Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trends to Watch: UNASUR, Indian Elections and Others

Can South America pull off an EU-style model towards regional integration, with Brazil playing the role of Germany? The formal creation of UNASUR on Friday is a step forward--but the test will be whether common institutions can withstand disagreements between member-states. The approach taken toward a common defense policy--to step back and not insist on pushing it forward given Colombia's clear concerns--may indicate that we have a group of leaders who want to construct workable institutions brick by brick rather than create a grandiose scheme that doesn't have much filling.

President Lula's insistence, as well, that the union needs to focus on economic improvement--with Brazil committing itself to infrastructure projects designed to tie Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay into Brazil's own rising prosperity--seems to be designed to give ordinary citizens a stake in the success of this new venture.

So we have Brazil stepping out into the international stage in the BRIC and IBSA formats and working to solidify a bloc around its leadership in South America.

Second item for the day: we all love democracy here in Washington but we don't tend to pay too much attention to the details of democracy in other countries. (On a side note--Al-Jazeera says 40,000 protesters in Tbilisi saying the elections were unfair. The Europeans fence-sit again; highlighting a whole host of procedural problems but saying the elections reflect the will of the people.) But a critical regional election in India happened--in Karnataka (the state may not be familiar to Americans, but its capital city should be--Bangalore). The BJP is taking power after winning local elections--and while local issues dominated, it is also a sign that Indians are losing confidence in their current government at the national center. The Times of India editorialized today: "The significance of the BJP's victory in Karnataka extends beyond the state. Even though the BJP has been steadily increasing its influence in the south, the party has never been in a position to form a state government on its own. Winning Karnataka for the BJP is, unlike its retaining power in Gujarat, gaining new territory. It sets the BJP on a par with the Congress: a national party with governments across the country. With general elections only a few months away, such a win can boost the morale of the ranks and even gain new allies. The Congress, having lost as many as 13 assembly elections since 2004, has a lot to worry about." So should we expect bold new initiatives from an imperiled Manmohan Singh government, on the nuclear deal, on Pakistan, on anything else? I note this because too often when we talk about "India" or "France" or "Germany" or "Brazil" we tend to lose sight of the fact that governments depend on electoral victories and therefore politicians take the pulse of what voters want, not what we in DC want.

Finally, some additional recommended reading:

C. Uday Bhaskar on recent developments in Pakistan and how they affect India--and thus issues that affect Washington's relationship with both Islamabad and New Delhi.

Shashi Tharoor and concerns about the league of democracies.

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