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Archive for the ‘Politics – World’ Category

The American presidential election process has got on to the next stage. The Democratic National Conventionis on at Denver. As far as the Democratic party goes, the Clintons — Bill and Hillary — are still a huge force to reckon with. That was in ample evidence during the primary stage. Still doubts are being expressed as to how the Clintons would influence the march of Obama-Biden to the White House.

Here is Bill Clinton’s speech at the convention yesterday. (Source: BarackObama.com)

Here is Hillary Clinton’s speech at the convention the day before yesterday. (Source: BarackObama.com)

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Curtains are finally down on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Like most previous editions this too was politically coloured. More than sports and victorious athletes, China as a country has come up trumps on many counts.

1. China was once denied the chance to host the games due to its poor human rights record high pollution levels. I don’t know if much has changed, but at least the West and people who matter seem to have been convinced that things have changed for the better.

2. China was, and probably is to a great extent, a country hated by capitalist and democratic societies for its communist form of governanace. But deftly merging capitalism and communism, like no other country has, China has proved that their method is as effectve — if not more effective — than any other form of governance. The fact that it could host the most high-profile sports event in the world without a hitch is a testament to the success of the Chinese formula.

3. On the sports field China’s show has been dramatic. Some 20 years back, it was some where down in the medals tally. Yesterday, it ended up right on top with the most number of gold medals. It’s an amazing feat.

4. China has proved that good organisation and discipline are the keys to success.

Lessons for India

India — especially its group of Leftists — has a lot a lot from China. We may be the world’s largest democracy, and vibrant too. But as former US ambassador J K Galbraith once said it’s no better than a functioning anarchy.

One counter argument is that China is repressive. Quite possible. But disciplining may at times look repressive for people who do not fall in line. It’s not very different from the discplining in the armed forces, India included.

India is blessed with most essentials for a successful society, but their benefits are nullified because of indiscipline. Worse, people who must enforce it themselves are indiciplined.

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Finally it has happened; what Hillary Clinton never wanted to happen. The fighter has accepted defeat and thrown her weight behind the winner. It must have been quite a hard task for her. That’s evident from the time she took to make the concession speech. Now, all eyes are on Obama: will he pick her as his running mate? (Report: BBC)

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The Super Tuesday is just a few days away — on Feb 5, when most of America will vote for the party nominees. (Youtube channel: You Choose ’08.) As the crucial primaries get closer, here below are two video clippings from the Democractic debates. These two show the contrasting moods of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

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This is not something the media in India do — openly backing a candidate in an election. The first two editorials in today’s New York Times are about who the newspaper’s editorial board thinks should be the Democratic and Republican candidates for the Nov 8 US Presidential election.

“As Democrats look ahead to the primaries in the biggest states on Feb. 5, The Times’s editorial board strongly recommends that they select Hillary Clinton as their nominee for the 2008 presidential election,” the newspaper says. “The next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work. Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president.”

The second edit on the Republican Party, the NYT says, “We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president. The leading candidates have no plan for getting American troops out of Iraq. They are too wedded to discredited economic theories and unwilling even now to break with the legacy of President Bush.”

Backing McCain it says, “Still, there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe.”

Opinionated media & blogs

This is quite a normal feature in the US. But in India, though the media might editorially endorse or criticise the stand taken by political parties on specific issues, they (particularly big media houses) rarely openly declare its backing for a particular candidate, that too in a parliamentary or assembly election.

I guess the highly opinionated feature of mass media in the US is an indication of the highly evolved state of its society that makes elaborate use of multimedia to access, process and disseminate information. The society is not only highly literate but also has the benefit of sophisticated technology.

There is an argument that blogs have flourished in the US mainly because of the “bias of the mainstream media”. Probably. But in no way can blogs claim a “holier than thou” tag, since there is nothing to show that the blogs themselves aren’t biased and they themselves don’t have any agenda?

I feel the best indication of a well-evolved society is the diversity of opinions. To that extent blogs are only complementing in their own way the multiplicity of opinions in the society.

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Just a few hours back, I was ready to hear not just Hillary Clinton conceding New Hampshire, but even pulling out of the race in favour of Barack Obama. Over the past few days, she was looking so downcast, the feeling of resignation written all over her face. O, what an upset! It’s good there is a contest out there, there’s some excitement remaining. Even on the Republican side, thanks to John McCain. But where is Giuliani, who was supposed to be leading in the national polls? O, right, in NH, pollsters couldn’t get even Hillary right, could they?

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The excitement is on. The year-long process to elect a successor to George Bush has begun. Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee are off to a colourful start. (Read report) The race is a year long. So, there is no guarantee that one of these two will be the next President.

America has one of the most complicated process of electing its President — arguably the most powerful person on earth. Whether one likes it or not, America, its politicians, policies, and society have a great influence on rest of the world. As the saying goes: If America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. It’s a different matter if America realises this, and does something about it.

The election process

  • BBC has excellent details elaborating the complicated electoral process. Click here to know everything about it.

Here are some extracts:

Most states hold state-wide votes, called primaries, to determine their preferred candidates from the two main parties. Others use a slightly different procedure involving public meetings, called caucuses.

This is the process by which supporters of the Democratic or Republican parties, in each US state, say which candidate they would like to see representing their party in the November presidential election.

Each state gets to send a certain number of delegates to the parties’ national conventions in August or September 2008. Bigger states have more delegates. During these national conventions each party’s nominee is formally chosen.

The primaries and caucuses determine which candidate the delegates will vote for. Suppose, Obama has has got more votes than Hillary in Iowa. It means, more delegates, who have pledged support to Obama — than who have pledged support to Hillary — will be sent from that state, Iowa, to the Democratic party’s national convention.

The candidate with the most delegates wins the nomination. Usually this becomes clear early on in the primary season. This year the winning candidates are expected to be known in February.

The Democrats will hold their convention in Colorado in late August. The Republicans will hold theirs in Minneapolis in early September. The presidential candidates will take part in TV debates on 26 September, and 7 and 15 October.

Voting takes place on November 8. Americans do not, technically, participate in a direct election of the president. It’s the delegates / electors who actually select the president.

In almost every state, the winner of the popular vote — on Nov 8 — gets all the electoral college votes in that state, even if his or her majority is wafer thin. So it can happen that a candidate ends up with more electoral college votes than the rival candidate, and yet a smaller share, nationally, of the popular vote.

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Recently I had the good fortune to meet a Canada-based academician — Prof Waris Shere — who is an expert on international affairs, which is one of my favourite subjects. We got talking on a number of global issues from the US to West Asia to Europe to Pakistan.

He says in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the best way forward for Pakistan would be the formation of a national government. “Under the present leadership, the future of Pakistan, which is undergoing a major crisis, looks bleak. A national unity government, comprising all major parties, would help the nation find a way out of the difficult situation it finds itself in.” he said.
“There is an urgent need for dialogue, especially in the light of the current situation in Pakistan,” Shere, who had discussed global peace issues with Bhutto during her visit to Canada in mid-90s, said. “A stable and progressive Pakistan would be in the best interests of India.”
Referring to the debate on opening a communication channel with the Taleban, Shere who is currently on a visit to Bangalore said, “Yes, talk to them. That’s the only way out. Violence wouldn’t lead us anywhere.” He suggested that the US should adopt a carrot-and-stick policy in Afghanistan and bolster the moderates in a bid to win over the extremists.
He quoted the example of former US President Ronald Reagan, who invited the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to a dialogue only weeks after terming the Soviet Union an evil empire. “Today, there is no option but to start a dialogue with the enemies. Look at Libya; it was a terrorist state, it abjured violence and joined the mainstream,” he said.
Shere said the US should recognise the position of Iran in the region and open talks with a view to creating a framework to regulate Iran’s influence, displaying a willingness to coexist with Iran while limiting its excesses. He said the US must not only ensure consistency in foreign policy but plan it on a long-term, rather than focus on immediate gains. In matters like human rights and political freedom, it has different yardsticks for different nations, said Shere, who has authored seven books and over 40 articles.
“Today, terrorism is the new international anarchy. Yet the overall picture, while of concern, is by no means bleak. It must be dealt with by new agreements and meaningful dialogue. Peaceful change requires systematic diplomatic effort with friends and foes alike. Global leadership must be accompanied by social consciousness, and a readiness to compromise,” Shere says in his latest book, ‘The Struggle For Peace’, an anthology.
It has contributions from a number of international political figures and academicians, like former UK PM Tony Blair, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Hass and member of the Harvard Department of Government Samuel Huntington. Most of the authors in the anthology agree that today there is a high level of inter-cultural interactions that is in turn intensifying inter-cultural awareness.
Shere believes that India was lucky to have leaders like leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. “Though India and Pakistan were born together, look at how Pakistan is today. That’s because there was complete political vacuum there when it won independence, unlike in India. Nehru banked on democracy even though at that time India was very poor. He could have easily been a dictator. Even while recognising all the shortcomings of the newborn nation, he firmly decided that democracy was the path for India. He stands vindicated today,” Shere said.
(Published in The Times of India, Bangalore, on December 29, 2007)

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Till the day before yesterday, we had only ‘suicide bomb’ attacks. Yesterday, we saw for the first time a ‘suicide gun and bomb attack’.

See video of the BBC report on the assassination here.

The game between terrorists and the state is one of improvisation. One tries to outwit the other. As Margret Thatcher said, a terrorist needs to be lucky only once, but others have to be lucky always.

Ever since Benazir Bhutto came back to Pakistan confronting headon explicit terror threat to her life, she has been lucky — the closest she came to losing it was immediately upon her arrival when a suicide bomber killed scores except Benazir. Yesterday, an attacker improvised the cruel methodology, shot at her during the brief moments she emerged out of her secure van, and set off an explosion. Benazir’s luck ran out.

Yesterday evening in my office, when I saw a colleague was rushing to our boss’s cabin, I knew there was something major that had happened. “Bhutto has been killed,” he blurted out. I couldn’t believe that. The news spread all over within minutes. A strange sense of disbelief combined with shock descended, as we all looked at the streaming video on news channels.

One way Benazir was risking her life by doing what she did. But in another way, her return and willingness to be as close to the people, epitomised not just her faith in democracy but, more than that, her sense of conviction on what she believed in and her bravery. She was brave. She was brave to return to Pakistan in spite of threats. She was brave to campaign. She was brave in spite of the insecure environment. News reports had said she had even written to President Musharraf naming the people who were after her life after the first attack.

Will Pakistan be the same again? It’s not the first political assassination or unnatural death of a Pakistan leader. Prime Minister Liaqat Ali was shot dead in 1951 — very close to yesterday’s incident. Pakistan has always been on the edge. And, that has never been a comfortable scenario for India, which has consistently taken huge blows because of the ideological turmoil within Pakistan.

Yesterday’s turn is yet another new one. Pakistan will need radically new approaches to solve the unprecedented crisis it is facing. It’s too complex an international issue that it’sn’t easy to even suggest remedial measures. But now, it’s a feeling of dreadful uncertainty of the future. One can only be hopeful that things would get better.

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Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a presumed suicide attack, a military spokesman has announced on TV. Ms Bhutto had just addressed a pre-election rally in the town of Rawalpindi when the bomb went off.

More here from BBC.

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