Daily Archives: October 2, 2012

Esther Bintliff

Bidzina Ivanishvili speaking at his residence in Tbilisi in October 2011. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Until last year, many voters in Georgia hadn’t even heard of Bidzina Ivanishvili. He is now set to become the country’s next prime minister, after his Georgian Dream coalition trounced the incumbent party of president Mikheil Saakashvili in Monday’s election. So how did a reclusive billionaire businessman with no political experience capture the public imagination in such a short period of time?

In the FT

  • An excellent introduction to Ivanishvili is this profile by Courtney Weaver, who interviewed him in his futuristic Tbilisi “home-cum-office” in September. “A billionaire who accrued most of his wealth in Russia in the 1990s, Mr Ivanishvili has been content to live mostly unseen, amassing an art collection – Lichtenstein, Freud, Hirst – and quietly spreading his wealth across Georgia through charitable vehicles. That was until last October, when Mr Ivanishvili literally came down from the mountain.”
  • While Ivanishivili had been building support throughout the past year, he got a significant boost in the middle of last month, when the government of Saakashvili was thrown into crisis by the emergence of videos showing Georgian prisoners being beaten and raped. Saakashvili quickly issued a statement condemning the acts as an “horrific affront to human rights and dignity”, but the brutal images brought thousands onto the streets in protest, and undermined the faith of many in the government.

 Read more

John Paul Rathbone

President Hugo Chavez (L) and Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles (JUAN BARRETO/AFP/GettyImages)

Henrique Capriles may be the underdog at this Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election. Yet momentum is building behind the 40-year old candidate and Hugo Chávez, 58, increasingly recognises that. The reason for this is the economy, which for perhaps the first time in Mr Chávez’s 14-year rule has become a contestable issue.

Mr Chávez won power in 1998 promising radical things. And he has since delivered on many of those promises. There is now 100 per cent school enrolment, the number of university graduates has quadrupled, and extreme poverty has fallen – by official figures it has halved. But as Arturo Franco, a fellow at Harvard’s Centre for International Development puts it: at what cost these gains?

Take the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness rankings. In 2012, Venezuela slipped two places to 126th out of 144 and is now the region’s worst performer, bar Haiti. On some issues – such as judicial security, trust of politicians, red tape, quality of education and labour rigidities – Venezuela comes last, or nearly last. Not all of this, though, is Mr Chávez’s fault. In the WEF’s 1998 report, Venezuela also came last, or nearly last (although among a smaller sample of 58 countries). Read more

Esther Bintliff

Today’s serving of news stories, blogs and opinion pieces to chew on:

Welcome to the US Election 2012 round-up and with 35 days to go until polling day, there is a sudden lull in events. That isn’t because everyone just got bored of 24-hour-a-day politics – although perhaps we shouldn’t rule that out – but because tomorrow is the first presidential debate.

Say what you will about the US general election system, but it consistently throws up contests between two men whose camps are certain that the debate will change everything in favour of their guy (or, very occasionally, gal). Many US papers have pointed out in their Tuesday editions that there is little evidence that debates do actually make a difference, but to campaign teams that spend millions on advice, polls and statistical microscopy, that doesn’t seem to make a penny’s worth of difference to the amount of effort they put in.

So, today, neither candidate is on the road, but locked away with advisers, preparing their devastating one-liners and their most sincere looks into camera. Meanwhile, as Politico’s campaign calendar reveals, the vice-presidential candidates are in swing states, with Vice President Joe Biden in North Carolina and Paul Ryan, the man picked by Mitt Romney to oust Mr Biden, in Iowa.

With the RealClearPolitics.com poll average showing President Barack Obama’s lead slipping slightly to 3.5 points across all 50 states, the New York Times’ specialist polling site FiveThirtyEight says it has run computer simulations which have in some models shown a statistical tie in the electoral college vote is possible at 269 for each candidate — but fortunately it is only a 0.6 per cent probability.

Those stories not concentrating on the debates look at the state of that race in the so-called battleground states. The National Journal has done some interesting burrowing on where the Democrats are having successRead more

Notes from the Heartland

In Denver tomorrow, the first presidential debate will see the candidates discuss the role of government in the economy. Some Republican commentators argue that Barack Obama’s healthcare and tax policies make him a “socialist”. About half of Americans believe the term “socialist” applies well or very well to Barack Obama.

Obama meets campaign staff in Nevada. Photo AFP

In the primaries Mitt Romney admirably declined to play this game. Obama may be a “big government liberal” (a phrase oxymoronic to British observers) but he isn’t a socialist. But don’t take Romney’s word for it. The US branch of the Workers International League agrees with him. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

“This is what you have to do, if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback.” Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was doubtless being whimsical when he urged his colleagues to make bold decisions about the future of Europe. But the former French president’s remark offers a telling insight into the mentality that created the great euro-mess of today.