I haven’t blogged much the past couple of months. It’s partly because of a busy schedule and partly because of a severe case of writer’s block. A holiday to my old stomping grounds in Malaysia and Pulau Langkawi where I once attended sekolah menengah (Malaysian high school) has inspired new interest in writing about the country.
Malaysia has a parliament and elections, but it is nowehere near being a working democracy. This week they have once again proven this with the censorship of MP and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar now faces possible suspension from parliament over a comment made during one of its sessions. He claimed that the nationalist campaign 1Malaysia, intended to boost national unity, is somehow related to Ehud Barak’s 1999 political campaign One Israel. The relation is the PR firm APCO that allegedly has been working for the government coalition Barisan Nasional. (more…)
Anwar Ibrahim on trial for sodomy again February 7, 2010Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia , add a comment
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was today back in the courtroom for trial on charges of sodomy, a very serious offense in the Muslim-dominated Malaysia. The prosecution claims to have rock sure technical evidence, Anwar and his supporters claim this is a high-level government conspiracy to discredit the opposition movement. Whatever the truth, both sides of the political fence in Malaysia has much on the line in this trial.
Similar charges in 1998 led to Anwar being sacked as s deputy PM, imprisoned and quarantined from politics – also being the decisive blow against his economic reform program1. It may have been a pyrrhic victory for the sitting regime as it also served as a rallying call for the opposition eventually leading to the creation of the current opposition coalition where such diverse parties as the Islamist PAS and the socialist DAP stand reasonably united with Anwar as their leader.
In the previous round, the allegations against Anwar were by many seen as a decisive low blow by a hegemonic leader (Mahathir Mohamad) against his reform-oriented deputy who was rising too fast in public popularity . In 1998 Mahathir sat on the pinnacle of a strong pyramid of patronage and media control. He needed to prevent Anwar from getting in the position for a possible hijack of this effective machine. In destroying an internal enemy he created an external one.
- I have previously published a student paper about this in the post Sex, lies and capital controls [↩]
The Massachusetts mess January 18, 2010Posted by Sverre in : Uncategorized, United States , add a comment
The Democrats may lose their supermajority in the Senate. A serious problem for health reform. Several bloggers have opinions on what this may signal that way or the other, particularly since this is a traditionally Democratic seat. Dan Drezner has an interesting take on the real reason why the race has suddenly gotten interesting: Both candidates are apallingly bad.
[…]the candidates are God awful. Seriously, they stink. Just to review our choices: Democrat Martha Coakley has a prosecutor’s complex that would make Javert seeem like a bleeding-heart liberal. She is a God-awful politician so out of touch with reality that she accused Red Sox hero extraordinaire Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan (Schilling’s blog response is here). Based on the ads I’ve seen, her campaign has also been, by far, the nastier of the two.
This leaves Republican Scott Brown, who based on this vacuous Boston Globe op-ed, is an empty shirt with no actual policy content whatsoever. He was in favor of health care reform before he was against it. He can’t stand the run-up in government debt, and wants to cut taxes across the board to take care of the problem — cause that makes perfect economic sense. The one thing he is unequivocally for is waterboarding suspected terrorists.
It would be true political irony if all Obama’s blood sweat and tears over health reform should go to waste because of a mess like this. But that’s politics for you. Part of the reason why it’s so interesting…
Gay marriage and religious freedom July 19, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Human rights , 2comments
I’ve commented before on how ass-backwards I think the argument is that state recognition of same sex marriages should somehow be an infringement on religious freedom. Bondo at Voting While Intoxicated comments on this topic today, and I feel inclined to reiterate.
The basic human right of religious freedom dictates that we should recognize each individual’s right to their religious practices (within reason). If same sex marriage should in any way be a infringement on that right, allowing it would have to restrict the practices of a church or other religious organization. It does not. The state will still recognize heterosexual marriage just as before.
What would constitute infringement on religious freedom would be if states decided not to recognize marriages conducted by accepted religious organizations just because they were between two people of the same sex. As long as one religious organization recognizes such practice, so should the government.
The death of a giant June 3, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Norwegian politics , add a comment
On May 25th a giant in Norwegian politics, passed away. Haakon Lie might not be very well known to foreginers, but he was certainly one of the most influential people in Norway in the 20th century. He was a man of many controversies, but it is hard not to respect his role in building social democracy in Norway.
He was party secretary of the Labour party from 1945 to 1969, a period through which the Labour party was in government for most of the time. The joint leadership between Lie and the most prominent prime minister during the period, Einar Gerhardsen has become famous in Norwegian politics both for its effectiveness in building the country and for its latter days bitter rivalry.
Lie was one of the people who rebuilt the Labour party from a party of class struggle to a broader mass party building the welfare state on a compromise between capitalism and socialism. He was one of the ideologers that formed a new kind of socialism where anti-capitalism was replaced by a modern social democratic quest for liberty for all. In domestic policy he pushed for social reforms along with his comrade in arms Gerhardsen.
In foreign and security policy he was much more controversial. He was driven by a distaste for communism whose anti-democratic tendencies he felt was a corruption of socialism. He feared its spread and favoured NATO membership and nuclear armament. (more…)
Exit Pak Lah April 2, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , add a comment
It’s been in the works for quite some time, but Malaysia’s unpopular prime minister Abdullah Badawi (nicknamed Pak Lah – “uncle Abdullah”) finally handed in his resignation to the Malaysian king yesterday. He will be succeeded by his deputy prime minister and successor as UMNO party president, Najib Tun Razak.
After UMNO has been losing ground over the last few years, in 2008 in particular, the challenges for Najib will be great. While Malaysia is being hit harder and harder by the international financial crisis, Najib will have to reform and revitalize his party, the Barisan Nasional coalition and the government of Malaysia itself if he is to have any hope of holding the opposition coalition under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim at bay.
On taking office, the heredtary nobleman Najib is already shrouded in suspicions of corruption and scandal – none of which have been yet to stick in court, but are accepted by large parts of the population. His work is certainly cut out for him. (more…)
What are the French up to? March 31, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Political economy, World politics , 1 comment so far
Just after writing the post on Le Maire’s speech, I came across this news story from AFP, that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is threatening to walk out on the G20 summit unless he gets his way. According to Bloomberg, what he’s after is:
[…] to give more economic oversight power to the International Monetary Fund, and more financial oversight to an institution that would derive from the Financial Stability Forum, a group that brings together senior representatives of national financial authorities, regulators, central banks and international financial institutions.
The French leader is pushing for the G-20 to endorse accounting rules that reduce boom and bust economic cycles, and to regulate hedge funds and rating agencies. He’s calling for rules that would force banks to disclose traders pay to regulators, which could in turn ask financial institutions to increase reserves if their compensation system encourages risk taking.
The French do seem to be taking a confrontational line to get international actors to work together. This might possibly just be a display from Sarkozy’s side to show his domestic audience that he is taking action, without having to dig too deep into France’s own coffers. His moral-religious rhetoric seems to support this theory.
A new Mussolini or Caesar? March 30, 2009Posted by Sverre in : World politics , 1 comment so far
The controversial Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi has the wind in his sails as he surges towards increased power in Italy. His right-wing alliance was recently united into the party Il Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom) under his leadership, and the first thing put on the agenda was giving more power to the Prime Minister.
The Italian premier apparently feels that the parliament is unwieldy and dominated by an “irresponsible opposition“, making changes to the consitution necessary. According to Financial Times, he proclaimed that:
The constitution must be enriched and revitalised … The powers of the prime minister are almost non-existent … The country needs to be governed.
Several commenters speculate that what he wants to achieve is transforming the figurehead position of the Italian president into an active executive position with extended powers like France or the United States.
With personal control of more than 90% of broadcast media through active ownership, he is already the most powerful politician in Italy since Mussolini, and many now seem to be afraid of the emergence of a new authoritarian rule in Italy. Letting the military spearhead a new crackdown on crime is especially worrisome.
I don’t know Italian politics nearly well enough to speculate on the nature of Berlusconi’s plans, but Julius Caesar’s famous crossing of the Rubicon with his legions does come to mind – Alea Iacta Est.
YouTube: A modern-day propaganda leaflet March 21, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Political economy, World politics , add a comment
Ever since WWI, propaganda leaflets dropped behind enemy lines were an important tool in trying to weaken support for whoever was in charge among the local population. It is believed to be an effective tool, which is why it is still in use in conflicts around the world. One of the defining aspects of Obama’s campaign to become president was how well he was able to exploit the new social internet media to his advantage. And he has apparently taken this with im into the White House.
Yesterday, he released a Youtube video aimed at the Iranian people, obviously in an effort to convince Iranians that the United States hopes for peace and does not want to be enemyof Iran. You can see the three-minute video here:
Najib’s challenges March 17, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , 1 comment so far
The Far Eastern Economic Review carries an interesting article about the challenges faced by the new UMNO leader Najib Tun Razak as he is just now ascending to the throne of the Malaysian ruling party. His predecessor was punished by the electorate for failing to deliever the reforms he had called for. Now Najib is about to take over power when it is at an all time low, and when Malaysia is plagued by new political scandals weekly. Barry Wein from FEER notes that the hereditary nobleman Najib, political hot shot since the age of 22 and son of the founder of the government coalition, seems a very unlikely candidate to be a big reformer and steer Malaysia towards real democracy. From what I’ve learned through following Malaysian politics, I would concur.