Tag: election

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Candidates for WHO Director-General

When I walk down the street, I don’t see signs saying “Tedros for WHO” or “Vote Szócska.” The television and radio airwaves don’t have endless campaign commercials ending with the tagline, “I’m Flavia Bustreo, and I approve this message.” Sania Nishtar does not hold large public rallies in sports stadiums to bolster her candidacy. Neither David Nabarro nor Philippe Douste-Blazy do phonebanking.

These facts don’t distract from the fact that there is a vigorous and hotly-contested electoral race for the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Think of the current period as the primaries, with the general election campaign beginning when the WHO Executive Committee forwards the names of the three finalists to the World Health Assembly in February.

When WHO reformed its processes for selecting a new Director-General (which I detailed here), they set themselves up for a new and largely unprecedented experiment. For better or worse, most international organizations select their leaders through fairly opaque processes, and the public gets little glimpse into the decisionmaking process. Even when we have seen multiple candidates competing for the top office, such as the 2012 race for the presidency of the World Bank, the formal campaigns have tended to be brief.

WHO’s election process is different. It is openly contested. It features some of the same trappings of other political campaigns. It requires a degree of public engagement not usually seen in international organizations. The United Nations’ search for a new Secretary-General was supposed to be more transparent, but the process came to a surprising early conclusion when the 15 members of the Security Council announced their unanimous support for former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres.

So far, the WHO DG election does not show signs of ending early. Part of that may be because of the procedures WHO established for the election, but it also reflects the keen interest in the job. When the nomination period closed on 23 September, WHO announced that there were six candidates:

The final list of six surprised a number of observers. Tedros (as he prefers to be called), Douste-Blazy, and Nishtar were not surprises, as all three had essentially been campaigning for months prior to the official nomination period. Bustreo, Nabarro, and Szócska, though, were not among the names being bandied about.

The candidates themselves are an interesting mix. Despite the fact that WHO has been criticized for only having had DGs from Europe or Asia since 1973, only one candidate comes from outside those two regions. Two candidates—Tedros and Douste-Blazy—have served as their country’s Foreign Minister. Bustreo is the only candidate who is currently employed by WHO, but Nabarro headed up one of WHO’s post-Ebola reform panels and previously worked in the Director-General’s office. Nishtar would be the first Muslim to lead the organization if she were selected. Three of the candidates come from traditional donor states to WHO. All but Tedros are medical doctors, while Tedros holds a PhD in community health.

As part of the campaign process, the candidates are reaching out to the voters/member-states. Four of the candidates—Tedros, Douste-Blazy, Nabarro, and Nishtar—have specific campaign websites, and Bustreo and Szócska are active on Twitter. and all six responded to a candidate survey from The Lancet. The African Union announced its support for Tedros’ candidacy (and the value of having an African in the top job) earlier this year. Given that African states are the largest single bloc within WHO, that could give him an early advantage—assuming all AU member-states vote in unison.

All of the candidates appear to meet the basic requirements for the position, so which factors are likely to make a difference in the election? Let me call attention to three issues that are likely to play a big role in the deliberations. First, WHO’s budget is a mess. More than 80 percent of its outlays come from voluntary contributions pledged for specific programs. As a result, WHO has little control over how it spends most of its money, and it lacks the financial flexibility to allow it to respond to an emergency like Ebola. That said, member-states have been reluctant to give WHO more money without seeing proof of WHO’s efficacy. A successful candidate will need to show an ability to simultaneously get WHO the resources it needs to carry out its mission and convince member-states that it can use those funds efficiently and responsibly. There may also be opportunities to develop new financing structures, like UNITAID’s airline ticket levy. (Incidentally, Douste-Blazy has been the chair of UNITAID since 2006.)

Second, WHO needs to restore its international credibility. To a large degree, that is likely to mean that member-states are going to want to know specifics from the candidates about what sorts of reforms WHO will introduce to function better. WHO cannot do everything, so the question is what direction the different candidates would go in their understanding of the organization’s scope. That will also touch on how much autonomy WHO should have: is it there simply to do the member-states’ bidding, or should it have control over its own agenda?

Finally, WHO’s leader will need to show an ability to play politics. Outgoing DG Margaret Chan has been criticized for not being an effective diplomat, especially in contrast to someone like former WHO DG Gro Harlem Brundtland. Like it or not, global health is an inherently political field; a focus on solely on the technical aspects simply will not work in this environment. Indeed, Josh Busby, Karen Grépin, and I argued earlier this year that the next WHO DG specifically needs political experience.

In many ways, the WHO DG election could provide a template for international organizations looking to elect their leaders publicly and transparently. As such, it is all the more important to keep an eye on it—and to pick up some sweet campaign swag.


The 2011 Canadian Election: Lessons Learned and Mindless Amateur Speculation

Canadian democracy rests in this man’s hands.

Yesterday I provided a fully superficial background and survey of developments regarding the 2011 Canadian Election. The short version is 1) We’ve had a series of minority governments. 2) Stephen Harper probably thought he could get a majority, and now that does not seem likely though it is still possible. 3) The NDP has ‘surged’, probably at the Liberal’s expense, but also very much at the expense of the Quebec nationalist/separatist Bloc Party and possibly even that of the Tories (who may have expected disappointed Liberals to flock right rather than left.)

In other words – no one has any idea what is going to happen. ThreeHundredandEight has a post on what would happen if the parties achieved their ‘vote ceiling’ ie) how many seats they would get if everyone who says they are going to vote for them actually does. So a majority government for the Tories is still possible (they have a pretty dedicated party followers. One might say rabid, but that is unkind. Just don’t date any…)

So, based on the fact that we are in electoral terra incognita if the polls are right, what can we possibly say we have learned from the election?

This is a horrible lie.
  1. As I have been periodically moaning about, (and is most important for Duck readers) foreign policy does not matter in elections in Western democracies unless something has gone, really, really wrong. I posted a list of 12 questions I would like to see answered by the parties – and that still stands outside of an election. Let’s see what’s in the new Speech from the Throne (which is the government agenda which sets the tone for all policies). My fellow blogger Steve Saideman has some speculation here as to what might happen in the future. Also, James Joyner at Outside the Beltway wrote a good response to my post. 
  2. The Liberals have not been able to present themselves as a good alternative to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. This is rather obvious considering the position they are in. But the point is that they have not really presented themselves as anything other than a less-right-wing version of the Tories. And Ignatieff has simply not been able to convince individuals that he would make a good leader. I think suspect that Iggy will be exiting stage-right (left? centre?) from Canadian politics in a few days.
    I wonder why this didn’t work out? I have a few ideas – the damage of a decade of political in-fighting to be sure. Additionally the Liberal Party is broke and does not have a lot of money to draw on to fight – and it has had to fight three times in the past five years. It just doesn’t have the resources to launch a massive against the Conservative electoral machine (affectionately known as the ‘war room’). A lot of it may have been Iggy’s inability to fight a characterization of him as a carpet-bagger or (*shock*) intellectual.
  3. Do Canadians like intellectuals? This is more of a question than a lesson learned. I had always thought that Canadians were more open to “smartypants” than their neighbours to the south, but this may be a mischaracterization on both fronts. For instance, a few years ago I had a (very partisan) Tory friend tell me that unlike that over-educated professor (I forget if it was Dion or Ignatieff – both have PhDs), Stephen Harper was a ‘real’ Canadian who could identify with him and his problems. I did have to point out to said friend that Stephen Harper has two university degrees and is writing a book on the history of hockey in his spare time. It ain’t exactly clearing brush in Texas. Yet it’s only recently that Harper has been portrayed by the Tories as a ‘trained economist’ that can help Canada grow. Harper is a smart, smart man. He may not openly pontificate like Ignatieff, but he’s clever and well educated. Why hide that fact?
    Perhaps I’m reflecting wrongly on the nature of Canadian Prime Ministers, or the legacy of Pierre Trudeau, our “philosopher king” who was a very long serving Prime Minister. I always thought his persona as an intellectual added to his mystique, which seemed very good at getting him elected over and over and over. Maybe Canada is tired of Trudeaus? Maybe not? It will be interesting to see how this pans out. As a final note here, I would just argue that I do not detect much presentation of Layton as an ‘intellectual’ in the NDP campaign. He’s running on experience, and as a career politician, he has lots of it – though not much in actual power…
  4. Canadians do not seem to care about the mis-management of government. I made this point yesterday. But the point stands. There have been so many government scandals in the past five years that I have lost track. The Tories were elected back in 2006 on the idea that they would bring transparency and ethical behaviour back to government after the sponsorship scandal affected the Liberal Party. So much for that! Yet it does not seem to bother many Canadians. How else can you explain Harper’s leadership ratings? Or the fact that despite the fact that he has literally been held in contempt of Parliament, his ministers have been caught in bare-faced lies (yet not forced to resign) and he continuously shuts down any independent monitoring of his government actions (not to mention it would appear that the G20 summit funding went insanely out of control) that his party will still likely be the government next week.
  5. Finally, there are Maclean’s writer Paul Wells’ Rules of Canadian Politics
    1. For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.
    2. If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it’s not true.
    3. The candidate in the best mood wins.
    4. The guy who auditions for the role of opposition leader will get the job

Of these four rules, I would say number one is definitely out – I haven’t been this interested in AGES. Number two is probably true but doesn’t apply. Number three seems to be where it’s at. Is Harper in the best mood? No. Smiling would break the man’s face. Layton is in the best mood (and why wouldn’t he be? His party is doing better than it EVER has. He may not win, but he is winning.

As for number four – I’m not even sure that Michael Ignatieff is going to get that job.

Michael Ignatieff after Monday.

Finally – What We May Speculate Uselessly and Far Removed From the Situation

First, of our four national parties, three will have new leaders by the end of the year – IF:

  1. The Tories get a minority government with less seats than they presently have (possible)
  2. The Bloc fair horribly in Quebec (seems likely)
  3. The Liberals fall to third place (very possible. Likely even.)

Second, some controversial thinking: Will the NDP be like the LibDems in the UK? Possibly. I speculated a bit about this on Twitter – and got a mixed response. But I think there are a lot of similarities:

a. Popular leaders of national parties that can attract a lot of soft-left votes
b. Ability to present the party as an alternative to the mainstream
c. Will likely be responsible for a Conservative government shy of a majority.

What’s the difference here? The LibDems made the fateful decision to actually enter into power with the Conservatives. I’m pretty sure this will not be possible in a Canadian scenario – the Conservatives and NDP are very far apart on a number of issues. They are on opposite sides of the admittedly (narrow) political spectrum. And I think most NDP supporters would just rather stab their eyes out with a rusty spoon.

This leaves two options: the Liberals could form a coalition with the Tories – which would be hilarious, awful and INSANELY hypocritical concerning all of the campaigning Harper did against (perfectly legitimate) coalitions. Or the Liberals and the NDP, if they have enough seats, may try to form a coalition (or understanding) without the Bloc (who seem destined to do badly, unless they get their supporters out in a BIG way). This is what the Tories have warned though – and considering that the Liberals would (humiliatingly) be the junior partner, I think they would sit this dance out. But it’s not certain….

There have been some stories in the press that Harper will not comment on what he will do if his party does not have a majority, or if the NDP and the Liberals do decide to form a coalition. There has even been some speculation that he will not re-establish the government back to Ottawa. Given the fact that he is willing to prorogue parliament – twice – to stay in power, I think this is a possible outcome. But ultimately, I’d like to think it is an unlikely one. We don’t need Canada turning into Belgium. And I would hope that the man who puts so much emphasis on his ability to lead a ‘stable’ Canada would not do anything so foolish.

Next post on Tuesday: The fall out. Things be changing? Maybe? Possibly?!


The 2011 Canadian Election: I don’t even know

Last year I was much better at blogging about the UK General Election. I thought it was going to be incredibly boring, but then there was the rise of a third party in an unexpected way which changed the balance of power.

This year with Canada’s turn to re-stack the deck, I thought the election was going to be incredibly boring, but then there was the rise of a third party in an unexpected way which very well may change the balance of power.

It’s always a bit hard for me to gage the interest/reaction of Duck readers about the election. Apparently about 4.6% of the hits to the Duck are from Canada. So I don’t know if people know or care. Even the venerable Dan Drezner managed to tweet out “FT headline “Crowds Cheer Royal Newlyweds” rivals “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” in its sheer banality” to which all I can say is, take off, eh?!

Over three posts I am going to reflect on the Canadian election: 1) the set up 2) what we have learned 3) the result (after the result on 2 May). Let the mindless speculation begin!

If you are familiar with Canadian politics, please skip the next two paragraphs.

The ground rules are this: Canada has a parliamentary system like that of the UK. We have a number of different political parties (also like the UK). The major parties are: the Conservative Party (the right-ish party) who has most recently formed minority governments for five years; the Liberal Party (the centrist party) who had governed the country 13 years before that but has sputtered under a series of leaders since 2005; the New Democratic Party (the left party – we’re talking VERY PALE PINK compared to Europe) who has never been in power; the Bloc Quebecois (the Quebec Separtist party) that has dominated Quebec-national politics since the 1990s. There is also a Green Party (environmentalists, more left-ish) which does not currently hold any seats.

Results of 2008 Election.
We be divided, yo.

Increasingly, Canadians have voted regionally. Major urban cities (Vancouver, Toronto) vote Liberal, the country and Alberta tend to vote conservative (our ‘Red States’) and Quebecers tend to vote for the Bloc (not necessarily because they are separatist, but because they believe that a party that is dedicated to Quebec interests will do the best job of representing them.) The end result is that since 2006 we have had a series of minority governments.

You can read now Canada-philes.

So what have we learned from this election?

Well, it’s all gone a wee bit crazy. Actually, a lot crazy. I leave the country and look what happens?! Black is white. Day is night. People are putting motor oil on their pancakes and then using maple syrup to lubricate their engines. People are contemplating electing a third party (which has not really ever gone beyond 15-20% in national popularity) to the Official Opposition, if not government. For the first time ever, the lefti-ish NDP looks like it will play a major role in government.

This rise has come at the expense of the Liberals – who have not been able to find their voice now for nearly a decade. I admit that I had hopes for Michael Ignatieff – but Canadians (like my parents, for example) never took to him; they don’t know who he is and never bothered to get to know him. The Liberals were simply unable to introduce him and unsuccessful in countering the pretty nasty paintbrush the Conservatives painted him with. (“He didn’t come back for you!!!) As such the Liberals are preparing for their worst showing in Canadian history (since 1867 as were sorting this ‘responsible government’ thing out.)

But if this has come at the expense of the Liberals, it has also come at the surprise of the Conservatives – if not also their expense. This was supposed to be the election where Stephen Harper got his majority and you can understand why he felt this way.

  1. The vote on the centre-left is split in such a way that has allowed the Conservatives to dominate the political scene. (It was quite the opposite in the 1990s when two centre-right parties split the right vote between them, allowing the Liberals to govern. This eventually allowed for a ‘unite the right’ movement which brought us the current Conservative Party.)
  2. Canadians are apathetic. Harper quite literally shut down the government when he didn’t like what was going on. He shut down a democracy because he thought he was going to lose power not once – but twice. And Canadians simply didn’t care. His government has shut down watchdogs, silenced critics (internal and external). I could give you a list of scandals but it would take up a LOT of room. But Canadians, really, really, really don’t care. Why? Things are kinda good. Our economy is relatively okay and Harper has yet to really go for the social issues that would really anger a lot of people. (Abortion – apparently off the table, gay marriage, etc.) So why should Canadian’s care if Harper ‘prorogues’ parliament – when they probably don’t even know what that means. The bills are paid, their gay son will have a fabulous wedding and there’s an all night marathon of 87 Kids and Counting on TLC.
  3. Harper has managed to successfully convince Canadians that a coalition of parties forming the government is an undemocratic and bad thing. This is a horrible indictment of the knowledge of Canadians about their own system of government – but it’s something that the Conservatives have taken advantage of. He has painted such a move (perfectly legitimate in a parliamentary democracy as we see in Europe) as reckless and dangerous. As such, every campaign speech has not been about what the Conservatives are going to do, but rather about STOPPING THE COALITION – which so far doesn’t actually exist.

So, painting himself as the safe and stable choice – “CHAOS IS LAPPING AT OUR SHORES”. (LAPPING!) Harper was in a reasonable position to believe that a majority government was in his grasp. When his government fell at the end of March (we do that – governments can be voted down in the House of Commons if they don’t have support, but elections must be held every 5 years at a minimum) I’m sure he wasn’t feeling so bad. His party was doing well in the polls and his party’s main rivals, the Liberals, were weak. The stage was set for the Conservatives to make a large break-through in traditional Liberal strongholds (Toronto, but especially its surrounding suburbs). As such, Conservative fire was aimed squarely at the Liberals.

May be it was too effective?

Don’t trash the ‘stache?

Sure, Canadians have been dumping the Ignatieff Liberals, but so far it seems they have turned not to Harper, but to Jack Layton – the very likeable and moustachioed leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) – which has SURGED in the polls. This leads me to believe that Canada is the only country in the world where someone with a moustache can be elected as a viable candidate. (Pre-1920s American leaders do not count.)

The polls (as of 29 April) have Layton’s party somewhere between 33-36% compared to Harper’s 35-38%. And the strange thing is that this ‘surge’ has come from Quebec of all places – as apparently they are sick of the other three parties which have dominated their province for decades and they are looking for something new. There has been some controversy over the way Jack Layton has courted the vote there (it gets way too complicated to explain at the end of an already long blog post – read this if you care) but regardless of strategy, the NDP have become the new alternative to the Tories. And apparently the Liberals and Bloc.

This is what I think Michael Ignatieff is
probably feeling like right now.

The Conservatives, for their part, have struggled to turn the ship around and aim fire at Layton. We started to see that this week with talk about how NDP carbon policies would increase gas prices by 10 cents per litre (Although gas prices have pretty much doubled already under Harper?) And now the scummiest story of the election. But it’s late in the day – many Canadians have changed their minds and with only two days left to campaign, Canada could be in for a real electoral shake up. If it pans out the way ThreeHundredAndEight (don’t laugh Nate Silver) says it will, Harper will not get his majority government, the NDP will form the official opposition and the Liberals are going to be very sad pandas indeed.

I honestly can’t wait to see what happens. Has Canada found its white moustachioed Obama? Apparently, “We Can Do This”.


Standing Up for Multiculturalism? or “Where I find myself agreeing with the Prime Minister of Canada and that the dirt won’t come off.”

I am very, very ethnic.

For those of you who weren’t following Canadian politics this week (I’m assuming that’s 98% of the Duck audience) the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC or “Tories”) took a lot of flack this week for calling up supporters and asking them to wear “ethnic” costumes. This is, of course, to make the Tories look more diverse and possibly have another colour of hair in their audience than white. The flack, in my opinion, is well deserved – minorities are not well staged photo-ops. They are, however, a group that all political parties have tried to reach out to.

Liberals have traditionally had much success in the Greater Toronto Area, and other major urban zones by promoting immigration (or at least seeming to) such as policies which reuniting families when one member has come over. But, at the same time this has caused a certain amount of concern and resentment among Canadians (I’m referring especially to Anglo-Canadians, Franco-Quebeckers in a moment) who see “ethnic” communities being established that do not integrate, want to change Canada or, at worst, support illiberal policies and groups.

In particular, there is a certain Tory electoral base who resent multiculturalism and feel that immigrants should become “Canadian” (whatever that might be.) In Quebec, this is even more so – and the government has put a lot of resources into not only trying to attract highly-skilled immigrants, but then also offer them French lessons, courses on liberal values, etc. The dark sides of this, at least in my opinion, were the farce that was the Bouchard-Taylor Commission (on the accommodation of minorities) in 2007-8 and the bill to ban the niqab. (One can tolerate a niqab without approving of it. It’s not that hard!)

I would not consider myself an expert on multiculturalism – although I have blogged about it before. The UK (where I live) is in the throes of a debate over the concept, with the Prime Minister coming out strongly against it – but not actually articulating an alternative policy, other than an undefined “muscular liberalism”. (Hey look – someone made a blog about it! Although it seems to be a pretty white crowd? ) The concept seems to be unpopular in the UK because many seem to see multiculturalism as the reason why the UK has Islamic extremism, ghettos, violence, etc. Multiculturalism is that which has, in British eyes, allowed communities to insulate themselves as opposed to integrate themselves.

As such, British governments under Blair, Brown and now Cameron seem to want to assert “British values” but they have never been able to agree as to what those are – at least since I’ve been in the country, and that’s going on ten years.

My concern is that I think many misunderstand the potential of the concept and I think the UK denigrates the concept at its own risk. For me, multiculturalism is not about “living and let living” without question. That’s a ridiculous kind of pluralism. Rather, I’ve always seen it as an exchange of tradition and culture – with emphasis on the exchange. Insulation is not multiculturalism.

So colour me very surprised when I read a column by Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star who, reflecting on the recent leader’s debate in Canada, praises the Prime Minister’s take on multiculturalism in the debate and, dare I say it, his defence of the concept. (It’s worth quoting Siddiqi’s take on the debate at length).[Quick Canadian politics primer – Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister and Gilles Duceppe is the leader of the nationalist/separatist Bloq Quebecois who have taken a pro bi-lingual/bi-cultural and anti—multicultural stance in the party platforms]

Harper, speaking last in that exchange, eschewed personal sentimentality and got straight to the heart of the matter:

“We favour multiculturalism.

“What Canadians need to understand about multiculturalism is that people who make the hard decision to … come here, they first and foremost want to belong to this country … They also at the same time will change our country.

“And we show through multiculturalism our willingness to accommodate their differences, so they are more comfortable.

“That’s why we’re so successful integrating people as a country. I think we’re probably the most successful country in the world in that regard.”

He went to defend the record levels of immigration under his watch.

“We are the first government to maintain a vigorous and strong and open-door immigration policy during a recession, because we’re focused on the long-term interest of Canada and the Canadian economy.”

Other exchanges followed. In his third turn at the topic, Harper challenged Duceppe more directly:

“Let me just also question what you keep saying, that somehow multiculturalism is incompatible with being a Quebecer.

“You know, there’s lots of people in this country who speak English who don’t come from an English or a British background.

“One can retain their culture and their cultural identity and still integrate into the mainstream language of the community, which is French in Quebec, and English in most of the rest of the country. That’s what we do and that’s why we support these policies.”

Duceppe said: “But we don’t want to create ghettoes …”

Harper shot back that “Canada is not creating ghettoes. It is the most successful integration policy in the world. It has helped Canadians retain their culture while being part of the broader community. That’s what we are so proud of. I know the Bloc Québécois wants to break up the country, and you don’t think new Canadians are going to support that objective.”

Harper may not have been very poetic in all this but he got the gist of it just right, thusly:

High immigration is essential to our economy. The assumption that multiculturalism undermines integration is false. Keeping one’s culture and identity is not an impediment to integration. Immigrants want to integrate and do. Yet they also change Canada. This is the most successful model of integration in the world.

And now I find myself actually supporting something the Prime Minster said. Just when I thought the Canadian election debates could not have gotten any more annoying.

I don’t think the Tories have it right on immigration. I also think they have been pandering to the ethnic vote, and it’s clear that they somehow believe that people in “ethnic” dress are going to help them win elections. Additionally, as Siddiqui points out, Harper is a politician who is “forever courting his right-of-centre constituency, a base that routinely maligns multiculturalism and grumbles about high levels of immigration.”

But I do find this at least somewhat encouraging. And maybe I will be stupid enough to take him at his word on this issue. Let’s see if the Tories stick to it – a dubious proposition.


Since there is nothing else going on in the world, let’s talk about Canada!

International politics is such a bore these days, right? Good thing we have Canada to spice things up for us!

There were two interesting developments yesterday for those living in the northern end of North America. First, it was announced that a Canadian, Maj. Gen. Charles Bouchard, will be heading up the NATO mission in Libya. My first thoughts about this were that the choice represents an interesting compromise. Canada, the (French?) vanilla ice-cream of the Western alliance (normally boring, but safe and reliable) represents a non-American and non-European choice. Yet, since the Americans clearly did not want a high-profile position on the mission, this seems to have settled a rivalry between the UK and France. I suppose Bouchard, who represents a country of both English and French sensibilities (and an ability to speak both languages) was an even better compromise then.

As Olivia Ward at the Toronto Star describes it:

A government source told The Canadian Press that a British general was touted for the job at one point, but added that the United States wanted to see a face that nervous allies — particularly the Turks — trusted. The tipping point came when the French got behind the appointment, senior Canadian officials told CP.
In spite of Washington’s reluctance to front the operation, close ties with the American military may have helped to decide Bouchard’s appointment. Already stationed at NATO’s main command centre in Naples, he has played leading roles at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

So a chance to lead AND help solve internal NATO power struggles – what could better make for a Canadian’s day? Seriously. This is the kind of stuff that our diplomats dream of when they snuggle under their flannel sheets at night.

There is the larger question as to what Canada will get out of this, of course. Some have argued that the commitment of six F-18s (apparently being referred to in some circles as the Canadian ‘six-pack’) and one warship to the mission is more symbolic than significant contribution. We have been running some air strikes, but clearly this is still an American show (no matter how much the Americans want to deny it.) However, since we’re in Afghanistan, I’m pretty sure we’re a bit stretched right now.

But there is some clear appeal for the government. The first rule of thumb of Canadian military action is that we generally feel safe and happy in a coalition. So check that multilateral box off. This will also give us some international recognition – so that’s also a huge plus. But there are other benefits.

First, I wonder to what extent the government, currently (and controversially) arguing that it needs to spend BILLIONS of dollars on new F35 planes, will use this mission to justify the expenditure? I have not seen a lot in the media arguing this point so I’m not sure. The debate over the F35s may still be tied to a larger discussion over Canada’s role in the world (with this serving as an example).

Second, Canada and the UAE have not exactly been getting along lately. (I’m sure that air base Canada just lost in that country would have been pretty useful right about now.) In this mission over Libya, they will be flying (literally) under the same banner. Apparently everyone is letting bygones be bygones for now:

But this unpleasantness has apparently now been put aside, at least temporarily. Fighter pilots from the two countries may fly combat missions in the same theatre of operations as part of a UN-sanctioned coalition that has ostensibly been designed to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Gadhafi’s military.

Third, as noted in this editorial, Canada is going to be playing a large role in the mission, despite the UN Security Council snub it received last year. In other words,

The quick decision to provide military support lends credibility to not only the mission, but to Canada itself. In facing down the cruel dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Canada is putting words into action in defence of Libyans fighting for their freedom. Along with other nations, Canada is living up to its responsibility to protect innocents from a brutal regime.

I think this may be making Canada out to be slightly too magnanimous – but there is a point here. We’re engaged in nation building on the ground in Afghanistan and now leading the Libya mission while Portugal, who beat us in the race to the UN final 15, is being pulled into a small dark corner by the European Union and being forced to take a bailout package, in the middle of a government crisis. Right.

As for the second interesting development – while Canada is busy trying to help promote democracy in the Middle East, our own government fell. Election time! This has lead to James Joyner at Outside the Beltway noting that “Canada is leading the operation in Libya but no one is leading Canada.” Precisely. And more on that to come, no doubt.

Edit: See Saideman’s good take on this here.


The (Final!) Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election: (Insert ‘well hung-parliament’ joke here.)

Well, the entire UK General election and transition came and went in less time than it took to do a US Presidential transition. While the ending was a little bumpy with the “hung parliament” result but a full, formal coalition government has been formed and it is no longer ‘anarchy in the UK’. (Bad pun, yes. Could I stop myself? No.) So today the UK has a new Prime Minister and a coalition government. What can we say in the last JFGTUKE post?

Cleggmania… not so much

This I stating the obvious now, but the surge in popularity for the LibDems did not work in their favour. Certainly they increased their share of the votes at the polls, but with the “first past the post”/winner take all system, this actually translated into less seats because LibDem support was spread across the country rather than concentrated in areas through which to take seats.

So it’s not hard to see why the LibDems are so desperate to change the UK electoral system – more of which can be read about here. But it has successfully put voting reform on the agenda. There is a big rally scheduled for Saturday and a referendum on the issue seems to have been promised by the Tories. But the predictability of this outcome lead to…

Voting Strategerie

Many of my friends and colleagues knew this would be the outcome for the LibDems of course – and that people would, in the end, vote for the party they thought would win (or in a way that they felt would best prevent the party they didn’t like from winning.) Still, I was shocked to see just how many of them did, in the end, vote with their heads and not with their hearts.


So it’s a formal coalition. The Tories will be in charge, but there will be at least 5 LibDems in the Cabinet, including Nick Clegg as Deputy PM and Vince Cable doing something with banks. What I find interesting about all of the discussion surrounding forming the government is that the idea that the Tories could go it alone as a minority was not seen as a viable option. (This is the situation in Canada – the government has the most seats, but not an overall majority and is not in any formal coalition.)

The system here seemed to just want, or at least lean towards, a “strong and stable” majority government. Certainly, this is what everyone claimed that this was the markets’ preference. Of course, because of the cuts coming and the difficult times ahead, something more stable is maybe what is going to be needed. And in truth, I don’t think anyone wants an election in six months (well, maybe some Labour friends) and the discussion has indeed been framed in terms of “doing what’s right for the country”. Let’s see how it pans out….

Foreign/EU Policy

…because one of the things that I will be interested in seeing is how foreign policy is going to work. A Lib-Con coalition essentially combines the most Euro-philic and Euro-phobic parties. Conservatives look to the trans-Atlantic “special relationship”, Liberals don’t think it is that big of a deal; that it’s just one of many “special relationships”.

Like many parliamentary democracies, foreign policy is increasingly determined and driven by Number 10 and its priorities. So, if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that foreign and EU policy will probably be driven more by the Tories than the LibDems. (This already seems to be the case – there will be a cap on non-European immigration and LibDems seem to have conceded on replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent.)

My colleague, Al Miskimmon, (very cool on all things Europe and Security) suggested to me that aside from the Number 10 agenda, much will depend on who actually holds what posts in a coalition. Right now, the Chancellor and Foreign Minister are Tories, and it is likely that the Home Secretary will be a Tory as well. These are positions which, other than the Prime Minister, touch most on foreign and EU policies and there is no question that their ideology will have an impact.

However, personally, I can’t help but wonder if being in a coalition will actually temper any EU-skeptic policies that the Tories may have. The EU now impacts on all domestic legislation and it’s not something the UK could just up and leave easily. If Cameron struggles to appease his Euro-skeptic base, he may be able to place blame on his coalition allies. This would allow him to have a less radical policy towards the EU without being accused (or at least being able to excuse himself) of giving into Brussels.

Thatcher: They’re not over it

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but in the last days of the election I couldn’t believe how many references I saw to Thatcher, the 1980s, coalminers strikes, etc. Tories, whatever their colour, shape, size, gender, race – they’re all Thatcher in the eyes of many.

Is this “Tory Derangement Syndrome”? It’s hard for me to know what it was like – I was in Canada while Thatcher was in power and probably spent most of that time playing with My Little Ponies. However, Thatcher is either hero or villain, savior or sinner, the best of times or worst of times… etc. She is only talked about in terms of black or white, there is no in-between. The only thing I could possibly compare it to is the way people speak about Reagan – either saving or nearly destroying the country.

Political colours up front – I’m not a Tory. But to suggest that David Cameron is Margaret Thatcher just seems barmy to me (at least at this point.) Yes, he’s posh. Yes, he went to Eton. But he is no Margaret Thatcher. This is not the 1980s. So far, there is nothing in the Tory agenda which really suggests to me that is truly revolutionary in the same way as what her government was. My friends say that he wants to favour the rich with an inheritance tax cut – but really, that’s hardly what I would call a privatization revolution. (And apparently it was something that they gave up on in exchange for the Coalition government with the LibDems). Cameron, in his first speech outside of Number 10, made a point of saying how much he “believe[s] deeply in public service”.

The fact is that any government coming into power is going to face serious problems and is going to have to make major cuts in spending which will be deeply unpopular. I do not feel that these will necessarily be driven by Tory ideology, but rather just the necessity of the situation. So, in this sense, I can’t help but conclude that the vitriol aimed at the Tories is less for their policies than what they historically represent.

Final Thoughts

Watching the transition, I couldn’t help but feel strangely optimistic. I am very aware that this is not a universal feeling. As mentioned above, my Labour friends seem to be in genuine despair at the state of things. I have non-Labour friends who believe that we’ll have an election in six months (despite whatever agreement may have been reached between the LibDems and Tories). And, of course, the country is in a lot of trouble.

But the idea of a coalition government – where two parties will debate and negotiate ideas to confront the UK’s most pressing issues – seems to me to be something that maybe – just maybe – will work well. After the results came out, Paddy Ashdown observed “The country has spoken – but we don’t know what they’ve said.” But I think we do know – people did not want politics as usual. After a year of parliamentary expenses scandals, a recession, and general disillusionment with politics altogether, I think it’s fair to say that the British want something different. Will it happen? The Liberals may temper the policies of the Tories, and the Tories will be able to form the government that they have wanted for 13 years. Some people have described what will inevitably follow as ‘horse-trading’ but to me it just seems like politics.


The Johnny Foreigner’s Guide to the UK Election (in where I demonstrate a very poor knowledge of UK politics.)

So, in Duck ex-pat news it was announced that a general election (a big national election) will be held on 6 May 2010 this week in the UK. At stake are 13 years of Labour rule, debate as to how the economic “recovery” should be protected.
Yet, despite the relative importance of the election, coming as it is during a time of insecurity, I have to say that it feels like basically no one is inspired by it. Politicians here have been hit by a year of expenses scandals (when it turned out that MPs were claiming everything from the installation of duck houses, to bath plugs and the occasional pornographic movie). It’s not really a surprise they did so, of course – MPs are paid quite poorly compared to their counterparts in Europe. But it was the fact that they seemed to bend and manipulate the rules so blatantly which have upset many people. The ongoing scandal has resulted in four MPs actually facing criminal charges.
In addition, house prices have fallen, no one can get mortgages, the government spent billions on the bailout and dramatic spending cuts are needed. Unemployment is still high, we just lost Cadburys to the Yanks (seriously – this was a huge issue) and I just think that people feel battered by the recession and dread of the knowledge of the kind of austerity years that are ahead. Where the US election in 2008 seemed (at least to me) about better days ahead, this election seems to be more about choosing between the rope, knife, pistol (and two separatist-inspired choices – let’s just use the deadly poisoned leek and kilt of terror…. ) Actually, you have a few more scary choices as well (like the BNP – who I’m not going to link to because I don’t even want to Google their name.)
So I thought that I would provide my poorly constructed guide to the UK Election this week where I thought that I would try to at least highlight some issues that other “Johnny Foreigners” may find interesting. Please consider this my comparative politics post for the year.

1.It might be a “hung parliament”

The mandatory joke here, of course, is that if it is a “hung parliament” – with whom do we start?

Right now this seems to be a huge deal for a number of reasons. First, it could give the Liberal Democrats (the third party who hasn’t been in power since the First World War) a lot of leverage as both Labour and the Tories fight to bring them into alliance or onside. For the LibDems, this could be really great (they finally get power) or really bad (internal civil war as to which side to support). For their part, the LibDems won’t say who they will support – and stick to the line that they are actually trying to win (although no one really thinks they can – except Howard Dean).

Second, there is a sense that because of the harsh measures needed for the recession, the fact that there would be a “hung parliament” seems to be unstable and would be sending the wrong message to world markets. There is only so much stock I put in this argument. Canada has had a “hung parliament” for years and they have done alright (although in full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of the current party in power).

2.There is no UK foreign policy.

I don’t think I’ve even heard “foreign policy” mentioned since the election was called. Rather it’s all about taxes, tax breaks, cutting taxes, etc. (Oh, and of course, who will best protect the National Health Service, or NHS). Let there be no mistake, this is a very naval-gazing election (other than the scary UK Independence Party – UKIP – banging on about leaving the EU and being not-so-secretly racist). Considering the nation is fighting in a war and continues to lose troops on a near daily basis, it’s rather shocking that I don’t think I’ve even heard the word “Afghanistan” out of any of the leader’s mouths.

I wonder if this is because that there is a general consensus on the issue – or if no one really has any bright ideas?

Either way, for this election at least, the UK is less interested in its role in the world than domestic change/continuity. If you are looking for the foreign policy issues, I would suggest checking out this web page from Chatham House and scrolling through a few of their events. For now, it’s the economy, stupid (or as I like to think of it here, “By Jove! It’s the Economy, Chaps!”

3.“Step outside, posh boy”

Rightly or wrongly, growing up in Canada, I tended to view it as a rather classless country – or at least a relatively egalitarian one. Now I know this isn’t true, but I come from a blue collar family where my parents worked hard and improved their lives (stop me when I start to sound like pre-scandal John Edwards). But class IS an issue here (or at least perceived to be one) and it was something I didn’t understand it until I came to the UK. There seems to be a definite underclass here that just doesn’t seem to benefit from anything. To be honest, if you are a poor, white, working class male, you’re probably super not doing well.

On the other hand, if you do come from wealth it may be a serious liability – if you are a politician. Labour has constantly gone after Tory leader David Cameron’s wealthy upbringing (he went to Eaton, member of super-posh Oxford society, etc) as seen in this mock-campaign poster done by the Guardian which became so popular they made a t-shirt out of it.

Can you be too posh to be politically privileged? I find this so interesting because I really think it would be relatively a non-issue in North America. (Although I think it was, to a certain extent for McCain.) So long as you are seen as having the right values, you’re probably okay. And the cost of running a campaign in the US is so astronomical that I don’t see HOW you could possibly be a politician without money – or at least be of a certain socio-economic class. Anyway, it will be interesting to see to what extent Labour continues to go down this route.

4.Everybody is on the internet. Nobody seems to know what to do with it.

I think this is important because the internet played such a HUGE role in the Obama campaign. Immediately afterwards in the UK there were summits and meetings on what the lessons where with regards to how that technology, particularly for fundraising, could be used.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the parties really learned any of the lessons – or more correctly, how to apply the lessons to the UK context. Instead, I think everyone realized they need to be on the internet, YouTube, twitter, facebook, email, etc., but they just didn’t figure out how to link it to anything meaningful. Instead we get David Cameron’s wife on “SamCam” and the first casualty of the campaign – a 24 year old Labour candidate who thought that calling senior citizens “coffin dodgers” was a good idea (not to mention the Tourette-inspired names he called other candidates.)

So what we’re left with is a gigantic effort and amount of information put on the internet that seems to have no purpose and completely failing to engage the general public. This Financial Times piece concludes that while the internet may have an effect, this effect is likely to be accidental (ie: some politician screwing up on his iPhone – or just see the above paragraph) and that, at least in the UK, the public is still using mostly traditional sources like newspapers – even if it is on-line:

Studies in the past few weeks from the Hansard Society, the political researcher, and Ovum, a technology consultancy, both disputed that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter would form a meaningful battleground to rival TV or the humble doorstep.

The other interesting conclusion of the piece is that while political parties may not have yet best figured out how to use the internet, they cannot afford to ignore it either. Ergo, they are having to spend millions of pounds on something that they just can’t seem to figure out. (Although they do point out that Labour’s less centralized approach has resulted in success through sites that have mocked the Tories ad campaign online.

So there you have it – four issues coming out of the battle for Britain’s political future.
I confess that I too find myself among the politically uninspired – yet I wonder if I should consider myself fortunate. What a contrast with Thailand and Kyrgystan this week where most people would probably see this ennui as some kind of insane luxury. Or Afghanistan where it’s a struggle to just have the leader not fire the entire election review board.

For those of you who wish to follow further, here are some websites that you may find useful:
Useful websites:

1. BBC 2010 Election Page: A pretty comprehensive source on the election with polls, highlighted issues, candidate bios, etc. I’m not a huge fan of Nick Robinson, but he’s good and has his own blog on the site here.
2. Political Betting: “Britain’s most read political blog and the best online resource for betting on politics”. No really.
3. UK Poling Report: A poll of polls and useful polling analysis for those of you who can’t just get enough hot poll action.
4. YouGov: Polling/research company in the UK
5.Guido Fawkes: This one is kind of muck-raking, but occasionally fun.
6.Finally, I would suggest following my friend Nick Anstead’s twitter. – he wrote his PhD on the internet in the 2008 US election and has done some work on the issue in the UK. He always has great links and he’s my usual source when I have questions about all things political and British.

Anyone else have a site they could recommend? Anything with laughter at this point would probably be super welcomed.


Troubling Questions About the Afghan Election

Afghans head to the polls today.

Christian Brose at Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog outlines
a few worst case scenarios.

One worst case outcome is the Iran scenario — a disputed election result, allegations of fraud, and a drawn-out political fight laced with street protests and sporadic violence. This could be set off by either a narrow Karzai win or a suspicious Karzai blow-out (Ahmadinejad style). One could imagine days, even weeks, of protests by the losing candidates’ supporters demanding a recount, or a revote if none is declared, ultimately leading to an unpopular Karzai dispatching the U.S.-backed Afghan security forces to do battle with his political opponents under the banner law and order.

This scenario is bad enough, but it could get even worse. What if the Iran scenario turns into what might be called the Samarra scenario? That is, a single, shocking blow to the political body that exacerbates already fraught ethnic and sectarian tensions, sparks a paroxysm of violence and revenge killings, pushes the state to the brink of failure or beyond it, and pitches Afghan society into full-scale civil war — similar to what Al-Qaeda’s bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra did to Iraq in early 2006, when the resulting Sunni-Shia violence nearly sent the country over the cliff?

Today’s coverage of the election-day security situation in the Global Post begs a different question: what if hardly anyone votes?

Election day in Afghanistan began with a bang. Several of them, actually. Multiple IED explosions in Kabul caused little damage, but made the point that this time, the opposition was not making idle threats when they vowed to disrupt the elections for president and provincial council.

All over the capital, polling centers stood nearly empty.

“Maybe everyone is drinking tea, or sleeping,” said Abdul Mubir, manager of a polling centre in the Kart-e-Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul. “They may come later.”

Blaming low numbers entirely on security though strikes me as a straw man. A BBC World Service survey yesterday classified 63.5% of the country as “totally secure”; only 2.5% of areas are “totally insecure.”Assuming those numbers aren’t completely specious, and that turnout rates remain low, what else could explain this, and what does it mean for the legitimacy of the democratic process? And is this itself, indeed, not in some ways also a worst case scenario?


Iran, competitive authoritarian regimes, and fraud

I agree with Josh Tucker that Iran doesn’t really fit the major categories of regime-type au currant in comparative politics, but, as I also suggest in comments, we should only lose sleep over that if we treat analytic types as filing boxes for cases rather than, say, as ideal-typifications. Still, if the analysis I’m seeing from reliable sources (and I, like Randy, have no idea what to make of the election outcome in Iran), it does seem that the regime engaged in some pretty brazen fraud of one form or another.

If that’s right, then we’re looking at a familiar dynamic: while most observers would have believed a fraudulent result that netted Ahmadinejad around 52-55% of the vote, the reported results just aren’t very credible. So why inflate margins in fraudulent elections?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a literature I know terribly well. But if what we see in the Russian case is generalizable–where no one doubted that the governing party would win, yet it still sought to inflate its margin of victory–such regimes seek greater “legitimacy” than a close election allows for. More generally, close results create more ambiguity as to the actual victor; indeed, as a non-Iran expert my initial reaction to the margin was “I guess that, whatever irregularities there might be, Mousavi must have lost.”

Still, assuming that the result was rigged, one has to wonder if the inflated margin here will actually backfire. It certainly seems to have produced incredulous reactions outside of Iran, let alone among opposition supporters in Iran


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