or Beijing and far less important than those members of the Politburo who hold office as vice Prime Minister.
(2) He Weifang, “A Letter to Chongqing Colleagues,” http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/04/12/11481/
(3) Tong Zhiwei, Report on Chongqing’s Anti-Criminal Social Management, 童之伟：重庆打黑型社会管理方式研究报告 http://www.21ccom.net/articles/zgyj/ggzhc/article_2012021353482.html
(4) Hu Deping is the eldest son of Hu Yaobang, Secretary General of the Party in 1980s. He was the vice minister for United Front Work and is currently member of the Standing Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Source of the Photo : www.cnwsj.com
Yesterday, the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) elected Tokyo as the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games. They had three options, which were selected from a longer list of aspiring cities after a rigorous infrastructure, security, financial, and political capabilities assessment: Istanbul (in its fifth bid in a row), Madrid (its third bid in a row), and Tokyo (its second bid in a row). After two rounds of voting, Tokyo won the games. However, it was later revealed that it was always the top choice of the IOC members. What was the logic of the IOC members voting for Tokyo?
As in other election analysis frameworks, the first step is asking what the preference of the voter is. It could be easily argued that the IOC’s wants to ensure an effective organization of the Olympic Games. This objective has not always been met. While the Barcelona ’92 Olympics can be seen as an example of a good organization, the subsequent Atlanta ’96 edition has examples of failures in security, logistics, and merchandising, after which the IOC received severe criticisms. Similarly, the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee struggled very hard to meet venue inauguration deadlines, and the public debt contracted due to the event is considered to be one of the factors that contributed to the current Greek economic crisis.
Although the final goal is to have an effective organization of the Olympic Games, there are many issues that can are related to this objective: the timely construction of venues, a responsible financial management to prevent the Games from having a burdensome legacy on the host city, providing the necessary security for spectators and athletes, captivating the attention of the public so sponsors can recuperate their investments, or trying to maintain the political subtext of the decision to the minimum to prevent the emergence of eventual controversies. All those factors are relevant not only from a logistics point of view, but also because they have a real and direct impact on the image and raison d’être of the IOC. For instance, after awarding the Games to Atlanta, the Committee was confronted with suspicions of corruption from Coca-Cola directives, one of the most important companies sponsoring the event and with its headquarters in that city. This lead many to think that the IOC and the Olympic movement were just a façade that covered the real point of the Games: making business. Running the event smoothly, in contrast, prevents observers from being distracted with other issues different to sportsmanship.
Hence, the IOC is ready to give the Games to the city promising the least problems in the organization. In its eyes, neither Madrid nor Istanbul could completely keep their word, at least when competing with Tokyo. In his presentation before the IOC members, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pleaded that the organism have confidence in the recovery of the Spanish economy, adding that having the Games would provide a major impulse to the country. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan highlighted the cultural and social diversity and tolerance of Istanbul, not commenting on the recent protests against what many see as a growing authoritarianism from his part. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of the reutilization of many of the venues that were used in the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, while he reassured that the radioactivity problem after the leak of the Fukushima reactor has never been and will never be a problem in Tokyo.
In the end, the IOC went for what seems to be the least risky option in terms of organization and the most secure in terms of image to organize the 2020 Olympic Games. Although the decision is supposed to be technical, without political judgments on the host country (in spite of reminders of the lack of democracy and human rights violations, the 2008 Games were granted to Beijing; this, again, could have affected in some measure the IOC’s image), giving the organization of this event inevitably implies a political tone. It is not that the IOC has made a negative assessment on the current situation of Spain and Turkey. It just means that the Japan and Tokyo offer better prospects about its own future, at least when compared to the two other countries and cities, for which the IOC is ready to deposit in it its reputation.
In mid-July Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the so-called Decree 72. Its existence became public by early August, and finally entered into force yesterday. Since it became known, and in spite of the efforts (not so enthusiastic) of the government to contain damage, the decree has been severely criticized as it is interpreted as effectively limiting freedom of expression in the internet.
When released, the international community understood it as restricting interactions among internet users to sharing personal information, forbidding them to comment on public current affairs, government activities, and news in general. Nguyen Thanh Huyen, head of the Ministry of Information and Communication’s Online Information Section, assured that the decree’s purpose was misunderstood, adding that the objective of one of the articles (which forbade the use of “aggregated information”, term which was never defined) seemingly limiting sharing news was in fact to protect intellectual property and copyright. The government further assured that it was never its intention to go against human rights.
However, Reporters Without Borders and others noticed that in spite of the official explanation, the decree still limits posting on the internet information that could harm national security and oppose the state. The decree also requires foreign internet companies, such as Facebook, Google, eBay, and others, to have domestic offices in order to continue offering their services. Most of those entities have formed the Asian Internet Coalition, noticing the regulation will negatively affect Vietnam’s internet ecosystem and foreign investment. Notwithstanding these declarations, which took place mostly throughout August, the Vietnamese government made no change in the contents of the decree, coming into effect as it originally intended to.
The main problem with the decree seems to be its (intentional or not) bad wording and vagueness. If a supposedly well-written law always leaves a lot of space for interpretation and debate, a regulation using an unclear language and undefined terms provides a very wide margin of action for its enforcement. Furthermore, the official assurances that the decree’s intent is not to limit freedom of expression on the internet are contested by, at least, Vietnam’s recent record of arresting bloggers critical of the government (one publicized case happened in Fall last year, when two bloggers were detained for “anti-state propaganda”, while another one in June 2013 was arrested because he “abused democratic freedoms” in his online publications). With these antecedents, not only the vague wording of the law could be a source of concern, but under allegations of protecting intellectual property and copyright more detentions could take place. If freedom of expression on the internet was already restricted in Vietnam, the decree contributes to formalize and deepen this situation.
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