Monday, August 15, 2005

Opinionated Democracy Watch - August 2005 Edition

When one reads news in last week, one is struck by peculiar situations of democracies around the world. Here is one opinionated take on these recent events.

Afghanistan
Labor process for a woman is much simpler than birth of democracy here in a war torn country. A president is minted, next month parliamentarians will be minted. Not clear whether the world help is adequate to pull off this “delivery” properly. Quite a reflection on other big brothers and sisters of Democracy family – will they do what is needed or in the end fail to muster needed resources - money, man power and soldiers for providing security?


Brazil
Lula’s campaign architect admits that he got money from the slush fund – around $30 million foreign funds. Money in question is not a small amount, definitely not small when one considers the size of Brazilian economy and their population (GDP $1.5 Trillion and 186 million). Add to this slush fund, the actual legally allowed election campaign funds and one could be talking here of large sums. This is of Workers Party only. There are other parties who would be spending some similar money too. Bottom line, one is dealing here with some large amounts of money which can seriously impact the way elections are conducted. It is the same Workers Party which has naturally been crowing all along the corrupt ways of other parties. Clearly, their political USP has been their proclaimed non-corrupt ways and that very USP is under attack now. So far it has not touched to Lula. But with the last week’s revelations, it is difficult to believe that he would not be aware of this. His coterie was using this money and Lula claims on his TV speech that he was unaware. It is reported that many who voted for him now feel that this is betrayal of their mandate. Some lawmakers from the Workers Party are talking about walking out of the party. Overall sad commentary since with Lula economy was on upswing and common Brazilian citizen was expected to get some stability and breathing space. Likely is more instability and weaker government at least for a while. Downward spiral is not stopping and it might bring down Lula’s government.

Canada
Paul Martin hangs to the power by a single vote. A good looking, fabulously rich and powerful Member of Parliament decides to switch her sleeping partner (hey, it is Canada; Liberalism rules here) and walk over to Martin’s party to save his government. Whoa! Is it that sexual preference of one single person decides what a democratic government should be? Why do we take elections in Democracy, I mean in Canada, any way? Let us just make the daily reading of sleeping partners of rich and powerful to determine who governs Canada. Did someone say we are not in French Bourgeoisie period when marriages and love affairs among nobility determine who rules on commoners? It is Canadian style Bourgeoisie regime. Long live the Queen’s rule.

France
Ruled by a president who is simply vestige of past glory and no capacity to tune into the contemporary times of the country. Chirac’s government is an upside down affair – all powerful Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to fit into a smaller chair of interior ministry whereas unelected Villepin is occupying the PM chair in a way a mouse sits on the crown seat. Villepin probably thinks he is holding the court of Louis XIV, the same old imperial style with no public mandate in any authentic manner. That entire court swagger is summoned only when Villepin has to criticize America at UN. At home – all that erudition and scholarship vanishes into the ethereal smells of champagne.

India
Clumsy way in which Lokshabha is trying to come to terms with 1984 riots. Poor quality speeches by MPs; PM is trying to salvage. But still a long way from actually and concretely executing a plan which will alleviate sufferings of riot affected people. This Democracy, after 5 decades, is still learning that “rule of law” is something way too important and state cannot sponsor, in any manner, any kind of pogrom. High time India deals with this issue.

Iraq
If it is time of natural births of parliamentarians in Afghanistan, here it is vetro fertilization. USA is trying to engineer a constitution, foundation of democracy. If one lives in a fancy world and is able to ignore the hot lava of insurgency, then it can be a project for students in MA Politics – how to write a constitution? Federalism or Strong Center? Sunnis are in weaker position now that Shiites have made their mind that eventually they want what Kurds have – full autonomy. Will Sunnis land holding the bag with no Oil? Really hard to predict how this beast will shape. Judging by the history of Indian subcontinent, such squabbles eventually reach the stage of partition. Some partitions at birth (India - Pakistan), some down the line (Pakistan - Bangladesh). Unfortunately in this case, the problem would not stop simply by partition of Iraq; but will have cascading effects on the region surrounded by Shiites, Sunni, Kurds and Turk nationalities. Democracy is way too fragile to address such fundamental questions and that vulnerability is fully evident in the current political process which is trying to cook what Jefferson and team did some 230 years ago for America.

Israel
Life is not made easy when survival struggle is played via means of electoral party politics. Netanyahu sizes the pole position as Opposition leader in the ongoing drama of Gaza settlement withdrawal. Sharon did not have too much room to maneuver to start with and now with the bolting of Netanyahu from his cabinet that room is getting way too small. However one agrees with Gaza withdrawal policy of Sharon, one cannot disagree with the power politics played by Netanyahu. For good or bad, electoral democracy works this way only. It is not about whether it is a convenient time for the incumbent, but it is about attempting to represent people’s will authentically. One only wish there was more national census about these vital policies. But issues faced by Israel are so unique and the nation is so much challenged for land and population; disagreement for such fundamental policy issues is understandable. Good part is Israel uses party politics to resolve these visceral disputes.

Japan
PM Koizumi decides to take the gamble of privatization of Japanese Post cum thrift bank since lawmakers find it hard to get away from the patronage offered by controlling savings with Post. Domestic construction projects are always mainstay largesse for politicians all over the world. It is more pronounced in Japan when it is financed by savings with Post. So loosing control on these vast sums ($3 Trillion!) is not easy for politicians. True that Koizumi has lost popularity and lot of his early luster; but it is hard to characterize the coming election anything other than a simple fight between Koizumi, the reformer, and entrenched interests of traditional parliamentarians. September 11 (is there any coincidence or politics in this date?) election will determine who wins. Once again it shows, it is difficult to keep running Democracy in a cleaner manner. Nothing is given, everything has to be worked out hard way; all along.

Russia
Much less to talk about democracy here. Putin is still continuing his transformation to a Soviet era powerful leader. Nothing encouraging. Corruption is having its field day. Will it result in further weakening of Russian State and potentially further division of Russia? With the given low and decreasing Russian population (140 million) and lack of good economy apart from Oil; it will be increasingly uphill to maintain the integrity of Russian State unless things change. Besides what about the nuclear material leakage and proliferation? That danger is still there and with this perilous state of government affairs, it is not getting any better. One is reminded of corrosion of Russian State from time to time by all these sinking submarines! Russia cannot even collect together all these laying broken pieces of her past Soviet empire. Hardly any spring time for democracy.

UK
How can it happen to us, that is how British politicians are reacting to these London bombing. Multiculturalisms (well, that is what European Media calls to “misguided Liberalism”) is still refusing to see the point that openness to others does not mean to carry the suicidal instincts – keep on pampering rogue elements of society under the pretext of one’s false notion of enlightened souls. Today’s Britain is a living lesson of seduction in democracy – likes of Red Kane, George Galloway, Osma Saeed and many more will not mind compromising the security of their own citizens when it comes to garnering votes – votes of large British Muslim population. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats are worried about the new Blair initiative to restrict radical Islam preachers. But it does not give any feeling that Liberal Democrats have been able to strike the balance between the state responsibility of preserving basic social security and how much to worry about encroachment on individual liberty. And what about Tories – still busy in finding who will succeed Michael Howard. Tory Parliamentary Leader being the post donned by Thatcher once upon a time, it is way too serious business for Tories. So what if it means response to London Terrorism receives second priority. For British Conservatives, rules of Tory leader election are far more sacred than British immigration policy. Shush, Tories are busy in avoiding another Duncan Smith – let MPs elect the leader not the party workers. But seriously, who cares how do Tories elect their leader? Does that matter that much for larger public? Well, it is Britain; veneer of democracy is more important even if it means diminishing returns.

USA
It is rare for a government report to be on the popular book list. But that is what happened for 9/11 commission report. It indicates the true desire on the part of American public to understand what happened, why it happened and what can we do to prevent it to recur. It also represents the stratospheric credibility of the bipartisan 9/11 commission. But alas, it looks that that stratospheric credibility is descending to the ground. Unfortunately unlike Discovery shuttle; it is coming to the ground not in any intact form, but more likely in the shattered form of tragic Columbia shuttle. The commission probably knew that some group in CIA was aware of Mohammed Atta almost one year before the attack, but did not find it important to point as an example of “silos structure of governmental agencies”. The CIA did not share that information with FBI and Immigration. It is true that this new revelation simply indicates that the information was not shared among agencies and that particular point, the commission felt, was well hammered in their report. But there is a feeling that this particular incidence warranted the mention as a poster example of “no sharing” culture of previous structure. Besides, it also raises the doubt whether the commission did get handle on all of the information and whether the judgments exercised by the commission in weighing various observations were indeed without any fault. All in all, the controversy erupted in fast few days does not leave good taste. After thoughts like Oral History Project and so on are more as Academic exercises; they do not substitute what the commission was required when they submitted the final report.

Elected Congress representatives, senators and all powerful president are expected to be in service of American public at large. There efforts are supposed to be in the endeavor of addressing grievances of common people. One of pressing pains of American people is the high price of gasoline. Congress and President thought to pass Energy bill 2005 to address this pain for common people. But the bill does not have any concrete measures which could have immediate useful impact for common people. The president had to go on prefacing his signature on the bill by saying “the bill would not solve the immediate problem”. It is true as he said, the problem has been making for decades so can be solved only over decades. Despite all these qualifications and posturing by American elected politicians; it is odd that world’s most powerful elected bodies and president are not in position to do anything specific to relive the pain or to remove the drug like addiction of American people for high consuming gasoline cars. Both Republicans and Democrats joined in opposing higher mileage requirements for car. Protecting automobile labor interests become more important for some Democrats whereas many Republicans are beholden to Oil Industry. Hope is high prices will discourage consumers away from consumption provided Congress and President do not distort the market mechanism. But leaving pain of Oil completely to the market forces and the Government not undertaking any proactive actions at all; will raise the risk to American Economy in the end. Today American Economy is in a reasonable shape. However, with higher oil prices along with incessant rate increases by Fed; it is likely to face tough time. Elected representatives of the oldest democracy did not find anything to act upon today or to take on this immediate challenge.

California
Poster child of what happens when people’s democracy goes excessive. First, you have the requirement of two third majority to pass state budget and state laws. Next, the whole tangled web of State mandated propositions which require certain funding for specific purposes which make state legislature paralytic to respond to the changing dynamics of state income. Then you have the deal between the Governor and Teachers and now Teachers are enraged that they are short changed by the State on money for education. Finally to top all this unwieldy governing system of democracy; you have a lawsuit by Teachers. As commentators pointed out, anytime you feel you get less money from State; run to Court. Meanwhile November special election is looming large. With all these propositions, special elections and hyper pro people democracy; things have reached the level where all swiftness, creativity and openness expected from a democratic system is gone to winds. May be California should eliminate the state legislature and simply have everything decided by People on Web. Every time you have policy issue to be decided, let us have online poll. May be there will be always “open” online poll for this issue or that issue. Every week, Californian’s can vote on these never stopping streams of proposition. No elected representatives, but only pressure groups and lobbies. No doubt, the prime lobby will be of Teachers and then Prison Guard. A Governor named Davis left Sacramento, but the place still stinks by his cohabit with those Prison Guards. Well, it is Wild West here and they are exploring frontiers of Democracy. What if in the process serving peoples interest becomes secondary, we will get there some day.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA
August 14, 2005.

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