DEMOCRACY: THE GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS ISSUE
This month we publish new reports on 19 nations which are moving towards democracy and economic stability, or claim to already have it. These are accompanied by a number of ‘no-hopers’ in any time scale that we can envisage.
In this grey old world just for a change, we display below “the good news” reports which are few and “the bad news” reports – the many, which condition is ‘situation normal’ for most of them. The ‘something other’ are also quite numerous, which infers that things can get better or worse.
Our sister-website worldaudit.org with its Democracy league tables measured by HUMAN RIGHTS, POLITICAL RIGHTS, FREEDOM OF SPEECH & CORRUPTION, is necessarily more precise. For this October issue we link each New Nations country report to World Audit’s democracy table.
At 1st October
Good news: India, Saudi Arabia, Philippines
Bad news: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Libya, Syria
Something other: Iran, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, North Korea
The Philippines: For several years our updates were depressing, with one corrupt government following another, but so far, since the election of President Aquino most of this nation’s longstanding problems are being tackled, already with good results (World Audit Democracy Table).
India: in terms of its population size, held by many to have outstripped China, India has many problems, so whilst the news is always going to be mixed, in this particular issue the good news relates to international affairs, an improving relationship with China, and the positive early stages of a rapprochement with Pakistan. India doggedly sticks to the democratic way, with a relatively free press, a lively opposition and reasonably honest voting, but corruption is still present and is the largest obstacle to India’s recognition as the world’s largest full-blown democracy (World Audit Democracy Table).
Turkey: On a geopolitical level Turkey is experiencing some turbulence. Problems are flaring in the nations's south as violence intensifies between the Kurdish separatist movement and Ankara's security forces. As problems escalate, a number of NGOs have urged the government to seek a political resolution to this conflict, which is also gaining ground thanks to the instability in Syria. Meanwhile the government has been accused of heavy-handedness with reporters, both Kurdish and Turkish - far too many of whom are in jail for any nation calling itself a democracy. More than 300 military officers have been convicted of alleged coup-plotting, in the denouement of Prime Minister Erdogan's quashing of the military's political power - long overdue. The Egyptian military must be watching this development closely and with some apprehension (World Audit Democracy Table).
Syria: Despite its revolt being a part of the ‘Arab Awakening’ is best compared to Iraq rather than Libya, Tunisia, or even Egypt. As violent as the Syrian revolt has been so far, everything suggests that with Asad gone, it could only get bloodier. Syria has also taken on the role of regional discontent ‘sponge’. The Saudis in particular, have always been keen to transfer domestic tensions beyond their border, the theory being that radical elements can join the fight in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria rather than cause trouble at home. Given the disunity and sectarian nature of the Syrian confrontation, Asad’s resignation or departure, should it come to that, would happen in one of two ways. Either he is forced to resign by the Baath party in favour of a leader willing to use even greater force in what would presumably be an even more markedly sectarian conflict for the survival of the Alawites, or he is removed by force, perhaps even assassination, by a much better organized and effective rebel force. None of these outcomes can be considered as likely. The world waits to see if the new regional powers group: Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, can find an acceptable solution to stop the civil war (World Audit Democracy Table).
Saudi Arabia: The Great Saudi-Iranian Chess Match: The game of Chess is believed to have its roots in northwestern India during the Gupta Empire around 500 AD and the earliest evidence of the game is from about 600 AD in Sassanid Persia, where it was called ‘chatrang’. The game became very popular in the Muslim world after the Arab (Islamic) conquest of Persia. The Persian Gulf region is now the arena for a major diplomatic chess match between Iran and Saudi Arabia (backed by the United States) adopting the role of the important pieces of the ‘royal’ entourage with their respective sets of regional allies as their pawns. At stake are the prestige of Shiite Islam, regional diplomatic influence, and control of the Persian Gulf (World Audit Democracy Table).
Egypt: President Morsi, against American advice attended the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in Tehran last August. While, issuing a condemnation of Syria, a key Iranian ally, his mere presence in Iran was intended as a message to the United States that Morsi’s Egypt would not be as malleable as Mubarak’s to US whims. Relishing his defiance, Morsi organized a Contact Group for Syria to help find a solution to the ongoing civil war, bringing together Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. For a novice, this was an admittedly very sophisticated feat, and one that would have been almost impossible for Hosni Mubarak, given his very dependent approach to Teheran, glued as it was to the interests of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Morsi’s independence here could prove valuable to the United States, as it leaves Egypt to play a constructive role in any talks that may develop behind the scenes between Washington and Tehran, or between the latter and Riyadh, which was the first foreign capital Morsi visited as president (World Audit Democracy Table).
Libya: The Benghazi episode –the murder of the US ambassador, has sadly shown that despite its considerable support for the Libyan and other anti-regime protests in the Arab world, in what has been passing for the Arab Spring, the United States is still perceived by too many as an enemy and an obstacle. It appears that no amount of aid for reconstruction, for democratic institution building, or even moral support, something that the Obama administration set out just months after the President was sworn into office with the famous and conciliatory al-Azhar speech in Cairo, aimed at dismissing the perception of the Bush presidency’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’. Despite all this, it hasn’t lifted America’s ‘standing’ in the Muslim world. Now, the Benghazi events could lead the United States along a more dangerous path, which could have even more serious consequences. American public opinion, Democrat or Republican is starting to distrust .the Arab Spring, and it’s supposed democratic effects. Meanwhile this large country is at an anarchic stage with thirty or forty armed militias roaming and the new untried army is ordered to enlist them or disarm them – a dangerous undertaking! (World Audit Democracy Table).
Iraq: Prime Minister Maliki patches up his confrontation with the Kurdish Regional Government, but continues his head-on charge against the Sunni Arabs and their regional supporters. Iraq appears to be becoming fully part of an arc of crisis encompassing Syria-Iraq-Iran - the Shia crescent warned against by the King of Jordan. Maliki has shown himself to be a consummate politician, particularly since the US military withdrawal. Whether he can keep the state together within its present boundaries is not clear. Newnations always argued for a federal state because of the Shia-Sunni divide as well as the Arab-Kurd differences, It could still come to that! (World Audit Democracy Table).
Iran: Iran tries all it can, sometimes quite ingeniously, to delay the impact of oil sanctions yet the tide is growing. The whole economy suffers under the weight of the sanctions as unemployment and inflation rise. On the political front, veteran politician Rafsanjani seems to be positioning himself as the man who could just possibly lead the country out of the mess, now Ahmadinejad has fallen out with the Supreme Ayatollah. Iran is of course the leading Shia country in the world and has warned that it will not allow its ally Syria, to be destroyed by the Sunni nations behind the rebels in the civil war. That is not far short of a ‘red line’ of the kind Mr Netanyahu likes to speak about. Iran has also joined the regional powers group organised by Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, seeking an acceptable solution to the Syrian civil war. (World Audit Democracy Table).
North Korea: On September 5 the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the Supreme People’s Assembly, the DPRK’s rubber-stamp parliament, would convene again on September 25. That is unusual. Normally the SPA meets just once a year, in the spring, for a single day. Its main task is to say yes – unanimously and without debate; what did you expect? – to a budget which typically has no hard numbers. News of a second SPA session therefore got Pyongyang-watchers excited – many assumed that this unusual convocation would see economic reforms announced, especially in farming.
Confounding expectations, although there was news of changes in farming, the SPA’s main agenda turned out to be education: specifically, extending the period of compulsory schooling from the current 11 years to 12. That is not uninteresting. The DPRK’s educational achievements are real, albeit also frayed (lack of resources; that may now change) and flawed (too much Kimistry; that will not change). The SPA also saw some minor personnel changes. More interestingly, this being North Korea, there were a couple of noteworthy absences… (World Audit Democracy Table).
Russia: Russia comes under fire from the European Parliament over the imprisonment of three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, as a vocal opposition politician is thrown out of parliament and the American donor organisation USAid, is expelled from the country. Turning eastwards, Putin agrees to write off 90 per cent of North Korea's debt and invest in infrastructure projects there, and in Central Asia with FSU republics not falling into line with Moscow’s military proposals, a key part of his Eurasian Community plans. Putin’s breadth of vision encompasses a different version of the USSR without the communism, but much more in line with where Tsarist Russia had got to, with the big difference that Russia under him has now become internationally in a league of its own, where the supply and broking of oil and natural gas is concerned. His Eurasian Union is a brilliant move for an economic future and he has recognised that Ukraine and Belarus, despised as they are by the west, for corruption and the old soviet approach that lingers on in terms of policing, etc; have nowhere else to go to, but to him. The dictators of the former soviet Central Asian republics have been enjoying the clear run they have been having for the last twenty years or so, particularly in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, where they have also become extremely rich. His work is to persuade the Central Asian FSU states into accepting the Russian army back again, but in this the inevitable approach of Islamist extremists, once the Afghanistan fighting is done, may have the effect of their turning to Moscow for help, who would prefer to fight them in the wastes of Central Asia, rather than on the turf of Mother Russia (World Audit Democracy Table).
Georgia: Parliamentary elections are looming, and the international community has raised major concerns about the lack of commitment the government is showing towards free and fair elections. The regime has taken numerous steps to debilitate its rivals, the most prominent among them being ‘the Georgian Dream’ coalition, whose leader, tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, has mounted a campaign to remove what he views, with good cause, as the tyrannical regime of Mikhail Saakashvili. Representatives of the independent media are apparently harassed, sometimes physically, as the apparatus of repression takes hold. Nato member countries must be relieved they did not accede to Mrs Clinton’s and David Milliband’s (then UK Foreign Secretary) encouragement, to allow Georgia into membership (World Audit Democracy Table).
Ukraine: Parliamentary elections are scheduled for late October. Ukraine's opposition parties claim that the ruling party is doing its utmost to stymie its progress. Yulia Tymoschenko, the flaxen haired figurehead of the Orange Revolution remains in jail and is facing a number of new charges. The Yanukovych regime is rapidly acquiring the unenviable reputation of a thuggish country, with scant regard for democratic progress, the independence of the media or the judiciary (World Audit Democracy Table).
Afghanistan: A reshuffle and a message: Karzai manages to make the top level appointments he wanted, laying the ground for the 2014 elections and signalling that he is not bailing out, but wants instead to control the outcome of the 2014 elections (World Audit Democracy Table).
Pakistan: Pakistan’s fiscal state appears more and more precarious, the more so since in an election year everybody expects the government to indulge in profligacy, more even than usual. The half-hearted efforts to cheaply restart the economy do not appear to be working, while the attention of the politicians is all focused on consolidating old alliances and shaping new ones for the forthcoming elections (World Audit Democracy Table).
Uzbekistan: The US is granted permission to use Uzbek airspace to get its personnel and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, but President Islam Karimov bans foreign forces from having military bases on his territory, signalling a deeper commitment to protecting his sovereignty and reducing communication on security matters with his neighbours. This is now directed more at Moscow rather than the US (World Audit Democracy Table).
Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan sentences dozens of suspected terrorists to jail in a newfound drive to root out extremists, while trying a political opposition figure for his involvement in strikes at an oil company last year, that turned to bloodshed. America is concerned that Kazakhstan may not even be pretending to play fair; and a rights group accuses the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a major bloc for cooperation among Russia, China and Central Asia, of being a vehicle for human rights violations (World Audit Democracy Table).
Taiwan: Despite evidence of a deteriorating physical and mental condition, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou continues to ignore calls for the release of former president Chen Shui-bian on medical parole. Ma continues to pontificate on the need to take a hard-line against corruption but the recent unveiling of a draft ‘political party act’ which would allow the KMT to retain control and use of (what many believe to be) its ill-gotten assets, gives the lie to any serious claim to the high moral ground (World Audit Democracy Table).
Vietnam: One of the five remaining communist governments left, they are constantly demonstrating that communism was a false god, although they are its children. Vietnam is attempting to dig itself out of an economic hole of its own making, but while inflation has been bought under control; the banking system—and therefore the economy as a whole—remains vulnerable. While some have called for a far-reaching restructuring and a fresh injection from the IMF to hasten reform of the banking sector, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has resisted such calls. There have been conferences and meetings calling for reform and rescheduling targets, but whether admonitions will provide the impetus needed to get the economy back on track , remains doubtful. The best prognosis at this time is for a slow improvement in the shorter term, but ongoing vulnerability in the longer term. Foreign investors should remain cautious (World Audit Democracy Table).