Opinion

John Lloyd

Modi: Democrat or divider

John Lloyd
Apr 9, 2014 19:25 UTC

India’s 815 million voters started the five-week voting cycle earlier this week. It’s already being celebrated as a triumph just for taking place — “the largest collective democratic act in history,” according to the Economist.

The winner will matter. India now punches far below its demographic weight — its 1.24 billion people are served by just 600 diplomats, about the same number as the Netherlands. The United States, with 314 million people, has 15,000. But that apparent lack of interest in making a mark on the world seems about to end.

What had seemed a likely victory for the first minister of the northwestern state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has now hardened into a near certainty — at least for much of the Indian media. Modi, self-made, ambitious and energetic at 63, has the ability to project India’s latent power. He wants growth, which India greatly needs to raise more of its citizens out of poverty and to provide jobs for its expanding population.

That could be a cause for fear — first within, and then outside of, India. For Modi is marked by a dark shadow that he cannot — and perhaps has no wish to — shake. His political affiliation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his membership in the right-wing , paramilitary Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) signals he may have less loyalty to the multi-ethnic country that is India and more to the dominant ethnicity: the Hindus.

The charge against Modi that casts the longest shadow involves days of mob violence in Gujarat in 2002. A train caught fire in a town called Godha, causing 59 deaths — and rumors quickly pointed to Muslim extremists. In revenge, Hindu extremists slaughtered between 1,000 and 2,000 Muslims. There is no final clarity to this incident. A local commission has, 12 years later, yet to publish a final report on the train fire. Another commission, set up by the central government, concluded the fire was accidental.

Why democracy is an insufficient force against WMD

John Lloyd
Sep 4, 2013 15:33 UTC

The British parliament’s refusal to countenance military intervention in Syria, and President Barack Obama’s decision to delay a strike until Congress approves it, point to a larger, even more dangerous contradiction of the mass destruction age.

That is, parliamentary democracy and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) sit ill together. Each confounds the other’s natural working.

This is for two reasons. First: everything about weapons of mass destruction — their possession, storage, security and use — demands centralized, authoritarian control and rapid decision making unimpeded by debate, except from within a tiny command circle. And when a rogue state uses or threatens to use WMD, leaders must react rapidly and forcefully, unconstrained by their legislatures. When they are so constrained, the result can be similar to what the British government suffered last week. Democracies that wish to police the use of WMD are held back by the same protocols that allow these institutions to thrive.

Egypt’s repeat search for democracy

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2013 15:03 UTC

I’ve spent the past few days walking beside and watching the largely youthful demonstrators in Egypt, and I’ve been struck with admiration that’s quickly drowned in despair. I admire them for the way they’ve rejected the creeping authoritarianism of an incompetent Muslim Brotherhood government whose only accomplishment is inserting its members or sympathizers into every part of Egyptian life that it could.

But my despair is greater than my admiration. There is no good outcome to the Egyptian “second revolution,” as the opposition wishes it to be called. The army has taken control, and may — as it says it wishes — hold the ring only until a temporary constitution is agreed upon and another election called. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose government is led by President Mohamed Mursi, may, with reluctance, acquiesce in this — though  many of its member are furious over the coup, as they rightly call it. The opposition forces may abstain from ramming what they will see as a “victory” too hard down the Brothers’ throats. These “mays” are, as this is written, be unlikely when set against various degrees of escalating conflict. But they are possible.

Yet even if all of that were to move from the conditional to the actual, the outcome would still not be good. Hatred, or at least deep distrust, between the Brotherhood and the opposition groups has increased since the weekend, as deaths — often the outcome of attacks on the Brothers’ offices — mount. These feelings are now absolute.

Rumors of democracy’s death have been greatly exaggerated

John Lloyd
Jun 11, 2013 17:45 UTC

The End of History and the Last Man is 21 years old this year. The book of that name, by Francis Fukuyama, has, in the view of many, matured badly. Published in 1992, it was much lauded for its view that, with the collapse of communism in the Soviet bloc, liberal democracy and free markets were the only long-term politics and economics for the globe.

After 9/11, the disparagements came quickly. The terrorist attacks were held to show that history may have paused, but it had reignited with a vengeance. Clearly, there were other powerful forces in the world than the “inevitable” liberal democracy; sharply different ideologies were alive, well and seeking power by any means.

Fukuyama was seen as a man of the right, though he is quite heterodox: he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, and has recently said that the German social democratic model is better for workers than the U.S. free enterprise one. He has not given up thinking freely, and though he has modified his views, he has not abandoned them.

Next president will face a darker world

John Lloyd
Nov 6, 2012 16:54 UTC

Radicals of left and right like to say that the American election is an affair of sound and fury, signifying nothing. One guy in a suit replaces another guy in a suit, the two mostly agree on the basics: the economy, capitalist; foreign policy, hegemonic.

To be sure, American elections remain battlegrounds: a resurgent right has, in the past two decades, drawn sharper lines on a culture war that puts sexuality and its effects at the center of a national debate. Homosexuality, abortion and reproductive rights are divisive issues. But radicals believe that overall, little changes: An elite governs, and largely governs the same way regardless of party.

Yet both capitalism and hegemony have served the U.S., and much of the world, better than any other obviously available option. In the last few years, democratic practice has certainly seen a number of setbacks: The victory of the conservative group Citizens United in having the Supreme Court overturn the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – which had prohibited corporations and unions paying for political propaganda independently of the candidates’ campaigns – is only the latest obvious example. But U.S. civil society remains among the liveliest, most rambunctious and exemplary in the world, a large part of the reason why the U.S. is still the destination of choice of those yearning to breathe a little freer (and earn at least a little more).

Europe’s reckoning is delayed…but for how long?

John Lloyd
Jun 18, 2012 18:33 UTC

Everything in Europe has a ‘but’ attached to it these days. Spain got a bank bailout last week, but it hasn’t convinced the markets. Mario Monti is a great economist and wise man, but he’s losing support for his premiership of Italy. Angela Merkel is listening to the voices that try to persuade her that Germany should bankroll growth, but she hasn’t done anything yet.

The New Democracy party, a grouping that, broadly, wants Greece to stick with the euro and bear more austerity (though it will bargain hard for less) has won… but what its leader, Antonis Samaras, has just got for himself is the worst political job on the continent, and may not be able to deliver. If, in democracy’s cradle, he can forge a coalition, keep to the terms of the bailout his country has received, enact rapid and deep reforms, and preserve democratic rule, he will deserve a place in the pantheon – a Greek word, after all, meaning a temple for the gods.

And so far, he’s been no god. A fellow countryman, the Yale political scientist Stathis Kalyvas, wrote in Foreign Affairs in June that Samaras “is widely seen as representing the corrupt and ineffective Athens political establishment that led the country to ruin”. Yet it’s this man, with all of his history, faults and frailties, on whom the future of Greece – and by many measures, the future of the European Union – depends.

Do we need a referendum on referendums?

John Lloyd
Mar 8, 2012 19:09 UTC

Do we want those whom we elect to represent us, or channel us? To exercise their own judgment, or to be a simple conduit for the views of the majority of their electors?

It’s an old question, and the most famous answer to it, still much treasured by parliamentarians, is the one given by the Anglo-Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke to his electors in Bristol, England in 1774. An opponent vying for Burke’s seat had seemed to promise the Bristol voters (not numerous, in those days) that he would vote as they told him to.

That, said Burke, was wrong. “You choose a member indeed; but when you choose him, he is not a member of Bristol, but a member of parliament.” As that member, he has to determine not just the will of the little electorate of Bristol but that of the nation. “Your representative owes you … his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving, you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Do Russians really want democracy?

John Lloyd
Dec 13, 2011 23:18 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

MOSCOW — This weekend it was the Russians who took to the streets. Authorities claim there were no more than 25,000 protestors while organizers say there were at least 50,000. No matter the number, the protests have taken a sharp turn and seem to have depth in their anger.

Russia is far from a full democracy, but it is enough of one to prompt its electors to indignation that their presidential choices had been radically “improved”.

The current unrest on the streets and the widespread revulsion over solid-seeming evidence of ballot rigging show that many get very annoyed if their democratic choice is falsified. In conversations with students, regional journalists and a few older people in Russia last week, I was left in little doubt of the anger felt by many among them — and many among them had been Putin supporters.

As winter begins, an African Spring heats up

John Lloyd
Dec 8, 2011 13:53 UTC

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

The Arab Spring’s effects continue to ripple outward. As Tahrir Square fills once more, it gains new momentum. For months now, the autocrats of Africa have feared it would move south, infecting their youth in often-unemployed, restless areas.

That fear has come to the ancient civilization of Ethiopia, the second-most populous state (after Nigeria) in Africa. There, since June, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has cracked down hard on dissidents, opposition groups and, above all, journalists, imprisoning some and forcing others into exile.

The latest refugee is Dawit Kebede, managing editor of one of the few remaining independent papers, the Awramba Times. Kebede, who won an award for freedom from the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists last year, fled to the U.S. last month after he received a tip off that he was about to be arrested.

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