Voting underway in Zimbabwe Presidential election


Zimbabwe once again goes to the polls to elect a new president – the BBC reports.

Polling stations have closed in Zimbabwe, ending voting in elections that will decide whether President Robert Mugabe wins a sixth term. His challengers are Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC party and ex-finance minister and independent Simba Makoni.

Queues formed early, but voting died down later in the day. Some voters complained of irregularities. The MDC feared the poll would be rigged but Mr Mugabe said as he cast his vote in Harare: “We don’t rig elections.”

No, the Zanu-PF doesn’t rig elections – it just stuffs the electoral roll with the names of dead people and prints 50% more ballot papers than there are voters (nothing suspicious with that, is there?).

Let’s be honest. As the Economist says, if the election was free and fair Mugabe would have no real prospect of success. And even with his ability to manipulate the electoral commission, use Police to intimidate voters, etc, Zimbabwe’s economic crisis and the resulting unpopularity makes it difficult for him to claim a victory in the first round. So the question is, will there be enough pressure on him to bow out when inevitably he loses after a second vote, instead of simply declaring himself the winner?

Once again, it may fall to SADC (Southern African Development Community) to take Mugabe to task. For too long it has tolerated his barbaric behaviour simply because he used to be an independence fighter and is still “popular”. Africa often complains that the rest of the world does not take it seriously. Well how can it take Africa seriously if such obvious electoral fraud as has happened in the past is swept under the carpet and elections are declared “free & fair”? SADC members generally opposed Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations, even though the motion was still carried by the majority (most of whom can hardly be described as members of the “white man’s conspiracy”).

It would be wrong to write off a whole continent due to the actions of one region, but it is true that the inaction of Zimbabwe’s neighbours (especially South Africa) over Mugabe’s reign of terror has damaged African states’ hopes of being treated like serious international players rather than aid-reliant basket-cases.

If Mugabe tries to steal the election again, as he almost certainly will, the rest of Africa must take the opportunity to pressure the old man’s reluctant neighbours into condemning the vote and insist that the second round really is free and fair. If it refuses out of historical prejudice and racism, then Africa’s diplomatic underperformance will continue for years to come.


Foreign media bias and 3.14

I have an essay over at The China Beat (mainland link) on foreign media coverage of the unrest in Lhasa and other areas of Western China. It’s a long piece, but then it’s a complicated subject, and I’d be interested in the thoughts and comments of our TPD community.



I won’t be posting much this week.


Taiwan Votes 2008 (2)


Ma Ying-jeou has won the Taiwanese presidency by a significant margin. Congratulations to the victor and commiserations to the loser.

I won’t focus on what lies ahead for Taiwan in terms of domestic policy because no one can really predict what will happen – it will be a case of very certain people having enough differing views that someone will be correct. Personally I wouldn’t bet my life on any one thing happening.

I will briefly mention the losing DPP, as it now needs to rebuild and focus more on domestic bread-and-butter issues that people care about. Harping on about UN membership or a candidate’s US green card will not win an election. What the party needs is a partial purge of the traditionalists in the leadership, who have focused too much on Taiwan’s diplomatic future. Some good recommendations can be found on one of the leading political Taiwan blogs out there, though I don’t think the DPP should be too anti-China anywhere unless relations get worse or do not improve much. A weak opposition is bad for any country, so I hope that the DPP can rebuild and challenge the KMT at future elections, rather than have a return to one-party politics and the increase of corruption that would follow.

The main comment I have to make is relations with China. Ma promised, like his competitor, to improve direct links and negotiate with China – though he has said he will not meet with Hu Jintao or discuss unification. There will be a honeymoon period with China, much like the Taiwanese electorate, in which everyone thinks things can only get better. However, I do wonder whether this will be temporary. Although there is concern amongst some people in Taiwan that Ma will “sell out”, I don’t think that he will – unless one sees things very narrowly through utter and official independence for the island. He isn’t in favour of that, but he does want to preserve the island’s de-facto independence simply because neither he nor the KMT trusts the CCP. Some grand promises were made for Hong Kong’s autonomy, yet after over a decade of unification Beijing is still dragging its feet over full democracy for the territory – recent suggested timescales for reform are not certain, nor is there a fixed method for introducing them.

After a while I believe that Beijing may well get frustrated with Ma for not discussing deeper political change. It will also not appreciate continued arms purchases which will be approved more readily by the KMT-controlled legislative now that it also controls the presidency. If China continues the aggressive poaching of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies and bullying on the international stage, such as denying Taiwan direct access to the WHO without its permission, it will have no ability to blame everything on Taiwan as the most China-friendly candidate has won the election. This may help Taiwan’s standing in the international community if it is still bullied, though Ma may find he simply becomes demonised by China like many other political leaders and other countries go along with that because it’s easier.

I would be impressed if Ma can win significant diplomatic concessions from China, as at the moment Beijing is still in denial that its approach to Taiwan is the problem (just as is the case with its view on Tibet). The failure of the two UN referenda will not help his negotiating position, as China will see this as a reason not to give up much. However, Ma will have to still push for better international rights if he wants a second term at the next election – “giving in” to Chinese pressure won’t endear him to the electorate. China and Taiwan will only be able to make a long-term solution when China realises it needs to give Taiwan international space and respect its de-facto independence, even if it doesn’t recognise formal independence. Even if “unification” can occur, it will be in name-only with nothing changing in terms of actual control over the island. Taiwan will demand that China not block its attempts to make free-trade pacts with other nations and may even insist on membership of certain international bodies like the WHO and UN.

Beijing needs to tone down the rampant nationalism that permeates Chinese society and find ways to get Taiwan to trust it. The constant Chinese arms build-up will not force Taiwan to unify, and insistence on using the one country, two system method for the future will not workMa has rejected that. A new way of dealing with Taiwan is required, otherwise the chance for heading off formal independence will disappear – much as China’s ability to resolve the Tibetan problem without violence is slipping away.


Behind the unrest in Tibet


Tibet: the jealousy, rage and bitterness of a new generation that fuelled deadly riots

An insightful article that has grave warnings for the future.

Tibetans in communities across the Himalayan plateau and in surrounding provinces who have risen up this week against Chinese rule appear mainly to be young men and women in their teens or twenties. They are from a generation too young to remember either a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in which tens of thousands were killed or the destruction wreaked by Red Guards – both Chinese and Tibetan – during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Their anger has been directed as much against the traditional symbols of Chinese power as against ordinary Chinese, hinting at a deepening resentment, even a hatred, that follows ethnic lines.

China repeatedly tells itself that everything will be fine in Tibet once the Dalai Lama dies and that it is older Tibetans who are the “troublemakers”. But, if anything, it is the older generation that try to keep things calm. Younger Tibetans are the angry ones who will resort to violence. They can’t be bought off with money because, at least at the moment, Chinese immigrants are the ones taking most of the opportunities. It’s too late to try to teach them Mandarin.

But there are those who feel left out. Young Tibetans who speak poor Mandarin – the official language of China and crucial to finding a job. Others are accustomed to a more rural way of life and their education, like others in China’s vast countryside, leaves them ill-equipped for the rough and tumble of a market economy.

The comparison between Tibetans and rural-dwelling Chinese is an interesting one. Note the sympathy the latter often gets from other Chinese due to official corruption and lack of opportunities, whereas the former get none. For a nation that loves to claim it lives in harmony with its minorities, I think there is an element of racism in that Tibetans are automatically blamed for any problems by Chinese.

So what is China going to do when these angry young youths become the majority? Clearly Tibetans are not trusted by the Chinese, despite what they may like to think.

Many Tibetans chafe under the restrictions imposed two years ago by the regional party boss that ban Tibetan Government servants from religious activities. Others are keenly aware that scarcely a single Chinese official in the regional government can speak Tibetan. That ethnocentric Han approach only intensifies the ethnic divide and cultural misunderstandings. No ethnic Tibetan has ever held the job of Communist Party boss – a potent signal of Beijing’s lack of trust in this deeply Buddhist people who still revere the Dalai Lama.

Clearly China needs to take the opportunity to deal with the Dalai Lama as the only Tibetan leader that still holds a large degree of respect across the region, whilst older and wiser generations are the senior community leaders in Tibet. Quisling leaders are complete jokes and only make matters worse. If China delays the new generation that does not heed the Lama’s calls for peace will take control. Then China would have to offer a lot more for a peaceful solution. Sadly I think that, as usual, China will stick its head into the sand and only pull it out when the opportunity to negotiate through the Dalai Lama has gone.

Update – 24th March

The Times reports that at least two Tibetans have been shot by Chinese forces, with a dozen or more wounded while taking part in a peaceful protest.

Hundreds of monks, nuns and local Tibetans who tried to march on a local government office in western China to demand the return of the Dalai Lama have been turned back by paramilitary police who opened fire to disperse the crowd.

Local residents of Luhuo said two people – a monk and a farmer – appeared to have been shot dead and about a dozen were wounded in the latest violence to rock Tibetan areas of China.

China spends tens of US$ billions more every year on the Chinese military, and yet for some reason the security forces can only deal with protests by gunning people down. Are promotions handed out on the basis of how ruthlessly people deal with unarmed civilians?

Broken bones amongst a few people = a $1,000 bonus?
Use of firearms = promotion to the next grade?
People dead/wounded = a villa in the nearest tourist resort?
A dozen + casualties = fast-track to the Politburo?


T*bet-Free Open Thread

I’m all T*beted out.


“Black days for the Dalai Lama”

An alternate view of Tibet. I encourage you to check it out. (With a proxy, if you’re in china, of course.)


Amidst the horrific violence of the last few days, somebody’s been working overtime to marginalize the Dalai Lama and undercut him as the leader of the worldwide Tibetan movement.

Not just the Chinese.

I’m talking to you, Tsewang Rigzin.

Tibetan unrest in China is not just a problem for the PRC. It’s a major problem for the Tibetan emigre movement, which is threatening to fissure because of conflicts between moderates and militants.

And if things end badly, the question will be, did the militants fatally miscalculate the cost of confrontation, not only to themselves but the Dalai Lama?

…By linking the Dalai Lama to the unrest – which he opposes (and the Chinese know he opposes) – the Chinese are forcing the Dalai Lama either to repudiate the Tibetan militants and split the emigre Tibetan movement, or endorse the insurrection and permit the Chinese to portray him as an impotent captive of extremist forces.

For those unfamiliar with the Chinese pattern of denunciation, polarization, division, and destruction this is a classic tactic–call it Police State 101–intended to isolate the target of a purge by forcing him to denounce his associates – or force the target to incriminate himself by not forswearing alliance with a vulnerable, isolated, and discredited element that the Chinese government is about to land on like a ton of bricks.

Read on to see why he’s talking to Tsewang Rigzin….


Which would you choose: India’s Democracy or China’s Harmony?

It’s hibernation time again for the duck, but I found this article so intriguing that I’m pasting it in full. Having never studied Indian politics or history and having never been there, I can’t claim to have any special insight into this comparison. One thing I do have at least some thoughts about is China’s unique vision of “harmony,” a pretty word with sinister undertones and an important aspect of the author’s comparison.

Poor, chaotic India vs. shiny, harmonious China (at least in the the big three cities, which to most of the world is China). Is the comparison fair? Could China really learn some lessons from India that would have helped them avoid the tragic debacle in Tibet? I’m wondering.

China had it all planned out. Or so it seemed. With the Beijing Summer Olympic Games only a few months away, the flashy sports stadiums, the world’s biggest airport and kilometers of extended subway lines combined to serve as gleaming testaments to the country’s dramatic material progress. Efforts had even been made to transform Beijingers themselves for their Olympic debut, from surly communists suspicious of foreign barbarians into smiling, service-oriented folk welcoming “foreign friends” to their city in English.

But as the events of the past few days have shown with protests against Chinese rule of Tibet spreading from Lhasa to parts of Gansu and Sichuan provinces, Beijing has been caught unprepared in its ability to deal with dissent. It is this inability, moreover, that will prove to be the country’s greatest vulnerability going forward; its Achilles’ heel as it strives for great power status.

As Beijing desires the Olympics to demonstrate, much in China has changed in recent years, often at a dizzying pace. The successes in poverty reduction are an awesome achievement. Beijing in 2008, with its slew of vertiginous skyscrapers, flood of fancy cars and array of malls boasting the most luxurious of luxury brands, is a far cry from the capital city of Mao Zedong suits and bicycles in the not so distant past.

However, while much has changed, China’s response to the events in Tibet is also indicative of how much remains unchanged. The official response to the protests in Lhasa and elsewhere, the most serious in two decades, do not indicate the discovery by Beijing of “Olympic-new” savvy ways of crisis control. Instead, the Chinese people and the world have only been subjected to the same old tired responses officialdom resorts to given any sign of discontentment among the Tibetan population.

This is a response that essentially amounts to a denial of any fundamental problem. The elements are familiar: a scapegoating and vilification of the Dalai Lama, a refusal to grant any legitimacy to Tibetan disaffection and an insistence on the myth of elemental “harmony” among all “Chinese” people, including Tibetans.

This denial of legitimate differences is ultimately the greatest difference between China and Asia’s other major rising power, India.

Indians who visit Chinese cities are invariably awestruck by the infrastructure. They look at the silken-smooth multi-lane highways with barely concealed envy, no doubt comparing them to the pot-holed clumps of tar more familiar as roads back home. They marvel at the relatively orderly flow of traffic on the broad avenues, unobstructed by stray cows. They remark on the absence of slums and beggars on the streets.



Tibet News Blackout

My site is still blocked (I am using an industrial-strength proxy if any on you need one, way stronger than Anonymous and much faster than Tor), and I was called about it yesterday by a “real media.” You can find my quote buried in this article.

I’ve had CNN playing in the background the past few nights, and it’s downright comical how often the screen just goes dark shortly after mention of the T word. Once again I ask my friends over at the ministry of propaganda if they sincerely believe with all their heart that this kind of ham-fisted tactic makes China look better, and if they sincerely believe it achieves their goal of keeping CNN viewers ignorant of what’s happening in Tibet. If something ugly happens at the Olympic Games in August, are they just going to blackout the media broadcasts? And do they think they will be admired for it?


How fast is the sky falling?

This is a really bad week. Two big issues. And I mean big.

One: In case no one’s noticed, the US economy is being “challenged,” which is code for FUBAR, which is code for time to run for cover. When Bear Stearns gets bought out for $2 a share, and Citigroup and UBS and Merrill Lynch and other giants are brought to their knees by the subprime catastrophe, we know these are not ordinary times. I tried to say it more than a year ago and some people laughed it off with the usual lines about America’s can-do spirit and strong fundamentals – both true, but not enough to weather the storm that’s approaching. It does little to console us to see Alan Greenspan write today, “The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war.”

There are deep flaws in our economic structure, and the war in Iraq combined with the subprime mess rubbed a lot of salt deep into the wounds. Recovery now is not possible – at least not without bailouts and a lot of misery along the way. Bush and his stooges brought this on us with their anything-goes, to-hell-with-regulation “laissez faire” policies. And now they will use your tax dollars to bail out the very same scoundrels who wrought this misery on us. And each of us will pay a high price, with broken dreams, diminished expectations, houses we can’t sell and a painful submission to the sorrows of stagflation.

Two: Let’s look over on the other side of the world. Beijing’s chant of One World One Dream is getting drowned out by the international uproar over Tibet. Even if the line the Chinese have been spoon-fed about Tibet being “liberated” from feudalism is true, and even if the Dalai Lama actually is a pawn of the CIA, the world is still going to bristle when it perceives religious oppression and the crushing of protests. Hypocrisy, you say? Maybe. But perceptions matter, and China is not being perceived well this week.

With the Olympic Torch Relay starting in only a few days, the threat to China’s pride cannot be exaggerated; they have hitched their star to the Olympic Games, and if that star crashes and burns the country will erupt in outrage and shattered pride. I hope that doesn’t happen; I hope China will be smart enough to do something truly constructive and make peace with the unhappy Tibetans. Knowing Hu Jintao’s past, of course, one can only conclude this is unlikely. Heads will be cracked and more lies spun out by Xinhua.

Like me, all that James Fallows can see ahead is tragedy. Once again the obtuseness of the Chinese bureaucracy defies description, and you wonder where are all those brilliant, hard-working cadres you know? Why are the big decisions only made by the dummies?

The government is full of subtle thinkers, but few are in the propaganda or public security ministries. The propagandists black out news coverage and blame every problem in Tibet on what they call (when they speak in English) “hooligans” from “the Dalai clique.” Most people in China assume that Tibet, like Taiwan, Inner Mongolia, or the Muslim Xinjiang region of the northwest, is an integral and inalienable part of its territory. That’s all they have ever heard from the media and in the schools. The threat of regional “splittism” raised by riots in Tibet is in this view a true threat to national security.

Thus conditions are set for the next stage of tragedy in Tibet, as Monday’s deadline for the end of protest draws near. The government is conditioned to be tough — and to have the support of its public, and not to care about objections from overseas. It has to care more, in this year of the Olympics. Soon we’ll see how much that tempers the policy.

Huge question marks are floating in the air. How they are answered will affect many of us. I can’t say I am optimistic about either issues one or two. I suspect a lot of us are simply trying to ignore these developments, willing ourselves into a self-induced coma. Maybe that’s actually the smartest thing to do. Watching the dramas on both sides of the world unfold is simply too depressing and infuriating.