Guinean junta arrests democracy activists

Thierno Baldé, a former NED grantee and a Stanford democracy fellows, is one of the democracy activists arrested in the wake of last months massacre

Thierno Baldé, a former NED grantee and a Stanford democracy fellows, is one of the democracy activists arrested in the wake of last month's massacre

Guinea’s military junta has arrested dozens of leading pro-democracy activists, including attorney Thierno Baldé, head of the Research Institute on Democracy and Rule of Law.

Police arrested activists linked to the Federation of Youth Associations of Guinea (AJAG in its French acronym) which had organized a hunger strike in memory of those killed and raped during last month’s massacre of protesters against the likely presidential candidacy of junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

The hunger strike was also an effort “to draw our leaders’ attention to the need to engage in dialogue, preserve national unity, prevent further violence and arrest the authors of the massacre,” said Baldé, speaking before his arrest.

“One of the major problems has been a lack of dialogue between the CNDD [the junta’s self-styled National Council for Democracy and Development] on the one hand and civil society and political leaders on the other,” said another activist.

Baldé, is a former grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy and a recent participant in Stanford University’s democracy fellows program, has been vocal on the junta’s controversial commercial dealings with communist China.

China is “perceived as supporting the dictatorship and the junta and against the will of the people,” said Mamadi Kaba, president of the Guinean branch of the African Assembly for Human Rights. “Guineans are convinced there will never be development unless there is a lot more democracy. So the American support is much more important.”

Russia: a return to dual power?

Are the wheels falling off the Putin-Medvedev tandemocracy?

Are the wheels falling off the Putin-Medvedev tandemocracy?

President Dmitri Medvedev’s supporters are urging him to create a parallel power structure to bypass Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s corrupt siloviki and promote Russia’s modernization, Paul Goble reports. The Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development has recommended that he create an alternative power vertical.

“It is impossible to realize the plans for the modernization of the country under the conditions of the rule of the Putin elite”, the Medvedev-linked think-tank suggests in a new report. “The way out” of the current impasse is “the creation of a parallel power vertical.”

Russia’s status quo will survive “unless the talk of competition between Putin and Medvedev has some real heft,” write Dimitri K. Simes and Paul J. Saunders in a report we highlighted yesterday. In that case, they argue, a “genuine struggle could tear both the corrupt elite and the power vertical apart, with unpredictable consequences.”

Gleb Pavlovsky, one of the pro-Putin political technologists, described the proposal as “comic” and “banal,” an “old Russian idea” that will only multiply the size of the bureaucracy.

But others suggest that, with Putin likely to stand for the presidency again in 2012, Medvedev may already be a lame duck, even as he tamely laments Russia’s isolationism, fragile economy and “negative democratic tendencies”.

Cynics woudl argue that the story is simply Russia’s version of Groundhog Day.

Venezuela: social crisis, political stability?

Power-shortages in energy-rich Venezuela, combined with rampant inflation and corruption, rising crime and unemployment, are creating “a worrying picture for chavismo,” a government supporter concedes.

Yet President Hugo Chávez’s response has been characteristically quixotic.  “Some people sing in the bath for half an hour,” he told a recent cabinet meeting, broadcast live. “What kind of communism is that? Three minutes is more than enough!”

Several critics of Chávez were released from jail today, but his opponents remain divided and harassed

The opposition is hampered by indictments against some of its best-known figures, such as former Chavez minister-turned-dissident Gen. Raul Baduel, who is in jail charged with illicit enrichment. Others, such as former governor of oil-rich Zulia state Manuel Rosales, have fled abroad into exile. And some, such as Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, have simply had their power stripped away.

Having recently eliminated proportional representation and with Chávistas controlling the key state institutions, it seems unlikely that growing social protest will benefit the democratic opposition.

Corruption: the Achilles heel of Russia’s power vertical?

Nowhere is corruption’s corrosive effect on development and democracy more evident than in Russia. 

“It is difficult to overstate the role of corruption in Russia, which in many ways is the glue that holds together the disparate groups dominating Russia’s current political system,” write Dimitri K. Simes and Paul J. Saunders. “Because of corruption, Russia’s political system is simultaneously very resistant to change and remarkably fragile.”

A weak media, compromised judiciary, subservient artificial parties, craven legislature and divided and fractious opposition provide no countervailing power or constraint on the executive. And, despite President Dmitri Medvedev’s occasional calls for reform, the ruling elite has little incentive to clean up its act:

It will not be possible to modernize Russia without a genuine effort to eliminate corruption—and this includes at the top. Corrupt conduct is not simply tolerated, but a way of life with profound political implications. Any opening in the political system that would allow corruption to be exposed could potentially decimate Russia’s elites—and they know it

As president, Vladimir Putin demolished the political power of the oligarchs and governors, but “could not bring himself” to promote civil society, free markets or other alternative centers of influence, they suggest.

“From this perspective, Russia’s current semiauthoritarian system is not entirely the product of a deliberate process but also the result of a vigorous effort to rein in previous abuses unaccompanied by anything else,” they argue. “It is authoritarianism by default.”

“The question now is how long Russia’s current political arrangements can hold,” they write. The status quo will survive “unless the talk of competition between Putin and Medvedev has some real heft,” in which case, a “genuine struggle could tear both the corrupt elite and the power vertical apart, with unpredictable consequences.”

In short, the system could collapse if what Statfor calls the Kremlin Wars between Putin’s siloviki and Medvedev’s civiliki get out of hand:

So long as these two clans scheme against each other, Putin’s position as the ultimate power is not threatened and the state itself remains strong — and not in the hands of one power-hungry clan or another. (ht: Robert Amsterdam)

A Washington Post editorial takes a harsher view of Putin: “Russians also know that Mr. Putin could put a stop to the state-sponsored murders if he chose to; he does not. This is not new, of course. Past Kremlin rulers have used murder to shore up their authority. Not since the time of Joseph Stalin, however, have the political killings been so blatant — or so chillingly common.”

Color revolutions don’t deliver democracy

While Iran’s Green protest movement may have dropped off the news agenda, it is poised for a mass mobilization on November 4 when it is due to hijack the official demonstrations commemorating the 1979 invasion of the American Embassy in Tehran.

But the diminishing prospects of an Iranian color revolution may not be such a bad development since such power shifts have largely failed to deliver sustainable democracy, according to a new analysis of electoral revolutions worldwide .

Katya Kalandadze of New York’s Syracuse University and Mitchell A. Orenstein of Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC, considered all instances of electoral revolutions – successful and abortive – since 1991, concluding that even when successful they “have shown insignificant or no democratic progress in their wake.”

A more effective strategy for democratization would focus less on elections and address some deeper underlying issues retarding democratic progress:

………many of the countries where electoral revolutions take place lack important prerequisites for democratization, including high per capita income and high linkage with the international community. Electoral revolutions are powerful moments of mass protest and civic participation, but their lack of effectiveness requires rethinking this strategy of democratization.