Commentaries

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SPD debacle shows agony of European centre-left

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sozisIt was a black night for Germany’s Social Democrats. Their catastrophic general election score of just 23 percent was by far the worst since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949. It was more than 11 points worse than their result in 2005, and nearly 6 points worse than their poorest post-war showing in 1953.(Picture shows party activists at SPD headquarters watching first exit polls on television)

Their shattering defeat was the latest in a series of debacles for the European centre-left since the onset of the financial crisis. Just when the social democratic outlook of a strong state to regulate and curb the excesses of the markets and protect workers from the rough edges of capitalism has made a comeback around the developed world, its original proponents are in disarray.

Why? Partly because the centre-left is blamed by its own voters for having embraced deregulation and globalisation without taking care of the losers of such policies. Partly because it lacks charismatic leaders of the calibre of Helmut Schmidt, Francois Mitterrand, Tony Blair or Barack Obama. And partly because new social and economic forces — the services sector and the knowledge economy — and new ideas — ecology and communitarianism — have moved the political goalposts.

France’s Socialist party has been consigned to opposition since 2002 and is deeply divided over personalities, policy and ideology. The British Labour Party, after a record 12 years in power, is deeply unpopular and looks doomed to lose a general election next year. The Italian left has not managed to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, despite scandals over the billionaire media tycoon’s sex life.

Japan takes a kinder approach to growth

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The victorious Democratic Party of Japan did not put economic growth at the heart of its electoral sales pitch. The party’s manifesto mentions “growth” only once. The word “support”, by contrast, appears 19 times.

Even so, there are reasons for optimism that the DPJ’s softer and more nurturing policies are just what the economy needs.
(more…)

An update on Bijan Khajehpour

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A couple of weeks ago, I drew attention to the arrest of  respected business consultant Bijan Khajehpour as an example of the situation of hundreds of Iranians detained after the disputed presidential election on June 12. At the time, Bijan’s whereabouts, state of health and conditions, as well as any charges against him, were unknown.

We now know that Bijan is being held at Tehran’s Evin prison, where most political prisoners are detained. He was one of the defendants at the second mass trial of people accused of plotting a “velvet coup” to overthrow the regime. The second one-day trial focused on people with contacts with Western countries. Bijan’s company advises many European corporations on doing business in Iran. His client list is a who’s who of international energy, engineering and automotive companies. The German Foreign Minister has called publicly for his release.

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