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Thursday, April 23, 2009
Excerpts: Buying votes in Lebanon. Iran won't halt nuclear work. Arabs welcome Obama 2-state stance. China asserts its influence April 23, 2009

Excerpts: Buying votes in Lebanon.Iran won't halt nuclear work.Arabs welcome
Obama 2-state stance.China asserts its influence April 23, 2009

+++NEW YORK TIMES April 23 '09:Money From Abroad Floods Into Lebanon to Buy
QUOTE: Even a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies ...would be seen as a
victory for Iran"
FULL TRXT:BEIRUT, Lebanon - It is election season in Lebanon, and Hussein
H., a jobless 24-year-old from south Beirut, is looking forward to selling
his vote to the highest bidder."Whoever pays the most will get my vote," he
said. "I won't accept less than $800."He may get more. The parliamentary
elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever
held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this
small country from around the globe.
Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and
now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other
countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in
place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and
most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of
candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt.
Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their
competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage
is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free,
to vote in contested districts. The payments, according to voters, election
monitors and various past and current candidates interviewed for this
article, nurture a deep popular cynicism about politics in Lebanon, which is
nominally perhaps the most democratic Arab state but in practice is largely
governed through patronage and sectarian and clan loyalty.
Despite the vast amounts being spent, many Lebanese see the race - which
pits Hezbollah and its allies against a fractious coalition of more
West-friendly political groups - as almost irrelevant. Lebanon's sectarian
political structure virtually guarantees a continuation of the current
"national unity" government, in which the winning coalition in the 128-seat
Parliament grants the loser veto powers to preserve civil peace.
Still, even a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the
parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran - which has
financed Hezbollah for decades - and a blow to American allies in the
region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.
"We are putting a lot into this," said one adviser to the Saudi government,
who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of
millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. "We're
supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we're going to make
Iran feel the pressure."
As it happens, Lebanon has campaign spending limits this year for the first
time, and the Arab world's first system to monitor that spending, by the
Lebanese chapter of Transparency International. But the limits - which are
very loose to begin with - apply only in the last two months of the
campaign. And they are laughably easy to circumvent, according to election
monitors and Lebanese officials.
Reformers have tried and failed to introduce a uniform national ballot,
which could reduce the influence of money and make the system less
vulnerable to fraud. Currently, political parties or coalitions usually
print up their own distinctive ballots and hand them to voters before they
walk into the booth, making it easier to be sure they are getting the votes
they have paid for.
Some voters, especially in competitive districts, receive cold calls
offering cash for their vote. But mostly the political machines work through
local patriarchs known as "electoral keys," who can deliver the votes of an
entire clan in exchange for money or services - scholarships, a hospital,
repaved roads and so on.
In a country where the average public school teacher earns less than $700 a
month, these payments are a significant source of support for many
communities. And because each seat in the Lebanese Parliament is designated
by religious sect, the elections tend to reinforce the essentially feudal
power structure of Lebanon, with a network of men from known families
providing for each sect and region.
All the major political groups deny buying votes, which is illegal under
Lebanese law, but election monitors acknowledge that it is a routine
practice. "Since the 1990s, more money has been coming in," said Paul Salem,
the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center here. "Unfortunately, the
system adjusts to that and in a way comes to expect it, especially among the
In fact, many poorer Lebanese look to the elections as a kind of Christmas,
when cash, health-care vouchers, meals and other handouts are abundant.
The largess extends across the globe. From Brazil to Australia, thousands of
expatriates are being offered free plane trips back home to vote. Saad
Hariri, the billionaire leader of the current parliamentary majority and a
Saudi ally, is reputed to be the biggest election spender. It may not have
helped that he kicked off his campaign with a gaudy televised event that
resembled the set of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." But members of his
movement say that the accusation is unfair, and that their own money is
outmatched by the hundreds of millions of dollars Iran has given to
Hezbollah over the years.
Candidates and political parties generally will not admit to receiving money
from abroad.
One of them, however, recently broke with convention by acknowledging it
openly. Ahmed al-Asaad, 46, said that Saudi Arabia's government was a
"significant source of support" for his campaign against Hezbollah in
southern Lebanon. He said his goal was to pull the Shiites of Lebanon away
from Iran.
"I need tools to fight back, and if the Saudis have an interest in building
a state here, why shouldn't I take advantage of that?" said Mr. Asaad, an
American-educated businessman, during an interview at his office just
outside Beirut.
Candidates who do not ally themselves with a powerful patronage machine are
almost unheard of here.
Walid Maalouf, a banker who worked briefly as a diplomat while living in the
United States, is running an independent campaign on a shoestring budget,
barnstorming from town to town in his mountain district. He says most people
in the villages tell him he is the only politician who bothers to visit
them. They are grateful, but he does not offer cash or patronage, and they
are unsure what to think of him.
Recently, Mr. Maalouf said, he was trying to explain to a village leader
that he should think of candidates as employees, not patrons - someone they
would hire to represent them effectively in the government.
"He looked at me," Mr. Maalouf recalled, "and then he said, 'Go back to
America.' "

+++EGYPTIAN GAZETTE 23 April '09:"Iran welcomes nuclear talks, won't halt

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran welcomes "constructive" talks with world powers on
its nuclear programme but will press ahead with work to develop atomic
energy, an official statement said yesterday.

The statement was Tehran's response to an invitation by six world powers,
including the United States, to discuss the nuclear row . . ..Last week,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had prepared proposals to
end the row, with-out giving details.It was unclear whether Iran's
counter-offer would be essentially different from previous ill-fated
exchanges.The United States and its Western allies suspect Iran is aiming at
developing nuclear bombs under the cover of a civilian programme and want it
to halt sensitive uranium enrichment. Iran rejects the allegation and says
it will not bow to pressure.The United States, Russia, China, France,
Germany and Britain said on April 8 they would ask European Union (EU)
foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a
diplomatic solution to this critical issue", referring to the nuclear row.It
marked a significant shift in US pol-icy under President Barack Obama, whose
predecessor George W. Bush shunned direct talks with Iran as long as it
continued with enrichment activity.Meanwhile, the Obama administration said
it was prepared to meet Iran without preconditions, but it had also made
clear that suspension of enrichment remained the goal.While saying it would
welcome talks, Iran also criticised the powers' statement issued after a
meeting in London earlier this month, saying parts of it were con-tradictory
and insulting by referring to a dual track strategy of carrots and sticks.
Iran has repeatedly dismissed demands that it stop enriching uranium, which
can have both civilian and mili-tary uses. Tehran said its activities were
aimed at producing electricity so that it could export more of its gas and
oil.The six world powers originally offered Iran economic and political
incentives in 2006 to suspend enrich-ment.

+++JORDAN TIMES 23 April '09:"Shifting US position on Israel an opportunity
Arabs - analysts"
By Mohammad Ghazal
QUOTE: "urging Arabs to make use of . . . . a (U.S.) 'less-biased' stance
against Israel"

EXCERPTS:AMMAN - Arabs should build on the US stance on the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict declared by President Barack Obama at his
meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah Tuesday(21 April), analysts said
Wednesday.(22 April)
Obama's strong support for the two-state solution, which envisages the
creation of an independent Palestinian state, and his commitment to the 2002
Arab Peace Initiative, which he described Tuesday (21 April) as a "very
constructive start", are positive indictators that Arabs should build on to
demonstrate their pro-peace stance in light of the Israeli rejection of the
two-state solution and the peace overture, the analysts noted.
. . .Fares Breizat, political analyst and pollster, said the Arabs should
"stick to their guns" and renew their commitment to the peace initiative to
show the world and the US in particular that Israel is not serious about
. . .Urging the Arabs to make use of what he said was a "less-biased"
American stance towards Israel, MP Mamdouh Abbadi said: "The Arabs should
make use of this fact. It is a big gain that they should build on."
".I do not expect anything to happen in the near future unless the US stops
protecting Israel and being its absolute supporter," former Lower-House
Speaker Arabiyat told The Jordan Times.

+++WASHINGTON POST 23 April '09:"China Uses Global Crisis to Assert Its
Influence"Ariana Eunjung Cha
Along With Aid to Other Nations, Beijing Offers Up Criticism of the West
QUOTE:"A new friend jumped at the opportunity to come to the rescue:China"
FULL TEXT:BEIJING -- With Jamaica's currency in free fall, unemployment
soaring and banks heavily exposed to government debt, the Caribbean island's
diplomats went into crisis mode earlier this year. They traveled to all
corners of the world to seek help.
Jamaica's traditional allies, the United States and Britain, were
preoccupied with their own financial problems, but a new friend jumped at
the opportunity to come to the rescue: China.
When contracts for loan packages totaling $138 million were signed between
the two countries in March, China became Jamaica's biggest financial
partner. Headlines in Jamaica's leading newspapers, which only a year ago
were filled with concern about China's growing influence in the region,
gushed about its generosity.
"The loan couldn't have come more in time and on more preferred terms," E.
Courtenay Rattray, Jamaica's ambassador to China, said in an interview.
While the island nation continues to value its close relationships with
Western powers, he added, in some respects Jamaica has more in common with
China. "Those are developed countries. They don't have such an in-depth
understanding of the development aspirations of Jamaica as does China," he
Overseas aid and loans are just one way China is asserting itself in its new
role as a world financial leader. While polishing China's own image, Premier
Wen Jiabao and other top leaders have blamed the West for the global
economic crisis. Chinese officials increasingly are challenging the primacy
of the dollar, warning other countries about the danger of keeping reserves
in just one or two currencies, such as dollars and euros. And as the global
economic crisis has eroded faith in U.S.-style capitalism, there's growing
talk that a new "Beijing Consensus" will replace the long-dominant
Washington Consensus on how developing countries should manage their

Coined by British economist John Williamson 20 years ago, the term
"Washington Consensus" refers to a standard set of policies -- including
privatization of state enterprises, free trade, deregulation and restraint
in public spending -- that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank
and the U.S. Treasury Department have long urged on debt-ridden nations,
particularly in Latin America.
A fierce debate has broken out among academics and financial policymakers
about how to define the Beijing Consensus, or even whether such a thing
exists; many say that it is a loose package of political points rather than
an economic model, and that there is no formal effort by the Chinese
government to promote it. But some experts are already calling it a
challenge to the existing order.
"It is very possible that the Beijing Consensus can replace the Washington
Consensus," said Cui Zhiyuan, a professor of public policy at Tsinghua
University who edited a recent book on the subject. "Since the crisis, the
world doesn't have as much confidence in the U.S. economic model as before."
In a report last month titled "The Beijing Consensus," South Korea's
Ministry of Strategy and Finance sounded an alarm over China's aid and
loans. Developing countries that accept Chinese assistance, it warned, may
lower their guard and gravitate toward a Chinese-style economic model.
Jamaica's Rattray dismissed those fears as overblown. China's financial
assistance to his country came with "no requirement to adopt specific
macroeconomic policy approaches," he said, and there is "no debate about the
government of Jamaica's commitment to a free-market economic model."
Cheng Enfu, an economics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, a government-affiliated think tank, said he defines the Beijing
Consensus as promotion of economies in which public ownership remains
dominant; gradual reform is preferred to "shock therapy"; the country is
open to foreign trade but remains largely self-reliant; and large-scale
market reform takes place first, followed later by political and cultural
The global economic crisis, Cheng said, "displays the advantages of the
Chinese model" and has already expanded China's influence. "Some mainstream
economists are saying that India should learn from China; Latin American
countries are trying to learn from China. When foreign countries send
delegations to China, they show interest in the Chinese way of developing,"
Cheng said.
Barry Sautman, a political scientist at Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology, said in a research paper that Western academics often deride the
Chinese model as "economic growth without the constraints of democratic
institutions." But, he argued, the emerging Beijing Consensus "takes
seriously some aspirations of developing states often ignored or opposed by
the West," such as "a more equitable international distribution of wealth
and power."
As Beijing grows more assertive in international finance, it is working
inside as well as outside existing organizations. In January, it joined the
Inter-American Development Bank -- which is active in Latin America and the
Caribbean -- as a donor country. It is in talks with the IMF to increase its
contribution to the fund in exchange for more of a say in IMF policies. And
in Asia, it is leading the push by the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations for a regional fund that will compete with the Asian Development
This week, China's allies Kazakhstan and Pakistan -- both of which recently
got new loans from China -- threw their support behind calls from China's
central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, to create a new world or Asian
reserve currency to replace the dollar. Venezuelan President Hugo Ch?vez,
who also signed a credit line with China recently, has backed the proposal.
In the past five months, China has signed $95 billion in currency swap
agreements with six countries that now hold part of their reserves in yuan.
The government has also begun to allow companies in southern China to settle
contracts with foreign neighbors in yuan instead of dollars or euros.
Nouriel Roubini, a professor at New York University who as far back as 2006
predicted a U.S. economic collapse triggered by a housing bubble, said in an
interview that the financial crisis has shown that "different countries grow
in different ways, and nobody has the monopoly on that type of wisdom."
While he does not expect any immediate change in the international monetary
system, he said, in five to 10 years "the Chinese currency could be the new
reserve currency."
But Michael Pettis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace and a professor of finance at Peking University, says
China's recent moves are more about public relations and aiding diplomatic
allies than a true effort to remake the global financial system or to push a
new model of development. Beijing has long used foreign aid to encourage
developing countries to stop recognizing Taiwan -- as Jamaica did in 1972 --
and the talk about creating a new international "supercurrency" may be
mostly a warning to the United States not to cover mounting deficits simply
by printing money.
"It's about signaling concern about U.S. monetary policy," Pettis said.
At an economic forum in the southern Chinese city of Boao last weekend,
China's leaders seized every opportunity to criticize Western countries and
China's top banking regulator, Liu Mingkang, called the recent Group of 20
meetings in London and Washington "mainly lip service without many concrete
actions." Former vice premier Zeng Peiyan said that if the United States
wants to continue receiving "foreign funding support," it should guarantee
the value of its Treasury securities to countries that buy them. And Zheng
Xinli, deputy head of the China Center for Economic Exchanges, an
influential new research center, called for a new Asian development bank to
compete with Western-dominated institutions.
Researchers Zhang Jie in Beijing and Robert E. Thomason in Washington
contributed to this report.
Sue Lerner- Associate, IMRA

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