Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Can a coup repair Thailand’s toxic democracy?

After months on the sidelines of the country’s grinding political crisis, Thailand’s military boldly intervened and declared a coup, dissolving the senate and the lower house of parliament, and suspending the constitution.

Under the name of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the junta has taken full control of the country, detaining key political figures, protest leaders, and academics; they have assumed total control of all lawmaking powers.

In a move to suppress dissent and any potential opposition to the coup, the military has banned critical reportage of their takeover across the airwaves and newspapers. Demonstrations both against and in support of the coup have sprung up around Bangkok, while the military has issued an ultimatum threatening protestors with lengthy jail sentences if they continue rallying.

Thailand’s ailing monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has endorsed the military takeover, formalizing coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the head of government. The military takeover came in response to over six months of protests and counter-protests between the country’s rival political factions, which prompted outbreaks of violence and seizures of public buildings.

General Prayuth justified the coup by highlighting the need to prevent factional infighting and violence on a wide scale, urging the restoration of order as the country teeters on the brink of recession, after prolonged political frictions battered the economy. The junta will now establish an interim constitution, legislative and reform committees. Thailand’s political crisis is complex, and the issue of royal succession is a fundamental dynamic to the multidimensional power struggle unfolding.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Indefinite inaction: Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo Bay

Amid a hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay that started last year, President Obama was forced to respond to critical media reports and international criticism by renewing his 2008 campaign pledge to close the notorious detention facility.

Human rights activists and dozens of organizations have pledged to launch a global day of protest in dozens of cities around the world to highlight the inaction of the Obama administration since the president delivered his last major speech on the issue on May 23, 2013. Despite the president’s apparent moral reservations over the on-going torture, force-feeding, and indefinite detention of prisoners in the facility, only 12 men have been released from custody in the last twelve months.

The facility in Guantánamo opened its doors in 2002 under the Bush administration, and was built on a 45-square-mile slice of Cuba that was leased to the United States over a century ago. The facility had an estimated 779 detainees at its peak, and most have been released without charges, while 154 remain in custody, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime or given due process.

In 2010, the administration assembled a task force charged with reviewing the cases of Guantánamo detainees. Although the Periodic Review Board assembled by the US government has cleared 77 inmates for release, they all remain in custody. 56 of the men are from Yemen, and the administration is unwilling to release them on the basis of their nationality over fears that the security situation in Yemen remains too unstable.

Some 40 detainees have bravely continued their hunger strike to protest their illegal detention, despite the punishment and excoriating pain of force-feeding, which is condemned by international medical associations and advocacy groups. Independent assessments from NGOs and legal experts tend to be unanimous in their belief the evidence used to implicate Guantánamo detainees is extraordinarily thin, and that the vast majority of those in custody are not extremists.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

China’s answer to the Asia Pivot

Tensions over China’s offshore territorial dispute with Vietnam have given rise to the worst crisis between the two countries in decades.

Over 20 people were killed in an industrial park during recent clashes that saw Vietnamese mobs chase down and beat Chinese workers. This episode of violence also saw Taiwanese and other foreign workers targeted because they were mistaken for Chinese nationals.

Cases of mass looting and arson have also erupted in areas of southern and central Vietnam targeting Chinese nationals and business interests, and reports indicate that anti-China unrest has swept through 22 of Vietnam’s 63 provinces.

China’s recent decision to setup a $1 billion deep-water oil drilling rig in a disputed area of the South China Sea that Vietnam also lays claim to triggered the latest waves of violence.

Beijing has maintained an unwavering stance on maritime disputes, and regards the Paracel Islands near the drilling site (known as the Xisha Islands in China) as its sovereign territory. The islands have no permanent human residents except for Chinese military personnel and fishermen, and are valued for productive fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves that China would like to develop without depending on exploration agreements with Western oil companies.

The controversial oil rig is located some 17 miles south of the southwestern-most land feature in the Paracels, and within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that China demarcates based on its claim to the islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. The rig itself is 120 miles off Vietnam’s Ly Son Island and thus on Vietnam’s continental shelf and well within Hanoi’s EEZ.

Although China recognizes the territory as its own and may have some legal historical justification for its position, Beijing was fully aware that drilling in the area would be perceived as a provocation. China has confirmed it has no plans to abandon the drilling, and has called on the US to take on a neutral stance on territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Idealistic legitimacy blurred in Ukraine crisis

Ukraine has been edging closer to the brink of civil war since February, when former president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. The new authorities in Kiev have been endorsed by Washington and Brussels.

A large percentage of the population in Crimea are ethnically Russian, therefore when the region's autonomous government reached out to Moscow to help create conditions for a referendum, the vast majority voted for their region to join the Russian Federation, where it historically belonged until 1954.

Russia has deep ties with Crimea and a strategic naval base on the peninsula, so its swift response to the toppling of the government in Kiev was to seize the historic moment by holding a referendum.

Washington and Brussels, along with many of their allies, condemned the referendum in Crimea and accused Russia of "invading" and "annexing" the territory, while Moscow claimed that an existing security treaty between Russia and Ukraine legitimized the presence of Russian soldiers.

Despite the fact that many disagree with the way in which Crimea integrated itself into the Russian Federation, there is some irony in the fact that Washington and Brussels view the peaceful democratic exercise of citizens voting to decide the fate of their territory as illegitimate.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague all had nice things to say about protesters on the Maidan. The Yanukovych government was condemned for sending riot police out against protesters.

The interim government in Kiev recently launched an "anti-terrorist" operation in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. Kiev's military incursion has seen bloodshed and dozens of casualties in towns such as Odessa, Mariupol, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and elsewhere. The Obama administration considers the Ukrainian government's operation to be "proportionate and reasonable."

Donetsk and Lugansk, the eastern-most regions of Ukraine, have recently held a referendum on the question of self-rule, which Kiev, Washington, and Brussels have denounced and considered entirely illegitimate.

Following the poll results, the Donetsk region declared its self-proclaimed independence and announced its intention to join the Russian Federation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin initially recommended that the referendums in the east be postponed, although leaders in the region held them anyway. As the recent events show, Russia has influence over eastern Ukraine, but not control.

The situation in Ukraine requires one to reflect on the question of assigning democratic legitimacy and illegitimacy. Washington and Brussels are keen to formalize the Kiev regime's ascent to power, which is why those countries have put much emphasis on the scheduled May 25 polls.

Many in the West have attempted to discredit the Crimea referendum by alleging that the vote would be conducted under the barrel of Russian guns, although there were no deaths or violent acts committed during the referendum itself.

In essence, the Western world is only interested in democracy if the results serve its interests, namely to legitimize an anti-Moscow regime in Kiev that will incrementally integrate itself into NATO's orbit. The eligibility of a state, region, or people to exercise the right to self-determination is entirely selective.

The Obama administration is using the present opportunity to slap sanctions on Moscow and drive a wedge between Russia and Europe, the latter being more cognizant and vulnerable to the boomerang effect that sanctions can create.

Putin has surprised many observers by endorsing the elections and calling for conciliatory conditions to be created in the county ahead of the scheduled May 25 polls. The immediate priority for Moscow is bringing Kiev to the negotiating table with the eastern region.

Kiev and its backers should take a pragmatic approach. Citizens of the east who cast their vote in the recent referendums are clearly not deserving of the "terrorist" label.

The outcome represents the popular sentiments of a mass movement irrespective of its legitimacy or illegitimacy.

The ethical approach demands an end to polarizing military operations and the start of a genuine national dialogue.

This article originally appeared on the Global Times.

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Thailand’s political crisis: Showdown looms following ‘judicial coup’

As a power struggle ensues between traditionalist and pro-Thaksin factions, mass demonstrations throughout Bangkok may spark violent clashes and prompt a response from the military.

Following months of polarizing mass protests and political violence, Thailand’s highest court recently ruled to remove embattled caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office over various charges of corruption. The ongoing political crisis began in November when Yingluck attempted to push through a broad amnesty law that would have pardoned Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother and former prime minister who faces criminal charges for corruption. Since that time, opposing protest movements representing the country’s two rival political factions that have clogged major roads in the country’s capital, Bangkok and occupied various public spaces around the city.

Although the PM has been removed, Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party remains technically in power with Deputy PM Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan becoming the acting leader of the beleaguered caretaker government set to govern the country ahead of elections scheduled to take place on July 20. Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the opposition People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), has rejected the appointment of Boonsongpaisan as caretaker prime minister, and has called on the country’s Senate, the Election Commission, and the Supreme Court to appoint a new interim prime minister – otherwise he threatened that his movement would unilaterally “do the job itself.” The PDRC further threatened to appoint an unelected “people’s government” if the caretaker government fails to resign, prompting thousands of Yingluck supporters to rally against the opposition.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Can Ukraine be pulled back from the brink?

Kiev’s military offensive into the east and south of Ukraine has all but ensured the failure of the Geneva agreement, setting the stage for a Russian response as NATO deploys troops to the region.

As the bloody military crackdown continues in predominately Russian-speaking areas of the country, the deteriorating situation in Ukraine has given rise to appalling inter-ethnic violence. The wave of pro-autonomy protests has swept through at least 17 cities and towns in the east and south of Ukraine, as activists occupy public buildings to demonstrate their rejection of the putsch regime in Kiev that unconstitutionally usurped power in late February. Ukraine’s military – with assistance from ultra-nationalist militiamen aligned with the Right Sector – has focused its assault on key cities such as Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, and Lugansk. During clashes between pro-autonomy protestors and ultra-nationalists in Odessa, sources indicate that members of the Right Sector were behind the deadly fire set in the Trade Unions House in Odessa, which killed dozens of activists who holed themselves up inside the building. In towns and villages under siege, members of the Right Sector have allegedly opened fire on unarmed anti-Kiev activists attempting to block ultra-nationalist militias from entering their villages.

These developments are extremely troubling when considering that members of the Right Sector and other groups with neo-Nazi ideals have been integrated into high positions in the Kiev regime. The group’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, claims that all of the Right Sector’s actions are coordinated with the unelected authorities in Kiev. The agreement ironed out in Geneva on April 17 calling for an end to the occupation of public administration buildings and the disarming of all illegal military formations in Ukraine has not been observed by either side, while Kiev’s brutal offensive against pro-autonomy activists is an open transgression of the deal. Much like the agreement brokered in February prior to the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovich, the putsch regime in Kiev has failed entirely to adhere to its commitments to make substantive steps in defusing the crisis.

Read the full story on RT.com

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.