Archive for ‘Democracy’ Category

The case for increasing NZDF presence in Afghanistan

datePosted on 16:22, January 13th, 2009 by Pablo

If not already, within the next few weeks NZ will be asked by the US and NATO to increase its NZDF contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. NZDF are currently serving in their 13th rotation as a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan Province in Central Afghanistan (under US regional command). They also have officers deployed as liaison elements at Bagram Air Force Base, bringing the total to approximately 150. In its contribution to the ISAF mission NZ is comparable with other small states such as Estonia (130), Latvia (70), Albania (120) and Slovakia (130) and Macedonia (140), but falls short of most of the other members of the 41 nation ISAF coalition (Australia, for example, has. 1100 soldiers deployed in that theater). The questions are whether NZ should contribute more troops, in what role, and can it afford to do so both politically and economically? Most progressives would say no to all three. I beg to differ.

The answers should be yes, combat and combat support as well as PRT and yes. The reason is that rather than a (neo) imperialist intervention, the mission in Afghanistan is a multinational nation-building effort in the wake of state failure. That state failure was brought about by the medieval theocratic Taliban regime, whose record on human rights and support for external terrorism made it arguably the most oppressive regime of the late 20th century.  Under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine elaborated by the UN in the wake of Rwandan and Serbian ethnic cleansing in the 1990s, the international community has a duty to protect populations from the depredations of their rulers as well as from others. As a supporter of the UN mandate, NZ subscribes to this philosophy. It is thus obligated to be involved in Afghanistan and the NZ progressive community should welcome its involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

Tonight I will light a candle for a journalist

datePosted on 18:10, January 12th, 2009 by Anita

Last Friday Lasantha Wickrematunge – an outspoken Sri Lankan journalist, husband and father – was stabbed and shot to death, his state-sanctioned killing will never be prosecuted.

I could write a list of journalists who have been killed, tortured, arrested or deported by governments around the world, but the list would be too long. I could write a list of all the courageous journalists out there still speaking truth to power. I could try to explain why journalists matter, but instead I will light a candle by water and be thankful.

Instead I will leave it to him, to the piece titled And then they came for me published in his paper on Sunday

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. 

Europeans behind the Confucian Throne

datePosted on 22:06, January 11th, 2009 by Pablo

There is  state in Asia  that is a remarkable story of modern economic-political success. From its origins as a post-colonial, post-war, disease-ridden ethnic enclave in swampland fronted by a primitive deep water port ringed by brothels and opium dens, its has transformed itself, under the tutelage of one imaginative (albeit authoritarian) political genius into a paragon of  Asian developmentalism. In its socio-economic scope and depth, it rivals the conquest of the American West, minus the ethnic cleansing. In its self-conscious championing of its alternative to liberal democracy, it stands unequaled.

But there is a dirty secret to this country’s success, one that even national leaders will not admit. It is European complicity in fostering its one-party regime’s rise and continuity. Without Europeans (mostly British and Germans, but including Australians, New Zealanders, US, Dutch and French nationals amongst majority contributors), this Asian dragon would collapse in a week. That is because, at around 10% of the population, Europeans are the skilled labour that staff upper management in private and state enterprises, ministries and other cultural-educational institutions that are the foundation upon which the national “miracle” rests. They are, in other words, the silent partners in this story of authoritarian success, because while the local elite keeps the political order in check, the Europeans supply the brain power to grow the economic base. The local skilled labour force is too small to do so by themselves.

For their troubles, these Europeans live extremely well. Most make six or seven figure salaries, with full subsidies of their (exorbitant) rents, cars, maids and school tuitions at private foreign curriculum schools (there are over two dozen foreign schools offering  American, Australian, French, German Japanese and Chinese curricula, among others) . They shop in Western-oriented supermarkets and malls, and they socialize with the most Westernized elements of native society. They need not learn any of the local dialects, because the language of the powerful is English. Many middle aged European men display a penchant for young(er) Asian wimin, so as far as they are concerned their cultural “immersion” is complete. As far as the government is concerned, the more such immersion, the better. Put another way, these Europeans individually and collectively benefit from their participation in the authoritarian project.

The irony of this arrangement  at least twofold: Expat Europeans accept the regime’s argument that liberal democracy is unsuitable for the country given its conditions, and that in fact liberal democracy is a decadent political form that has been surpassed by the more efficient local model, which is based on purported Confucian values. Given that almost 30 percent of those native to the country have no cultural affinity with Confucianism, that is debatable even at home. The irony extends to the fact that this new Asian alternative to liberal democracy structurally depends on expats from the very countries that it considers “decadent” and chaotic.  What is not debatable is that Europeans come to this place to enrich themselves, remains silent in the face of  a host of undemocratic indignities visited upon the locals, and even dare to talk about how “safe” the place is in contrast to their home countries (at least if you do not talk politics). They accept the regime’s logic that stability, efficiency and steadiness of governmental purpose trumps open voice and unfettered grassroots participation in the political process.

A number of prominent New Zealanders have transited through this Asian success story on their way to greater things at home. Upon their return to NZ some have entered politics, with others prominent in business. What does it say about these people that they would choose such a place as a launching platform or stepping stone for subsequent careers in NZ? Why should they purport  to speak for all New Zealanders in either private or public life, given their active complicity in an authoritarian project that rejects the fundamentals of New Zealand’s socio-political order? What does it say about average New Zealanders that they would allow themselves to be led by such people?

At the very least we should hope that these repatriated opportunists are mere hypocrites that toed the authoritarian line while in Asia, rather than their having accepted the argument that liberal democracy is less preferable than a developmental dictatorship when it comes to political efficiency and social stability (to say nothing of crime). If the latter were to be true (that these returning expats actually believe in the Confucian developmental alternative to liberal democracy) and we add to this the influx of Asian immigrants who retain belief systems rooted in the Confucian values extolled by the authoritarian developmentalist model,  that combination of views could signal a change in the terms of political debate in a “harder” direction, or at least could arguably signal a retreat from the egalitarian ethos that is at the heart of NZ social and political culture.

To be sure: Many, if not most Asian immigrants to NZ seek to embrace the NZ socio-political ideal rather than reject or modify it. Moreover, they are not the only ones who may have legitimate reasons to see a need for more efficiency in government, safety on the streets and stability in the social order. The point here is that the returning expats from Asian developmentalist states and others may see utility in a “harder” approach to the NZ conundrum. Phrased differently: the imposition of market steerage of the NZ economy was done in a “hard” way (at least for a mature democracy). Is social and political retrogression in pursuit of the Confucian ideal at the hands of these repatriated expats and their internal allies not that far off?

Representing Pacific communities

datePosted on 05:09, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

I recently read an article by Anae Arthur Anae, National’s first Pacific Island MP. While it was written about 8 years ago, many of his points strike a chord when thinking about political representation of ethnic communities now.

  • He talks about his surprise, as National’s candidate for Auckland Central in 1993, that Pacific people in the seat voted along class and historic lines, rather than for a Pacific Island candidate.
  • As a list MP from 1996-1999 he struggled with the challenges of representing the PI community – geographically spread the length of the county, linguistically and culturally diverse.
  • His attempts to build cross-party forums with other PI MPs
  • The challenge to get Pacific issues understood and prioritised within a party focussed on the “economic situation”
  • The PI communities’ disappointment when National dropped him from 19 to 25 of the list “to make sure that the new intake was representative”

Anae tried to represent every Pacific Islander, whether they voted National or not, whether they were Samoan or not, even if they only thing they shared with him was Pacific heritage. At the same time he represented every National voter, everyone who shared his moral views, not to mention everyone in his neighbourhood.

We ask so much of our MPs, we ask them to represent every single one of us, to empathise with us, to understand us, to know where we come from, to be like us. Read the rest of this entry »

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