Archive for the ‘opposition’ Category

Putin and Medvedev Face Trouble: More Authoritarian Control Due From Kremlin?

December 16, 2008

Putin and Medvedev are in trouble – and the result may be the return of the Kremlin’s authoritarian streak…

By James Marson
The Guardian (UK)

Vladimir Putin’s power and popularity in Russia was built on a simple political model: a large carrot and a large stick. The carrot was Russia’s consumption boom fuelled by oil revenues. The large stick was his centralised, authoritarian control over political life, from the quashing of other political voices to the control of the media, which has painted an excessively rosy picture of the country, linking Putin with all the successes and blaming the west or Yeltsin’s so-called democracy for all the problems.

These two factors came together to destroy politics in Russia. No one was interested in options other than Putin’s plan, as people could see on the TV and feel in their pockets what a good job he was doing. Putin didn’t even have to crush all voices of dissent – there are a small number of magazines and newspapers that have critical coverage of the authorities, but hardly anyone reads them. Nor did anyone pay much attention when other voices were crushed. Why rock the boat when it’s sailing along so nicely?

But the crisis is hurting Russia, and threatening this political model. The country’s foreign currency reserves have dropped by a quarter, GDP growth is slowing and there is talk of a budget deficit next year. According to a recent poll, 20% of the working population have been laid off, faced cuts in their salaries or delays in getting paid during the crisis. The carrot is fast disappearing.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir ... 
Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meet at the presidential residence Gorki outside Moscow, earlier this year. (RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov/Reuters)

The stick is also beginning to look increasingly flimsy. Control of TV coverage is all well and good when what is shown bears semblance to reality. But it’s hard to play down the present crisis, although the Kremlin is doing its best by heaping criticism on the US, while blacklisting certain words, such as “crisis” and “collapse,” from coverage about Russia. But is it possible to believe there is no crisis when your friend loses their job, your salary is cut and your neighbour’s home is repossessed?

The crisis threatens to reveal the glaring failure of Putin’s reign to take advantage of strong economic growth and relative stability to push forward with modernisation and reform. While Putin’s “power vertical” allowed him to take credit for the country’s economic progress in the last few years, the situation is now reversed. As the Kremlin is the only political and economic decision-maker in the country, the blame for the problems could begin to fall on the same man as the praise did.

It is not clear how society will react to the consequences of the crisis. How will the newly wealthy middle class react to losing their jobs, cars and foreign holidays? Will it encourage them to push for economic and political reform? Social and political scientist Yevgeny Gontmakher caused a stir with a recent article in the respected daily Vedomosti, in which he imagined a scenario he called Novocherkassk-2009. (Novocherkassk is the city where protests against food price rises led to a massacre in 1962.) Gontmakher’s scenario begins with the shutting down of a large local factory, which leads to protests that the local authorities are unable to deal with. Moscow – Russia’s only real decision maker in the “power vertical” – is forced to make a decision: negotiate or use force? As a result of the article, Vedomosti was censured by the Federation on the Supervision of Communications and Mass Media for publishing material that may be interpreted as inciting extremist acts. “Extremism” is the Kremlin’s word for any kind of protest or opposition.

An indication that politics may be returning came from an interesting recent spat between president Dmitry Medvedev and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, a leading member of Putin’s United Russia party. Luzhkov recently called for the return of direct gubernatorial elections (under Putin, regional governors were appointed). He was on solid ground, given that a recent survey revealed 63% of Russians are in favour of returning to a system of elections.

Medvedev’s response was to say that anyone who wants to see elections return can tender his resignation.

The censuring of Luzhkov and Vedomosti demonstrates the inflexibility of Putin’s political model and gives us an idea of what to expect in the next few months. There is no space for any voice other than the Kremlin’s. Any differing opinions or protests will be swiftly shut down. No one knows how long the crisis is going to continue or how bad it’s going to get. But the messier things get, the more Putin and Medvedev risk being left with a heavy reliance on the uglier side of their political model: less carrot means more stick.

Read the rest:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/200
8/dec/11/russia-dmitri-medvedev

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Zimbabwe’s Mugabe: Cool, Calculated Killer

December 14, 2008
For decades, the Zimbabwe leader has carefully calibrated his actions to a level of ‘acceptable’ violence that escapes condemnation while destroying opposition.
By Robyn Dixon
The Los Angeles Times
December 14, 2008
Reporting from Harare, Zimbabwe — For a very literal example of Robert Mugabe’s staying power, look no further than a recent crisis summit of southern African leaders designed to settle the political impasse that has seen the longtime Zimbabwean leader stubbornly cling to the presidency.

The leaders wanted him to leave the room so they could deliberate in private. He refused.

Between their misguided politeness and his famous capacity to intimidate, the presidents meekly backed down. Mugabe stayed.

Be it with his fellow African leaders, the West or the Zimbabwean opposition, the 84-year-old Mugabe has outmaneuvered — and outlasted — his critics for more than a quarter of a century, through a careful calibration of the international reaction to and domestic effect of his actions. As close as the end sometimes seems, Mugabe has managed to survive.

Please help the Red Cross fight diseases like Cholera in Zimbabwe:
http://www.redcross.org.uk/zimbabwe

To help understand his staying power, one need only rewind to the 1980s and the massacres of his early years in power, when he was a conquering hero who had thrown out the white minority regime of Ian Smith.

The name of the murderous operation, Gukurahundi, was as lyrical as a haiku: the wind that blows away the chaff before the spring rains.

Mugabe’s political opponents were the chaff. The spring rains were supposed to signify the golden era of a one-party state (or rather, a one-man state).

Western leaders and news media ignored the massacres of the “dissidents” by the army’s crack Five Brigade in Matabeleland province in southern Zimbabwe. Some estimates put the dead at 20,000.

Read the rest:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/wo
rld/la-fg-mugabe14-2008dec14,0,4418603.story

Above: Robert ugabe.  Photo:  Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / Associated Press

Thai opposition readies to form new government

December 7, 2008

Thailand‘s main opposition party called Sunday for an emergency parliament session to prove its majority in a bid to form the next government and end months of political chaos, as loyalists of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra struggled to stay in power.

A new administration should bring some semblance of stability to this Southeast Asian nation, which has been gripped by political uncertainty since August when protesters — driven by a single-minded hatred for Thaksin and his allies — seized the prime minister’s office and later overran the capital’s two airports in a bid to topple government.

By VIJAY JOSHI, Associated Press Writer

Leader of Thailand opposition's Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva ... 
Leader of Thailand opposition’s Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva is seen on April 26, 2006 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Democrat Party said Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 it has enough support to form a new government following a six-month political crisis that has paralyzed the country.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

The opposition Democrat Party said it will ask the speaker of Parliament on Monday to call an extraordinary session of the lower house so that it can prove it has a majority. Both Thaksin’s allies and the opposition say they have enough support to form a government.

“If the Democrat Party forms the government, I will try to boost confidence and revive the tourism industry and the image of the country,” said 44-year-old party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former economics lecturer who will become the next prime minister if his party comes to power.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081207/ap_on_re_
as/as_thailand_political_unrest

The court ruling forcing Thailand's premier from office ... 
The court ruling forcing Thailand’s premier from office ended crippling protests, but analysts say the kingdom’s political problems run deep and will flare up again. (AFPTV)