HK’s unofficial poll ‘draws Beijing’s ire’

More than 200,000 residents of Hong Kong did something on Friday that no one in mainland China can do: They participated in a free vote over their political future, The New York Times reports:

The results are nonbinding because the election is not official: It is a referendum held by a civic group on how the 7.2 million people in Hong Kong, a former British colony, will elect their head of government. The voting on Friday was through computers and mobile phones, with organizers saying they would have been pleased if 100,000 people had cast ballots over the entire 10-day voting period, which ends June 29…..

The referendum’s organizers have vowed to disrupt the city’s central business district later this year with a sit-in protest, called Occupy Central, drawing on civil disobedience principles — Henry David Thoreau is often invoked — should the central government in Beijing and Hong Kong’s administration fail to come up with a plan for universal suffrage, promised by 2017, that meets international standards for free and fair elections. Mr. Leung, who took office in 2012, was chosen by a group of fewer than 1,200 Hong Kong residents.

“Organizers of the referendum say its online voting platform has faced cyberattacks in recent days,” The Times reports:

The standoff comes as one authoritative poll shows that dissatisfaction in Hong Kong with the way Beijing is managing its rule over the territory is at its highest level in a decade. The trend is especially pronounced among the young, with 82 percent of permanent residents aged 21 to 29 polled in December and January by the Hong Kong Transition Project expressing dissatisfaction.

Such feelings are being driven by concern that Hong Kong’s civil liberties, guaranteed until 2047, are being slowly eroded as the mainland’s economic and political influence grows. A policy document, or white paper, recently issued by the State Council reminded Hong Kong’s people that their liberties were granted solely by Beijing and also said that judges and other government officials must be “patriots,” language that Hong Kong’s bar association says encroaches on judicial independence.


Bosnia and Herzegovina: towards a new constitutional blueprint?

Bosnia-&-HerzegovinaBosnia-Herzegovina’s provisional constitutional system, as created by the Dayton Agreement, has outlived its purpose by more than ten years, according to Erwan Fouéré and Steven Blockmans of the Center for European Policy Studies. Economic and political governance are now even more deadlocked by corruption, political recriminations and institutional failure.

Fouéré and Blockmans argue the need for more robust engagement by both the EU and the US and for a constitutional convention to spur reform. This should facilitate the transition from the country’s current status as international protectorate to sustainable self-government, guided by the EU pre-accession process.

With its repeated promises that all of the Western Balkans will be integrated, the EU is under a moral obligation to do more for Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the main architect of the Dayton agreement, the US also bears responsibility to achieve a lasting solution for peace and stability in Bosnia. There is no doubt that the combined leverage of the US clout and the attraction of the EU could make a difference. Working in tandem, the EU and US should force the fractious leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina to work together with civil society in defining the country’s future constitutional blueprint. What the Bosnian political leaders proclaim should no longer be taken at face value.

One hundred years on since the start of the First World War there is inevitable soul-searching on the lessons of history. The decision to hold a constitutional convention would be a fitting way to demonstrate the capacity of the country’s leaders to find common cause for a better future.

Erwan Fouéré is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS and Steven Blockmans is Senior Research Fellow at CEPS and head of the EU Foreign Policy research program.


Uncivil society: the rise of militarized NGOs

naimWho invaded Crimea? Civil society. Who has occupied government offices and police headquarters in eastern Ukraine, bringing massive instability to that region? Civil society. Who is fighting the governments of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Nouri al-Malaki in Iraq? Civil society. And who are the colectivos confronting Venezuelan student protesters? Civil-society activists, of course, the Carnegie Endowment’s Moisés Naím writes for The Atlantic:

The reality is that these groups, “movements,” and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are appendices of their governments and draw their “activists” from the armed forces, security services, and government militias. They carry out their repressive deeds disguised as “civil society,” in an attempt to mask the behavior of governments that want to avoid being recognized by the international community for what they really are: autocracies that violate global norms, trample human rights, and brutalize their critics. They have even earned their own acronym—GONGOs—for “Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations.” Their rise is forcing us to rethink our benign definitions of NGOs and civil society to accommodate armed groups of civilians and even, most provocatively, terrorists.

In some ways, there is nothing new about this phenomenon: the deployment of  “militias,” “paramilitaries,” and  “mercenaries” is as old as warfare itself, and their use in proxy conflicts between nation-states is also a longtime practice, notes Naím, a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy.

What’s different now is that globalization and the spread of democracy have empowered civil society around the world as never before, which in turn has contributed to the proliferation of NGOs.


Moisés Naím is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a senior associate in the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the chief international columnist for El Pais and La Repubblica, Spain’s and Italy’s largest dailies. He is author of more than 10 books, including, most recently, The End of Power.

US focuses on Iraqi transition: why jihadists keep coming back

IRAQ SECTARIANThe Obama administration is now focused on a political transition that would move Iraqis toward a more inclusive government — one without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that would include Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions, CNN reports.

How have radical jihadist groups like ISIS been able to stage such impressive comebacks? a leading analyst asks.

Part of the answer lies in the structure of the groups themselves, says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

Many violent non-state actors have sought to ensure their survival by taking on the form of ‘clandestine cellular networks’: clandestine in that they are designed to be out of sight, cellular in that they are compartmentalised to minimise damage when the enemy succeeds in destroying some portion of the network. It is thus difficult to count out a militant group after a state-led offensive forces it to retreat. They are never utterly routed…..

Western countries and their regional partners should work together to prevent extremist groups like ISIS from establishing long-lasting states. But they also need to recognise this growing boom-and-bust pattern of instability, and work to address it. Not claiming victory too soon might be a start.

Join Steven Simon, former senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the National Security Council, and Barak Mendelsohn, associate professor of political science at Haverford College, on Friday, June 20, for a conference call discussion and on-the-record Q & A about the fight between the Iraqi government and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Date: Friday, June 20, 2014

Call Time: 11 a.m.–12 p.m. (EDT)

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Steven Simon, Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute; former Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs, National Security Council; former Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Barak Mendelsohn, Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Haverford College; former Captain, analyst of international affairs and strategy, Israel Defense Forces


Gideon Rose, Editor, Peter G. Peterson Chair, Foreign Affairs magazine

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Who Will Win in Iraq,” a New York Times op-ed by Simon

Collateral Damage in Iraq,” a Foreign Affairs article by Mendelsohn

Iraq’s Descent,” a collection of Foreign Affairs articles on Iraq

Afghanistan fraud charges ‘may jeopardize democratic transition’




Afghanistan‘s presidential election has been plunged into crisis after one candidate demanded a halt to vote counting, suspended cooperation with election authorities and called for a UN commission to mediate over “blatant fraud”, The Guardian reports:

It was an unexpectedly strong challenge to an election that had initially been celebrated as a qualified success, with high turnout in both the first round and a 14 June run-off, despite Taliban threats and violence.

Former foreign minister and mujahideen doctor Abdullah Abdullah had already signalled that he was unhappy about preliminary turnout figures for the second round, and wary of large leaps in voter numbers in the strongholds of his rival Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank technocrat.

The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) spokesman Fahim Naime called on the electoral commissions and presidential candidates not to harm the election process, Deutsche Welle reports.

“We call on the IEC and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because as time passes the crisis deepens. If it continues this way, we might reach a point where the commissions won’t be able to resolve these problems,” Naim told DW. He also called on the IEC to take steps in order to restore trust with Abdullah Abdullah.

“In the meantime the candidates should respect the votes of the people and not take such actions that can harm the election process,” Naime said.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says in a DW interview Abdullah has made a dramatic accusation while presenting no substantive evidence. In order to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, Kugelman adds, Afghan election officials probably won’t start to investigate these allegations until the vote counting process has concluded.

An election observer mission from the US-based National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] concluded two days after the poll that “the problems it observed did not appear to be widespread or systematic”.