The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: elections

Of helpmeets and dirt-throwers

by fpman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu is to some extent at the center of the upcoming Israeli legislative elections these days. She hit the deadlines having recently spoken on the phone with Monique Ben Melekh, wife of the former mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal — in this conversation she made a series of passionate remarks about her husband and to her unpleasant surprise Monique Ben Melekh apparently recorded the conversation. Theirs is a relationship of tension, mostly because Monique’s husband Eli Moyal is a critic of some of Netanyahu’s policies.

Sara Netanyahu’s rant comparative assessment of the two husbands is as follows:

“(….) he (Netanyahu) behaves with rare political wisdom, speaks with leaders all the time! Binyamin Netanyahu’s experience, his wisdom, his education! [He has] extensive education, university degrees. He also reads books, understands the economy, security, policy, he knows how to speak with leaders of the world! Where is your man? He doesn’t even reach the ankles of my husband, what, did Eli Moyal ever speak once with leaders of the world?!”

The good wife’s intention in this case was, in her words, to be a true “helpmeet” to her husband, something she sees as a “great responsibility” in a world where her husband is facing, on behalf of “the free world,” Iran and the Islamic State. In fact she sees her husband effectively as the leader of the free world. She says:

“He is one of the most veteran leaders in the world. In the United States they say that if he had been born in the US, he’d have been elected president there.”

In politics, of course, consequences weigh more than intentions. The leaking of the recorded conversation’s transcript (parts of it, with possibly worse to follow) comes at a time when allegations of the Netanyahu family’s former housekeeper about Sara Netanyahu’s allegedly bad temper are already making some waves around her. Opponents have thus found a way to turn her efforts against her husband on the eve of the upcoming elections.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post (a form of damage limitation) she reflects on the housekeeper’s allegations, too.

“It’s the idea that some people earn their livelihood by throwing dirt on other people, their reputations – and not just anyone, but someone who you worked for, who was by your side. If you’re unhappy at work, why not just leave? Why do you have to spit into the well you drank from? What kind of person does something like that? I can’t help thinking of the BBC drama Downton Abbey, with its upstairs/downstairs intrigue, scheming staff and the bubbling cauldron of endless gossip.”

We shall see if such witty comments help her help husband.

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The born-Bush legacy

by fpman

Some in-your-face analysis on the new Texas land commissioner, George Prescott Bush, elected yesterday: He’s got a name. And a family.

“People like the idea of a next generation of Bushes in Texas politics. He’s seen very positively across the board, by Republicans and Democrats. People know the name, it has very positive resonance in Texas, even more positive than George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. He’s young, he’s good-looking, but there’s nothing substantive yet about him.” (Cal Jillson, political scientist, Southern Methodist University, Texas, US)

In case you wondered what the Bush family connections look like, here is the family history, along with the family bush tree.

george_hw_bush_family_history

George P. is thus grandson of former President George H.W., nephew to former President George W., and the son of former Florida governor “Jeb”, a.k.a. John Ellis (a potential presidential aspirant in 2016).

As George P. recently declared: “It’s legacy that I embrace and that I’m not going to run away from.”

In Texas that may be the right attitude. In the rest of the United States the same thing may not work equally well overall.

The burden of legacy: Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidential hopes

by AiteVer

Aung San Suu Kyi’s story may be a prime example of why we created this blog. A person with global outreach and immense political capital – a beneficiary as well as a sufferer of her family connections. ‘The Lady,’ as she’s known by many, once again seems headed towards political deadlock in her struggle with the regime ruling Myanmar/Burma, in part because of her family ties. We’re tuning into this at a moment when not much seems to be going forward – to provide the context now so we can refer back to it when keeping you posted on developments later on.

AungSanSuuKyiAn iconic image of Aung San Suu Kyi from her Wikipedia file

The Nobel laureate leader of the National League for Democracy (the main opposition party in Myanmar) was born in Rangoon (today: Yangon) in 1945 and was only two years old when her father was assassinated by his rivals. Bogyoke (meaning General) Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army as well as the main negotiator of the country’s independence in 1947. After years of attempts to erase his memory by the present rulers of the country, he is today again celebrated as a national hero.

Suu Kyi inherited this legacy but had no ambitions to enter Burmese politics. She followed her mother to Nepal and India when she was appointed ambassador to the two countries in 1960, and afterwards went on to study in the UK, and then live in the US and work for the UN for a while. She returned home eventually to be at her mother’s bed after she had suffered a stroke. It was at this point when she joined the pro-democracy movement that originated in what seemed transitional times but culminated in the failed “8888 uprising” – so named after its starting date of August 8, 1988.

Still in that August, standing under a giant picture of her father, she told a massive gathering that ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on’. Events, however, led to the military once again taking the reins, in September, cracking down on opposition protests.

Suu Kyi may have lost an important battle at that point, but her image as a global defender of human rights had only just begun to take off, in great part thanks to her husband, Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibet, author of many studies, among them this one.

ArisFamilyMichael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi, and son Alexander in 1973 (source: Aris family collection)

Their marriage was a symbol of voluntary sacrifice, as Suu Kyi remained under solitary house arrest right up till her ultimate release in 2010. In the meantime, Aris and their two children were rejected visas by Burmese authorities on most occasions and they could only meet with Suu Kyi a couple of times. The relationship carried the air of tragedy about it. It ended in 1999, when Aris died in the UK of prostate cancer, on his 53rd birthday. He patiently promoted his wife’s cause around the world and collected the awards she received, on her behalf – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. His death must have been a shattering loss to Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has, since, taken steps towards a more democratic form of government. After she had been released in 2010, Suu Kyi was even elected to the parliament in 2012. But the current constitution still bars her from running in next year’s presidential elections – related to her family ties…

The Constitution – proposed, and subsequently accepted in a referendum, under military rule in 2008 – says that the president cannot be directly related to a foreigner.  As Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, and so are her two sons, too, it is hard to see this provision as anything but targeted at her in the present context.

Earlier this year, there were signs of hope that this may change, and a parliamentary committee began to review the constitution. At the same time a petition to amend it was signed reportedly by over 5 million people. However, as of today it seems that the clause in question is going to stay. And this leaves the strongest opposition candidate with less than a fair chance to contest the elections.

Characteristically, she relates to this with a stoic’s optimism (if there is such a thing). Speaking to a group of artists a couple of days ago she promised:

“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”

Unfortunately, she will be 70 by the time of the election next year. Even if the ultimate constitutional hurdle is removed, she will have a long life of struggle to look back to before she can realise her ambition.

Ashraf Ghani’s family and the tense situation in Afghanistan

by fpman

Here’s a whole new aspect to the story of kinship ties in politics which we’re covering on this blog.

In case you have not been following what’s been going on, or down, in Afghanistan, there is a situation there. A post-election situation, a case of contested results. The two leading presidential candidates are Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. I could provide here a brief introduction to Afghan politics, but instead I’ll just say one’s a Pashtun (Ghani) and the other is not (Abdullah Abdullah). And while AA won in the first round (non-decisively, getting only 45% of the vote), the second seems to have been taken by Ghani.

The “turnaround” (or what is perceived as such) could produce some tension in any country, probably, but add to this our general notion of how easy it is to conduct completely free and fair elections in Afghanistan, without fraud anywhere. It is hard, so losing is not easy to stomach — not only for the losing candidate but to his camp, too. And while the faultline between the opposing camps is not an ethnic faultline, there is a bit of a Pashtun v. non-Pashtun dimension to this, making it worse.

US Secretary of State John Kerry managed to broker a deal between the two sides in July — a vote recount, mutual acceptance of the results of the recount in advance, and a promise… to be gentle afterwards in forming a government of national unity of some kind (though the two candidates differ on what that exactly means).

kerry-afghan-electionsCelebration: Kerry (left), Ghani (middle), Abdullah Abdullah (right) — source: AP

Not everyone among their supporters is taking it kindly, though, and tension continues to simmer.

A case in point is Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful non-Pashtun politician, longtime governor of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan. Besides promising not to accept “a one-sided recount,” he was also happy to specify what kind of uprising would follow in such an eventuality:

“I say uprising against the one who arrives through fraud, against the one winning by corrupted votes – uprising against the one who doesn’t know about religion and whose children and wife are not Afghans.”

“The one” he is referring to is Ashraf Ghani, of course. Between 1977 (when he went to the US to study at Columbia where he went on to earn a PhD) and 2001 (when the Taliban were ousted from power, after 9/11), Ghani did not return to Afghanistan. First because of the Communists, then because of the civil war that followed, and then because of the Taliban’s rule. This is reason enough for many in Afghan politics nowadays to attack him.

Actually, it has become a bit of a tradition to refer to those public figures who have returned to Afghanistan after 2001 as “dog-washers.” Atta Mohammad Noor at least didn’t say “uprising against the one who is a dog-washer” so there is still hope that this can be handled in a civilised manner. But he did say a few rude things about Ghani’s family, using that to try and discredit him.

Ghani met his wife in Lebanon. Her name is Rula, she is Arab, and she is from a Christian family.

Supporters and opposers go out of their way to make something of that. One side says Rula converted to Islam. A commenter here remarks that in his view, Rula “can challenge you in a test on Islam and she will obliterate you.” The other side keeps claiming that Ashraf Ghani is going to church with Rula when outside Afghanistan. On various Afghan discussion forums, the conspiracy mill is in overdrive spreading all kinds of sh*t about her, including that she is the agent of a Judeo-Christian plot to convert Afghan women to Christianity.

So yeah, that reference to Ghani’s wife did have some malevolent undertones.

But hey, Afghanistan’s got plenty of other problems, too. No reason to be overly concerned with this one.

Younger sister Minister Bishop

by fpman

Reading this short piece about current Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s older sister I was in for a few tactical surprises.

MaryLou Bishop, the older sister in question is currently pondering whether to run in local government elections (Council elections) in November, feeling she could do something for her community in Medindie (Walkerville, Adelaide, Australia).

The first surprise was this remark: “If elected, Ms Bishop said she would not copy her high-flying sister’s famous death stare.” The context, promptly investigated: younger sister Minister Bishop is apparently famous for a terrifying glance she gave to someone in the audience for a televised debate a couple of years ago. Along with a certain notoriety — and Facebook groups founded in commemoration of this — it also earned her a kind of respect…

JuliaBishop_DeathStareThe famous death stare (source)

Video of the same…

The second surprise in the article was how MaryLou Bishop responded when asked about any higher ambitions she may have in politics, beyond the as yet uncontested local government elections. She said “There is nothing about a politician’s life that I envy … It’s soul destroying.” She may be right but her sister is out there at this point doing that very thing for a living.

With regards to the death stare, MaryLou goes further in fact, and offers this analysis of it — and why she won’t need it whereas sister Julie always did:

“I was the eldest and could out manoeuvre and out smart my sisters in an argument. Julie was the youngest and needed all the weapons she could muster — this was the death stare.”

This kind of explanation may sit well with some observers who attribute Julie’s success in politics to her ability to be tough enough with the boys (so cliché, I know). In an article setting out to explain “So how did Bishop cut through the boys’ club of The Liberal Party?,” the author notes that Bishop “can hold her own in debates,” that she made the tough decision that “women can’t have it all,” and eventually goes on to mention how “Her death stare is the most famous facial expression in Australian politics and has launched Facebook groups and twitter hashtags.”

From other sources you can learn, however, that Julie Bishop has many faces to show to the world, and the simple narrative of the repressed little sister (with two older sisters and a younger brother) who fought back to grow into debating champion, corporate lawyer, and then a master of politics does not necessarily work all that neatly. In her friends’ perspective:

“Her friends struggle to understand why this colourful, energetic woman seems so prickly on television. “Julie seems to have developed this tough bitch persona, and I’m constantly saying she’s not like that,” says one. Adds another: “Julie is a party girl, she loves kicking up her heels. In the public eye you have to be careful how that manifests itself.”

MaryLou may be developing her own persona through those remarks about her sister now, with a view to the upcoming Council elections. A persona fit for size of ambition and purpose.