Posts tagged ‘Dictators’

08/31/2011

Former Soviets Still Need Democracy

Five former Soviet states could do a much better job of advancing democracy, by removing their dictators, holding new elections, and by enforcing a two-term limit of no more than 10 years total.

BELARUS: Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the former Soviet Republic of Belarus since 1994. After winning the 2001 election, he abolished presidential term limits in 2004, and essentially made himself dictator for life. Opposition candidates received just 2% of the vote in 2006, in a contest the EU called fundamentally flawed. Policemen severely beat two opposition candidates in the 2010 race, causing EU members to boycott his 2011 inauguration. Belarus must now remove Lukashenko, choose a new leader, enforce term limits, and rightfully join the democracies of Europe.

KAZAKHSTAN: Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has been in power since the Soviet Union dissolved, under a system which is one of the most corrupt in the world. His regime drafted a constitution that virtually gives him unchecked powers. He took bribes in the 1990s from U.S. oil interests. He won the 1991 election, because opposition candidates were not allowed. Instead of using the electoral process, he extended his rule for four more years in 1995, through a referendum. Although the constitution had a two-term limit, it was amended by his friends in parliament to let him run as often as he wanted. He was re-elected in 1999 and 2005, with 91%, in races criticized by international groups.

UZBEKISTAN: Islam Karimov has controlled Uzbekistan since 1989. When independence was declared in 1991, he became their first president, with 86% support, by manipulating the vote. He limited opposition parties by requiring them to obtain 60,000 signatures to register. He extended his reign in 1995 for five more years via a referendum, and then claimed 91% of the vote in 2000. He let the U.S. use military bases (2001-05). Despite a two-term limit, he won a third term in 2007 with 88% of the vote against no opposition. As one of the worst dictators, Islam Karimov must go.

TAJIKISTAN: Emomalii Rahmon has held power in Tajikistan since 1992. He was “elected” in 1994, and again in 1999, with 97% of the vote. He controls much of the economy. Like others in the region, he used referendums, instead of elections, to remain in office beyond his term. He received 79% of the vote in 2006, and commenced another 7-year term. It is time to remove this dictator and establish a true democracy in Tajikistan.

RUSSIA: Outside pressure from Russia would help to change the politics in this region, but Vadimir Putin also has trouble letting go. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as President, Putin finished his term (1999-00). Putin was then elected in his own right, (2000-04), and re-elected for another 4-year presidential term (2004-08). Instead of stepping down at that point, and leaving government, he became Prime Minister (2008-). After 12 years as President and Prime Minister, Putin still appears to be the one in control, and it’s time for him to set an example by leaving the Kremlin.

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08/29/2011

Sub-Saharan African Dictators Must Go

Following the demise of North African dictators in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, President Obama should now focus on greater democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa, where many have held office for more than 10 years, and well beyond the growing international standard of no more than two 5-year terms.

CAMEROON: Paul Biya has been in public office in Cameroon since the early 1960s. He became Prime Minister in 1975 and President in 1982. He seized control of his political party in 1983, drove his rival into exile, convicted him of plotting a coup, and sentenced him to death. Biya won 99% of the vote in 1984, because he had no opponent. He survived a coup, before being re-elected in 1988. In a multi-party contest in 1992, Biya claimed a plurality, despite cries of fraud. After a two-term constitutional limit was imposed in 1996, Biya won 92% of the vote in 1997, because his opponents boycotted the election. He won another 7-year term in 2004, again under a cloud of suspicion. Biya called term-limits undemocratic in 2008, and simply removed them. It’s now time for the people of Cameroon to remove Biya.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo seized power in 1979 in a bloody coup, sentenced the previous leader to death, and became president. After winning a full 7-year term in 1982, he was re-elected in 1989, as the only candidate on the ballot. He claimed nearly 100% of the vote in 1996, 2002 and 2009, in contests marred by fraud. He keeps control by denying a free press and an opposition party. Obiang considers himself a god. It is time for the Equatorial Guineas to end his 32-year rule.

ANGOLA: Jose Eduardo dos Santos, became Angola’s second president in 1979. He won a plurality in the 1992 election, under allegations of fraud, and caused the civil war to continue. He said in 2001 he would step down before the next presidential election, but remained by amending the constitution to allow his ruling party to pick the leader. After 32 years, Santos has to go.

ZIMBABWE: Robert Mugabe, age 87, has been president of Zimbabwe since 1980, when the white government collapsed. Media controls were created in 2002, to ensure ongoing election victories. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested in 2003, as Mugabe was accused of running a dictatorship. When Tsvangirai claimed victory in 2008, Mugabe managed to stay in office by creating a power-sharing arrangement in 2009. After 31 years in power, it’s time for Mugabe to step aside.

UGANDA: Yoweri Museveni has been Ugandan President since the prior government was overthrown in 1986. He promised a return to democracy, but held no election for 10 years, and then claimed 75% of the vote in 1996. In 2001, he accumulated 69%, in a race that was not free or fair, according to the Ugandan Supreme Court. Afterward, he said he would not run again, but he then abolished term limits and took 59% of the vote in 2006. He was re-elected again in 2011, with 68%, a tally disputed by outsiders. After 25 years, it’s time for Museveni to leave.

BURKINA FASO: Blasise Compaore of Burkina Faso came to power in 1987 in a bloody coup, during which the incumbent was executed. His opponents boycotted the 1991 election. After he was “re-elected” in 1998, the constitution was amended in 2000 to reduce presidential terms from 7 to 5 years, and to limit presidents to a total of two terms. Compaore argued the changes did not applied retroactively, so he ran and won again in 2005, and was re-elected in 2010. After 24 years, it’s time Compaore left.

Three more Africans have ruled since the 1990s, including: Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994-); Denis Sassau Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville (1997-); and Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho (1998-).

President Obama is uniquely qualified to speak directly to the African people regarding the virtues of term limits. He should encourage the U.S. Congress and the EU to suspend all aid to any country ruled by leaders who have been in power more than 10 years, until they choose new leaders, and adopt term limits.

08/26/2011

North Africa/Mideast: More Rulers To Go

Now that Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, have thrown out their dictators, who is next? The answer is: any leader who has been in office for more than 10 years should be packing his bags, and the most senior among them should be getting on the bus first.

YEMEN: Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 31 years, should get on board. He solidified control in 1978 by executing 30 military officers, who he believed conspired against him. He was “elected” in 1983, and every five years afterward, with such large margins, they were suspect. After the 1999 election, he extended his term from five to seven years. In 2005, he promised not run again in 2006, but did anyway, and claimed 77% of the vote. During the Arab Spring, he said he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2013, offered to resign, but then did not. After suffering wounds in a bomb blast in June 2011, he returned. Get on the bus Saleh!

SYRIA: Even though Bashar Assad has ruled Syria for only 11 years, his father controlled the country for 29 years, from 1971 through 2000, and the Assad family has had a grip over the Syrian people for 40 years. Although Bashar was “elected” in 2000 and 2007, no opposition was allowed, and his rule lacks legitimacy. The bus driver has a reserved seat with Bashar’s name on it.

SUDAN: Omar al-Bashir seized control of Sudan in a military coup in 1989. After disbanding his revolutionary council, he made himself president in 1993. He received only 75% of the vote in 1996, even though he was the only candidate on the ballot. In 2000, he won 86%, another suspicious tally. Bashir has been known to imprison political opponents. After 22 years without change, it’s time for Omar to take his bags to the bus station.

CHAD: While in Chad’s military in 1990, Idriss Deby toppled the government and made himself president in 1991. He claimed 69% of the vote in 1996, and 63% in 2001, but the electoral process was criticized by international observers. Worse yet, Deby removed a constitutional two-term limit in 2005, which allowed him to be re-elected in 2006. He took 64% of the vote in a boycotted contest. After 21 years, Deby should get on board.

While other long-term leaders in other parts of the world must also go, there is a momentum in North Africa and the Mideast that  should continue. Let’s do what we can to remove these dictators.

04/11/2011

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Shouldn’t Run Again

Robert Mugabe, 87, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 31 years, plans to run for yet another 5-year term. While he will always be remembered by his people as a hero who led Zimbabwe to majority rule, his legacy is now at risk of being overshadowed by the suppression of freedom and failed economic policies.

Zimbabwe was a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia. Its black majority was ruled by a white racist minority. When Britain ordered Rhodesia to give blacks equal voting rights, white leader Ian Smith refused and instead declared independence (1965).

The refusal to end minority rule triggered a quasi-colonial guerilla war (1965-79). The UN asked member states not to recognize the Rhodesian regime, in which a minority of 250,000 whites controlled four million blacks (1965). During the conflict, Mugabe and the blacks fought from bases in neighboring Zambia, while Smith employed South African mercenaries, and arrested, tried, and executed many courageous black freedom fighters.

Over time, Rhodesia became isolated, as the blacks sabotaged the railroad that ran through neighboring Portuguese Mozambique to the Indian Ocean (1972). The white government was further cut off, when black majorities in neighboring Mozambique and Angola eliminated white Portuguese colonial rule (1975).

Mugabe emerged as a leading figure during the final push towards liberation (1976). As the UN called for free and fair elections, Smith visited President Carter, who pushed him into granting black voting rights (1978). Soon afterward, the white government finally abdicated and majority rule was allowed (1979). Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe, as Mugabe became president (1980).

If Mugabe had retired after two terms as president, he would have gone down in history as another George Washington. But he did not think his job was done by merely bringing about majority rule. Since the best farm land was controlled by the white minority, Mugabe seized it and redistributed parcels to blacks (1988). As farms were left to those with no experience managing them, the agricultural sector collapsed. Food shortages threatened famine, as an economic crisis gripped the country. Aid from the west was cut off due to the land seizure program (1998-2001). Galloping inflation ultimately led to price controls (2007).

Mugabe also put controls on the press to ensure his continued election victories (2002). He arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (2003). Frontline reported Mugabe was running a harsh dictatorship, without dissent (2006). When Tsvangirai claimed an election victory (2008), Mugabe refused to step down, and remained in office under a power-sharing deal (2009).

While Mugabe deserves respect for risking his life in the struggle against white minority rule more than three decades ago, his age, prior service of 31 years in office, willingness to control the free press, and his inability to solve current economic problems, all lead to the conclusion that he should not run again.

04/01/2011

Ivory Coast Sends Wrong Message

Ivory Coast, a country along the south coast of West Africa, has faced instability and unrest since the 2010 presidential election, when incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept the victory of his opponent, Alassane Quattara.

The election was monitored by international groups, who have confirmed that it was devoid of any voter fraud. The final count showed Quattara, the candidate from the north, receiving 54% of the vote, and Gbagbo, whose support was from the south, with just 45%. The UN subsequently endorsed Quattara as the winner.

Yet Gbagbo simply ignored the results and declared himself victorious, without any credible evidence to support his claim. He did this in spite of the Ivory Coast constitution that limits presidents to 10 years in office. No matter what the election outcome, it would appear Gbagbo is legally barred by the Ivorian Constitution from continuing, since he came to office in 2000 and has already served for 11 years.

The sad thing about personalities like Gbagbo is not so much what they do to their opponents, but the harm they inflict upon their own people, and the damage they cause to Africa as a whole. Africa needs to project a positive image of political stability, so tourism and international economic development may follow. People like Gbagbo contribute nothing to the advancement of Africa. Instead, they cause economic retreat and disinvestment.

After 117 years of French colonial rule, Ivory Coast started out in 1960 as one of the most successful in West Africa. The country’s first leader, Felix Boigny (1960-93), maintained close economic ties with France and the nation prospered. When their second leader, Henri Bedie (1993-99), faced economic troubles, he was taken out in a coup. Under Gbagbo, the country went through a civil war (2002-07) and now it is experiencing violence again.

Gbagbo tries to portray UN Peacekeepers and the international community as neo-colonial enemies. He accuses them of interfering in internal politics. But his attempt to make the globe a scapegoat is not helpful. Gbagbo must now step down and allow political stability, so global businesses can once again engage in economic development and Ivory Coast may once again prosper.

03/28/2011

Yemen: Where Will Change Take You?

As the people of Yemen started protesting this year, their leader, Ali Saleh, said he would not seek re-election, hoping this would satisfy the crowd. When the protests continued, the police used tear gas. Saleh then promised a new constitution, but that was not enough, and the unrest intensified. Saleh’s men then opened fire on the crowds, causing injury and death. Saleh’s response was to discharge his cabinet, but the crowds wanted more; they wanted Saleh gone. Following the mutiny of some high-ranking generals, Saleh finally offered to resign, but not until next year. That offer, of course, was too little and too late.

Yemen is now in a state of emergency, as Saleh suspended basic constitutional rights. It appears that after 31 years, Saleh will be gone soon. Yemen is about to go through change. The question is what will it be? Who will replace the 31-year regime?

The situation in Yemen is not like Tunisia or Egypt. Yemen is at risk of going from bad to worse. It has history of civil war, a poor economy, a large population of 24 million and an almost equal  Sunni-Shiite mix. It is located in a very troubled part of the world. If the crisis is not resolved, Yemen could easily slide into conflict.

Yemen previously had internal strife. North Yemen experienced an 8-year Civil War (1962-70), which pitted royalists against rebels. South Yemen (Aden) battled British colonial rule (1963-67). Following independence, the South (Aden) and the North (Sana) struggled with each other at times, before creating one republic (1990). Four years later, a part of the country tried to secede, leading to another Yemen Civil War (1994).

Yemen is a place where there has been violence against the U.S. The port city of Aden is where the USS Cole was bombed and 17 Americans died in 2000. Sana is where the U.S. Embassy was attacked and another 18 perished in 2008.

The Yemen economy is one of the poorest in the world. It is not like Libya or one of the Persian Gulf states, where protesters can be placated with oil money. Here, poverty exists, which is the fuel that often ignites revolution. Neighboring Saudi Arabia actually built a wall to keep the flow of impoverished Yemenis out.

Yemen’s population is 50% Sunni Muslim and 50% Shiite. Unlike the North African states, where 99% were from the same Islamic school, Yemen is closer to the Iraqi model, where divisions between the two Islamic branches may be exploited.

Yemen is geographically located in a troubled neighborhood. Somalia, the poster child of a failed state, is located just across the Gulf of Aden. In this part of the world, pirates captured 49 ships in 2010 alone, and there is a certain degree of lawlessness here.

While no regime should continue beyond 31 years, particularly if the people are opposed to it, we can only hope, given what Yemen is up against, that what follows will be an improvement.

03/25/2011

Term-Limit Treaty Is A Global Need

Recently, the world witnessed several uprisings in North Africa and the Mideast. The common denominator in many of them was a leader who had been in power for decades. Ben Ali was driven from Tunisia after 24 years. Hosni Mubarak governed Egypt for 30 years. Rebels in Yemen are fighting Ali Saleh, who has served for 32 years, and Col. Qaddafi in Libya, is trying to hold on after 42years.

While long-term service does necessarily make a leader ineffective, history has had its fill of tyrants. For 45 years in North Korea, Kim prohibited dissent. Gen. Suharto of Indonesia brutally suppressed opponents for 31 years. Joseph Stalin killed millions in the USSR, during his 30 years. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who started out on the right track, lost his way after 31 years.

The U.S. should introduce a Term-Limit Treaty in the UN, which could be co-sponsored by Tunisia and Egypt. People should no longer be subjected to the rule of men who refuse to leave office. The treaty should establish a fundamental right to live in a political system that limits a leader to no more than 10 years in office. The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands should make it a crime to remain more than 10 years, or to suspend a constitution that limits terms. Obtaining office through a coup or military junta, and not through normal electoral means, should also become criminal.

Currently a majority of countries have some term-limits. Some limit their leaders to one term of 4, 5, 6 or 7 years. Others allow two 4-year terms, like the U.S. The most common however is a limit of two 5-year terms. Those that currently have no limit would need to adopt one. Those whose limits in excess of 10 years would need to amend their constitutions to conform to the new international standard. While absolute monarchs and some constitutional monarchies like Britain would most likely resist, this is no reason not to get started with the majority of countries who would probably sign on.

03/22/2011

Chile: Who Changed to Democracy?

President Obama said yesterday in South America that Chile made great change from dictatorship to democracy. I had to think about that. A more correct statement would be: Chile has always supported democracy; it is the U.S. that has changed, since it is the U.S. that no longer promotes dictatorship in Chile, but instead accepts democracy and the choices made by the Chilean voters.

Chile is a South American state in the Andes Mountains, where copper and iron ore are mined. Many of their mines were owned by U.S. interests. Back in 1965, a democratically-elected Chilean Senate voted to nationalize U.S.-owned copper mines, including Anaconda, Cerro and Kennecott. Their legislation was not carried out at first, until a man named Salvador Allende campaigned in 1970 to implement their laws. He was democratically-elected.

Behind the scenes, President Nixon’s CIA tried but failed to prevent Allende from being elected. The CIA conspired with International Telephone & Telegraph to disrupt Chilean politics. Meanwhile, Allende went ahead and nationalized copper, iron-ore and other concerns. Several UN Resolutions had made it clear that countries had right to control their own natural resources, without outside interference. Nevertheless, strikes, demonstrations and sabotage in 1972 led to a state of emergency. It was the U.S., and not the Chilean people, who engaged in a war against democracy and the freely-elected Chilean government.

Nixon’s CIA sponsored a military coup in 1973, which led to the execution of Allende. It was the U.S. that ushered in Gen. Augusto Pinochet and his brutal dictatorship. We were the ones responsible for his army and the arrests of thousands, the torture of political prisoners, and the death of many. Pinochet remained until 1990, when his collaborators gave him immunity from prosecution, so he could leave office. Pinochet, the dictator the U.S. had installed, finally died in 2006. Ironically, that same year Chile freely elected a Socialist woman as their president.

The point is Chile did not change; their voters have always wanted democracy. What changed is America. It is the U.S. that moved out of the dark days of the Nixon era, when dictatorships were supported, and into the light of the Obama presidency, where we are now promoting democracy.