Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The saddest days of Peter Van Loan

As a skateboard trick, it’s pretty rudimentary. As a perspective on democracy, though, Peter Van Loan’s 180 is downright sad.

It was seven years ago that the Liberals shut down debate on a budget bill and adjourned for the summer, forcing a forlorn Van Loan to his keyboard where he wrote a piece for his local Innisfil Enterprise entitled “My Saddest Day in the House of Commons So Far.”

“A major reason I became politically active was because many in my family (I’m Estonian) lost their lives, or freedom at the hands of the Soviets or Nazis. I believe our democracy is fragile, and something we must cherish and defend. Thursday, June 23, 2005 was a sad day for democracy in Canada.”

It almost makes you like the guy, until you realise he has mutated into a rancid farce of his former self, toking on the opiates of power too long, and now clouded from within by a shame he can only pray no one else notices.

We notice, Mr. Van Loan. Those saddest days just keep on coming.

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Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Why we back Mubarak

Two reasons: Israel and the UAE.

Harper and Cannon simply can’t fault Binyamin Netanyahu (even that “coalition of losers” that he leads to govern Israel doesn’t perturb our coalition-phobic PM), and when Bibi says he wants a secular strongman in power in Cairo, democracy be damned, well of course we offer no criticism. Our foreign policy principles in overdrive.

There are no surprises there. But Netanyahu isn’t the only one who wants Mubarak in power: every undemocratic Arab strongman in the neighbourhood will fear that they’re next should Mubarak be the second Arab president in a month to be forced from office through popular revolt.

The bosses in Saudi, in Yemen, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Qatar, will be gasping to see a Western leader come out and say “we prefer stability to democracy. We endorse these big bosses first and foremost, and the people should just be more patient.”

And Harper’s their man. It’s a useful way for the PM to try and wipe away the fallout from our bungling of the UAE file, which became a contagion of anti-Canadian sentiment in the corridors of Middle East power. Canada had all the ingredients to fail in our UN Security Council bid already in place, but offending every Middle Eastern power broker through the UAE spat nailed our coffin shut. Perhaps, it must be thought in Ottawa, backing Mubarak against the Egyptian popular will can help to lead some of those strongmen back into our warm embrace.

A shame it does nothing to bolster our credentials as “tireless advocates of democracy” or somesuch.

UPDATE: And, now Mubarak’s resigned! So it’s Harper on the wrong side of history in a big, big way. Invade Iraq, Support Mubarak…. someone’s skipped all his classes on Middle East power politics. He was the only Western leader to actively shrug and dismiss the scale, and even the legitimacy, of the Egyptian protests, hoping that regional strongmen would thank him for it. But it’s The People 1 – Strongmen 0. Nice work, Egyptian peeps. 🙂

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,

Democratic experts in the house!

The House of Lords, that is.

I know, technically it’s an unelected chamber of dough-bellied pseudo-noblemen, prominent party donors, erstwhile celebrities, landowners, retired CEOs, corrupt media barons, and other millionaire chieftains of ill-gotten gains.

I know, yes, it resembles the Canadian Senate, if only the Canadian Senate were swollen four times the size and was packed with hereditary peers as well as legions of power-addled cronies of the political elite. And wearing wigs.

But, they know what democracy is all about. They’ve just defeated the government in the arena of electoral reform, pushing through a new requirement on May’s referendum on the Alternative Vote. Now, any potential “yes” vote will only be binding if 40% of the public take part.

Where did 40% come from? 40 might be a meaningful number in the Bible, but there’s nothing especially elegant or natural about how it relates to elections.

No, what we have here is an arbitrary obstacle thrust up to further discourage the prospect of real democratic reform, proposed in a somewhat cowardly fashion by Lord Rooker, who styles himself as an “Independent Labour” peer. So, this new spanner in the works of democratic reform isn’t officially coming from Labour’s high command – it’s just an independent! A free-spiriting Lord!

Perhaps it’s too much to wish Labour were genuinely enthusiastic and progressive on electoral reform, but at the very least, I wish they could be honest about where they stand, instead of smuggling their secret dedication to first-past-the-post into the debate via a nominally independent, unelected, silly-wigged Lord.

Turnout thresholds may appear to legitimise referendum results, but the appearance is false. Demanding a turnout threshold essentially means counting fictional votes non-cast by the non-voting. Anyone who doesn’t vote in May’s referendum is assumed to be a silent defender of the status quo, and are counted as such. Sure, it’s entirely likely many non-voters are content with the status quo. But, unless they’ve gone to the ballot box to explicitly say so, a democratic system shouldn’t move to assume what they think. As I’ve said before, non-votes are not votes. Nothings are not somethings.

If we had the same 40% turnout threshold on general elections, it would be quite a sight should an election fail to bring 40% of us to the ballot box – not an unlikely occurrence at some point in our lifetimes. Would it mean the election results would be annulled, and we would keep the previous government in place for a further five years? Or, how about 10?

In fact – what’s wrong with forty?

Filed under: Politics, UK, , , , , ,

King George V steps down

We saw it in Nepal. We saw it in Bhutan. And now, ladies and gents, out of the Himalayas and into the Pacific, we’re seeing it in Tonga!

In each country, in just the past three years, monarchs have bowed out, giving way to democratic assemblies. And while the Nepalese experience was a mite bloodier and, partly as a consequence, life isn’t yet peaches and cream under the shadow of Sagarmatha, both the Bhutanese in 2008 and now the Tongans in July 2010 have experienced a largely peaceful transition (though not without the sometimes violent protest, which historians so often lionise) from politics by noble decree to imperfect-yet-hopefully-if-all-goes-to-plan-accountable democracy.

This (courtesy of the Pacific Islands News Association, whose URLs don’t always work) about the Tongan king, George V, who’ll remain a ceremonial monarch in the new constitutional system:

Tonga’s King George Tupou V is preparing to relinquish power as the country gears up for its first democratic elections, ending hundreds of years of feudal rule.

The government has published a new electoral roll and has called on the Pacific nation’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so they can take part in the vote, which is due to be held on 25 November .

For the first time in the island’s history, most MPs will be elected by the people.

The Tongan parliament is stacked with nobles, chiefs and supporters of the royal family, most of whom have been directly appointed by the eccentric monarch.

It will mean the Oxford-educated king, known for his love of travel and playboy lifestyle, will remain head of state but will lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers.

A bachelor, the 62-year-old king is widely believed to be looking forward to stepping out of the limelight so he can concentrate on his hobbies, which include sailing model boats on his swimming pool, dressing up in military uniform and playing computer games.

The king has never married and is often seen travelling around Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, in his London cab, dressed in a Savile Row suit despite the tropical weather.

The election is part of Tonga’s transition from being one of the world’s last remaining sovereign monarchies, where the king almost single-handedly runs the daily business of government, to a constitutional monarchy.

In late 2006, anti-government riots in the capital, Nuku’alofa, left eight people dead and large parts of the town burnt to the ground.

The unrest forced the king’s coronation to be delayed by two years, but even before he was crowned in a lavish ceremony in 2008, he had realised the tide of public opinion had turned against the monarchy and pledged to give up his family’s constitutional right to rule.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti a Sevele, said: “For us, it’s an evolutionary process of democracy.”.

Evolutionary – sometimes the most revolutionary route! Best of luck.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , ,

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