2014 Predictions

New Year is rapidly becoming my favourite ‘holiday’ celebration.  Why?  Unlike Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and most of the others, it actually seems to have a purpose that’s neither religious nor consumerist.  Although not the greatest fan of fireworks, I do enjoy using New Year as an opportunity for reflection on the year past, and to take a look at the year ahead.  I do this for my own life – though that would be dreadfully boring to put on this blog – but I’m also increasingly trying to do it for the world at large.  The rushed predictions I made for this year turned out to be 65% correct; next year I hope to beat that record!  I’m going to split the predictions into categories rather than just focusing on exciting/dull political developments as I did for this year.  So, without further ado, here are my 2014 predictions:

UK Politics

  • The Coalition will survive to the end of the year, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will really start ramping up the rhetoric to differentiate themselves from one another.  The Liberal Democrats will focus on the social liberal policies while remaining economically right-wing.
  • European elections: The Conservatives will lose out massively, perhaps dropping to 15-20%, while I expect Labour to lead at maybe 25% or so.  UKIP will, of course, dominate the news, and I expect them to come a close second to Labour but they won’t have a massive breakthrough.  The Liberal Democrat vote will collapse, falling below 10%.  The Greens will (hopefully!) keep at least one seat, while I think the SNP will make some gains in Scotland.  There won’t, however, be a clear leader in the election.
  • The Scottish electorate will reject independence in the upcoming referendum, but it’ll be closer than most are currently predicting.  The share voting Yes will be above 35%.
  • We might finally get some decent policy announcements from Labour.  Maybe.

Elections Worldwide

  • The constitutional referendum in Egypt will go ahead and provide a Yes vote, resulting in parliamentary and presidential elections later in the year.  I expect Sisi will run for president, or push a figure from the military.  These elections might not be completely rigged but I don’t expect their results to be universally accepted.
  • Libya will finally end up with a government by the end of the year, which will be more liberal-leaning than many other post-revolutionary governments in the region.
  • North Korea’s ruling party candidates will be returned to parliament with 100% of the vote.
  • Iraq will struggle to hold parliamentary elections within an increasingly violent atmosphere; Shia candidates will narrowly achieve a majority over Sunni and secular alternatives – Nour al-Maliki will probably continue as Prime Minister.
  • The European Parliament as a whole will see a massive rise of national eurosceptic parties – like UKIP – gaining seats in the legislature.  Otherwise, perhaps a small shift towards the left?
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party will defeat the ruling Indian National Congress in India.
  • The Fidesz Party in Hungary will consolidate its rule, leading to increasing concerns of authoritarianism in the country.
  • The ANC will be re-elected in South Africa, although with a smaller majority than in any other post-Apartheid election.  President Zuma’s popularity will continue to decline nonetheless.
  • In Sweden the Social Democratic Party, in alliance with the Greens, shall sweep to power.
  • Despite mass protests against her government earlier this year, I expect President Rousseff shall cling onto power in Brazil.
  • The Democrats shall take control of the United States Congress, finally ending the gridlock upon American politics. (I can dream)

Other World Developments

  • The Syrian conflict will become so depressing I’ll probably stop writing and talking about it.  The death toll shall pass 200,000, the government and Islamic radicals will become increasing winners at the expense of the population, and the international community will twiddle its thumbs while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah more and more start to call the shots.
  • The Sochi Winter Olympics will pass without too many more terrorist incidents.  There will be heightened international criticism of Russia’s human rights record, which will then be largely forgotten once the media coverage dies down.
  • We’ll be seeing a lot more about the travesty of oil-drilling in the Arctic.
  • There will be another coup, either in Africa or Asia.
  • Something big will happen to a South American country.
  • At least two countries will become more democratic.
  • Keep an eye on Ukraine – I expect certain elements of the country to increasingly resist Russian influence.
  • China’s economic growth rate will recede although still stay above the majority of countries in the world.
  • The dictator whose political demise I’ll predict this time is Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria.

Cultural Predictions

  • Doctor Who: Steven Moffat will announce plans to resign within the next year, potentially followed by an announcement of a successor.  The return of an undivided series structure, alongside the return of multiple-episode stories (not yet announced) will improve series 8’s standing in my reviews.
  • Radiohead will release their ninth album, and it shall be amazing.
  • J.K. Rowling will publish her sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling, which will become an instant best-seller.

 

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Military Action in a Democracy

Recent events in the UK, USA and potentially France regarding military action have raised interesting questions about how militaries operate within democracies.  Last week we saw the surprising defeat of David Cameron’s attempts to gain parliamentary legitimacy for military strikes against the Syrian government – his already watered-down bill being rejected by a majority of 13 votes.  Both Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond have said that military action against Syria is now off the agenda, and that we shan’t be joining the USA in any potential strikes.  Interestingly, the votes weren’t even about the actual strikes, merely the timescale, but the defeat seems to have been interpreted as an altogether rejection of the plans.  Opinions on this particular issue aside, I’m convinced that this result was a victory for the democratic system.  Polls have repeatedly shown that the British public is against any military action, which the parliamentary vote reflected.  We’ve since had President Obama announce that Congress will have a vote on the issue*

What’s remarkable is that, to the best of my knowledge, leaders have nearly always been able to go to war without much opposition from parliament.  Before the First World War Britain was admittedly gripped by jingoistic fervour and the idea that wars had little consequence for us, therefore resulting in conflicts in South Africa and the Crimea going ahead without resistance.  But even after the First World War, we entered the Second World War, the Korean War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War without parliament stopping them.  While it’s important to make the distinction which many seem to be forgetting that David Cameron never intended to go to war over Syria, just launch strikes, parliament effectively blocking military action in such a way still seems unprecedented.  This really is a testament to just how war-weary a nation we’ve become.  I read a brilliant quote recently but unfortunately can’t remember the source, which went something like “Such processes must be alien to the Syrian military system“, which sums up precisely why I feel so privileged to live in a democracy.

The British Prime Minister and the French and American Presidents all have the power to authorise initial military action without parliamentary approval, although, unless events unfolded very favourably indeed, it would be tantamount to political suicide for any of these leaders to bypass the wishes of parliament.  So the interesting question is raised: should parliament have the legal power to authorise military action planned by the government?  There’s a strong democratic argument in favour, in that power is with the elected representatives, not one solitary leader, and that forcing debates through parliament encourages all sides of an issue to be heard and considered.  Then again, if parliament was necessary for military action to be used, we’d be helpless within a crisis without passing emergency legislation.  Take the situation in the USA, where any military action taken would occur at least three weeks after the chemical attacks of Gouta.  That’s not a problem here, where it is wise to gather as much evidence as possible before taking action, but it would be a clear problem in other scenarios.  All things considered, I think the best system might be for the elected leader to continue having the power to make decisions regarding war and peace, but parliament should have the power to block such action before it is taken – and the opportunity to do so.  Effectively, the system we have now except more ground into law.

Somewhat relevant is one of my favourite political theories: the Democratic Peace Theory.  In short, this cites statistical evidence of the fact that democracies are far less likely to wage war with one another than authoritarian states.  This could be due to the accountability of democratic militaries, or the democratic culture of achieving aims through negotiation, or the current link between democracy and globalised trade.  It’s one of the main reasons that Western policymakers are so keen to promote democracy abroad, as the theory suggests that once worldwide democracy is achieved, limited world peace might even be a possibility.  You can look at how peaceful Europe has become since becoming a democratic entity as partial evidence of this.  Anyhow, I’ve interpreted recent parliamentary procedures as more evidence of the theory working.

*Because, you know, when faced with an impossible, complex decision, who better than Congress to solve it?

Syria: Not Our Problem?

Something I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post: I’ve tried to take an open-minded approach to this crisis, accepting and appreciating viewpoints on either side of the debate, but one argument I have no time for is that Syria is “not our problem.”  You’ll surely have heard other variations of this: “Leave the Muslims alone to kill each other” and other often xenophobic statements.   Fair enough, you might dispute the West’s moral right to intervene in Syria or the effect such intervention might have on our economy, but to suggest that atrocities committed in Syria does not affect us is absolutely wrong.

Firstly, there’s the wishy-washy but strong point that we are all members of the human race and that atrocities committed to some directly affects us all.  If you disagree with this fundamental principle then, logically, you’re arguing that we were right to allow Rwanda’s genocide to happen, that we were wrong to stop Hitler’s holocaust, that any group of human beings can be tortured, massacred and desecrated so long as it doesn’t directly affect us.  This analogy is perhaps overused, but it’s the same as saying that ignoring a stranger being mugged, raped or murdered is morally acceptable.  To be clear, this isn’t necessarily an argument for intervening in Syria but it definitely does make the atrocities committed there the responsibility of us all.

More practically, we share a planet with Syria so naturally anything which happens there will have an impact upon us.  The war could spread to other countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey or Israel, creating more of a problem for all of us.  The destruction of a country’s infrastructure and displacement of millions of its population is bound to have economic ramifications (someone described the strain upon Lebanon and Jordan as being equivalent to the entire Canadian population crossing the border into the USA).  The longer the conflict goes on, the more extreme elements of both the rebellion and government will become, the more weapons will proliferate – and therefore the change instability beyond Syria’s borders and of terrorist attacks against the West will increase rapidly.  Again, not necessarily an argument for intervention, but you simply cannot deny that what happens in Syria won’t affect us.

Whether we decide that conducting military strikes and/or further intervention is right or wrong, there is no doubt that Syria’s war is absolutely the international community’s problem and that it’s in the interests of us all to bring it to an end.

NEWS UPDATE: Since yesterday, the British Parliament has voted on a government motion and Labour’s amendment – both were rejected.  I’m a bit confused about where this leaves us.  The motion supported military action if backed up by appropriate UN evidence, so now this has been defeated will we definitely not be joining the USA’s missile strikes?  Or will a second vote next week in which Labour may or may not support strikes still go ahead?  This is impossible to keep up with!

Yes, that appears to be the case.  Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed there will be no military action in Syria.  Wow.  For a prime minister and government to be so decisively defeated on an issue of foreign policy must be almost unprecedented.  Can Cameron ever overcome this embarrassment?  Wow.  Um.  If I have enough to say, I think I’ll blog my reactions to this tomorrow when I’m less tired.

Mohammed Morsi: One Year On

A year ago today, on the 30th June 2012, Mohammed Morsi* took office as the fifth President of Egypt.  This marked the rise of the once-banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after former president Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.  Morsi himself served time in prison during Mubarak’s administration.  He is significant for being the first president in Egypt’s history – all 7,000 years of it – to have been elected in what was generally recognised as a free and fair election.  That’s great, right?!  Finally, a leader who respects democracy?  Well……

Morsi never fails to pay lip service to his democratic ideals – more often than not to safeguard his legitimacy – but is he really interested in promoting the ideals of the revolution?  I had a positive opinion of him upon his first election.  Small things, such as not wearing a bulletproof vest during his inauguration speech and refusing to have presidential portraits of himself hung like Mubarak had convinced me he was, at least, different to what had come before.  By no means indications of the route his leadership would take but a good start.

Unfortunately, as the months dragged on it began to look as though his rule was becoming ever more authoritarian.  I uneasily read reports of journalists and presenters who had been arrested or threatened by the government and, although Egypt is nowhere near the level of a police state it was under Mubarak, these are not things which happen in a democratic country.  Then came that November decree where Morsi announced ‘temporary’ powers over the judiciary, effectively granting him more powers than even Mubarak had wielded.  In response to the mass unrest which occurred afterwards he did rescind the decree, and has gone on record since of saying the move was a ‘mistake’.  So, pretty mixed.  Economically, Egypt has continued to stagnate, and while the unrest caused by Morsi’s divisive policies are one factor of this I don’t think he can be solely blamed.  Egypt’s economic problems will take longer than a year to fix.

Internationally, Morsi hasn’t taken any dramatic routes.  Egypt’s partnership with the USA and ‘The West’ has continued, if perhaps in a more limited fashion.  He has made tentative moves to improve Egypt’s relationship with Iran and also seems committed to maintaining the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.  I would say his general policy is to keep as many potential allies abroad as possible, although he has appeared heavy-handed at times.  The most prominent example of this is his fierce opposition to Assad’s government in Syria, calling for direct support to the rebels fighting Assad and the imposition of a No-Fly Zone over the country.  He has also recently attacked Ethiopia’s planned project to dam the Nile, giving a veiled threat of war, though this is unlikely to happen.

Today, on the anniversary of his acquisition of power, mass protests have yet again broken out across the country.  As many as hundreds of thousands could be out, right now, protesting in Cairo, Alexandria and most other cities.  Many are calling for a ‘second revolution’, claiming they will not leave until Morsi resigns.  There are conflicting reports of how the army views the situation, with some claiming that the army, still recovering from its brief stint in power and keen to avoid more unrest, might play a more significant role than we have previously seen.

As I’m not Egyptian I don’t really have a right to comment, but I’m not entirely convinced Morsi should resign.  I oppose most of his policies I’m aware of, but there is the strong argument that he was democratically elected.  There’s also the strong argument that it would be a bad precedent of Egyptian presidents backing down from power at the first hint of trouble.  Also, quite simply, Morsi could have been a lot worse.  He does still permit protests and realises that he does rely on public consent to rule – a fact I don’t think he is ever allowed to forget.  He hasn’t yet set up a fundamentalist Islamic autocracy, as some feared this time last year.

It’s not unprecedented for popular protest to remove a democratically elected government from power, as we saw earlier this year with Bulgaria, and if the protests reach such an extent that the country becomes ungovernable then I do think Morsi will have to go.  There is the option open to him to hold a snap election and, in the presence of foreign observers, allow the will of the country to be properly tested.  I think that would be preferable to a direct resignation.  But I suspect, for now, he is here to stay.

*There are so many variations on how to spell his name – I’ve gone with the one I see most often.

Question Time: The BBC’s Obsession with Nigel Farage

I’ve begun down that slippery path of complaining to the BBC.  Don’t worry, it won’t become a habit, but yesterday’s Question Time was rather irritating.  The three topics discussed were state surveillance, Scottish independence and intervention in Syria.  However the Scottish independence issue was clearly at the forefront, the debate being held in Edinburgh with an audience of 16 and 17 year olds (due to the voting age for the referendum being reduced to 16).  If we accept this, can we agree that a panel consisting of four unionists, one advocate and one middle-ground is pretty uneven?  Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson pointed this out but was dismissed by David Dimbleby, who argued that the audience was split 50-50 on the issue.  But if that’s the case then surely it should apply to the panel as well?

Yesterday, Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie tweeted his irritation at the composition of the panel, which included no representatives from the Green Party nor the Liberal Democrats.  Despite the Greens being among the loudest voices in favour of independence, this wouldn’t need to be an issue if the other panelists represented a range of views relevant to the debate.  Instead, we get Nigel Farage and George Galloway.  I don’t wish to add my voice to the chorus of cries at “BBC Bias”, as I don’t think there’s anything malicious in their decisions of panelists.  What I do think is a problem is that entertainment seems to have become a greater priority than providing a good debate.  Farage was clearly chosen because of his recent misadventures in Scotland and Galloway because, well, he’s loud.  No doubt it was hoped that Galloway and Farage, sitting on opposing ends of the political spectrum, would go head-to-head in a ‘highly amusing’ shouting match.  What actually happened was something of an unholy alliance where they agreed on most issues.

This isn’t the first time Farage has been on Question Time.  In fact, according to this article  he has appeared more frequently than any other individual since the last general election -closely tailed by George Galloway.  Why is this?  Both UKIP and Respect do have representation (well, in England) so I don’t object to their inclusion from time to time, but I don’t think either figure is popular or relevant enough to warrant this sort of exposure.  I’m convinced that they only get invited on because they’re controversial enough to be entertaining but not so extreme as to draw immediate criticism and complaint.  But if they’re giving minor parties this level of exposure then it’s only fair it be divided equally to other parties with similar popularity – to the Greens also and, indeed, the BNP.

I guess the ultimate question is: What do we want from the BBC’s main show for political debate?  Entertaining pantomime or reasoned arguments?  It scares me that the answer isn’t clear.

(As an aside, I’m astonished at the level of condescension and scorn towards young people I saw on Twitter last night.  With a couple of exceptions, I thought the audience had very good points and expressed them well.  Should we not be allowed opinions?)

2013 Iranian Presidential Election Predictions

The first round of Iran’s presidential election will be held on Friday.  Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a controversial time in office, particularly after his re-election in 2009 which I shall discuss in a moment.  His presidency has raised some questions over the extent of Iran’s president’s power.  He has precided over a period of increasing isolation for Iran as pressure, largely in the form of sanctions, mounts over the country’s nuclear program – it is also now more unpopular than ever.  A regional cold war has developed between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, against the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the USA + its allies.  These tensions are now factoring in the Syrian Civil War, which has developed into something of a proxy war between competing interests.  Ahmadinejad is forbidden from serving more than two terms and so a new President shall be chosen.  Whoever this will be certainly has a lot on their plate.

In order to discuss the presidential election, it’s important to look at how Iran’s political system actually works.  The Western image of Iran is this bizarre, antiquated dictatorship and, while it often acts in this way, does have constitutional democratic elements.  Unlike Communist or dictatorial governments, which use elections to create the illusion of public legitimacy, I believe Iran’s system is designed to have a fairly elected president and parliament.  I haven’t studied Iran in detail, but that’s how it comes across.  The trouble is, as a theocracy, the ultimate authority in Iran is God.  Because consulting God poses a challenge, it is necessary to base laws on religious scriptures – the Quran, generally – and also the traditions of Shia Islam.  Interpreting these rules is the role of the Supreme Leader and his Guardian Council and Assembly of Experts.  As the name suggests, the Supreme Leader (currently Ali Khamenei) has supreme power over the judiciary, the armed forces, foreign policy, etc.  This leaves the role of the president unclear.  It’s incredibly complicated, but this BBC page helps make it a bit simpler.

In theory, the system should allow the population of Iran to democratically elect leaders to govern day-to-day issues that are not the concern of the Supreme Leader.  Yet, clearly, this is often not the case.  In 2009 Ahmadinejad was elected president in favour of the more reformist candidate Mousavi.  Many people believe Mousavi to have been the rightful winner and accuse the government of rigging the vote.  There were mass protests across Iran in response, and it did momentarily look as though the regime was in danger.  Yet, the government survived – mostly through using brute force to suppress the protests. It is clear that while there may be an element of democracy in Iran’s political system, it is in a manner tightly controlled by the Supreme Leader who will manipulate results if he does not believe them to be in the country’s interests.

I don’t believe the protests of 2009 will be repeated this year.  Another challenge to the regime would be nice, and the conditions of economic frustration which is common in most uprisings does certainly exist (though the anger quite successfully deflected towards the West, it would seem), I think careful planning will have gone into the election to ensure it produces the desired result.  The majority of accepted candidates are Conservatives, with the exception of the moderate Rouhani and reformist Aref, who dropped out yesterday to improve the chances of Rouhani.  Six candidates remain: five Conservatives and Rouhani.  Naturally, I am hoping Rouhani will win but I don’t think it would make much difference if he did.  If a candidate posed a serious threat to the status quo I don’t think they would not be allowed to stand after the events of 2009 – that Mousavi is currently under house arrest makes this clear.  Perhaps the results have already been decided.  It is impossible to say.

These are difficult times for Iran.  Anything could happen.  Even an unlikely reformist could be convinced that reform is necessary; look at Gorbachev in the Soviet Union or de Klerk in South Africa.  But, of course, the ultimate authority rests with the Supreme Leader, who currently seems determined for things to remain the way they are.

For an alternative look at Iran’s election, check out this unofficial candidate.

Arms Contradiction

Just a thought: as a member of Amnesty International, I am of course very eager to see an International Arms Trade Treaty, currently being debated, adopted by the United Nations.  Thousands upon thousands of soldiers, civilians and children are killed every year by arms-related violence, which could so easily be reduced by limiting the supply of such weapons.  This would also have the effect of stabilising many countries in the world which regularly become torn apart by rebellions, as well as limiting the ability of rogue dictatorships to violently repress their citizens.

And yet, at the same time, I think I tentatively support the supplying of arms to the Syrian Opposition.  Is this a contradiction?  It’s my belief, from the limited knowledge available to me, that to do so would in the long run reduce lives lost in the conflict.  If it’s inevitable that the Assad regime will fall, which I believe to be so, then doing nothing will continue to drag out the stalemate which sees over 100 people killed every day.  If we were to alter the balance and allow the opposition to gain the upper hand, the conflict might be slightly closer to a conclusion.  It would be naive to think that the regime ending would end all fighting, and there is the very real possibility of the civil war continuing on ethnic grounds afterwards.  There is also the high possibility of arms falling into the hands of Islamic extremists.  Thing is, both of these negative outcomes will happen even if we do nothing.  By allowing arms to flow to the more moderate sections of the opposition, chances are they will have more influence in a post-Assad Syria than the extremists.  The longer the conflict goes on, the more sectarian it will become.

Both my beliefs on these issues are founded in the desire to prevent the loss of life through violence, yet they’re in direct conflict with one another.  I’m not sure how to overcome this ideological impasse.