Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Kitchen Sink Strategy Pays Off

Yes, just twelve short months ago then Sen. Obama and then Sen. Clinton were engaged in an epic primary fight in Pennsylvania. Remember Rev. Wright? Remember Obama's bowling? Remember the stories of Clinton learning how to shoot a gun? Yes, that was the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. It was primary writ large. Two seasoned campaigns going toe to bloodied toe. The end result was a Clinton win on primary night and 200,000 Republicans registering as Democrats to vote in the contest. Clinton's strategy of hoping to discredit Obama enough in Pennsylvania to somehow overcome his massive delegate advantage and take the Democratic nomination failed. However, the so-called "kitchen sink" strategy may have finally paid off in a tangible way.

Yes, Sen. Arlen Specter read the tea leaves today and decided that he couldn't win a Republican nomination rematch against conservative Republican Pat Toomey and therefore he's crossing the aisle. By tea leaves, I of course mean polls showing the incumbent more than 20 points down among Republicans in PA. So, the leopard is changing his spots in order to save his skin. Toomey's sizable lead at this point is largely attributable to the changing nature of Republican politics in Pennsylvania. Those 200,000 Republicans who became Democrats in 2008 were not going to go back to the Republican fold to save Arlen Specter. Without them, the 1 million Republicans who narrowly voted in 2004 for Specter become 800,000 Republicans who don't want Specter. In other words 20% of the vote has disappeared and it seems to have all gone from Arlen Specter. Democrats owe a debt of gratitude to the impossibly stubborn Hillary Clinton campaign today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Convention Names

Calgary Grit is not happy with the "Seinfeld Convention" label for the upcoming snoozefest in Vancouver. I tend to agree with him that if the convention was going to be as interesting as an episode of Seinfeld, nobody would be complaining. So, without further ado suggestions for alternate names for the leadership convention:
  • The United Nations Convention: The resolutions don't mean anything and the leadership race was determined in the backroom.
  • The Godfather II Convention: I don't mean to imply that the convention will be anything like this classic film in terms of being compelling to watch. However, it is a similar cast of characters to the last one. This one promises more family history (have you bought your copy of Iggy's new book yet?).
  • The Wizard of Oz Convention: Pay no attention to the excessive drinking and internal squabbling behind the curtain.
  • The Welcome Back Kotter Convention: Yes, the teacher's back to try to help the people back home. Hilarity will undoubtedly ensue.
  • The Revenge of the Nerds Convention: Res ipsa loquitur.
  • Lament For A Political Theatre: By George Grant's nephew no less.
  • The Potemkin Convention: It looks so real!
  • The Empire Strikes Back Convention: Apparently Darth Vader plays bass in a punk band in this one.
Any other thoughts?

Lastman's Last Laugh

Torontonians will not soon forget former Mayor Mel Lastman's appearance on CNN at the height of the SARS crisis. For many, it was an example of Lastman at his worst: ignorant and blustering. A dark hour for a city, reeling from SARS. However, he may have won the war against the organization he claimed he had never heard of. Apparently, the World Health Organization now believes that it would be irresponsible to issue a travel advisory against areas affected by swine flu. They think it might hurt the local economy. I wonder how many Toronto business people wish they had figured that out six years ago before they effectively destroyed Toronto's tourism business. I almost feel like the city should sue the WHO for damages.

Side Note: I think Torontonians of all walks of life are remembering the late Dr. Sheela Basrur and her remarkable work during the SARS crisis. In her role as the Toronto Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Basrur provided a calming voice to a panicking city. Today's leaders can only hope to show her kind of leadership in crisis. She continues to be missed.

The Popular Vote and The Role of Political Parties

So the STV folks are rehashing their traditional criticisms against our current system. Almost all of the criticisms against FPTP come down to some reference to the so-called "popular vote." I've made this argument before, but it bears repeating, so here we go. The popular vote is an irrelevant and inaccurate statistic. Why? Well, a closer examination of the current system is necessary. In the current system each voter votes for one candidate in his or her riding. Some of these candidates are affiliated with a political party some are not. People vote for a given candidate for a whole host of reasons, political party being a major one but certainly not the only one (just ask John Tory). This is why a popular vote total is irrelevant and inaccurate in our current system. The overall popular vote is never used to determine who gets a seat in the legislature. It's about as relevant as voter turnout: useful for pollsters and strategists but fairly useless otherwise. The reason the system doesn't reward political parties is because, quite frankly, the system wasn't designed with political parties in mind. Political parties are a function of the legislature and modern politics, they are not really a consideration in how our electoral system works. I would argue that this is perfectly appropriate as I don't want to give political parties (even my own) any more power than they already have. That's why I don't see the popular vote as being a holy statistic that must be worshiped.

Canadian political parties have piteous low membership rates (even when compared to other FPTP countries, Fair Vote folks). They are private clubs which, while subject to some external regulation, are fundamentally free to pursue their own interests, as they should. I believe an electoral system should entrench as little power as possible in political parties, for the sake of democracy. FPTP by ignoring them gives them no explicit power. The clear lines of local accountability make it difficult for political parties to hide unpopular candidates or play to small constituencies within a riding. STV, to its credit, also ignores parties in its fundamentals. However, the complexity of the system is a playground for political strategists. Decisions as to how many candidates to run in a given riding or how to promote different candidates in a given part of a riding, allow political operatives to massage results as they see fit. The latter issue is one of STV's most glaring flaws as its low quotas for election allow political parties to pursue a Rovian strategy of wedge issue politics with extraordinary success. To me it is more important to have an electoral system that encourages broadbased appeals to voters over a system that mirrors more closely the popular vote and encourages the division of the electorate into small constituencies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Globe Maintains Opposition to STV

The editorial is here. I've been saying for a while that even if you want electoral reform you should not necessarily support BC-STV just because it is on offer. I disagree with the Globe on their preferred version MMP but I give them credit for being consistent in their views on electoral reform. It is refreshing to see consistency from an advocate of electoral reform.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A More Comprehensive Argument Against BC-STV

My last post on BC-STV was criticized as being a minor issue not worthy of consideration. I realized that while I have commented extensively on the topic, I haven't really put my thoughts together clearly. So here's an attempt. As I argued in this post the problem identified by Gordon Campbell, first as leader of the opposition and then as Premier, is not solved by this electoral system. That's important. It's important not because I think British Columbians should only act within the framework of Mr. Campbell's thinking, but because in order to change something as fundamental to democracy as the method of election, you should have a reason. The burden of proof is always going to be, no matter what the issue, on those advocating change. The first question you have to ask of anyone promoting a new electoral system is what do you seek to accomplish with this change? What's wrong with the current system? How does your proposed system fix those problems? Let's go to the source here for the problems and solutions. First the problems as identified by the pro-STV folks. I'll abbreviate the arguments because this post is going to be ridiculously long as is, the link is above if you want to hold me to account.
  1. Governments can receive fewer votes than the opposition
  2. Lack of regional representation in Cabinet
  3. Majority governments are tyrannical
  4. Safe seats are an offense to democracy
  5. The ills of modern democracy
Here's what they say BC-STV does for the province:
  1. It's new and tailor made
  2. Quasi-PR makes government work for the people
  3. No More Safe Seats!
  4. More diversity in the legislature
  5. Irish people prefer it to FPTP
Okay, that's the argument being presented to British Columbians. Does it hold water? Almost without exception, no. Let's do this one by one.
  • Under BC-STV can a party win fewer votes than the opposition and still win government? Yes. Is it slightly less likely, maybe, but there's no particular reason for that to be true. First, you have to figure out which ballot you count to determine whether or not this happens under STV. Past that, the right number of second place ballots fall the right way in the right ridings, it can happen. It's well within what even proponents concede is the deviance from true proportionality.
  • Will BC-STV guarantee balanced cabinets? No. The Premier remains the sole decision maker when it comes to cabinet. Just because he or she has an MLA from a given region does not guarantee their inclusion in Cabinet. Also, there is a strong tradition in Canadian democracy of appointing cabinet ministers from outside the legislature if there is a need for diversity.
  • Are majority governments tyrannical? Maybe. That's a subject for debate. But the only part of the argument that has to do with the electoral system is 40% of the votes=60% of the seats. You could get 51% under a strict PR system and 100% power in Canada. Tis the nature of our parliamentary system, not our electoral system. The proponents claim no decrease in the stability of governments (ie no increase in short-lived minority governments). Therefore, you can expect just as many tyrannical majorities.
  • Safe seats are a problem in any electoral system. Canada actually has a pretty good record of throwing out the bums. Witness the elimination of almost the entire NDP caucus in BC in 2001. No safe seats there. Where are all those So-Cred safe seats these days anyway? BC-STV will create safe seats just as easily, particularly in northern ridings with only two MLAs.
  • This electoral system as panacea argument is laughable. I suppose the argument here was formulated by looking at Ireland's two ideologically indistinguishable major parties whose differences, as I understand it, date back to their original positions on independence and the relationship with the UK. The BC Liberals and BC NDP aren't going to magically agree on everything. They will still try to find wedge issues to get votes. No electoral system changes that. Politics is a reflection of a lot of things, least among them is the electoral system.
  • Oooh a shiny, new, made-in-BC electoral system... give me a break.
  • Government will work for you! More snake oil. Governments elected in all different electoral systems break promises and do things that are unpopular. If you don't like your government, vote it out. That's what representative democracy is all about!
  • Safe seats I've covered.
  • The increased diversity argument is familiarly erroneous. As was pointed out by a commenter criticizing my expensive electoral system here, you actually have fewer candidates under STV. I'm not entirely sure why the same parties, nominating fewer candidates, who will have to spend more to campaign in bigger ridings will all of a sudden be forced to represent the diversity of British Columbia. As I've argued before, we need to make it easier to run for office if we want to see more diversity. An electoral system without prescribed quotas will not change the make up of the legislature. Oh, yes, you might get a couple of Greens who will either have no power or have all the power if they end up as king makers. Enjoy!
  • Canadians have rejected MMP twice and BC-STV once, albeit narrowly. Maybe Canadians prefer FPTP? Seriously, what works in Dublin doesn't necessarily work in Vancouver. BC isn't Ireland.
There's no convincing argument here. Presumably, if there was a stronger argument out there, the official proponents of this thing would get it on their website. I'm not in love with FPTP. I see its faults. I'm less in love with the other choices available. BC-STV is a particularly poor option.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Slow Road To Expensive Elections

The BC-STV folks are celebrating because one poll shows a large enough majority in support of STV. I'd like to point out that these were the same people who dismissed almost every single poll in the run up to the vote on MMP in Ontario. Amazing what a result you like does for the credibility of referendum polling. However, I still find it hard to believe that British Columbians would want to condemn themselves to this system.

Just a couple of quick arguments against it today. One of the problems with having an electoral system where a person's ballot is counted differently depending on how his or her peers vote, is tht every single ballot has to be counted before STV can start the bulk of the counting process. This is a much longer process than Canadians are used to. I concede that most British Columbians wouldn't mind waiting a little longer for election results. How long is the question. One of the challenges to running an election in a province like British Columbia is providing local polling places for remote communities be it a small island in the south or a tiny hamlet in the northern wilderness. This is a minor problem when it comes to counting ballots under FPTP. First, because the results can be counted on site and then communicated to the elections office and the media. Second, even if there is a challenge in getting results out of a small community the odds of those few ballots tilting the result of an election is slim because of the large number of total ballots. Under STV, however, you can do little in the way of declaring winners and losers until every single ballot is available for counting and recounting and recounting and recounting and recounting. Inclement weather could delay the results of the provincial election for days under STV.

The other challenge here is having a tamper-proof system that is easily and quickly countable. This is going to be more of a challenge in BC than it is in Ireland, for instance. Ireland has roughly double the number of electoral districts than are proposed in British Columbia for roughly the same number of people. In other words, each electoral district is going to have to count twice as many ballots. Past the first count, it is extremely unadvisable to count the system without the aid of a computer or at least a few calculators. Transfer values require a greater degree of accuracy than most people are willing to calculate without help. Given the challenges stated above, it would make a lot of sense for British Columbians ot move to an electronic voting machine like we see in the United States. Of course, these machines have a long list of detracting features. I just don't see how you count 350,000 votes six times without a machine.

Whether BC opts to buy new voting equipment or simply pay their electoral workers to work longer. An election under STV will cost more than an election under FPTP. British Columbians will spend more to get their results later.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Could This Convention Actually Get Interesting?

The Coronation in Vancouver is starting to get the first sparks of conflict. No, there are no delays in the inevitable coronation of Czar Michael the Grit. However, the fight between the YLC and, frankly, everybody else may get downright ugly. The party has done everything it can to make this thing as bland as possible in the hopes that the media will cover Ignatieff's acceptance speech and go home with only spin for their stories. The watered-down policy process has been thrown into the Pacific to remove any trace of importance. Even Weighted-One-Member-One-Vote (WOMOV), a narrow loser in 2006, seems to be on track with few public detractors. So, what's the problem? Well apparently the rules of the game for the convention in particular rule 6.10 regarding amendments to proposed constitutional amendments.

Now I am not one of these people that sleeps with a copy of Robert's Rules of Order at my bedside, so I can't say that the rule strikes me as particularly aggregious. It is clearly constructed to remove the YLC amendment as an impediment to the passage of WOMOV. We shouldn't really be shocked that the dice would be a little loaded at this convention. However, this rule could be a significant stumbling block. The problem with this is it gives the YLC the impetus it needs to rally its membership to whatever cause it needs. The YLC is a decent voting block to begin with, and now there's a reason for unity. The YLC is left with few recourses and even fewer of them make for good optics for the party as a whole. The options for the YLC as I see it:
  1. Amend the rules. This requires a 90% vote but given the fact that nobody really would read the rules except for people likely to be offended by this you might get some mob mentality behind this. If you pass out a bunch of "Scrap 6.10" buttons and avoid telling anyone the details, you might be surprised at the result. If the convention were to overturn a part of the rules set down from on high, it would be egg on the party's face but not egg that's explainable in a soundbite.
  2. Make a deal. Lots of people with lots of agendas at this convention. Policy and constitutional amendments are the biggest things on the table. The obvious choice would be to threaten to have the YLC vote against WOMOV unless you get a promise of support on your amendment. However, the possibility of being backstabbed by just enough people to ensure the failure of the YLC amendment is downright likely. A policy group is less likely to have the numbers the YLC needs. However, if they can string together the right list of policies together who knows.
  3. Vote against WOMOV. There is a good likelihood that if the YLC were to mobilize its 25-30% of delegates against WOMOV there would be enough convention loving Liberals out there to kill WOMOV. This would look terrible for both the YLC and the party.
  4. Protest, but let WOMOV Pass. This is the least confrontational. The challenge here is finding a way to get the fact that the YLC is upset across without alienating everyone. Did you know that 25 delegates can request a recount on any vote or force any vote into debate? We may need a full debate on Constitutional Amendment 33 which changes the legalese at the beginning of the constitution. Who says the fillibuster is dead?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Procedural Questions

Because I don't really want a readership, another post on one-member-one-vote before I rejoin the BC-STV fray. I've never attended a Liberal convention (timing and money issues) so I have some questions regarding the procedural processes surrounding OMOV and the YLC amendment. The OMOV amendment is listed in the constitutional amendments as 1.1 the YLC amendment is listed as 1.1 a. First question, what's the sequence here? Is the debate for OMOV started and then the YLC amendment is brought forward as an amendment to the motion on the floor or is OMOV voted on and then if it succeeds the YLC amendment gets considered as an amendment to the constitution. I don't know whether or not an amendment can be amended on the floor under Liberal Party rules. If you can amend an amendment before it is passed do you require a two-thirds majority or merely simple majority? Depending on the answers to the questions the YLC amendment could be either much more problematic than earlier anticipated or much less. The OMOV people undoubtedly would want the YLC amendment considered after their proposal has been voted up or down. The YLC has a more complex question before them. If there is a difference in terms of votes required to amend a motion or amend the constitution, do you try to pass the amendment when you need less votes (within the original amendment) or separately where you may have a better shot of having the votes on the floor (the senior OMOV people having possibly left for a celebratory drink)? If you always require a two-thirds majority it is likely that the YLC would want the latter to attempt to flood the room as is their wont. If anyone can answer my questions it would be much appreciated.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Mess of His Own Making

As much as I'd love Mulroney-Schreiber to be a relevant political scandal, it isn't. It really has nothing to do with Stephen Harper or his government. However, our Prime Minister has allowed his need for complete control to lead him right into the middle of the scandal. The Tories crazy Mulroney isn't really a Tory even though he was when he was Prime Minister thing makes it look like there's a reason for Stephen Harper to try distance himself from the former PM. Mulroney is a Tory today just as he was twenty years ago. The same cannot be said of our current Reform turned Canadian Alliance turned Conservative Prime Minister. Mulroney-Schreiber has as much to do with Stephen Harper as the sponsorship scandal has to do with Michael Ignatieff. However, Harper's attempts to delay and obfuscate the prosecution of Mulroney-Schreiber is Mr. Harper's scandal. Why on earth he felt compeled to do or say anything in respect to the case is beyond me. Harper's need for total control may have got him into office, but if he keeps handling problems like this one with an iron grip he will never get the majority he seeks.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Do I Smell Hypocrisy?

I apologize for yet another post on Weighted One Member One Vote and the proposed Young Liberals of Canada amendment. I just wanted to put something out into the ether. Before I start, let me say once again that I don't know how I would vote on either Weighted OMOV or the YLC amendment. I see the virtue and vice of both proposals. However, I have to be a little bit surprised at the outrage at the YLC's amendment. I suspect much of the uproar may be because supporters of WOMOV fear that the YLC's amendment would poison their attempts at reform. I am surprised though, because the system already massively favours some Liberals over others. Dan's right to say that the difference between 1.3 votes and 1.5 votes shouldn't affect youth engagement, but why are we so quick to accept the weighted nature OMOV in the first place? The answer is that we need to make sure that Liberals from across the country have a say in the process and that the leader is not just chosen in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. This is a holdover from the current system. For the OMOV purists, weighting the system to make all ridings equal should be viewed as a major concession. It is slightly absurd to call a system one member one vote when one member's vote could be worth 2 and another's 0.02 depending on the number of Liberals in their riding. The can of worms is open. We shouldn't be surprised that the YLC is looking for another concession. What's the difference philosophically between weighting for regional balance and weighting for age balance?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

One Member One Vote Gets Sidetracked

The unstoppable train that was One-Member-One-Vote has apparently stalled. Yes, the only thing of any great import to be decided at the Liberal Convention in Vancouver is apparently running into roadblocks. Jeff's got a good summary of the facts. I've always been of two minds about changing the way we elect a leader (or used to before Czar Michael the Grit... I'm not at all bitter). I like the idea of increasing the democracy involved and removing the financial requirements to voting. However, nothing compares to the theatre of a delegated convention and politics is, if nothing else, theatre. I think there is a value of having a show to introduce your new leader. It doesn't always work in terms of future electoral success (see M. Dion), but it does make things more interesting for Canadians. Thus, as I say I'm of two minds.

It is amusing to see the one-member-one-voter system falling victim to the reality of Liberal Party politics. The Young Liberals of Canada voting to propose an amendment to the constitutional amendment (does anyone else's head hurt) to maintain the electoral power of the Youth Wing is the first glancing blow. Jeff is right to say that this is opening up a can of worms. However, why wouldn't the YLC want to maintain their influence? OMOV already deprives youth of the ability to vote twice by restricting voting to riding associations and cutting university clubs from the process. The youth wing who is arguably most disadvantaged by OMOV was unlikely to let this go without a fight. There have to be questions as to how persuasive the YLC can be in getting their membership to support their own amendment to the amendment, but the youth's ability to vote at a convention should not be underestimated. I wonder how many other amendments will be attached to this thing by the time it gets to the floor. It is always easier to criticize an existing framework than it is to create a new one. The internal interest groups within the Liberal Party will want to make sure that they can benefit from the new system or at least not lose any influence. We will see if OMOV can get through before it becomes a distorted monster of a voting system. I have to believe a gender equity amendment will come along sooner or later. Let the games begin!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Why? Why? 116 Times, Why?

Can someone please explain to me what thousands of brave Canadian men and women are doing in Afghanistan?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

G20: Summit of Doomed Leaders?

As we await the G20 summit in London and its potential impact on the global financial system, one of the most interesting subplots may be the fact that many of the leaders at this meeting are in serious political peril back home. Makes you wonder just how much credence to lend to any treaty or agreement emerging from London. A quick trip around the world is in order. Let's start with the host.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK: The opposition Tories have their knives out for Brown, they just need an election to finish the job. In the fall, Brown looked like he was on top of the economic crisis. Now the crisis is definitely on top of him. If Brown were to survive the upcoming British election, it would be nothing short of miraculous.

Taro Aso, Prime Minister of Japan: The Japanese political system is almost as messy as their economy these days. Mr. Aso is the third Prime Minister to have the job since the resignation of Junichiro Koizumi in the fall of 2006. The Japanese people will soon have a choice between an incompetent and disorganized government and a scandal plagued opposition. Makes Harper and Ignatieff look like great statesmen.

Mirek Topolanek, President EU, Prime Minister Czech Republic: A rotating presidency is always going to make things interesting. However, having the Czech government fall while they're supposed to be the head of the EU, really throws a wrench into the EU works. The only non-country at the G20 will also be represented by EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, but it is a little awkward to have the bureaucracy representing one of the world's largest markets. Think of Canada being represented by the Clerk of the Privy Council.

Kgalema Motlanthe, President Republic of South Africa: Okay, so it is still unlikely that the ANC will lose this month's elections in South Africa. It doesn't change the fact that South African politics are a lot less certain now then at any time since the end of apartheid. Even the possibility of defeat for the ANC means political uncertainty in South Africa.

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India: Much like the ANC, the Congress Party is still the favourite heading into this year's elections in India. However, who the Prime Minister will be is another question altogether. With yet another Gandhi (this one constitutionally eligible to be Prime Minister) making waves in India, the odds that Singh (a surprise PM last time around) will survive as PM seem longer by the day.

Angela Merkel, Chancelor of Germany: Merkel may be in slightly better political shape than her British counterpart because her principal opposition is part of her coalition government. Hard to criticize a government you're a part of, don't you know. However, Europe's economic engine isn't running like it used to and the chancelor may take the fall come September.

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Harper has the benefit of not necessarily facing the voters this year. However, any leader trailing the opposition in the polls while trying to lead a minority government in a recession is decidedly on the hot seat.

Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico: Yes, I know, the Mexican presidency is term limited to one term so barring impeachment no president of Mexico has political problems. However, with Mexico trying to fight a raging drug war and stop the economic bleeding caused by the American recession, it isn't exactly fun for President Calderon these days.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina: Things are bad enough for Mme. Fernandez de Kirchner that she has subverted her husband's election law to try to hold on to legislative power in Buenos Aires. Presidential elections are still a few years away, but times are tough for the Argentinian President.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil: Not in a whole lot of danger. He's term limited so even if he isn't as popular as he once was, he doesn't have to face the voters again.

Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy: An Italian Prime Minister is never entirely safe. However, Berlusconi still owns much of the Italian media, so he's probably safer than he otherwise would be.

Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France: Sarko is demanding major changes in London. Like so many others, he's trying to blame the rest of the world for his country's problems. French Presidents get nice long terms and Sarkozy was just elected, so he's not in any immediate danger. However, how well Sarkozy can manage this strange dance of distancing himself from his Western allies in London and then bringing France back more firmly under the NATO umbrella in London a few day later may determine his chances next time he faces the French voters.

Barack Obama, President of the United States: Okay, so the ink is barely dry on the results of his electoral landslide, but Obama can't help but look ahead. Obama is being ambitious out of the gate. He's going to have a long record, the only question is whether or not it is a good one.

Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russia: Yes, he is technically in charge not PM Putin. The economic crisis has rocked Russia and there is serious discontent for the first time in almost a decade. Whether or not that loosens the grip that Medvedev and Putin have on power, is up for debate.

Lee Myung-Bak, President of South Korea: Also recently elected by a wide margin, Lee is safe for now. However, I admit I know little about South Korean poltics.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia: I know less about Indonesian politics, so I'll skip Indonesia altogether. If you can enlighten me, be my guest.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey: As long as the AKP remains a legal political party, Erdogan shouldn't have much to worry about politically. Like Sarkozy, Obama and Berlusconi, Erdogan has a relatively weak and disorganized opposition.

Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia: Recently elected, Rudd should be relatively safe. The upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen may be Rudd's coming out party on the international scene.

Wen Jiabao, Premier of the People's Republic of China: Not having to face the voters at all, makes Wen Jiabao fairly immune to political storms. However, the politburo cannot be thrilled about millions of disgruntlled migrant workers going back home far away from the watchful eye of Beijing.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: It is good to be King. Particularly when the country is named for your family and the family runs the government.
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