Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Betting Scotland Won't Opt for Independence from the UK

Some votes have more impact than others, as we see from across the Atlantic this season. No matter what the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections, geopolitical ground worldwide is not likely to shift, but if Scotland were to gain its independence Thursday from the United Kingdom it would shake up world markets, disrupt European economic alliances and inspire other separatist regions on the continent to take similar action.

The Scottish independence vote is this year's political marquee event, and it hasn't disappointed observers from around the globe. It's quite a spirited dispute.

But anyone wondering what the the United Kingdom will look like after the votes are tallied shouldn't be surprised to see Scotland decide against independence. More than three weeks ago, on the eve of the surge in support for independence among Scottish voters, I forecast that "no" would prevail in balloting, and the UK would remain intact.

After taking a deep data dive and conducting interviews with international election experts in late August, looking at the polling numbers, historic voting trends in relevant special elections and the two sides' ability to motivate voters, there just wasn't enough time for the yes camp to solidify gains and turn voters' emotions into actual votes (though arguably, there isn't nearly as much available voting data available in the UK as there is in the US, where elections are more of an industry, so there are limits to the modeling by American standards).

Literally on the eve of the historic vote, and despite the late surge in support for independence, the new data and sound expert source-driven intelligence leads to the same conclusion: UK unity wins the day tomorrow in Scotland.

Despite the upward movement by the separatist side in recent polls, the margin is not wide enough to trump the unionists' deeper, more dependable voter base of pensioners, public workers and hardcore Labour Party supporters. In a whirlwind surge of backers, some of the new found backers tend to be "soft supporters," who aren't the emotionally charged protest voters who have been on board with the independence movement since the start of the campaign. Their enthusiasm doesn't ensure they will actually vote.

To his credit, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond rallied the separatist cause with a dominating performance in his Aug. 25 debate with unionist Member of Parliament Alistair Darling, a Labour Party heavyweight. Nearly three-quarters of the viewers on the nationally televised debate on the BBC said Salmond's argument for independence crushed Darling's case for UK unity. In the two weeks that followed, the separatist movement grew in volume and finally broke though to overtake the unionists in a couple of polls. None of those polls showed leads outside the margin of error for the independence side, leaving it a statistical tie.

Then it hit the wall.

With a high level of success, unionists, with the help of top British lawmakers, launched a campaign in the closing 10 days of the referendum that shows all the signs of having halted the momentum of the "yes" forces. The "no" campaign managed to scare many voters into fearing the country would sink into financial anarchy by breaking away from the UK, leaving the new nation without a currency, fewer banks and businesses, thousands of public employes without a job, national security in disarray and individual health care coverage in jeopardy. The unity forces turned independence into the monster waiting to spring out from the closet. Like it or not, it worked because fear motivates people.

Vote watchers, political scientists and history buffs have seen this trend play out on big stage fairly recently. In Quebec in 1995, about three weeks before the vote for independence from Canada, charismatic activist leader Lucien Bouchard was named chief negotiator for the mostly French-speaking separatists. It was a move that rallied the cause and grew the ranks of separatists. By the closing days of the campaign, every poll had Quebec breaking away from Canada.

There was plenty of momentum (some would say more than exists for the independence vote in Scotland right now), and there were some very wise observers who believed that Quebec would be on its own. Then it came time to vote and Quebec chose to stay in Canada, 2,362,648 votes (50.58%) to 2,308,360 (49.42%).

Look for Scotland to channel Quebec when it casts its ballots, but the separatists can walk away with a feeling of accomplishment, given all the new home-rule autonomy England threw at her little cousin to keep her in the family.

(pre-vote analysis and reporting by Kenneth R. Bazinet)

Monday, September 1, 2014

We're baaaaaack. Stay tuned. Ken will announcing some exciting new adventures soon.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Retiring A Blog Born Out Of The Arab Spring

When this blog was launched it actually filled a void for a while. Few Washington-based bloggers were paying attention to the freedom uprisings on the Arab Street.

That has changed.

In the past few months the story moved to the front pages and the top of the newscasts. The phrase Arab Spring is standard today in the American lexicon.

The fall of Gadhafi, free elections in Tunisia and exciting new opportunities present a grand point in the experiment to step aside as an enlightened observer and pursue new challenges and responsibilities. The blog may be retiring, but the fierce pursuit of freedom and democracy surely will not.

Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fruit of the Arab Spring: Tunisia Votes & Libya Declares 'Liberation'

History will remember this day as one in which the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring took one of their biggest leaps towards freedom and democracy.

For Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings and reforms that swept across North Africa and the Middle East, voters turned out in en masse to cast ballots for a 217-person assembly that will forge a new government and constitution.

For Libya, the day marked the official declaration of liberation by the Transitional National Council and the freedom fighters who ousted the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

An estimated two-thirds of eligible voters in Tunisia cast ballots 10 months after street vender Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, doused himself with a flammable liquid, set himself ablaze in Sidi Bouzid and triggered the unprecedented and thriving freedom movement. 

The breaking point came Dec. 17, 2010 for Bouazizi, when a policewoman unlawfully confiscated his vegetable cart and produce in the city located 190 miles south of Tunis.

His self-immolation triggered street protests across the country that were met with a heavy-handed response by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's security forces and secret police.

The thirst for freedom only grew for the Tunisian people, who were already plagued with poor wages, lousy living conditions and out-of-control inflation.

Bouazizi suffered and eventually died on Jan. 4 2011. Ali was toppled 10 days later.

"I congratulate the millions of Tunisians who voted in the first democratic elections to take place in the country that changed the course of history and began the Arab Spring," President Obama said in a statement.

"Just as so many Tunisian citizens protested peacefully in streets and squares to claim their rights, today they stood in lines and cast their votes to determine their own future," Obama said.

Conditions were not much better for the Libyan middle class, even with an ocean of oil under their desert country. Gadhafi used the excessive profits to fill the treasuries of his family, his henchmen and African despots who had pledged their allegiance.

But backed by the most powerful coalition air force and navy on the planet, the revolutionaries were transformed by foreign military advisers from a rag-tag band of spirited, but ill-trained and equipped fighters into a force able to execute one of the most impressive offensives in modern history.

Like Tunisia, the new Libya presents the potential for democratic reform and freedom from tyranny. The TNC has vowed to embrace reform as it seeks to rebuild its nation.

"The transitional authorities can build on this movement by promoting reconciliation and respect for human rights across Libyan society, while helping to prevent reprisals and ensuring the justice and due process that the Libyan people expect and deserve," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"The path to democracy is a long-term process that requires the participation of all Libyans," Clinton added.

It is very, very early to predict how the freedom movement will continue to play out, but the path that the revolution has taken shows signs that Bouazizi's extreme form of protest and ultimate sacrifice was not for nothing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gadhafi's Demise: The Drone, the Mirage and the Unknown Gunman

As the fog of war slowly lifts in Libya, it still is not clear how exactly Moammar Gadhafi died Thursday while trying to flee his hometown of Sirte in a conspicuous convoy of about 100 vehicles.

What is known, thanks to confirmations today out of Washington and Paris, is that an American Predator drone teamed up with a French Mirage 2000 fighter jet to halt the convey and send its passengers scrambling, including Gadhafi.

Both the Predator and Mirage fired on the convoy, striking at least two vehicles. As videos and photos show, Gadhafi was wounded in those strikes, but was very much alive after he ran and hid in a roadside storm drain.

Revolutionary forces quickly hunted down the men who ran from their vehicles, finding several, including Gadhafi, down the drain.

Video and still photos show Gadhafi being roughed-up, but still alive in the revolutionary fighters' custody. A short while later, he was dead apparently the victim of a gunshot wound to the head, and, according to some reports, his chest and stomach, as well.

In Geneva, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the images "are very disturbing" because they suggest Gadhafi was killed after he was captured.

"We believe there is a need for an investigation," Colville said. "More details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in some form of fighting or was executed after his capture."

So far there is no great rush by the governments in Tripoli, Washington, Paris, London, Ottawa or Istanbul to make a big deal of the details of the death of Gadhafi, whose body was put on ice in Misurata while people decide what to do with his remains.

Instead, the more universal sentiment from the revolutionary government, NATO members and their allies is that, for Gadhafi, the Arab Spring is over and the world is better off without him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gadhafi Reported Captured and Dead Near Sirte

Moammar Gadhafi was killed this morning, possibly while trying to flee his hometown Sirte when NATO warplanes attacked his convey, Reuters is reporting.

There are also reports that Gadhafi was only wounded and remains alive in the custody of revolutionary forces.

Celebrations are erupting throughput Libya, but U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that the unconfirmed reports of Gadhafi's demise will pan out.

Gadhafi has been rumored to be hiding in Sirte or Bani Walid, the last two remaining loyalist strongholds since the vfdalkl of the regiume in August. Bani walid fell last week, but revolutionary forces are still fighting their way through Sirte, where Gadhafi was born.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Clinton Maps Out Clear Role for Women in a Democratic Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted today that a new Libya must strive to give women a progressive and respected role in its emerging democracy.

At a press conference after her surprise meetings in Tripoli with the Transitional National Council leaders of the revolution, Clinton noted with glee that she has brought up the matter of universal human rights for women more than once in talks with TNC leaders.

The longtime champion for equal rights offered a thorough opinion, when asked, of how Libya should move forward to give women a righteous place in a progressive society:

"I would make three points. First, no country can become a democracy, no economy can develop as fully as it could, if half the population is not included. And the women of Libya have the same rights as their brothers and their husbands and their fathers and their sons to help build a new Libya. So we are very committed and very outspoken about what we hope will be the full inclusion of women in a democratic future.

"Secondly, women also sacrificed in this revolution. Women were in the streets. Women were supporting the fighters. Women were sending their sons and their husbands off to an uncertain future, and many will never see them again. So women have sacrificed. They may not have been on the front lines holding a weapon, but they were holding together the society and supporting those who were fighting for Libya’s independence. So they have earned the right to be part of Libya’s future.

"And finally, there is an opportunity here that I hope Libya will seize. I believe because you have won your freedom – no one handed it to you, you fought for it and you won it – that you will find it in your hearts to demonstrate to the entire world that Libya is not only free, but Libya is equal, Libya believes in the rule of law, Libya will educate all of their boys and girls to take their rightful places in the world. I would hope that I could come back to a free, democratic Libya in a few years, and it would be a shining example of what is possible when free people make their own choices.

"So I cannot imagine how that could come to pass if women are not given the right to serve their country, to run their businesses, to be educated to the best of their abilities. So I will certainly look to ways that the United States can support the women in Libya to be able to take their rightful places in this new democratic future."

U.S. Puts High Priority on Rounding Up Gadhafi's Weapons

Even as the Libyan rebels battle for control of the remaining Gadhafi-loyalist strongholds, the U.S. and NATO allies are engaged in swift and serious programs aimed at destroying the regimes' weapons before they get into the hands of arms dealers or terrorists.

Stealthy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Tripoli since the government of Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, revealed today the deep concern the Obama administration has for loose arms, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles and chemical weapons.

"We will stay focused on security: I am pleased to announce that we are going to put even more money into helping Libya secure and destroy dangerous stockpiles of weapons," Clinton said. 

"And the Administration, working with Congress, is going to provide $40 million to support this effort. We will also work with Libya to destroy chemical weapons stocks, she added.

Moammar Gadhafi had about 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles before NATO warplanes and missiles starting taking them out, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. The U.S. wants to corral the shoulder-launched missiles that were not destroyed in the revolution or captured by the anti-Gadhafi forces.

Eventually, the U.S. and NATO will want the TNC to account for weapons on both sides of the revolution.

The U.S. already has invested about $6 million, putting arms-disposal experts on the ground in Libya to track and round up conventional weapons, and funding to two European mine-clearing operations.

The U.S. will oversee the decommissioning and safe storage of weapons in "a months-long effort," Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs Andrew Shapiro announced late last month.

"We’re going to continue until the new government of Libya is able to manage the stockpiles on their own," Shapiro said.

On the political front, Clinton, who met with Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, provisional Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and provisional Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni, called for clean elections within eight months.

"There are many people who say they support elections, but only if they get elected. They want one election, one time, and then if they are elected no more elections," Clinton told reporters, during a visit that had remained a secret until she arrived in Tripoli.

"So these are all the kinds of challenges that Libyans will face in putting together their democracy. But people must renounce violence, they must give up arms, they must be committed to a democracy that respects the rights of all," Clinton emphasized.