05 December 2019
Going, Going, Gone
Bye bye, dear leader.
By Neil Tidmarsh
The last few weeks have given us dramatic proof that a general election isn’t the only coconut shy in a democracy.
Mr Morales was the first to be knocked off his pedestal; he was evicted from Bolivia’s presidential palace last month and promptly hurried off to exile in Mexico. But he’s probably too busy asking himself “What went wrong?” to enjoy his retirement in the land of corona and burritos. The question must keep him awake at night. After all, he followed the Chavez/Maduro playbook to the letter during his 13 years in power: first, lift masses of your citizens out of poverty; then consolidate your grip on power by (a) altering the constitution and (b) running elections which most observers condemn as “irregular”; finally, set your security forces loose on any citizens who complain about the slide from democracy to dictatorship.
But of course Mr Morales fell at that last hurdle; his police force and army refused to back him when his citizens – outraged when he changed the constitution to allow an extra presidential term in defiance of a referendum last year and incensed by the “irregularities” in last month’s election which he claimed to have won outright – took to the streets and demanded his resignation. (A coup d’etat, Mr Corbyn? Hardly – the armed forces have shown no inclination to fill the resulting power vacuum and fresh elections are on the horizon.) What bitter might-have-beens fill Mr Morales dreams in exile? If a loyal, ruthless and brutal security force had been willing to shed the blood of unarmed civilians and innocent protesters, as in Venezuela, would he be sleeping soundly and dreaming sweetly in the Bolivian presidential bed even now?
Perhaps not. It seems to be working for Mr Maduro in Venezuela, but it didn’t work for Mr Adel Abdel-Mahdi in Iraq. He resigned as prime minister last weekend, after a month of anti-government demonstrations protesting about corruption, inefficiency and Iran’s influence. But it wasn’t the demonstrations which forced him out – it was revulsion against the security forces’ slaughter of the protestors. The army, the police, armed militias and masked snipers have sent hundreds of protesters to the graveyard and thousands to the hospital in the last few weeks. Not that Mr Abdel-Mahdi’s resignation has done anything to stop the massacres; they continue, with graphic reports in the press today about the police (not to be outdone by soldiers opening fire with automatic weapons) killing protesters by firing tear gas canisters point-blank at their heads. What sort of bitter might-have-beens could Mr Abdel-Mahdi be dreaming about? If his armed forces hadn’t been quite so brutal, quite so ruthless, quite so loyal in their opposition to the anti-government protesters, would he still be prime minister?
Perhaps not. In Lebanon, the army has remained both loyal and relatively restrained throughout months of widespread anti-government protests. The protesters – demonstrating against corruption and inefficiency – have been violently attacked by militant groups such as Hezbollah and the Amal Movement but not by the army or the police, who have largely restricted their efforts to keeping roads clear and containing potential violence. The army has been responsible for one fatality; the military was quick to identify a suspect, however, and the soldier has been charged with murder. But neither the army’s loyalty nor its restraint was enough to save prime minister Saad Hariri, who resigned last month.
A murder of a different kind has brought down the prime minister of Malta. Joseph Muscat is going, going if not quite gone. Last week, long-running investigations into the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia finally penetrated his government; he promised to resign next month, when he steps down as leader of the governing Labour party on 12 January. Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese businessman with connections to the government, has just been charged with ordering the murder; he is now claiming (reportedly) that the murder was in fact ordered by prime minister Muscat’s chief of staff and close friend, Keith Schembri. Mr Schembri resigned last week, as did former energy minister Konrad Mizzi, both of whom were targets of Ms Galizia’s anti-corruption investigations, along with Mr Fenech. There are even allegations that plans were afoot to frame an innocent minister for the murder. Public demonstrations and a walk out of MP are demanding that Mr Muscat step down immediately and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to hold on until January.
Also going, going… the president of the United States of America? Earlier this week, the House Intelligence Committee published a 300 page report which “brings his impeachment a step closer” (The Times). The report concludes that Mr Trump did withhold aid to Ukraine in an attempt to squeeze Kiev for material he could use against his political rival Joe Biden, and that he has tried to obstruct the impeachment enquiry by ordering people not to testify; abuses of power, it claims, perhaps even high crimes and misdemeanours…
Meanwhile, by contrast with all the above, protests and demonstrations in Iran and Venezuela continue to be put down with brutality and bloodshed while the regimes remain intact. A different kind of coconut shy altogether.