Tag: International News

Will Turkey’s referendum mark the end of democracy and the birth of ‘Erdoğanistan’?

Turkey is approaching a critical juncture in its long-term political development. Irrespective of the outcome, the country’s April 16 referendum, which proposes changing the constitution to concentrate power in the hands of the president, heralds a new political era.

Many signs seem to point to a narrow victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his attempt to establish an executive presidency a la Turca, but the result is not a foregone conclusion.

Should Erdoğan’s suggested reforms be rejected, Turkey’s near future would be defined by its president’s next move. Without a formal shift in constitutional structure, Erdoğan could resort to nefarious means to consolidate his grip on power. Alternatively, given his long-standing ambition to establish what we call a “constitutional Erdoğanistan”, he might simply pause briefly before attempting a second bite at the cherry.

Turkey on the brink

Turkey has a strong parliamentary system with a prime minister as its head. The referendum proposes to abolish the role of prime minister and replace it with an executive presidency. A major shift like this is something that has only happened a handful of times since the republic was founded in 1923 according to a renowned historian of Turkey, Erik J. Zürcher.

The country’s political system has already undergone significant economic, social, and political changes since the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym AKP) came to power in 2002. The AKP was an eager champion of legal reforms relating to Turkey’s EU candidacy and accession starting in 2004. And in September 2010, it successfully shepherded changes aimed at bringing the constitution into compliance with EU standards.

Still, were the Turkish people to vote “yes” on April 16, the changes would be fundamental and irreversible. The referendum proposes 18 amendments that will abolish nearly 70 years of multiparty parliamentary government, moving Turkey away from the core norms of a pluralist, parliamentary state of law by reducing the separation of powers and the checks and balances system, among other changes.

Erdoğan’s aim is to transform the country into a majoritarian authoritarian system centered on one man. What Turks are risking is nothing less than “democide” – the scholarly term for voting to abolish democracy itself.

A critical juncture

Since the birth of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Turkey’s parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, has been the place where national sovereignty resides.

In the early republican period, it was dominated by the party of modern Turkey’s revered founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938). Since the transition from single-party rule to a multiparty democracy in 1946, the parliament has been the crucial institution in the political life of the country.

President Atatürk leaving the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 1930.
Dsmurat./Wikimedia

Elected lawmakers have long shared power with strong guardians of institutions such as the military, the judiciary, and Turkey’s government bureaucracy – all Kemalist-dominated – in a kind of hybrid political system not unlike that of contemporary Iran, Thailand, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The parliament has also served as the site where governments have been formed, thrown out of office and restricted.

As the scholar of Turkish constitutional development Ergün Özbudun notes, “even at the height of Atatürk’s prestige, the Assembly rejected a proposal to give the President of the Republic the power to dissolve the Assembly”.

Under Erdoğan, the AKP has worked through the parliament to legitimize its rule. By 2010, it had vanquished the last Kemalist bastions within the state thanks to successive landslide electoral victories and a now-defunct strategic alliance with the Gülenists (members of a Muslim-organised educational community who follow the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen).

Since then, Turkey has been a weak electoral democracy, with the power of the National Assembly slowly eroding. A “yes” victory in the April 16 referendum could permanently diminish the authority of this venerable institution.

An unbalanced campaign

The authoritarian style Erdoğan has in mind for the future was already on display during the referendum campaign itself.

Erdoğan’s tone has been aggressively nationalistic and populist. He compared European countries’ criticism of the campaign with the attempts of the Allies to dismember Turkey at the end of the first world war, for instance. And he promised to reinstate the death penalty after the referendum.

In the first ten days of March, the government allocated television airtime to various parties to promote their positions on the referendum. The president saw 53.5 hours in newscasts, and the governing AKP was granted 83.

Meanwhile, the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), the main opposition, which draws its support primarily from Turkey’s secular and Alevi minorities, was allocated 17 hours, while the less influential Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi) enjoyed just 14.5 hours. The Peoples’ Democratic Party, (Halkların Demokratik Partisi), a pro-minority party that is advocating a “no” vote, saw only 33 minutes of news coverage.

A March 2017 report from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirms that state officials have leaned heavily on the scales to support the “yes” campaign. By occupying the bully pulpit of the presidency, with all the resources of the government along with privileged access to media at its disposal, the “yes” group has had an overwhelming campaign advantage.

A ‘yes’ vote means more Erdoğan

If Erdoğan prevails in the April 16 referendum, the plan is to hold presidential and general elections together in 2019. Were he to win these, Erdoğan would be eligible to serve two additional five-year terms, allowing him to stay in office until 2029. His previous terms in office (2003-2014) would not count toward the two-term limit.

As president, by current law, Erdoğan had to resign from his party and officially assume a politically neutral stance.

But under the new rules, he could rejoin the AKP, which, according to opposition parties, will abolish any chance of impartiality. The proposed amendments also make it harder to remove the president from office.

The proposed changes will grant the president wide-ranging powers to issue binding decrees with the force of law. And even though these will be subject to judicial review, the president himself will appoint most of the judiciary.

With his new presidential powers, Erdoğan would also be enabled to indefinitely extend the current state of emergency that was put into effect following the failed July 2016 coup against him.

A ‘no’ vote

Despite the uneven playing field, surveys show that the referendum race is tight, and Erdoğan could be defeated.

Currently, both the opposition Republican People’s Party and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party are advocating a “no” vote in the referendum. DİSK, a left-wing trade union body, and numerous other NGOs and civil society groups have also come out against the proposed changes.

A narrow loss on April 16 would be a blow to Erdoğan, but it is unlikely to kill his ambition. He is expected to simply regroup and try again, including by renewing the state of emergency that gives him wide-ranging authority to continue bypassing parliament. Such a move would allow for continued purges of those deemed in opposition to the government, including Kurdish groups and Gülenists.

This is Erdoğan’s modus operandi: to foment and instrumentalise social crises to centralize power. After the 2013 Gezi park protests against urban development in Istanbul developed into a wider movement against the regime, for example, the government severely clamped down on individual rights, including media freedom. Erdoğan claimed that Gezi protesters and their supporters were a threat to the national will.

The president used a similar argument to banish the Gülen movement, deemed a terrorist organisation since May 2016.

Thus, rather than stabilize the situation, a “no” vote is likely to induce further volatility in Turkey. Erdoğan can be expected to quickly introduce a new package of “constitutional reforms” – a move that would require either a national crisis or a new “enemy of the Turkish people” as a pretext.

Rhetorical attacks on Europe are likely to intensify. Earlier this year, charges of Nazism leveled against Germany, and criticism of interference in campaign rallies by Austria and the Netherlands, were widely cheered in Turkey, giving Erdoğan every incentive to double down on the EU animosity if he loses his referendum.

In a sense, no matter who prevails on April 16, Erdoğan may remain undefeated.

Simon P. Watmough, Postdoctoral research associate, European University Institute and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, Research Assistant, Université de Strasbourg

Photo Credit: Kremlin.ru

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As the European Union celebrates 60 years, can Asia use it as a model for economic integration?

On 25 March 2017, the European Union’s heads of state and government will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European project. The date marks the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which established the foundations of European Community that preceded the EU.

While the EU is a unique experiment in integration in many ways, the world abounds in other kinds of regional trade agreements; the World Trade Organization records more than 635. Still, as the most advanced form of market integration in the world, the EU provides a good model for other regions, including Asia.

Why the EU is a good model

Market integration is one of the tools that helped take Europe out of the ashes of the world wars and supported its transition out of the Cold War into peace. It provided a historically fragmented, war-torn, extremely diverse continent with a period of geopolitical stability, and thus brought wealth and prosperity.

Despite Britain’s impending exit from the group, the EU remains the most advanced and successful model for peace through economics in Europe’s history. The bloc continues to attract neighboring countries, having expanded from the original group of six to the current 28, with a combined population of more than 500 million and GDP of more than €14 billion. These countries work together across a single market and carefully selected common policy areas.

The EU’s market integration began with the free circulation of goods, based on the logic that the more states trade with one another and become interdependent, the less they are likely to go to war. It has extended to the free movement of people (stimulating travel, work abroad and cultural exchange), and enhanced economic integration through freer movement of capital and services, the option of joining a common currency, and other joint initiatives and policies.

Later members joined for mainly economic reasons; many others to fill the geopolitical void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its regime transition. Central and Eastern European countries, for instance, were supported in their transition to market economy and democracy by joining the EU and various other international institutions.

All signed up to trade with each other, but also to promote shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, peace, solidarity, strength through diversity and the rule of law. But increasingly negative attitudes towards the EU in some member states, and the EU’s struggle with confidence in its achievements and its future potential is a sign this stability came at the price of dynamic decision-making.

Integration in Asia

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population and to most of the world’s production. These make it one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with huge economic potential.

Just as for the EU and its members, some countries in the region feel a certain frustration with the lack of progress by the World Trade Organization in dealing with the most urgent economic issues. While this may make regional integration à la EU seem desirable, the scope to achieve similar outcomes in Asia is shaky.

National contexts and ideologies in the region differ as much as economic structures, institutional differences, geopolitical, cultural and historic conditions. The motivation in Asia to work towards greater integration is often subject to the economies’ interdependence through trade and production networks within the global value chain, and is often commercially driven.

Nonetheless, Asia has numerous geo-economic groupings that may lead to EU-like integration including the East Asia Free Trade Agreement (EAFTA), the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These already make it the world’s second-most integrated region after the EU.

ASEAN also has a network of additional free trade agreements with neighboring countries, such as those between Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA, China (ACFTA), South Korea (AKFTA), India (AIFTA) and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Japan (AJCEP).

Then there is ASEAN+3 – China, Japan, and South Korea, which has an ambitious Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which aims to expand sectors and topics of interaction by 2025.

Countries in the area are also working towards the establishment of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been rejected by US President Donald Trump.

The scene for further economic integration across Asia is clearly set. The RCEP would be a good start, providing the basis for economic cooperation, poverty alleviation, facilitation of trade in products and services and more.

Hurdles for further integration

But significant hurdles would need to be overcome if this project were to succeed along similar lines to the long-term achievements of the EU.

The first involves the question of will for unity in diversity, an idea that guides the EU. The region’s cultures, political regimes, economic systems and religious beliefs are more disparate than Europe. And we can count on many governments resisting sufficient institutional proximity, which would necessarily result in some diluting of sovereignty, non-interference, and territorial integrity.

The second hurdle entails superpower interests in seeing such integration take place – or not – and in what shape. Asia remains under the influence of fiercely competing superpowers, buffeted by the conflicting interests of China, the United States, and Russia. What are the chances the region can achieve equal partnership rather than extending the predominance of major regional actors; of reaching partnership rather than absorption?

There is no power balance between states in Asia as exists in Europe with Germany and France. These countries share a strong belief in European integration, and social and cultural understanding. What would be the parallel historical, ideological and social drivers in Asia? What or who would hold Asian integration together in times of crisis, something the more consolidated and stable EU is currently struggling with?

If Asia could integrate in its own way – most likely much more loosely than the EU and with fewer joint institutions and policies – then the formidable growth potential of the region could become a great driving force for dealing with the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow. These include national security, migration, competition and the re-emergence of protectionism, automation and unemployment, and aging work forces.

Working together to solve these complex challenges would make them much easier to deal with.

In December 2016, the EU and ASEAN celebrated the 40th anniversary of their relationship. As a summary to their underlying beliefs, they stated that “regional integration (is) the most effective way to foster stability, build prosperity and address global challenges.”

Each needs to promote this in its own setting to succeed.

Gabriele Suder, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Business & Economics/Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne

Photo Credit: Europa.eu

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scotland heads towards a second independence referendum

The seemingly inevitable prospect of a second referendum on independence was finally confirmed in a speech by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland. The Scottish government will begin preparing for a referendum sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, as Brexit negotiations unfold.

A second referendum became likely the moment the result of the EU referendum was confirmed. The devolution settlement that has endured since 1999 was always going to be put under considerable strain when Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

In her speech, Sturgeon was at pains to point to out that, despite attempting to engage and persuade, the UK government had more or less dismissed her appeals for Scotland to be allowed to stay in the European single market after Brexit. Such a prospect was never likely anyway, but the incorrigible nature of the UK government’s position on the matter has, according to Sturgeon, left the Scottish government with no choice.

From the point of view of the Scottish government, a referendum on independence should now be held towards the end of the Brexit negotiations. That would, it is suggested, give the people of Scotland the chance to weigh up their options with the maximum amount of information available before the UK actually leaves the EU.

Sturgeon said she will ask the UK government to push a section 30 order, which would hand Scotland the right to hold a referendum. There is clear precedent for this: the 2012 Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, which set out the broad terms of the 2014 referendum, preceded the official approval of the section 30 order in February 2013.

There is nothing to suggest that the technical process of holding a second referendum will be any different this time around. Politically, there may well be some stumbling blocks – though it would be counterproductive for the UK government to block a referendum entirely.

The UK government was accused last time of giving the Scottish administration carte blanche to decide when the referendum would be held and set the question on the ballot. That said, wise counsel would suggest too much interference in the second referendum could simply boost support for independence.

Is everyone ready?

When it comes to campaigning, the pro-independence movement is in a far healthier position than its opponent. Some elements have never ceased activity. Groups such as Common Weal and Women for Independence are still very active campaign organizations. The new media scene has also grown since 2014, with outlets such as CommonSpace now playing a key role in Scotland’s media landscape. It won’t take long for the pro-independence movement to return to full capacity again.

The pro-UK side, however, is in a different situation. Scottish Labour was badly tarnished by its role in Better Together, the campaign that was on the winning side in 2014. Since then, Scottish Labour has been absolutely decimated as a political force in Scotland and its poll ratings ahead of local elections in May are abysmal. Better Together Mk.II has some serious thinking to do about how to organize and who to select as its figurehead.

The polls have shown a slight increase towards Yes since the last referendum. However, the latest poll of polls still puts No in the lead with about 52%. That’s well within the margin of statistical error, so for all intents and purposes, the current state of play is neck-and-neck. This is very encouraging for the pro-independence movement since it started from a much lower base last time around. However, it remains to be seen if it can persuade enough women and older voters to back independence – two groups that voted No in 2014.

What’s changed?

The Brexit vote has transformed the independence debate in a number of ways. Whereas staying part of the UK was framed as the safe, stable choice last time around, the same can no longer be said with any real conviction. The decision to leave the EU has triggered all kinds of uncertainties and unknowns.

On the other hand, there are still serious questions around the fiscal and economic case for independence. The drop in the price of oil and the subsequent collapse in revenues to an estimated £60m as a result has left Scotland with a very high estimated fiscal deficit, were it independent today, of over 10%, compared to the UK’s fiscal deficit of 4%. The Scottish economy has also been significantly lagging behind the UK economy for quite some time. Any vote for independence would require serious and stark choices to be made on public expenditure in Scotland.

What’s more, the Scottish government will have to make plans for the future of its currency in the event of independence. Assuming it wants to remain a member of the EU, Scotland will have to sign up to the EU’s exchange rate mechanism in anticipation of the adoption of the euro. In the meantime, it would probably have to adopt its own currency and set up its own central bank. That process is perfectly possible but would probably have significant implications for the country’s credit rating when borrowing funds on international markets.

What to expect now

Last time, there was an official campaign period in the run up to the referendum. In reality, however, the campaign started a couple of years before that. Whatever your constitutional preferences, Scotland is back in campaign mode and the referendum to come will unquestionably dominate public life once again.

Meanwhile, the Brexit process will occur simultaneously. The future is therefore extremely uncertain, although once the Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the EU get properly underway there may be greater clarity as to what sort of impact that is having on opinion in Scotland.

Craig McAngus, Lecturer in Politics, University of Aberdeen

Photo Credit: Lukasz Stefanski

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will Dutch immigrant voters fight back at the ballot box?

The recent dispute between Turkish President Recip Tayepp Erdoğan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, concerning Rutte’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign abroad, has only made life worse for Turks in the Netherlands.

People from a Turkish background in the Netherlands are being forced to take a side in an unpalatable diplomatic dispute in which they have nothing to win and everything to lose. Erdoğan uses them to strengthen his position ahead of a referendum to increase his own powers, and Dutch politicians use them to show voters how tough they are on immigrants refusing to integrate.

The person who benefits, of course, is Geert Wilders: the most famous man in Dutch politics right now.

Wilders has had an enormous influence on the Dutch political debate. His harsh anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric has completely transformed the Dutch integration debate. Because of Wilders, all mainstream parties have shifted to the right on immigration, Islam and integration.

This means that Dutch voters with an immigrant background, especially Muslims, are increasingly less represented by secular progressive parties, such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, which have traditionally received the most support from immigrant voters.

An open system for minority representation

Almost 20% of the Dutch population is from a first-generation or second-generation immigrant background; around 12%, or two million people, have a “non-Western” background. This group is the main target of Wilders and his Freedom Party.

The Dutch political system of proportionality generally favors the representation of minorities in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. Elections in the Netherlands use a party list system with pure proportionality, very low thresholds, and the ability to cast preferential votes.

Party lists compete in elections. The order of candidates is decided upon by each party, though voters can select a listed candidate who will independently earn a seat upon getting enough votes. Parties only need about 60,000 votes (in a country of almost 17 million) to win one of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.

As a result of this open political system, the percentage of politicians with an immigrant background in the Dutch parliament is among the highest in Europe.

The birth of DENK

As mainstream parties moved further to the right in order to defend themselves against Wilders, these politicians and their constituencies have become increasingly frustrated.

Two politicians of Turkish descent, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who have strong ties to the conservative religious part of the Turkish-Dutch community, left the Social Democratic Party after intense internal fights about the extent to which Turkish religious organizations are an obstacle for integration and should be monitored and perhaps even forbidden. Kuzu and Öztürk started their own party, DENK, meaning “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish.

Our research shows support for secular progressive parties among immigrant communities has decreased rapidly, and their trust and interest in Dutch politics has further decreased, affecting participation rates significantly.

Studies of young people from an immigrant background illustrate that an ever-increasing proportion of this group does not identify with Dutch society or politics any more, feels frustrated and stigmatized and believes that their interests are not represented by the mainstream political parties.

DENK is projected to win two seats in parliament. Considering that the conservative Turkish-Dutch community is relatively large, well-organized and politically active, this does not seem unreasonable.

But whether this will signal a process of emancipation of voters with an immigrant background, and whether DENK will be able to represent their interest successfully, remains an open question.

Although the main message of the DENK party program is “connection”, their campaign strategy so far is to aggressively attack political rivals (especially if these rivals have an immigrant background themselves), along with the media and Wilders’s supporters.

In the short term, this tactic may fulfill their constituents’ need to voice anger and frustration. But in the long term it will further fuel polarization and possibly segregation, two things that are certainly not in the interest of this group.

The future of Dutch integration

Voters with an immigrant background both need to believe that it still matters to fight for something and to receive some commitment from and connection to their country of settlement, our studies illustrate.

Current political debates tend to focus whether immigrants are assimilating to Dutch culture. This approach portrays a connection with migrants’ origin country as a problem, leaving no room for dual identification. It will only lead to further polarization and segregation rather than create a political discourse that allows everyone to participate.

Who will take the first step to build bridges between the Netherlands’ different groups and constituencies? The longer we wait, the more difficult it will get.

Floris Vermeulen, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam and Maria Kranendonk, Phd Candidate, University of Amsterdam

Photo Credit: Xinhuanet.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons from Samsung and South Korea in cracking down on corruption

South Korea’s scandal-plagued president, Park Geun-hye has been forced from office. Park was impeached by the country’s constitutional court over accusations that she helped a friend win bribes from Samsung and other South Korean conglomerates. The Conversation

The impeachment follows swiftly on from the arrest of Lee Jae-yong, the de-facto head of Samsung, the country’s biggest conglomerate. He is on trial for a string of corruption charges, including bribery and embezzlement, linked to Park’s impeachment. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors allege that Lee donated 41 billion won (US$36m) to non-profit organizations linked to Park’s close friend and advisor, Choi Soon-sil, to secure government support for a merger that would help him to the top of the Samsung group.

Choi, meanwhile, is in detention, accused of using her personal ties with the president to meddle in state affairs and encourage local firms to also donate millions of dollars to non-profit foundations under her control.

All parties deny having done anything wrong. But for a country that ranked the 37th least corrupt out of 167 nations in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015, this is a major blow. And South Koreans are up in arms – hundreds of thousands have protested over the reports of corruption and called for Park’s impeachment.

The mechanics of corruption

Extensive conflicts of interests, intricate webs of connections and widespread clientelism – where goods or services are exchanged for political support – are the distinctive features of corruption. And they are all too common in the political world across the globe.

In the absence of proper regulations and corporate governance measures, intimate relationships between economics and politics can lead to corruption. The mechanics is simple and intuitively understandable: through the exchange of favors between business and government, the former can distort political outcomes as a result of the undue influence of their vast wealth.

Besides the devastating effects that corruption may produce on the poor and the economic growth, the distortion of political outcomes may also exert a series of adverse effects on daily business practice. The advantages that a company may gain from a corrupt political system can harm competition. Not only is it bad for competitors, it tends to harm consumers too, as lack of competition typically drives up prices.

Culture change

To counter a distorted relationship between business and government, it is not enough to wait until criminal prosecutions are possible. Not least because there is a whole grey area in which businesses can legitimately influence politics – through lobbying.

Instead, we need to change the way in which companies operate and enhance a culture of anti-corruption. For instance, it could be possible to impose on corporations a transparency rule where they must publicly declare if they or their lobbyists, directly or indirectly, have on the payroll former politicians or public officials’ close relatives.

The way that corporations are structured is also an important factor in how open they to corruption. Most companies are organized according to a military model, which is incredibly hierarchical. They adopt a logic of control, which encourages loyalty and obedience to superiors and the company as a whole, but dissuades individualism. These kinds of tyrannical structures foster a culture that passively accepts misconduct.

A recent example of this is Rolls Royce, which recently paid £671m to settle bribery claims that dogged the company for years. An investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office into the company revealed that it had an extremely hierarchical and disciplined structure, which ensured high levels of internal confidentiality and facilitated corrupt practices for several years.

If this is true, the particular corporate structure of Samsung could well have played a role in the present scandal. Samsung is a business conglomerate characterized by the concentration of economic power. In fact, in South Korean culture it is called a chaebol, which means dynasty.

Chaebols have been central to the success of South Korea’s development and economy today. Each one is controlled by a founding family that, although typically holds only a small portion of the total equity, exerts an unchallenged power within the group. The chairmen are absolute rulers and key managerial posts are almost always given to their relatives. It is this kind of culture of unswerving loyalty that research indicates makes it easy for a company’s top management to be enmeshed in corrupt practices.

If we want really to fight corruption in the business world we must also have the courage to transform the internal structure of big companies. Their efficiency must be safeguarded, but the individualism and accountability of employees must be enhanced at the same time.

Costantino Grasso, Lecturer in Business Management and Law, University of East London

Photo Credit: Sagase48

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How South Sudan’s warlords triggered extreme hunger in a land of plenty

A man-made famine? That question has been on the lips a lot in recent days after it was declared in South Sudan. The last time this happened in Africa, or anywhere, was in Somalia in 2011. The Conversation

The classification of a famine as man-made is applied to severe hunger arising from a set of foreseeable, and therefore avoidable, circumstances. According to criteria set down by the United Nations a famine is declared in an area when at least 20% of households are viewed as being exposed to extreme food shortages, 30% are malnourished and deaths from hunger has reached two persons a day for every 10,000.

Famines can result from natural or man-made causes. Natural causes include droughts, plant disease, insect plagues, floods and earthquakes. A prolonged drought is behind the recent warning of potential famine in Somalia by the World Food Program.

The human causes of famine include extreme poverty, war, deliberate crop destruction and the inefficient distribution of food. South Sudan’s predicament falls square under this category. There have been no major droughts, flooding or other natural catastrophe reported. Instead a three year conflict that has engulfed the country, combined with high food prices, economic disruption and low agricultural production has resulted in UN and the government of South Sudan declaring a famine in the country.

According to the head of the World Food Program, the avoidable conflict between the main political protagonists is solely to blame. Years of conflict have created a situation in which many women, children and the elderly are suffering needlessly and have no access to food or water.

High food prices, economic disruption and low agricultural production have resulted in the large areas becoming “food insecure”. The situation could not have come at a more difficult time. Years of conflict have crippled the economy and hammered the value of its currency. Severe inflation has seen the value of its currency plummet 800% in the past year alone. This has made food unaffordable for many families.

Despite the deteriorating situation the government of South Sudan has been using its limited resources to buy weapons, increase the number of states, pay military wages and wage war on civilians.

Conflict sows seeds of hunger

Significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years. But the impact of conflict on food production and citizens ability to feed themselves is often underestimated. This was highlighted in a study that found that

“civil wars and conflicts are detrimental to food security, but the negative effects are more severe for countries unable to make available for their citizens the minimum dietary energy requirement under which a country is qualified for food aid”

This is true of South Sudan, which can feed itself in peace time. Just six months ago, many parts of the country were bustling with agricultural activity, producing enough food for the local populations.

The medium sized town of Yei is a good example. Locals report an inability to cultivate their land since the recent escalation of fighting. A town once seen as a place where coffee bean production was on the rise is now a place where farmers no longer venture out.

It’s also likely that Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia, could declare a famine in the next few months. It’s no coincidence that those countries are also embroiled in widespread or localized armed conflict.

Deteriorating situation

More than 100,000 people in two counties of Unity state are experiencing famine. This number could rise as an additional one million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation. Central Equatoria state, traditionally South Sudan’s breadbasket, has been hit by ethnically targeted killings that have disrupted agricultural production.

Between 40%-50% of South Sudan’s population are expected to be severely food insecure and at risk of death in the coming months. Over 250,000 children are severely malnourished according to UNICEF and these are number where UNICEF has access to.

Yet the government does not seem to want to address the underlying causes of the famine. In fact it’s unclear what its overall plan is.

It is relocating by air internally displaced people through Juba into Malakal. The Dinka-controlled government’s strategy is not entirely clear. But some of my informants claim that the objective is to rid the capital of rival ethnic groups that could pose a direct threat to the seat of government in Juba.

Adding to this, the new Special Representative for South Sudan has raised concerns over some 20,000 internally displaced people on the West bank of the Nile in the Upper Nile region as a “real problem.” These fleeing civilians are victims of government efforts to consolidate power centrally and push certain ethnic groups who are not aligned to the government away from the center.

Food aid restricted

The UN has repeatedly warned that government forces are blocking the delivery of food aid to affected areas.

South Sudan’s government wouldn’t be the first to have done this. In 2012 the Rohingya in Myanmar who were left to starve amidst sectarian violence with local Buddhist communities. In 2011 it was Sudan starving its people in the Nuba mountain region. More recently in Syria the government was allegedly targeting bakeries, hitting civilians waiting to buy food.

According to the Geneva Convention treaty on non-international armed conflicts a government can legally restrict food access for a short-term period if it is militarily necessary. This is a very narrow exception. It cannot and should not be used to punish civilians for their affiliation to the conflict and it cannot be used on a biased basis. And such restrictions must not result in starvation of the civilians.

Famine and political unrest

The situation in South Sudan is likely to get worse. The ongoing conflict is likely to escalate as the number of smaller armed groups rises on the back of more localized self-militias being set up. In the light of this government military action will escalate.

This new dimension in South Sudan’s conflict increases in the chances of further political turmoil and further narrows the window of peace for the world’s youngest nation.

Andrew Edward Tchie, Conflict Advisor, Ph.D. candidate and Associate Fellow, University of Essex

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Seeking more power, Thailand’s new king is moving the country away from being a constitutional monarchy

Since the death of King Bhumibol on October 13 2016, his son King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun or Rama X has disregarded the provisions of the Thai constitution and its conventions to an extent unprecedented in the modern history of the nation.

First, he declined to accede to the throne immediately at the death of his father, asking for some time to grieve. As a result, Thailand had no king for 47 days.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the military dictator who seized power in a coup in 2014, ruled by decree using article 44 of the 2014 interim constitution granting him all legislative, executive and judicial power.

Vajiralongkorn has also refused to put into effect the new constitution adopted by referendum on August 7 2016. It replaces the 2014 interim constitution granting all powers to the head of the military.

This move might have been welcomed by pro-democracy supporters, who rejected the draft as empowering the army and the constitutional court at the expense of the rights of the Thai people. But the articles the king didn’t like do not, in the words of the prime minister, “involve people’s rights and freedom at all”, rather they are about “His Majesty’s authority”.

The new king has interfered in the constitution-making process to demand changes aimed at expanding his own powers in three key areas.

First, he insisted on reforming the provisions on regency to allow him to spend time abroad without appointing a regent to represent him pro tempore (in his absence). This would allow him to reign from Munich in Germany, where he’s been living for the last couple of years.

The change was approved on January 13 by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly in an unanimous vote.

Second, he asked to end the need for a countersignature on all royal acts. Details are not yet known but this means that the king alone will be able – in specific matters – to sign executive orders and decrees. The move is reminiscent of absolute monarchy, and a ten-member panel has been appointed to make the requested change.

Finally, Vajiralongkorn wants to recover royal crisis powers that the current constitutional draft had transferred away from the king to the constitutional court (article five). The junta-appointed officials who drafted the 2016 constitution to allow this transfer did so because they feared the erratic and improper use of nominal powers granted by the constitution by the new king. These include executive and legislative veto powers and the right to dissolve the legislative assembly.

It is also highly likely that they feared that the use of the crisis powers themselves would lead to further crises. Indeed, crisis powers as defined in article five are indefinite and uncircumscribed; they are founded on customary law, a reasonable interpretation of which is the only limit to the scope of powers granted to “solve a crisis”.

They were exercised rarely and with caution by King Bhumibol during his 70-year reign, allowing the monarch to build his own reputation through major political crises.

In 1973, 1976, and 1992, he put an end to confrontations between protesters and security forces and appointed prime ministers of his choice. But nothing suggested – at the time of the drafting of the 2016 constitution – that the new king would act as carefully as his father had in the past.

For these reasons, the constitutional court was endowed with general powers to manage crises instead of the king. Now the king wants these powers back, most likely through the addition of privy councilors to the crisis committee, so that they can participate in the selection of a “neutral” non-elected prime minister in case the crisis procedure is triggered.

By directly requesting specific articles of the constitution to be removed or modified – or both – and going way beyond his constitutional role, King Rama X shows that the fears that had guided the drafting of the 2016 constitution were well founded.

Royal meddling in the constitution

In Thailand, constitution-drafting has always been a negotiating process involving the king. But this process is hidden behind a facade of consensus, as Thai constitutions are said in their preambles to have been “benevolently granted by the King to the Thai people”.

In 1951, one of the first actions of the young Bhumibol to reassert the role of the monarchy against a rising military was to refuse royal assent to the new constitution and send his “recommendations” to the prime minister on the drafting of a new document. In 1974, he even demanded a revision of the constitution after its promulgation. Both requests were acceded to.

It’s natural that someone who has a legislative or constitutional veto is involved, albeit secretly, in the legislative or constitutional decision-making process. And when it remains secret – as it was under King Bhumipol – the king wears the clothes of “constitutional monarchy”. But Thailand has almost never been a functioning constitutional monarchy as most of its political history is that of military rule.

After the promulgation of the 1997 constitution, the country appeared to have finally become a perfect constitutional monarchy. All acts of the monarch were to be countersigned by the prime minister; legislative veto was never used (or so it seemed); the judiciary showed strong independence; and the army was seemingly under civilian control.

The Thai monarch was then seen as little more powerful than the British queen, mainly due to informal characteristics, such as his personal charisma. The only apparent difference with the British parliamentary monarchy was the existence of a powerful privy council whose access was denied to cabinet members and the prime minister.

But if Rama X’s demand that his royal acts be valid without a countersignature by the prime minister, a minister or the president of parliament is met, the Thai constitutional framework will have nothing left in common with constitutional monarchy or the Westminster model. The new king will be able to reign and govern through his personal privy council.

As Vajiralongkorn transforms the nominal powers granted by the constitution into real powers to be exercised at his own discretion – something article five was precisely designed to avert – a restoration of a hybrid form of monarchical rule is now underway in the Land of Smiles.

The Conversation

Eugénie Mérieau, Lecturer, Sciences Po – USPC

Photo Credit: Thai News Blogspot

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.