Opinion

The Great Debate

Democracy emerges in sub-Saharan Africa

The recent re-election of Zimbabwe’s 89-year old president Robert Mugabe, in office for 33 years, resembled a period not long ago when sham elections were the norm in sub-Saharan Africa. Peaceful transitions of power were almost unheard of.

Though the African Union disappointingly endorsed the elections as “honest and credible,” Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has now faced a spate of resignations and international condemnation over allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and state media control.

But Zimbabwe’s election is not representative of a continent that has made real progress toward democracy. Allegations of electoral tampering can seem almost anachronistic in an era of social media and instantaneous information-sharing. Technology has improved the caliber of elections all over the world — including Africa.

Between mid-July and September 30, seven countries in the region — with an aggregate population of 80 million — are due to cast ballots. Not all these elections, though, will be free and fair. Some, like Zimbabwe’s, won’t represent the popular will. But an increasing number will be a sign of progress for a continent with a history of failed democratic traditions.

Recent African elections demonstrate progress in three ways. First, long-delayed or boycotted elections are finally taking place, removing military regimes or one-party states from power.

Maduro pressed to drop ‘magic’ focus on ‘realism’

Nicolas Maduro’s election campaign was rich in magical realism, designed to bedazzle voters.

Banking on sympathy votes after Hugo Chavez died of cancer last month, and confident he would don his mentor’s socialist revolutionary mantle, Maduro conjured visions that blurred fantasy and fact, evoking the genre that Latin American literary giants Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges had popularized.

But many Venezuelans were less impressed by his flights of fantasy than they were frustrated by a lack of initiatives to address myriad crises ‑ including food shortages, power blackouts, rampant crime and inflation. After Sunday’s election, which delivered the narrowest electoral victory in Venezuela in 50 years, Maduro is under intense pressure to drop the magical and focus on the realism that is wearing thin the patience of his people and threatening the stability of the OPEC nation.

Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

from Commentaries:

Japan takes a kinder approach to growth

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.

The global slump provided a painful reminder of the dangers of Japan's export-oriented growth strategy. Output has fallen even faster than in other rich countries, leaving national income at roughly the same level as in the early 1990s.

from The Great Debate UK:

Japan: The election that might change everything

debito- Arudou Debito, is a columnist for the Japan Times, activist, blogger at debito.org, and Chair of the NPO Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association. The opinions expressed are his own -

Japan's famous mantra is that things don't change much or very quickly.  But I have a feeling that this approaching Lower House parliamentary election on August 30 just might prove that wrong.

But first some background.  Japan has been ruled essentially by one party since the end of World War II -- the Liberal Democrats (LDP).  That's longer than in any other liberal democracy, competing with other countries that have no other parties to choose from.

The Obama challenge

obamaAmerica wakes up today to a new era in its political history. And as Barack Obama prepares to take office, he will have to wrestle with these facts of life: the economy is either in recession or teetering on the brink of one, and the U.S. is embroiled in two wars.

Across the Web, a plethora of voices are dissecting the campaign . In a BusinessWeek piece, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch makes his position clear, saying John McCain’s economic platform made better sense for business, and that business leaders could take away three lessons from the election: Have a clear, consistent vision; make few mistakes; and have friends in high places.

Over at the New York Times, an editorial concludes that Obama’s triumph was decisive because “he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens.” It also points out some of the challenges facing the president-elect: “Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, including some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens — children of the working poor. Other Americans can barely pay for their insurance or are in danger of losing it along with their jobs. They must be protected.”

Real vs unreal Americans

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – What is a real American? As opposed to an unreal American, a fake American, an un-American American or an anti-American American.

The answer is in the eye of the beholder and his or her political orientation. The question, and variations of it, has been asked in several periods of U.S. history and has bubbled up again, one of a number of odd sideshows, in the closing stages of the campaign for the presidential election on Nov. 4.

In U.S. elections, fear of Muslims

(Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the summer of 2006, a Gallup poll of more than 1,000 Americans found that one out of four favoured forcing Muslims in the United States, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification. About a third said Muslims living in the U.S. sympathized with al Qaeda.

Almost a quarter said they wouldn’t want a Muslim as a neighbour. Republicans, the poll said, saw Muslims in a more negative light than Democrats and independents, and were more opposed to having Muslim neighbours. Fewer than half those polled thought U.S. Muslims were loyal to the United States.

A few months after the poll, callers to a Washington area radio talk show suggested branding Muslims with crescent-shaped tattoos and special stamps in their identity papers, the better to spot potential terrorists.

from FaithWorld:

Muslims and the U.S. election — two sobering reminders

Muslims protest against Iraq war at Republican convention in St. Paul 1 Sept 2008/Damir SagoljTwo Reuters colleagues in the United States have written sobering accounts of the place of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

"These are uneasy times for America's Muslims, caught in a backwash from a presidential election campaign where the false notion that Barack Obama is Muslim has been seized on by some who link Islam with terrorism," writes Chicago religion writer Mike Conlon in "Sour note for American Muslims in election campaign."

"Incidents during the U.S. presidential election campaign, now in its final sprint towards November 4, show that fear and suspicion of Muslims persist undiminished and are being used as a political weapon," writes Washington columnist Bernd Debusmann in "In U.S. elections, fear of Muslims."

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