A Brave New Iraq? It Starts with Tackling Corruption and Rebuilding State Legitimacy

Plastic model of Iraqi regions, courtesy of Jan Sefti/flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 10 September, 2015.

While global attention focuses on Islamic State (IS), recent mass protests throughout Iraq have prompted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to promise what many long believed impossible: tackling the systemic corruption endemic to the Iraqi political system.

Moving decisively to cut the fat, al-Abadi slashed the Iraqi cabinet by one-third. He abolished the positions of 11 ministers, three deputy presidencies, three deputy prime ministers and a total of four ministries altogether – although this, worryingly, includes the portfolios for human rights and women’s affairs. » More

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Poland’s New Hawkish President Could Be Shape of Things to Come from Warsaw

Andrzej Duda, newly elected President of Poland. Image: Piotr Drabik/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 7 August, 2015.

Where next for Poland? That is the big question following the swearing in of Andrzej Duda for a five-year term as the new president.

The 43-year-old lawyer’s shock victory in May’s presidential election has shaken up Polish politics. It means that for the first time since 2010, Poland’s president is from a different party to the prime minister. Duda represents the right-wing Law and Justice party, while prime minister Ewa Kopacz is from the centrist Civic Platform.

Duda’s victory prompted speculation about whether there would be a significant shift in Polish international relations. Up to a point, is the short answer. Real executive power lies with the prime minister, but the Polish president is not simply a ceremonial figure. According to the constitution, the president has informal oversight and a coordinating role over foreign policy. » More

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A Good Year (So Far) for Europe’s Separatists

The flags of Scotland and the United Kingdom. Image: The Laird of Oldham /Flickr

The European Union’s (EU) separatist movements have never had it so good. Faltering economic conditions, unpopular austerity measures and ‘out of touch’ governments have combined to reignite secessionism like never before. As a result, separatist fervour has never been so vocal – both in public and the national corridors of power. And there’s more to come. » More

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After April Stalemate, Could Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement Rise Again?

Protesters in Hong Kong during the “Umbrella Revolution”. Image: Pasu Au Yeung/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 5 May 2015.

With Hong Kong’s April reform package to elect a new chief executive in 2017 falling far short of creating genuine universal suffrage, and doing little to bridge the region’s political divides, the battle between the government and pro-democracy supporters for hearts and minds has been revived. The “umbrella” movement that caught the world’s attention last year could therefore resurface in the coming weeks and months.

By strictly following an August 2014 decision made by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), the April package angered pro-democracy members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council—the so-called “pan-democrats” who supported the street-based umbrella movement—who want to preserve the region’s autonomy as part of the “one country, two systems” model. » More

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Thailand: a New Constitution for a New Kind of Democracy?

Protesters in Bangkok, December 2013. Image: ilf_/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by ASPI Strategist on 4 May, 2015.

For many years Thailand was admired for its rapid economic growth. It was a good security partner for the US and Australia, and many foreigners liked visiting the country. The zigzag course of its political development, alternating between democratically-elected governments and military regimes, has prompted frowns at the appropriate times from Western governments, but the widespread assumption was that there was an underlying upwards trajectory. The election of Thaksin Shinawatra—a wealthy communications tycoon—as Prime Minister in 2001, held out the prospect of a more contemporary and business-oriented style of government. » More

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