Our 33rd year
of publishing The International Observer
August 2014: Peace on Earth? Indian ministerial changes
Egyptian usurper gets presidency Thai military again seizes government
The Ebola humanitarian health emergency
Widening presence of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria
Renewed political involvement of Pakistan’s military
Deepening Russian subversion in Ukraine
Noticed and Noted
- European Union (EU)
- Leadership trio in place
The special meeting of the European Council—heads of member state or governments—on 30 August was overshadowed by the issues of the Islamic State (IS), Ukraine, Palestine, Libya, and Ebola but it also completed forming the EU’s
executive arm for the new term. It elected the President of the European Council for the period from 1 December 2014 to 31 May 2017 and appointed the Union’s “foreign minister,” the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to serve
until 31 October 2019.
After consultations among member governments, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker (born 9 February 1954) of the Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) became the
first President of the new European Commission (EC) to be elected by the European Parliament. Although he was deemed too pro-European and federal-minded by some, especially in the British government, he was chosen by 422 against 250 votes on 15 July. There were 47 abstentions and 10 invalid votes. He succeeds
José Manuel Durão Barroso (born 23 March 1956) of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) who served as 11th President since 22 November 2004 after holding the office of Prime Minister of Portugal (2002-2004).
The Prime Minister of Poland Donald Franciszek Tusk (born 22 April 1957) of the Civic Platform (PO) was elected by the European Council as its next President on 30 August. He will
succeed Herman Achille Van Rompuy (born 31 October 1947) of the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) party who assumed the office on 1 December 2009 after serving as prime Minister of Belgium (2008-2009).
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy since February 2014, Ms. Federica Mogherini (born 16 June 1973) of the Democratic Party (PD) was appointed High Representative of the Union for
Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with agreement of the incoming Commission President on 30 August. Her selection, actively promoted by the Italian Prime Minister, had run into some objections from the Baltic States and Poland who feared she may not pursue a strong and determined approach when rejecting
Russian support for Ukrainian rebels. She is probably more engaged in Islamic and Middle Eastern affairs but since she was politically active in communist youth and later socialist causes and has followed the less assertive Italian government role when dealing with Russia, these concerns arose. (It is ironic,
given that the former prime minister did not stop cozying up to the Russian president and praising him. To the embarrassment of other Western leaders, he never tired of speaking of his Kremlin friend and seeking him out.) The current High Representative—and 1st
Vice President of the European Commission (EC)—Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the former Ms. Catherine Ashton (born 20 March 1956) of the Labour Party assumed the position on 1 December 2009 after serving as European Commissioner for Trade and Labour Leader in the House of Lords (2007-2008).
Not part of the executive branch of the Union but a leader in European affairs is the President of the European Parliament (EP). Martin Schulz (born 20 December 1955) of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany and EP Member since 1994 was reelected President by 409 of 612 votes on 1 July 2014 after holding the office since 17 January 2012.
Opposition BJP ends 2-term Indian Congress rule
Controversial Hindu nationalist heading government
The overwhelming election victory of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Indian People’s Party was not a surprise. Long before the elections started on 7 April, commentators, media, and pollsters had predicted hard going if not outright defeat for the governing Indian
National Congress (INC) party and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Stunning, and shocking for Congress was its measly return of 44 of 543 seats in the lower House of Parliament, the Lok Sabha or House of the People.
Neither the unchallenged decency and integrity of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh nor the remaining appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and its leadership of Congress averted the debacle.
Singh’s second term was marked by several major cases of corruption by government ministers that clearly lost him popular support and the Gandhi family was seen as preoccupied with personal health issues and lack of engagement by its younger members. The prime minister took
himself out of the campaign when he announced his retirement on 3 January and his support for Rahul Gandhi, the son of the INC leader.
The Prime Minister
The 15th Prime Minister Narendra Modi (born 17 September 1950) (BJP) was appointed on 20 May and assumed office on 26 May. He succeeds Dr. Manmohan Singh (born 26 September 1932) who had served since 22 May 2009 until his resignation on 17 May. Before moving up
to the national level, the new head of government was Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat from 7 October 2001 until his resignation on 21 May 2014. A committed Hindu and interested in politics, he joined the nationalistic right-wing Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteer
Organization. Frequently it went beyond its educational mission, assumed paramilitary character, and took part in anti-Muslim violence—riots which in 2002 in Gujarat also seriously tarnished the reputation of its chief minister. This explains why Modi while receiving credit for his approach to economic
development—the BJP supports free markets—is seen as polarizing and criticized for not being energetic enough to advance human development, especially those of minorities. Muslim Indians are watching closely for signs that the BJP will move the country away from the secular idea and from pluralism.
Before the five year term of the 15th Lok Sabha expired on 31 May, general elections were held from 7 April until 12 May 2014 in 28 States and 7 Union Territories (Creation of the new 29th State of Telangana did not become effective until 2 June. Voting was marked by a
record turnout of 66.4 percent.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) obtained 336 of 543 seats (BJP 282) while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of the Indian National Congress (INC) dropped to 61 seats (INC 44) after holding 206 seats in the 2009 elections and
continuing governing for a second term. [June 2014]
- Wars in 2013 displaced 33.3 million people inside their countries
- Last year, 33.3 million people had to leave their towns, villages and places to live inside their own countries because of armed conflict, violence*, and human rights violations. Called internally displaced by international organizations, their numbers increased 16 percent since 2012, a record high
for the second year running. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) in
- Geneva, set up in 1998, reported on 14 May in its Global Overview 2014 that nearly two-thirds (63
- percent) of internally displaced people (IDPs) are from just five countries: Syria, Colombia, Congo (DR), Sudan, and Nigeria which was added in 2013 for the first time.
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said people should "be concerned about these numbers and the continuing upwards trend. We have a shared responsibility to act to end this massive suffering. Immediate protection and assistance for
the internally displaced is a humanitarian imperative." According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) of which IDMC is part, the average amount of time people worldwide are living in displacement is now a staggering 17 years.
- By the end of last year, 8.2 million people were newly displaced, an increase of 1.6 million compared to the year before. Forty-three percent of all the people newly displaced in 2013 were in Syria where
armed groups control the areas where internal displacement camps are located, badly managed, providing inadequate shelter, sanitation and limited aid delivery. With 9,500 people a day—about one family every 60 seconds—being displaced inside Syria, the country remains the largest and fastest evolving
displacement crisis in the world.
- The three countries experiencing the worst levels of new displacement were Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which together accounted for 67 per cent of the 8.2 million people newly displaced in the
year, reports IDMC.
- *IDMC defines violence as threat to life, physical integrity or freedom. [May 2014]
- Former prime minister to head NATO
- In October, one prime minister from a Scandinavian country will hand over civilian management to another government head from Northern Europe. On 28 March,
the North Atlantic Council (NAC) designated Jens Stoltenberg (born 16 March 1959) of the Norwegian Labor Party (DNA) to become the 13th Secretary General of the Alliance.
He headed the Norwegian government from 17 October 2005 until he resigned with his cabinet on 14 October 2013. The current top civilian NATO official, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (born 26 January 1953) of the Liberal Party of Denmark (V) has served in Brussels since 1 August 2009. Between 27 November 2001 and his
resignation on 5 April 2009 he had served as Prime Minister of Denmark.
- Crimea is forcibly annexed and Russia sanctioned
- Opposed by Ukraine and all major Western states, the Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation and became part of it on 18 March as Republic of Crimea. After 60 years of belonging to Ukraine, including the last 23 years of the independent country, the Russian government forced the annexation of the
peninsula between 28 February and 16 March. Employing intimidating troop movements, infiltrated pro-Russian elements, and helped by Russian-speaking local officials, a referendum on independence and joining Russia was held on 16 March. It was neither recognized internationally nor observed by any non-Russian monitors
but officials reported that nearly 96 percent of votes cast approved the plebiscite. The Ukrainian parliament, the Supreme Council, declared the referendum unconstitutional and on 27 March, the UN General Assembly declared it illegal.
- Within days of Russia’s clear intention to seize the Crimea, France, United Kingdom, and the United States of America warned that the violations of international law would have economic and political consequences. First, on 2 March, they suspended participation
in the scheduled G8 Summit on 4-5 June in Sochi. On 24 March, the members of the Group of Seven (G7) announced that a Summit meeting would be held June in Brussels without Russia. Since then, the European Union (EU) and major Western governments have imposed various economic and travel sanctions against selected
Crimean and Russian officials and businessmen.
- On 27 March, the United Nations General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution by a vote of 100 against 11, with 58 abstentions, declaring the peninsula’s annexation by Russia illegal and without validity. The Assembly called on all states, international
organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the referendum “and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.”
- There are at least two aspects to Russia’s action. Its President Vladimir Putin had targeted Ukraine. As long as it toed the line and did not act independently under its previous president, the Crimea was
not an issue. When a large number of Ukrainians took to the streets in support of closer relation with the European Union (EU), the Kremlin used an offer of a large loan as well as its denial to obtain compliance. When that did not work the Crimea with its large Russian-speaking population became another tool.
- There are also goals and outlook of President Putin. On 25 April 2005, he described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th
century. Feeling this way, there is no doubt that he wants to rebuild a great Russian state and pull in as many former Soviet republics as possible. To give weight to his effort, he appears to be forming an anti-western league. His effort may be aided by the Kremlin-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), and in the future by a Eurasian Union which he announced in 2011.
- Political Freedom
- Freedom House of Washington in its 2014 survey characterizes 2013 as a year of
“The Democratic Leadership Gap.” For eight years running, global declines in freedom outweighed earlier gains and the number of countries designated shown as Free in 2013 stands at 88 (90 in 2012), representing 45 percent of the world’s 195 countries and 40 percent of the world population.
Particularly notable were developments in Egypt, which endured across-the-board reversals in its democratic institutions following a military coup. There were also serious setbacks to democratic rights in other large, politically influential countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey,
Venezuela, and Indonesia.
David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House, said that “Authoritarian states, including China and Russia, show no hesitation in bullying their neighbors and increasing repression at home,
and the report’s findings bear this out.” These setbacks came at a time of growing self-doubt among the leaders of the democratic world, especially the United States, he noted.
- A total of 54 (28 in 2012) countries showed significant declines in 2013, while 40 (16 in 2012) countries exhibited noteworthy gains, continuing an eight-year trend of declines outnumbering gains.
- Press Freedom—Sacrifice
- Work of the press varies greatly from country to country and from situations of peace to chaos and conflict.
It continues to suffer from death, imprisonment, torture, and abuse of individual journalists, as well as censorship, legal chicanery, and repression of media. In 2013, 70 journalists--local and foreign professionals--lost their lives in the course of their profession—4 less than during the
same period in 2012, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York NY.
The press suffered its highest death toll in Syria (29, 28 in 2012), Iraq (10), Egypt (6), Pakistan (5, down from 7), and Somalia (4, down from 12). In addition to deaths, at least 211 (232 in 2012) members of the press were
imprisoned at year’s end, according to CPJ.
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