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February 27 2014

Mayoral Elections in Ecuador: Setback for the Government?

As the first unofficial results for the local elections in Ecuador came in, it appeared that the ruling party, PAIS Alliance, had suffered a defeat, losing the races for mayor in at least the country's two major cities [es]. In Quito, the capital, Mauricio Rodas [es] of the SUMA-Vive party beat the PAIS Alliance incumbent, Augusto Barrera, by almost twenty percent of the vote. In Guayaquil, the largest city, current mayor Jaime Nebot will be entering his fourth term in office, having beaten PAIS Alliance candidate Viviana Bonila [es] by twenty-three percent.

Graph of a Market exit poll for the Quito and Guayaquil mayoral elections

Further results confirmed and compounded the government's loss. PAIS Alliance's mayoral candidates were rejected by voters in all of Ecuador's five largest cities [es] — Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, Manta, and Santo Domingo — not to speak of their defeats in smaller municipalities.

Twitter was alight with reflections on the reasons for PAIS Alliance's loss:

AP [abbreviation for Alianza PAIS or PAIS Alliance] lost because they made its ministers, Assembly members and acolytes criticize and confront citizens for thinking differently.

Quito hasn't lost anything… It's gaining a space free from the sort of dirty politics that AP practices… Remember that.

Update: AP has lost Guayaquil, Quito, Cuenca, Machala, Manta, Portoviejo, Loja, Duran, Milagro and Ambato. A slap to their pride.

Big lessons for Rafael Correa [president of Ecuador]: (1) You aren't invincible, (2) Publicity isn't everything, (3) Arrogance is a bad thing, (4) Don't forget about the patria chica [home regions or hometowns]

Although shortly before the elections President Correa could boast a high approval rating [es], it seems that his personal involvement in the campaign, especially in Quito, had a counterproductive effect.

Correa accepted [es] the results and declared [es] to the newspaper El Comercio that three errors had been committed in the campaign: “First, being associated with poorly performing municipal administrations; second, the form that campaigning took on as the race progressed; and third, the sectarianism of government attitudes.”

But not everyone agreed on Twitter:

President Rafael Correa identified three mistakes in Quito: with the mayoralty, with the campaign, and with the sectarian attitude. And what about his intervention?

Lessons for Correa: 1. Likeability and votes can't always be bestowed by endorsement. 2. Errors are expensive. 3. The people deal out punishment with the ballot box.

However, PAIS Alliance didn't lose everywhere. In the elections for provincial prefects, for example, PAIS Alliance won eleven prefectures [es] out of twenty-three, two more than at the last elections in 2009. There is still not complete data on the winners of all mayoral races in Ecuador, but it is expected [es] that PAIS Alliance will end up with the highest share of mayors in the country.

Here's how the tally is progressing for the prefectures

The elections generally unfolded quite tranquilly, excepting a few scattered incidents [es]. The National Electoral Council's problems with its rapid counting system [es] and with the updating of election data caused frustration, as these issues impeded the calculation and publication of accurate results for cities across the country.

No data from the rapid counting system

Twitter user Elector Ecuador noted that on election day a hashtag related to PAIS Alliance had been “promoted” on Twitter, in other words that the party paid for more visibility on the site. However, this apparently does not constitute a violation of the electoral code.

On election day, @35Pais promoted the Twitter hashtag #TodoTodito35 

Mauricio Rodas, mayor-elect of Quito, will take office May 14.

Mauricio Rodas: “Today the big winner is democracy”

February 25 2014

Madagascar Still Awaiting a New Prime Minister, Government

A full month since President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina took position as the new head of state in Madagascar, there are still no indication who the new prime minister will be and what government he/she will assemble. Ma-Laza argues that the main issue is not really the identity of the prime minister but what he/she will bring to the table [fr]: 

 Un  technicien hors pair,  rassembleur, capable de mener à bien la politique générale du Président de la République. Ce Premier ministre ne  devrait appartenir à aucune mouvance politique, en principe.Mais il n’est ni contre Rajoelina, ni contre Ravalomanana. Bref, c’est un oiseau rare qui inspire aux bailleurs de fonds la confiance. Cette personne existe-t-elle ?  

(The prime minister should be) a person with outstanding technical know-how, a uniter who is able to carry out the policy of the President of the Republic. In theory, the Prime Minister should not belong to any political movement. He will not be against Rajoelina, nor against Ravalomanana (the two last presidents). In short, he will have to be that rare person who will inspire the trust of the investors. The question is:  does this person even exist?

February 22 2014

Ukraine's President Yanukovych Ousted and Parliament Reshuffled

This post is part of our Special Coverage Ukraine's #Euromaidan Protests.

After a violent crackdown on anti-government Euromaidan protesters left 70 to 100 people dead this week, Ukraine's parliament has voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych and release his political rival ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. 

Yanukovych was not in the capital Kyiv at the time, having fled and denounced the events as a coup. 

The legislature's vote was met with celebrations from people within the Euromaidan movement, which has protested for three months against the government led by Yanukovych after he backed out of a deal with the European Union in November 2013. 

Following the turmoil on 20 February when security forces shot at protesters, a deal [uk] was originally struck between the opposition and Yanukovych that would end the violence in the country, but would also see him remain president until new elections that were to be held by end of year, according to this agreement. The deal also included a return to the 2004 version of the country's constitution, which limits presidential powers, early presidential elections in 2004, and the creation of an international commission for investigating the events in Kyiv. The agreement was brokered by three European foreign ministers.

On the evening of February 21, the leaders of the parliamentary opposition came to Kyiv's Maidan (Independence Square) – the stronghold of the protesters – to present the signed agreement to the people. They arrived just as Maidan was mourning the unprecedented loss of lives which occurred the day before. Despite risks, hundreds of thousands had gathered on the square, including some of the police officers who had deflected to the side of the protesters. They blamed the president for the escalation of violence and the use of firearms.

When the protesters heard that Yanukovych would remain in power at least until the next elections, they booed the parliament representatives. A regular member of the Maidan self-defense unit (the “sotnyk”) took to the stage and gave a very emotional speech calling on the president to resign by the next morning or Maidan would go into the offensive (video).

His call received overwhelming support from the gathered crowd, and that support was echoed by the leader of the Right Sector movement, a right-wing opposition group, albeit in a more restrained manner. Well-known journalist Dmytro Gnap also got on stage, blaming the leaders of the opposition leaders for betraying the Euromaidan movement and outlining possible options of Yanukovych's resignation.

Social media users, like @RainFromUkraine, reacted similarly:

Cracked voice of a sotnyk was the voice of all Ukrainians.

Afterwards, one of the opposition leaders, former world boxing champion turned politician Vitaliy Klychko, got on stage and apologized to the protesters for entering into an agreement with Yanukovych and “shaking his hand“.

Shortly after these events, news spread that Yanukovych was leaving Kyiv for the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Later in the evening, however, social media activists have identified a private jet that allegedly belonged to the President leaving Ukraine via a flight tracking site FlightRadar24. As the plane was flying towards Sochi, many believed Yanukovych was fleeing to Russia.

However, the jet did not land there but went further towards the United Arab Emirates, with Yanuckovych allegedly on board. Whether Yanukovyh has really left Ukraine, however, remains unconfirmed.

In the morning, the Maidan self-defense movement announced that they were guarding Parliament and other government buildings, while government security forces had completely abandoned the government block in Kyiv. Twitter user Pedrodon tweeted this image of the events:

A journalist from Brussels, @Balliauw, also added this image:

Government forces and private security personnel had also abandoned Yanukovych's notoriously lavish residence Mezhygirya. Maidan self-defense members encircled the residence to prevent looting and destruction, but allowed journalists and other citizens free entry (photos). Hundreds of Ukrainians have visited the place, which was off limits to regular citizens for years.

In the meantime, journalists discovered piles of partially destroyed records of large-scale corruption schemes.

RL/RFE reporter Irtsia Stelmakh [uk] tweeted several photos of the residence:

Here it is, Mezhygirya.

Journalist Oksana Kovalenko tweeted:

Found documents in the water near the dock.

While many Ukrainians were having a tour of Mezhygirya, MPs assembled in Parliament and began voting on a number of crucial decisions, including the return to a parliamentary-presidential republic (with limited presidential powers), choosing a new speaker of parliament, and several other key government positions.

In the midst of these events, one of the pro-government channels released a video statement [uk] by President Yanukovych, who allegedly recorded the statement in Kharkiv, the second largest city in the northeast of the country. In the statement, the president accused his opponents of a state coup, referred to protesters as “bandits”, and stressed that he was doing all in his power to prevent bloodshed.

He also added that he was not planning to leave the country.

A screencap of President Yanukovych' address released on Feb. 22, 2014

A screencap of President Yanukovych’ address released on Feb. 22, 2014

While MPs in parliament were hastily leaving the pro-presidential political party Party of Regions, several pro-presidential and pro-Russian MPs and regional authorities quickly called an assembly in Kharkiv. The move caused widespread concern that separatist or federalist statements would be adopted and appeals for Russia to deploy its troops in Ukraine would be made.

However, the assembly only called for self-organizing to maintain order in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and for friendly relations with Russia. In support of the event, a mass rally by Party of Regions supporters was organized in Kharkiv. While some participated genuinely, there were media reports of pressure on state employees and others [uk] to participate in the rally.

At the same time, a large rally in support of Euromaidan also took place in Kharkiv [video]. Twitter users @ShkvarkiUA tweeted from the city center:

East and West are UNITED! FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE! – shouts Kharkiv.

Kharkiv Euromaidan activists also demanded the removal of their separatist mayor and governor. Closer to the evening, reports emerged [uk] that both officials were leaving for Russia, as State Security Service of Ukraine opened a criminal investigation into their separatist claims.

Later that evening, the parliament in Kyiv voted to oust President Yanukovych and called early presidential elections for May. The MPs also supported the release of former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Yanukovych in 2011.

Needless to say, the reaction of many Ukrainians was celebratory. Kyiv-based journalist and photographer Bogdana Shevchenko tweeted:

CONGRATULATIONS EVERYONE!!!! #євромайдан #янукович

User Olia Riabuha tweeted:

Thank you everyone who fought for justice! Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Today we won!

Reactions from the international community followed. British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted:

Polish Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Radosław Sikorski also added:

As of 7 p.m. local time on 22 February 2014, the whereabouts of Yanukovych remain unknown.

February 21 2014

‘Central African Republic's Most Pressing Need Is Security for its People’

Mme Beatrice Epaye via Centrafrique Press blog -Domaine public

Béatrice Epaye via the CAR Press blog – Public domain

Béatrice Epaye is a former member of Parliament and today a member of the Central African Republic's National Transition Council (CNT), the body tasked with selecting a transitional president who will lead the war-torn country until the next presidential elections. When an uprising plunged the country into crisis in late 2012, the previous President-elect François Bozizé was removed by the Séléka rebels.

The terrible religious conflict continues still in the Central African Republic (CAR). On February 19, heavy fighting erupted near the airport in the capital Bangui. Anti-Balaka groups tried to block the evacuation of Muslims and disrupted a visit by a top United Nations (UN) aid official.  

Epaye agreed to answer our questions on the current situation in the Central African Republic and the steps which need to be taken to avoid a human catastrophe in her country. In addition to her role on the National Transition Council, she is the president of the “La Voix du Coeur” (Voice of the Heart) Centre, which is currently a place of welcome and support for street children in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She also sits on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa's parliament (CEMAC) in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where she represents the Council.

Global Voices (GV): What's the latest situation in your area? 

Béatrice Epaye (BE): Je suis une habitante de Bangui la capitale de la RCA, une ville meurtrie par le conflit. Tous les jours, de chez moi, j'entends des coups de feux venus de certains quartiers de Bangui. Ma maison comme beaucoup d’autres accueillent des proches venus de quartiers plus fragiles. Les gens fuient et beaucoup se sont regroupés dans des lieux qu'ils estiment sécurisés : Aéroport, Mosquées, Églises, dans des familles, en brousse dans la périphérie de Bangui ou en République Démocratique du Congo de l'autre côté du fleuve Oubangui.

De même, le Centre « Voix du Cœur » que j’ai fondé est devenu un lieu de regroupement pour les enfants de la rue en détresse. Là chrétiens et musulmans se côtoient, s’entraident.

Béatrice Epaye (BE): I live in Bangui the capital of the CAR, a town battered by conflict. Every day from my own home I hear shots coming from different areas of Bangui. Like many others, my house welcomes friends who come from the most fragile areas. People are fleeing and many gather together in areas which they feel are more secure: the airport, mosques, churches, with families, in the bush on the edge of Bangui, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the Ubangi River.

Likewise, the Voice of the Heart Centre which I founded has become a gathering place for distressed street children. Christians and Muslims come together and help each other.

GV: How do you manage the uncertainties? What are the most pressing needs so far?

BE: Effectivement c'est une situation difficile et précaire pour tout le monde : à tout moment le pire peut se produire! Quand on sent le danger, on cherche un abri.

Le plus difficile pour les familles et sur les sites des déplacés, c'est de ne pas avoir à manger ni avoir la possibilité de se soigner. Les salaires ne sont pas payés depuis 4 mois, et l'aide humanitaire n'est pas suffisante, ou même parfois inexistante. Dans leurs fuites les populations ont laissé derrière elles le nécessaire pour le quotidien et manquent du minimum pour la survie. Ensuite les enfants ne vont pas à l'école… on en est à un tel point que je ne peux pas le décrire.

BE: It's really a very difficult and precarious situation for everyone: the worst can happen at any moment! When we sense danger we look for shelter.

The most difficult thing for the families, and at the internally displaced persons sites, is having nothing to eat and no possibility of taking care of yourself. Salaries haven't been paid in four months, and humanitarian aid is not sufficient and sometimes even non-existent. As they fled, populations left behind things necessary for daily life and don't have the minimum needed to survive. Then children aren't going to school… we've reached such a point that I can't even describe it.

GV: How has the violence between Christians and Muslims increased so quickly in a country that isn't known for religious conflicts?

BE: Effectivement, le pays n'a jamais connu de conflits religieux. Les deux communautés ont toujours vécu ensemble en cohésion. Les familles s'échangent les repas lors des fêtes de Pâques, de la Tabaski, du Ramadan, de Noël et lors des mariages religieux. Lors du coup d’État nous avons vu parmi les rebelles des étrangers, engagés comme mercenaires. Depuis le début de leur progression ils ont utilisé les communautés musulmanes avec un discours de libérateurs des musulmans face aux mécréants qui les maltraitent. Ils ont pu enrôler beaucoup de jeunes qui les ont aidé à s'attaquer aux biens de l’église et faire les exactions que nous avons tous connues. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous avons toujours recherché à vivre en harmonie entre Centrafricains, avec nos différences de confessions ; comme nation, nous avons aussi accueilli beaucoup de personnes et de familles venant des pays voisins.

Cependant, il y a l'attitude de certains agents de l’État face à des concitoyens ou des résidents qu’ils supposent musulmans. Ceux-ci sont freinés dans leur démarche pour un papier administratif ou pour passer un barrage des forces de l'ordre. De même, les populations du nord-est de la RCA proches du Tchad et du Soudan (Darfour), vivant à plus de 1000 KM de la capitale, et majoritairement musulmanes, bénéficient peu du soutien de l’Etat parce que l’administration et les services publics sont quasi inexistants dans cette région, ce qui peut amener les habitants à se sentir laissés pour compte. Ces populations sont plus liées aux populations frontalières des autres pays voisins, ce qui est normal et parlent ensemble la même langue, ont une culture proche, mais ils sont alors perçus comme étrangers et eux-mêmes se sentent loin de la majorité chrétienne du pays. Au cœur du conflit que nous vivons, en ce moment, la grande majorité silencieuse des Centrafricains refusent la violence et beaucoup ont eu a agir pour protéger ou sauver la vie d’autres, souvent d’une autre communauté religieuse qu’eux.

BE: The country has never really known religious conflict. The two communities have always lived together with cohesion. Families exchange meals at Easter, Tabaski, Ramadan, Christmas and at religious marriages. When the revolution happened, we saw foreigners amongst the rebels, taken on as mercenaries. Since they started to advance they've made use of Muslim communities by making speeches about freeing Muslims from infidels who have treated them badly. They were able to recruit many young people who have helped them attack church property and carry out abuses which we've all experienced. Until now, we've always sought a harmonious life between Central Africans with our different faiths. As a nation we've also welcomed many people and families from neighbouring countries.

However, there is an attitude which certain public officials have concerning fellow citizens or residents who they believe to be Muslim. The movement of these people is slowed down by checking administrative documents or going through a security checkpoint. In the same way, populations in the northeast of the CAR close to Chad and Sudan (Darfour), who live more than 1,000 km from the capital and the majority of whom are Muslims, receive little benefit from state aid because the administration and public services are almost non-existent in this region, which can lead to local residents feeling overlooked. These populations are more closely linked to border populations from other neighbouring countries, which is normal, they speak the same language together, have cultural similarities, but then they are seen as foreigners and themselves feel a long way from the country's Christian majority. At the heart of the conflict which we're living in at the moment is the large Christian silent majority refuses violence and many have had to act to protect or save other people's lives, often from a different religious community to their own.

GV: You say that it's critical that the communities talk to each other and have a dialogue in order to solve problems. In your opinion, what conditions are needed in order to set up this dialogue? How can the international community help in this area?

BE: J'estime que parallèlement à la sécurisation du pays il faut commencer la réconciliation entre les communautés.

Tout d'abord, rassurer la communauté musulmane qui est en train de quitter le pays, elle fait partie prenante de la RCA. Il s'agit de réfuter toute idée soit de les chasser, soit de scission du pays. Il faut éliminer dans les mentalités la confusion systématique entre Seleka et musulman.

Inviter à ouvrir un processus de dialogue politique entre toutes les parties prenantes aux conflits, mais aussi avec les acteurs non-armés afin de lancer un processus de réconciliation nationale à même d'apaiser aujourd'hui les populations désemparées et leur redonner confiance dans l'avenir.

Dès la rentrée scolaire, qu'on commence à mettre en place un programme sur le vivre ensemble pour les enfants, et aussi l'élargir dans les quartiers et villages.

Il faut renforcer la sensibilisation déjà initiée par la plate-forme inter-religieuse dans les Églises, les Mosquées et autres Temples, ainsi que d'autres initiatives locales qui concourent à la paix”. Il est vrai que l'idée d'organiser des élections fait partie des priorités de la Communauté internationale, mais cette idée fait certainement peur à la communauté musulmane centrafricaine. C'est pourquoi il serait souhaitable que parallèlement au processus électoral, soit amorcé un programme de réconciliation nationale, une démarche qui assure à chacun qu’il sera reconnu comme centrafricain à part entière.

BE: I believe that parallel to securing the country we have to start the reconciliation process between communities.

First of all, we must reassure the Muslim community, which is in the process of leaving the country, that they are a stakeholder in the CAR. We have to refute any idea of banishing them or splitting the country. We have to eliminate the systematic confusion in people's minds between Seleka and Muslim.

We must encourage the opening of a political dialogue between all parties taking part in the conflict, but also key players who are not fighting, in order to start a national reconciliation process to give comfort to helpless populations and give them back confidence in the future.

Once the new school year begins we must set up a children's program about living together and also extend this to urban areas and villages.

We have to support the raising of public awareness, which has already been initiated by the inter-religious platform in churches, mosques, and other temples, just like other local initiatives which lead to peace. It's true that the idea of organising elections is amongst the priorities of the international community, but this idea also scares the Central African Muslim community. That's why it would be desirable to launch a national reconciliation program alongside the electoral process, an approach which assures everyone that they will be recognised as fully Central African.

GV: What are the other pressing needs for Central Africa at the moment? What solutions can be put forward?

BE: Le besoin le plus pressant pour la RCA c'est d'abord la sécurité pour son peuple. L'idéal serait que les familles rentrent chez elles avant les premières pluies du mois de février, que l'aide humanitaire arrive aux habitants partout où on peut les trouver (alimentation, eau potable, soins, couchages, produits d'hygiène, vêtements…). Ce serait aussi le paiement des salaires aux fonctionnaires.

BE: The CAR's most pressing need is security for its people. Ideally, families would be able to return to their homes before the first rains in February and humanitarian aid would arrive for local people wherever they are (food, drinking water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, hygiene products, clothes..). Also, public officials would have their salaries paid.

Mayoral Elections in Quito, Ecuador: President Correa on the Campaign Trail

20 de noviembre, 2013. El Movimiento Alianza Pais inscribió los nombres de sus candidadtos para las elecciones seccionales del 2014. Foto: Micaela Ayala V./Andes en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On November 20th, 2013, the ruling PAIS Alliance party registered the names of its candidates for the 2014 local elections. Photo: Micaela Ayala V./Andes on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, except where otherwise noted.]

In the heat of the electoral battle for mayor of Quito, the statements of Ecuador's highest authorities have gotten more attention than those of the candidates themselves.

The electoral process, officially called the 2014 Elections of the Metropolitan District of Quito, will take place this Sunday, February 23. Six candidates remain in the running, including the city's current mayor Augusto Barrera, a member of the governing PAIS Alliance party. The latest polls show that 42% of respondents intend to vote for the candidate Mauricio Rodas, of the opposition party SUMA-Vive, while support for government party candidate Barrera fluctuates between 36 and 39%.

Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, worried by the possibility that his party's candidate may not be reelected as mayor of Quito, recorded the following message for party members [es]:

The message was also published in written form on Correa's Facebook page and in other media. In the written version of the message, Correa cites social media tags and mentions that the right wing has united to take over the mayor's office in Quito. Correa adds:

San Ignacio decía: “En una fortaleza asediada, toda disidencia es traición. Cualquier diferencia entre nosotros la trataremos al día siguiente de la victoria. Quito debe seguir siendo la capital de la Revolución Ciudadana”.

Saint Ignatius said: “In a besieged citadel, all dissidence is treason.” We will settle any differences between us on the day after the victory. Quito must continue to be the capital of the Citizen Revolution.

The message provoked reactions of both support and opposition on Facebook. For example, user Romel Pardo comments approvingly:

Romel Pardo: Bueno señor presidente pueden ganar alcaldias. Pero el presidente de Ecuador ES y sera Rafael Correa. A correa no le gana nadie hay que cambiar la constitucion para que se quede UNOs 20 años mas el 80% de ecuatorianos LO apoyamos

Well, Mr. President, they [the opposition] might win mayoral elections. But the president of Ecuador IS and will remain Rafael Correa. No one can beat Correa. They should change the constitution so that he can have 20 more years; more than 80% of Ecuadorians support HIM.

Meanwhile, Diego Quimbaila disagrees:

Diego Quimbaila: Sr. Presidente para usted mi voto en las elecciones nacionales todo 35, pero para alcalde de Quito ya no Barrera hay cosas buenas pero son más los desaciertos, no caminamos a ningún lado hay caos en esta hermosa ciudad no podemos seguir en esto…

Mr. President, you have my vote in the national elections for your “Todo 35″ plan, but we no longer want Barrera for mayor of Quito. There are some good things, but the mistakes outnumber them. We're not going anywhere, there's chaos in this beautiful city, we can't continue like this.

User Alberto Gallifa brings up an important point:

Alberto Gallifa: En una verdadera democracia un Presidente de la República no debe hacer proselitismo político en favor de ningún candidato!!!!! Eso debería estar penado por la misma Constitución y por el Instituto encargado de regular y avalar las contiendas políticas, mientras eso no suceda Ecuador no tendrá la verdadera Revolución Ciudadana que tanto pregona RC y su país jamás será verdaderamente libre y democrático……

In a true democracy, a President of the Republic must not campaign in favor of any candidate!!!!! This should be punishable by the Constitution itself and by the Institute responsible for regulating and managing electoral contests. Until this happens, Ecuador will not have the true Citizen Revolution that Rafael Correa claims to support, and his country will never be truly free and democratic…

This isn't the only message that President Correa has sent. He sent another on February 12, this time addressing all citizens of Quito, where he reviews the projects and successes of Mayor Barrera and stresses that the right wing wants to boycott the Revolution:

To the voters of Quito, with caring and commitment, as always… 

In this case, however, an internet user put forward a response. Paola tweeted:

Our response to Rafael Correa…

Among other comments, Paola notes that Correa only writes to the Ecuadorian people during election time and when he wants something. She also asks how losing a mayoral election could destabilize the government. Paola adds:

Trato de entender por qué es un “DEBER A CUMPLIR” votar por alguien en particular? [...] Por qué debo sacrificar mi bienestar y el de mi familia por el bien del color de un partido, de un ego y absolutamente nada más? [...] Lo siento Presidente, yo voto por quien yo quiera.

I'm trying to understand how it can be a “DUTY TO FULFILL” to vote for someone in particular? [...] Why should I sacrifice my well-being and that of my family for the good of a party flag, an ego, and absolutely nothing more? [...] I'm sorry, President, but I'm voting for whomever I want.

Other public officials, like Héctor Rodríguez, General Manager of the public company YACHAY, also felt the obligation to tell the citizens of Quito his reasons to vote for Mayor Barrera. In a message tweeted from the account @hrodriguez_, Rodriguez stresses the importance of the public spaces reclaimed by Barrera, and states: “It's not fair that a couple of greedy obsolete neoliberals want to take away our opportunity to continue doing great public work.”

My personal position as a member of Juventudes Alianza PAIS: why I'm voting for Augusto [Barrera] for mayor. 

In recent statements, President Correa declared that if the PAIS Alliance loses the mayoral election in Quito, then “we will begin to see results like those in Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro faces opposition from Caracas itself every day.” Economist Alfredo Velazco reacts to this on Twitter, saying:

Amenazan con q ‪#‎Ecuador‬ se convertirá en ‪#‎Venezuela‬ si pierden ‪#‎Alcaldía‬ ‪#‎Quito‬ – amenazará también q se convertirá en Maduro? Estas ‪#‎EleccionesEC‬ estarán marcadas en amenazas más que en ofertas de campaña.

They're threatening that Ecuador will turn into Venezuela if they lose the Quito mayoral election – will [Correa] also threaten that he will turn into Maduro [en]? These elections will be marked by threats more than campaign promises.

On February 14, a televised debate took place between the two candidates with the best chances of winning: current mayor Augusto Barrera and opposition candidate Mauricio Rodas. On February 19 another debate took place, this time between five of the six candidates (Mauricio Rodas was absent). Twitter user Vero Salvador summarizes the impression shared by many viewers after the latest debate:

What an embarrassment of a debate! Lame ideas, repetitive irony, tiresome jokes. Like they say in Quito, we are wasting money with these candidates.

A final controversial issue is that President Correa will air his usual television program, or sabatina, on Saturday the 22, the day before the elections. This would violate the fifth subsection of Article 207 of Ecuador's Democratic Code or Organic Electoral Law. In response to this issue, a resigned Domingo Paredes, President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), declared:

During the campaign, it would be preferable for Correa to be at a rally than at the sabatina.

More information about the progress of these upcoming local elections – which will be carried out at a national level, not just in Quito – can be found online at Elecciones 2014 Ecuador, on Twitter under the tag #EleccionesEC, and in the special features of newspapers El Comercio and La Hora.

Finally, we leave you with a satirical music video that pokes fun at one of the government party's campaign mottos, “Todo todito 35,” linking it with criticism of various government policies.

February 17 2014

Will Fiji Become Australia's New Best Friend?

A visit by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to Fiji has caused much speculation about the future of Australian's relations with that Pacific islands nation. On 15 February 2014, she met with Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama who has been in charge of the military-backed government since a coup in late 2006.

Many have been left wondering what secrets their pleasant exchange might be hiding:

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop

PM Bainimarama meets Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop
Fiji Ministry of Information's Facebook Photos

Her visit received a mixed reception on twitter. Ron Cato seems content with developments:

Martin John Carter definitely favours the change:

But others are antagonistic:

Greg Ross suspects a connection with Australia’s asylum seekers policies:

Keith Jackson who blogs at PNG Attitude has his own ideas about Australia’s motives:

Keith also retweeted this addition to the asylum seeker theorizing:

At Pacific Scoop, Scott MacWilliam wonders about how easily old foes might be reconciled if there are democratic elections in Fiji:

Despite all their previous rhetoric about the need for Fiji to return to democracy, would Australia (and New Zealand) accept an electoral victory by their erstwhile enemy, no matter how this is achieved?

In the event of Commodore Bainimarama making a successful transition to elected prime minister, could he make a trip to Australia, and be photographed alongside Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison? Would the picture be attached to an account of how Fiji has now agreed to establish a detention centre, paid for by Australia with employment for surplus to requirements Fiji military personnel?

The Fiji Labour Party opposition has election concerns as well:

As might be expected from the name, Fijileaks is very unimpressed by the thaw in relations:

At their link, they have some advice based on the foreign minister’s reported remarks:

The Gullible Her Holiness “Bishop”: “At the meeting, Commodore Bainimarama discussed the election process, and indicated he was prepared for whatever role resulted, even if he were to lose the prime ministership”.
Fijileaks Editor to Bishop: “Oh, Yeah, Dream On!”

Fijian lawyer Richard Naidu has a dream of his own:

February 14 2014

‘Bizarre’ Thailand Elections

Thai writer Aim Sinpeng describes the recent election in Thailand as one of the most bizarre in the country's history:

The February 2 election in Thailand was not only one of the most bizarre, but also “pointless” elections in recent memory. “Missing” polling stations, locked up ballot boxes, an M16 shooting match, and a complete boycott by the second largest political party are among the many incidents that characterize the recent election in this Southeast Asia nation.

February 13 2014

‘Costa Ricans Are Fed Up’

A myriad of articles about the recent Costa Rican elections have proclaimed the country’s “turn to the left.” Perhaps some do this because it is simply too convenient to whip up an article or op-ed about leftist victories in El Salvador and Costa Rica. Or perhaps some are still trapped in the Cold War. But these headlines miss the more salient point of Costa Rica’s elections – Costa Ricans are fed up. And they’re fed up with the status quo.

Christine Wade writes a guest post in the blog Central American Politics where she discusses “the general political malaise amongst Costa Ricans”. She concludes:

It’s time to move beyond the left-right discourse that all too frequently characterizes the analysis of Central American politics if we are to better understand the political dynamics of a region in flux. As the case of Costa Rica demonstrates (and this is true for El Salvador as well), such superficial explanations obscure more than they enlighten.

February 11 2014

Tokyo Snowfall Sends Voter Turnout Plunging in Governor Election

As a winter storm dumped the heaviest snowfall in 45 years on Tokyo, only 46.16 percent of voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for governor on Sunday, February 9, 2014, the third-lowest turnout in

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Tokyo's governor election history. 

The newly elected governor is Masuzoe Yoichi, former cabinet minister backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komei Party, winning 2,112,979 votes, or about 43 percent of the vote.

Twitter users shared their criticism of the low turnout. Philosopher Tatsuru Uchida [ja] expressed his disappointment:

The number of voters who went to the polls for Tokyo's governor election made me feel washed out. It seems to me that the Japanese with conventional virtue and conventional political means, are silently heading in a direction where it's like, “hey, there's a precipice ahead.”

Illustrator Nigirikopushi drew a caricature, linking the coldness of the weather and the losing anti-nuclear candidates. In the center, winning Masuzoe is holding three umbrellas representing “Walfare”, ‘”Olympics” and “Economy” while wearing a warm jacket with the Liberal Democratic Party's and Komei Party's emblems on it. On the left is a portrait of a shivering Kenji Utsunomiya, an anti-nuclear human rights lawyer who came in second place. On the right is anti-nuclear candidate Morihiro Hosokawa, who took third, standing next to his supporter, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying “it's cold out here”. The writing in the snow reads “anti-nuclear”:

Caricature portrait for Tokyo's governor election.

Former newspaper reporter Eiken Itagaki argues [ja] that Masuzoe may run afoul of Japan's Public Officers Election Act, saying he distributed Tokyo Olympic badges worth 3,000 Japanese yen (about 30 US dollars) each to gain support, an act that could violate the law prohibiting political contributions for campaign. The complainant is the same activist group that has filed a complaint against former Governor Naoki Inose late last year for allegedly receiving contribution. Inose claimed that it was a personal loan but he resigned over the issue. The complaint against new Governor awaits whether or not the court will take his accusation.

The post was edited by L.Finch

February 08 2014

No Winners in Thailand Elections?

Chris Baker analyzed election statistics in Thailand and concluded that there are no clear winners in the elections:

My overall impression is that nobody won. If full data are every released, Pheu Thai (ruling party) will probably have won a majority of the seats. But the party cannot have won enough votes in absolute numbers to bolster the government’s sagging legitimacy.

The election was boycotted by the opposition as anti-government protests continue to gather thousands in the streets of Bangkok, the country's capital.

February 03 2014

El Salvador and Costa Rica to Hold Runoff Elections

El Salvador and Costa Rica held presidential elections yesterday, February 2, but both countries will define their president in a runoff vote.

In El Salvador, “results show Salvador Sanchez Ceren (FMLN) winning 49%, just short of the 50% he needed to win in the first round. Norman Quijano (ARENA) is in second place with 39%,” writes Boz from Bloggings by boz, where he shares “Five points on El Salvador's elections.”

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, The Tico Times reports:

Center-left presidential candidate Luis Guillermo Solís will battle ruling party candidate Johnny Araya in a runoff on April 6 after Solís shocked many in this small Central American country by taking first place in preliminary results released late Sunday night.

[...]

Costa Rica’s elections, which were peaceful, showed a growing polarization among progressive and conservative voters.

Panama's First Lady Will Run For Vice Presidency

Marta will be our next vice president. Her and Aimée will be the heart of our government. Let's go for more change with “the strength of the new”

With this tweet from the governing party, CD (Democratic Change) announced what was an open secret: Marta de Martinelli, wife of current president Ricardo Martinelli, will run as a candidate for vice presidency. 

Social networks had already witnessed a change in the attitude of the first lady, who had taken on a more aggressive discourse since mid-2013; such as on October 15, 2013, when she took to her Twitter account to attack La Prensa, a medium that has been disqualified on more than one occasion by President Martinelli: 

La Prensa's scheme remains exposed, where they say that the Vatican does not have Ricardo Marinelli's visit on their schedule. They should verify things with the Nuncio first. GOSH. 

The appointment of the First Lady has raised all sorts of reactions.

Sports commentator Juan Carlos Tapia shared an image that circulated on social networks where President Ricardo Martinelli appears with his wife's hairstyle, implying that he is the one who will really be running for the vice presidency. 

They just sent me the Democratic Change candidates. 

Twitter users created the hashtag #noseascongo (#dontbeafool), where several Panamanians denounced a “reelection” in disguise following the appointment of the First Lady. 

Delany Morales denounced “the plan” under which it is believed the reelection will arrive according to her point of view.

If you are against the disastrous plan to bring about the reelection, RT!

For some, like journalist Edwin Cabrera, alarms went off when the phenomenon that occurred in Argentina with Kirchner would be repeated.

The first challenge will be convincing that a win from @JDAriasV and @martamartinelli will not be the start of a Panamanian version of Kirchnerism. 

Similarly, writer Edilberto Gonzalez, commented:

Here, watching how the Democratic Change is Kirchnerizing.   

For Julieta Guerra, however, there could not have been better news: 

A social proposal, a high sense of inclusion is the presidential formula for JDAriasV and Marta de Martinelli. Let's go for more CHANGE! 

Alvaro Biebarach shares an image on his Facebook account where several of his friends are excited by the appointment of the First Lady: 

A few messages on my Facebook on the appointment of Ms. Marta de Martinelli. Excellent…

Meanwhile, Francisco Rodrigo shares an image of Article 193 of the Panamanian Constitution that seems to prevent the First Lady from running as vice president: 

@rmartinelli should read Article 193 of Panama's current political constitution.

Regarding this dilemma, Electoral Tribunal President Erasmo Pinilla pronounced [es] that relatives in the fourth degree of consanguinity and second of affinity cannot be candidates, but spouses do not fall in either of these categories.

The stage is served and with this appointment there are already five nominees that will run for president and vice president on May 4.  

February 02 2014

PHOTOS: Costa Ricans in the Diaspora Vote for the First Time

For the first time Costa Ricans living abroad are allowed to vote in a presidential election. From around the world, Costa Ricans have been using Twitter to report about their vote.

This time, we, the 15,000 Costa Ricans living abroad, are key, our votes might avoid a run-off.

From Costa Ricans living in Australia, the first ones to cast their vote, to the ones based in Japan, France, the United States and elsewhere, citizens are reporting about their vote with expressions full of excitement.

Stephanie reports from Washington:

I live my vote in Washington, DC.

Francisco traveled from Boston to New York to exercise his right to vote.

Francisco Delgado studies in Boston and went to New York to vote.

Also from the United States, Diego Rivera shares this picture:

I already voted!!! (Consulate of Costa Rica in Miami!)

From Brussels, Silvia Muñoz and Alexander Molina celebrate their vote:

In Brussels, the administrative capital of Europe, Silvia Muñoz Solano and Alexander Molina López voted.

All the way from China, a young woman from Cartago reports her vote:

Sofía Hernández, from Cartago, voted in China. The poll station in Beijing ended the day already.

And Adolfo Chaves reports from The Hague, Netherlands:

My vote in The Hague.

More pictures and reports on the hashtags #VotoExteriorCR [vote abroad Costa Rica], #EleccionesCR [election Costa Rica] and #VivoMiVoto [I live my vote].

Voting Day in El Salvador

Online news site El Faro has published a Storify post [es] with early citizen reports and reactions about today's presidential elections in El Salvador. They also have a special section [es] dedicated to the elections where they share photos, tweets and more. 

Meanwhile, Tim's El Salvador Blog has put together two posts (1, 2) with links about today's elections.

Costa Ricans Go to the Polls to Elect a New President

Glenda Umaña, a Costa Rican journalist who is covering today's presidential elections, comments on Facebook [es] and Twitter:

I found my name on the electoral roll. I'm so exited about voting that I'm in tears!

This is part of the electoral party that is currently taking place in Costa Rica.

Costa Ricans are using the hashtag #VivoMiVoto to share reports and photographs.

You can also follow today's vote live online through streaming by Canal 7 [es] and Onda UNED [es].

Millions Disenfranchised in Thailand Elections

An elderly woman holds a sign that reads 'Respect My Vote' as she poses with her grandchild who holds a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

An elderly woman holds a sign that reads ‘Respect My Vote’ as she poses with her grandchild who holds a Thai national flag. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (1/15/2014)

Despite ongoing anti-government rallies and the boycott campaign of the opposition, Thailand was able to conduct a ‘peaceful’ election. But many Thais were unable to vote or prevented from going near polling centers because of protests. According to the election body, voting has been held at 89.2 per cent of polling stations nationwide or in 83,813 out of 93,532 stations.

The number of disenfranchised voters is estimated at 12 million. There are 48 million eligible voters out of the population of about 65 million.

The election took place amid rising political tension in the country. Protesters have been marching in the streets of Bangkok, the country’s capital, for several months already as they demand the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yingluck is accused of being a proxy of her elder brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

As protests intensified, Yingluck dissolved the parliament and announced the holding of an election. But the opposition vowed to boycott the election as it called for the creation of a People’s Council. The opposition Democrat Party claimed that a fair and democratic election cannot be achieved as long as the ‘corrupt’ Thaksin family is allowed to participate in the electoral process.

The map below shows the political division in Thailand. The north and northeast parts of the country are mainly supportive of the ruling party while the southern provinces, where most of the blocked poll stations are located, lean in favor of the opposition.

Many voters who were blocked from voting went to the police to file a complaint. In Bangkok alone, 488 polling stations of nearly 7,000 were closed because of protests.

Because of the high number of voting suspensions, election results were not issued and they may have to wait for several weeks until by-elections are held.

Saksith Saiyasombut explains that disenfranchised voters can still cast their votes at a later date:

What will happen next? There’re hundreds of polling station that didn’t open today, those will have to hold elections at a later date. Those who were obstructed in last Sunday’s advance voting can cast their in by-elections on February 23. The 28 constituencies in the South that weren’t able to file a candidate will have to start the process at a later date.

@KhunPleum expresses his disappointment over the election process:

Twitter hashtags #ThaiVote2014 and #vote2014 are useful in monitoring election updates.

February 01 2014

Costa Rica's Presidential Election Is an Unexpectedly Tight Race

Foto de Ingmar Zahorsky en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Vote, placing an X in the box next to your choice. Photo by Ingmar Zahorsky on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where noted.]

Costa Rica is just a day away from electing a new president, the culmination of one of the hardest-fought electoral races in the country's history. The race is still too close to call, with candidates on the left, centre, and right running neck and neck. It is, without a doubt, democracy in action. 

According to the latest opinion poll conducted by Unimer for the La Nación newspaper, there are three candidates tied for first place: José Maria Villalta of the leftist Frente Amplio [en], Johnny Araya of the more moderate Liberación Nacional [en] and Otto Guevara of the right wing Movimiento Libertario [en].

The data provided by the marketing research firm on January 16, 2014, shows José María Villalta's support at 22.2%, Johnny Araya with 20.3% and Otto Guevara at 20.2%. Given a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, this is considered—in technical terms—a tie. Of the top five candidates, based on popular support, the next two rank significantly lower than the leaders, with Luis Guillermo Solís (Partido Acción Ciudadana) [en] at 5.5% and Rodolfo Piza (Partido Unidad Social Cristiana) [en] at 3.6%.

Clearly these numbers set off alarm bells in the campaign headquarters of the governing Liberación Nacional party, which has always enjoyed a solid lead with strong numbers. The possibility that there might be a second round had not even occurred to them.

On the other hand, another poll by Cid Gallup for Noticias Repretel, published on January 28, shows Johnny Araya with 35.6%, followed by José Maria Villalta with 21%, Otto Guevara in third place at 17.6%, Luis Guillermo Solis in fourth with 15.6%, and Rodolfo Piza with 6.5% .

These elections have been full of contrasts. Take the case of the Frente Amplio party, labelled left wing and traditionally a minor player, which this time garnered the kind of support even its most optimistic followers would not have predicted; or the case of Luis Guillermo Solis, who has also gained ground in the last two months, with support coming mainly from younger voters; finally, the current situation facing the government has greatly affected its candidate Johny Araya, whose approval rating in the polls has waned, although it now remains steady. 

There is little doubt that these elections will define a generation of Costa Ricans and determine the future of the country in a dramatic way.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, an analyst covering Latin American politics for the Cato Institute, says:

La de este domingo es quizás la más importante que hemos enfrentado en una generación: el 2 de febrero tenemos ante nosotros una clara disyuntiva: seguimos igual, retrocedemos o avanzamos.

Las redes sociales han servido de caja de resonancia en la discusión política cotidiana. Antes, discutíamos entre familia y amigos. Hoy, nos vemos enfrascados en interminables discusiones con desconocidos sobre una amplia gama de temas.

This Sunday's [election] is perhaps the most important we have faced in a generation: on February 2, we will have a clear choice to make: continue as we have, go backwards or move forward.

Social networks have been a sounding board in the daily political discussions. Before, we talked among friends and family. Today, we are caught up in interminable discussions with strangers about a whole range of topics.

The drop in popularity of current President Laura Chinchilla's government will surely affect the outcome of the election—and mainly her own party, Liberación Nacional. The slogan of almost all the ads run by the other political parties emphasizes the need for change in Costa Rica.

It is also clear that, like never before in the country's history, people are informed, thanks to social media and digital access to the candidates’ political platforms. While both things existed before, they have become tools that the political parties increasingly know how to use. These elections will definitely signal a before-and-after divide in the way politics in the country is conducted. 

Every day closer to the election! How great Costa Rica! We are living history!

The candidates are using social media to issue clarifications, rebut rumours, and provide information on their platforms.

Johnny Araya has been repeatedly attacked for his work in the Municipality of San José, a post he occupied for more than 20 years, where—as he himself observes—despite being accused on several occasions for crimes such as graft and embezzlement, he was never convicted and most of the cases were rejected by the public prosecutor's office.

I am proud of the work I did for the Municipality of San José.

More recently Luis Guillermo Solis has been criticized for his position in favour of abortion in the case of rape and for an apparent alliance with the Frente Amplio, an alliance he has repeatedly denied. 

There is no such alliance with the Frente Amplio, although many people are still gossiping about it.

Otto Guevara has focused his campaign on the creation of new jobs and the reduction in the cost of electricity. 

We can make sure all Costa Ricans live better, have work, and cut the price of electricity.

José Maria Villalta was the candidate who first took a stand against the status quo, a strategy that all the other parties then imitated when they realized how effective it was. 

To avoid business as usual and strengthen democracy, we are the choice to make to remove the Liberación Nacional party from power

The post-electoral scenario is uncertain. Although some candidates argue for the raising of taxes on the “privileged middle class,” favouring unions and rejecting free-trade deals, others argue for greater openness, reducing state monopolies, eliminating the entitlements of public sector employees, and in some cases, increasing taxes. 

The biggest criticism that can be made about all the candidates is the lack of clear ideas about how to solve current problems such as the infrastructure, fiscal deficit, tax evasion and education. All of them raise these issues in their platforms but none provide sufficient details about the means they would use to fight them. This should be a lesson for the next election in four years. 

Japan's US Base Plan Hits Snafu With Local Mayor's Re-Election

More than a thousand people came to the prefecture office of Okinawa to show their opposition to the governor's decision. Photo taken on December 27 2013 by Ojo de Cineasta (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

More than 1,000 people came to the prefecture office of Okinawa to show their opposition to the governor's decision. Photo taken on December 27, 2013 by Ojo de Cineasta (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The election results of a small city in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, are stirring up a national debate over plans to relocate a US military base to Okinawa.

Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago city who opposes a plan to transfer the US airbase from Futenma, a populous part of central Okinawa, to Henoko district, a coastal area of Nago, was re-elected on January 20, 2014 with 19,839 vote. Susumu beat out pro-base challenger Bunshin Suematsu, who was backed by the central government which maintains that building a new facility would benefit local economy via government subsidy.

Susumu Inamine spoke in front of his supporter on January 8 2014 during his re-election campaign. Screenshot from Independent Web Journal.

Susumu Inamine spoke in front of his supporters on January 8 2014 during his re-election campaign. Screenshot from Independent Web Journal [ja].

Meanwhile, the central government said they would move forward with the relocation plan, calling it the only way to reduce the burden on Okinawa while maintaining a deterrent effect against potential threats.

A heavy US presence in Okinawa

When it comes to American military presence, Okinawa prefecture is at the forefront of the debate. According to Japan's Ministry of Defense, Okinawa prefecture make up 74 percent [ja] of the American military presence in Japan, whereas the prefecture constitutes only 0.6 percent of the country's landmass.

The issue at the heart of the mayoral election was a plan that originated 17 years ago: the US and Japanese governments’ suggestion of building a base in Henoko as a replacement for the current Marine Corps air station at Futenma. Just last month on December 27, 2013, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima finally approved the relocation plan, putting an end to prolonged impasse to return the Futenma site to Japan.

The presence of US military there goes back to World War II. Award-wining documentary filmmaker John Junkerman explained in an interview with Amy Goodman of news program Democracy Now!:

Nearly 70 years ago the United States took over the Japanese island of Okinawa after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. More than 200,000 people died, mostly Japanese civilians. Today the United States operates 34 bases on the island and is planning to build a new state-of-the-art Marine base, despite mass protests. A multi-decade movement of Okinawa residents has pushed for ousting U.S. forces off the island, citing environmental concerns and sexual assaults by U.S. soldiers on local residents.

The people of Okinawa generally do not live with explicit aversion to the presence of US forces. As their economy relies heavily on the presence of American troops, the overall relationship is friendly. However, aircraft noise, fires caused by live ammunition exercises in the forest, occasional helicopters crashes, and cases of rapes are problems that greatly concern residents.

Image modified by Keiko Tanaka

Areas colored in red represents base in Okinawa [ja]. The relocation plans to move the Futenma Air Base [pointed in Green] to Henoko, coastal area [pointed in orange] of Nago City [blue]. Image made by Keiko Tanaka using the image from Misakubo on Wikipedia. GNU

One of the most famous cases of rape in Okinawa involving US troops stationed there was in 1995, when three servicemen kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. The crime triggered an anti-base movement, and Okinawans demanded to take back Futenma from base. This then resulted in the relocation plan: close Futenma and relocate the facility to Henoko.  

Environmental concerns

This relocation plan – a landfill project to build a new facility in Nago's coastal Henoko, which would construct a runway for existing base Camp Schwab – has long been met with fierce opposition by local residents and environmentalist groups. Environmentalists who oppose the plan fear that the coral-rich ocean of Henoko would be damaged by the landfill and the area's endangered population of dugong, a large marine mammal similar in appearance to a manatee, would be affected. The Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong wrote in a petition campaign on change.org that the environmental assessment is turning into an inconvenient truth:

The Governor has already expressed grave concerns regarding the environmental assessment and impact on the welfare of local residents. In response, the Defense Bureau has simply maintained its assertion that the dugongs would not be affected.

But on September 22, Kyodo News broke the story that the Defense Bureau had actively hidden important facts about dugong activity in Henoko waters uncovered during its environmental assessment. Dugong feeding traces had been found in the waters off Henoko through April to June last year and a dugong was sighted in Oura Bay, adjacent to the Henoko beach. It’s clear that for the Defense Bureau, those findings constituted ‘inconvenient truths’ better hidden from the public.

Anti-base movement in Okinawa

Other anti-base Okinawans do not wish to have additional military facility. So when the governor finally made the decision to accept the proposal by the central government, protesters who once dreamed of the base's relocation outside Okinawa, what was originally put forth by the governor, felt betrayed.

The win by anti-base Nago city mayor Susumu came as an upsetting disruption for Prime Minister Abe and Governor Nakaima's plan to relocate the base from Futennma. According to newspaper Japan Times, Susumu said “the plan must go back to square one” and that he will reject all procedures related to the landfill project.

According to a poll taken in December 2013 by Asahi Shimbun in cooperation with Okinawa's local newspapers and broadcaster, 64 percent of people in Okinawa are opposed [ja] to the governor's approval of the relocation of Futenma base to Henoko. But an online poll conducted by Yahoo! Japan found an even higher 80 percent considered [ja] that the governor's approval was an appropriate move. It's not clear whether one of these polls is more accurate than the other when it comes to the opinions of the people in Okinawa, but the sentiments among Okinawans seem different[ja] than those of other Japanese living elsewhere.

A blogger and tour guide living in Futenma for more than 30 years expressed [ja] mixed feelings about the election turnout:

現市長が当選したことで、この500億円の北部振興策のためのお金は白紙に戻ったそうな。
・・・500億円は沖縄へ恩返しのつもりだったと言っていたのですが・・・。
だったら今までの敗戦後の基地がこの沖縄に残り続けていることに対しての恩返しをするべきではないでしょうか・・・。
すごく長い歴史で色んな方たちが傷つきました。この空の上に飛行機が行き交う事がなかなか想像できません。
逆に普天間であんなものを見て、うるさいところにいるから、こんな静かな場所に行きたいな~っていう気持ちにもなります。
だけど、もし辺野古に基地がいったら・・・大騒音をまき散らすことになります。
うるさいけどきれいな場所っていうことになるから・・・私は今後ここに観光ルートで訪れることが・・・なくなるかもしれません。
[中略]…やっぱり沖縄の方たちはこの自然を守ろうとそして子供や孫を守ろうとしている、こんなお金で解決なんてのは
ダメなんだよ~って言っている気がします・・・。

Now that Nago city's mayor was re-elected, the subsidy of 500 million US dollars [50 billion Japanese yen] funding for north Okinawa has gone back to square one.
…while the governor was insisting that the 50 billion Japanese yen was meant to be requital for Okinawa…
If so, shouldn't he be working to return something else…the land of Okinawa where the base remained after the war?
In the long run, many people were hurt. I can't imagine another sky filled with aircraft.
Because I live in Futenma, and see things, and hear noises, it makes me feel like going to some other quiet places.
But if the base moves to Henoko, they will suffer from noise.
It will make Henoko a noisy, yet beautiful place; I might not bring tourists to this area [an island across coastal Nago] anymore
[...] It reminds me that people in Okinawa, who are trying to protect nature and children and grandchildren, are saying no to a solution via money.

The post was sub-edited by L. Finch

January 28 2014

Presidential Debate in Panama Creates More Questions than Answers

Panama is preparing for presidential elections in May 2014, and only four months from polling day, the campaigns are ratcheting up the rhetoric and everybody is breathing political propaganda.

There will be four candidates from official parties and for the first time in history, three independent candidates are running.

On January 20, 2014, the second presidential debate was held, with three of the seven candidates participating, calling attention for the second time to the absence of the government party candidate (Democratic Change) José Domingo Arias.

The candidates participating in the debate were Juan Carlos Navarro for the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) [es], Juan Carlos Varela for the Panameñista Party, and Genaro López [es] for the Broad Front for Democracy (FAD in Spanish).

The debate had a great impact on social networks, where Panamanians went to share their opinions and to vent.

The humorous news account El Gallinazo created the Hashtag #Preguntaspaldebate [es] where Panamanian netizens tossed out ideas for questions that should be asked during the debate.

The government party took advantage of social networks to make excuses for their candidate, saying that he would participate in debates organized by the Electoral Tribunal (ET), even though this same party voted against a bill proposing mandatory debates organized by the ET.

Have the Electoral Tribunal organize debates. Don’t let the media and interested unions impose their hidden agenda. Fairness and transparency.

Blogger Erik Simpson comments that the absence of the official candidate shows that José Domingo Arias can’t even think for himself, let alone govern:

He doesn’t dare face Panamanians in the debates but he thinks he can lead Panama. If he can’t even back up his presidential bid, how will he lead.

But for Cesar Urrutia the proposals of the candidates who attended the debate are nothing but a carbon copy of the current government:

For the most part, their ideas are carbon copies of José Domingo Arias, more utopian plans, out of touch with our reality.

El Gallinazo shared a photo in which the current government candidate is represented as Wilson, the volleyball from the film Cast Away.

Which of the four is winning the debate?

The same site created a humorous video [es] about the debate:

And for most Panamanians, the debate lacked substance. Candidates seemed to answer whatever they wanted in the face of rather succinct questions. Elviz says:

The Panamanian debates are like you ask me something and I answer whatever the hell I want!

Gina Lee comments wryly on how candidate Genaro López expresses himself:

Genaro is like Gollum and Smeagol…the man always speaks of himself in the plural. “We think….” “We say….”

Chris Fawcett asks what the point was of the “debate” that took place on the evening of January 20:

If they ask you a question and your answer has nothing to do with the question, is that a “debate”?

RPC Radio, who organized the event, created hashtags where people could vote yes or no for each candidate. The winner of the evening according to the station was Juan Carlos Navarro, who garnered 51.7% of the “vote”:

These are the results for each candidate during the 1st presidential debate.

A few months before they have to choose a new president, Panamanians seem undecided given the shortage of options. El Ñeque Noticias's account concluded on a humorous note, which however could sum up the feelings of a large number of Panamanians.

Panamanians agree that if the elections were today, they would ask Uruguay to send Pepe Mujica to run Panama.

January 27 2014

Egypt: Is Sissi's Promotion a Step Closer to the Presidency?

Interim president Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree promoting General Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, minister of defence, to the rank of field marshal. It is the highest rank in the Egyptian military.

The promotion has created a buzz online, with many wondering whether it paves the way for Sissi to run for presidency in elections penciled in for the end of April.

Adam Makary tweets:

Louisa Loveluck notes:

And Ahmed Abrass explains what the title Field Marshal means [ar]:

“Field Marshal in English means someone who has led troops on the field battle and have obtained scintillating victories”

This isn't the case for El Sissi. However, it seems that this is not a prerequisite in the Egyptian army and that the former general had all the necessary qualifications to become a Field Marshal.

Nervana Mahmoud explains:

Bel Trew confirms:

And Egyptian Streets says:

Many netizens seem puzzled and clearly annoyed by the news.

On Facebook, Mina Labib asks [ar]:

يتكافؤه على ايه ؟؟ علي إنفجارات ؟؟!!

What is he being honoured for? The explosions?

Egypt woke up on January 24 to a series of four explosions, which left six dead and over 70 wounded in Cairo.

Some suggest that this promotion is a fast-track to Sissi's presidential bid. Nervana Mahmoud writes:

Egyptian Streets adds:

And journalist Patrick Kingsley explains:

It seems that the presidential bid isn't the only reason for this promotion. Tarik Salama tweets:

And Basil Al Dabh adds:

In time of great unrest and crackdown on personal freedoms, some people see this as another step towards the deification and cult of personality that Egyptian leaders were used to enforce.

Zack Gold explains:

While Gr33ndata shares this cartoon:

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