Mario Vargas Llosa vs the giant magical guinea pig

April 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hello again, sorry for not writing much. It has been a busy week. It has also been a fascinating week of elections but, I’m afraid this is going to be a somewhat cursory review as time is pressing. Fortunately some really good stuff has been written about most of these elections so I can point you at that. I’m going to do results first, then previews.

First up, if you remember, was Benin. This is the most straightforward at they didn’t happen. Following much debate about preparation and process the polls have been pushed back to April 30th.

Next up – Djibouti. To nobody’s surprise Gulleh won by 80% on a 75% turnout. Allegedly. No details yet on the parliamentary polls but in a one party state they scarcely matter.

Now to some much more interesting elections. Nigeria could yet be the election of the year. I don’t have time to go into it as fully as I’d like but I urge you to peruse Think Africa Press’s mini site in detail. Here are the headlines:

  • The PDP suffered there worst result in modern times – suggesting that these elections were the freest and fairest in some time – arguably ever. However they are still on course for an outright majority in parliament.
  • However their poor showing could be a worry to presidential candidate Goodluck Jonathan (the first round election is tomorrow). To avoid a second round, Jonathan needs not only 50% overall but at least 25% in at least two thirds of states. Whilst the PDP just about managed that, Jonathan is personally unpopular in the north – who feel that a northerner should have been the Presidential candidate this time.
  • Nevertheless, hopes for an upset opposition Presidential victory were dealt a severe blow when the muted alliance between the ACN and the CPC appeared to fall apart. Neither really had the breadth of support to take on Jonathan alone and the collapse of the alliance means that only a second round would make an opposition victory possible.
  • For me the biggest story of the campaign was the collapse of the ANPP. The ANPP used to be the only real opposition party of any size, and it was expected that any reduction in support for the PDP would benefit them. However, as with the Arab Spring, it appears that in Nigeria hard-line Islamic conservatism is quite popular when it is the only thing opposing a severe autocrat – but give the people a genuine choice and they’d rather go for a secular liberal party. That appears to be what happened here, and it was the ACN (in the south) and the CPC (in the north) that picked up most of the seats the PDP lost. The ANPP collapsed to a humiliating fourth place.

Finally, but certainly not least, Peru. Another fascinating election which I don’t have time to go into detail on, but I would urge you to read World Election’s comprehensive piece on it.

The headlines are that, after a very open Presidential election, we are set for a Humala (left wing Amerindian nationalist) vs Fujimori (right wing Peruvian nationalist) run off. As World Elections analyse in detail, this is somewhat hard to predict as these are the two most polarizing and alienating of the candidates – many Peruvians will consider it a Hobson’s choice. Moreover, whilst the candidates have radically different politics, both appeal to the same group – the rural poor – and urban and middle class people do feel somewhat distanced from the process. Parliamentary election results followed the Presidential pattern – with the APRA predictably falling apart due to their not fielding of a Presidential candidate and their general train wreck of a last five years.

People have reacted in various ways to this. Mario Vargas Llosa has described the choice as equivalent to the choice between “AIDS and terminal cancer”. Whilst this sums up the views of many it is somewhat undermined by the fact that Mario Vargas Llosa says this kind of thing all the time. If you asked Mario Vargas Llosa if he’d rather have the chicken or the fish he’d probably tell you the choice was equivalent to the choice between AIDS and terminal cancer. Mario Vargas Llosa is a strange and bitter man.

The Peruvian Chica Bank have taken a different approach. They have launched an advertising campaign aimed around alleviating the stress and worry surrounding the elections. The tag line is “Preocuparte no debes” (worrying, you shouldn’t). Here it is:


Tomorrow is round one of the Nigerian Presidential elections. As mentioned above it is going to be a doozy.

Then on Sunday we have Finland. Another doozy, Chris Terry from Britain Votes will be writing a piece shortly but in the meantime the main point is that it is a very open election, held under PR, and as a result lots of parties have the ability to make an impact.

One party that might benefit are the slightly odd euro-skeptic rural populist True Finns. They normally get about 4% of the vote but are currently polling at around 15%.  They are taking advantage of the highly open nature of Finnish PR to win seats by standing eccentric and charismatic personalities as candidates. Set to be True Finn MPs (and in some cases already serving) are a pro wrestler, a musician famous for his beret, and this man:


Four elections in four days

April 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

It is a big old week in international politics.

We kick off in Benin on the seventh of April. I’ve written about Benin before here, here, and here (as always scroll down). A couple of weeks back there were Presidential elections which Yayi Boni won with surprising (at least to me) ease on the first round, negating the need for a second. This will give him, and his FCBE party, some confidence going into these, Parliamentary, elections.

However these elections matter, and may not go all Boni’s way. Boni’s last term was blighted by the fact that he couldn’t get the legislation he needed though Parliament, and whilst in the end it didn’t harm his re-election he will want a smoother few years ahead of him.

Last time round the FCBE were only 7 seats off a majority, but the defection of five FCBE members to form a new opposition party (FCBE sursaut patriotique) means that is now 12 – and highest reminder PR means that winning twelve extra seats means winning 14 or so extra percent of the vote.

Moreover the opposition are more united than they were. Last time round a broad coalition of several opposition groups (but not the main one – the PRD) called the ADD won the most opposition seats; the PRD came second, and seven other parties won seats.

This time round there will only be four serious parties: the FCBE, the FCBE sursaut patriotique (which should only really take votes away from the FCBE, and will probably struggle),  a far more united opposition platform dominated by the PRD: the UFN, and the much smaller opposition “Coalition ABT-2011”.

Moreover the lessons of the Presidential election – which Boni won on round one due to the split between the UFN’s Houngbédji’s 36% and Coalition ABT-2011’s Bio-Tchané’s 6% – should mean there is an increase in anti FCBE tactical voting.

Even so the FCBE, riding on the high of Boni’s re-election, should do well – it just might not be enough.

The next day it is the turn of Djibouti. If you read my profile you won’t be surprised to hear that these elections are not expected to be competitive. This, almost chronically downbeat, article gives a flavour of the campaign, albeit not much in the way of analysis. That said, he isn’t wrong, there isn’t a huge amount to analyse: an institutional insider, Mohamed Warsama Ragueh, will run as an independent in the Presidential poll and will certainly lose to Gulleh, and the Parliamentary poll will be largely unopposed – except by a handful of semi-independents. All the opposition political parties are boycotting elections.

Then the next day (ninth) elections will be held in Nigeria. So far, it is a real old mess. Shortages of ballot papers and other materials meant that, had voting gone ahead last Saturday as originally planned, only five states would have been able to conduct a poll. Instead, just hours before polls were due to open, they were pushed back by 72 hours. Then, 24 hours later, they were pushed back once more.

The plan is now to have Parliamentary elections on the 9th, Presidential elections (originally due on the 9th) will now be pushed back to the 16th, and gubernatorial elections are to be held on the 26th. In cases like this it is always tempting to assume conspiracy over cock-up but actually nobody will be more damaged by this than the government – who now have to explain away quite a lot of egg on several faces.

A lot has happened since I wrote this preview and I’ve tried to cover some if it in the comments to my original article. Firstly Nuhu Ribadu is running as the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). This is significant as the partnership of a renowned north-eastern, Muslim independent (actually he’s always been a member of the ACN, he just kept it on the down-low until earlier this year) and the predominantly Christian liberal party with a significant local government base in the south-west, could prove quite powerful.

Even more significantly the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the ACN have announced that they will join together and campaign for the presidential candidate of whichever party gets the most seats in Parliamentary election. This is fairly significant as the CPC (a virtually new – or at least newly relevant – party) and their candidate Muhammadu Buhari (a former president himself – and not an unpopular one) are very northern and heavily Muslim, and have exhibited authoritarian tendencies in the past. The fact that they and a liberal, and largely southern Christian, party would rather each other to the ruling PDP, is profound. As Think Africa Press say, Jonathan will need to live up to his name.

However the key issue will be whether the largest opposition party, the ANPP, are also willing to join in on a deal. That is a bigger ask given the ANPP’s regionalism and conservatism, but talks to this end are underway – so it can’t be ruled out. Of course all this may just lead to the PDP deciding to rig the vote.

Finally on the 10th it is Peru. Peru will have round one of its Presidential election (by two-round FPTP), its Parliamentary election (held under largest remainder PR) and its elections to the Andean Parliament (the trans-national body of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia (and until recently Venezuela and Chile)). If needed, a second round won’t take place until June 5th. The format of elections in Peru means that political parties tend to organise in “two tiers”. They stand for election under broad electoral alliances – often tied to a presidential candidate – and it is these alliances that win the seats, gain the parliamentarians etc… However, most of these alliances last only a term at most, and have no real network of grassroots support. The actual electioneering is therefore done by political parties – e less temporal beasts with networks of known supporters – but these parties don’t stand for election themselves. they also tend to shift alliances fairly frequently.

One of my favourite features of Peruvian politics are the number of jaunty (or depending on the tone, slightly aggressive) names political parties have. Thus there is: “And It’s Called Peru”, “Go on Country!”, “Possible Peru” (which I’d like to think has a question mark – sadly it doesn’t), “Lets make Progress, Peru” and “We Are Peru”.

Shifting tone somewhat the politics of Peru are still dominated by the legacy of Fujimori and the Shining Path:

Now far be it for me to accuse Rage Against the Machine of a lack of nuance, but the Shining Path were not as cute and fluffy as this video suggests. Nevertheless they did have a point in that the war President Fujimori fought against them went well in excess of what was legal – to the extent that in 2008 he was sentenced in absentia (Fujimori, a joint Peruvian and Japanese national who is also active in Japanese politics, has lived in Japan since his 2001 impeachment for bribery in Peru) to 25 years for state terrorism. Moreover his 1992 internal coup (where he drove a tank, literally drove a tank, to the steps of congress, declared the legislative suspended, and filled the senate with tear gas to prevent them sitting) has dealt parliamentary democracy a blow from which it is still recovering.

This of course links in with the major fault-line in Peruvian society: the ethnic split between Amerindians (45%) and Mezisto (37%) and other groups of  mixed origin who do not identify as Amerindian.

Last time round the centre-left APRA won the Presidency and, whilst they only came second in the Parliamentary election (with 36 of 120 seats), they were able to appoint a Prime Minister. The left-wing nationalist Peruvian Nationalist Party (supporters of the Movimiento Etnocacerista: pro-indigenous people, pro-Coca cultivation, economically left and from the same general political space – if not the same stock – as the Shining Path) won most seats in Parliament (45 together with the Union for Peru – an electoral alliance they dominated) and came second in the race for the presidency.

It was an election dominated by the left and, as such, the main issue became not so much economic left vs right as it was Amerinadian vs Mezisto, or to put it another way: indigenous left-wing nationalists vs those that disliked what the Shining Path stood for and fear that, even if something like the Shining Path per se is not a likely outcome, the Peruvian Nationalist Party might at least turn Peru into something like Evo Morales’ Bolivia.

This unusually through Wikipedia page has the full story of that election and some maps which illustrates my point – the mountainous and jungle areas went heavily to the PNP whilst the cities and less indigenous areas went to the APRA.

It was a rough term for APRA and their president: Alan García. His first Prime Minster had to resign in 2008 after officials in his government were caught on camera exchanging bribes for oil concessions. His second Prime Minister had to resign a year later after there were 65 consecutive days of rioting by indigenous people angry at Petroperu‘s exploitation of oil reserves. The government’s initial response, suspending the constitutional protection of civil liberties, and introducing a state of emergency, had no effect and once they sent the army in there was a bloodbath (although surprisingly one in which the indigenous rebels – armed with spears – gave as good as they got) in which 22 soldiers and around 30 indigenous people were killed.

It looked pretty hopeless for the APRA, and so they haven’t even put up a candidate in the Presidential elections (a ban on consecutive terms means it would not have been García to stand again in any case). It therefore looked like Ollanta Humala: the Peruvian Nationalist Party candidate from last time round, and the alliance he had built with other left wing groups would be in the strongest position to win – with what challenge there was to the Movimiento Etnocacerista coming from the right (as it had in decades past).

Two strong candidates emerged from the right: Keiko Fujimori (the daughter of President Fujimori) and her brand new Force-2011, and Mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda Lossio and his Alianza Solidaridad Nacional. Almost all the other political parties that won seats in the 2006 Parliamentary election have joined one of these two new formations. Initially it looked like Lossio would be the leading right wing candidate  but over the last few months Fujimori has overhauled him.

However the race was then blown wide open by the introduction of two centrist candidates. The first came from another new coalition: Alliance for the Great Change. This was formed around the candidacy of the former Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Initially, as he was something of an outsider, and the members of the new coalition were all very small moderate political parties who had been part of other coalitions last time round, it was thought he wouldn’t have much of an impact. However, he has been gaining steadily in the polls.

But meanwhile a new frontrunner emerged: Alejandro Toledo. Toledo was the leader of the opposition against Fujimori and was President from 2001 to 2006, so it perhaps not surprising that as soon as he declared his candidacy he became a frontrunner. However what is surprising is that he did declare his candidacy at all, given only three very small parties backed him. He is running as the Possible Peru candidate, and one of the interesting dynamics if he does win will be if this, currently very small, party can cash in and become a major player and, in the alternative, if Toledo can govern effectively without a significant Parliamentary base. Of course Peruvian political parties are fairly fickle things and, whilst the 4% and 2 seats Possible Peru got in 2006 doesn’t sound that promising, they did get 25% and 45 seats in 2001 when Toledo was President.

Toledo has also surprised many by taking a strong socially liberal tack and demanding full equality for lesbian and gay people – something which until now hadn’t been on the Peruvian political radar at all.

A round two is likely and the fame of the candidates would suggest that Toledo vs Humala is the most likely matchup – but nobody really knows and there have been polls suggesting all sorts of outcomes:

Peru opinion poll tracker

Meanwhile in Parliament it will all depend which of the new alliances can establish themselves quickly – and how well the many political parties who’ve switched from one ticket to another between the last election and now are able to communicate that to their supporters. The Peruvian Nationalist Party’s consistency in this regard should count in their favour. Again, Wikipedia has a surprisingly thorough page listing exactly who is backing who.

In addition, if it helps, I have created this diagram. If you think it just makes things more confusing, ignore it:

This time

Political parties in Peru and their alliances

Last time

The order below is the order in which the associated Presidential candidates finished in round one. In round two, as mentioned above, the 2nd placed APRA candidate – García – beat the first placed Union for Peru candidate – Humala – by 53% to 47%

Peruvian political parties alliances 2006

It’s results round-up time

Andorra had parliamentary elections that I’m afraid I totally missed. Fortunately World Elections didn’t.

Meanwhile, whilst barely qualifying, Kazakhstan had an “election” which Nazarbayev won with 96% of the vote. It was held early to get around a constitutional rule on term limits and allow Nazarbayev’s term to continue until 2020.

I haven’t seen the Central African Republic result ratified anywhere yet, and Haiti is due any minute but I’m not going to wait. Finally the collapse of Portugal’s government means they will go to the polls on June 5th.

Divine disappointment

March 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

It may have come to your attention that there is a lot going on in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment. Trying to guess what is going to happen next is like trying to pin the tail on a not-sufficiently-metaphorical donkey. So I’m going to do the safe ,cowardly, academic thing and wait at the top of the ivory tower until its all over and then write a piece about how whatever happened was always inevitable; whilst in the meantime indulging in some academic theorising.

A lot of what follows isn’t my theory but comes from a fantastic book I am reading: The Foreign Policies of Middle East States. It was pretty up-to-date a few weeks ago; which is a bit like having a pretty up-to-date book on safe American investments on Wednesday, October 23rd 1929. What I’m going to try and do here is to explain their ideas in layman’s terms and then see how it applies to what has just happened.

Some of the oldest countries in the world come from this area: Egypt (8,000 years on and off), Iraq (3,000 years of Sumeria, 1,500 years of Babylonia), and Tunisia (3,000 years of Carthage) to name but a few. However there was then a long hiatus in almost all cases whilst Caliphs, Ottomans, and western empires came and went. The modern nations that we know today don’t have much to do with their ancient predecessors. Most date from the San Remo and Cairo conferences of 1921, when the winners of WW1 drew some very straight lines with rulers (if you last ’till the end, Lawrence of Arabia actually covers this quite well) and all the rest are – if not totally made up – then to a greater or lesser extent the product of colonial statecraft.

So what is interesting to consider is the process by which these nations are becoming states. It is also an important question because it ties into questions of legitimacy; and these current waves of protest can be seen as a popular rejection of state legitimacy. The process by which a nation becomes a state, “statebuilding”, has many definitions but the one I think is most germane to our current discussion is Weber’s: the process by which the state becomes the sole legitimate user of force. Certainly thinking in policy terms, the fact that there are various different groups claiming legitimacy for their use of force, is the main challenge for the regimes currently undergoing transition.

So, as a leader, how do you claim legitimacy? Well the Foreign Policy of the Middle East states suggests there are three ways to do so – or maybe it is more a case of saying there are three levels at which one can do so.

The first is the subnational. At this level you present yourself the leader and champion of your own community: be it your tribe or sect. The problem is that very few of these communities map perfectly to the nations of the area: almost all of them 20th century creations. Benedict Anderson’s brilliant Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism talks about the importance of the community you imagine yourself to be part of, and how this can be used to build the idea of a nation using censuses, maps, and museums. In the Middle East and North Africa this isn’t a process that has run its course.

The Foreign Policy of the Middle East states introduced me to a great new word: irredentism. It describes exactly this – the dissatisfaction felt by a person regarding the disjoint between ones imagined community and ones nation state. The Middle East and North Africa (I refuse to say MENA, it sounds stupid) is rife with irredentism. As such, presenting yourself as the tribal leader – the “great chief” – is not really a viable option for much of the region. Most nations tried it at some point but it is mostly, as I say, a subnational tactic; and by the 1960s or thereabouts most nations had moved past it (we can see Weber’s building towards the sole legitimate user of force). The exceptions are Libya (where Gadaffi has deified the idea of the tribal chief – which may explain why Libya is currently falling apart along tribal lines), and failed states like Somalia.

The second level is the national. The problem here is that if you want to present yourself as the leader of a nation you have to be seen to in some way deserve that position. This is where elections come in handy: they are a fast-track to nation-based legitimacy. And if you’re worried you might not win then (provided nobody notices) you can rig it. The other, slower, route to nation-based legitimacy is to look to history. If you are going to do this then it helps to be some sort of king.

Indeed this national approach has tended to be favoured by the so-called “oil monarchies” for reasons which should be self explanatory, and by nations with particularly antagonistic relations with the neighbours.

At this point I need to write an aside about Saudi Arabia. Few nations in the world are as passionate about exporting political Islam to the rest of the world than Saudi Arabia. Nor are there many other countries as passionate about converting Muslims of other stripes to their own, tightly defined, Salafi (or local equivalent) view of Islam. It may seem odd therefore to characterize them as an advocate of the nation-based view. However the House of Saud’s primary aim is domestic stability, and a pan-regional power would be a severe threat to that. So Saudi policy is effectively that of an Islamic Lenin- Islamism in one country: good, Islamic regionalism: bad. They might put up with a global Caliphate, if Abdullah could be the Caliph, but anything else is a threat. End of aside.

The third level is the supernational. If you go down this route you claim to be the local representative of some greater, higher, more important force. God is popular for this; as God is unlikely to contradict you. But it is not the only option: pan-Arabism is another powerful force to which to appeal. This is particularly popular if you are a dictator, not a king, and do not want to have elections. Both Islam and pan-Arabism are doctrines with a lot of pull in the region, and in most places have more pull than national identity.

So lets take a lot at the region in the late ’80s (as I think that is most representative of the general trends) and take a look at what the dominant approaches were in each country (I’ve thrown in some of the more relevant neighbours as well).

political approaches of the Middle Eastern states, subnational, national, supernational

Now obviously any map of this kind is going to be a simplification, and the Foreign Policy of the Middle East states presents the situation with far more nuance than I. Here is some further background to some of the more difficult to categorize countries: Iraq and Jordan were far more pan-Arabic back in the day (especially back when the Kings of the two respective countries were brothers), but after Saddam took over Iraq he started to develop a secular nation state, and Jordan became more nation-based as the Hashemite kings grew in confidence. Algeria has been on the cusp of the two approaches for many years: the army have espoused a more nation based identity evolving from their war of independence, whereas the people have tended to accentuate their Arab identity. Whilst the government is firmly in the hands of the army, it has tried to accommodate the feeling of the people (in this regard if in no other), particularly in its dealings with Morocco and the Western Sahara. Iran was the most nationalistic of all until the ’79 revolution, at which point it became Islamism’s biggest cheerleader.

Then in the early nineties there was a big change. This came in part because the collapse of the Soviet Union made the area far more dependent on the USA – and the USA, whilst fervently anti-democracy in the region, was even more fervently anti-pan-regionalism. It also came because increasing oil wealth meant that there had been a gradual shift of power away from Egypt and the Arabists and towards the Oil Monarchies. Under Nasser Egypt had double the army of any other country in the region, and over a quarter  of the entire region’s GDP (and double Saudi Arabia’s GDP). By 1980 Egypt’s GDP as a share of the region was down to around 7% (well below Saudi Arabia’s) and its army was only the fourth largest in the region. So when the Soviet Union collapsed the importance of the Oil Monarchies to the region radically increased, and Egypt was no longer wiling or able able to project Arabism.

As a result, around 1990 virtually every nation in the region decided to bite the nationalist bullet. To this end, almost all of them that hadn’t done so already started having elections – the elections were largely rigged, but nevertheless they marked a step change in approach.

In this respect, some people say that democratization increases nationalism – as it requires the leadership to define themselves in national terms, it empowers the leaders as the leaders of the nation (but couches it in those terms), and it causes the leaders to appeal to popular sentiment.

But I don’t think that is what happened. The shift to nationalism as the source of legitimacy was real, but the democracy that accompanied it was a farce – and the leaders made no attempt to appeal to popular sentiment. Indeed it was their total ignoring of popular sentiment which is now bringing them down. Moreover, the democratic opposition – or at least the best organised parts – framed themselves in opposition to this movements. They are not necessarily Islamists (in most cases it seems there is a small but well organised Islamist minority) but they are certainly universalistic, and to a certain extent, Arabists. Insofar as we are aware (it is not a hugely researched topic) Arabic identity is still largely more strongly felt than national identity – which is one of the reasons the rebellions have spread around the region so readily.

So these newly-nationalist regimes are falling to a popular uprising which has a more regional outlook – suggesting nationalism was never really a winner, or at least not when done like that. Does that mean we can expect to see a more homogeneous and integrated Middle East? Well despite everything I’ve said, I think not.

For above everything else these were revolutions about bread-and-butter, domestic, material, concerns: the unemployment rate, the increase in food prices, Mohamed Bouazizi’s licence to sell oranges. The new regimes need to address those issues. The people of the region don’t want a new world view, just competent governance. And so i think that, at least for a while, the new regimes are going to have to look inwards, not outwards.

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