Japan’s Coming Political Earthquake

Japan's Nationalists
Japan’s Nationalists. Photo: Al Jazeera/flickr

OSAKA – Japan is now confronting challenges at home and abroad that are as serious as any it has had to face since World War II’s end. Yet the Japanese public is displaying remarkable apathy. The country’s two major political parties, the governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) recently chose their leaders, yet ordinary Japanese responded with a collective shrug. But Japan’s political system is unlikely to remain a matter of popular indifference for much longer.

The DPJ first came to power in September 2009, with an ambitious program promising comprehensive administrative reform, no tax increases, and a freer hand in Japan’s alliance with the United States. But, owing to the party’s inexperience and incompetence at every level of policymaking – shortcomings that were compounded by the unprecedented devastation of the great earthquake of March 11, 2011 – the first two DPJ governments, under Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, ended with those pledges in tatters. Consequently, several dozen legislators, led by the perpetual rebel Ichiro Ozawa, defected from the DPJ, forming a new rump opposition party.

Libya’s Defeated Islamists

Libya flag
Libya flag. Photo: Collin David Anderson/flickr.

TRIPOLI – “We certainly did not expect the results, but…our future is certainly better than our present and our past,” said Sami al-Saadi, the former ideologue of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and the founder of the political party al-Umma al-Wasat, which finished third in Central Tripoli during Libya’s recent parliamentary election. The man whom Taliban leader Mullah Omar once called the “Sheikh of the Arabs,” and who authored the LIFG’s anti-democracy manifesto The Choice is Theirs, accepted the apparent victory of Libya’s more liberal forces.

Egypt’s Innocent Murderers

Tahrir Square at night.
Tahrir Square, 3 June 2012. Photo: Jonathan Rashad/flickr.

CAIRO – “Bashar should abandon power and retire safely in Egypt. The general-prosecutor is murder-friendly,” a friend, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told me as we watched former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s trial in the Police Academy’s criminal court. Although Mubarak and his interior (security) minister, Habib al-Adly, were handed life sentences at the conclusion of their trials, the generals who ran Egypt’s apparatus of repression as deputy interior ministers were acquitted.

Hasan Abd al-Rahman, head of the notorious, Stasi-like State Security Investigations (SSI); Ahmad Ramzi, head of the Central Security Forces (CSF); Adly Fayyid, the head of Public Security; Ismail al-Shaer, who led the Cairo Security Directorate (CSD); Osama Youssef, the head of the Giza Security Directorate; and Omar Faramawy, who oversaw of the 6th of October Security Directorate, were all cleared of any wrongdoing. Lawyers for Mubarak and al-Adly will appeal their life-sentences, and many Egyptians believe that they will receive lighter sentences.

The Bo Xilai Saga: Did Social Media Challenge the Government?

Bo Xilai portraited as Greek mythology character Icarus, who tried to fly too close to the sun with with a set of wings made from wax. Source: Beijing Cream.
Bo Xilai portraited as Greek mythology character Icarus, who tried to fly too close to the sun with a set of wings made from wax. Source: Beijing Cream.

Political struggle, murder, corruption, espionage and diplomatic conflict – the downfall of Bo Xilai from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) elite ranks has turned out to be a multi-faceted story. The Bo Xilai affair is also a good example of the disruptive role that social media plays in today’s China. Despite censorship, discussions on social networks caused international media to prick up their ears.

With the CCP’s once-in-a-decade leadership succession scheduled for October 2012, Bo Xilai’s case has jumped to the front page of international and local media. It has been widely argued that social media has made it unfeasible for the government to keep the story behind the scenes. However, it is also true that the government has stirred social media to its own advantage. Did the Chinese government really want to hide Bo Xilai’s story? Did social media really challenge the government control on information? The opacity of China’s politics makes it impossible to answer these questions, but they are worth a thought.

Let’s re-cap on how Chinese social media played a major role by apparently forcing disclosure and challenging government control on information.

What Is So Special About Poland?

Image: Rock Cohen/flickr

The Center for International Studies at ETH Zurich hosted a number of lectures on Thursday March 8, 2012 focusing on Poland and European integration. This was an excellent opportunity to learn about and discuss several important topics presented by Polish scholars, covering the following four themes: how Polish euroskepticism has changed over the past decades (Krzysztof Zuba); how differentiated integration might play out in the case of Poland (Paweł Frankowski); how the European Parliament socializes its Polish members (Anna Paczesniak); and, what distinguishes European parties from national parties (Wojchiech Gagatek). More broadly, however, what is there in particular that distinguishes the case of Poland from that of other new member states?