Sunday :: Mar 28, 2004

The Changing Face Of Old Europe


by pessimist

Several elections have taken place in Europe in recent days. Some have resulted in major reversals. Others are going to be worth watching for other reasons. All might prove to be very significant to US foreign policy.

In France, French government routed in regional vote

France's left-wing opposition has crushed President Jacques Chirac's ruling conservatives in a regional election, paving the way for a government reshuffle and raising doubts about the pace of economic reforms.

Exit polls on Sunday showed the Socialist Party and its allies, buoyed by discontent with government cost-cutting, had won about 50 percent of the votes and control of most of the 26 regional councils.

"The President of the Republic is the main person responsible," said Jean-Marc Ayrault, leader of the Socialist deputies in parliament. "This (cost-cutting) policy must be changed. The French have said it clearly."

RESHUFFLE EXPECTED

Chirac is not obliged to act on the result of the election, seen as a mid-term test of his policies three years before the next presidential election. But a cabinet reshuffle has been widely expected since the left easily won the first round of voting on March 21.

High unemployment, an unpopular reform of the state pensions system and threatened cuts to the costly medical insurance system have wrecked Raffarin's ratings. In recent months, teachers, hospital workers, scientists and firemen have all demonstrated against government moves to cut the public deficit and rein in welfare spending.

President seeks boost in Georgian election

Georgians have voted in a parliamentary election likely to hand President Mikhail Saakashvili's allies a big victory, but tensions in a wayward province threaten to cast a shadow over the poll. Saakashvili, elected by a landslide in January after leading a bloodless revolution last year, has pledged to unite the divided Caucasus nation and stamp out rampant corruption.

The election is a rerun of a November poll widely viewed as rigged that led to the popular uprising and ouster of veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Union's last foreign minister.

The United States, which backs Saakashvili, is keen to see a stable Georgia as the former Soviet republic lies on the route of a Western oil pipeline due to start pumping Caspian oil to the Mediterranean next year without the need to cross Russian territory.

Ruling party sweeps Turkey's local polls

According to early results Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party swept Turkey's local elections on Monday. A victory could strengthen the government's hand in pushing for a solution on Cyprus but could also raise fears of a loosening of secular laws. This governmental change didn't come about by way of elections but might prove to be significant anyway.

Erdogan's party won a commanding victory in November 2002 general elections but critics say a victory in Monday's elections would not only confirm the Islamic-rooted party's rising popularity but could lead the government to take more courageous steps in solving Cyprus and loosen a ban on Islamic-style headscarves at universities, a thorny issue which might stir tension with the fiercely secular military.

A discouraging sign of the times

After Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats took their latest pummeling in the polls late last month, the national opposition was quick to draw a lesson from its triumph in Hamburg. “The people don't want the Berlin coalition anymore,“ proclaimed Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union who led the opposition's failed campaign to overthrow Schröder in the 2002 national election.

But after watching the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian partners in action earlier this week, voters have good cause to ask themselves whether the conservative parties could offer true alternative leadership in a national capital that is desperately trying to lift the burden of 4.64 million unemployed people off the country's shoulders.

Granted, politics boils down to the business of compromise. But Germany, the struggling economic giant, does not need more promises of plans to come. It needs dynamic thinking right now. The compromise worked out this week appears to be nothing more than the parties' standard approach to working out their political differences. It is hardly an encouraging sign for those people who Stoiber says are looking for a change in Berlin.


No money for European elections

The Interior Ministry said yesterday it is looking for some 72 million euros to cover the cost of the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections, as the previous government allegedly squandered nearly all the funds budgeted for this year’s two elections on the March 7 national polls. “We looked for funds in the state budget for the European elections, and found next to nothing,” Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said. Pavlopoulos asserted that the Socialists had budgeted 79,550,000 euros to cover the cost of the national polls and the June Euro-election, but spent all but 500,000 on the March 7 vote. “This proves that major issues were handled by politicians who were not in a position to budget — or did not wish to, in order to convey a different image of the state of the economy — even roughly, the cost of two elections,” Pavlopoulos said.

The new government has pledged to take stock of the public finances, claiming that PASOK, while in power, repeatedly cooked the books to present the economy in an unrealistically flattering light. “The stocktaking will go ahead,” Pavlopoulos said yesterday.

Former Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis countered that the March 7 vote had involved higher expenditure than usual, as for the first time voters cast their ballots without displaying special voting papers, and people were allowed to vote for their own constituency without actually going there.

Putin Praises New Government

President Vladimir Putin praised his new government Saturday, accusing the Cabinet it replaced of stalling on reforms, and discussed the tasks of what he said would be a more compact presidential administration and a more influential Security Council.

While he said he was "not dissatisfied" with Kasyanov's government, he added that officials "began to think about the elections and didn't have the nerve to carry out administrative reforms or more important things in the economic sphere."

Putin, who signed a decree Friday outlining a reorganization of the presidential administration, said the changes should make it "more compact and manageable" and that it should try to do the work of other state structures, such as the Cabinet. Putin said the presidential administration "was born as a revolutionary headquarters," referring to the turbulent events of 1991, when his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was elected president and the Soviet Union broke up. "I hope we won't have any more revolutions," he said.

These elections weren't in Europe, but might prove to be influential anyway.

Taiwan vote recount could be this week

A vote recount could take place as early as Wednesday, after opposition party leaders yesterday accepted a proposal by Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian to speed up the process.

Mr Chen, who defeated KMT chairman Lien by just 30,000 votes, or 0.22 per cent, in the March 20 presidential election, said on Saturday night he was willing to ask the court to skip a hearing and order an immediate recount, if the opposition formally filed a petition to contest the poll results.

'The alliance will file the petition on Monday morning, asking for the annulment of the election results and an immediate recount on a fair and open basis,' said Mr Ting Yuan-chao, chief of Mr Lien's office.

'If the recount is conducted fairly and justly, the result must be accepted by the two sides, and there is no need for Mr Chen to doubt that we would accept the outcome,' said Mr Ting.


India likely to return Vajpayee to power next month

Since coming to power at the head of a coalition comprising secular regional parties, the BJP has set aside its hardline Hindu agenda that helped bring it into the political mainstream in the 1990s. The BJP-led coalition is campaigning on a platform of development and good governance and will win between 287-307 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament, more than the 272 required to rule, the Express said.

The grand old Congress party, whose chief Sonia Gandhi has been consistently targetted for her foreign origins could, along with its allies, take 143 to 163 seats, the poll conducted by A.C. Nielsen for the Indian Express and NDTV said.

The BJP-led coalition controlled 303 seats in the last parliament and the Congress-led alliance had 140. The Congress on its own is forecast to win 90 to 100 seats, according to the new poll, an all-time low. The party won 114 seats in the last election.

Malaysia's election

THE National Front coalition may have won every election since Malaysia's independence, but it has not won by such a crushing margin in decades. On March 21st, voters awarded it 90% of the seats in the national parliament, up from 77% in 1999. It also won control of 11 of the 12 state governments at stake, while its share of the popular vote rose from 57% to 64%. Meanwhile, the biggest opposition party, the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), retained only seven of the 27 national seats it held in 1999, was practically obliterated in one of the two states it had controlled, and held on to the other by the thinnest of margins. So were the voters endorsing the status quo, and rejecting criticism of the government? Not exactly: the result was a victory for the opposition's ideas, though not for its parties.

Dumbfounded opposition leaders are denouncing the conduct of the election and calling for a new one. They point to a study of the electoral roll conducted before the poll which found a worryingly high proportion of false or incomplete addresses, and untraceable or suspicious names—including 156 people registered at the same address. They also complain about the short campaign period, media bias, gerrymandering and lack of funds. Yet the opposition faced similar obstacles in 1999, and did much better.

Sri Lanka's election

Two nations divided - Elections are unlikely to bring a stable government.

"Election? We got no election. We don't NEED no stinking election!"

US will tell Iraqi council to pick a prime minister

The United States will transfer power in Iraq to a hand-picked prime minister, abandoning plans for an expansion of the current 25-member governing council, according to coalition officials in Baghdad. With fewer than 100 days before the US occupation authorities are due to transfer sovereignty, fear of wrangling among Iraqi politicians has forced Washington to make its third switch of strategy in six months.

The search is now on for an Iraqi to serve as chief executive. He will almost certainly be from the Shia Muslim majority, and probably a secular technocrat. "There will be no [Paul] Bremer and there will be a prime minister," a coalition official told The Guardian on Friday. "That will be the biggest change with the transfer of sovereignty."

This is a situation that won't be solved with an election. Nor will this one.

Assassination bid on Iraqi
minister

Iraq's interim public works minister Nasreen Barwari, a Kurd, escaped an assassination bid yesterday near the northern city of Mosul in which three of her bodyguards were killed, a police officer said. "Nasreen Barwari escaped an assassination attempt in Al Karama, east of Mosul," Major Ragheed Yunes Abdallah said.

Barwari was last week seen seated behind top US civil administrator Paul Bremer when he announced that her ministry would be among the first four to gain independence from the US-led coalition on Thursday.

This is a situation that WOULD be fixed with an election.

Prosecutor calls
for Sharon probe

Israel's chief prosecutor yesterday officially recommended bringing charges against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a corruption scandal that could drive him from office. The Justice Ministry said State Attorney Edna Arbel had submitted a draft indictment to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who would have the final say on whether to put the 76-year-old prime minister on trial.

A Justice Ministry source estimated it could take Mazuz, a career civil servant widely regarded as without any political agenda, up to two months to decide whether to charge Sharon. The developments plunged Sharon deeper into trouble two weeks before a visit to Washington, where he hopes to win President George W Bush's backing for his plan to unilaterally evacuate Jewish settlements in Gaza and some in the West Bank.

It put a cloud of suspicion over Sharon which may hamper his efforts to obtain cabinet backing for the Gaza withdrawal plan.

Sharon's aides declined to comment on the matter.

pessimist :: 5:33 PM :: Comments (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!