Last Thursday, an annual Venezuelan ritual took place. Venezuelans of every social class and all sides of the political spectrum sat down to watch and comment on the Miss Venezuela, the country's national beauty pageant. As a Venezuelan expatriate, I find it hard to take the whole thing seriously. As an analyst, though, I have to find a way to explain it.
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Joseph Allchin explains why the war crimes trials under way in Bangladesh show why transitional justice and party politics don't mix.
Christian Caryl argues that treating democracy as an inevitable outcome may actually hurt the cause of democracy.
Nazila Fathi looks at how Iranian leaders are responding to the deepening economic crisis created by sanctions.
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Jakub Wisniewski gives the background to Poland's remarkable economic success story.
In our latest case study published in conjunction with Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Laura Bacon and Rushda Majeed tell the story of a remarkable Sicilian mayor who decided to take back his city from the Mafia.
In this week's column, Christian Caryl explains the lingering scandal behind the story of Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator. Caryl also reports on the reasons why the U.S. government has decided to withhold its assent to the new UN telecommunications treaty that the Americans accuse of infringing on the freedom of the Internet.
Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the internal Muslim Brotherhood politics that are fueling the current unrest in Egypt.
Adam Baron analyzes the problems that plague Yemen on the way to a planned national political dialogue.
Corey Brettschneider argues that the U.S. government should actively condemn hate speech as well as protecting the freedom of the word.
Endy Bayuni explores the reasons behind the current surge in union activism in Indonesia -- including the surprising willingness of local governments to support wage hikes.
Juan Nagel mulls over the continuing speculation about a successor to cancer-plagued Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
The Project on Middle East Political Science offers a video conversation on the new Egyptian constitution with expert Nathan Brown.
At Jadailyya.com, Linda Herrera, Magdy Alabady, and Adel Iskandar analyze the political role of Mohamed El-Baradei in Egypt's current political unrest.
Writing for the Jamestown Foundation, Wladimir van Wilgenburg explains why fighting between Kurdish groups and Arab rebels helps Bashar al-Assad.
The website of the pro-democracy group Girifna offers an update on the latest protests in Sudan.
Democracy Digest offers two useful takes on the situation in Venezuela amid renewed reports that President Hugo Chavez is again struggling with cancer. One post speculates on the fate of chavismo without Chavez. The second brings together commentary on the state of the opposition as speculation about the possibility of a post-Chavez Venezuela revs up again.
Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, posits that corruption is becoming the new galvanizing issue for activists around the world.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty offers a breakdown on a Swedish documentary that tracks corruption linked with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan.
The Monkey Cage features a post in which an array of political scientists weigh in on the function of legislatures in authoritarian regimes:
A new report from the International Crisis Group explains why Muslim insurgents are gaining ground on the government of Thailand in the country's turbulent South.
A new U.N. report details illegal drug trends in Asia and the Pacific.
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Labor unions in Indonesia are becoming more militant -- at times aided by the government -- in demanding higher salaries and in claiming their share of the national economic pie that has grown so rapidly these last few years. As is typical of many emerging market economies, Indonesia's growing prosperity has been accompanied by a widening income gap between the rich and poor, and unions blame this on the country's cheap labor policy.
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From my observation of democracies around the world, I'm worried that the risk of a slide into authoritarian rule in South Africa over the next several years is rising and substantial.
This pessimistic view emerges from an unconventional understanding of what makes democracies survive or fail. For the past couple of decades, American scholarship on this subject has emphasized popular legitimacy and the habituation of elites to democratic norms and procedures as the means by which democracy solidifies. In this view of the world, the passage of time without failure is considered a useful indicator of consolidation, because time roughly measures the amount of habituation that's taken place. If that's right, then the 18-year run of South Africa's post-apartheid democracy bodes well for its ability to survive shocks that would break younger regimes.
Amidst the current national debate about Indonesia becoming a failing state, one important factor that has been completely overlooked is the question of whether or not the world's fourth most populous nation is dealing with demographic pressures effectively.
The Failed State Index 2012 puts Indonesia in 63rd place out of the 171 countries surveyed by Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace. This is dangerously close to the category of failed states in the top 60 of the table. Indonesia scores higher than 7.0 in five of the 12 areas surveyed (the higher score indicates higher failure): group grievance, uneven economic development, security apparatus, the rise of factionalized elites, and demographic pressures.
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If history is any guide, it's the bread-and-butter issues that tend to make Burmese people take to the streets. Then, when the authorities use force against these initial protests instead of peacefully managing popular demands, popular outrage mushrooms into a full-scale uprising. That's what happened with the pro-democracy protests in 1988 and the Buddhist monk-led "Saffron Revolution" in 2007. The first was triggered by a confiscatory currency reform along with police brutality against student protesters, the second by a hike in fuel prices in combination with police attacks on monks. Now Burma appears to be facing a similar situation once again.
For days people in cities around the country have been publicly protesting chronic power shortages. The authorities tolerated the demonstrations at first. Then, on Thursday, police in the town of Prome (Pyay), 160 miles northwest of Rangoon, beat up hundreds of protesters, most of them holding candles to symbolize the lack of electricity. Several protestors were detained and subsequently released after intervention by local parliamentarians. Whether this crackdown was an isolated incident or a sign of growing impatience among the country's security forces remains to be seen.
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Can Burma make headway towards democracy when it's still saddled with an authoritarian constitution? Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo argue that countries in comparable situations have managed to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
Skeptics say that Brazil's economy is losing its mojo. But Albert Fishlow begs to differ, explaining why investors shouldn't give up so soon.
Christian Caryl tells the peculiar story of a West Texas town that has become a player in the global human rights industry.
Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
There's an old Acholi proverb: "Land is like a fish with its mouth wide open, waiting to swallow you." If there's one thing that unites the Acholi people, it's the obsession with land.
For the past four or five years I've been observing the growing land conflict in Acholi. The land question has become a leading subject of debate and discussion.
There seem to be many different people who want to have land in Acholi, and they have many ways of getting it. Some have used the government structures; others have simply grabbed it by force. Officers of the Uganda People Defense forces (UPDF) have been accused of amassing huge chunks of land in the region in the wake of the devastating conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
As I write this, about 2,000 Burmese workers in a town on the outskirts of Rangoon are continuing a strike at the Chinese-owned Tai Yi slipper factory. (The photo above shows a worker at a garment factory in Rangoon.)
"This could be the biggest labor strike since oil workers went on strike and marched in protest against the Burma Oil Company and British colonial rule in 1938," Phoe Phyu, a young lawyer who represents the workers, told me earlier this week. "More than 90 percent of the workers joined the strike."
The walkout started on Feb. 6, when the company refused to pay five days of wages that it had deducted for a holiday to mark the Chinese New Year, which is not officially recognized in Burma.
An industrial worker in Burma earns about $50 to 60 per month. All workers have to work overtime, and draw on hard-to-get performance bonuses to make around 60,000 to 70,000 kyat ($75 to $87.50) a month.
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Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.