30 August, 2007

Who makes the Nazis?

Am I reading this right? The Irish Times are reporting the Department of Justice as saying that "non-EU spouses of EU citizens must live in another member state before residing here." So, like, if an Irish person were to go and live in a non-EU country, meet and fall in love with one of the locals, and marry them, they would not be able to come back and live here in Ireland?

29 August, 2007

Human Knowledge Continues To Advance

I've just finished my third chapter. So now I just need to write a conclusion and heavily revise my three chapters and my amazingly fascinating thesis will be ready for submission.

27 August, 2007


I've been reading loads of BBC news stories about internal Palestinian politics, to fix actual events that I can refer to in my thesis. Yes, I know, I should have done this months ago. Anyway, many of the news reports are quite entertaining, particularly if you can maintain a degree of ironic detachment from the macho shaping that seems to be a big feature of this sort of thing. One great story was about a demonstration by a load of masked men firing machine guns into the air; they were demanding that the Palestinian Authority be put on a firm institutional basis and that it organise a law and order crackdown. Sadly, I have no URL for that, but I do have one for:


"Bodyguards of the Hamas health minister have exchanged fire with gunmen at the health ministry in Gaza City. [...] It seems the gunmen were seeking better treatment for a hospital patient, a BBC correspondent says."

20 August, 2007

Palestine's Post-Modern Future

You may or may not have heard of Professor Alan Dershowitz. When he is not calling for the legalisation of torture, he is doing his bit to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He has in mind the emergence of a Palestinian independent state that will be comprised of the Gaza Strip and a number of non-contiguous blocks of territory on the West Bank. This might sound like a recipe for bantustanisation, but Professor Dershowitz thinks otherwise. Rather in this world of instant communications and cheap and fast travel non-contiguity need not be a barrier to the creation of a viable state. Or so a review of Dershowitz's "The Case for Peace" reports that he says.

19 August, 2007


The Links on this blog are a bit hopeless, including stuff like me mate Bildto's never updated blog. I hope at some stage to update the links by breaking them into ones pointing to useful International Relations related sites and then to blogs with a serious IR content (bad news for linked-to blogs without serious IR content). It will probably take me forever to get round to doing this. In the meantime, if you know any interesting blogs that deal with world political themes or such like, let me know the URL.

Apartheid College Upgrades Self To University

Ariel College is a good candidate for being the least politically correct institute of higher education in the world. It is located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, built on stolen Palestinian land. The college lies roughly half way between the towns of Ramallah and Tulkaram, relatively near to both Qalqilyah and Nablus, but appears to have no Palestinian students from the West Bank (though roughly 5% of its student body are Palestinians from within Israel proper).

Ariel College used to call itself the "College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel", but it has decided that henceforth it shall be known as "Ariel University Center of Samaria".

12 August, 2007


I've been reading a lot about the recent breakdown of constitutional government in the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas establishing an unrecognised regime in the Gaza Strip while President Abbas set up an illegal government in the unoccupied bits of the West Bank. The International Crisis Group have an interesting report on the whole business, entitled After Gaza. Its recommendations are of the "Can't you guys just get along?" school of liberal internationalism, but there are some fascinating details in it on how the Gaza takeover happened (and how the Fatah militias there collapsed). One thing they and other commentators draw attention to is the vast improvement in the security situation in Gaza - where people previously lived in fear of crime gangs, armed clans, and corrupt state security agencies, now Hamas activists have swept these people off the streets and ensured a basic level of personal security for all Gaza residents. The release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston is the great exemplar of the Hamas new broom, with the rescue of Sabrina the Lioness a close second.

There is unfortunately a dark side to all this. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that Hamas have instituted a reign of terror in the Gaza Strip, but commentators have noted that the openness of discussion that characterised Palestinian life has been somewhat curtailed in the area under Hamas control. People are reported to now be guarded about expressing opinions, in a way they would apparently not have been previously even in the most authoritarian days of the Arafat administration. There have also been reports of people being tortured while in Hamas custody. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz carries an interesting story (partly from AP) illustrating this, about a hospital doctor in Gaza who was sacked from his job and then arrested after reporting that his hospital was running short of medicines. Dr. Jomma Saka is apparently a Fatah loyalist, but the Dr. Bassem Naim, the health minister in the Gaza jurisdiction denied that Dr. Saka was arrested because of his political affiliation: "The decision to send Dr. Saka for investigations stemmed from many reasons, including giving false information that has intimidated the public"

Bang to rights

Google think this might be a spam blog. Oh no!

Semi-presidential politics in Timor-Leste… slight return

This is another post about semi-presidentialism, triggered by a comment to my last post on Timor-Leste. I understand that many people are not so fascinated by semi-presidentialism that they want to hear more about it, but I am a slave to those who pose me questions.

A mysterious commenter identifying him or herself only as Rhunzzz mentioned the concepts of premier-presidentialism and president-parliamentarism, originally formulated by scholars Shugart & Carey. My recollection is that they took a dislike to the term semi-presidentialism and attempted to coin new terms they felt were more descriptive. Their terms seem to have caught on to some extent, but mainly as explicit subtypes of semi-presidential regimes. The premier-presidential type sees more power in the relationship going to the prime minister, but with the elected president still doing more than nothing, while their definition of a president-parliamentary regime is one where the president can sack the prime minister or individual ministers (but I think with their replacements still being subject to parliamentary approval).

As is the way of the human world, it is difficult to precisely assign semi-presidential countries into one or other regime type. French presidents, say, often act as though they can sack ministers and prime ministers, but they do not actually have the constitutional power to do this; they can force ministerial resignations if they are the head of the government party or coalition, but not if the Assembly's majority is united against them. For all that people do use the premier-presidential v. presidential-parliamentary distinction, it all seesm a bit hair-splitty in practice.

In the Palestinian Authority, the president can sack a prime minister, but the sacked prime minister remains in office in a caretaker capacity with their government until the Palestinian parliament chooses a successor. It is not obvious to me that the president can sack individual ministers, which reminds me that I need to download the Basic Law of the Palestinian Authority. I think that it the president can only sack the prime minister but not individual ministers then we are in premier-presidential territory. For more on the prerogatives of PA presidents and prime ministers, I refer you to Nathan J. Brown's "What can Abu Mazin do?".

In Timor-Leste, the constitutional powers of the president are pretty limited, which is probably one reason why Xanana Gusmao has chosen to move from the presidency to the premiership. Gusmao as president was nevertheless able to use his personal prestige and massive electoral mandate to assume a more than ceremonial role in the country's politics, playing a part in forcing Prime Minister Alkatiri from office.

11 August, 2007

Semi-presidential definitions

This is a long reply to a question posed by Nicholas Whyte in a comment to my last post. He asked whether Cyprus and former Soviet states count as semi-presidential or not. This leads me into a discussion of what constitutes a semi-presidential regime. Unfortunately, there are several definitions of semi-presidentialism, so the answer has to be "it depends". The first English language definition by French scholar Maurice Duverger talked of countries being semi-presidential if they had a popularly elected president who had "considerable powers" but how faced a prime minister who led a government that was responsible to an elected assembly. The "considerable powers" business then leads to considerable debate as to whether a given president in a given country has considerable powers or not. It can also be difficult in practice to identify what powers a president actually has, given the divergence that can occur between a president's constitutionally granted powers and the powers they wield in practice (compare the limited powers of the French president in the constitution with the powers they have actually exercised). Nevertheless, despite these problems, Duverger's definition and definitions derived from it are probably still dominant.

Robert Elgie attempted to produce a semi-presidentialism definition that allows for a more precise determination of whether a country is semi-presidential or not. He skips all that considerable powers stuff by saying that a regime is semi-presidential if it has a popularly elected president and a prime minister responsible to parliament. Using this definition, a semi-presidential country can have a very powerful president, or one who spends his or her time playing golf. Some find this kind of definition problematic, as it includes countries which in practice have politics so similar to parliamentary regimes as to make no difference; if you think the idea of bifurcated power structures is crucial to any discussion of semi-presidentialism as a regime type then Elgie's definition is not for you. However, even with that, a thing you do see in country's with figurehead directly elected presidents is that sometimes they can leverage their status as someone chosen by the people as a whole to exert pressure on the government in a manner bearing little relation to their paper powers. So even a figurehead president might be able to restrain a prime minister, in certain circumstances. Arguably, this kind of happened in Timor-Leste, where President Gusmao announced that he had lost confidence of Prime Minister Alkatiri, increasing the pressure on the latter that ultimately led to his resignation.

And so to the countries Nicholas Whyte mentions. I can't speak for Cyprus, as I don't know too much about how day-to-day politics works in either jurisdiction there. With the countries of the former Soviet Union, political systems there vary greatly. Many of the USSR's successor states are straightforwardly dictatorships. However, most of the ones that do still have some kind of democratic politics in place count as semi-presidential, with the regime-type being apparently more common in former communist countries than either straight presidential or parliamentary regimes. Or so I have read. I have my doubts with some of the countries. Take Russia – it has the prime minister and president you associate with semi-presidentialism, but the prime minister is only responsible to parliament in the most notional of manners. In practice (and probably in the constitution as well, given that it was written by a president who then had it passed at gun point) the prime minister is the president's bitch, someone he gets to look after tawdry day-to-day stuff for him.

Ukraine is more like a classic semi-presidential regime, where the prime minister and president are both powerful, but the prime minister is genuinely responsible to parliament; I think the relationship betweern the offices has changed over time, and the presidency lost a lot of its powers recently as part of the deal that saw Viktor Yushchenko elected to it. I gather that Lithuania is more the kind of country that scrapes into the semi-presidential category only if you use the Elgie definition, as its president is directly elected but aloof from actual politics. I think the rest of the democratic ex-USSR states are at least Elgie semi-presidential, except for Latvia and Estonia, which I believe to have adopted parliamentary regimes at independence, and Moldova, whose parliament changed it to a fully parliamentary regime, much to the chagrin of the then president who wanted things moved in a more fully presidential direction.

09 August, 2007

Semi-presidential politics in Timor-Leste

One great thing about the reading around my thesis is that I have got to read about loads of countries I previously did not too much about. This arises because in trying to form a comparative framework in which to place a study of semi-presidentialism in Palestine I need to look at other countries with a similar kind of institutional setup. I may well pad out this blog for years to come with fascinating facts about semi-presidential countries from around the world.

Today it is the turn of Timor-Leste, as the former Portuguese colony of East Timor know prefers to be called. While the country was ruled by Indonesia the place became something of a cause cel├Ębre, partly resulting from the thuggish and near genocidal rule of the Indonesian military. With independence, the country largely dropped off the world's radar, or at least it did off mine, apart from a sense that the country's post-independence politics had all proved a bit tawdry and disappointing.

My very limited reading about Timor-Leste suggests some interesting things about the country's politics. Indonesian rule was resisted both militarily and politically, as is often the case in occupied countries. What one sometimes see in such situations is that if the national struggle is ever successfully concluded then a tension erupts between the political and military side of the nationalist movement. Analysis tends to depict the political side of any ensuing conflict as the good guys, in that they are the ones who will do politics (run for elections, form governments, make the kind of political compromises that are needed in a democratic society). In contrast, the militarists are seen as the bad guys – while they may have proved useful during the freedom struggle, the kind of mindset honed by warfare is inimical to democratic politics. Militarists are seen as hostile to compromise and having a belief in discipline and hierarchy that meshes badly with the give and take of pluralist politics. That, as I say, is the default position on such matters, or maybe I am just generalising too much from the history of my own country.

Timor-Leste seems to run counter to that default position. There, the political wing of the national struggle seems to have produced a party (FRETILIN) with a closed, illiberal, and crypto-authoritarian outlook, one that sees itself as the sole legitimate representation of Timor-Leste's people. In contrast, the military wing of the movement produced in Xanana Gusmao a leader who seems far keener to reach out across Timor-Lestean society and to respect democratic norms; during the Indonesian occupation he transformed the guerrilla army from being a FRETILIN militia to being a more broadly based outside the party's control. It is maybe easy to see why FRETILIN turned out the way it did – the party early on adopted a Marxist-Leninist ideology that lends itself to vanguardism, and the party cultivated close links to authoritarian leftist regimes in Africa from whom shady ideas could be picked up. Gusmao's non-bonapartism is maybe a bit harder to explain, but I will leave that to people who know more about the country to engage with.

As a semi-presidential regime, Timor-Leste has also bucked the trend. In these kind of countries, particularly when they are newly democratising, there is a tendency to see the president as embodying authoritarian tendencies, with the parliamentary side of things serving as a democratic brake. After Timor-Leste's first presidential and parliamentary elections the country was pitched into cohabitation, with the parliament choosing a prime minister hostile to the president. However, it was nasty, authoritarian FRETILIN who picked the prime minister, while President Gusmao ended up serving as a brake on their crypto-authoritarianism. The country's divisions, reflected by the split executive, saw the country becoming increasingly destabilised, with a series of riots and army mutinies leading to the smashing up of any infrastructure the Indonesians had not wrecked before they pulled out. Elections this year saw Gusmao ally (and Nobel laureate) Jose Ramos-Horta elected to the presidency while Gusmao has just become prime minister at the head of a coalition government. Maybe this united executive will be able to stabilise the country's politics, though the pro-FRETILIN riots that greeted Gusmao's appointment suggest they have a way to go yet. Still, a coalition government, even one that excludes FRETILIN, is probably a good thing for the country at this point, certainly better than the FRETILIN dominated parliament it had before the elections.

One caveat on all this – I have actually read so little on Timor-Leste that I could be passing on a very skewed impression of the country's politics. It is only really one scholarly article* from which I picked up the idea of Gusmao-good FRETILIN-bad position, so if that was written by someone with tendentious views then I could be seriously misleading you. However, the fact that Mara Alkatiri, the FRETILIN leader, has denounced the current government as illegal, despite its parliamentary majority, suggests that his party's commitment to democratic electoral outcomes is a bit tenuous.

*Shoesmith, Dennis (2003) 'Timor-Leste: divided leadership in a semi-presidential system' Asian Survey, 43 (2), 231-252

06 August, 2007

Soft Power

I read an interesting piece from 2003 by Mariam Shahin, on external attempts to influence Palestinian politics. When in that year the post of prime minister fell vacant, US diplomats lobbied all the members of the Palestinian parliament, informing them that if they did not elect Mahmud Abbas they would be delivering a personal insult to US President George W. Bush.

The Palestinian parliament then elected Ahmed Qureia as prime minister.