THIMPHU, Bhutan (Agence France-Presse) — Bhutan stands poised to become the world’s newest democracy on Monday with elections ordered by its revered royal family to end its absolute rule.The tiny Buddhist state, wedged in the Himalayas between India and China, will elect members for a lower house, ending the century-long rule of the hugely popular Wangchuck dynasty.Bhutan’s Oxford-educated ruler, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 28, made a forceful last-minute appeal over the weekend to his subjects — some of whom were initially reluctant to bring in democracy — to vote.
“As you approach the duty of voting at the elections that will bring democracy, do so with pride and confidence of a people that have achieved so much,” he said in a statement published in the nation’s newspapers. “First and foremost, you must vote. Every single person must exercise his or her franchise.”
The king is the fifth ruler in the dynasty, in power since 1907. The path to democracy began in 2001, when the former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, handed over the day-to-day tasks of government to a council of ministers, and finally stepped down in favor of his son in late 2006.
Since then, father and son have traveled the country to explain to its 670,000 people why the nation should embrace democracy.
The Serbian coalition government, with moderate nationalist Vojislav Koštunica as Prime Minister–has collapsed following dissension within the multi-party governing coalition over the “loss of Kosovo.” Voters will go to the polls to elect a new government on May 11th having to make a stark choice in the polling booth: whether to side with the nationalists in their struggle to forestall Kosovar independence, or to vote in a more moderate pro-European government, thereby placating not only members of the European Union but calming the nerves of wary international investors, who have become the life-blood of the Serbian economic system. As reports reports:
…The coalition government collapsed at the weekend, with nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica blaming disunity over the conflicting goals of pursuing European Union membership versus defending Kosovo, the province which seceded last month with EU backing.
“Right now, around 1.0 billion euros worth of investments have been put on hold,” [Deputy Prime Minster Božidar] Djelić said. “There is a growing risk perception considering that some parties want to halt Serbia’s road to Europe. The elections will be a choice between Europe and investors are extremely careful.”
Heavily reliant on foreign investment for growth, Serbia is believed to need between 3.0 billion and 5.0 billion euros a year to ensure solid economic growth, single digit inflation and financing of its current account gap of 16 percent of GDP.
“In the absence of the required level of foreign investment, foreign creditors could also decide to put on hold lending to Serbian companies,” said Pavle Petrović of the FREN/CEVES thinktank said.
“The resulting crisis would lead to forcible reduction in external gaps through inflation, currency depreciation, a fall in output and wages. In that case, the central bank could soothe and postpone, but not eliminate the crisis,” he said.
Crisis Group–an NGO that analyzes and tracks extant and potential conflicts around the world–allows individuals to sign up for the monthly CrisisWatch newsletter. This month’s newsletter informs its readers that “twelve actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated in February 2008, and four improved.”
The situation deteriorated in Armenia, where – as CrisisWatch went to press – a violent crackdown sought to suppress eleven days of protests after presidential elections that the opposition claimed were rigged. A state of emergency has been declared, and armed forces are reportedly mobilising for broader repression.
Attacks on Timor-Leste’s president and prime minister underlined the need for security sector reform in the fragile country. Yet their aftermath – including the killing of former head of military police Alfredo Reinado, who led the attack on the president – presents an opportunity for the government to address key issues.
Rebels in Chad launched a major assault on the capital N’Djamena in which hundreds were killed and thousands displaced. A state of emergency is still in place amid reports of a heavy government crackdown. In Darfur, the Sudanese government attacked three towns and an IDP camp from both ground and air, marking the worst violence in the region in months.
The situation also deteriorated in Cameroon, Comoros Islands, DR Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Israel/Occupied Territories, Philippines, Serbia and Somalia.
Serbia’s B92–an independent news source in Serbia–reports that protesters have ransacked the Slovenian embassy in Belgrade, and damaged the U.S. Embassy and a McDonald’s. The protesters view the U.S. as the major patron of the Kosovar Albanians and the major facilitator (with help from the E.U.) of today’s declaration of independence. I presume that the Slovenian embassy was attacked because Slovenia is the current holder of the rotating Presidency of the EU. Here’s part of the report (in English), along with footage of the protesters:
BELGRADE — At least 30 policemen and 30 civilians were injured as protesters demonstrated against U.S. and EU Kosovo policy.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse rioters that attacked them after vandalizing a McDonald’s restaurant in downtown Belgrade.
Earlier, the Slovenian embassy came under attack when a group of some 30 people broke a police cordon to smash the windows and ransack the building, tearing and burning the furniture inside and flags displayed on the balcony. Police then managed to contain the situation and push them back.
Previuosly, the protesters, several hundred strong, shortly stopped in front of the Serbian government headquarters, to proceed toward the U.S. embassy.
Police were out to secure the parameter, but although the organizers said the protest would be peaceful, cars were being demolished, while stones and lit flares were flying toward the embassy building and the officers themselves.
As of the beginning of 1991, the Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia was an internationally recognized state, which consisted of six republics (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) and 2 autonomous regions within Serbia–Vojvodina and Kosovo. As of today, with Kosovo declaring its independence from Serbia, the only one of those eight political units that is not an independent state is Vojvodina. The New York Times reports that the euphoric Albanians showed their gratitude to the United States for the development:
PRISTINA, Kosovo — The former Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence on Sunday, sending tens of thousands of euphoric ethnic Albanians into the streets of this war-torn capital to celebrate the end of a long and bloody struggle for national self-determination.
The declaration marks the final dismemberment in the 17-year dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. It also brings to a dramatic climax a showdown between the West — which argues that the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal subjugation of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians cost Serbia its authority to rule the territory — and Belgrade and its ally Moscow, which counter that Kosovo’s independence declaration is a reckless breach of international law that will spur other secessionist movements across the world.
Ethnic Albanians from across the world streamed into Pristina, braving freezing temperatures and heavy snow, to dance in frenzied jubilation. Beating drums and waiving Albanian flags, they chanted “Independence! Independence! We are free at last!” while an enormous birthday cake was installed on Pristina’s main boulevard.
An outpouring of adulation for the United States — Kosovo’s staunchest ally in its quest for independence and the architect of NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against Mr. Milosevic — was evident everywhere. Thousands of revelers unfurled giant American flags, carried posters of former President Bill Clinton, and chanted “Thank You U.S.A.!” and “God Bless America.”
Meanwhile, balkaninsight.org reports on an anti-U.S. counter-rally in the streets of the Serbian capital of Belgrade:
17 February 2008 Belgrade _ Hundreds of protesters blocked the Embassy of the United States in downtown Belgrade on Sunday, less than an hour after Kosovo’s leaders unilaterally declared the province’s independence from Serbia.
Protesters in Belgrade pelted the embassy building and police with stones and torches. At least one policeman was carried away in an ambulance. The number of injuries in the crowd could not be verified immediately.
Serbian police in full riot gear had cordoned off the embassy and managed to push protestors away from the embassy. The crowed scattered in nearby streets, but its numbers continued to grow.
Waving Serbian flags, burning signal torches and chanting nationalist and anti-American slogans, the crowd had initially tried to block both entrances to the embassy compound, which stretches over two apartment blocks on Kneza Milosa Street.
“We want to show we hate Yanks and Shiptars [a pejorative for Albanian],” a young protester who identified himself only as Dejan said, using a derogatory Serbian term for Kosovo Albanians.
BELGRADE — PM Vojislav Koštunica addressed the nation today as ethnic Albanians unilaterally declared Kosovo’s independence.
It a televised address from the seat of the Serbian government in Belgrade, Koštunica rejected this act as illegal, and declared it null and void.
“Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of a false state is the final act of a policy that started with the NATO aggression against Serbia in 1999,” the prime minister said.
“Never has the truth about why Serbia was savagely destroyed by NATO bombs been more clear,” he continued, and added that “NATO’s military interests lie behind the proclamation of this false state.”
From bd at Richmond, here’s a link to reporting by MSNBC on Kosovo.
From the BBC, we learn that the Albanian majority in Serbia’s southern region of Kosovo is expected to vote for independence from Serbia within days. The province has been controlled by the international community since the end of the NATO-led war against Slobodan Milošević ‘s regime in 1999. In PLSC250 yesterday, we discussed the Kurdish campaign for self-determination and noted some of the arguments for and against. The most comepelling argument for secession/independence is a deontological argument based on the inherent right of groups to decide for themselves their system of government. The most obvious argument against is a utilitarian one, voiced here by Serbia’s Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremić :
[Independence for Kosovo] would lead to an uncontrolled cascade of secession
Here’s more from the article:
Vuk Jeremic said Serbia would not use force to stop the secession but warned that allowing it would give a green light to other separatist movements.
The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo is expected to announce its breakaway from Serbia within days.
Russia has warned that recognition of Kosovo would be illegal and immoral.
Speaking after the closed session, Serbia’s foreign minister said that is was not too late for diplomats to prevent Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.
The BBC reports that centrist candidate Boris Tadić has won more than 50% of the vote in the second round of the Serbian presidential elections held on Sunday. Turnout was high and the Serbian electorate has, with a slight majority, signaled its intention of looking towards the future and the West, rather than returning to the nationalist rhetoric and policies of Serbia’s recent past.
Mr Tadic wants to push forward his European integration agenda
Serbia’s pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, has won a second round election run-off against nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic, who conceded defeat. Mr Tadic was re-elected by more than 50% of voters in a contest that saw a high voter turnout.
Car horns could be heard around Belgrade as Tadic supporters took to the streets of the Serbian capital to celebrate the victory.
The election was seen as a referendum on Serbia’s relations with Europe.
“Serbia has shown its great democratic potential,” said Mr Tadic said in his victory speech, in which he lauded Mr Nikolic for his performance in the knife-edge contest, and said the country still had hard work ahead.
According to results released by the Election Commission of the Republic of Serbia, a second round of voting will be needed to elect Serbia’s next president. Current president, the moderate Boris Tadić, finished second (with 34.5% of votes cast) to challenger, Tomislav Nikolić, (40.0%) whose campaign was based on stark appeals to nationalist sentiments in the Serbian body politic. Given that neither candidate received the required 50% to be formally declared the first-round winner, Tadić and Nikolić will compete head-to-head in a run-off election on February 3rd. (Many European countries’ election laws also require winning candidates to have won 50% of the vote to avoid second-round run-off elections.)
The election outcome is seen as a battle between those who would aspire to a new era of Serbian politics, stressing future political and economic integration with the rest of Europe, and their opponents, who it is argued desire a return to the Milošević-era inspired nationalist ethos. The election could prove to be (yet another) important watershed in contemporary Serbian political affairs, evidence of which is the turnout, which was the largest in almost ten years. Here is a nice, short article from Time magazine explaining the future implications of the elections and
below is a video report from Russia Today can be found here.
Below is a report prepared for the Sunday Telegraph in advance of the elections: