Pessimism growing in Pakistan

December 20, 2008

Pakistanis are becoming increasingly pessimistic about prospects for their country and for themselves. According to an opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a US-based group that promotes democracy, about 88 per cent Pakistanis feel their country is headed in the wrong direction, 59 per cent say the next year will be worse than the current year and 67 per cent believe democracy has made no difference to their wellbeing.

Read the Dawn report here, and click here for the the full IRI survey:

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Death of a salesman and other elite ironies

December 6, 2008

Tarun J Tejpal in Tehelka:

What the Indian elite is discovering today on the debris of fancy eateries is an acidic truth large numbers of ordinary Indians are forced to swallow every day. Children who die of malnutrition, farmers who commit suicide, dalits who are raped and massacred, tribals who are turfed out of centuryold habitats, peasants whose lands are taken over for car factories, minorities who are bludgeoned into paranoia – these, and many others, know that something is grossly wrong. The system does not work, the system is cruel, the system is unjust, the system exists to only serve those who run it. Crucially, what we, the elite, need to understand is that most of us are complicit in the system. In fact, chances are the more we have – of privilege and money – the more invested we are in the shoring up of an unfair state.

IT IS time each one of us understood that at the heart of every society is its politics. If the politics is third-rate, the condition of the society will be no better. For too many decades now, the elite of India has washed its hands off the country’s politics. Entire generations have grown up viewing it as a distasteful activity. In an astonishing perversion, the finest imaginative act of the last thousand years on the subcontinent, the creation and flowering of the idea of modern India through mass politics, has for the last 40 years been rendered infra dig, déclassé, uncool. Let us blame our parents, and let our children blame us, for not bequeathing onwards the sheer beauty of a collective vision, collective will, and collective action. In a word, politics: which, at its best, created the wonder of a liberal and democratic idea, and at its worst threatens to tear it down.

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Lessons in Gross National Happiness

November 24, 2008

A chat with Bhutan’s first elected prime minister. Emily Parker in the Wall Street Journal:

thinleyJigmi Y. Thinley, Bhutan’s first democratically elected prime minister, describes his five-year term as “a period within which we will have to prove to the people that democracy itself is worthwhile.” That sounds like a lot of pressure. But when I meet Mr. Thinley at the Bhutan Mission in New York City, he seems quite calm. “I’m not losing sleep,” he admits. Mr. Thinley, born in 1950, is wearing a Western suit. He studied in the U.S., and his English is so articulate that it borders on poetic.

Bhutan’s road to democracy was paved by the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who decided that the country’s destiny should not be left to accidents of birth. Bhutan is now a constitutional monarchy, and its fifth king was coronated this month.

Many Bhutanese were initially squeamish about democracy. But the election, comprising of two parties with fairly similar agendas, was remarkably peaceful.

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Democracy for Maldives

November 2, 2008

For many Westerners, the Maldives represents the peak of aspirational tourism but lurking behind the paradisiacal façade is a grim story of poverty and exploitation. From New Statesman:

The statistics do jar. A number of tiny, uninhabited islands are auctioned every year, fetching around £30m each. A survey conducted by the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) showed that basic workers’ pay was between $80-$120 per month, although even the very lowest end resorts had an annual income of $3-4million. Fishing stocks are hugely depleted and fresh fruit and vegetables bypass local residents, going directly to tourist islands. The UN recently found that over 30 per cent of Maldivian children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

Barnett notes the lack of international awareness. “Gayoom’s regime was so repressive that it is very hard to get information out…”

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Previously in AW: Ex-prisoner defeats ‘dictator’ president of Maldives


His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo

October 31, 2008

Bhutan will crown its fifth king, the 27-year-old Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, on November 6. Jigme Khesar became king late in 2006 after his father, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated. The coronation was delayed because astrologers said 2007 was not an auspicious time for the young king to be crowned. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck established a parliamentary democracy in the Himalayan Kingdom with the monarch as head of state.

Kinley Dorji at Kuensel on what the coronation means:

It is the end – and the beginning – of history. On the morning of November 1, the third day of the ninth Bhutanese month, His Majesty the King will be empowered as the Druk Gyalpo in a unique and sacred empowerment ceremony, which symbolises his transcendence of the ordinary and the temporal and the personification of divine wisdom.

His Majesty will receive the Dar Na-Nga, a special arrangement of the primary colours that signify the five elements. The ceremony will take place in the Machhen Lhakhang, and the Dar Na-Nga will be symbolically conferred by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, in the presence of the fourth Druk Gyalpo, with the empowerment prayer chanted by His Holiness the Je Khenpo.

The white, yellow, red, green, and blue silk scarves represent the elements – water, earth, fire, wind, and space – the basis of physical existence, that His Majesty personifies, as well as the underlying energies from which the physical world arises.

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Ex-prisoner defeats ‘dictator’ president of Maldives

October 30, 2008

Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, defeated President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the Maldives’ first democratic presidential election. Gayoom has been the Maldives’ undisputed President for 30 years.

Here’s the Reuters story:

Nasheed’s victory caps a remarkable journey for an activist whose criticism of Gayoom and crusading for democracy saw him charged 27 times and jailed or banished to remote atolls for a total of six years.

“This is a happier day than ever in the history of the Maldives. The Maldives will change, it will have a peaceful government,” said Nasheed, 41, who was just 11 years old when Gayoom took power in 1978. More here, and here

The BBC’s Adam Mynott – who has visited the country many times – has this assessment:

I recorded an interview with Mr Gayoom for the BBC in 2005 when he denied a number of allegations that he had suppressed free speech and thrown political opponents into jail.

International human rights bodies point to a catalogue of opposition figures being incarcerated without trial in the dreaded Maafusi Jail. More:

And click here for the profile of Mohamed Nasheed, the new President-elect of the Maldives.


15 people the next US President should listen to

September 24, 2008

Wired magazine has a “Smart List of 15 Wired people” it says the next president should listen to. These 15 are “the best minds” on climate change, the military, space exploration, democracy, global health, terrorism, China and India. They have “big ideas about how to fix the things that need fixing.” The list includes:

Jagdish Bhagwati: As the world’s preeminent globalization buff, Jagdish Bhagwati doesn’t toe standard party lines. The Columbia University economist, 74, who has advised everyone from the Indian government to the World Trade Organization, is a rare nonpartisan in a field dominated by ideologues. A registered Democrat who is willing to face down the anti-free-trade wing of his own party, Bhagwati is also comfortable arguing against what he sees as the compassion-free laissez-faire attitude exhibited by many of his fellow globalization advocates.

Parag Khanna: In his book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, Khanna, 31, describes a planet dominated by a trio of superpowers: the US, China, and Europe. In this tripolar era, America’s fate depends on tough national choices, not lame historical analogies. If the US wises up – by tightening trade and energy ties to the rest of the hemisphere, pursuing economic innovation at home, and establishing a “diplomatic-industrial complex” – it can grow stronger even as the globe becomes less red, white, and blue.

Ram Shriram: In the face of terrorism, global warming, and economic stagnation, spectrum policy may not seem like a top presidential priority. But it ought to be. Ram Shriram, a venture capitalist who helped fund Google a decade ago, says wireless carriers are hamstringing the mobile industry. He advocates opening the airwaves – and even mounted an (unsuccessful) bid on a chunk of radio spectrum in January. What’s at stake? “The greatest wave of innovation since the PC-platform era.”

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