DILI, East Timor — All is calm in East Timor, but tension bubbles under the surface in this island state a few days before the historic, first post-independence parliamentary election, slated for June 30.Fourteen parties and coalitions arevying for seats in an election whose only certainoutcome is the creation of a meaningful political opposition, and thus potentially a more functional democracy than this former Portuguesecolony has ever known. However, only the next few months will prove whether that will translate into the stability and peace needed for real development, or into more trouble. The real political battle is between former […]

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has won a power struggle with officials of Turkmenistan’s government who played key roles in building and maintaining the oppressive regime of his predecessor, and who helped bring the new president to power. It remains unclear, however, whether Berdymukhammedov intends to use his consolidated power to continue down the dictatorial path of former leader Saparmurat Niyazov, or to institute promised reforms. The influential head of the presidential security service, Akmurad Rejepov, who served the late Niyazov loyally for nearly 20 years, was removed from office in mid-May. While Turkmenistan’s state television said Rejepov […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – A decision by the Colombian government to release hundreds of guerrillas from state jails has sparked controversy and provoked criticism among political allies of Álvaro Uribe, the Colombian president. Earlier this month, over 150 imprisoned Marxist guerrillas were transferred from prisons to a temporary holding center as part of a unilateral prisoner release that Uribe hopes will kick-start a prisoner swap and prompt the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to free scores of hostages held by the rebels in remote jungle camps across the country. Among the 56 so-called political hostages, […]

CARACAS, Venezuela — In a fit of rage last Thursday, Maria Bausson gripped her nearly empty water bottle, rushed over to a metropolitan police officer and thrust it into his hand as a nonviolent gesture. “There, have my bottle. It’s all I have,” said Bausson, 22, an architecture student at the Central University of Venezuela. After police blocked the path of university students supporting national reconciliation and civil liberties en route to Plaza Caracas, students allowed their passions to flare. Student leader Yon Goicoechea remounted the vehicle that served as the protesters’ stage and sound system after allegedly getting pepper […]

TEL AVIV, Israel — As a seemingly inexhaustible source of bad news, the Middle East is arguably the perfect place to go in search for the silver lining that the proverb promises for every cloud. The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki demonstrated last week how it is done: In an article in the Wall Street Journal, he argued eloquently that the desperate situation in Iraq should be seen as part of a struggle comparable with the American civil war and he challenged skeptics with the question: “Why expect freedom to come easy to Iraq?” As it turned out, al-Maliki is […]

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan — Authorities in Kazakhstan recently passed a constitutional amendment that could allow President Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain in office for the rest of his life, but a Shakespearean drama playing out among members of the country’s ruling family has largely dominated the local media spotlight. At issue is whether Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since the late 1980s, is running a politically motivated investigation into his son-in-law, who claims to have fallen out of the president’s favor since privately revealing his own interest in running for president in 2012. Actions taken over the past month by Kazakh authorities […]

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to Tokyo Saturday from what he described as a “very satisfying” debut at the Group of Eight summit in Germany. Yet despite being quick to claim some personal success in steering international discussions on subjects including climate change, he returns to another in a series of polls showing support for his cabinet has plummeted in recent weeks. A survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun published Friday (June 8) showed Abe cabinet’s approval rating had sunk to 32.9 percent — a 17 percent drop from a poll conducted by the same newspaper less than […]

DENPASAR, Indonesia — When, in May 1998, former President Suharto’s 32-year rule came to an end, Indonesia, a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, started a democratization process that has been praised worldwide. However, democracy has also opened the door for a previously dormant wing of radical Islam that wants to turn the country into an Islamic state. The clash between the two could soon be played out in the voting booth if, as suggested late last month by Indonesian Mujahedin Council (MMI) spokesman Fauzan al-Anshori, radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir decides to run for president in […]

In a high-stakes referendum held last month, Romanian President Traian Basescu won an important vote of confidence from the Romanian electorate. Although the holding of the referendum was duly noted in the international media, surprisingly little was said about the stakes involved for Romania: a young post-Communist democracy and new EU member state that found itself precipitated into an unprecedented constitutional crisis by an attempt to oust the president that clearly resembled a parliamentary coup. Basescu’s first two years in office had been distinguished by an aggressive anti-corruption campaign designed to meet the expectations of Romania’s European partners and by […]

HONG KONG — Pakistan’s main lawyer’s organization plans to fight until Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is removed from power, according to an attorney representing Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry, whose dismissal from Pakistan’s Supreme Court earlier this spring sparked a nationwide backlash that threatens Musharraf’s grip on power. Musharraf suspended Chaudhry March 9, leading to the largest political protests Pakistan has seen in 24 years. Pakistan’s lawyers, or “blackcoats” as Pakistanis have taken to calling them, were among the first to protest in the wake of Chaudhry’s suspension. Television images of lawyers battered by government police forces helped galvanize the nationwide […]

With the international media focused on the violent clashes between left-wing “anti-globalization” activists and German police at the anti-G-8 protest in Rostock this past weekend, another component of Germany’s broad “anti-globalization” consensus will have passed largely unperceived: namely, the neo-Nazis of the National-Democratic Party of Germany or NPD. Under the motto “There is no such thing as fair globalization,” an NPD-sponsored anti-G-8 demonstration had been scheduled to take place in the nearby city of Schwerin on Saturday, the same day as the “leftist” demonstration in Rostock. The NPD protest was, however, cancelled at the last minute, as the state supreme […]