« Previous | Main | Next »

A turbulent week in a turbulent world

Post categories:

Robin Lustig | 10:28 UK time, Friday, 22 June 2012

There's a well-established principle in politics, going all the way back to ancient Greece -- for a just, stable and equitable society, you need to ensure that state power is divided into separate entities: executive, legislature, and judiciary.

The idea is that each entity keeps an eye on the other two, and any abuse of power is kept in check. Judges hold parliaments and presidents to account; parliaments hold governments to account.

In the UK, for example, the Home Office is regularly in trouble with the courts, both domestic and European, over immigration and anti-terrorism laws. Ministers and MPs don't much like it, but the principle is a sound one: even law-makers have to be told when they're breaking the law.

Which brings me to Pakistan, Paraguay, Egypt and Kuwait. They're not countries which could normally be said to have much in common, but over the past week alone, in each one of them we have seen this theory of separation of powers in action.

Pakistan: the supreme court told the prime minister he is not legally allowed to remain in office, since he has been held to be in contempt of court for refusing to reopen investigations into corruption allegations against the president. (Sub-plot: as soon as the ruling party named a prime ministerial replacement, an arrest warrant was issued against the new chap, so now they've had to come up with yet another name.)

Paraguay: later today, the Senate is due to start impeachment proceedings against the president, Fernando Lugo, who is held responsible for the deaths of 17 people when police tried to evict about 150 farmers from an estate owned by a prominent politician. His allies call the impeachment proceedings "an institutional coup".

Egypt: where do we start? The supreme constitutional court has dissolved the recently-elected parliament, on the grounds that a third of the seats were improperly contested; the ruling military council has issued a "constitutional declaration" awarding itself sweeping legislative powers; and the election commission has delayed announcing the results of the presidential election because it's still "examining complaints".

And finally, Kuwait, where the constitutional court has dissolved parliament on the grounds that it was elected unconstitutionally because the decree authorising the election had been drawn up after the resignation of the cabinet.

Oh, all right, perhaps you've got the appetite for just one more: in Washington, the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee has voted to charge the attorney-general, Eric Holder, with contempt of Congress after the Obama administration withheld documents related to a failed gun-running investigation.

Isn't it wonderful, seeing consitutional theory in action in so many different countries -- in each case, one branch of government holding another to account?

Well, perhaps it is, and there again, perhaps it isn't. I'll leave you to judge the merits of each case, but it won't surprise you to learn that everywhere there are allegations of political machinations and hidden plots.

In Paraguay, there are the allegations of an "institutional coup"; in Egypt, they talk of a "soft coup". In Washington, the White House has accused the Republicans on the Congressional committee of "political theatre".

If you're a conspiracy theorist, you may argue that it's hardly a coincidence that in both the Egyptian and Kuwaiti parliaments, Islamists were a growing or dominant force, much to the alarm of the traditional ruling classes.

In Paraguay, you might argue that President Lugo is facing impeachment because his rivals still can't accept his election victory four years ago when he ended more than 60 years of rule by the right-wing Colorado party.

And in Pakistan, you might argue -- as many do -- that the enforced resignation of prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani owes as much to long-standing personal animosity between the chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and President Asif Ali Zardari as it does to consitutional principles.

So what are we left with at the end of this unusually turbulent week, even by recent standards? A world in which presidents and prime ministers are pushed hither and thither, in which "deep states" (hidden power structures, in other words) are accused of seeking to subvert the popular will.

It's a world in which more and more people are given the opportunity to vote for presidents, prime ministers and parliaments, and yet where suspicions remain that somehow the same people remain in power, regardless of who wins the elections.

It doesn't seem ideal by any means, but I don't have any answers. Do you?


  • Comment number 1.

    I thought the bankers were running the show!

    confused git

  • Comment number 2.

    Me, I always thought [Yoda voice]... another, in the mix there was: the 4th estate.

    Kind of refreshing to find out that it is accepted as utterly tribal and in the pockets of and hence only serving one to all of those first three, with the added 'spice' of ratings addiction to enliven the stew. Hence, of questionable value beyond a job creation scheme for non-engineers or scientists when the political stocks are full with PPE, English or law grads.

    Still, all be well as a new solution to all ills is now presented: the apology.

    Simply say you are very, very sorry for being incompetent and complicit, and all will be forgiven. Well, by a large (based on media monopoly) % of said 'estate'.


  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    That Europe (incl.UK) can straighten itself out --and go its usual way of self-destruction -- Germany MUST leave both the EU and the Euro.



    -- The failure of Europe is there for all to see !

  • Comment number 5.

    Division of powers: executive, legislature, & judiciary.
    Pakistan, Paraguay, Egypt & Kuwait - separation of powers in action.
    But sometimes, the separation of powers is used to weaken (or smear) one branch of the three. This latter type of happening usually makes for hurtful, politically-debilitating allegations that may or may not be true.
    If true - all well an good.
    If untrue - there ought to be a counter measure. If an allegation turns out to be untrue, the alleger should be made to afford a public apology for causing wasted time & stress to the victim. This should be before the same forum where allegation originated.
    In addition, if the allegation appears particularly blatant, egregious or malicious, a fine should be imposed by the judiciary.

  • Comment number 6.

    "It's a world in which more and more people are given the opportunity to vote for presidents, prime ministers and parliaments, and yet where suspicions remain that somehow the same people remain in power, regardless of who wins the elections."

    Sir! Sir! I know! It's the European Union!

  • Comment number 7.

    The worldwide corruption of the early 2000's still resonates in many countries. The corrupt bankers, who put all this in motion with their criminal lending, were allowed to do so because of the "elected" governments that failed in every way toward their responsibility toward the people who elected them. As the powerful continue their fight to remain in power and reap the benefits through corruption the people in many lands are fed up. the political are always the last to realize that change in on the horizon. Change takes time and vested interest never give up power willingly. The media talks about the divergent views on the Arab world but look at any Western government and one will find different views as well. A mirror might be more helpful in the West rather than a telescope.

  • Comment number 8.

    Pakistan, Paraguay, Egypt, Kuwait and even the United States - there's more of politics, AND THE MONEY BEHIND POLITICS, than Constitution or division of powers behind actions taken in these countries, perhaps in Britain too. Sometimes, it seems that the powers that be (aka elites) seek out minuscule objections supposedly arising from some breach in process so that the process can be stymied - as occurred in Egypt with the dismissal of the duly-elected Muslim Brotherhood Parliament or in Israel, oh so long ago, with the treatment of the duly, MONITORED election of Hamas.
    When the will of the people because stifled under some Constitutional or Division of Powers "thing", democracy is also stifled.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sometimes difficulties among judiciary, military & executive are preludes to destabilization & eventual war. Take Pakistan: Relations with United States are about as far down as they could go; accordingly, we cannot know how much US' interference is occurring in Pakistan. Pakistan, similar to Egypt, seems to use military to keep politicians in line. Is this the intent of the military?
    Who was the last non-military person to hold power?
    Civilian govts tend to tumble before the end of its constitutional five-year term.
    Why? Because:
    1. civilian govt would likely reduce power of the military
    2. Pakistan's military & civilian bureaucracy are mostly from Punjab Province where the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has loyalty.
    Pakistan seems to have one single aim - to get a civilian govt through the 5-year term. The constant suspicion, charges & counter-charges have blurred many democratic rules & division of powers of judiciary, legislative, and executive branches. God knows the Pakistani Govt ought to be focused not on these divisions but on the needs of the people.
    But I must ask again: How much external influence is interfering in Pakistan's attempts at stabilization & establishing clear division of powers...and is this interference (from the west) intended to keep Pakistan unbalanced & therefore weak?

  • Comment number 10.

    As for Paraguay, Lugo's "real crime" is he chose to ally himself more closely with Paraguay's left (working & poor masses).
    Although Paraguay's elite lost control of presidency when Lugo was elected, they used their hold over the Senate to reverse the gains. This is similar to the situation in Egypt: when the old regime of the wealthy/military elite lost their president/dictator, they used their control of the judiciary to reverse gains of the revolution.
    Is it fair to blame the Obama administration for the recent coup in Paraguay?
    Yes. a tiny elite - has a long-standing relationship with US, which has backed dictatorships for decades in Paraguay. The US promotes the interests of wealthy of these mostly-poor countries; in return, these elite-run countries are obedient to the pro-corporate foreign policy of US. Paraguay's elite is incapable of acting boldly without first consulting US, since neighboring countries are overwhelmingly fearful of a US-backed coup in their own countries. Paraguay's elite has only the military for internal support, which for decades has been funded and trained by the United States. President Lugo did not fully sever the US military links to his country.The US Department of Defense (DOD) provides technical assistance & training to help modernize & professionalize the Paraguay's military... Latin American countries surrounding Paraguay denounced events as they unfolded.
    Obama's response? As Paraguay’s Senate conducted the impeachment trial, the US State Department had said it was watching closely. In fact the US encouraged Paraguayans to act peacefully, in the spirit of Paraguay’s DEMOCRATIC principles.
    Obama acted as he did because Lugo turned left - away from corporate interests. Most importantly , in 2009, President Lugo forbid the building of a planned US military base in Paraguay.
    President Obama's devious actions towards Paraguay reaffirm which side of the wealth divide he stands on: His first coup in Honduras sparked the outrage of the entire hemisphere; this one confirms to Latin Americans that neither Republicans nor Democrats care anything about DEMOCRACY.

  • Comment number 11.

    To add to the turbulence over the weekend was the reported downing of a Turkish fighter jet by the Syrian military on Friday. The Syrian government reported that the fighter plane had violated Syrian airspace when it was shot down and at first Turkey's president Gul admitted that this was possible because it was impossible to completely control the path of fighter jets because of their high speed. He later changed the story to state that the fighter jet was shot down over international waters. To the Syrians credit they have joined in the search for the fighter pilots who are missing probably in the Mediterranean. Tensions have been increasing between the two countries in the past year over Turkey's support for "freedom fighters" in Syria pledging arms and bases for the FSA in Turkey at the April 1 meeting of the "Friends of Syria" in Istanbul. Although this inconsistency undermines the (Kofi) Annan cease-fire plan, there has been no acknowledgment of this hostile act by Turkey against attempts to arrange for peace negotiations in Syria by the UN and the Arab League. Turkey has called for a meeting by NATO on Tuesday to decide a response to the supposed provocation by Syria, chances are that very little will come of the opportunity to deal more blows to the Bashar al-Assad government.

  • Comment number 12.

    Let us not neglect Kuwait:
    The Constitutional Court exceeded its mandate, interfered in politics, granting itself powers above those entrusted to the head of state and the national assembly Parliament). In an unprecedented verdict on Wednesday, the constitutional court, whose rulings are final, declared February's legislative election won by the opposition illegal & REINSTATED PREVIOUS PRO-GOVT PARLIAMENT. (It begins to sound like Egypt.)
    Opposition said that reviewing decrees issued by the emir "does not fall within the jurisdictions of the court in accordance of the law," and that the verdict "came OUTSIDE CONSTITUTIONAL LEGITIMACY." Statement called on the court & country's Supreme Judicial Council to reverse the decision.
    Govt is still studying what to do in the aftermath of the ruling.
    Kuwait has been rocked by a series of political crises since 2006 during which govt resigned eight times & parliament was dissolved 4 times.
    Ah, democracy, you are so elusive!

  • Comment number 13.

    Although I was encouraged by the initial calm and measured statements from the Turkish government about the downing of the Turkish airforces F-4 fighter jet by the Syrian military, as the hours ticked by, I felt uneasy about the change in tone. After the Turkish government called for a NATO meeting to decide a response, invoking article 4, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Syria of misinformation about the exact circumstances of the shooting down, my sense of unease increased over the evolving diplomatic confrontation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's near hysterical reaction though keeping with her strongly negative attitudes towards the Bashar al-Assad regime accusing Syria of "callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security" increased my growing anxiety. Monitoring the news from Turkey in the Hurriyet paper, I saw articles reporting that Syria had attacked another Turkish plane that was on a search and rescue mission looking for the downed aircraft. Another article asked, "Will it end in war?" - not exactly designed to ease my growing anxiety. But reading into the article, I read that "Ankara's call to the international community can be summarized in a few lines: Syria's attack on the Turkish plane is deliberate and it should pay for it; payment does not necessarily mean war, there are other options; Turkey doesn't want war, but is keeping all options on the table." Some relief there. A few hours later were two articles in the Guardian. "Turkey divided over response to Syria" and "EU condemns Syria for downing Turkish jet but will not intervene." The first sentence in the second article said it all, "EU foreign ministers have condemned Syria's downing of a Turkish jet, but said the bloc will not support military action in the troubled country." Real relief here.

  • Comment number 14.

    SCAF, having no control over the result of the presidential vote, shocked the world just hours before the polls were closed with a preemptive act: new constitutional annex. In the declaration, SCAF has transferred, or usurped to be exact, some of the top powers reserved for the president to the ruling military junta. According to the amendments, the upcoming president will not be the commander in chief. He won’t be able to declare war, won’t have oversight over the military budget or armament, while the military will retain the legislative authorities UNTIL A NEW PARLIAMENT IS ELECTED. (What was wrong with the previous Parliament?)
    The week before the Egyptian runoff elections, the Israeli defense forces (IDF) has issued emergency call up orders to 8 battalions in light of new dangers on the Egyptian borders and the repeated attacks that were allegedly launched against Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. And the Knesset has given the IDF permission to summon a further 16 reserve battalions if necessary.
    Egyptian second army has been put on high alert. A military source added that lots of armored vehicles and tanks have been pushed to the borders with Israel and vital targets have been secured like the Suez Canal waterway.
    Deep polarization, frustration over the failure to yet draft the new constitution, anger over dissolving the body of an elected parliament = unless all political parties heed the call for national reconciliation & unity, the once probable conflict between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood will now seem inevitable. And should that scenario take place, it won’t be long before the situation along the borders with Israel gets more volatile.

  • Comment number 15.



    North and West of the Red Sea resorts, Sinai is becoming increasingly lawless.


  • Comment number 16.

    '15. At 21:24 25th Jun 2012, Scotch Git

    In other news, it's all going awfully well.



  • Comment number 17.


    Interesting link. How does one say follow us Tweeter and Facebook [sic] in Arabic?

  • Comment number 18.


    This has been brought to my attention.

    More grist for your mill...

  • Comment number 19.

    SC... I see you one (ta muchly), and raise another that this blog seems to have an interest in (if more from the 'asking questions' than broadcast-only side...)

    As BBC Newsnight runs around the city with our Chloe’s head on a spike, crowing (an easy scalp, but theirs to take and flaunt – hope the Conservative party is proud of its record serving up Forlorn Hope cannon fodder to protect the high command), from the school of what the BBC is less keen to trumpet….

    Charles Shoebridge @ShoebridgeC At link, bottom of page, see how BBC has removed reference to UN saying #Syria #HoulaMassacre may have been by rebels..


    Must be nice to have absolute, unaccountable control of the edit, and the broadcast system that transmits it.

    Unless of course you have an interest in the full facts and whole truth.

  • Comment number 20.

    Meanwhile, back in Sinai...

  • Comment number 21.

    The latest news from the tense Syria-Turkey confrontation following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet. PM Erdogan called for a NATO consultation on the diplomatic confrontation on Tuesday. Turkey also sent a military convoy to the border of the two countries with the warning that it would not tolerate another military incident by Syria. According to Jamal Wakim, Lebanese political analyst, in an interview with PressTV, he does not expect an invasion of Syria by Turkey anytime soon. He believes that Turkey wants to put pressure on Syria to bolster the US-Saudi attempts to bring about regime change. PressTV also said that although NATO SG Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Syria after the NATO meeting, he also reiterated that NATO does not anticipate any military action at this time. Russian FM Sergei Lavrov also said in Moscow that Russia will continue to stand with Syria at this tense time in international relations. Discussions about the motivation behind Erdogan's tough confrontation towards Syria failed to mention the large Kurdish population in northeastern Syria and the numerous Turkish military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey is wary of the possible emergence of a Kurdish state on its southern border with Syria and Iraq especially since the tendency for breakup of Iraq into a separate Kurdish and Sunni-Shia states becomes more pronounced in the future. If this is a motivation for Erdogan to join in regime change in Syria, he may be making a mistake. If Syria also disintegrates like Iraq is doing then the possibility of Syrian Kurds joining Iraqi Kurds to form a separate Kurdish state will become stronger.

  • Comment number 22.

    More evidence of the biased nature of mass media news reporting in the US. Although the following refers to a different news topic than the one under consideration here, it is relevant to some of the discussion relating to the misreporting of news in the US media that has troubled many readers of international news reports. Yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's crown jewel legislative victory in 2010. The ACA has been opposed by the Republican party though it goes some way towards providing low cost medical insurance for millions of uninsured Americans and promises to reduce the cost of medical care in the future. The Republicans insist that the ACA brings (blasphemous) socialized medicine to the US though it falls short of universal health care which is common in other advanced industrialized countries. During the Supreme Court debate, it was prematurely announced on two major TV networks (CNN and Fox) that the Court had ruled against the ACA. It turns out that the reporters had failed to thoroughly read the early news bulletin put out by the Court. But it shows the biased reporting that (some) important US media bring to the news business. This extends as I have hinted to international news reporting for example on Syria where US news agencies have joined with the Western imperialist powers to put pressure on the government of Bashar al-Assad to resign and turn over control to someone else leading we believe to final control in the hands of groups like the SNC who want to turn the Syrian government over to the Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

  • Comment number 23.

    In a little known news article (Reuters, 22 Mar 2012): "Turkish Kurd militants threatened on Thursday to turn all Kurdish populated areas into a war zone if Turkish troops entered Syria, a sign the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has allies in Syria may be taking sides in the conflict there. A renewed alliance between Damascus and the PKK would anger Turkey and could prompt it to take an even stronger line against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over his brutal repression of anti-government protesters. PKK field commander Murat Karayilan said Turkey was preparing the ground for an intervention in Syria........ Let me state clearly, if the Turkish state intervenes against our people in western Kurdistan, all of Kurdistan will turn into a war zone....Western Kurdistan is the term Kurdish nationalists use to describe Kurdish areas of northeast Syria, while by Kurdistan they mean the Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran." Notice that this article appeared several months before the current flareup of tensions along the Syria-Turkey border. The article also goes on, "while Syrian forces are clashing daily with insurgents demanding the downfall of Assad, Syrian Kurdish areas have remained relatively calm, despite many Kurds long standing opposition to the government. Some Syrian Kurdish groups opposed to Assad have formed their own umbrella group after complaining of being sidelined by the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) which they say is dominated by Arab nationalists. But the comparative calm in Syria's Kurdish northeast may also be related to what some Kurd analysts say is the growing influence of the PYD, a Syrian Kurdish group allied to the PKK which has kept away from the opposition. The PKK, set up in 1984 to fight for Kurdish home rule in southeast Turkey, is commanded from bases in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, but was once backed by Syria....Turkish officials say they are watching closely for signs Syria may renew its support for the PKK, which it dropped in late 1998 after Turkish tanks massed on the Syrian border. Damascus was forced to deport PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who was later seized by Turkish special forces in Kenya. " If you need anymore proof that the situation in the Syrian region is enormously complicated then this article should provide such proof.

  • Comment number 24.

    Al Jazeera has a news story, World Powers Agree to Syria Transition Plan, which says that a UN-brokered peace plan which leaves open whether President Bashar al-Assad can be part of a new government has been agreed to in Geneva. Peace envoy Kofi Annan said in a press briefing after the talks that the government would include members of the Assad administration and the Syrian opposition. The meeting was billed as a last-ditch effort to halt the worsening violence in Syria. Russian FM Lavrov insisted on retaining a role for the current Syrian government but US Secy of State Hillary Clinton insisted that Assad must "step down." Foreign Secretary William Hague said Assad and his close associates could not lead any transition. And he added accountability for war crimes must be part of the process. Hague called for the UN Security Council to start drafting a resolution next week setting out sanctions against Syria. Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited to participate in the Geneva meeting. More importantly perhaps neither the Syrian government nor the opposition were represented. So clearly a lot of details are still missing from this news report and the authenticity of the agreement is still uncertain.

  • Comment number 25.

    Having failed to make the Geneva based Syria Transition Plan of the past week stick (comment #24) probably because both principal parties, the Bashar al-Assad regime and the Syrian opposition were not represented, the Western imperialist powers (NATO) met yet again in Paris on Friday (6 July 2012) to plot another diplomatic strategy to oust Assad. The third so-called Friends of Syria (Amis de Peuple Syrien in French) called for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution for the ouster of Assad and called on UN members to pressure Russian and China to not block an effective resolution. Remembering that Russia rejected direct intervention at the Geneva meeting having warned against meddling in Syrian internal affairs, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the nations at the Paris meeting to show Russian and China that they would pay a price for impeding progress toward a democratic transition in Syria. Heeding the Syrian opposition's rejection of the Geneva Transition Plan because it failed to insist that the Assad could not be a part of any transition, both the US and France called for strong measures including invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which allows for military action to oust Assad.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.