Tuesday, 22 March 2016

BELGIUM: ''Brussels Terror Attack''

At least 36 people were killed and many injured in Brussels terror attack today. An explosion occurred at a metro station in Brussels close to the European Union's institutions in the Belgian capital, shortly after twin blasts rocked the city airport. The metro blast occurred shortly after 0800 GMT, in the morning rush hour, at Maalbeek station. Belgium has hiked its terror threat to its highest level after deadly explosions. The alert level is raised from three to a maximum of four, and was applied across the country.

The terror attacks in Brussels is the consequence of the opening of the borders on the European Continent; the policing in Europe and lack of common strategy. The Police authorities in European Union member states exchange too little data  and the Schengen Agreemeny, which regulates the freedom of borderless travel within the EU, is questioned. 

Belgium now finds itself at the center of a major terror attack. It is not known yet rather the suspected masterminds of the Brussels terror attack came from Brussels or other European cities. However what we know is that the Brussels has long been considered to be the hotbed for radical Islamists. Troubled neighborhoods like Molenbek and Anderlecht are known as being homes to secluded communities of immigrants in which radicals can easily go underground. So has Belgium become the center of terror in Europe and security risk for the entire continent. 

I am not personally surprised at all about today evil terror attack in Brussels. I can attribute two factors to this attack: The sectionalism of Belgium policing and a lack of monitoring and social control of radicalized Muslims. 

Brussels is a city of 1.2 million people and it has not one, but six different police agencies. These agencies answer to 19 different municipal mayors who are often political rivals. It is unbelievable that something like this exists in Europe's capital. Furthermore, the unresolved conflict between the country's two largest populations, the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Wallons is casting a shadow over all this. 

The Belgian government has sought for the past 40 years to defuse the situation through the decentralisation of the state. The country's flemish interiour minister has called for the six police authorities in the greater Brussels area to be merged in response to the Paris attack, but he failed dramatically. The security agencies are also considered to be poorly equipped, especially in less-prosperous areas like Molenbek. Besides, the budgets are always very tight in Brussels. Surveillance, wire-tapping and the deployment of informants is costly, both in terms of personnel and money. 

The result is that many Muslims who have become radicalized or received military training and may even have been traumatized are returning home from Syria without anyone checking on them whatsoever. It is a problem that is bigger in Belgium than anywhere else in Europe. No other country on the Continent has seen as many jihadists travel to Syria relative to the overall population. 

Belgian authorities estimate that out of a population of 11 million residents, around 500 have so far made the journey to jihad in Syria, by comparison, it is estimated that 800 people from Germany, a country with a population of 81 million, have traveled to Syria. And even with its much larger security apparatus, the dimension of the Islamist terrorist threat has already taken Germany to the limits of its capabilities. 

In this sense, Belgium's problem is also a European Problem. The exchange of information is working , but it is slow and cumbersome and in acute crisis situation, like this one, channels of communication are frustratingly complex. For example, European police authorities do not use common databases. Information has to be transferred from country by fax or email and then fed into national systems. 

Despite this, politicians in EU countries are still placing their emphasis on policing in order to finally get a lid on the problem of Islamism. Belgium, as well as the rest of Europe, has tried prevention and Belgium needs to get repressive. It has been a form of laissez-faire and laxity. Now Belgium is paying the bill. 

Some are calling for more work in the long term to convince Muslim youth that there is an alternative to radicalism. But these people who are firing their weapons and blowing themselves up do not appear out of nowhere. They were not born yesterday, in the months or solely in the context of Daesh. They are children and grandchildren of 50 years of radical ideology and jihadists. And whereas it has taken a half-century to create this jihadi culture, it will take many more years to convince Muslims that the jihadi culture has led Islam to its current moral and intellectual disaster; but it is never too late to start.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-Photo of Belgian Police at Zaventem Airport, Brussels

Friday, 18 March 2016

VENEZUELA: Nicolás Maduro's troubles

Venezuela's ongoing political battle between its three branches of government, which has paralyzed efforts to stop the country's slide into the economic abyss, is slated to get worse. The Democratic Unity Roundtable-the opposition coalition known by its Spanish acronym MUD, that won a parliamentarian majority in last year's elections-has called President Maduro to end Venezuela's crisis peacefully by holding fresh presidential elections. 

Just a decade ago, much of the political left in Latin America and beyond still admired Venezuela's ambitious socialist project; they applauded President Hugo Chávez and hailed Venezuela's socialism as an appealing alternative to market-based approaches. Today, few dispute that it has failed. Venezuela now faces an economic and humanitarian disaster, and the situation is only getting worse. 

According to International Monetary Fund (IMF), the economy contracted ten percent last year, and it is projected to shrink at least eight percent this year. Inflation is forecast to reach 700 percent. All over the country, energy shortages leave the streets in darkness for hours every day. The capital, Caracas, has one of the highest murder rates in the world. And in a country with a barely functioning health system, an estimated 400,000 people have contracted the ''Zika'' virus, and the numbers keep rising. All of this in the country with the highest proven oil reserves in the world. 

After more than 17 years of what Chavistas called ''socialism of the twenty-first century'', Venezuela is even more dependent on oil that it was when Chávez assumed power in 1999. Then, oil accounted for less than 80 percent of all exports. Today, it accounts for 95 percent of exports and at least 25 percent of the country's GDP. With the price of oil below $40 a barrel-and even lower for the heavy crude that Venezuela produces-the country is running out of hard currency. 

The fiscal deficit is approximately 17 percent of GDP, and President Nicolás Maduro-Chávez's handpicked successor who was elected for a six years in 2013--has slashed imports in an effort to preserve scarce foreign currency. In a  country that barely produces anything but crude oil, however, the result has been chronic scarcity. 

As the economic crisis worsens, a government default seems increasingly likely. According to Venezuela's Central Bank, the country's debt amounts to a staggering $138 billion--equivalent to six years of oil exports. In late February, the government spent a significant share of its available cash reserves to make a $1.5 billion payment, but it still has to cover more than $ 10 billion this year. 

So far, Maduro has insisted that his government will fulfill its external obligations. He even sacked his recently appointed minister of the economy when the minister hinted that a selective default was an option. Yet Maduro's own negligence and inability to make desperately needed economic reforms have driven the country into an impossible situation. The country lacks the money to pay its debt and buy essential imports. Continuing along the current path is a sure recipe for economic disaster, and the government will almost certainly have to restructure its debt and begin wrenching reforms. The longer the government delays these decisions, the greater the pain is likely to be. 

At the center of this intractable situation is the state-owned oil company: Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). Because no one in the international community has much reason to trust in Venezuela, the cash-desperate government has been issuing bonds through PDVSA in an attempt to obtain new funds at lower interest rates. By this point, however, the government has squeezed the company dry. Not only has PDVSA, like the the government itself, run out of money to fulfill its own debt obligations, but the government also forces it to finance many of the social movement Chávez created, to maintain political support. In 2012, PDVSA contributed almost $44 billion to social welfare programs. 

A government default would thus drag PDVSA down with it. Unpaid creditors would seek to impound the oil giant's global assets: its tankers, refineries, shiploads of fuel, and other properties. A government default would also probably force PDVSA to sharply curb its funding of the social programs that are essential for the preservation of the government and of Chavismo itself. The Venezuelan economy would, for all practical purposes, cease to function at all. 

If Venezuela is to avoid this outcome, China will have to play a critical role. Over the past decade, China has provided Venezuela with approximately $65 billion in loans. Roughly a third of Venezuela's debt is owed to China. So far, China has been willing to help keep the country afloat--China wants privileged access to Venezuela's oil reserves over long term--with loans in return for oil shipments. But with the price of oil so low, half of the oil Venezuela ships to China every day ( over a third of Venezuela's total production) is used just to repay previous loans. 

The Chinese share of Venezuela's foreign debt, however, may be the easiest to restructure, thanks to the decade long alliance between Beijing and Caracas. Given China's interests in Venezuela, China would probably be willing to extend payments and grant some concessions in return for even greater access to the country's oil and minerals on favorable terms. Yet even reaching an understanding with China may not be enough for Venezuela to avoid the collapse of its economy and a default on the rest of its debt. 

Private international investors hold most of Venezuela's government--and PDVSA--issued bonds, and they are much less inclined to strategic patience. As a result, Venezuela will likely go into default this year or next. As it does, it will have to work out a restructuring plan with its creditors. This will not be easy: Most Venezuelan bonds do not include collective action clauses, which allow a debt restructuring if a certain percentage of bond-holders agree. Without this provision, even a small number of creditors could block a negotiated deal, as Argentina discovered after its own default in 2014. 

Since 2007, Caracas has had no ties with the IMF, rejecting the institution as an instrument of U.S. imperialism intent on imposing severe discipline on the nation. As a result, should Venezuela default, it will de shut out of the global economic system and, in all likelihood, be unable to export its oil. But if the country does not default, it could just be prolonging an unsustainable situation at an immense economic and social cost. The only way out for Venezuela will be economic reform. Yet so far, the government has proved unable to take serious action. 

In February, Maduro issued a decree proclaiming an economic emergency and announced the increase in the price of gasoline in 17 years. Thanks to inflation, gas has become practically free for Venezuelans: filling a tank cost less than 50 cent. But Maduro's move had little impact: gas remains extremely cheap, at about six cents a gallon. This means that domestic consumption remains too high, and Venezuelan drivers use oil that could be sold on international markets at much higher prices. The incentives for smugglers to sell oil to neighboring countries such as Colombia at great profit remain unchanged. 

The president also devalued the national currency, the bolivar, by more than 60 percent, hoping to reduce the wide gap that exists between the official rate and the black market exchange rate. But most of the economy still uses an exchange rate that trades at over 100 times the official rate value, and the peculiar system of multiple exchange rates has contributed to the acute shortages of basic goods. 

Maduro's economic reforms have thus been utterly inadequate. On the political front, the government is finally paying the price for its chronic economic mismanagement. The opposition coalition won an impressive majority in the National Assembly in last December's parliamentary elections. Although Maduro has used his control of the judiciary and other key institutions to resist attempts to curtail his power, even moderates within the opposition are now advocating a referendum on a constitutional amendment to remove him from office as soon as possible. 

Supporters of Chavismo, in turn, have accused the opposition of orchestrating an ''economic war'' alongside foreign actors to plunge Venezuela into even deeper chaos. Such accusations have no merit, but they show that any semblance of cooperation between the executive and the assembly to alleviate the country's economic collapse is, at least for now, far-fetched. As a result, there will likely be little progress so long as Maduro remains in office. 

For now, he appears unwilling to step down under any circumstances. But one potential path forward could involved the resignation of Maduro and his replacement with a more competent and moderate Chavista, such as the vice president, Aristóbulo Istúriz. Political compromise with the opposition is crucial. Otherwise, if violent social unrest breaks out, the military would need to play an increasingly influential role as arbiter. 

The depth of the economic crisis and suffering of the Venezuelan people suggest that the country is close to breaking point. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse before they get better. But the international community should be ready to step in as soon as the Venezuelan government request help. At the very least, countries must prepare to ship food, medicine, and other basic goods to help ease the country's ongoing humanitarian crisis. International financial institutions should be preparing contingency plans to assist Venezuela if the government commits to real reform. And support should include measures to promote political reconciliation. 

Venezuelan society is bitterly divided. Even in the most optimistic scenario, it will take many years to overcome such rancorous divisions. Ultimately, however, a solution must come from within . It is Venezuela's democratic institutions, as damaged as they are, that still hold out the best hope for the future.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Getty-Images of protest in Caracas

BRAZIL: The Political Crisis...

Brazil is teetering on the brink of a constitutional crisis, after a judge blocked President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to her cabinet, prompting clashes in Congress and on the streets.

It is not clear whether Mr Lula will be able to claim his seat in Mr Rousseff's cabinet. After Thursday's ceremony-which ended with the current and former presidents raising their clasped hands together in triumph while supporters chanted ''There will not be a coup''-another federal judge ordered Mr Lula's appointments to be suspended.

The judge, Itagiba Catta Preta Neto, was responding to a petition filed by a Brazilian lawyer challenging the legality of the appointment, an action allowed under Brazilian law. the administration has appealed the order to the Supreme Court. The opposition hailed the decision as a triumph for Brazilian democracy, while the government vowed to appeal, lambasting the order as part of a 'coup''by the country's elite, reminiscent of Brazil's period of military rule.

The legal challenge reflected the view of many Brazilians who see Ms Rousseff's move as a desperate bid to shield Mr Lula from charges, under a provision that prevents sitting federal politicians from trial except by the Supreme Court..Ms Rousseff's opponents also denounced Mr Lula's appointment as akin to giving him the unofficial status of a prime minister and claimed the maneuver was equivalent to a coup--an accusation Ms Rousseff hurled back at her adversaries.

Overnight, another judge, Sérgio Moro, who oversees the broad corruption case dubbed ''Operation Car Wash'', had released recording from a wire-tapes of Mr Lula discussing his rapid appointment with the president, fueling critics' view that the move was aimed at mutual self-preservation. But some legal experts questioned the justification for his move--he said the public needed to know what was in the tapes--and the president complained of ''selective leaks'' intended to implicate her and Mr Lula.

Mr Moro has been aggressively overseeing the bid-rigging and bribery scandal probe centered on state oil company Petréole Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobas. Mr Lula and many other politicians and business have been swept up in the investigation. In recent months Mr Moro has become a national idol to his growing number of admirers, his profile splashed across magazine covers and emblazoned on street protesters' T-shirts.

Detractors say the 43 year old judge is overstepping his judicial authority. Mr Lula's lawyers criticized Mr Moro's conduct as ''serious attack on the democratic rule of law''. While Mr Moro has basked in rock-star-style adulation, Mr Lula has in recent months been reviled in newspaper editorial pages and lampooned by protesters. A giant balloon of the former president in prison stripes has become a popular prop at anti-government demonstrations like those that have broken out in several Brazilian cities since Wednesday.

Ms Rousseff was linked to the scandal for the first time week in testimony by a senator of her party in plea-bargain agreement, has infuriated critics inside and outside government with her appointment of Mr Lula. The opposition accused the President, Dilma Rousseff, to have fiddled with government accounts in 2014 to mask budget holes during her re-election campaign; breaking the law by taking unauthorized loans from state banks to cover government spending and also continuing this practice in 2015 at the start of her second term.

For the former president, Lula da Silva, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is charged with accepting a luxury apartment and a country home as bribes from executives implicated in a $2 billion dollar corruption scam at state oil company Petrobas. He denies involvement in the scandal.

Brazil's lower house of congress on Thursday launched a 65- member special committee to draw up a motion on whether impeachment proceedings should be launched against Rousseff. Lula meanwhile is in limbo after prosecutors called him to be arrested on corruption charges.

The congressional commission has two weeks to vote on whether to continue impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Its recommendation would then go to the full house where two-thirds of deputies-342 out 513-are required for impeachment to be upheld. At this point Rousseff would be suspended and matter would go to the Senate. The upper house, overseen by the presidents of the Supreme Court, would then vote, with a two thirds majority--54 of 81--needed to force Rousseff from office.

On paper, Rousseff's ruling coalition, with 314 deputies, would easily defeat impeachment. But congress is split over her performance. On Saturday, her major coalition partner, the centrist PMDB party, said it would decide within a month whether to leave the coalition. Vice President Michel Temer, leader of PMDB, did not attend the swearing-in of Lula and a PMDB convention on Saturday banned its members from taking new posts in Rousseff's government.

Recent opinion polls indicate that 60% of Brazilians back Rousseff's impeachment. Rousseff's approval rating is only 10%. However the legal issues of the prospect of impeachment are not clear. The allegations of the crime that the opposition accuses the president are not legally the type of the crime that can be personally pinned on the president in order to force impeachment or resignation. But also in Brazilian presidential system, impeachment is not to be turned into a veto of no-confidence, which could be potentially dangerous precedent.

Thursday's events plunged Rousseff's government into deeper uncertainty as she struggles with public anger, economic chaos and the splintering of her coalition in Congress. Lula and Rousseff have between them governed Brazil for the past 13 years. He presided over a boom, but political and economic crises are gripping Latin America's biggest economy.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: Reuters=

Thursday, 17 March 2016

E.U.: The ''ECB'' & Euro Challenges

These are not happy times for Europe. Ukraine, Russia, and rising anti-democratic influences in Hungary and Poland represent latent threats at the European Union's eastern front. The prospect of Brexit is a more acute one at its western front. 

After letting loose manifold conflicting forces that continue shaping politics in many EU countries and setting on collision course with their partners, the refugee situation appears to be on the verge of bestowing another humanitarian crisis on the union's most vulnerable and unfortunate member: Greece. Never mind the Catalan question: it almost appears minor by comparison, but actually represents yet another fundamental challenge to the European project. ''Misfortune seldom comes alone'', a German saying goes; the nation that is increasingly pulling the strings in Europe affairs but appears at risk of alienating  itself even more so than its partners while doing it. 

Considering all this the European political authorities may almost be forgiven for having lost sight of the smoldering crisis of the euro, the union's flagship endeavor that was meant to foster prosperity and political union-but turned out to deliver quite the opposite. One key player, the European Central Bank( ECB), does not wish to partake in the peculiar mix of denial and delusion about the state of euro.

As the specter of deflation and lasting ''Japanization'' or worse, taking hold, again, the euro's guardian of stability readies itself for unleashing a fresh round of unconventional policies to prop up the Eurozone's feeble recovery. So it is Draghi showtime again. But how much good, if any, can the ECB really do at this point? The ECB showman's display of apparent power may be turning into a sad saga of hope and desperation. The ECB can no longer camouflage the fact that ample central bank liquidity alone will not heal the manifold and deep euro fault lines that are plaguing the currency and symbol of European unity. Make no mistake: Europe will very likely be facing crunch time this year-with nowhere to hide for no one. It took the ECB many years to wake up to euro realities. 

The ECB is legendary for its reluctance to ease interest rates in the face of downside risks. It was still in hiking mode when Lehman Borthers failed in the fall of 2008. While keeping banking system afloat through emergency liquidity provision, it abhorred the idea of ''quantitative easing'' (QE) pursued by the Federal Reserve and Bank of England early on in response to the crisis. Instead the ECB even prematurely hiked rates twice in 2011. Draghi's famous promise to ''do whatever it takes'' then calmed the markets in the summer of 2012, but this was only after interest rate differentials between Eurozone members has soared and credit dried up, as the risk of default on national debt and currency re-denomination became investors' foremost concern. The ECB stood by when a credit crunch and brutal fiscal austerity were suffocating the Eurozone.  

Domestic demand shrank for eight consecutive quarters. A meager and uneven recovery only emerged in mid-2013, But lasting damage had been done by then, also in terms of wage and price trends. The urge to restore their competitiveness relative to Germany has forced Germany's euro partners to embark on deflation, given that inflation in Germany itself is close to zero while wages are rising at barely 2.5 percent or so. As a result, inflation in the Eurozone as a whole was to diverge downward from the ECB's declared price stability norm of 2 percent. 

It took the ECB until the summer of 2014 to realize that it would miss its mandate by a wide margin and more than just temporarily. To its credit, the ECB has explored new paths since then. It has designed special liquidity programs to entice bank lending. It has cut its policy rated and moved short-term market rates below zero. And it has belatedly also engaged in QE featuring large-scale purchases of national public debt. These measures have done some good. Interest rate levels and spreads have shrunk considerably. Bank lending has stopped shrinking and is even growing a little; falling interest rates reduce debtors' burdens. 

So one benevolent side effect was to provide relief to public finances and restore some fiscal space. Following years of counter-productive austerity fiscal stance has turned broadly neutral. Another side effect was to depreciate the euro. This may seem convenient at first, but in view of the euro-zone' surging external imbalance it can only be judged as globally destabilizing factor. Hence doing more of the same might well backfire. In particular, cutting short-term rates deeper into negative territory would risk currency market instability and retaliation. 

Regionally, the ECB would turn on the heat on Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland in particular, as their central banks have to keep their rates below euro rates to battle disruptive currency moves. Globally neither the Japanese nor the Chinese authorities will be amused for sure-assuming that at least the US authorities will practice benign neglect regarding dollar strength. The point here is that domestic is weak and economic instabilities ripe everywhere. There just is no neighbor around to beggar who could really afford it. But doing more of the same also threatens the Euro-zone's already fragile banks. 

Banks's business is to transform risks and maturities. Apart from fee income and trading, bank profitability hinges on risk and term spreads. If they cannot pass on negative rates to their own liabilities, reducing returns on their assets squeezes spreads and profits margins. Especially when banks are still laboring with legacies of non-performing loans anyway, bank lending might suffer as s result. Also, as capital is scarce and costly, banks may resist exploring riskier propositions: they are operating under somewhat more scrutiny these days. 

So what else could the ECB try? For one thing, instead of relying on portfolio rebalancing into riskier assets by banks the ECB might have to pile into those riskier assets itself. Timidity may stand in the way here. For another the ECB should focus its purchases on Euro-zone assets other than German ones. In the promised land of the common market and common currency borrowers would be facing equal financial conditions irrespective of their nationality. While sovereign spreads (and private credit spreads priced of them) have decreased, the playing field is still far from level. 

For political and legal reasons this route may be blocked completely. One peculiar irony is that German banks are suffering the most as result. German sovereign debt shows negative yields up to almost ten years now. The ongoing profit squeeze is particularly brutal for them, and more of the same would likely mean just that. If the ECB could bluff the yield curve steeper, it probably would have happened already. This only highlights the futility of deliberately pushing a large economy into deflation while hoping to rescue it by easy money alone. And it also underscores that the German authorities have done themselves a great disservice by once again blocking constructive and responsible policies at the latest G-20 meeting. 

Consider adding ''Gexit'' to the list potential challenges facing Europe in the near future. A country that is running an 8 percent of GDP external surplus but resists rebalancing is holding its euro partners-and through them the world at large-hostage. Germany has steered Europe seriously off track and shows few signs of learning from the experience. In the end, Gexit might actually come as a relief.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Getty-Images photo: European Central Bank-logo

SPAIN: Governmentless

It took Spain's political parties a staggering 44 days to properly react and head-on on the outcome of the general election on 20 December. In a country hardly accustomed to tight election results and coalition talks, the aftermath of the vote left the political class not only in dismay but, more worryingly, in stasis. 

Almost three months after a general election that has so far failed to produce a government, the running joke among the country's chattering classes has become that Spain is now Italy. But without Italians. Or more precisely, without Italians nerve of steel for brinkmanship and their long history managing it. 

The other joke-this one much more serous and revealing of the political culture-is that for almost 40 years Spain functioned as a presidential system disguised in parliamentarian robes. A de facto two-party system was able to amass enough votes on either side of the political divide to produce strong and stable governments that could turn the parliamentary chamber into a mere extension of the executive branch. Until this last election, that is. 

It has not only buried the two-party system and suddenly forced parliamentarian manners on the political culture but also revealed a lack of political stewardship and negotiation skills that is putting Spain's still young democracy to the test. As for the public and the media, they have required a crash course on the rules and procedure of a genuine parliamentary system of government. 

Perhaps the most bizarre moment since the election came when Mariano Rajoy, head of he conservative PP and acting prime minister, rejected the King's offer to-as head of the list with the most votes-lead the effort to gather support in the Cortes (176 votes needed for outright majority) to form a government. Rajoy declared himself unwilling while insisting he was not stepping aside. A tactical maneuver that went against a basic tenet of parliamentarian life: if the party with the most votes is unable to form a government, other parties get a shot. Rajoy wanted it both ways: avoid the political costs of a failed attempt while remaining on the sidelines arguing that his party had the most votes and therefore the right to govern. 

Three weeks into the post-election period the first formal contacts among the parties took place timidly. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos, the party that came third, used the King as emissary to pass a message along to his counterpart in the socialist party(PSOE), Pedro Sánchez. If Iglesias were named vice-president and other Podemos leaders occupied several leading cabinets in the government, Podemos would be willing to comprise and support Sánchez as head of government. 

Even though the two left-leaning parties did not reach the coveted 176 MPs required, Iglesias nonetheless demanded that Sánchez stop talking to other parties. The reply from Sánchez was befuddlement, as he learned of the offer-complete with a minister allocation diagram-directly from the media. No prior consultations, negotiations or pre-accords. 

Another tactical move, this time by Podemos, that revealed just how little the parties are used to open talks and negotiations with their counterparts.These events were preceded by a fully-fledged attack by Sánchez's own party regional bosses who attempted to block a compromise with Podemos by sacking him in an improvised party conference they tried to set up and failed to enforce. Not exactly a show of party unity in a time of strife; the rifts provoked by the results of the election cut not transversely along ideological lines, but also deep into the parties and their structures. 

Finally, 44 days after the election took place and after the second round of party talks with the King, a formal offer was made only earlier last month: the King asked Sánchez to try to form government. The socialist leader accepted the offer and has been fighting an uphill battle ever since. The arithmetical possibilities are limited and require him to find support on both his right and left flanks. And, with a German style grand coalition off the table, the road to the premiership gets trickier by the day. 

Sámchez has few weeks time to try to get the backing for his accord with Ciudadanos. If Sánchez cannot win a majority or avoid other parties' votes against him within two months, the new parliament will be dissolved and fresh elections called-with the very real possibility that the ensuing results are remarkably similar to December's vote. And with no formal institutional mechanism to break the deadlock, this dynamic could go on indefinitely. And then, Spain could actually be comparable to Italy. Or worse: a parliamentarian system of government accustomed to tidy majorities incapable of functionality channeling political representation. 

Spain has learning curve ahead: its de facto two-party system that narrowed representation but allowed the country to function as en efficient quasi-presidential system for almost 40 years has been squashed by an electorate sick and tired of the same old party tricks: a new era of true parliametarianism is upon them. 

The real question is whether the Spanish political parties are up to the test. Can they leave behind the rigid party discipline required by a presidential system and adopt a more flexible approach to government demanded by a real parliament?

Despite this, the Kingdom of Spain received strong demand last week for a 30 year benchmark bond, with the spread over Italy and quantitative easing proving to be enough to make up for the fact that the country in effect has no government. The sovereign last week printed a 5bn 2.90% October 2046 bond, following in the footsteps of Italy, Austria and Belgium in accessing this part of the curve in recent weeks.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-photo of : Spain Incumbent Prime Minister: Mariano Rajoy.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

FRANCE: El Khomri Law

A new labor law, commonly referred to as ''the El Khomri law'' after the French Minister of Labor, Madame Myriam El Khomri, has generated significant attention in France over recent weeks. 

Tens of thousands of students and trade unionists rallied across the country last week against the government's labor reform plans, which put almost all aspects of France's strictly codified labor rules up for negotiation,  On Monday, Prime Minister, Mr Manuel Valls, unveiled a revised labor reform bill that makes concessions to trade unions following mass protests against the measures. 

In the revised version, the government will no longer impose a cap on severance for dismissed workers, a measure many companies argued would have helped reduce the uncertainty of going through the industrial court system. Instead, the new limits will be introduced as non-binding guidelines. But also give industrial courts more latitude than originally planned to assess the health of a company trying to lay off workers. Currently magistrates can block job cuts if they find that a company's other affiliates are profitable. The government wanted to limit the scope to as single location, but has now expanded that to include all of the company's activities in France. 

Despite Monday's concessions, the CGT and FO unions said that they wanted the government to scrap the bill completely, suggesting that Valls and President F. Hollande may face further protests in the coming weeks. 

The recent furore in France over the new labor law highlights a couple of unpleasant truths about the country. The new law, it is true, aims to introduce some measures that attack symbolic and real holy cow on the Left, a rather dramatic expansion of what constitutes a ''normal'' working week to 46 hours; a financial ceiling for unjust dismissal; and a redefinition of what unions are allowed to do in the case of disagreements and strikes. In short, French labor law will look a lot like its German counterpart. 

Let's not be flippant: these things matter, even in so called modern workplaces. But, then again, those workers also have unions to police the laws and protect them. Unfair dismissal is a real problem, which has no place in decent society-but it is not necessarily a problem that can be resolved by making compensation payments more unpredictable; French employers need to grow up and accept that workers have hard rights in workplaces. And too often a collective agreement is held up by one union not because that union fundamentally disagrees with it, but because all the others have signed it and thus ''sold out''. As usual the law was introduced without much debate with trade unions that represent those affected. 

In case things do not work out via the standard channels, the government has even made it clear that it might enforce the law without a vote- as if it were dealing with a state of emergency. The result, as usual in such cases in France: now that the law is tabled in parliament, the rest of the country engages in social mobilisation. Instead of taking the time to bring constituencies on board and then pass an amended version that has broad agreement, the government wrote the law and sent it to the ''Assembléé'' for approval. That makes for fast decision-making, sure, but also very slow or even implementation. 

Not surprisingly, the law, or much of it, has immediately been stamped as part of the ''neo-liberal'' project that the Left government is trying to force down the throat of the French. While the unions have been relatively moderate in their judgement, they see a few good things in the law but on the whole wish to see a lot of amendments and retractions-French employers are ritually foaming at the mouth, and every other possible group that could be affected has voiced its concern, including the ''Front National''. 

The law has also been the starting gun for grand maneuvres on the Left in preparation for the presidential elections. President Hollande is, to put it gently , not very popular. Elections are taking place in a little over a  year, and this law is a perfect opportunity for some big beasts in Hollande's Socialist Party (PS) to sharpen their profile with the party base. 

It is not a coincidence that Madame ''Martine Aubry'', the previous female Minister of Labor and a Social Affairs in the 1990s, who introduced the 35-hour week, is among the most vocal opponents of the law. She may have good substantive reasons for her problems with the law. Yet there is also little doubt that her ambitions to run for president, as she did in 2011 but lost to Hollande, have not been tempered and this is too good an occasion to ignore. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is all not going to matter much. The problem with France does not lie on the supply side of the labor market. Sure, France could perhaps do with a little more flexicurity-type flexibility here and there, as the law is introducing-although it is hardly the rigid nightmare that everyone believes it to be-and there are some relics among the labor laws that make life comfortable for some groups of workers while doing the opposite for others. 

But French growth and unemployment do not, did not, and never have depended on a more flexible labor market. The Problem with France is simple: It is in a monetary union with Germany, a much stronger, better-organized economy and therefore pays a high cost in no longer being able to control the main levers of economic adjustment, from interest rates via exchange rates to fiscal policy.

Because they no longer can rely on those instruments, politicians are looking for solutions where they can in the same way the proverbial drunk is looking for his keys under the light by the lamp post. He did not get home safely.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-photo of : French Labor Minister Madame: Myriam El Khomri

U.S.: Politics of Anger

Perhaps the only surprising thing about the populist backlash overwhelmed the politics of many democracies is that is has so long. 

Even two decades ago, it was easy to predict that mainstream politicians's unwillingness to offer remedies for the insecurities and inequalities of our hyper-globalized age would create political space for demagogues with easy solutions. Back then, it was Ross Perot and Patrick Buchman: today is Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and sundry others. History never quite repeats itself, but its lessons are important nonetheless. 

We should recall that the first era of globalization, which reached its peak in the decades before World War I, eventually produced an even more severe political backlash. In the heyday of the gold standard, mainstream political actors had to downplay social reform and national identity because they gave priority to international economic ties. The response took one of two fatal forms in the interwar period: Socialists and Communists chose social reform, while Fascists chose national assertion. Both paths led away from globalization to economic closure and far worse. 

Today's backlash most likely will not go quite far. As costly as they have been, the dislocations of the great recession and the euro crisis pale in significance compared to those of the Great Depression. Advanced democracies have built-and retain (despite setbacks)-extensive social safety nets in the form of unemployment insurance, retirement pensions, and family benefits. The world economy now has functional international institutions-such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization-that it lacked prior to the Second World War. Last but not least, extremist political movement such fascism and communism have been largely discredited. 

Still, the conflicts between a hyper-globalized economy and social cohesion are real, and mainstream political elites ignore them at their peril. The internationalization of markets for goods, services, and capital drives a wedge between the cosmopolitan, professional, skilled groups that are to take advantage of it and the rest of society. 

Two types of political cleavage are exacerbated in the process: an identity cleavage, revolving around nationhood, ethnicity, or religion, and an income cleavage, revolving around social class. Populists derive their appeal from one or the other of these cleavages. Right-wing populists such as Trump engage in identity politics. Left-wing populists such as Bernie Sanders emphasize the gulf between the rich and the poor. 

In both cases, there is a clear ''other'' toward which the anger can be directed. You can barely make ends meet? It is the Chinese who have been stealing your jobs or in the case of Europe, it is the Immigrants. Upset by crime? It is the Mexicans and other immigrants who bring their gang warfare into the country. Terrorism? Why, Muslims, of course. Political corruption? What do you expect when the big banks are bankrolling our political system? Unlike mainstream political elites, populists can easily point to the culprits responsible for the masses' ills. 

Of course, establishment politicians are compromised because they have been at the helm all this time. But they are also immobilized by their central narrative, which smacks of inaction and helplessness. This narrative puts the blame for stagnant wages and rising inequality on technological forces beyond our control. It treats globalization and the rules that sustain is as inexorable and inevitable. The remedy it offers, investment in education and skills, promises few immediate rewards and would bear fruit years from now, at best. 

In reality, today's world economy is the product of explicit decisions that governments have made in the past. It was a choice not to stop at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and to build the much more ambitious-and intrusive-WTO. Similarly, it will be a choice whether to ratify future mega-trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. 

It was the choice of governments to loosen regulations on finance and aim for full cross-border capital mobility, just it was a choice to maintain these policies largely intact, despise a massive global financial crisis. However, even technological change is not immune from government agency. There is much that policy-makers can do to influence the direction of technological change and ensure that it leads to higher employment and greater equity. 

The appeal of populists is that they give voice to the anger of the excluded, they offer a grand narrative as well as concrete, if misleading and often dangerous, solutions. Mainstream politicians will not regain lost ground until they, too, offer serious solutions that provide room for hope. They should no longer hide behind technology or unstoppable globalization, and they must be willing to be bold and entertain large-scale reforms in the way the domestic and global economy are run. 

If one lesson of history is the danger of globalization running amok, another is the malleability of capitalism. It was the New Deal, the welfare state, and controlled globalization (under the Bretton Woods regime) that eventually gave market-oriented societies a new lease on life and produced the post-war boom. It was not tinkering and minor modification of existing policies that produced the post achievements, but radical institutional engineering.

By Dani Rodrik

Dani Rodrik is Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University's John Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of ''The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy and, most recently ''Economics Rules'': The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science''

Photo-Credit: Professor Dani Rodrik photo-Getty Images

Monday, 14 March 2016

WORLD:-ZIKA- Humankind v the Culicidae

As the world focuses on Zika's rapid advance in the Americas, experts warn the virus is just one of a growing number of continent-jumping diseases carried by mosquitoes threatening swathes of humanity. The battle against the insects on the streets of Brazil is the latest in an ancient war between humankind and the Culicidae, or mosquito, family which the pests frequently win.

Today, mosquito invaders are turning up with increasing regularity from Washington DC to Strasbourg, challenging the notion that the diseases they carry will remain confined to the tropics. Ironically, humans have rolled out the red carpet for the invaders by transporting them around the world and providing a trash-strewn urban landscape that suits them to perfection. 
The Aedes aegypti species blamed for transmitting Zika breeds in car tyres, tin cans, dog bowls and cemetery flower vases. And its females are great at spreading disease as they take multiple bites to satisfy their hunger for the protein in human blood they need to develop their eggs.
Around the world, disease-carrying mosquitoes are advancing at speed, taking viruses such as dengue and Zika, plus a host of lesser-known ills such as chikungunya and St. Louis encephalitis, into new territories from Europe to the Pacific. The concern is that we have these species spreading everywhere. Today the focus is on Zika but they can carry many different viruses and pathogens. 
In 2014, there was a large outbreak of chikungunya, which causes fever and joint pains, in the Caribbean, where it had not been seen before, while the same virus sickened Italians in 2007 in a wake-up call for public health officials. Europe has seen the re-emergence of malaria in Greece for the first time in decades and the appearance of West Nile fever in eastern parts of the continent.
Out in the Atlantic, the Madeira archipelago reported more than 2,000 cases of dengue in 2012, in a sign of the northerly advance of what - at least until Zika - has been the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease.
In the past 40 years, six new invasive mosquito species have become established in Europe, with five arriving since 1990, driven in large part by the international trade in used vehicle tyres. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in the tyres and they hatch when rain moistens them at their destination.
North American health experts are also racing to keep up, with the first appearance of Aedes japonicus, an invasive mosquito, in western Canada last November and Aedes aegypti found in Washington DC, apparently after spending the winter in sewers or Metro subway stations.
The speed of change in mosquito-borne diseases since the late 1990s has been unprecedented. For many experts, the biggest potential threat is Aedes albopictus, otherwise known as the Asian tiger mosquito, which is expanding its range widely and is capable of spreading more than 25 viruses, including Zika.
In the United States, Aedes albopictus has been found as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as California. In Europe it has reached Paris and Strasbourg. Adding to the challenge for public health authorities are the blurred lines between diseases carried by different mosquitoes, as shown by research in Brazil this month that another common mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, may also be able to carry Zika.
There have been some victories against mosquitoes, thanks to insecticide-treated bed nets and vaccines against viruses like yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, as well as a new one for dengue approved in December. But mosquitoes still kill around 725,000 people a year, mostly due to malaria, or 50 percent more than are killed by other humans, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Climate change adds a further twist. A 2 to 3 degree Celsius rise in temperature can increase the number of people at risk of malaria by 3 to 5 percent, or more than 100 million, according to the World Health Organization. Hotter weather also speeds up the mosquito breeding cycle from around two weeks at 25 degrees to 7 to 8 days at 28 degrees, according to the Institut Pasteur's Failloux.
A public health emergency is, above all, a human crisis, But its consequences do not end there. A major emergency, whether its severity is real or perceived, can have a significant economic and political impact. Now the World health Organization has declared the Zika virus an ''International public health emergency'', warning that the mosquito-borne pathogen is spreading explosively, the Zika outbreak has become loaded with even more political power. 
There is some evidence that Zika may be linked to Guillain Barre Syndrome, a fully-body paralysis that, if confirmed, could make Zika seem much more menacing, because it can potentially have a devastating impact in a much larger segment of the population. For political leaders, the challenge is multifaceted, and if handled with defines, it is not without potential benefits. 

Leaders must demonstrate a combination of empathy and competence. The more serious the crisis grows, the higher the stakes. For politicians who are in government, the cost of failure could prove politically fatal. Ineptness in confronting Zika will magnify the impact of their perceived weakness. But even those out of government, especially those who are currently candidates for high office, will need to manage the problem with great care. For now, it is largely Latin American and Caribbean leaders who are facing the demands of dealing with Zika. 

The epicenter of the outbreak is in Brazil, where the disease may have arrived from Africa, brought by fans attending the 2014 World Cup. The timing of the crisis in Brazil gives it a potentially enormous political impact. Zika comes at the intersection of several important developments. 

First, President Dilma Rousseff is fighting for her political life. She is trying to avoid impeachment, and her approval ratings have sunk into single digits, which could make her handling of Zika make-or-break for her.  Second, the country is entering its annual Carnival period, a nation-wide, week-long street party, which could make it easy for the virus to spread more rapidly. Third, Brazil is preparing to host the Olympic Games this summer. This means that if the spread is not contained, the cost in tourism revenue could bring another blow to the already struggling Brazilian economy. In fact, you can count Brazil's current economic brittleness as the fourth item on the list. And yet, Zika does not bring only political downside. 

Like all crises, the virus has the potential to repair political careers. And if there is one political career that could use some repairing these days, it is Rousseff's. It is no secret that having an external enemy can work wonders for an embattled leader. The enemy is not usually a mosquito, but Zika and its vector might just do. Presidents and Kings have long known they can from facing outside enemies, in the form of the familiar rally-round -the flag effect seem during times of war. A well-managed war against Zika might just produce a sense of national unity and common purpose that could boost the standing of Brazil's leader. 

So is it time to wipe out mosquitoes altogether? Aggressive action in the 1950s and 1960s, including the use of the pesticide DDT, certainly pushed them back for a while. Today, genetic modification, radiation and targeted bacteria are being considered. Trying to eliminate all mosquitoes, however, would make no sense, since there are 3,549 species and fewer than 200 bite humans.

The strategy is to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, distribute insecticide and give help to families of afflicted children. The outbreak also has the potential to bring change on another level, challenging the calculus on politically charged social issues, as is already happening on the issue of abortion. 

Par Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit:

EU: The twilight of ''democracy”

Instead of worrying too much about the extreme left and right, we should focus more on the extreme center, When the idea of economics hijacking European Union politics, it creates an extreme center of EU. 

Normally we think of extremes on the far right and the far left, forgetting the rise of ''extreme center''. While the extreme left and the extreme right exist, they’re not very strong—though the extreme right is getting stronger. The reason the extreme right is getting stronger is because of the extreme center. 

The extreme center is the political expression of the neoliberal state. That economics and politics are so intertwined and interlinked that politics now, mainstream politics, extreme center politics, are little else but a version of concentrated economics. And this means that any alternative—alternative capitalism, left Keynesianism, intervention by the state to help the poor, rolling back the privatizations—becomes a huge issue. The entire weight of the extreme center and its media is turned against it, which in reality now is beginning to harm democracy.  

There are a lot characteristics that define extreme center.  For one, continuous wars—which we have now had since 2001—starting with Afghanistan, continuing on to Iraq. And even since Iraq, it’s been more or less continuous. The appalling war in Libya, which has wrecked that country and wrecked that part of the world, and which isn’t over by any means. The indirect Western intervention in Syria, which has created new monsters. These are policies, which if carried out by any individual government, would be considered extremist.  

Now, they’re being carried out collectively by the United States, backed by some of the countries of the European Union. So that is the first extremism. The second extremism is the unremitting assault on ordinary people, citizens inside European and North American states, by a capitalist system which is rapacious, blind, and concerned with only one thing: making money and enhancing the profits of the 1%. These two are the central pillars of the extreme center. Add to that the level of surveillance and new laws which have been put on the statute books of most countries: the imprisonment of people without trial for long periods, torture, its justification, etc. 

The European Union is a union of the extreme center. It’s a banker’s union. You see how they operate in country after country, appointing technocrats to take over and run countries for long periods. They did it in Greece; they did it in Italy; they considered it in other parts of Europe. The EU is effectively a union dominated by the German political and economic elite. Its main function is to serve as a nucleus for financial capitalism and to ease the road for that capitalism. 

So the EU is undemocratic; decisions are not made by parliament; the European Parliament is not sovereign. How could it be when Europe is divided into so many different states? The decisions are all made by the representatives of the different members of the European Union, i.e. the governments of Europe, which are extreme center governments in most cases. And so, the European Union has lost virtually all of its credibility amongst large swaths of the European population.  

There are some things which Europeans cannot do if the United States does not wish them to do them. So, one cannot discuss Europe without understanding US imperial hegemony, both globally and certainly in Europe as it stands. It’s an alliance that the Americans control, in which the EU of course has a great deal of autonomy, but in which it still is very dependent on the United States, especially militarily, but not only in that respect. 

Effectively, the EU is a very powerful bureaucracy, dominated now by the German elite, which is backed by the rest of the European Union members. If you go to former Yugoslav states, the Balkan states, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, the situation is dire. Not to mention Bosnia, which is just run like a colony. The way they used to stand up and sing hymns to President Tito, they now salute the EU flag. It’s a very strange transition that we’re witnessing in most of Europe. And the prospect of another crisis, which is being predicted now and which will be worse than what we saw in 2008, could bring the European Union down unless there are huge reforms from within to democratize, to give more power to the regions. If this does not happen, the European Union will fall. 

The last economic crisis never ended, and another one may loom. Europeans have endured years of unemployment and underemployment, stagnation or falling living standards, and cuts to state services on a scale ranging from steep to decimation. The disintegration of Syria has sent a tidal wave of human misery crashing over the country's borders, some of it lapping on the shores of the European continent. And already the populist, anti-immigration right is in a strong position, from Sweden to France, Greece to the Netherlands. So when Greece's motorcycling former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis warns that Europe could be falling into ''a modern 1930s''. 

It is time to sit up, listen  and prepare. Instead of worrying too much about the extreme left and right, we should focus more on the extreme center.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Éditions ''ENI''-photo of : Guylain Gustave Moke

Friday, 11 March 2016

LESOTHO: One Party Regime

In Lesotho, the opposition has been boycotting Parliament for the last nine months. Two events that took place last week show the extent to which the impasse has left a dent in the democratic credibility of the country.

On Monday, 1 March, Parliament convened to discuss and pass its national budget. This would be the second consecutive national budget passed without full attendance from the opposition. Meanwhile, the government also held a meeting with the opposition to discuss their grievances along with the parliamentary boycott. The opposition leadership was not in attendance, which raises doubts about whether this and other such meetings would bear fruit. 
The eventual outcomes of these developments will be critical to the future stability, governance and democratic credibility of the country. The parliamentary logjam first began at the end of June last year when former prime minister Thomas Thabane - now the official leader of the opposition in Parliament - fled to South Africa. Thabane, along with his counterparts from the Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho, claimed that members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were plotting to kill them.
The total number of opposition members of parliament (MPs) is 55, while the governing coalition has 65 seats in Lesotho's 120-member legislature. Despite an intervention by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the parliamentary opposition leadership is still in exile and their remaining colleagues have boycotted parliamentary sittings. They demand, among other things, the safe return of their leaders and other exiles, and the removal of Lesotho's army chief, Tlali Kamoli. The government says the opposition's concerns are ungrounded, but Thabane has insisted that he would only return to Lesotho with protection from SADC.
As a multiparty democracy, the effectiveness of the party system in Lesotho's Parliament depends on the relationship between the government and the opposition. The continued boycott shows that Basotho politicians are not able or willing to resolve the stalemate, which could affect Lesotho's standing in the international community.
Donor confidence is waning, which is a major concern for the country's economy given its dependence on external funding. Last week, the European Union decided not to disburse €26.85 million (approximately R451 million) meant to support Lesotho's national budget, citing a failure to meet its eligibility conditions. The United States also deferred awarding Lesotho with aid from its Millennium Challenge Cooperation last year, citing security and political unrest. Its eligibility will be reconsidered over the course of the year.
Another reason why the boycott is so significant is the fact that the governing coalition has a relatively slim majority of 54% of seats in the legislature, while the political opposition holds 46%. The strength of the opposition can make it difficult for government to unilaterally institute constitutional reforms, as they would not have the required two-thirds majority.
The boycott has also called attention to the position of its army general, Kamoli: a matter that has become the elephant in the room of Lesotho's politics. Kamoli was discharged from this position by the previous coalition government in 2014, and Thabane accused him of a coup attempt the same year. He was re-instated in 2015 by Lesotho's new coalition government under Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. It was under Kamoli that former LDF commander, Lieutenant-General Mahao was killed by his colleagues who had come to arrest him for an alleged mutiny plot. Some 23 soldiers have subsequently been charged with mutiny and incarcerated.
The court martial case of the 23 soldiers has been postponed until May this year. A SADC Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances of Mahao's killing as well the political disturbances in the country, recommended that Kamoli be removed from his post. The SADC Commission of Inquiry report also recommended that government ensure the safe return of the exiled opposition leaders and that the mutiny suspects be released.
Donors have described the prevailing situation as a step backward in Lesotho's democratic development; while SADC threatened it with suspension for failing to abide by its decisions. Yet none of the recommendations have been implemented, and it is business as usual in Maseru.
SADC has reportedly given the government a new deadline of 31 March to prepare a roadmap for implementing its recommendations, and will deploy an oversight committee to monitor progress on the ground. Meanwhile, the opposition maintains that it will not go back to Parliament to give legitimacy to what they perceive to be an unaccountable government.
The parliamentary standoff now also rests on the implementation of the SADC report - which is likely to be a very slow process, if it happens at all. Tsoeu Petlane, Director of the Transformation Resource Centre, a Maseru-based non-governmental organisation, says there is little political will to implement the recommendations of the report. 'Mosisili did not release the report to the public, but to Parliament instead. This has implications on how it will be processed. One of his most glaring comments was that the [SADC] Commission's work was reprehensible in many aspects. He also said that the recommendations were not binding, and that some will not see the light of day.'
With regards to the opposition boycott, Petlane argues that the strategy has outlived its political utility. 'It is denying them input into debates on crucial national issues, including the interrogation of the SADC Commission report. They also need to be in Parliament to insist on other priorities, including the Human Rights Commission Bill that is currently under discussion. If passed in their absence, we may see Lesotho establish an institution that does not meet international standards. This would be a disservice to Basotho beyond the current term of government and Parliament.'
Boycotts from the opposition can paralyse Parliament and affect government functioning, but in this case, government appears to have a different view. Dr Fako Likoti, the political advisor to Lesotho's prime minister, argues that Parliament can work effectively without the opposition. 'There is no reason why the opposition is boycotting Parliament.
'The exiled opposition is not being honest about their safety; they have been spotted numerous times in Maseru and are simply refusing to go home to gain political mileage. The issue of the opposition in Parliament is not negotiable, especially because the boycott has nothing to do with Parliament. They left Parliament on their own accord. In fact, they are violating Lesotho's constitution.'
Indeed, according to Section 60 of the Constitution (as amended in 1997), 'a senator or a member of the national assembly has to vacate his or her seat if absent from one third of the total member of seatings in Parliament, without the written permission of the Speaker of Parliament.' Certainly, the opposition does not have permission from the speaker to embark on and continue with the boycott. The government has not, however, evoked this provision as yet.
The impasse could also mean that the legislature is deprived of its mandatory quorum of lawmakers to make Parliament function. But, in Lesotho, Parliament can sit even with a minimum of 30 MPs. According to its parliamentary standing orders, the mandatory quorum of Parliament and its committees is 30 MPs, besides the person presiding. This means that Parliament can still sit and conduct its business without the opposition. But clearly, its effectiveness would be undermined by the absence of opposition legislatures, who would sit in different parliamentary committees.
The crux is that without the opposition, Lesotho's government effectively operates like a one-party regime; an image the state should steer away from. Regardless of the position of government, the current regime needs the opposition back in Parliament to bolster its legitimacy and its commitment to change. It would also ease pressure from donors and from SADC.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: