Issue 218: 2019 10 10: Corruption

10 October 2019


A manifesto must?

By Neil Tidmarsh

Here’s a question to ponder as a general election appears to be looming somewhere on the horizon: corruption – a vote winner or a vote loser?

No question, you might say.  It’s a vote loser.  Simple.  Look at Austria – the Freedom Party took a pounding in last month’s elections because its former leader, ex-vice chancellor Hans Christian Stracher, is mired in a swamp of allegations about the misuse of expenses and the soliciting of back-handers from murky foreign sources.  Look at Kosovo, where last weekend’s election was won by Albin Kurti and his anti-corruption party Vetevendosje, defeating ex-prime minister Ramush Haradinaj who will shortly be on his way to the Hague to face war-crime allegations.  Look at Ukraine, where political outsider and anti-corruption campaigner Volodymyr Zelensky triumphed over the country’s entire political establishment, widely seen as corrupt, in elections a few months ago.  Look at Russia, Iraq and Indonesia, where massive popular protests against corrupt politicians have been taking place in recent weeks.

Hmm, well, yes, but… nevertheless… it’s not quite as simple as all that.  In fact it’s rather confusing.  For instance, what are we to make of the current presidential elections in Tunisia?  One of the leading candidates –in fact one of the two favourites – is Nabil Karoui.  He sailed through the first round last month and will face the other leading candidate, Kaïs Saïed, in the second round show-down this coming Sunday.  He emerged from the first round more or less neck and neck with his rival, with just over half a million votes.  However, Mr Karoui is having some trouble campaigning – he was arrested and charged with corruption last August and has been in prison ever since.  He was absent from last month’s televised debates, for instance (rather ironic as Mr Karoui owns a tv station), and he hasn’t been able to give television interviews (although this week the electoral commission did recommend that he should be allowed to do so, in the interests of a fair fight).  None of this prevented sixteen percent of the electorate from voting for him.

And what are we to make of the recent elections in Israel, where prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s block managed to hang onto their lead (only just, admittedly) in spite of the allegations of corruption hanging over him?  He’s the subject of three corruption investigations, and pre-trial hearings have been taking place at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem this week.  He’s expected to face criminal charges any day now, and many believe that the election was a cynical attempt by him to secure a prime minister’s immunity from prosecution for another term.  His rival Benny Ganz has pulled out of coalition talks, declaring that he wouldn’t serve in a government run by a prime minister facing criminal charges, but that doesn’t change the fact that a big chunk of the country’s electorate was prepared to vote for such a prime minister.

And if corruption was indeed a vote-loser – if electorates invariably voted for the clean, anti-corruption candidate – wouldn’t that produce parliaments and governments full of clean, anti-corrupt politicians? But consider this week’s news from Peru.  President Vizcarra has been trying to pass anti-corruption laws but congress has repeatedly blocked his attempts.  He finally lost patience and decided to close parliament down, only to have MPs retaliate by ousting him and replacing him with his vice-president (who then resigned and called for elections…).  This anti-anti-corruption parliamentary revolt appears to have been led by Keiko Fujimori, who is herself under investigation for money laundering and whose father – former president Alberto Fujimoro – is in prison for embezzlement (in fact, most of Peru’s recent presidents have been mixed up with corruption investigations).

Consider also the news from Indonesia.  The government has proposed legislation which would change the country’s anti-corruption body, the Corruption Eradication Commission (or KPK), restricting its powers and putting it under the control of the government.  Corruption was rife under the Suharto dictatorship (1967-1998) and the legacy lives on; the work of the KPK has led to the arrest and trial of hundreds of politicians and other members of the establishment in recent years.  The possibility that parliament will pass the new legislation has provoked massive and violent protests by students (who believe that the proposed changes would leave the KPK impotent in its fight against corruption) in cities throughout the country.

How to explain these contradictions?  Do clean candidates become corrupt politicians once elected?  Are clean candidates hypocrites and liars, hiding their dishonesty until they’re in a position which both protects them and allows them to indulge their baser instincts?  (President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala was elected three years ago as the anti-corruption candidate – his campaign’s slogan was “neither corrupt nor a crook” – but since then he’s been dogged by corruption allegations and has tried to block a UN-backed international investigation into those allegations and expel its commissioner).  Could it be that ‘corrupt’ politicians are in fact clean politicians, smeared and framed by their opponents, who are the real corrupt ones? (as is claimed by supporters of opposition figures found guilty of corruption in Russia and of fallen politicians in China, and by – yes – Ms Fujimori of Peru).

It’s all so confusing.  So complicated.  It’s almost impossible to know what to think or write (almost as impossible as knowing who or what to vote for in the looming election, if it ever materialises).  Wouldn’t it be easier if one were simply told what to think and write?  And, simpler and better still, if one were told what to think and write in return for a big brown envelope stuffed full of cash and left in an anonymous locker at St Pancras International station?  And, thinking about it, wouldn’t it be simpler and easier if one’s vote in the forthcoming election was also –

(Editor – Stop right there.  That’s quite enough of that kind of talk.  In fact I’m shutting down this week’s comment here and now.)



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