‘Pakistani Spring’ threatened by un-civil society?

There are promising signs that democracy is “budding in what may prove to be a Pakistani Spring,” says a leading analyst. But a former envoy to the U.S. believes the democratic revival following the 2008 elections has been marred by “political infighting and judicial activism on every issue except extremism and terrorism.”

“Anti-Western sentiment and a sense of collective victimhood were cultivated as a substitute for serious debate on social or economic policy,” Husain Haqqani writes in the New York Times. “A whole generation of Pakistanis has grown up with textbooks that conflate Pakistani nationalism with Islamist exclusivism,” the result of an extremist mind-set cultivated under the military dictatorships of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

But elements of Pakistani’s un-civil society, notably the populist lawyers’ movement and media, also bear considerable responsibility for degrading democracy, says the country’s former ambassador to the Washington:

Pakistan’s raucous media, whose hard-won freedom is crucial for the success of democracy, has done little to help generate support for eliminating extremism and fighting terrorism. The Supreme Court, conservative opposition parties and the news media insist that confronting alleged incompetence and corruption in the current government is more important than turning Pakistan away from Islamist radicalism.

Haqqani’s comments coincide with the news that financial pressures are forcing Islamabad to reopen the border supply routes for US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

“Pressure is coming, not only from Britain [given premier Gilani's visit to London this week] but from other key international players in Afghanistan for reopening the route,” political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP:

Islamabad has no choice but to reopen the border when US back-payments for fighting militants in the northwest, as part of the Coalition Support Fund, are needed to help boost state coffers ahead of the next budget. Some officials are concerned by reported moves by a US House of Representatives panel to deny $800 million in aid to train and equip the Pakistani army in counter-insurgency.

The country’s historically fragile democracy may be in the throngs of “a Pakistani Spring,” says Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

“Amid widespread disenchantment with corruption and government mismanagement, the young and the middle class are restless,” writes Nasr, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution:

Many have flocked to anti-establishment politician Imran Khan, a former cricket hero, and his Movement for Justice. Khan isn’t friendly to the U.S.; he promises to stand up to America. But in other ways his campaign has enhanced the political debate. He regularly addresses the need to earnestly battle corruption and to reform the woefully inadequate tax system.

The rising star of Pakistani politics, Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf party, is leading its rivals at national and provincial levels, according to a poll from the International Republican Institute. The survey, conducted between February 9 to March 8 this year, shows the PTI at 31%, marginally ahead of the Pakistan Muslim League with 27% votes, with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party trailing on 16%.

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Who really speaks for China? Chen Guangcheng, Yu Jie, …

When dissident lawyer Chen Guang­cheng escaped ­extra-legal house arrest to make his way to the U.S. Embassy, he became “an instant hero” on the Chinese Internet, writes Perry Link, co-editor of The Tiananmen Papers:

How had he escaped? How could a single blind man tear such a hole in the government’s pervasive blanket of weiwen, or stability maintenance? Many called it a “miracle”; stories of “China’s blind spiderman” went viral. Eventually someone who had helped Chen tweeted an account. Chen had done merely this: “In nineteen hours climbed eight walls, jumped a dozen or so irrigation ridges, fell down a few hundred times, injured a foot, and finally crossed a stream that got him out of the village.”

“The Internet is the first medium in the history of Communist rule in China that the government has not been able to fully control,” notes Link, a celebrated China scholar at the University of California, Riverside:

The authorities hire hundreds of thousands of police and spend billions of yuan annually monitoring the Web and blocking unwanted messages. Yet for hundreds of millions of Chinese, the Internet continues to grow as a source of uncensored news and platform for popular expression. Regarding Chen, Internet opinion has been overwhelmingly positive.

So it is all the more regrettable that experts on U.S.-China relations insist on using “China” and “the Chinese” to refer “exclusively to elite circles within the Beijing government,” Link writes on the Washington Post:

For these experts, “the Chinese” view of anything — currency, technology transfer, cyberwar, Tibet, Taiwan, Syria — is inevitably the government’s view, no matter how far it departs from the views of other Chinese. They warn that such adherence is a matter of respecting the “sensitivities” of “the other side” and that if Washington supports human rights or democracy it will be “seen in China” as American sabotage.

But seen this way by whom in China?

“In the days since Chen left U.S. protection to go to a Beijing hospital, Chinese opinion online has weighed heavily on the side of saying the Americans did not help Chen enough,” Link observes.

Considering the cases of Fang Lizhi and Chen Guangcheng in parallel reveals how “remarkably different the political landscape is for dissidents and activists” in today’s China compared to 1989, writes Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China:

The 1989 demonstrations began with calls to end corruption. They later expanded to an appeal for democratic reforms, something that had not been heard since 1978, when the human rights activist Wei Jingsheng declared that democracy was the “fifth modernization.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

After Tiananmen, the only options for pro-democracy dissidents were exile or prison, Hom writes on Foreign Affairs:

During most of the 1990s, China used imprisoned dissidents as bargaining chips: it parlayed permission to leave China for independent trade union leader Han Dongfang* (1993) and political dissident Liu Qing (1992) to keep U.S. most-favored-nation status; it used the 1998 release of student leader Wang Dan to pressure the United States to withdraw its sponsorship of a UN resolution condemning China’s human rights policies.

Today’s China is a leading global power, a member of the World Trade Organization, Hom notes, a significant creditor of Western governments, including the United States. Beijing has ratified all the key international human rights treaties, with the exception of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed in 1998, but not yet ratified).

And yet.

At the same time, the nature, scope, and impact of activism in China have changed, in large part due to the Internet. By March of 2012, the number of netizens in China was over 500 million (up from 16.9 million in 2000)………….As popular discontent and citizen activism have spread online, they have also spread in scope to include demands not only for political reforms but also for official accountability on environmental crises, rampant corruption, tainted consumer products, massive theft of community land, dangerous workplaces, and increasing social and economic equalities. 

“The increasing number of mass protests, independent lawyers, and online citizen activists urgently demonstrates that the only way forward for China’s future is one shaped through respect for the rights of the citizens,” Hom concludes.

“The question now is: Are the authorities reading the writing on the wall, or are they too blinded by their own self-interest for party survival at all costs?”


While Chen’s plight has attracted the global media spotlight, the case of a less celebrated dissident also merits attention, writes Ying Ma, a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute.

Like Chen, Yu Jie (left) occupied an incongruous political terrain “in that space between political dissent and silent submission, between open opposition to the regime and fearful acceptance of its edicts,” she writes.

About fifteen years ago, Yu began writing about “the anger, sadness, resignation, and desperation of this incongruity,” Ying observes.

“He wrote about the shallowness of a society that cares more about money and status than honesty and justice, the desperation of a people who cannot, and are not allowed to, think for themselves, and the tragedy of a country that mistakes wealth for glory, power for righteousness,” notes Ying, author of Chinese Girl in the Ghetto, completed as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution:

Across China, readers recognized in Yu’s essays the China they knew: a creature that was not, and could not, be whole. At a time when it was common for the wealthy to build villas for their mistresses and hire prostitutes, Yu wrote about the innocence of a girl who would always shed a tear for the indigent who beg for money by playing the harmonica at subway entrances. At a time when the youth of China appeared obsessed with consumerism, Yu wrote about the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and the cravenness of those who do not. …. At a time when material goods were ever more abundant in China, Yu lamented that his fellow citizens’ souls were becoming ever more impoverished, and that the intangibles, such as liberty, truth, and ideals, were becoming ever less interesting.

“Yu got into trouble because he did not stop there,” she writes:

Almost ten years ago, his writing and activities began to veer from social critique to outright democracy promotion. From 2005 to 2007, he served as the vice president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, a non-governmental association of Chinese writers, editors, translators, and publishers and a grantee of America’s National Endowment for Democracy.


Human Rights in China and the Wei Jingsheng Foundation are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

* Han Dongfang is vice-chair of the World Movement for Democracy.

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Clientelism – a democratic asset?

The most damaging fissure afflicting Europe isn’t a cultural cleavage separating a diligent, Protestant northern Europe and the lazy, self- indulgent Catholic-Orthodox south, says Francis Fukuyama.* The real division is between clientelistic and non-clientelistic Europe, he writes on The American Interest:

Clientelism occurs when political parties use public resources, and particularly government offices, as a means of rewarding political supporters. Politicians provide not programmatic public policies, but individual benefits like a job in the post office, an intervention on behalf of a relative in trouble with the government, or sometimes an outright payment of money or goods.

In my view, clientelism should be distinguished from corruption proper because of the relationship of reciprocity that exists between politicians and voters. There is a real degree of accountability in a clientelistic system: the politician has to give something back to  supporters if he or she is to stay in power, even if that is a purely private benefit. True corruption is more predatory, such as a politician accepting a bribe or kickback that goes directly into a Swiss bank account for the benefit of the politician and his family alone. ….. One of the great tragedies of Afghanistan’s long-running civil war is that tribalism (which is inherently clientelistic) has broken down and been replaced by pure predation; returning to clientelism would actually constitute progress there.

An alternative way of understanding clientelism is that it is an early form of democratic mobilization, one that is almost universally practiced in relatively poor countries that hold regular elections. It is pervasive in countries as diverse as India, Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria. Clientelism is not the product of a cultural proclivity or a failure of politicians to understand how a modern democratic political system is supposed to operate. Rather, it is often the most efficient way to mobilize relatively poor and uneducated voters and get them into the polling place. Such voters often care less about programmatic policies than an immediate personal benefit like a job or the equivalent of a Thanksgiving turkey.

America’s own history demonstrates this point: when the franchise was expanded in the 1820s and 30s to universal white male suffrage, the political parties responded by mobilizing these new masses of voters clientelistically. Indeed, the US invented both the mass political party and clientelism (or what in American history was known as the patronage system). For a century between the election of Andrew Jackson and the end of the Progressive Era, American politics at federal, state, and local levels was organized around the ability of the two competing parties to hand out government jobs…….

In the United States, clientelism was overcome eventually as a result of economic modernization. Industrialization of the country in the late 19th century produced new social groups like businessmen, professionals, and urban reformers who united in a Progressive Movement to push for civil service reform and merit-based bureaucracy. While the struggle to achieve the latter was slow and stretched over the better part of two generations, the US did manage by the middle of the 20th century to eliminate patronage on both federal and municipal levels. (One can argue that it has come back in a modern form of interest groups, but that’s a story for another post.)

*Fukuyama is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.


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Ukraine a ’dictatorship’ like Belarus, says Merkel

Ukraine’s people are living under a repressive regime comparable to its authoritarian neighbor Belarus,  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today.

“Today we are living in peace and freedom in Germany, and in the European Union, but sadly not in the whole of Europe: for in Ukraine, and in Belarus, people are still suffering under dictatorship and repression,” she said.

Her comments drew a barbed response from a Ukrainian foreign ministry official in Kyiv who, speaking on condition of anonymity, hinted that Merkel was employing double standards.

“If someone charges us with selective justice, we can say … that we see selective application of democratic standards towards Ukraine,” the official said. “Because according to all respected international ratings, there is quite a number of nations in Europe and other parts of the world where democracy evidently meets much more serious challenges than in Ukraine.”

“And Ms Merkel … consistently develops political and economic ties with those countries,” clearly alluding to Germany’s close political, energy and business relations with Russia.

The German leader’s comments are especially striking as most analysts do not rank Ukraine to be as authoritarian as either Russia or Belarus, dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” by then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Ukrainian democracy and civil society activists tend to share the assessment of independent analysts that the country has regressed towards authoritarianism following the democratic advances following the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“Ukraine is sliding back in terms of democracy, media freedom, corruption, and rule of law,” said Nadia Diuk, a vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

On the plus side, Ukrainian civil society remains vibrant and politically engaged, she told a recent Brookings Institution seminar on Ukraine’s Drift Away From Europe and the Western Response, citing activists’ success in securing a new law on non-governmental organizations.

Merkel is one of several European leaders threatening to boycott Ukraine-based matches during the June Euro 2012 football championship, which it is co-hosting with Poland, to protest the prosecution and mistreatment of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

President Viktor Yanukovych is facing international criticism and diplomatic pressure over her seven-year jail sentence for alleged abuse of office in a 2009 energy deal with Russia. Independent observers and Western states say the prosecution was politically motivated.

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Putin’s G8 snub signals hard line – at home and abroad

Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to play hardball both domestically and in foreign policy, say analysts.

His decision to shun the upcoming G8 summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama is a “particularly blunt” indication of a more assertive foreign policy, while the excessive force used against demonstrators this week (above) “threatens to radicalize the confrontation between civil society and the state.”

“There will probably be raised eyebrows in Washington,” Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said today. “His refusal may be taken as a sign that Russia under Putin will indeed be more inward looking and favor a tougher foreign policy.”

Putin’s decision to snub the US-hosted summit confirms that ‘foreign policy … will play the role of a servant to Putin’s domestic agenda,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert on Putin. “And his main goal domestically is to preserve the status quo and survive.”

The move represents a further deterioration in relations already strained by the Kremlin’s harassment of Michael McFaul, the U.S. envoy to Moscow and architect of the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.

Most analysts are dismissive of Putin’s references to reform and enhancing Russian democracy, suggesting that even incremental change would threaten the vested interests of his fellow siloviki.

“Moving against this system, which yields profit and power for so many colleagues, would undermine the ruling architecture that Putin has built over the past decade,” The Economist notes.

Former Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovsky believes this week’s violence will taint Putin’s inauguration and term of office.

“Putin can’t escape … the pointlessness of the crackdown, the sporadic savagery combined with absurdity,” he said.

“A further escalation of civil conflict is unavoidable, simply because society has outgrown being a semi-colonial, authoritarian, natural resource appendage to the developed world,” opposition leader Yevgenia Chirikova said on her blog.

That shift in public sentiment is evident in a recent survey by the Levada Center, an independent polling group which found that only 1 in 5 Russians believe Putin is supported by ordinary Russians. Some 64% believe they may become victims of arbitrary abuse by police or prosecutors, while 55% say they can’t depend on the courts for protection.

Almost 50% of respondents believe government uses law enforcement agencies against political opponents and two-thirds believe official corruption will stay the same or grow in Putin’s new term.

But Putin is unlikely to respond to such shifts in public opinion by adopting a more reformist or modernizing approach to governance.

“Right now, Putin does not perceive anything except for stability,” says Vladislav Inozemtsev, director of Moscow’s Centre for Post-Industrial Studies.

The survey by Levada, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, confirms that “serious societal shifts are underway,” writes Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Putin’s government has effectively offered two tacit pacts,” she contends:

For the conservative majority, the deal is: We deliver and you stay loyal. The government can’t provide services such as just courts or a trusted police force, but at least the high price of oil has supported steady growth in state-funded salaries and pensions.

The deal for the independent-minded minority centers on non-intrusion: You stay away from politics, and we do not interfere with your pursuits.

While the first pact still holds, the second has mostly fallen apart.

Putin was able to ride out the winter’s “Snow Revolution” of anti-government protests by cultivating a new social base, says Stephen Sestanovich* of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Ironically, while relatively affluent urban middle-class voters turned against him, Putin “managed to solidify his support among people who have done the least well” by employing virulent anti-Western rhetoric to mobilized rural and working class voters.

Putin also has the benefit of a weak and divided opposition.

“The anti-Putin forces remain weak; they are a loose constituency without a political agenda or broadly recognized leaders,” Lipman notes. “This enables Putin, for now, to dismiss them and proceed with his governance of manipulative politics, centralized power and egregious abuse of executive authority.”

The opposition may also be approaching a strategic choice: decline or radicalization, observers suggest.

“Putin may be back, but he has not restored the status quo ante. He survives, but the system does not,” says Andrew Wilson of University College London:

The control techniques of ‘virtual politics’ that were built in the 1990s and 2000s will no longer function in the same systematic way: some techniques will survive, some will not. The decay of the system, however, is far from complete. Russia now has a self-styled ‘liberated minority’ operating in one reality, and a residual and relatively passive ‘Putin plurality’ operating in another. And never the twain shall meet. In that sense at least, the 2011-12 election cycle is an important turning point.

“Russia was a ‘managed democracy’ or ‘virtual democracy’ (pick your term) before December 2011,” he suggests. “It is now turning into something else.”

Wilson is the co-author of a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations which makes the case that Russia’s changing political terrain demands a shift in foreign policy approaches:

Central authority is weaker, the economy is faltering and the restless middle classes are confident enough to protest against the government.

‘The end of the Putin consensus’ by Ben Judah and Andrew Wilson argues that:

  • The financial crisis has exposed Russia’s chronic governance crisis and dashed its dreams of being a true rising economic power. Russia suffered the G20’s deepest recession in 2009. See ECFR’s report ‘Dealing with a post-BRIC Russia’.
  • Recent protests show that Russia is restless but not yet revolutionary. The protest movement is a minority, but is drawn from Russia’s most dynamic demographic groups – the Moscow based, the middle class, the young and the cultural elite.
  • Electoral fraud is often unsophisticated and discrepancies are easy to expose thanks to the booming blogosphere. For instance exit polls in Moscow gave United Russia 32% of the vote in recent parliamentary elections, but the final count gave it 46.5%.
  • Despite his promises of reform, Putin will be more dependent on oligarch allies and prone to economic populism.

With a re-elected President Putin under increasing pressure at home the European Union should expect Russia to be more withdrawn and less co-operative in foreign policy, in areas from the Middle East to frozen conflicts. Moscow’s obstructive Syria policy has been presented domestically as ‘standing up to the West’.

The authors argue the EU should:

  • Loudly defend human rights, but refrain from loud support for the opposition movement (unlike some Americans who have embraced it), to avoid charges of the protesters being Western stooges.
  • Pass a pan-European ‘Magnitsky List’ – a blacklist that imposes visa bans and asset freezes on those connected to the death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. This would indicate the EU’s red lines on egregious human rights violations.
  • Launch a new anti-corruption dialogue with Russia that includes opposition leaders and government officials. The Russian elite currently uses the EU as a safe haven for its money, and the opposition is calling  for the EU to change laws to make it harder for dirty money to find a safe berth in Europe.

Click here to download a copy of ‘The end of the Putin consensus’

*Sestanovitch is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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