She’s Made It. Follow Her!

Simonetta Sommaruga, the latest woman to join the Federal Council, courtesy of Simonetta Sommaruga

What do Rwanda, Sweden, Argentina and Finland have in common?

They are the world champions of women in politics. Women make up more than 40 percent of each country’s parliament. Switzerland just joined the club of the women-friendly elite on Wednesday. The Federal president, as well as the speakers of both legislative chambers, are women, and now the Federal Council, the executive organ of the government, has four women among its seven members.

Women’s strong showing in the Swiss executive branch is surprising for several reasons. First, it stands in sharp contrast to women’s representation in the legislature: there, women do not even reach the 30 percent mark –  28.5 percent of parliament members are women, while in the executive, they represent 60 percent.

Second, women only gained the right to vote in 1971. Yes, 1971. The country of humanitarian law and human rights allowed women to vote 51 years after Azerbaijan, 40 years after Sri Lanka and nine years after Afghanistan.

I congratulate members of the Swiss parliament for having elected another woman to the Federal Council to help ameliorate the shame that had made Switzerland look like an undemocratic country.

It can only encourage other countries that have only recently instituted women’s suffrage to believe that rapid progress really is possible.

On the same topic: Check out our recent Special Report “Closing the Gender Gap.”

Political Fruit Salad

Fruit, courtesy of Alan Levin/flickr
Courtesy of Alan Levin/flickr

If power were a fruit, I guess it would be an orange: sweet at first, it usually turns out to have a sour after-taste. And if you attempt to savor it whole, it’s very bitter.

I’ve come across a few fruity political metaphors lately. Using sweet comparisons seems to help political correctness.  ‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’, as a famous flying nanny once said…

Have you heard about Kenya’s watermelons this week? Not the country’s newest export success, no. In the debate surrounding the new constitution approved in Wednesday’s vote, watermelons are those politicians who are ‘green’ on the outside and ‘red’ on the inside.  Despite apparently being supporters of the new text (green), they are actually against (red) because it threatens some of their privileges, and they will do everything they can to impede its introduction.

Similarly, did you know that the US and the UK produce coconuts? The term is emerging in both countries to designate black people who are ‘white’ inside because they have assimilated white culture. Some like to proudly call themselves ‘coconuts’ as a mark of successful integration or even a kind of higher social status. But others use it to accuse people of betraying their ethnic loyalty, so be very careful before you call someone fruit names. I wonder where Barack Obama stands on this issue?

Finally, no fruit beats the sabra when it comes to political importance. This cactus fruit, usually called prickly pear in English, has played an interesting role in Israeli national identity for a long time. ‘Sabra‘ is used to describe Jewish people born and raised in Israel, as opposed to those who emigrated after its creation. The ‘sabras’  are supposedly rough on the outside, but delicate on the inside. According to Wikipedia, Benjamin Netanyahu is the first sabra Prime Minister… Well, I can definitely see the rough outside!

Do you know of any political fruit to add to this summer salad?

The Politics of Twitter

Shifting sands or a tool that is here to stay? Photo courtesy of Rosaura Ochoa/flickr

Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign may still be the benchmark for the use of social media tools in politics, but some surprising new actors are embracing Twitter in particular in an effort to reach out to voters and citizens in a more personal and immediate way.

While leaders of ‘old Europe’ still seem quite reluctant to use the service (David Cameron, in his pre-prime minister days, once famously blurted out that “too many twits [it’s tweets, David] might make a twat”), politicians in South Asia are embracing the service as a means of reaching a very large number of citizens, very quickly.

Among them, Shashi Tharoor, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and member of parliament, who tweets several times a day, even using his stream to respond to constituent concerns. He has also run into trouble for his tweets. Although this may have given his follower numbers a boost, the ability to reach and interact with 825,000+ followers in such a dynamic and instant way is a feat in itself and a potentially powerful tool for governance in an unwieldy country like India.

Why have leaders in the West not embraced this new form of instant interaction? Do they fear that they may say something unwise, even controversial on a service that is anything but forgiving in its immediacy, or do they fear the barrage of responses they may get to an unpopular comment? While Silvio Berlusconi’s PR people might have made a wise choice in keeping him from the service, it could prove powerful in narrowing the divide between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’ and in making politics more relevant to millions of politically apathetic young people.


ISN Weekly Theme: The Rise of the Right

Europe turning right? Courtesy of: Rene De Paula Jr/flickr

One hallmark of Europe’s changing political landscape in the past decades has been the steady rise of parties on the extreme right. This week the ISN explores the ‘family’ of right-wing parties and the implications of their rising popularity and clout across the continent.

Our Special Report offers the following content:

  • An Analysis by Dr Michale Bruter on the concept and reach of the extreme right in Europe.
  • A Podcast with Dr Andrea Mammone of Kingston University London on the rise of the right in Italy and the political, economic and ethical crisis engulfing the country.
  • Security Watch articles on the popularity of right wing parties among foreigners in Switzerland and on the rise of right-wing extremism in the UK.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including a Centre for Eastern Studies commentary on Germany’s integration and naturalization policies and a Danish Institute for International Studies paper on multiculturalism in Denmark and Sweden.
  • Primary Resources, among them Geert Wilders’ speech in the House of Lords and a report on violence against Roma in Naples, Italy.
  • Links to relevant websites, including an article on populism in Europe and a swissinfo page on Islam and Switzerland that details last year’s minaret debate and its aftermath.

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.