Daily Archives: May 2, 2013

Esther Bintliff

Irish President Michael D Higgins smiles during the official announcement of the Irish presidential election's results on October 29, 2011 (PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

(Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty)

On Thursday morning, a small storm erupted in Ireland over an interview given by the president, Michael D. Higgins, to the FT’s Dublin correspondent, Jamie Smyth.

President Higgins, who is 72 years old, a published poet and a former government minister, argued that EU leaders needed to rethink their “hegemonic” response to the crisis.

“There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model… The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches… We have 26m people unemployed… There are 112m at risk of poverty, a contraction in investment and falling demand.”

Higgins’ remarks were quite frank for someone whose role is largely ceremonial. Some members of the public commenting on the Irish Times website praised his candidness: “He may be small in physical stature, but he is not averse to standing up to the heavyweights of the EU”, said one; another wrote: “THIS IS THE KIND OF PRESIDENT I HOPED FOR WHEN WE ELECTED MICHAEL D. HIGGINS!!!”.

Not everyone was positive. “By speaking out on matters which don’t concern his office, he is skirting dangerously close to creating a constitutional issue – and he does not have a mandate for that,” said ‘PaulFlynn’. When a Sinn Féin representative mentioned Higgins’ remarks in the lower house of parliament (the Dáil) later on Thursday, the parliamentary speaker immediately warned: “Don’t go there with regards to the President, we don’t discuss the President in Dáil Éireann.”  Read more

James Blitz

On its way out? A Trident submarine leaves Faslane naval base (Getty)

Does the US want Britain to renew its independent nuclear deterrent? The question is generating a certain amount of debate among security analysts on both sides of the Atlantic. Between now and 2016, the UK must take a decision on whether to spend £20bn building four new submarines to carry the Trident missile. David Cameron’s Conservatives are keenly committed to a like-for-like replacement, saying there can be no compromise with the UK’s ultimate security guarantee.

But there are a few discordant voices out there who are questioning whether it is really worth ploughing all this money into a renewed nuclear weapons capability when the UK is having to cut its conventional arsenal as much as it is. Would it not be better, ask some critics, if Britain shifted the billions of pounds of cash meant for Trident’s replacement and bought weapons it is far more likely to use and which will ensure it remains an effective ally of the US? Read more

Election campaign posters are pictured along a busy road ahead of Pakistan's general election on April 15, 2013 (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

(FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan is preparing for its first constitutional democratic handover since partition as it heads to the parliamentary polls on May 11.

The campaign period has been marred by outbursts of violence, especially attacks by the attacks by the Taliban on candidates, rallies and offices of the country’s smaller, secular and liberal parties.

What’s at stake?

There are 342 seats available. Voters elect 272 members on a first-past-the-post basis. The 70 remaining (60 reserved for women and ten for non-Muslim minorities) are allocated to parties on the basis of their showing in the contests for the directly elected seats.

The outcome of this election may also determine which way the wind will blow for President Asif Ali Zardari when his five-year term ends in September. Zardari is widely considered an ineffectual president who has nevertheless proved oddly effective at clinging to power. And although he was forced to step down as co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, he is definitely considered to be its standard bearer.

Who are the runners and riders for the role of prime minister?

It really boils down to three key players.

The Favourite Nawaz Sharif, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, is a front runner.

Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif attends a meeting of traders during his election campaign in Islamabad on May 1, 2013 (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

(Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

A force in Pakistani politics for some time, he was ousted during his second stint as PM by former General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup in 1999. A victory in the forthcoming election would herald a third return to power. But is this a Shinzo Abe-style comeback – or more of a Silvio Berlusconi?

The Economist charts a favourable track record that may hint at the former:

“In Lahore alone, a bus system set up last year was opened in January; officials nearly eradicated dengue in 2012; and Mr Sharif built a motorway to Islamabad, the capital, in the 1990s. Such tangible schemes are popular.”

 Read more

♦ Ireland’s head of state says the EU must drop its “hegemonic” economic model and reform the ECB, or risk social upheaval and a loss of popular legitimacy.
♦ The Great Tax Race series turns to Ireland, looking at how Ireland has remained attached to aggressive tax policies that favour businesses even as ordinary people have struggled to get by. (If you’re trying to get your head around how all of this even works, watch this handy explainer from Matt Steinglass)
♦ Richard McGregor thinks President Obama needs to circumvent Congress if he wants to get his agenda moving.
♦ Western clothing companies are scrambling to address public concerns over working conditions in Bangladesh – the Walt Disney Company ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in the country before Rana Plaza collapsed. John Gapper today makes the argument against western companies withdrawing: “Despite everything, the industry provides better-paid jobs than the alternative – working on rural farms – and has helped to emancipate women.”
♦ Despite violence and corruption, Afghan entrepreneurs are still making opportunities for themselves.
♦ The Kremlin is putting pressure on VKontakte, a Russian Facebook clone, pushing CEO Pavel Durov to leave the country.
♦ Slate is publishing a series of excerpts from the memoirs of Mohamedou Oul Slahi who was a prisoner at Guantánamo for nearly 11 years.
♦ Mafia historian goes underground into the bunkers of the Ndrangheta, Europe’s biggest cocaine traffickers and Italy’s most powerful organised crime group.
 Read more