Preparing for Election Season in Colombia

Protests against FARC, photo: kozumel/flickr

After eight consecutive years in office, President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia has to step down and make way for potential change in Colombian politics. This post features a brief description of the main presidential candidates in the 2010 elections and looks at the potential impact of a changed political landscape on relations with the US, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the guerrilla organization FARC.

This weekend’s parliamentary election will serve as an indicator of the direction Colombian politics will take in the post-Uribe era.

Italian Media Monopoly

Silvio Berlusconi, photo: vas vas/flickr

When speaking of press freedom, Western European countries usually score highest in rankings from institutions like Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders. They are all declared as “free” with one notable exception: Italy.

In the 2009 report Freedom House downgraded Italy from “free” to “partly free”, highlighting worrisome trends that have been underlined by recent events.

In February of this year four managers from Google Italy’s YouTube branch had to stand trial because of accusations regarding privacy violations. This was only one month after Italian officials proposed a new law against online copyright infringement which holds responsible companies that host and broadcast copyright protected content illegally (i.e. YouTube). Meanwhile, Google is still engaged in a similar legal dispute with Mediaset, a private media corporation controlled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

On 2 March 2010 the administrative council of Italy’s public television network RAI announced that two popular political talk shows will not be allowed to broadcast for one month until regional elections are over. State officials justified the decision by pointing to a law that guarantees equal opportunity of representation on public media channels to all parties. However, opponents argue that the decision is purely political as the two talk shows “Anno Zero” and “Balla-rò” have heavily criticized Berlusconi in the past.

Northern Ireland: No Tresspassing

Celbridge St Patrick's Day Parade 2009
Celbridge St Patrick's Day Parade 2009 / Photo: Yokospungeon, flickr

This week the heads of Northern Ireland’s leading parties sat together with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish President Mary McAleese for an emergency meeting to save the country’s executive branch.

Officially, the issue at stake was the planned shift of power over the control of the police and judicial institutions from British to Northern Irish authorities. However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin (SF) could not come to terms. On the one hand, there is the apparent issue of power sharing (which we’re covering in an upcoming weekly theme by the way). On the other hand, a main reason for dispute is parading.

Lobbying the Political Agenda

Sealing the deal, while setting the agenda? / Photo: thinkpanama/flickr
Sealing the deal, while setting the agenda? / Photo: thinkpanama/flickr

In mid-September, US President Barack Obama risked tense bilateral trade relations with China by opting for the imposition of an import tariff on tires. He legitimized his decision by saying that in the tire industry 5,000 jobs had been lost since 2004. Even though the loss of 5,000 jobs is bad for the economy, its repercussions are relatively minor compared to when tens of thousands of people are getting fired in the financial sector. The question of why the US wants to instate such a tariff remains.

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) gives the answer, noting that the United Steel Workers union (a US labor group) strongly acted for the imposition of the tariff to which Obama eventually agreed to.

The possible influence of lobby groups on the US political agenda is of particular interest. President Obama resisted support from such groups during his campaign, yet lobbying has always been an integrated part of US politics. Open Secrets, from the US-based Center for Responsive Politics, offers a list of the main industries that donate to political campaigns. Among the top ranking in 2008 were the pharmaceutical, utility and insurance industries as well as the oil and gas industry.

Coincidentally or based on necessity, the reform of the American healthcare sector is currently one of Obama’s main concerns. Will we eventually see Obama’s future agenda being set by these other industries? Moreover, Obama’s campaign enjoyed crucial support by various labor unions, with memberships comprised of domestic blue-collar workers and potential opponents to global free trade. Their influence on the democratic agenda has yet to fully unfold. If it does, bilateral trade with China might take another blow and the US might prompt other states to follow its lead to regulate and close down their economies against foreign influence.