Pre-Election Violence Escalates in Eastern Ukraine


From my latest for the Daily Beast three days before presidential elections:

“The interim government of Ukraine has called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council following a dawn attack today by separatists in east Ukraine that left at least 13 soldiers dead and up to 20 wounded. The country’s interim prime minister says he has evidence of Russian involvement in the attack, one of four to take place three days before Ukraine’s presidential elections.”

I have have heard of several families in Donetsk leaving, fearing there will be serious election violence in the east. There have been also worries expressed by foreign election advisers at the lack of preparedness by the Kiev government when it comes to security in the east for the polls. On that I write:

“Under Ukraine election law the police are tasked with providing election security but in the east many have sided with separatists or are not prepared to challenge them. Foreign election advisers were urging the government to amend the law to allow other security services, including the army, to have an election security role but ministers failed to do that. However, they have changed the law to allow soldiers to vote at local polling stations rather than their barracks arguing their presence in the voting queues may help to deter attacks.”

You can read the full story here.

Lacking Skepticism

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today about how the transitional Libyan authorities are planning to avoid the political chaos in neighboring Egypt by blocking the old Gaddafi guard from standing as candidates in the July 7 elections. True, the integrity committee has blocked about 320 candidates from standing. But the article lacks skepticism. The old guard is very much alive and present. Walk into any ministry and you will be dealing with Gaddafi-era senior officials. Many intelligence officials — including those specialized in electronic surveillance — have been recalled to work and it isn’t clear what criteria was used for calling some back but excluding others. Lastly, it isn’t clear how the criteria has been applied to reject some of the candidates — there are still some in the lists who were part of the Gaddafi structure.

Laugh Or Cry

A former colleague of mine, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner, has a screed in National Review Online today asking this question. “Where’s the accountability?”

The point of his piece is to compare the accountability that was visited on J.P. Morgan Chase by its $2.3 billion loss as a consequence of poor investment decisions. The bank saw its share price drop, suffered damage to its reputation and a senior executive was forced to retire early.

Michael then goes on to list several government failings from his point of view and then asks, “Where’s the accountability?”

I don’t happen to agree with Michael’s rather over-wrought list — it strikes me that some things listed as “failures” are nothing of the kind but programs we should expect in a modern, civilized democracy — but that’s irrelevant because the answer to his question is pretty simple: in democracies the people at elections hold governments accountable. Or would you rather do away with our system of government, Michael?

And some accountability over at J.P. Morgan! And I write as shareholder in the bank (although my position wouldn’t get me a transatlantic flight). Despite the loss in what he likes to call a bad hedge, Jamie Dimon was reelected this week as chairman and CEO of the bank. Most shareholders, of course, had voted by proxy before the loss was announced.

Few serious observers of J.P Morgan believe that Dimon, who’s a very hands-on chief executive, wouldn’t have been aware of the big bet that was being made and went wrong.

What happened was a bet pure and simple – bankers like to call this a hedge, of course. The bank bet on U.S. corporate bonds and got it seriously wrong. So we are back with casino banking – and a casino banker in control at J.P. Morgan.

Iowa: Who Won? Don’t Know. Never Mind!

So apparently Iowa is now too close to call and maybe Rick Santorum won after all. And we trot around the globe encouraging others to follow our democratic processes!

Both the US and UK have excellent non-profit agencies funded by US AID and the Department of International Development counseling various electoral commissions in foreign countries, training poll-workers and advising on electoral process and we can’t get it right ourselves — the Florida debacle and now this in Iowa.

At the last UK general election there were several constituencies where thousands of voters were prevented from voting. But there were no re-runs — when there should have been. Now what does the Bible say, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

NBC points out that the Iowa Caucus results are not binding, meaning the results do not dictate which candidate the delegates at the national conventions in the summer vote for. “So not having an actual ‘winner’  of the caucuses will not have as big of an impact as it would in other binding states,” the news report states.

Maybe so, but declaring Mitt Romney did have an impact on the race: it allowed the former Massachusetts governor to build up a sense of inevitability about his candidacy that likely influenced some voters in New Hampshire and almost certainly helped his campaign fundraising. In short, it had a distorting affect.


Afghans To Re-Run Election – Deja Vu

Following up from my Perfect Storm post. With Karzai’s agreement for a re-run of the election, we have now  an imperfect storm. Questions: How will vote-rigging be avoided this time round? With the Taliban rampant, is it likely that we will see an increase in turnout?

The way Karzai acceded to a run-off doesn’t augur well. He was begrudging in the extreme and as the New York Times pointed out “you could almost hear his arm being twisted” by Secretary of State Clinton and other allied leaders, including Britain’s Gordon Brown and France’s Bernard Kouchner.  Is Karzai likely to become the kind of credible partner President Obama says is necessary before agreeing to the dispatch of reinforcements to Afghanistan?

Even now Karzai seems reluctant to accept that nearly one-third of his first-round votes were stolen. Does anyone really think that vote-rigging of that magnitude is somehow not connected with Karzai himself?

And to stress the point I made above. How is this election going to be more credible and fair than the last? Election day is only three weeks away. Much of the fraud was also connected to a faulty registry of voters that international observers knew had problems with it months before the summer election. Is the register going to corrected? Of course, not as there is not enough time.

And how to ensure that the runoff is fair and credible when many of the poll-workers who were responsible for the fraud last time will be involved this time? They can’t all be sacked as there is not enough time to train replacements.

And when Karzai wins, which he is likely to by all accounts, will he see the errors of his way and transform himself into the leader people had high hopes he was many years ago? Again it is his begrudging acceptance now of the runoff that suggests that a re-elected Karzai will be no different from before. A priority for the next Afghan government must be to root out corruption, including the corruption within the Karzai family, notably his brother. After that basic services must be improved – that change could well be more important than the sending of additional troops. It has been the neglect of the economy and the country’s infrastructure by the allies and by the Afghan government that has so far doomed the democratic experiment in Afghanistan. Why should people believe democracy is a good thing when they have no reliable running water or electricity even in the capital of Kabul?

The failure of the Afghan government to deliver services along with widespread corruption has fueled the insurgency as much as the presence of foreign troops.

Did the Election Reflect Iranian Opinion?

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was probably being accurate when he said on State television on Tuesday night that voters, regardless of who they voted for, support the Islamic Republic. U.S. and European reporters and commentators who have little first-hand knowledge of the country have a terrible tendency to interpret events there in very Western ways.  

Polling data pulled together by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty ahead of the elections did not pick up an impending revolution and the pollsters argued in a thoughtful article in the Washington Post on Monday that the “election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people.”  The poll they conducted by phone between May 11 and May 20 had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enjoying a huge lead over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi –even among Azeris. Iran, of course, is not just Tehran and too many U.S. commentators seem not to appreciate that the middle-class in Tehran don’t necessarily reflect the majority view. 

But how the regime deals with the protests aginst the results is going to be a crucial determining factor in how the Islamic Republic will be viewed in the future by Iranians. In the Ballen/Doherty poll even supporters of Ahmadinejad indicated their hope for change — more democracy, the right to vote for the Supreme Leader, and free and fair elections and a free press were seen as priorities and not just for Mousavi supporters but by those planning to vote for the incumbent president. If those hopes are crushed, even many Ahmadinejad supporters could become disaffected. The authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place: maintain a hardline position and risk widespread disaffection, back down and encourage the opposition to demand more reform.

President Obama has come in for criticism from Republicans for not being out front enough but his approach reflects real maturity and sophistication. If Washington DC starts blasting away with all rhetorical guns blazing more than likely that will help the hardliners by allowing Ahmadinejad to rally patriotic Iranians. After all surely the point is that the protests don’t mark a rejection of the Islamic Republic but a determination by some to purify and modernise it.