January 23, 2006 [LINK]

Elections in Canada

Unbeknownst to most Americans, Canadians are voting for a new parliament today. Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party, which has held a strong majority for the last eleven years, is behind by at least ten percent in some polls. Fearing for his political life, he has become ever more strident in his dire warnings of a "extreme right-wing" takeover in Ottawa. Golly. Martin is a former finance minister who had a nasty run-in with fellow Liberal Jean Chretien, who stepped aside in Martin's favor in late [2003]. Martin has not won a national election since becoming party leader, and his behavior may reflect lack of experience. It would appear that the Tories will fall short of a majority, however, according to the latest polls in the The Toronto Globe and Mail. which would mean that paprty leader Stephen Harper would have to form a coalition government, probably joining with the Bloc Quebecois. That would be a very difficult arrangement, and there is a real risk that the Tories would fare no better than they did in Joe Clark's short-lived government (1979-1980).

As in the United States, previously-marginalized conservative voices are coming to the forefront through the miracle of the blogosphere. For example, see Red Ensign Standard, who observes of the paranoid reaction to this new phenomenon by the left-Liberal establishment North of the Border: "Free speech, it would seem, is not a Liberal value." (via Instapundit).

The wildly exaggerated notion spread by Martin that the U.S.A. is a hotbed of religious fascism was expressed by Margaret Atwood in her novel A Handmaid's Tale, which was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall. I wondered what she thought about this election, and found an interview with her at jam.canoe.ca. She won't come right out and say she opposes the Conservatives, but she doesn't leave much doubt. In her mind, the biggest issues faced by Canada are avian flu and global warming.

UPDATE: The Conservatives have won a plurality of seats, as expected, but they fell well short of a majority. The new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, will be hard pressed to get much accomplished, given the bitter, die-hard opposition of the outgoing Liberals. Are they getting political advice from Paul Begala or Dick Durbin, by any chance? Since most of the polls indicated the Liberals were likely to lose, it makes you wonder what the point of those frantic last-minute anti-American ads was. To poison the political atmosphere to prevent the Tories from governing effectively? I am very disappointed in P.M. Paul Martin, who seemed to be focused on reform when he became the national leader [just over two years] ago.

Election in Portugal

Former Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, a conservative, was just elected President of Portugal. That post is less powerful than prime minister, however, so he will have only limited input on economic policy in the Socialist-led government. See CNN.com. I did some research on Portugal in graduate school at U.Va., and it is a fascinating country that has had a much bigger impact on the world than its small size might suggest: colonies in Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Macau, Goa, and Eastern Timor, among others. Giving up its old imperial pretensions in the mid-1970s was very traumatic to many Portuguese people, but they were fortunate to have pragmatic politicians who eased the way into the modern era, joining the European Union in the 1980s. Interestingly, the United States played a large role in encouraging a transition toward a liberal democracy during the late 1970s, under U.S. Ambassador Frank Carlucci. Much like Spain, the Socialist Party has generally played a relatively responsible role in policy-making.

Democracy in Africa

Most of the political news from Africa over the last year has been discouraging, with U.N. peacekeepers being killed in Congo, and hostages being taken by separatists in southern Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Islamofascist dictatorship in Sudan continues its campaign of genocide against the (mostly Christian) people in Darfur, and as President Mugabe cracks down on opponents in Zimbabwe, which is becoming a dictatorship. There are two bright spots, however: Liberia, which has been torn by civil war for most of the last two decades, managed to hold free and open elections in November. The reform-oriented Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won in the second round, thus becoming the first woman ever to be elected president in Africa. She was just inaugurated last week; see BBC.com. In Tanzania, the old authoritarian regime of Julius Nyerere seems to be withering away under the new government of President Jakaya Kikwete, who took office in December.