U.S. political junkes are well aware of the "Bradley effect," a scenario in which embarassed white voters tell pollsters they're planning on voting for a minority candidate, then vote for a white one when they get in the booth, producing misleading results.
The Bradley effect turned out to be a non-factor in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, but Le Monde suggests [French] it may have appeared in a somewhat mutated form in France's regional elections this week, where Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front performed much better than pollsters expected, taking third place with 11.7 of the vote and likely contributing to an embarassing first-round defeat for Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservatives. French pollsters now suggest that a portion of the FN's electorate may have been embarassed to admit to supporting Le Pen's radical views.
Logically, a Bradley effect would only be an issue in countries where racial prejudice is widespread enough in influence the result of an election, but taboo enough that citizens are embarassed to admit to it, even in an anonymous poll. It would be interesting to find out how many countries this applies to.
Do readers know of any other countries which have had Bradley-type election results?
(Hat tip: The Monkey Cage)
ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
This time it's Togo:
Togo's top opposition candidate said Monday that security forces have been provoking demonstrators with force, a day after the group staged protests claiming last week's presidential election was rigged to favor the son of the country's longtime dictator.
Anti-riot police sealed off the sandy alleys leading to the headquarters of the opposition party, stranding the country's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre outside for more than an hour in a tense standoff days after the disputed vote.
The 57-year-old Fabre vowed Sunday to take to the streets every day to protest what he says was a fraudulent election, saying he would only stop when the police had exhausted their stock of tear gas or killed him.
From Kenya to Zimbabwe to Iran to Sri Lanka, the seemingly fraudulent eection followed by mass protest and government crackdown is becoming a familiar pattern. While Togo is unlikely to command international media attention long enough to get a "color" designation, it seems to fit the mold.
The optimistic view of all these bloody post-elections is that opposition movements are becoming bolder about challenging fraudulent results. The bad news is that except for the original color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, the authorities always seem to win these confrontations.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Both sides in Britain's national elections are looking to capture a little bit of the Obama magic in a series of upcoming televised debates:
David Cameron has hired two of President Obama’s former advisers to help him to prepare for the televised debates due to be held before the election. Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director, and Bill Knapp, who has worked on the past four US Democratic Party presidential campaigns, will also advise the Tory leader on general strategy.[...]
Gordon Brown, meanwhile, is being advised by Joel Benenson , a pollster and strategist who helped to prepare Mr Obama for his TV showdowns with John McCain. Labour has also received help from David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s senior adviser, and David Plouffe, his former campaign chief.
Thanks to prime minister's questions, British party leaders have plenty of experience with televised verbal jousting, but American-style debates are an entirely different beast. From an outsider's perspective, the younger more dynamic Cameron would appear to have the upper hand, though the polls do appear to be narrowing.
Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty Images
After almost two weeks of protest, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has dropped her charges of electoral fraud against Viktor Yanukovich, but not without a parting salvo. On February 20, after officially withdrawing her petition with the Ukrainian High Administrative Court to annul the election result, Tymoshenko declared that
"Sooner or later, an honest prosecutor's office and an honest court will assess that Yanukovich was not elected president of Ukraine, and that the will of the people had been rigged."
Bitter much, Yulia?
While Yanukovich has managed to weather the post-election fallout -- his inauguration is still scheduled for February 25, and the vast majority of Ukrainians view him as their legitimate president -- it remains to be seen how he will deal with Tymoshenko, who still retains her premiership. Although Yanukovich has called on Tymoshenko to resign her post, many suspect that she has other ideas in her mind: it has been reported that she is planning to initiate a parliamentary vote of no confidence against the newly elected president upon his taking of office.
Tymoshenko may be no Nigerien colonel, but it should still be interesting to see how the Yanukovich-Tymoshenko conflict plays out after the inauguration.
ALEKSANDER PROKOPENKO/AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian politics are really confusing:
"The main result of these elections is that Yanukovich came first, but did not win. Tymoshenko, on the other hand, lost but was not defeated," Ukrainska Pravda commentator Vadym Karasov wrote.
Tymoshenko broke her post-election silence yesterday, attacking Yanukovych's campaign promises at a cabinet meeting but not discussing her future plans. Since Tymoshenko clearly has no intention of stepping down voluntarily and Yanukovych likely doesn't have the votes to dismiss her government, Ukraine appears set for another crippling political standoff.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
For the past few months, a cynical observer might think, Washington has carried out a long piece of performance art detailing the many ways in which passing legislation is hard, even with the White House and Congress in one party's hands. There are holds, filibusters, floor motions, cloture, and sundry other rules. The Senate is a small-c conservative institution, delimited from making radical change in a thousand ways.
The biggest obstacle of all is the ticking clock. Every motion takes up floor time. There is only so much floor time. And, when it snows in Washington, there is less. Indeed, the Senate was briefly open for business today. But it won't be tomorrow or, probably, the next day, many thanks to Snowpocalypse 3. Senators need to be present to vote. They won't be, so the whole government apparatus will be shut down.
This got me to thinking: Do really inclement countries let their legislatures vote remotely?
The answer in the United States is no -- though it has been proposed before. The first country I thought of was Estonia, which has the most tech-savvy government on the planet and, I imagine, rather nasty winters. There, you can cast your national electoral ballot from the comfort of your living room sofa, over the Internet. (There are actually a number of countries and localities that allow this.) But, it seems, members of parliament need to be present to give the up or down on legislation.
I only found one government that allows remote legislative voting -- in, of all places, sunny Catalunya, Spain. In that region, which includes Barcelona, local representatives can request permission to send in their vote from home if they need to tend to a sick family member, for instance. No details on whether they also do it if hit with 22 inches of white stuff.
Sunny Spanish countryside by Flickr user laura padgett
With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, there seems to be little doubt left and that Viktor Yanukovych has defeated his one-time Orange Revolution foe Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine's presidential election. But, never one to avoid drama, Tymoshenko has not conceded yet leading opponents and supporters alike to wonder if she plans to take to the streets again.
Not likely says the BBC's Richard Galpin:
At a news conference in Kiev on Monday, a team of election observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was blunt in its assessment of Ukraine's post-election landscape.
"Yesterday's vote was an impressive display of democratic elections. For everyone in Ukraine, this election was a victory," said Joao Soares, the team co-ordinator.
"It is now time for the country's political leaders to listen to the people's verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive."
Those two sentences alone may have been enough to cut the ground from underneath Mrs Tymoshenko's feet.
Challenging the election result in the courts or on the street without the cover of credible allegations of fraud would be a tough sell even to her own supporters.
This time around, there isn't a whole lot of daylight between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych's positions, and it would be hard to imagine her being able to drum up the same level of fervor for an opposition movement.
ALEKSANDER PROKOPENKO/AFP/Getty Images
Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
This morning at the Center for American Progress, a panel of veteran American Ukraine hands briefed a group of Ukrainian political leaders and think tankers via satellite on the implications of this Sunday's presidential election on U.S.-Ukrainian relations. The main takeaway from the panel -- former ambassador William Taylor, former ambassador Steven Pifer, former NSC official Damon Wilson, and CAP associate director and FP contributor Samuel Charap -- was that unlike the 2004 "Orange Revolution" election, the U.S. doesn't really have a dog in the fight between Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko and was simply hoping for a credible government that could be a reliable negotiating partner on issues like NATO integration and energy security.
The Ukrainian audience seemed to mostly share the Americans' frustration with the pace of political change in Ukraine, but some questioners also expressed frustration that Ukraine was being ignored in the "reset" with Russia:
After the panel, asked Wilson and Pifer what a Yanukovych vs. a Tymoshenko win would mean for Ukraine's relations with the west:
Damon Wilson: Yanukovych has a high bar to prove that he is a modern European leader. He has a bad record, stole an election, not to mention criminal actions before then. He has an image problem. When you look at him on the campaign trail, he harkens back the old school, not the modern European political school. When he's sitting in a room with a European president or prime minister, do they feel like they're dealing with someone who's really bringing his country toward Europe? He's got some work to do.
The challenge with Tymoshenko: is she going to be a reliable partner.
Steven Pifer: Which Tymoshenko do you get? Do you get Tymoshenko the populist, or the Tymoshenko we saw in 2009 who is maybe the more serious politician, prepared to tackle problems in a serious way. That's also a question on Sunday. Which Tymoshenko has she persuaded the Ukrainian electorate that their going to get.
Could Chile's political right return to power after two decades in the wilderness?
That's the question hanging over Santiago, the capital, as Chileans head to the polls today to vote in a runoff presidential election between Eduardo Frei, the moderate former president backed by the ruling center-left coalition, and Sebastian Piñera (left), the billionaire businessman backed by the right. Piñera won the first round with 44 percent of the vote to Frei's 30 percent, but the latest poll shows the race tightening in recent weeks. It's now a tossup, and nobody can say for sure who's going to win.
The New York Times has a good primer on the election here, but I think it doesn't quite capture one intriguing aspect of the campaign -- for a country that has only recently emerged from dictatorship, it's a surprisingly low-key contest. You don't see many signs for the candidates on the streets, and coverage in the newspapers has been overshadowed by the crisis in Haiti, where Chile has a few hundred peacekeeping troops. One obvious reason is Frei, who isn't exactly the most inspirational figure and is best remembered here for presiding over a nasty economic downturn when the Asian crisis struck Chile in the late 1990s. But another reason is that the candidates aren't as different as you might think.
In Frei's last campaign rally in La Granja, a lower-class neighborhood to the south of Santiago, he spoke obliquely, but at length about his coalition's role in ousting Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the rightist dictator who ruled Chile with an iron fist for 17 years after overthrowing Marxist President Salvador Allende in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973. Last Monday, current president and Socialist Party leader Michelle Bachelet opened the Museum of Memory, a monument to the more than 3,000 people killed, and the nearly 30,000 tortured during Pinochet's regime. Many on the right -- a significant chunk of which still supports Pinochet -- saw the timing of the museum's opening as politically motivated. But just how much Chileans are still voting with Pinochet in mind is an open question.
My hunch is that Piñera -- who is running on the slogan "participate in change" -- has the better instincts here, but he carries some baggage of his own. His brother José was Pinochet's labor minister and led the neoliberal reform of Chile's pension system. In 2004, José, now a fellow at Washington's libertarian Cato Institute, penned a New York Times op-ed supporting George W. Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security, touting Chile as a model; two years later, his brother, running in 2006 against Bachelet, vowed to overhaul the pension system and said it required "deep reforms in all sectors."
For all the seeming drama of a rightist return to power, I suspect there's less room for radical change than many Piñera opponents here fear. After all, the four center-left governments that succeeded Pinochet never really overhauled his free-market economic program, choosing instead to tinker around the margins and focusing on infrastructure development and expanding social welfare programs. This blend of left and right is clearly working; last week, Chile became the first South American nation to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, marking the country's arrival as a developed state. And the country has weathered the economic crisis better than most, with a projected GDP growth rate of 4 percent in 2010 after a mild downturn in 2009. If something's not broken, why fix it?
UPDATE: Pinera wins. More in a bit...
In an unusual turn of events, a Russian court has overturned the result of a mayoral election in the city of Derbent. Reportedly, riot police used tear gas and shot at voters, preventing them from entering polling stations. Threats were made to local election officials, frightening them enough that more than a third of the polling stations never opened.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that it is "extremely rare" for an election to be overturned, and that in the past cases, judicial interventions were seen as Kremlin machinations to oust successful opposition candidates. That makes the current decision even more noteworthy, since the incumbent, a member of the dominant United Russia party (UR), officially carried the election with 67.52 percent of the vote.
It's worth asking if the case is linked to a power struggle between Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, who, in the 2012 elections, will be eligible to run for a third term as president. There has been growing speculation about a possible rift between the two men, even though Medvedev has said that he and his former political guardian would "agree on how not to elbow each other out and make a decision that is useful for the country."
Vanity Fair dubbed Putin the world's most influential person in 2007; Forbes puts him at #3 in 2009, topped only by Hu Jintao and Obama. UR is Putin's powerbase - after stepping down as president, he became the party's chairman. And it's a powerful group indeed, controlling 70 percent of the parliament's seats and exerting enormous influence on the country.
Putin handpicked Medvedev as his successor, tying him inextricably to UR. But since coming to office, Medvedev has also consolidated his own supporters, replacing officials appointed by Putin with his own men and women. And this court decision comes just days after Medvedev sharply addressed the UR's 11th Congress, making clear allusions to electoral fraud: "Sadly, some regional divisions of United Russia. . . show signs of backwardness and concentrate their political activity on intrigues and games within the apparatus," he said. That intrigue will no longer be tolerated, he suggested, saying "such people need to go, as do some other political customs."
But Medvedev's track record doesn't scream "liberal democrat!" The best indication of what to expect in 2012 might be Putin's take on elections in general, as he phrased it back in 1998. "One has to be insincere and promise something which you cannot fulfill," he said. "So you either have to be a fool who does not understand what you are promising, or deliberately be lying."
Photo:ELENA PALM/AFP/Getty Images
Manny "Pac Man" Pacquiao has suffered four losses in his career. Three were to rival boxers and the fourth was to Philippine congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio for the congressional seat in the First District of South Cotabato, home to General Santos City, the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.
The pound for pound boxing champion of the world will return to politics, this time running in the neighboring district of Sarangani. The seat will be left vacant for the 2010 elections due to term limits. Pacquiao will be supported by his own party, the People's Champ Movement (Here's hoping Freddie Roach will stay on as campaign manager).
As far as a platform goes, Pac Man told the AP in March, "I want to help [the poor] because I know what they feel right now. It is not easy to help other people. That is a big responsibility. I will focus on that for the meantime."
He told reporters yesterday, "I want only good things for Sarangani... I will work for children, for the health of our countrymen and for their livelihood."
Pacquiao does indeed know what poverty feels like, growing up poor in a country where 30 million people live on less than a dollar a day. He worked as both a baker and a construction worker before he became known as the Mexicutioner.
If he wins the seat, it is not clear if he will fight Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. as was expected. This would surely be a disappointment to millions of fans who would like nothing more than to see "Money" knocked out. This will also play a vital role in his bid for a congressional seat; his 2007 loss is often credited to many of his fans who voted against him to make sure he would stay in the ring.
Covering this campaign (the new greatest job in journalism) will also be a Christmas-come-early for hundreds of political writers who will undoubtedly use the politics as boxing analogy ad nauseam. (E.g. Gets back in the ring, ready for a fight, trades jabs, throws in the towel)
This weekend, Honduran citizens voted Porfirio Lobo president, months after a coup ousted Manuel Zelaya. Here, Foreign Policy contributor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto J. Reich replies to criticism of his FP article on the coup.
How does one rebut so many errors and distortions as those in Christopher Sabatini and Daniel Altshuler's response ("Calling a Coup a Coup," from Nov. 2) to my Foreign Policy article on Honduras ("Honduras is an Opportunity," from Oct. 27). Let us deal with just some of them.
By my count, Sabatini and Altshuler (hereafter, "SA") repeat the term "coup" 11 times, an incantation designed to cast a spell over the reader. But no matter how many times the liberal duo recite the mantra to misidentify the events that removed Manuel Zelaya from office, it was not a coup. Since the entire letter is based on that false premise, its conclusions are equally false.
SA accuse me of "ideological revisionism," for saying the U.S. should recognize the transitional government that is based on Honduran law, while they insist on calling a constitutional removal of a law-breaking president by a unanimous vote of a nation's Supreme Court, a "coup." Curiously, SA dismiss the Supreme Court action by citing two obscure U.S. academics' papers which portend to rebut a U.S. Law Library of Congress report that supported the legality of Zelaya's ouster. Is that ideological on their part, or just plain confused?
The ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had violated several articles of the Honduran Constitution (as documented in the aforementioned Supreme Court decision), and therefore according to Honduran law (not my opinion) he was no longer president of Honduras when he was deported (the deportation was not legal, but it occurred after the legal removal from office). Further evidence that Zelaya's removal was not a coup was the ratification of his removal by a nearly unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress. SA gloss over Zelaya's violations of the law and focus instead on his subsequent -- and inexcusable -- deportation.
SA claim that "Reich vigorously defended Micheletti's assumption of power as the victory of the rule of law and a stand against Latin American leftists." False. I not only did not defend (or condemn) Micheletti, I mention Micheletti only once in my article, in passing, acknowledging that he replaced Zelaya. This is only one example of the paucity of facts in SA's article. I am not sure whose article they were rebutting, but I don't think it was mine. Their allegations are directed at "conservatives," "Micheletti apologists," and others -- people I know did not write my FP article.
Attacking "conservatives" put SA in a bind. They charge that "U.S. conservatives have argued that Barack Obama's administration should recognize the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras as a way out of the political crisis." Actually, it is not only U.S. conservatives, but also the Obama administration that has come to that conclusion, as evidenced in the agreement brokered by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon in late October. It was Zelaya who renounced the agreement just days after he had signed it. Shannon then said the U.S. would recognize the winner of the Nov. 29 elections as the legitimate head of the next Honduran government.
In their letter to FP, SA praise the U.S.-brokered accord as follows: "[Most] importantly, the prospective settlement sets the stage for internationally recognized elections that will transfer power to a new president and help the country move forward." I agree. And contrary to SA's implication, I support that accord and think it is the best way out of the current crisis. I would hope that Zelaya's retreat from it has not caused SA to reverse course.
Although most of their letter can be dismissed as confused and self-contradictory, Sabatini-Altshuler's ideological motivation in attacking "U.S. conservatives'" position on the Honduras electoral crisis (as embodied by me, I assume) is serious. In concluding, SA claim that the "conservative" posture on Honduras they have attacked in their letter "would have mirrored the United States' foreign-policy blunders in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, the United States supported façade democracies -- deadly authoritarian regimes that held civilian elections to legitimize their rule -- to pursue questionable geopolitical aims. This position cheapened elections and weakened nascent democracies."
This not only reveals a clear leftist ideological direction by SA, but also a revisionism resulting in crass historical distortion. This is a contemptible and ignorant slap at Ronald Reagan, the president in "the 1980s," under whom unprecedented progress was made in hemispheric democracy. When Reagan took office in 1981, a majority of Latin Americans lived under military dictatorships. When the conservative Reagan left office eight years later, the situation had been reversed: An overwhelming majority of our neighboring countries had transitioned to democracy after long and brutal dictatorships, such as Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Chile. Which of those governments were "façade regimes," as in SA's accusation? Which were U.S. policy blunders? In which of those countries did the U.S. weaken "nascent democracy"?
As someone who worked for Ronald Reagan for those eight years, I can attest that democratic progress was no accident. It was the result of a policy designed and implemented to bring freedom and democracy to our hemisphere. That two American liberals attempt to re-write history and thus demean the U.S. role in the advance of freedom in this region, imperfect as it was but one that came at a high cost in lives and treasure, is an obvious illustration of the moral bankruptcy of American liberalism today.
But SA are not satisfied with running down their country: Their despicable and rude anti-Reagan screed reaches another ridiculous nadir with the statement that those (1980s) U.S. policies were based on "the pursuit of questionable geopolitical aims." Really? What aims were those? The main geopolitical aim of Ronald Reagan, as I remember, was the defeat of communism. The policy succeeded. And with it came an unprecedented global spread of freedom, human rights and prosperity. By whose standards was this policy "questionable?" I do recall it was questionable to the Kremlin, many western Marxist "intellectuals," and most Third World socialist despots and guerrilla leaders. It was not questionable to the hundreds of millions of people of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union whom it helped to liberate from oppression. We now know they supported Reagan. As did the other hundreds of millions people who benefitted from the end of the Cold War and from the ensuing prosperity resulting from the "peace dividend".
Why does U.S. Cold War policy appear to be a "blunder" to Sabatini-Altshuler? For the same reason they cannot see why the U.S. should support free elections in Honduras. Historical ignorance and political ideology blinds them.
According to opposition parties in Ethiopia, nearly 450 of their members have been jailed, as part of an effort by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to secure national elections being held this May. One opposition party reports that seven of its members have been murdered for political reasons during the course of this past year. The allegations fit Ethiopia's history of violent repression, including arrests and harassment of dissenting students and teachers.
During Ethiopia's last elections, held in 2005, widespread protests led to violent clashes with police, with about 200 protestors killed and many opposition leaders jailed. The ruling party, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said that the crack-down was simply to maintain law and order, and to stave off widespread ethnic conflict. Members of the opposition said it was a means of denying opposition parties electoral success.
The ruling party's bid for electoral dominance has certainly been effective -- during last year's local and bi-elections, the EPRDF and affiliated individuals lost only three seats, out of nearly 3.6 million contested seats. This past January, the government took another step towards consolidating its power by essentially outlawing human rights work and curtailing freedom of association. And according to a Reuters news analysis, the EPRDF's dominance is bolstered by a general sense that the West "would be comfortable with Meles staying on - as long as he remains a loyal ally in the volatile Horn of Africa and liberalises his potentially huge economy."
Even so, former Ethiopian Minister of Defense Seeye Abraha characterizes his country as a dormant volcano. A recent statement posted by the opposition party Ginbot 7 makes it abundantly clear that tensions remain high:
[One type of nation] is composed of countries that are ruled by corrupt tyrants whose governance is characterized by gross human rights abuse, economic polarization, ethnic conflict and political intolerance...almost all of these dictators have become turn coat democrats and hold sham elections to satisfy the demand of donor nations. The reality, however, is that they never respect election results, or care for democracy. A perfect example of one such government is the illegitimate regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia that deviously preaches democracy, but has ruled the country with an iron fist for the past 18 years."
Writing for Eurasianet, Aunohita Mojumda makes the case that Abdullah Abdullah is the real winner in the Afghan election debacle:
Heading into the August 20 election, Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, stood virtually no chance of winning the election -- whether outright in the first round, or in a run-off -- because of his inability to muster a united opposition. Given his previous political roles, most notably as Karzai’s foreign minister until 2006, Abdullah lacked a strong and cohesive political base to support his candidacy. Even the ethnic-Tajik opposition failed to unite around him. A key Northern Alliance ally, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, campaigned for Karzai.
Nevertheless, Abdullah emerged as the man of the moment. His skillful campaigning caused his popularity to surge, said Mir. "He had lost touch with the ordinary people as foreign minister. Now he has emerged as a national leader," the political analyst said.
Ironically, Abdullah’s prestige is now probably higher following the first-round vote-rigging scandal than it would have been had August 20 balloting been deemed largely free and fair.
This could be seen as the electoral equivalent of the "Streisand Effect," an Internet phenomenon often invoked by my colleague Evgeny Morozov in which attempts to censor information give it more publicity and impact than it would have had on its own. By attempting to rig the vote, Afghan authorities turned a not-particularly-credible Afghan politician into a credible international public figure.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Tom Ricks shares an interesting theory from researcher Kyle Flynn about why the Obama administration is delaying a decision on a new Afghanistan strategy:
Nov. 3, gubernatorial elections in both Virginia and New Jersey. The latter of which is my reasoning why the decision was delayed this long. Corzine is in the fight of his life and Obama is going to piss people off either way.
I'm not sure I buy this. I doubt most voters have Afghanistan on the mind when they decide whether they should pull the lever for Jon Corzine or his Virginia counterpart Creigh Deeds. It's possible that there could be some protest votes from people infuriated with the White House's decision, but while Afghanistan is increasingly becoming "Obama's war," I don't think most people see it as the "Democrats' war." If anything, most of the opposition to an increased U.S. commitment comes from within Obama's own party.
Looking ahead to 2010, this raises the quesiton of how big a campaign issue Obama's Afghan strategy will be. Because this debate doesn't divide easily along party lines, the political questions are pretty complicated.
If Obama to go along with the McChrysrtal plan, it seems unlikely that the majority of Americans who oppose the war would vote for Republicans as a result. Some antiwar voters might choose to stay home out of apathy but it seems like the partisan fury brought on by the healthcare debate alone should be enough to drag them to the polls. If Obama chooses a more limited strategy, I can't image there are that many voters who would have gone Democrat but see Afghanistan as a dealbreaker.
I'm also not convinced that, despite the increased concern, Afghanistan will a dominant politicial issue in U.S. politics in 2010. Even with 40,000 more troops, the total number will be nowhere near the half million that were deployed at the height of the Vietnam war. Unless you know someone in combat, the war in Central Asia is still a farily abstract concept compared with, say, healthcare. And given that it's much more clear what side everyone's on, healthcare makes much better material for attack ads.
So while it's probably true, as it is frequently pointed out, that there's no political upside to the war in Afghanistan, the downside may not actually be that big. Whether or not that's a good thing is a whole other question.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Via the invaluable Boursa Exchange, I see that the Egyptian government is contemplating a redevelopment plan in downtown Cairo which would transform the area into a pedestrian-only area. This plan has been commissioned by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, and envisions the construction of "multi-story underground garages" to eliminate traffic and pave the way for the creation of an area of open-air restaurants and shops.
As anyone who has even passed through Cairo knows, the traffic is truly hateful. It can sometimes take hours to get across the city, and the noise and pollution can be overwhelming. Therefore, the creation of a car-free zone in the center of the city seems like a grand idea.
This isn't the first example of the Nazif government's attempts to change the way Egyptians do business. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2004, Nazif has embarked on a series of structural reforms to the Egyptian economy which has moved the country closer to a free market system. The government has privatized many of the state's assets, particularly in the financial sector. These reforms allowed Nazif to aim to reduce the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP in 2010, down from 8.2 percent in 2005, and paved the way for GDP growth near 7 percent.
So, if Nazif is the financial mastermind behind Egypt's economic recovery, why isn't he mentioned in the same breath as his Palestinian counterpart Salam Fayyad -- another technocrat who is taking steps to improve the West Bank's economy? The first reason relates to his boss: Mubarak has given no hint that he's prepared to loosen his grip on power, to the simmering resentment of many Egyptians. It's hard to love even an effective Prime Minister when he is the front man for an increasingly illegitimate dictator.
More importantly, despite the impressive GDP growth, Nazif's reforms don't appear to be making a dent in Egypt's widespread poverty. Because of rapid population growth, Egyptian per capita income only grew 3.9% annually from 2002 to 2007, which is only middling by regional standards. To absorb the millions of new applicants to the job market, the Egyptian economy must grow at least 6 percent annually -- a rate that it almost certainly will not meet during the current recession.
The daunting task of restoring health to the Egyptian economy even makes one rethink the wisdom of creating a carless downtown Cairo. The area could very easily become the exclusive domain of the only people who can afford to drink cappuccinos in these chic open-air restaurants: upper-class Egyptians and wealthy foreigners. With rampant poverty spreading throughout Egypt, doesn't the Nazif government have better projects to spend its limited investment dollars on than downtown Cairo?
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
It seems that Karma is alive and well in the universe.
Allegations of fraud have surrounded recent elections in Russia. In 2007, in what has been described as "the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed," opposition parties alleged that campaign literature was seized and candidates were excluded from the ballot; The Kremlin apparently forced millions of public workers to vote; and a senior election official reported that he was instructed to make sure that United Russia, the ruling party, received double the number of votes expected -- the claim of rigging is strongly supported by a number of statistical anomalies.
The 2008 election of President Dmitry Medvedev also had plenty of allegations of stacking the deck; including further claims that public employees were pushed to vote for Putin's favorite, that local officials were told to produce a strong majority on Medvedev's behalf, and that potentially strong opponents were excluded from the ballot.
Yesterday, elections for a new city council in Moscow were held, and it should come as little surprise that there have already been more allegations of fraud. But even if Medvedev had a hand in ensuring the re-election of the sitting mayor, a member of the United Russia party, there was a twist of poetic justice. The president struggled to vote -- an electronic box repeatedly refused to take Medvedev's ballot.
Photo: VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
Japan's voters have handed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party an unprecedented beatdown in the country's lower-house elections, meaning the opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- long the Washington Generals, if you will, of Japanese politics -- is coming to power. It's only the second time the LDP has been ousted since World War II.
What does it mean? We'll have more on that in a bit (and you can read smart takes on the subject by Tobias Harris [twice!] and Dov Zakheim), but my view is that's it's a healthy development for a country that has never been quite as democratic as most of us assumed it to be. Japanese voters have finally punished the ossified LDP for its economic management and arrogance ignoring their everyday concerns, and it's punishment well deserved. And as an editor, anything that makes Japanese politics more interesting is welcome.
The U.S. State Department has issued a statement congratulating the DPJ on its win and pledging "close cooperation" with the new government "in moving toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, addressing the threat of climate change and increasing the availability of renewable energy, bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and addressing international humanitarian and health issues," among other top priorities.
But will the DPJ be as easy to work with as its predecessor? Yukio Hatoyama, the likely new prime minister shown above, wrote last week in a frankly loopy New York Times op-ed that Japan would "aspire to move toward regional currency integration," making headlines around the world. He said it would probably take at least 10 years to accomplish, after which the goal would be EU-style "political integration" of the region. Hatoyama also made clear that he views the United States as a declining power and that Japan would be taking a more independent line in foreign policy.
We'll see if he carries it out. More on this later.
UPDATE: Jeff Kingston weighs in from Japan with his expert take on what the DPJ's win means for Japan and the world. He argues that Tokyo's new government may have a lot more trouble on the economic front, and a lot more success in foreign policy, than most folks think. Check it out.
... Tobias Harris has more.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
So says Joshua Foust, writing on the World Politics Review blog:
Democratic elections usually rest on a few basic principles: a free and fair vote, an uncoerced selection of candidates, and an agreement by all parties to abide by the results. Afghanistan doesn't quite qualify for any of these.
Though not disputing the strategic importance in determining who will be in charge of the government, Foust makes a pretty convincing case that the elections aren't shaping up to look much like what most democracy promoters would have hoped:
*Take the idea of a free and fair vote. Pajhwok, an internationally-funded independent Afghan news service, has an entire news page set aside for incidents of voter intimidation -- and I don't mean by the Taliban (more on them later). It runs the gamut from the government arresting supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, to police killing Nuristanis for asking for enough ballot boxes to cast their votes.
*The government is building up "tribal security" forces modeled on the arbakai, a traditional tribal militia. Only, these forces are going to be different from all the other forces that have come before, will be given better weapons, and will not be subject to the disarmament and de-mobilization programs that have stood down other informal militias. In other words, they are flooding the country with guns to try to create security for the election.
*Shortly before the registration deadline passed, Gul Agha Sherzai -- the former-warlord governor of Nangarhar Province who had taken to American newspapers to make the case for his impending presidency -- abruptly withdrew his own nomination amid rumors of a deal cut with Hamid Karzai.
*Speaking of deals, what's "free and fair" about Karzai de-exiling a man like Abdul Rashid Dostum -- the Uzbek warlord who faces allegations of America-sponsored mass killings in 2001 -- to deliver the Uzbek vote?
The sudden return of Dostum and his quick endorsement of Karzai did seem particularly dirty. Karzai's government, after all, had exiled Dostum, and he was one of the stronger competitors to Karzai--though still very far off--in the 2004 election. At this point though, there is little anyone can do to protest. The elections must go on. Right?
Assuming the elections are not disrupted by violence, a related question will be how much progress, if any, Afghanistan has made since 2004. Is it more democratic, if not a democracy?
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Ambassador Holbrooke specifically referenced last night's episode of The Colbert Report in his introduction to this morning's event, saying this segment on the Afghan elections "got it pretty accurately."
Draw your own conclusions about what that means for Afghan democracy but it is pretty funny. And Ashraf Ghani's new political advisor advisor James Carville does indeed look like "something you'd see in an opium nightmare."
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Yes We Afghan - James Carville|
If you got it, flaunt it. At least that's what my grandmother used to say, and I imagine if she could see the campaign ads coming out of Germany this week, she'd probably laugh. And Vera Lengsfeld, who is running for a parliament seat in Germany's upcoming September elections, is banking on the fact that constituents will have a sense of humor.
The ad (shown above) pairs pictures of Lengsfeld and none other than Chancellor Angela Merkel, shoulder to shoulder showcasing the bountiful assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature -- two very ample bosoms barely contained by two seriously wide and plunging necklines. The line that runs across reads: "We have more to offer."
No doubt, where there's more chest, there's more attention. Lengsfeld, who did not clear the ads with Merkel, reports that traffic to her blog has increased, getting as many as 17,000 visitors since this campaign went public.
Her takeaway on all this?
If only a tenth of them also look at the content of my policies, then I will have reached many more people than I could have done with classic street canvassing."
It's an interesting acknowledgement on Lengsfeld's part, she's clearly aware that the show-stopping photos aren't appealing to the thinking minds of men and women, though it sounds as though she's hoping the ad's wit will trump the old T&A approach.
Many of those not laughing are likely to be women who find the posters, and the ploy behind them, cheap and offensive. The glass ceiling runs far and wide, thicker over some places than others, and apparently the profiles of men cast long shadows, even over the most powerful women in global politics. Truthfully, I'd like to see a man foolish enough to market his campaign "package" in the same fashion ... Or has Berlusconi kind of done that already?
MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images
Joachim Crima -- a 37-year-old immigrant from Guinea-Bissau is trying to become Russia's first black elected official, running in district elections in the Volgograd region. Naturally, Crima, who has lived in Russia for 12 years, has been dubbed "Volgograd Obama," though as RIA-Novosti reports, his campaign rhetoric isn't exactly "Yes we can."
I want to make the lives of people who I consider my compatriots better. I am ready to work from morning until evening to resolve their problems. In other words, I am ready to toil like a negro," he said
I must admit, when I saw that quote in RIA-Novosti's story, and the fact that Crima apparently sells watermelons for a living, I wondered if the whole thing wasn't a very nasty hoax. But AFP's Anna Smolchenko called up Crima, who says he doesn't mind using racial stereotypes to his advantage:
If Russians are accustomed to calling dark-skinned people 'negroes' then so be it. I am not in the least bit offended because you have to be proud of who you are."
If he says so. Something still feels very off about this whole thing. Crima seems to not have a chance in hell at beating the local United Russia candidate, and despite the credulous media reports, it seems like no one is really taking him seriously:
There is an impression that he is laughing at himself, saying 'I am a Russian Obama'," Viktor Sapozhnikov, chief of the district election commission, said.
If he goes through with his plan to run for office, said Sapozhnikov, voters would cast ballots for him either "for the sake of a joke" or as an act of protest against Russia's moribund political life.
Sean's Russia blog also has a round-up of some of the uglier racist reactions from Russian Web commenters. Rather than being a sign of social progress, the fact that the very idea of a black man running for office is being treated as a joke seems like a sign of just how entrenched racist attitudes are.
None of the articles I've read so far have looked into who's backing Volgograd Obama's run, but I think it's fair to wonder if they really have his interests -- or those of Russia's black population -- in mind.
The first ever mayor's race in Russia's Star City -- the cosmonaut training town which until recently was a military facility until recently but is still largely closed to outsiders -- did not go so well. For one thing, the winner is already under arrest:
The winning candidate, Nikolai Rybkin, a former deputy director of the cosmonaut training center, was arrested four days before the June 28 elections. Nevertheless, he won 82.6 percent of the vote, according to a tally on the Central Elections Commission’s web site.
Rybkin, a retired FSB colonel, ran as an independent candidate. Runner-up Nikolai Yumanov, an adviser to the United Russia mayor of Shchyolkovo, gained 11.4 percent of the votes. Oleg Sokovikov, who finished third with 2.6 percent, is an assistant of United Russia State Duma Deputy Vladimir Pekarev.
The arrest even boosted Rybkin’s voting tally, Vladimir Reznikov, a member of his campaign team, said by telephone from Star City. “The preliminary rating was a little bit lower,” he said.
Rybkin’s lawyer, Roman Smadich, said Monday that the elections were legal.[...]
Rybkin is being investigated on smuggling charges involving a company called Rosmoravia that allegedly smuggled Chinese goods into Russia via its northwestern borders. Investigators said he was among Rosmoravia’s founders.
Rybkin's legal difficulties notwithstanding, the dismal showing by Yumoanov and Sokovikov are also an embarassment for Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. If Rybkin is still unable to perform his duties after three months -- hard to do when you're in jail -- President Dmitry Medvedev can dismiss him.
Star City was founded in 1960 as a training center for cosmonauts. Though it's just 30 kilometers from Moscow, for years during the Soviet era, it didn't appear on any official maps.
Now it may be giving Olympic city Shochi a run for it's money as the world's strangest mayor's race.
Photo: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
Former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani has apparently retained the services of famed Democratic party strategist James Carville in his bid to unseat President Hamid Karzai. The ragin' cajun was typically circumspect in his comments:
"This is probably the most important election held in the world in a long time," Carville told The Associated Press in a telephone interview late Tuesday. "This is probably the most interesting project I have ever worked in my life."
I'm not sure how Carville defines "a long time," but I seem to remember an election last year that was pretty darn important.
Anyway, Carville's getting some questions about whether he cleared this with the Obama administration, but working abroad is nothing new for Carville who has worked in elections in over 18 countries.
I think the bigger question is what exactly Ghani -- currently polling between 2 and 4 percent of the vote -- thinks he's going to get out of Carville. Brilliant as he may be (though is recent track record isn't exactly stellar) does Carville really know the first thing about campaigning in Afghanistan? This is a deeply Islamic country in the grips of a massive insurgency where two-thirds of the population is illiterate -- are Carville's years of experience in the Iowa caucasus really going to come in handy?
Perhaps Ghani is hoping that the veteran Clintonite has some pull in Obama's state department. But given Ghani's already sterling Washington pedigree -- he's worked for the World Bank, founded the D.C.-based Institute for State Effectiveness, and was a U.S. citizen for years until starting his campaign -- his energies might be better spent winning over Kandahar rather than Foggy Bottom.
Getty Images for Meet the Press
I see that a number of people are still throwing up their hands, unsure if the Iranian election was really fraudulent.
Give me a break, folks. It's true that Ahmadinejad is popular. But he's just not that popular. There's no need to throw up our hands and say, "Aw shucks, it's all too complicated and we'll never know if he really got 24 million votes." This was fraud on a massive scale.
The Guardian is now reporting that many towns in Iran reported turnout figures in excess of their population:
In the most specific allegations of rigging yet to emerge, the centrist Ayandeh website – which stayed neutral during the campaign – reported that 26 provinces across the country showed participation figures so high they were either hitherto unheard of in democratic elections or in excess of the number of registered electors.
Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141%, the site said, quoting an unnamed "political expert". Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132% turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120%.
Ayandeh's source said at least 200 polling stations across Iran recorded participation rates of 95% or above. "This is generally considered scientifically impossible because out of every given cohort of 20 voters, there will be at least one who is either ill, out of the country, has recently died or is unable to participate for some other reasons," the source said. "It is also unprecedented in the history of Iran and all other democratic countries."
The claims are impossible to verify, but they are consistent with comments made by a former Iranian interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who said on Tuesday that 70 polling stations returned more completed ballot papers than the number of locally eligible voters.
But even if we can't verify such reports, common sense ought to suffice to persuade us that Ahmadinejad and co. cheated. As one Iranian intellectual put it, "A president that has received 24 million votes doesn't need to imprison hundreds of people and cut all lines of communication."
Most Iranians seem to grasp this point intuitively. Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist and author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, explained at an event yesterday why the rigging has Iranians so upset. "The vote is the one thing Iranians still had," he said, saying that presidential elections -- within the parameters set by the Guardian Council -- had generally been considered fair until now. "There's a rage that comes from that."
Yesterday and today, a plethora of U.S. editorials and articles and blog posts have forcefully debated whether incumbent conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or challenging reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi won the Iranian election.
"The shock of the 'Iran experts' over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking," Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote in Politico, in an article titled "Ahmadinejad won. Get over it."
The word most commonly used elsewhere, though, is "theft." Senator John McCain, for one, called for Obama to "condemn the sham, corrupt election" to "make sure that the world knows that America leads."
Certainly, the evidence of tampering is everywhere. Millions of paper ballots were counted in just two hours. Mousavi lost his home district. (Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight has excellent empirical posts on the subject.)
But we have no smoking gun and no decisive determination of what happened -- no sure way of knowing if Ahmadinejad stole the election from Mousavi, or the election was fair, or Ahmadinejad stole an election he won.
And, in some way, I find the uncertainty of what happened in Iran a bigger concern than obvious fraud. We know how to respond to election-thieves. But how do you react to a question mark?
France and Britain have come out against the results. The Obama White House, characteristically, has responded with a light touch, little more than prudent-seeming and non-speculative statements -- condemning the violence and offering respect for Iranian self-determination.
But with no sense of what really happened in Tehran, it's hard to assess the policy responses as well. If Ahmadinejad tamps down rebellion and continues on the same path, what would be the best response, then?
The big Iran news today is that the Guardian Council, the clerical body that oversees elections and is controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has agreed to recount certain ballots disputed by Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign.
This is, of course, a ruse -- a delaying tactic meant to divide the opposition by peeling off its most moderate members. Mousavi wants a complete annulment of Friday's official results.
Also of note: Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani -- who has congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his "victory" -- blamed the interior ministry for the recent attacks on students at Tehran University.
Hossein Ali Montazeri -- Iran's most prominent "dissident ayatollah" -- is now telling the protesters to use peaceful means to express their grievances. I'm not sure how influential Montazeri, once thought to be Khomenei's heir, really is today, but his opinion surely carries some weight. There's still no word from Rafsanjani. [UPDATE: Translation of Montazeri's statement.]
Finally, I'm sad to learn that reformist cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi has reportedly been arrested. I've been reading his blog sporadically for years, but it seems to be offline now. Abtahi, a former Khatami deputy who backed Karroubi in these elections, was frequently quoted in the Western press.
It will be interesting to see what happens during today's dueling demonstrations, and whether Mousavi's call for a general strike is being observed. State media has called on Iranians to protest against "outlaws," and Mousavi is reportedly telling his supporters not to demonstrate today. Still, that's what he said yesterday -- and people came out in droves anyway. It's not clear to what extent he controls this movement.
One ominous sign that Ahmadinejad thinks he has this situation under control? He went ahead with a planned trip to Russia despite the unrest back home. I see that he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Perhaps the two of them compared notes on how to steal an election?
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
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