Saturday, February 19, 2005

Deepening capital markets in South Africa

As part of's keen interest in the spread of financial services to the developing world (click here for an earlier example of this interest), Laurie Goering has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the effort by South African banks to get South Africans comfortable with the idea of depositing their money in... banks:

In this nation where making a cash withdrawal at a teller's window can cost you $4 in fees, it's no surprise that more than 40 percent of adults have never opened a bank account.

But South Africa's banking fees, the highest in the world, are just one reason that 12 million South Africans don't use banks. Unemployment is rampant, and many people struggle to save even the minimum balance necessary to open an account. Millions live in rural villages miles beyond the reach of the nearest bank. In a 2003 private survey, a third of South Africans said they agreed that "you can easily live your life without having a bank account."

South Africa's government, and its banks, are trying to change that. Embarrassed that banking remains so inaccessible to black South Africans a decade after the end of apartheid and eager to tap into a vast market of potential customers, banks are launching a flurry of new promotions.

First National Bank offers the "Million-a-Month" account that gives each depositor one chance at a monthly $250,000 cash prize drawing for each $16 they keep in the bank. Absa, another bank, offers cut-rate funeral insurance with its accounts, a huge draw in a nation where tens of thousands are dying of AIDS.

Many banks now offer mobile automated teller machines, driven by truck into rural villages a couple of times a month, and Absa has come up with an entire 28-ton mobile bank, capable of being lifted by crane onto a truck and hauled wherever it is needed. Illiterate customers can open accounts and access money using only their fingerprints, recorded and checked via an electronic scanner.

"When you start talking with people about banking, they always bring up the negative things, like the high charges," said Innocentia Nkomo, an Absa branch manager in Dobsonville, a busy middle-class section of Soweto. "But once they see the benefits, they come flocking in."

At the heart of the effort to broaden the reach of banking is the new national Mzansi, or "southern," account. Launched in October by all the nation's major banks, it offers depositors a debit card and no-fee banking as long as transactions are limited to debit-card purchases, one deposit and a couple of ATM withdrawals per month.

In the first four months, more than a half-million Mzansi accounts have been opened, a rate well beyond the expectations of most banking officials.

"In 10 years' time I don't think there will be a person without a banking account in South Africa," predicted Tshidi Madisakoane, a floor manager at the bustling Dobsonville Absa branch. "The community is showing so much interest in banking now. Things have changed."

Read the whole thing.

As someone who knows very little about the South African financial sector, I have two questions after reading this piece:

1) Why the hell are South African banking fees to high?

2) Why aren't South African banks aggressively seeking to extend credit? That's both their greatest potential source of revenue, and the best way to foster entrepreneurial growth in the country.

posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Regarding Eason Jordan

There's been a lot of chest-thumping in the blogosphere -- and a lot of hand-wringing in the mediasphere -- about Eason Jordan's resignation from CNN.

Most of this debate is on whether Jordan's blog-fueled exit is good or bad. For me, there's another question -- did the blogosphere really force him out?

I ask this after reading Ed Morrissey's timeline of Jordangate in the Weekly Standard. Assuming that Morrissey's account is accurate, then the media heat on Jordan was never particularly strong -- and it was dying down the day before he left CNN. Consider this section of Morrissey's article:

On Thursday, February 10, two national news organizations finally covered the story, but only to declare it overblown. The New York Times posted a wire-service story late in the evening to its Thursday edition, while the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Bret Stephens. While he acknowledged that Jordan had used "defamatory innuendo," Stephens wound up decrying the bloggers:

There is an Web site, on which more than 1,000 petitioners demand that Mr. Jordan release a transcript of his remarks--made recently in Davos--by Feb. 15 or, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, face serious consequences. Sean Hannity and the usual Internet suspects have all weighed in. So has Michelle Malkin, who sits suspended somewhere between meltdown and release.

There's a reason the hounds are baying. Already they have feasted on the juicy entrails of Dan Rather. Mr. Jordan, whose previous offenses (other than the general tenor of CNN coverage) include a New York Times op-ed explaining why access is a more important news value than truth, was bound to be their next target. And if Mr. Jordan has now made a defamatory and unsubstantiated allegation against U.S. forces, well then . . . open the gates.

The strange and unexpected turn from the Journal signaled what should have been the end of the story, at least as far as the national media were concerned. The controversy seemed about to fade off the media's radar screens altogether--until Jordan suddenly resigned his position at CNN around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, February 11. (emphasis added)

In a blog post on the same topic, Morrissey again complains about the lack of media attention to this story:

Not only did the blogswarm find damning information which the national media could have used all along, but we repeatedly sent the information in e-mails to key people in the media. Instead of acknowledging that function and assimilating the information, the media has circled the wagons around the myth that Eason Jordan simply committed a slip of the tongue at Davos, rather than the documented string of slanders and ethical lapses stretching over more than a decade.

So Morrissey acknowledges that the story was starting to lose steam the day before Jordan left, and that the mainstream media seemed disinclined to pursue the story any further. If the MSM was either not paying much attention or playing down the scandal, why did Jordan choose to resign when he did?

There are three possibilities:

1) The mobilized blogosphere is now so powerful that it no longer needs media attention to affect real change;

2) Jordan knew he would be toast if the videotaped version of his Davos remarks went public, knew the tape would eventually get out, and so chose to leave before things got really ugly;

3) Jordan resigned for reasons mostly unrelated to his Davos comments, but the blog stuff provided good cover for CNN to push him out.

I just don't think (1) is true -- if it is, it certainly violates the argument that Henry Farrell and I have made about when blogs are influential. (2) might be correct -- see Rebecca MacKinnon on this point -- but based on what both Stephens and David Gergen have said, I'm dubious about the tape being that damaging. [But Morrissey points out that what he said at Davos fits a larger pattern--ed. Yes, but Morrissey also laments the fact that this was not reported in the MSM beyond the original Guardian story from last November.]

Which leads me to (3). It's telling that Katherine Q. Seelye's New York Times account observes, "Some of those most familiar with Mr. Jordan's situation emphasized, in interviews over the weekend, that his resignation should not be read solely as a function of the heat that CNN had been receiving on the Internet, where thousands of messages, many of them from conservatives, had been posted." And, as Mickey Kaus points out, Howard Kurtz's first-draft version of what happened provided an alternative explanation. Check out this Keith Olbermann post as well.

Unlike Michelle Malkin, I haven't called anyone to check out this hypothesis -- this is only me spitballing. But something ain't right here.

I'm curious what others think -- and I'm particularly curious what the higher-ups at CNN think.

posted by Dan at 05:21 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Hail Hitler -- Ted Hitler, that is

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had a piece on bloggers by Stephen Colbert Ted Hitler last night. Click here to see the full clip -- and to understand the title of this post. Best line: "They have no credibility -- all they have is facts." Actually, I'd restate things a bit. Blogs have a desire to highlight neglected facts, and a willingness to acknowledge when they've posted factual mistakes. [UPDATE: to clarify, most bloggers including myself aren't thrilled to post corrections -- but the norm of admitting error as quickly as possible might be more entrenched in the blogosphere than in the mediasphere.]

The eerie thing is that Colbert's closing statement is precisely the point that Henry Farrell and I make in our predictions for the future of the blogosphere. To quote Colbert:

With legitimacy, the bloggers get a seat at the table, and with that comes access, status, money, and power -- and iif there's anything we've learned about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency.

We wrote:

We predict that as blogs become a more established feature on the political landscape, politicians and other interested parties will become more adept at responding to them, and, where they believe it necessary, co-opting them. To the extent that blogs become more politically influential, we may expect them to become more directly integrated into ‘politics as usual,’ losing some of their flavor of novelty and immediacy in the process.

It's really depressing that The Daily Show is not just funnier that I am -- they are better at stating the more substantive point about bloggers.

posted by Dan at 12:51 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A run on the Lebanese pound?

Roula Khalaf and Kim Ghattas report in the Financial Times that the Lebanese pound could be in trouble:

Lebanon's central bank on Thursday sought to calm nervous local markets and contain the fallout from the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister who had led the country's reconstruction efforts after its civil war.

After meeting senior bankers, Riad Salame, the central bank governor, stressed his institution would support the Lebanese pound amid fears there might be a rush to convert local currency into dollars on Friday, when markets reopen after a three-day shutdown. "The central bank is present in the markets to ensure liquidity in all currencies," Mr Salame said....

Mr Hariri, who led the country for 10 of the past 15 years but resigned his post in October, had been instrumental in providing confidence to currency markets and attracting investment into Lebanon, though his governments had also built up a $35bn (€27bn, £18.6bn) debt. In November 2002 he pulled the economy from the brink of collapse when he agreed a financial rescue package with western and Arab creditors. Bankers said his resignation last year forced the central bank to intervene in the markets, spending $2bn of its foreign exchange reserves between October and November.

But since then reserves have been replenished and now stand at $11.7bn, around 20 months of imports. Yesterday's central bank statement followed a report from Credit Suisse First Boston warning that the risk of political instability in Lebanon would hurt investor confidence, at least in the short term.

The report said the likely decline in tourist receipts, higher conversions of the Lebanese pound into foreign exchange and other capital outflows would "very likely" put renewed pressure on foreign exchange reserves.

What's historically intriguing about this is that if memory serves, the Lebanese pound managed to retain its value throughout the 1975-1991 civil war.

UPDATE: Daniel Davies points out in the comments that my memory is faulty, and that the Lebanese pound suffered hyperinflation during the civil war. As it turns out, the historical data says we are both correct. The pound did a decent job holding its value in the first stage of the civil war, from 1975 to 1983. After the Israeli incursion, however, hyperinflation did kick in.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I know saffron, and The Gates is not saffron


I'm typing this in New York City, about a block from Central Park. As some of you are no doubt aware, Christo has opened up his latest art exhibit, The Gates, in Central Park. This is how he describes it on his web site:

To all visitors of The Gates:
There are no official opening events.
There are no invitations.
There are no tickets.

This work of art is FREE for all to enjoy,
the same as all our previous projects.

This is great -- but ask the New York cabdrivers about this exhibit as you pass through the Park -- as I did -- and what you get is an impressive string of invective (to be fair, part of this is due to the exhibit shutting down some of the cross-park roads -- but only part).

Having seen it, I'm very amused by the headline for Michael Kimmelman's New York Times review, "In a Saffron Ribbon, a Billowy Gift to the City." Now, if Christo and Kimmelman want to call it "saffron," more power to them. To me, the color of "The Gates" is not saffron -- it's safety orange.

This is the biggest problem with the exhibit: approaching the Park, all you think is that the entire area must be under massive construction. It's just a bizarre color choice, and mars what would otherwise have been an aesthetically pleasing exhibit.

For a somewhat contrary take, see Virginia Postrel's take

posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

There's the Planet Earth, and then there's Tulsa World

Via James Joyner, I see that the lawyers at Tulsa World have apparently lost their senses in dealing with a blogger named Michael Bates.

Click here and read the whole sordid story.

My favorite part is the claim by Tulsa World's lawyers in the letter sent to Bates that he "inappropriately linked [Bates'] website to Tulsa World content."

Man, imagine how inappropriate it would be to link to the e-mail of the good people who run Tulsa World.

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

It's getting uncomfortable for Syria

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote the following at TNR Online:

The area specialists aren't necessarily wrong; democratizing Iraq won't be easy. But the conditions aren't nearly as barren as these experts suggest, and the potential upside is enormous. If a democratic transition were to succeed in Iraq, then Syria, suddenly surrounded by established democracies (Israel and Turkey) and emerging democracies (Iraq and Jordan), might start to feel nervous as well.

Note that Lebanon was not mentioned in that graf, because that country has essentially been a Syrian fiefdom since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

However, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri yesterday highlights the increasing crunch Syria now faces. David Hirst -- who's covered the Middle East for over forty years -- explains what's going on in the Guardian:

It is Syria, with only one real ally left in the world, Iran, that is on the defensive. So are its Lebanese allies, inside and outside the regime. The conflict is an outgrowth of American strategies in the Middle East, from the war on terror to regime change, democratisation and the invasion of Iraq. Syria is not a member of President Bush's "axis of evil", but, with Iran, it is increasingly targeted as a villain. It is regularly charged, for example, with aiding and abetting the insurgency in Iraq, interfering with the Arab-Israel peace process and sponsoring the Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. The Hizbullah are in turn accused by Israel of aiding and abetting Hamas.

For decades now Syria has been losing card after card in a steadily weakening strategic hand. Its domination over Lebanon is one of the last and most vital of them. Ultimately it will perhaps be a bargaining counter in some grand deal to be struck with America that secures the Ba'athist regime's future in the evolving new Middle East order.

Conversely, however, Lebanon, as a platform that Syria's adversaries exploit against it, is liable to turn into a source of great weakness, if not an existential threat. The Ba'athists, now under siege in so many ways, feel that they are struggling desperately to keep their grip on Lebanon.

But the methods Syria uses, such as political intimidation and backstage manipulation by its intelligence services, seem, if anything, only to be backfiring against it....

Down the years the Lebanese have attributed many political assassinations to Syria, but never dared say so publicly. This time, they have.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Beirut-based Daily Star, agrees on the tectonic political shifts uinleashed by the assassination:

The speed, clarity and intensity with which Lebanese opposition groups Monday blamed Syria and its allied Lebanese government for the killing spoke volumes about the troubled Syrian-Lebanese axis being the central political context in which this whole matter must be analyzed....

The events of Monday have unleashed political forces that could transform both Lebanon and, via the Syrian connection, other parts of the Middle East. The already intense backlash to the assassination may lead to an accelerated Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and faster reform movements inside both Lebanon and Syria.

The fact that within just hours of the murder five distinct parties were singled out as possible culprits - Israel, Syria, Lebanese regime partisans, mafia-style gangs, and anti-Saudi, anti-U.S. Islamist terrorists - also points to the wider dilemma that disfigures Lebanese and Arab political culture in general: the resort to murderous and destabilizing violence as a chronic option for those who vie for power, whether as respectable government officials, established local warlords, or freelance political thugs.

The New York Times' Steven Weisman and Hassan Fattah report that the assassination itself has already made life more difficult for Syria:

The Bush administration recalled its ambassador to Syria on Tuesday to protest what it sees as Syria's link to the murder of the former prime minister of Lebanon, as violent anti-Syrian protests erupted in Beirut and several other Lebanese cities.

At the United Nations, the administration also demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and the Security Council called for an urgent investigation into the killing of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who died Monday with 13 others when a huge car bomb blew up his motorcade in downtown Beirut....

In Beirut, large crowds went to the site of the explosion, which investigators said appeared to be the work of a suicide attacker who managed to drive in between cars of Mr. Hariri's motorcade. Another theory was that the bomb had been placed in a sewer or under the pavement.

Though there were some in Lebanon who argued that the murder might have been engineered by Al Qaeda, presumably to punish Mr. Hariri for his ties to Saudi Arabia, demonstrators mobilized throughout the country to blame Syria. In Damascus, Syrian officials continued to vigorously deny involvement in the explosion.

In Sidon, Mr. Hariri's hometown, Syrian workers were attacked by dozens of protesters before the police intervened, and hundreds of Lebanese marched with black banners and pictures of the slain leader. A mob also attacked a Beirut office of Syria's ruling Baath Party.

Thousands of protesters also massed in the northern port city of Tripoli, according to Reuters.

Megan K. Stack and Rania Abouzeid have additional reporting in the Los Angeles Times. And Greg Djerejian has a post up on this at Belgravia Dispatch.

posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (89) | Trackbacks (6)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

In honor of the Kyoto Protocol...

As the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect on Wednesday, here's a roundup of environmental links that have caught my eye over the past week:

1) On Monday Antonio Regalado had a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal (the link should work for non-subscribers) about the famous/infamous "hockey stick" graph that showed a dramatic climb in temperatures since the start of the Industrial Revolution:

But is the hockey stick true?

According to a semiretired Toronto minerals consultant, it's not. After spending two years and about $5,000 of his own money trying to double-check the influential graphic, Stephen McIntyre says he has found significant oversights and errors. He claims its lead author, climatologist Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, and colleagues used flawed methods that yield meaningless results.

Dr. Mann vigorously disagrees. On a Web site launched with the help of an environmental group (, he has sought to debunk the debunking, and counter what he calls a campaign by fossil-fuel interests to discredit his work. "It's a battle of truth versus disinformation," he says.

But some other scientists are now paying attention to Mr. McIntyre. Although a scientific outsider, the 57-year-old has forced Dr. Mann to publish a minor correction. Now a critique by Mr. McIntyre and an ally is being published in a respected scientific journal. Some mainstream scientists who harbored doubts about the hockey stick say its comeuppance is overdue.

The clash has grown into an all-out battle involving dueling Web logs (, a powerful senator and a score of other scientists. Mr. McIntyre's new paper is circulating inside energy companies and government agencies. Canada's environment ministry has ordered a review.

Astonishingly, neither weblog mentioned in the piece has posted any correction of substance about the article -- so bravo to Regalado for apparently writing an accurate article on a technical and controversial subject.

2) Over at a new international law blog called Opinio Juris, Julian Ku notes that while the Bush administration is no fan of Kyoto, it is leading the way in reducing methane. He links to this Gregg Easterbrook essay in The New Republic which contains the following:

You'll hear a reprise of outrage that George W. Bush withdrew the United States from Kyoto negotiations. Here's something you probably won't hear about: the multilateral greenhouse-gas reduction agreement George W. Bush approved a year ago. The world's first international anti-global-warming agreement to take force is not the Kyoto treaty. It is a Bush Administration initiative, and you have not heard a peep regarding the initiative because the American press corps is pretending it does not exist....

[R]eporters who write reams about carbon dioxide rarely mention methane, and some environmentalists become actively upset when the potential for methane reduction is raised. Why? Because the United States is the world's number-one emitter of carbon dioxide. (At least for the moment; if current trends hold, China will pass us.) Keeping the focus on carbon dioxide is the blame-America-first strategy. The European Union, on the other hand, is a leading emitter of methane, given the natural-gas energy economies of many Western European nations. Talk about methane reduction makes Europe uneasy. In the regnant global warming narrative, the United States is always bad and the European Union is always good. Raising the methane issue complicates that narrative.

[Easterbrook? Easterbrook? Is he a reliable source on enviro-stuff?--ed. There have been some problems in the past, yes. However, I'm taking Kevin Drum's lack of criticism (he's usually all over Easterbrook's environmental posts like Paris Hilton on the cover of a magazine) to be a good sign.]

Ku graciously points out that I blogged about the "Methane to Markets" initiative back in July of last year.

3) John Quiggin has been all over the question of whether Bjorn Lomborg stacked the deck of the Copenhaen Consensus to ensure that global warming would be ranked at the bottom of the world's problems. Alex Tabarrok disputes this, pointing out that Lomborg picked an ardent advocate of the Kyoto Protocol. However, as I read this, Tabarrok's point is consistent with Quiggin's: Lomborg picked someone knowing they would make a radical argument, this ensuring his panelists would reject it.

For relevant environmental posrs about global warming from the archives of, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

"Confessions of a scholar-blogger"

That's the title of a short essay I wrote for the University of Chicago Magazine, the U of C's alumni magazine. Here's the opening and closing paragraphs:

Since becoming an assistant professor, I have authored one book, edited another, and published a respectable quantity of scholarly articles. And yet I can say with a fair degree of certainty that if you added up the number of people who have read any and all of these works, it would probably be less than the number of hits I receive daily on my Web log—an online journal I’ve kept for the last two-and-a-half years. That fact simultaneously exhilarates and appalls me....

Will I still be blogging in five years? I honestly don’t know, but my suspicion is that if I do, there will be plenty of sabbaticals thrown in. One undeniable effect of having a successful blog is the inculcation of a sense of duty to keep up regular posts. Even the thought of blogging on a regular basis for half a decade exhausts me. However, the thought of not blogging about the interesting ideas or information that comes my way bothers me even more.

Thanks to Mary Ruth Yoe for her crisp editing -- and thanks to Jacob Levy for coining the term "scholar-blogger" in the first place.

You should check out the rest of the magazine's contents -- as I've noted in the past, it's consistently interesting and informative. For example, check out Sharla Stewart's article on Richard Thaler and the rise of behavioral economics. Stewart has a good track record in writing about the social sciences -- her essay on the "perestroika" movement two years ago remains the single-best thing I've read on the subject.

And be sure to check out UChiblogo -- the magazine's weblog. This post recaps Francis Fukuyama's lecture from last week looking back on "The End of History?"

posted by Dan at 12:56 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

Handicapping the race for the WTO leadership

Because the hard-working staff here at has been focused on who the next World Bank president will be, we've ben remiss in discussing who will become the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

Fortunately, Michael C. Boyer, James G. Forsyth, and Jai Singh have an article in Foreign Policy that picks up the slack and handicaps the race. It's worth checking out.

One of the more intriguing elements of the jockeying for position is that one of the candidates -- Mauritian Foreign Minister Jaya Krishna Cuttaree -- has set up his own web site devoted entirely to his candidacy for the WTO position. No blog yet -- but give him time.

Finally, on the general topic of the cockeyed process of selecting people for leadership posts at various international economic organizations, do yourself a favor and go buy a copy of Miles Kahler's Leadership Selection in the Major Multilaterals.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 14, 2005

You try democratizing Belarus!

Peter Savodnik has a Slate essay comparing and contrasting US and EU efforts to promote a viable democratic opposition in Belarus. For the past decade, Alexander Lukashenko has pretty much ruled the country according to his own increasingly erratic whim. The Americans, the Europeans, and a fair number of Belarusians would love to see his back. However, as Savodnik recounts, there is a transatlantic split on how to promote democracy in Minsk:

As things stand now, the only money the European Union spends on Belarus is money that has been approved by the Lukashenko regime. These so-called Tacis (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States) funds, first appropriated in 1991, aim to foster democratic reform and economic modernization from within—that is, by working in tandem with government officials.

The problem, as anyone at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (or the U.S. National Security Council or, in a rare unguarded moment, the European Union) will point out, is that Lukashenko has no interest in working with the European Union. Why should he? As the Belarusian well understands, engaging with the West means becoming more Western. And that is exactly what he opposes. Sure, he's happy to get help cleaning up the Chernobyl zone or to send a few engineering students to France for the summer. But anything vaguely threatening (read: liberalizing) is verboten.

This is why, a few years back, Lukashenko expelled the U.S.-taxpayer-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute from Minsk. Why? Because unlike the more humanitarian-minded Europeans, these groups foster real reform—you might call it revolution in slow motion—by building democratic parties, running polls for the opposition, and helping identify future leaders (as in the case of Ukraine's Viktor Yuschenko). Now NDI's Belarus desk is in Kiev, and IRI's is in Vilnius, where Belarusian reformers go when they need a conference room free of listening devices. European officials say this is evidence the American model doesn't work; Americans counter this proves they're doing something right.

While the European Union has spent plenty of money in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union—developing "civil society" and organizing educational trips, among other things, according to the EU Web site—it's unlikely that a single euro has been spent directly on the democratic opposition.

Savodnik makes it clear that he wants the EU to change its strategy -- but to be honest, I'm not sure what would be a better strategy. If the EU were to pursue a more "American" approach with its aid, Lukashenko would doubtless boot them out of the country as well. I'm no real fan of the EU's current strategy, but it's far from clear that there's a better alternative.

There are, alas, all too many foreign policy dilemmas like this one -- when all the policy options stink to high heaven.

Perhaps I've become too cyncical, however -- readers are encouraged to devise a better policy to promote democracy in Belarus.

posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

Iraq's election results

Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck provide a summary of Iraq's election returns in the Washington Post. The highlights:

A coalition dominated by Shiite Islamic parties and tacitly backed by the country's most influential religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, won the most votes in results released Sunday from Iraq's landmark elections, but fell short of a symbolically important majority that many of its leaders had projected.

The results, expected last week but delayed because of allegations of vote-tampering, were the culmination of Iraq's Jan. 30 vote for a 275-member parliament, the country's first democratic ballot in more than a half-century and one of the freest in the Arab world. The results represented one of the most sweeping statements of Iraq's shifting political terrain, as the country's long-repressed communities are set to assume power in the National Assembly, which will have to confront a durable, Sunni Arab-led insurgency, persistent power cuts, widespread joblessness and the task of drafting a constitution, among other challenges....

According to the returns, which are considered preliminary until they are certified in three days, the largely Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance won 48.2 percent of the vote, the low end of what its officials had predicted. A coalition of two major Kurdish parties won a surprising 25.7 percent of the vote, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi got 13.8 percent. Together, the three coalitions accounted for nearly 88 percent of the vote, making them the dominant players in a new parliament, which will choose a largely ceremonial president and two deputy presidents. They, in turn, will appoint a powerful prime minister, who will choose a cabinet....

As expected, Sunni Arab-led parties won just a fraction of the vote. The Association of Muslim Scholars and other influential Sunni groups had declared a boycott of the election, deeming it illegitimate as long as U.S. troops occupied Iraq, and many in Sunni-dominated provinces said they stayed home because of pervasive threats against candidates and voters.

A party led by Iraq's interim president, Ghazi Yawar, won less than 2 percent of the vote, although that was enough to assure his list a handful of seats. A prominent Sunni politician, Adnan Pachachi, did not win a seat, and it remained unclear whether other well-known Sunni figures, such as Mishan Jubouri, had sufficient votes to win a seat.

"The Association of Muslim Scholars is responsible for the catastrophic results," Jubouri said.

The election commission said 8.55 million votes were cast; about 14.66 million people were registered to take part in the election. The 58 percent turnout fell short of the 60 percent that officials had predicted soon after the vote.

Jeff Weintraub, analyzing the results, suggests that "On first impression, the latest news about the Iraqi election returns has confirmed my most optimistic hopes." Juan Cole, looking at the same numbers, concludes, "[current Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi's defeat... is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media."

UPDATE: Robin Wright has an odd news analysis piece in the Washington Post today. It's odd becuse the headline reads, "Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision" -- and the piece consists of expert quotes (including Cole) making this point. However, in the 16th paragraph there's this casual admission that, "U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate." I'll have more to say about the question of Iran's influence in Iraq sometime this week.

Meanwhile, Weintraub e-mails the following:

[W]hat [Cole] says in this particular quotation is not incompatible with what I said. Holding the elections now was not the preferred outcome for the Bush administration, and the results of the election are probably not their preferred outcome, either. But as one Iraqi put it (addressing people whose positions on Iraq are simply a function of whether they like or hate the Bush administration): "It's not all about you."

Also, the fact that some people in the US government would have preferred to see a victory for the Allawi list--which is plausible--doesn't necessarily mean that, in objective terms, this would actually have been the best outcome for long-term US interests in Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It's intriguing to compare the New York Times news analysis by Dexter Filkins with Wright's analysis in the Washington Post. Filkins' analysis differs from Wright's in two ways: a) no expert quotes from American sources (though plenty of quotes from Iraqis); and b) a more optimistic piece. The highlights:

The razor-thin margin apparently captured by the Shiite alliance here in election results announced Sunday seems almost certain to enshrine a weak government that will be unable to push through sweeping changes, like granting Islam a central role in the new Iraqi state.

The verdict handed down by Iraqi voters in the Jan. 30 election appeared to be a divided one, with the Shiite political alliance, backed by the clerical leadership in Najaf, opposed in nearly equal measure by an array of mostly secular minority parties.

According to Iraqi leaders here, the fractured mandate almost certainly heralds a long round of negotiating, in which the Shiite alliance will have to strike deals with parties run by the Kurds and others, most of which are secular and broadly opposed to an enhanced role for Islam or an overbearing Shiite government....

[S]ome Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a "national unity government," containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus.

One senior Iraqi official, a non-Shiite who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the slim majority won by the Shiite alliance signaled even greater obstacles for the Shiite parties in the future. If the Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the election, decide to take part in the future, they would almost certainly dilute the Shiite alliance's already thin margin.

"This is the height of the Shiite vote," the Iraqi official said. "The next election assumes Sunni participation, and you will see an entirely different dynamic then."

See this James Joyner post for more.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (6)