Reigning in terrorists
Palestinian voters hand Hamas a clear majority
In the first parliamentary election in a decade, Palestinians went to the polls on Jan. 25 knowing that the outcome would likely integrate Islamic militants into Palestinian politics for the first time. The Fatah party dominated prior elections, but this time around Hamas was ascending into popularity while Fatah was battling corruption and lawlessness. Fatah's already-tainted image worsened the day before the election when Fatah gunmen shot and killed 44-year-old Abu Ahmen Hassouna, a Fatah candidate in the election. Relatives of the victim said he was shot after scolding the gunmen for firing at campaign posters plastered on his house.
Despite differences and a hot campaign, no one predicted just how dominant Hamas would be. Jailed intifada leader Marwan Barghouti, a newly elected parliament member from the Fatah party, said, "Hamas will be part and parcel of the Palestinian Authority" after the election. But before the final vote-counting was in, his party had resigned from power, a stunning blow for a movement begun in 1958 with legendary Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. Hamas had won up to 80 seats in the 132-seat parliament-a clean majority for a dirty band of brothers.
Outside the polls not all Palestinians are as accepting of Hamas' new clout. Palestinian Christian Hanan Ashrawi is considered one of the most articulate spokespersons for the Palestinians and was part of the delegation to the Middle East Peace talks from 1991 to 1993. She quit her post as minister of education in 1998 in protest of corruption in Arafat's government. She was recently reelected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and now faces the challenge of working in a government that includes Hamas.
"I will be a very active opposition to Hamas. I am concerned about creating a pluralistic and democratic government with a just peace, not isolating ourselves from the rest of the world," Mrs. Ashrawi told WORLD on the eve of the election. Mrs. Ashrawi's party, The Third Way, is one of two independent parties that support negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian election law requires that six seats in the PLC be reserved for Christians, but some fear Hamas will attempt to marginalize Christians.
Manar Giacaman, a 22-year-old Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem, professes support for both Muslim and Christian candidates but did not plan to vote for any Hamas members. "For me as a Christian, I will not vote for them. Their views of Christians are not what we want."
With 77 percent of 1.3 million registered Palestinian voters casting ballots, a solid majority went for Hamas, whose campaign saturated Gaza and the West Bank with signature green flags, but whose underlying platform was red: "Our blood will be a wall to protect our holy site," one Hamas campaign ad concluded, referring to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Fearing the growing popularity of a group once considered extreme by most Palestinians, Fatah fought back hard with a vivid display of yellow flags, and it invoked the image of Arafat by leading a pilgrimage to his former home.
For observers the outcome was a surprise. Even exit polls Jan. 25 showed the two major contenders neck-and-neck. For world leaders it was a fear realized, that their efforts to promote democratic elections in the Middle East clearly produced an undemocratic party in the majority.
Hamas won the hearts of many Palestinians by promising to fight corruption rampant in the current government, implementing countless social services, and donating millions to health care, housing, and education. Residents of the small town of Beita in the West Bank recently had a taste of the generous side of Hamas when their main street was paved, trash collection was implemented, and construction of a new school commenced-all courtesy of Hamas. With unemployment between 30 percent and 40 percent in the West Bank and Gaza, the services and contributions of Hamas are typically welcome relief.
But terrorists rarely make good democrats, and the other side of Hamas is far less humanitarian. The group regularly takes responsibility for hundreds of suicide bombings in Israel-the most recent killed 16 and wounded 100 in two simultaneous bus bombings in the small desert town of Beersheba in August 2004. The terrorist group has honored the ceasefire implemented a year ago but uses past attacks as an election platform, claiming that its militant operations propelled Israel into its eventual withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last summer.
Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, says the presence of Hamas in the PLC creates a dilemma for the international community: "If Hamas insists on both being part of the PA and maintaining an active military wing of its own, then the prognosis is not good. It would be terribly wrong for the international community to grant legitimacy to Hamas if it doesn't abandon terrorism."
Hamas' surging popularity among Palestinians has alarmed some, but with clouds of corruption and cronyism lingering over Fatah, Hamas emerged as a formidable opponent and the first viable alternative to the long-ruling Fatah.
Despite the controversial presence of Hamas on the ballot, most Palestinians are grateful for the very existence and democratic nature of the elections amid extremely challenging circumstances. Originally scheduled for July 2005, the elections were repeatedly postponed while Palestinian leaders claimed the Israeli occupation was hindering the possibility of democratic elections. Israelis argued against the participation of Hamas, citing the 1995 Interim Agreement-a follow-up to the Oslo accords. The agreement excludes candidates or parties who "pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or undemocratic means."
President Abbas, however, supported the inclusion of Hamas as an integral component of the democratic process, and U.S. leaders did little to persuade him otherwise.
Israel threatened to ban voting in East Jerusalem-designated as occupied territory under international law-claiming sole jurisdiction over the city. More than 100,000 eligible voters-those who do not have Israeli citizenship-reside in East Jerusalem. Israel recently agreed to permit "absentee ballots" at five post offices in the city but banned militant groups from campaigning there.
Meanwhile, the militant group Islamic Jihad-which boycotted the elections-marched in several West Bank towns wearing fake explosive belts and asking residents to join them in protest of the election. The group has not acknowledged the ceasefire and continues to carry out suicide bombings in Israel.
While the United States and the European Union scramble to determine how to deal with Hamas taking over the Palestinian political arena, officials hinted that some foreign aid may be jeopardized. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain would not be involved in talks with Hamas unless it renounced terrorism-a demand Israel asserts as well.
U.S. officials sent mixed messages. Before the final result, they indicated they might work with the Palestinian government as a whole, despite the presence of Hamas: "As a matter of policy, we don't deal with Hamas," said U.S. embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv Stewart Tuttle. "If Hamas members win seats, we are not going to deal with those individuals."
But on Jan. 26 President George W. Bush was unequivocal in saying the United States would not deal with Hamas as long as it called for the destruction of Israel.
A Hamas victory does not automatically unseat Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but the leader vows to resign if Hamas prevents him from negotiating final status agreements with Israel. Hamas leaders, on the other hand, say they will not dissolve terrorist activities until the "Israeli occupation" ends but waver when defining precisely which land they consider occupied.
Knowing that the future is now even more uncertain, Mrs. Ashrawi's disappointment in the election results runs deep. After the elections she told WORLD, "Now Hamas will shape all facets of social, political, and cultural life. This is a very big turning point for Palestinians." -by Jill Nelson
Llama herder's leftward ho
Bolivia becomes one more statistic in South American politics
Newly inaugurated Bolivian president Evo Morales raised eyebrows during his first round of meetings with world leaders after December elections for sporting a striped sweater rather than a suit and tie. But the inexperienced statesman has more than compensated for the fashion faux pas with fashionable political rhetoric; namely, searing anti-Americanism.
Mr. Morales labeled himself "America's worst nightmare" and vows to nationalize Bolivia's oil and natural gas industry and to promote coca production-policies the United States will oppose. On Jan. 24 he sacked 28 top-ranking generals, essentially the entire high command of Bolivia's armed forces. But his agenda places Mr. Morales squarely among Latin America's socialist champions, highlighting the region's continued leftward shift.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez jumpstarted that political tilt with his rise to power in 1998. About 75 percent of South America has since followed, creating uniformity that renders the United States increasingly anomalous in the Western Hemisphere. Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Ecuador have all elevated leftist leaders, and Peru and Mexico appear poised to do so as well in elections later this year. The combined power of these left-leaning countries hardly rivals U.S. hegemony globally, but Latin American alliances have emboldened leaders to shuck Washington prescriptions.
Mr. Morales built a surprising majority in December's election with a stump speech predicated on irreverence for U.S. officials. He mocked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and branded President George W. Bush a "terrorist." Meanwhile, he advanced alliances with Mr. Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Since capturing victory, Mr. Morales has mildly softened his approach, admitting the country's need for foreign companies to strengthen its fledgling economy instead of threatening to overturn free-trade policies. In his Jan. 22 inauguration address, he even pledged support to U.S. efforts against cocaine trafficking. Such conciliatory words suggest the Bolivian leader is coming to grips with his nation's dependence on U.S. aid: Washington has extended more than $600 million in recent years and could soon double that to help build roads.
But to thousands who gathered in the city square of La Paz to inaugurate Bolivia's first indigenous president, an Aymara Indian representing about 60 percent of Bolivia's population, radical change is the real reason to elect one of their own. Post--Cold War infusions of democracy and an open market have not produced the robust economy for which many hoped. Three of five Bolivians live in poverty.
Kirk Bowman, a professor at Georgia Tech who specializes in Latin American politics, views the election of Mr. Morales as indicative of broader sentiments. "People bought into democracy and opened up their markets, and it didn't deliver the goods that were offered," he said, calling the area's leftward shift "a reaction to the unfulfilled promises of the 1980s and 1990s."
Bolivians count on Mr. Morales to end centuries of oppression. The former llama herder rose to prominence leading violent protests and helping to topple two presidential predecessors (since its 1825 independence, Bolivia has averaged one coup every 11 months). "The campaign of 500 years of resistance has not been in vain," he told the La Paz crowd of traditionally dressed Bolivian Indians as they chanted his name. "We are taking over for the next 500 years."
But leftist politicians aren't likely to have 500 years in Bolivia, or anywhere in Latin America, especially if they fail to deliver on results. And the prognosis for rapid economic change is not good in a country with near-zero savings rates. "Development is a very tricky process that takes quite a long period of time," Mr. Bowman said. "Individuals like [President] Lula in Brazil and Morales in Bolivia might be given a bit of a honeymoon. But these countries need quite a few years of 4, 5, 6 percent economic growth and control of government spending to get their economic houses in order."
Brazil and Argentina have pioneered a strategy of paying off all debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), hoping to achieve economic autonomy. IMF approval for 100 percent debt relief to Bolivia ($231 million) affords the small landlocked nation an economic head start. To avoid accruing more debt, however, Mr. Morales may need unbridled capitalism and U.S. help-notions equally unfashionable to the sweater set. -by Mark Bergin
Right turn for Canada
Voters dump Liberals for softer-image Conservative Party, despite the Yankee connotations
Canadians have never really been fond of revolutions-they're so American-but going into nationwide elections Jan. 23, it looked like one was brewing.
Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals have dominated federal politics for 13 years, but a non-confidence vote in November brought his minority government down and forced the January election.
The Liberals, reeling from infighting and a series of sleazy kickback scandals, could not make a comeback. Even many of the traditionally left-leaning Canadian media, such as Toronto's Globe and Mail, endorsed the Conservatives: "If not now, if not after a painfully incoherent minority Liberal government, if not after a succession of scandals, if not after four full terms of deteriorating government, then when?"
In early January Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada was up 12 points. Then some Canadians returned to their liberal reflexes, and in the last week of the campaign the Conservatives' lead slipped to single digits. It was enough to make Mr. Harper the new prime minister and give Conservatives enough seats for a minority government-124 of 308. Liberals retained 103 seats, separatist Bloc Quebecois, 51, the ultra-left New Democratic Party, 29, with one seat going to an anti-gay-marriage independent.
The victory is a major breakthrough for Canadian conservatives, especially in Ontario and Quebec, and it continues a trend of growing influence that began in the mid-1990s. In the last election, in June 2004, Mr. Martin successfully caricatured Mr. Harper as a sinister neo-con in hick's clothing, intent on importing American ideas into the friendly, tolerant North.
Mr. Martin tried it again, producing one ad quoting a Washington Times column and asserting that a Prime Minister Harper would be "George Bush's best friend." Another spun a plan to place soldiers near cities to help with disasters as a plot to impose martial law. It never aired. Ultimately forced to apologize for the ads, Liberal leaders said they were approved by "some idiot" in the party, and had to apologize again when that turned out to be Mr. Martin.
All the while, Mr. Harper's campaign rolled out a solidly center-right platform that Canadians found not very scary at all: making government leaner through the Federal Accountability Act, cutting the national sales tax, cracking down on crime, shoring up the rapidly deteriorating military, improving relations with the United States, and offering $1,200 in annual direct payments to parents of small children as an alternative to the Liberals' national day-care proposal. To appeal to moderates, Mr. Harper also softened his party's rhetoric on global warming and promised to improve (not scrap) the national health-care system.
As for the issues dear to social conservatives, Mr. Harper learned some lessons from the downfall of Stockwell Day, whom he ousted in 2002 to lead the Canadian Alliance, the predecessor to the Conservative Party. Mr. Day was a Pentecostal pastor-turned-politician who was hammered, despite considerable charm and political talent, for his social conservative views and his belief in, for example, six-day creation.
Mr. Harper avoided abortion and gay marriage, which Canada's Supreme Court recently ordered Parliament to legalize. He promised not to change abortion law and insisted that such issues are low on his priority list. Before the campaign, according to Craig Chandler of Concerned Christians Canada, Mr. Harper promised evangelicals a vote in the House of Commons on gay marriage if the Conservatives win a majority government. His condition: that social conservatives take radio silence during the campaign to avoid spooking moderate swing voters in Ontario. "We kept quiet because he is one of us," Mr. Chandler admitted.
Because Conservatives did not win an out-and-out majority, that strategy will be difficult to carry out. The Conservatives must form coalitions with either the New Democratic Party or the Bloc Quebecois, both of whom are left of the very-liberal Liberals. Mr. Harper may pass some of his platform, but enacting substantive conservative legislation now will be difficult. Mr. Chandler believes that's OK. A minority government will let Canadians get to know and like Mr. Harper, he said, preparing the way for a majority next election, which is likely to be soon. "One step at a time," Mr. Chandler says. "Canadians like revolutions. They're just slower to get there." -by Les Sillars