• Tuesday 17th September 2019

From Far & Near

  • Published on: July 9, 2019



  • BY SHASHI MALLA

    • Greece Elections: Change of Leadership
    In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, there will now be a change of leadership. Until the very last, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the left-leaning “Syriza” party, had attempted to cheer up his followers and not to be discouraged by the negative pre-election polls. In these, the centre-right conservatives “Nea Demokratia” (New Democracy/ND) had a clear lead.
    The former journalist and newly elected Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Syriza party, Kostas Arvanitis claimed triumphantly: “Syriza finished its job, it ended austerity in Greece, and cleaned the Augean stables.” He also said one of the “greatest successes” of the Tsipras government was the fact that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) no longer controls Greece’s finances. He called it a “crime”that former PASOK party Prime Minister George Papandreou brought the IMF to Greece after the country’s debt crisis began.
    However, when he himself had led the opposition, Tsipras had sharply attacked the austerity programme imposed on Greece and demanded massive relief instead. Yet, after his election victory and confronted with the country’s economic reality, he had to change course.
    After his demonstrated success, Tsipras had warned in the run-up to the general election of a change in government. He had said that the previous austerity policy would return if Mitsotakis was elected, risking a reversal of all the successful reform measures implemented by his government over the past four years.
    The opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is now slated to be the country’s next prime minister with a ruling majority. With most districts counted, New Democracy has 39.85 percent of the vote so far, with Tsipras’s leftist Syriza party in second place with 31.53 percent. New Democracy will win an outright majority, as the winner receives 50 extra seats in parliament, according to the electoral law.
    The prime minister-elect told supporters that their party had been given a strong mandate for change, saying he would be prime minister for all because Greeks were “too few to stay divided”. Tsipras conceded defeat, but claimed: “Today, with our head held high we accept the people’s verdict. To bring Greece to where it is today we had to take difficult decisions [with] a heavy political cost.”
    According to the BBC, the prime minister-elect, Kyriakos Mitsotakis comes from one of Greece’s long-standing political dynasties. He is the son of former PM Konstantinos Mitsotakis. His sister, Dora Bakoyannis, was mayor of Athens, the capital city when it hosted the Summer Olympics in 2004 and later became the foreign minister.
    In Europe, there is much respect for Tsipras: “As the Mitsotakis era begins, one of Europe’s iconic leftist leaders of the past four years departs the stage” (BBC). But he will not rest on his laurels. He is expected to regroup in opposition and wait patiently to pounce on the new PM, should he take a wrong turn.

    • Sudan: Civilian Rule or Military Dictatorship?

    Mediators from the African Union, including Mohamed Hassan Lebatt have finally negotiated a compromise agreement between the civilian protest movement and the ruling Sudanese military. The two sides have agreed on democratic elections in three years’time. In the interregnum, they are to share power in a council. The point is whether they will be capable of doing so, and if so without a minimum of more violence in this strategically placed north-eastern African nation, home of many warring ethnic groups.
    The Sudanese are yearning for no more violence, and no more bloodshed, after suffering immense hardships some six months after the start of the people’s mass demonstrations and three months after Sudan’s longtime military dictator General Omar al-Bashir was overthrown – in a coup d’etat by the very military, but under massive pressure from the people’s movement.
    According to “Deutsche Welle” (DW/the German state broadcaster): “The agreement is a road map for the political future of the country and one that will, at least initially, avert the threat of further escalation of the conflict.” According to various sources, at least 140 demonstratorswere killed by Sudanese security forcesin two violent engagements this June. Thousands of protesters camped outside the defence ministry for weeks, even during Ramadan, demanding a transitional council in which civilian leaders could decide the future of the country. The military finally took brutal action, forcefully removing the protesters. Many people died and those who survived reported rapes, sexual abuse, and the use of immense force.
    According to the compromise agreement, democratic elections will take place only after a transitional period of more than three years [a key demand of the military], during which time no parliament will function. Instead, there will be power sharing at the highest civil-military level. A “transitional council” will determine the governance of the country for the next three years and will be balanced – the military and the civilian people’s movement will each nominate five members.
    Both sides will jointly put forward a 11th member to complete the transitional council. This member’s role could be decisive in future, especially in surmounting stalemate situations. The first real test whether the council will function smoothly will, therefore, occur in the decision-making process in choosing this person who will hold the balance of power.
    In a novel development, the agreement also envisages the formation of a supplementary “transitional Cabinet” consisting solely of civilians with specific areas of expertise. This is seen as a special concession by the military, since the majority of the seats in this ‘technocratic cabinet’ will be decided upon by the civilian movement. In this two-tier government/administration, the lower level ‘cabinet’ will be fully subservient to the upper level ‘council’. In any case, this innovative experiment in governance will be followed closely by students/experts of Middle Eastern/North African politics.
    This welcome breakthrough in Sudan power talks cannot, however, hide or ignore the real power equation in Sudan – whether domestically or internationally. In the case of a breakdown of the power-sharing formula, the military is in vastly superior position. It has brute strength on its side, especially of the “Rapid Support Forces” (RSF), a notorious paramilitary force that emerged from the “Janjaweed militias” that fought in the long-running civil war in Darfur.The RSF was also responsible for the violence in the capital Khartoum. Besides possessing the weapons and also because of its long-standing central role and experience in the country’s political and economic power structures, the army also has the support of important regional powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The military has even pursued a proxy war for the Saudis and UAE in Yemen. In this theatre of war, the Sudanese military’s help has become essential. The financial help from the other direction is also of consequence.
    These authoritarian regimes will only tolerate democratic experiments to the extent that they do not contradict their own interests. In external affairs, they definitely want to restrict the influence of their regional rivals Qatar and Turkey, as well as that of the feared Muslim Brotherhood, an organization/movement that they wholeheartedly detest and combat with all the means at their disposable.
    Their main conduit is Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka “Hemeti”), who has sworn loyalty to the above three Arab “brother states”. He is also deputy chairman of the Sudanese military council that currently holds power, and most [infamously] also the commander of the detested RSF that has been accused of perpetrating extreme acts of violence in the recent confrontation with the people’s movement. An “independent” committee is supposed to clarify these atrocities, and it will be interesting to await the results – if any, and especially Hemeti’s alleged role.
    The opposition movement has also demonstrated its strength. First, it was instrumental in prodding the military to oust the long-standing dictator al-Bashir. Now, for the second time it can claim victory – albeit partial and with the African Union’s support – in reaching the power-sharing agreement. It will have to remain united to achieve further goals and retain the solidarity of the international community.
    Nepal has also been involved, although very marginally, in Sudanese affairs. It is part of UNAMID, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. UNAMID has the protection of civilians as its core mandate, but is also responsible for contributing to security for humanitarian assistance, monitoring and verifying implementation of agreements, assisting an inclusive political process, contributing to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law, and monitoring and reporting on the situation along the borders with Chad and the Central African Republic. Nepal is the third largest police contributor in this mission, after Jordan and Egypt.
    Unfortunately, Nepal’s participation in this laudable UN Peacekeeping Mission nearly had to be aborted because several police chiefs put their own personal greed above our national interests. This scandal was the infamous “Sudan Scam” in which non-functioning armoured personnel carriers and low-grade building material were procured tarnishing the image of the Nepal Police and the country. This ‘national shame’ is still being played out in the Nepali press.

    • Pathetic State of Trump’s Governance

    Leaked diplomatic cables reveal that Britain’s ambassador to the United States regards President Donald Trump’s administration as inept, hobbled by infighting, and unlikely to improve. They are also an indication of the pathetic state of trans-Atlantic relations, and the much touted ‘special connection’ between the UK and US.
    Cables sent from the ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, back to the London Foreign Office described Trump as “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent”. The cables were leaked to and first published by the British “The Daily Mail”. In secret cables and briefing notes, Darroch also warned the UK government that Trump’s “career could end in disgrace,” and described conflicts within the White House as “knife fights.”
    The leaked cables come at a sensitive time in UK politics with Conservative Party members currently choosing between Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and maverick Boris Johnson to succeed Theresa May as potential prime minister. May was effectively ousted by her own MPs for failing to deliver on the country’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union.
    The lame-duck British government is deeply embarrassed. Trade Minister Liam Fox has bent over backwards and announced that he will on bent knees apologize to Trump daughter Lvanka Trump-Kushner. But for what and why the presidential daughter?
    Thin-skinned as he is, and unable to accept such damaging critique, Trump brushed it off: “The ambassador has not served the UK well, I can tell you that.” In fact, Sir Kim has served with distinction during a 42-year diplomatic career, including as permanent representative to the EU.
    Johnson is expected to be the new British PM. In such a situation, writes the pre-eminent “New York Times” Op Ed columnist Roger Cohen, the United States and Britain would then be led by men with striking similarities: “two charlatans and narcissists with flimsy notions of the truth, utterly unprincipled, given to racist slurs, skilled practitioners of the politics of spectacle, manipulators of fear, nationalist traffickers in an imaginary past of radiant greatness, fabulists of reborn glory,” and “where conscience and integrity” are “completely missing” (INYT, July 8, 2019).

    The writer can be reached at: [email protected]

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