- The Prospects for Democracy in the Asian Century
- Democracy Lab: Thailand needs to talk
- The best Hemingway novels
Posted: 07 Jun 2014 05:41 AM PDT
Speech by Anwar Ibrahim, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House, 10 St James's Square, London on June 5th 2014
And while we're in the numbers game, let us not forget that Asia also has the world's largest non-democracy. The dragon has awakened. It is now the fastest growing, and soon to be the largest economy in the world.
In his poem "The Statues", William Butler Yeats was concerned with more than just calculations and numbers when he wrote about "All Asiatic vague immensities.” He appreciated the importance of the cultural and civilizational aspects of what we call soft power.
For in terms of size, there is still the trinity of the Orient: namely Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. They are quality democracies and they seem established enough to remain so. They have vibrant civil societies, some like Japan's Sasakawa Peace Foundation, actively promoting freedom and democracy across the region. But, as nations, they seem to adopt a policy of political abstinence, eschewing any aspiration of being drivers of democracy for the rest of Asia.
The fact remains that autocratic regimes still litter the geopolitical landscape of Asia. They may be absolute monarchies, or dictatorships from a dynastic line, or autocracies that have monopolised power for years. They may also be so-called emerging economies with veneer of all the trappings of democracy but which, in truth, are mere sham democracies governed by political elites bent on retaining power.
A classic statement on democracy, almost a cliché, is attributed to Winston Churchill which I think is worth repeating. He said: "Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect… Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government – except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Democracy, freedom and justice in the Asian Century
Of power shifts and Soft power
Nevertheless, some say that China is incapacitated from leading even Asia in geopolitical matters because of foundational issues of governance. In spite of a more open market and foreign direct investment growing by leaps and bounds, there should be no mistaking that it remains the world's largest and most powerful autocracy. Well, Vladimir Putin may dispute that but that doesn't change China's track record as far as human rights and other fundamental liberties are concerned. This is quite apart from the border disputes that China is embroiled in that are now serious flashpoints of conflict in the East.
In the context of our discussion today on the Asian Century, this is indeed an intractable problem. As well as economic power, China may also be able to deliver on culture as one aspect of soft power but I doubt that will be enough to cloak China with moral authority.
So what about India? Given its track record in the political arena, India, with its vibrant democracy, seems a more obvious choice. Rule of law, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, free and fair elections. These are all the plus points for India. But India's economic infrastructure is still weak. And just like China, it is very protectionist.
Having said that, a small caveat is in order: in the Western media, when it comes to Asia, it is called "increasing protectionism" but when it's the USA or Europe similar measures are called "economic patriotism". The great Chinese Sage, Confucius or Master Kung, was absolutely spot-on in advocating the rectification of names. The proper designation of things ensures social harmony not just in domestic affairs but in international relations as well.
Still, while Asian countries can look at India respectfully for its economic performance, the greater focus should be on its democratic values and the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness. But as Amartya Sen has pointed out India has a glaring contradiction: the continuing grinding poverty of its masses contrasts sharply with its alleged economic success. After all, it was a poor economy coupled of course with recurrent corruption scandals that propelled the BJP to such a grand victory in the elections. Nevertheless, with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and growing demands for social justice, India's prospects of being emulated by others will be dim until some major progress is made in this area.
Inequities of wealth distribution
It is true that issues about evolution of inequality and wealth concentration in the hands of a few are easier asked than answered. In his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge may not have led to inequalities of the scale warned of by Karl Marx, but the main driver of inequality is unbridled free market economics. This tends to generate returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth. Today, this threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.
The problem of governance
Though there is no correlation between corruption and geography, the scourge of corruption happens to be most rampant in Asia, Latin America and Africa. China and India have been hit by high profile corruption cases and many argue that one of the biggest factors that brought down the Indian National Congress party was corruption.
Southeast Asia, needless to say is riddled with corruption. This is an area Indonesia also must seriously examine. However, unlike its neighbours, Indonesia has taken many strides towards full democracy. Complaints of some localised incidents of vote buying notwithstanding, their elections are by far superior to others in the region in terms of being free and fair. In the last elections, there was no widespread systemic fraud and if challenged in the Constitutional court, unlike her neighbours, there is no question of a judiciary being subservient to the ruling party.
Corruption, however, remains a key issue. Yet, equally, we can see the earnestness and independence of the anti-corruption agency in discharging its duties without fear or favour.
Middle East, Turkey
It is true that recent events appear to have cast a negative light on the state of its democracy. But Turkey is facing exceptional circumstances caused in no small part by elements within the state bent on destabilize what is essentially a viable democracy under a progressive Muslim government.
Egypt, however, tells a different story. In the aftermath of the 3rd July 2013 military coup which toppled the democratically elected government of Morsi and the missteps in Libya and Bahrain, many have cynically dismissed the "Arab Spring" as an "Arab Winter".
Indeed, now that the illegitimate government of Field Marshal al-Sisi is going into overdrive to 'legitimize' itself with the latest sham elections, all eyes are on America and the EU – how will they respond to this phase of what is essentially a protracted military coup. Will America and the EU repeat the errors they made for decades with Mubarak? That is a question begging for answer.
Speaking of military coups, let us not leave out Thailand which has fashionably slouched back to its old habits. In many ways, the people of Thailand are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. But as a firm believer in freedom and democracy, under whatever circumstances, the military has no business to be in government.
Tunisia, on the other hand, has managed to come out of the storm, walking tall as a new nation liberated from decades of virtual dictatorship. But the Arab spring not only brought down oppressive regimes. It shattered the misconceptions about Islam and democracy. The general view was that it would take some time before we could see a convergence of Islam and democracy in the Middle East. There was the history, the cultural conditioning and the prejudices on both sides of the proverbial divide that contributed to this general scepticism.
Turkey and Indonesia had already settled this issue, nevertheless, the Arab states were always seen as the exception. So, the case of Tunisia should put the matter to rest. It has crossed its first major hurdle with the ratification of its new constitution on 27 January 2014 and we await the general elections due by the end of 2014.
Posted: 07 Jun 2014 05:04 AM PDT
The latest military coup in Thailand won’t ensure real stability unless the country’s new rulers address the deeper causes of political conflict.
The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional graveyard: In just over 80 years, it’s gone through 18 failed constitutions in a carousel of military coups and corrupt civilian governments. And, in recent years, the civilians have likewise been fighting among themselves, pitting the so-called Red Shirt movement, strong in the North and rural areas, against the Yellow Shirts of Bangkok and the South, in an increasingly violent conflict that has destabilized the country. Now, as the smoke clears over mid-May’s dramatic coup, Thailand’s new military government has suspended the constitution once again. Though the military has been vague regarding specifics, they will put forth atemporary constitution, which will eventually to be followed by something more permanent: Lucky #19.
With the coup itself now behind us we can still hope that the military government may be able to break the vicious cycle once and for all. To make sure the next government sticks, however, the military will have to make a radical departure from tradition. It must resist the urge to implement a military mindset over the drafting of a new constitution. A top-down approach will be likely to poison the process — and process is everything in constitution writing.
During the decades of constitutional upheaval, Thailand’s civilian political parties remained relatively weak. This changed when billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra arrived on the scene about 15 years ago. Shinawatra and his allies played into the rural sense of exclusion from government, allowing them to win elections time and again — six since 2001. But lacking a deep tradition of democracy, Thaksin’s opponents, including the middle-class, urban Yellow Shirts, have been unwilling to accept the results. In fact, the Yellow Shirts’ refusal to accept the 2013 election victory of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is precisely what sparked the conflict leading to last month’s coup.
Thaksin’s opponents, for their part, are highly influential among Thailand’s strongest institutions — the bureaucracy, the military, the Buddhist sangha, and, of course, the monarchy. These groups exist and function separately from any constitutional government, and tend to be distrustful of electoral democracy. The result has been a series of weak civilian governments, incapable of preserving themselves when the gulf between majoritarian sentiment and elite interest has become too wide.
Thai constitutions have historically been written rather hastily so as to recover a semblance of normalcy in the wake of a military coup or popular uprising. The 1997 constitution made an admirable attempt to break from that trend. The drafing process involved mass participation and created a new set of institutions aimed at ensuring that elected officials did not abuse their power, including a constitutional court and commissions to fight corruption and protect human rights. But by 2006, many within the Thai elite had come to see that system as ineffective, not least because Thaksin’s electoral strength allowed him to wield great influence over these institutions. Following a coup in September 2006, Thaksin fled the country, and the military oversaw the drafting of the 2007 constitution, which watered down some of the perceived excesses of the previous version. They hoped it would serve as happy medium.
One of their revisions, for example, changed the architecture of Thailand’s senate, the gatekeeper to high-level government promotions. Military-dominated constitutions tend to have appointed senates, while democratic ones use popular elections to fill those seats. In an attempt to compromise, the military-backed drafters of the 2007 constitution split the difference, establishing a system in which half the senators would be appointed and half elected. Such “compromises” were defined unilaterally, however, based upon the military’s own notion of a “fair deal,” without having undergone bipartisan dialogue beforehand.
And bipartisan dialogue is exactly Thailand needs to break the vicious cycle. The failure of the 2007 “compromise constitution,” clearly illustrates the futility of any attempt to form a viable system merely by tweaking constitutional text. The polarized factions within the country must come together to create a constitution that will be widely seen as representing the whole country. That way, down the line, no party can say that the constitution was drafted according to an enemy’s design.
Establishing a productive dialogue will not be an easy task. There are no institutions credible and neutral enough to mediate the deep class and regional divides that cause the country’s current political crisis. King Bhumibol has been the supreme arbiter of political conflict for decades, but as his physical power wanes, so too does his ability to step in. The looming monarchical succession also adds a sense of urgency to the current crisis.
The military junta should call together all the major players, including leaders of both the Red and Yellow factions, for a genuine discussion about the principles and institutions that should guide the country going forward. Cases in which the military has successfully played the role of neutral arbiter anywhere are exceedingly rare. That said, the three-month “reconciliation” period recently announced by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha represents good start. (In the photo above, a poster depicts the general as Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.) But it is not yet clear exactly who will be invited to the table, or how the reconciliation will proceed.
For a resolution to be viable in the long term it will require frank dialogue, leading to a bargain that is palatable to both factions. For the discussion to be successful, the negotiators will have to settle on two key issues: 1) how to ensure that both factions respect the democratic process in the future, and 2) how to come to terms as a nation with the political violence of the past few years.
The broad outlines of such a grand bargain are not inconceivable, even now, even if getting both sides to agree may be challenging. It should include a commitment on the part of the reactionary Yellow Shirt partisans to respect electoral results; a constitutional provision prohibiting political amnesties (although the military will almost certainly get a pass); a reconstituted set of accountability institutions; and a strong recommitment to the monarchy. Such a deal would leave Thaksin Shinawatra out of the country, but still allow room for democracy to be respected.
Given the geographic nature of the Red-Yellow divide, Thailand might also benefit from greater decentralization. This would reduce the stakes of controlling the national government, but could also encourage economic development within the poorer regions of the country, ameliorating some of the inequality that has to date fueled the conflict.
And yet, getting to a constitutional agreement will require patience and no small modicum of trust, and trust can be slow in coming. Outside pressures — including U.S. insistence that the country return to constitutional norms so that bi-national relations can resume — might incentivize the military to rush the process. Even under the best of circumstances, establishing rapport between foes can take time, and these are hardly the best of circumstances.
Posted: 07 Jun 2014 05:02 AM PDT
In her new biography, Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, Nancy W. Sindelar introduces the reader to the individuals who played significant roles in Hemingway's development as both a man and as an artist. Sindelar ranks the fiction works of Hemingway.
Ernest Hemingway created memorable characters in his short stories and novels by drawing on real people—parents, friends, and fellow writers, among others. He also drew on real places and events to create settings and engaging plots. Whether revisiting the Italian front in A Farewell to Arms, recounting a Pamplona bull run in The Sun Also Rises, or depicting a Cuban fishing village in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway relied on his personal experiences, friendships and observations for the content of his work.
Since Hemingway's works reflect interests and adventures at different stages of his life, creating a ranking for his fiction is difficult. However, the following ranks his most broadly acclaimed works and comments on their contribution to the Hemingway legacy.
1. The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway's first novel is at the top of my list because it reflects his reliance on his traditional Midwestern values as he encountered new experiences and values in post-World War I Europe. Using friends and acquaintances that populated the cafes along Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris, he reveals his concern about the valueless life of these Lost Generation characters and begins his personal and literary search for meaning in what appears to be a godless world. In the midst of their heavy drinking and meaningless revelry during a fiesta in Spain, Pedro Romero, the matador, becomes a hero. He conducts himself with honor and courage, and it is here we see the beginnings of what will become the Hemingway Code.
The book also tops my list because it reveals Hemingway's courageous attempt to write in a new and different way by portraying the bad and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Though The Sun Also Rises was well received by the critics, it was not well received by Hemingway's acquaintances who saw themselves portrayed as self-indulgent, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous in his unflattering, but honest, characterizations. Nor was it well received by his mother, who said he had produced "one of the filthiest books of the year."
2. A Farewell to Arms - Hemingway's second novel is a high on my list because it is the fictional account of events that changed and informed his world view. When Hemingway left the security of the Midwest and went to Italy looking for adventure as an ambulance driver in World War I, he got more than he had bargained for. The idealistic Midwesterner joined the war to end all wars, ready to display honor and courage, but was blown up in a trench. Then he fell in love, contemplated marriage and was rejected by the woman he loved. His confrontation with death, his subsequent wound, and his first experience with love all became catalysts for developing a code of behavior for facing life's challenges.
A Farewell to Arms was the fictional result of Hemingway's experiences in Italy and initiates what would become one of the most dominant themes in his novels, the confrontation of death. Though Catherine Barkley's character seems dated to contemporary female readers, the book still demonstrates that Hemingway used what he learned in Italy to show that war brings out the best and worst in men and women.
3. The Old Man and the Sea - After the unsuccessful reception to Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel to defend his reputation as a writer. Based on his experiences in Cuba, he created a character of an old fisherman. Alone in a skiff, the old man catches a great marlin, only to have it destroyed by sharks. The old man, who had been a champion arm-wrestler and a successful fisherman, was, like Hemingway, trying for a comeback.
The old man embraces the code for living that Hemingway first developed based on his experiences in World War I—the experiences in which a man confronts an unconquerable element. In fighting the sharks, the old man exhibits courage and grace under pressure, believing "a man can be destroyed, but not defeated."
The reviews and success of the book were nothing less than phenomenal. Appropriately, Hemingway was aboard his boat and out on the Gulf Stream when he heard via the ship's radio that the book had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
4. To Have and Have Not - Hemingway's growing awareness of financial and social strata are reflected in To Have and Have Not. The characters are based on people the now famous author met in Key West—the working class he encountered on the docks and at Sloppy Joe's, the rich who moored their boats in Key West harbor, and the illegal Chinese immigrants who were being smuggled from Cuba to Key West to promote tourism in newly formed Chinatowns.
In this Depression-era novel Hemingway comes close to arguing for social and political changes needed to help the working man. However, Hemingway does not see the New Deal remedies as the solution. As a result, the fate of the novel's main character, Harry Morgan, outlines the limits of personal freedom, self-reliance and the absence of grace under pressure, and the closest Hemingway comes to a solution is for Harry to say, "No matter how a man alone ain't got no f—— chance.”
5. The Nick Adams Stories - This collection of short stories is a favorite because it provides insight into the life of the young Hemingway. As a child Ernest would accompany his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, as he provided pro bono medical services and attended to injured Indians, women in child-birth, and individuals in a variety of life-threatening situations in the Indian camps of northern Michigan. The memory of one of these trips appears in "Indian Camp." Young Nick is with his father on a medical mission to deliver a baby. A Native American woman's been in labor for two days, and Nick observes his father perform a Caesarian with a jackknife sterilized in a basin of boiled water.
Similarly, the reader gains insight into the relationship of Hemingway's parents in "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" and understands Hemingway's feelings of separation from his family and life in Oak Park after returning from World War I in "A Soldier's Home."
6. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Based on his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, this novel contains the classic Hemingway elements—a main character demonstrating grace under pressure and a plot that combines the interest and conflicts associated with love and war. As with his other works, Hemingway uses his friendships and personal experiences. Robert Jordan is modeled after Robert Merriman, an American professor who left his research on collective farming in Russia to become a commander in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was killed during the final assault on Belchite. Maria is based on a young nurse of the same name who was gang raped by Nationalist soldiers early in the war. The novel's three days of conflict takes place near the El Tajo gorge that cuts through the Andalusian town of Rondo, where a political massacre like the one led by Pablo occurred early in the Spanish Civil War.
Though some readers find the details of the battles tedious, it is one of Hemingway's most popular novels. The book was published in October, 1940. By April, 1941 almost 500,000 copies had been sold, and in January, 1942, the movie rights were purchased by Paramount for $100,000.
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