Saturday, September 20, 2008

'Tis the season to resign

Last weekend, two countries forced their leaders to step down - South Africa's ANC called for the resignation of their President Mbeki, and Israel asked their PM Olmert to step down.

In fact, the last couple of months have seen a call for the change of leadership across the world. Everywhere, people are calling for change. But what exactly? It's all too easy to say we don't like what we see today. But to come up with a concrete vision for tomorrow, is quite a different task altogether.
In Malaysia, the saga has been going on for a good while now. PM Abdullah Badawi has been ask by senior members of his own party to quit soon to save the Barisan Nasional from its battered political position. The Barisan Nasional has seen a crisis of credibility across the board, not only in the eyes of its minorities but also the poor Malays who continue to languish in poverty despite the governments affirmative action such as the Bumiputra law.

In Thailand, the PAD (opposition party) sit-out at the Government House in Bangkok has gone on with quite a stamina, leading to the ouster of then PM Samak. He's now been replaced by a much less assertive figure Somchai Wongsawat, brother-in-law of ousted premier Thaksin. Not quite the change the PAD and their supporters were looking for. Still, Somchai may not have the metal of his predecessor, but he did do some good work as minister of education, making education free and more accessible for people living in the rural areas.

The PAD wants change. But not the change that is good for Thailand or its enshrined democracy. The PAD leadership is neither liberal nor democractic and the change they seek is in fact a regression to old-style authoritarian rule with a mostly appointed parliament and powers for the army to step in when it chooses.

Skipping over to the African continent, in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki was forced to resign over corruption charges. A high court judge accused Mbeki and senior justice officials of being part of an illegal conspiracy to charge Zuma (his political rival) with corruption for political ends.

But Mbeki has been good for South Africa's economy. He has been responsible for the emergence of a "Black" middle class in South Africa and his pro-business policies saw the country rise as one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investments in the developing world. Yet, growth has only trickled down to a small minority and Zuma claims to have the solution to South Africa's widening income and social inequality. Though he claims that he will not reverse Mbeki's economic policies, it is hard to see how he will be able to create an economy that is both pro-business and pro-union (from which his main support comes from) at the same time.

Over to Israel, PM Olmert was asked to resign on Saturday over corruption charges and did so promptly the next day. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni is poised to succeed him if she manages to form a new government within 42 days.

With Israel, it's hard say what change they could be looking for, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. But it is heartening to know that Livni supports a two-state system, which would facilitate peace with Palestine, far better than the position of the opposition party, Likud, which is Ultra-nationalist and anti-Palestine.

With all this change in the winds sweeping across the globe, it's now time for us to watch and wait to see if this really brings a storm of change, or if it is just a light breeze of reprieve from the old stink of corruption, war and politicking.

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