Daily Archives: August 11, 2010
Rwanda held a much overrated presidential election on August 9, the second since the end of the Rwandan Genocide and the Tutsi victory in the 1994 civil war.
Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills, is known in the world for the infamous genocide of 1994 and for the ethnic clashes between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority (the Twas have been conveniently forgotten about). The pastoral Tutsi aristocracy dominated the Kingdom of Rwanda, with German and then Belgian support, until the Hutus took power in 1959 and declared a republic in 1962. Many Tutsis fled the dictatorial Hutu-dominated regimes of Grégoire Kayibanda and General Juvénal Habyarimana, fleeing mostly to Uganda. Encouraged by the harsh refugee laws and the anti-Rwandan policies of Milton Obote, many of these Tutsis participated in the civil war which brought Yoweri Museveni to power in Kampala in 1986. These Tutsi refugees, grouped in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-FPR) invaded Rwanda in 1990 and threatened Hutu power in Kigali. The civil war was actually almost over when the genocide started, sparked by the death of Habyarimana in a plane crash when he was returning from Arusha, Tanzania, where a power-sharing agreement and some sort of deal to return to democratic politics had been reached between the RPF and the government. The plane crash, whose perpetrators were never found, led to a radical Hutu backlash against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, leading some to believe that Habyarimana’s assassination was organized by the radical Hutus and backed by France, which at that time was a key supporter of the Hutu-led Habyarimana government. The genocide of summer 1994, which killed 800,000, led the RPF to seize control of the country by fall 1994 and establish a national unity government of its own, led by President Pasteur Bizimungu (a moderate Hutu), largely known to be the facade puppet of Paul Kagame, the Tutsi RPF rebel leader. Kagame assumed the presidency in 2000 and quickly sidelined Bizimungu and other moderate Hutu supporters of the RPF.
Under Paul Kagame, the government has sought to break the ethnic cleavages by downplaying the importance of the main ethnicities in Rwanda and forging some sort of national unity sentiment, one which came with tough laws on genocide denial, laws which allow the Tutsi-led government to claim the mantle of victimization and persecute Hutu opponents of the regime by branding them as racists and genocide-deniers. Born into a Tutsi aristocratic family and supported by a party whose members are largely well-educated, Kagame has been a successful president for Rwanda’s economy. His liberal policies have led to important economic growth in the country, which likes to use its new image as a peaceful multi-ethnic society in its bid to become the “Singapore of east Africa”. This economic growth comes at a high price, that of flagrant human rights violations. NGOs report routine torture, extrajudicial killings, violence and arbitrary arrests of suspected opponents. Press freedom is unheard of, and The Economist wrote that Kagame allowed his citizens less freedom than Mugabe does in Zimbabwe. The government, however, remains keen on feeding the world its image of a democratic united society, thus the need for this election. For the majority of Rwandans, however, Kagame got them out of civil war, brought peace and ‘justice’ and most certainly brought much longed for economic prosperity. It’s not wrong to say that Kagame is vastly popular with the electorate as a whole.
The RPF’s main opponents, be they Hutus like Victoire Ingabire or Tutsi rivals, were dealt with quickly. Ingabire was conveniently branded a radical genocide-denier, and throw in jail (now released on bail), while many Tutsi rivals of the RPF were found dead at various points this year. Therefore, the only opponents to Kagame’s re-election for seven-year term came from hand-picked “opponents” of the FPR, three of them in fact. Three tools which had supported Kagame in 2003 and who still didn’t oppose him in the correct sense of the word this year. Kagame, who won 95% in 2003, has seen his popularity dwindle since then, since he won “only” 93.08% of the votes this year, against 5.15% for Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo (a former cabinet minister and vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies), Prosper Higiro (a former cabinet minister and vice-president of the Senate) followed with 1.37% while Senator Alvera Mukabaramba got 0.4%. Turnout out of the country’s 5.1 million voters was heavy, reaching 4.9 million.
There were no reports of vote rigging in this election. We might be tempted to scoff at such reports, but it’s not necessarily a lie. As of late, there has been a trend in Africa to see more elections and people demanding a chance to vote. Most of sub-Saharan Africa is voting this year in whatever type of elections. Part of this comes from people demanding to lash out at corrupt archaic politicians, but a lot of it comes from western insistence that countries step it up on the democratic front if they want precious aid money. The end of the Cold War means that dictator’s can’t hold on without making fake gestures towards democratic institutions. Though Guinea’s ongoing election, Kenya’s recent referendum and even Somaliland’s election (Somaliland is an unrecognized state) are encouraging, there being elections doesn’t stop ruling dictators from rigging the vote. However, they’ve learned how to avoid blatant rigging – that looks bad for the country (see: Iran), and instead they favour pre-poll rigging, which consists of eliminating potential opponents and playing games with the electoral register which often discourage the opposition into boycotting the elections. That is what happened in Burundi’s recent election (President Nkurunziza won 92%, unopposed), Ethiopia’s parliamentary election (with the opposition winning 2/547 seats) as well as Sudan’s spring election (al-Bashir was easily re-elected with token opposition). Observers are holding out hope that long overdue elections in Côte d’Ivoire in October and a big election in Nigeria next year will bring a semblance of democracy.
On May 5, a primary was held in Tennessee and on May 10, primaries or primary runoffs were held in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia and Minnesota ahead of the American mid-term elections on November 4. In continuing coverage, here’s a rundown of the main primary battles in these five states.
Colorado, a traditionally ‘purple’ state, has turned heavily Democratic at almost all levels of government since 2006-2008, but Obama’s unpopularity in this traditionally ‘libertarian’ state and a shift to the right in the country, Colorado’s Democrats find themselves in tough races to retain a Senate seat and the Governor’s mansion. In their quest to retain these big prizes, they find themselves helped by the far-right and the Colorado Republicans.
The Democrats picked up an open Republican-held Senate seat in 2004 with Ken Salazar, who stepped down to become Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, appointed a young little-known Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Michael Bennet, to the Senate seat. Bennet’s very low name recognition hurt him in polls against Republican contenders earlier this year and also won him a primary challenge from former state house speaker Andrew Romanoff, who ran on a liberal grassroots-based campaign. The primary battle was also seen by some as a showdown between Obama – represented by Bennet, who supported him in 2008 and Hillary/Bill Clinton – represented by Romanoff, who supported Hillary’s 2008 campaign. Romanoff gained ground rapidly in polls though struggled a bit later on, which led him to sell his own house to finance his campaign.
On the Republican side, the two contenders were Weld County district attorney Ken Buck and former Lt. Governor Jane Norton. Norton, the Republican establishment candidate, was seen by the party’s activist base as a establishment stalwart and a party hack, leading the Tea Partier and activists to get behind Ken Buck, a more ‘libertarian’/GOP grassroots figure, though the Tea Partiers were not so happy with Buck when he called them, on the record, stupid. Latest polling indicated a neck-and-neck race.
In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Governor Bill Ritter, performing poorly in polls, read the writing on the wall and retired, leaving the spot open for popular Denver Mayor John Hickelooper. The GOP cast was far from top-notch, featuring former Rep. Scott McInnis, who got in trouble over a plagiarism case, and Dan Maes. Neither of them got much affection from the conservative base and the Tea Party, a fact which led former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a famous tough ‘secure the border’ anti-immigration congressman, to jump into the race – for the Constitution Party. The Democrats should be quite happy with Tancredo’s decision, given that polling since he jumped him gave him 24% or so and allowed Hickelooper to lead the polls by a wide margin over the divided right. Here are the results:
Senate (Dem and Rep)
Michael Bennet (D) 54.2%
Andrew Romanoff (D) 45.8%
Ken Buck (R) 51.6%
Jane Norton (R) 48.4%
Dan Maes (R) 50.7%
Scott McInnis (R) 49.3%
On the Democratic side, voters backed the establishment candidate, but Republicans went with the underdog and maverick-type candidates in both races. In terms of electability, both parties likely made the right choices: a late poll by PPP showed Bennet beating both Republican contenders, while Romanoff was statistically tied with both of them. Furthermore, Norton, widely seen as an establishment party hack, would have done more poorly than Buck will manage to do. Bennet beat Buck by 3% in yesterday’s poll, but the race is still wide open. On the gubernatorial side, Dan Maes’ victory gives the Republican a slightly less steep hill to climb, but he’ll still have to contend with Tancredo, although Tancredo’s high support of 24% should evaporate as Republicans return to the party’s candidate, though Hickenlooper should be counted with an advantage in this race. But November, in both cases, is still a long way away.
In House races on the GOP side, State Rep. establishment candidate Scott Tipton won the primary in CO-03 to face Democrat John Salazar. He beat the rugged tea party challenger Bob McConnell 56-44. The other main race is in the suburban 7th, held by Democrat Ed Perlmutter. He’ll face a black Republican, Ryan Frazier, who beat attorney Lang Sias 64-36. Both races will be tight in November.
Democratic Senator Chris Dodd and Republican Governor Jodi Rell will be retiring this year, leaving both main seats up for grabs. Dodd’s retirement came as a blessing for Democrats, who were badly trailing Republicans because Dodd had been involved in some shaky financial dealings on his side. They got the popular Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to run, but Blumenthal’s gaffe concerning his non-service in Vietnam has made the race in November a bit less of a safe Dem contest. The Republican contest gained notoriety as a showdown between former WWE magnate Linda McMahon, who has lots of money, and former Rep. Rob Simmons, a moderate Republican. Peter Schiff, a Tea Party-endorsed Paulite, was the third man in the race, with the backing of Ron Paul’s internet fanboy base. McMahon beat Simmons 52-44 in an earlier convention, which allowed both of them to be placed on the primary ballot (party rules required a candidate to win at least 15% at the convention to get on the ballot, or gather 10,000 signatures – which is what Schiff did). Simmons then suspended his campaign, but in late July got back in, but to no avail since McMahon had already owned the field with her ad frenzy and putting millions into her campaign. Money buys Republican contenders lots of stuff.
Democrats would like to pick up the GOP-held Governor’s mansion (they’d like to have control of all 6 New England gubernatorial mansions this year, with CT, RI and VT being held by retiring Republicans). Their two main candidates were Ned Lamont, the liberal grassroots favourite who beat Joe Lieberman in the 06 Senate primary but lost to Lieberman (Ind) in November; and ’06 Governor candidate and former Stamford mayor Dan Malloy. On the Republican side, it was an unequal contest between Bush fundraiser and former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley and Lt. Governor Michael Fedele, with Oz Griebel being the third man in the race. Here are the results:
Linda McMahon (R) 49.1%
Rob Simmons (R) 28.1%
Peter Schiff (R) 22.7%
Governor (Dem + Rep)
Dan Malloy (D) 57.8%
Ned Lamont (D) 42.2%
Tom Foley (R) 42.3%
Michael Fedele (R) 39%
Oz Griebel (R) 18.6%
The main shock of the night is Ned Lamont’s defeat, yet again, but this time in a primary in which he was the favourite. It’s hard to see what went wrong for Lamont this time, but he definitely lost his base of support with anti-Iraq War liberal Democrats this time around. Or perhaps being a super-wealthy person running in a Democratic primary isn’t an asset in a year where people aren’t all that fond of rich people and Wall Street-type businessmen. In other races, predictable things happened: McMahon, with loads of cash, trounced on-and-off candidate Simmons, who only won his old CD in eastern Connecticut, but Schiff did surprisingly well, performing best in suburban areas close to the NYC metro. Blumenthal and Malloy are the favourites in their respective races as of now, but McMahon and Foley shouldn’t be counted out early.
Did I say that money buys everything for Republicans? Not so. In the GOP primary in the 4th district, the guy with the least cash, State Sen. Sam Caligiuri, came first with 39.7% against Justin Bernier (32%) but most importantly wealthy real estate magnate Mark Greenberg who won 28.3%.
Georgia – Runoff
A primary election runoff was held in Georgia as well on May 10, featuring a gubernatorial showdown on the Republican side between Georgia SoS Karen Handel and former Rep. Nathan Deal. Handel got 34% in the first round against Deal’s 22.9%, and, with the support of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, she was the big favourite, especially against Deal who got desperate in the last days with tough attack ads on Handel – who attacked Deal on the ethical front. The results go against the big narrative of establishment defeats and gives a black eye to Palin-Tea Party folks.
Nathan Deal (R) 50.2%
Karen Handel (R) 49.8%
The difference between Handel and Deal was roughly 2,400 votes, but Handel has already conceded the election and thrown her support behind Deal.
The map is revealing of the electorate of the Tea Party. Handel dominated the Atlanta urban and suburban region, where the Republican electorate is both white and generally upper-middle-class, thus very keen on the low taxes message. She also did well in most Black Belt counties and surrounding white flight areas, areas where the GOP electorate is obviously majority white. At risk of being overly controversial, I won’t delve into the details about Black Belt white voters.
Though polling disagrees, many feel that Deal is the weakest candidate in November against a top-tier Democratic nominee, former Governor Roy Barnes, who lost to Governor Sonny Perdue in the Confederate flag-dominated 2003 election, but who stands a real chance at picking this seat up in November.
Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who has his eyes set on 2012 already, is term-limited, leaving Democrats (in Minnesota, known as the DFL) with good chances at winning back this traditionally Democratic state in November.
At a DFL convention earlier this year, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak won the straw poll against State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, but Rybak later dropped out to endorse Kelliher. The straw poll was useless because the big name in the race, former Senator Mark Dayton, wasn’t in it. Dayton, who was a rather poor Senator known for his erratic behaviour, came back into politics as some kind of populist candidate whose message is centered a lot around the idea of defending the common man. Matt Entenza, a former state house minority leader, was the third and distant candidate in the contest. Here are the results:
Mark Dayton (D) 41.3%
Margaret Anderson Kelliher (D) 39.8%
Matt Entenza (D) 18.2%
Peter Idusogie (D) 0.7%
Dayton faced a surprisingly close race and only came ahead of Kelliher very late in the night. Perhaps Democrats rallied around Kelliher, who was more the establishment candidate, later in the race? However, Democrats should be pleased that Dayton won, because he has a higher name recognition and his primary electorate reflects a much wider base, demographically, than Kelliher’s very urban support, big in Minneapolis-Saint Paul but rather weak outside of those places. Dayton is the favourite in a two-and-a-half man race against Republican Tom Emmer (who trounced token joke challengers), who is very far to the right and a poor fit for the state and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, who could draw nearly 10% support in a field where the top two contenders are very much establishment-type party stalwarts.
Republicans will win back Tennessee’s gubernatorial mansion in November with the retirement of term-limited Democratic incumbent Phil Bredesen, who was a popular conservative Democrat. The big names in the Republican race for Governor held on May 5 were Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, not too extreme for the party and the establishment favourite; as well as Rep. Zach Wamp and Tea Party-supported Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Wamp and Ramsey, trailing in polls, got desperate and got out the usual ‘God card’ by playing up their supposed Christian values. Wamp went off the deep end when he said that if Republicans didn’t win and health care wasn’t repealed, states would secede; while Ramsey said weird things about Islam. There was, of course, YouTube favourite Basil Marceaux, an old lunatic, who got popular by saying that he’d kill Lindsay Lohan if she committed a crime or granting his voters immunity from prosecution.
Bill Haslam (R) 47.4%
Zach Wamp (R) 29.2%
Ron Ramsey (R) 22%
Joe Kirkpatrick (R) 0.9%
Basil Marceaux (R) 0.5%
Haslam is, of course, the overwhelming favourite going into November against Democratic nominee Mike McWherter (nominated unopposed), a businessman-son of former Governor typical Blue Dog Democrat. Neither of those two candidates will appeal much to liberal Democrats.
The primary results were favourable for Democrats, since their best candidates for November won and the Obama camp didn’t get a black eye after Obama-backed Michael Bennet defeated liberal insurgent Clintonite Romanoff in Colorado. On the Republican side, bad blood between Nathan Deal and Karen Handel in Georgia could hurt the party there in its attempts to hold onto the state in November. In Connecticut, picking Malloy over Lamont prevents attacks on Lamont as being too liberal to win while Linda McMahon’s victory will allow Blumenthal to take out the anti-Washington populistic anti-big business message that could carry lots of weight in a year like 2010. Meanwhile, in the establishment vs. anti-establishment battle which has dominated primaries this year, the results from last night indicate that Democrats are more keen on backing the establishment candidates – a relief for Obama who faces discontent from the party’s more liberal base, but Republicans are more angry in this climate and back anti-establishment candidates. Yet, Handel’s surprise defeat in Georgia did give a black eye of sorts to Sarah Palin, though Handel wouldn’t have gone that far if it wasn’t for Palin.