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Gordon Campbell on the Winston Peters veto

Gordon Campbell on the Winston Peters veto, and the different US responses to Egypt and Haiti

So if voters return Winston Peters in government, the National Party will not work with him in any governing coalition. Fair enough. It is up to any party to decide when co-operation with a rival would entail an intolerable compromise of its core principles. For similar reasons, it would be hard to imagine Labour and the Greens agreeing to govern with Rodney Hide and the Act Party.

For an argument allegedly based on principle though, the decision was announced in the usual point-scoring fashion. As John Key put it, if Peters is to be a kingmaker, it will only be in a government led by Phil Goff. Put that way, it looked less like a decision based on preserving National’s reputation for integrity – after three years of governing with Rodney Hide, that’s in short supply – than an attempt to invoke the Peters bogey to scare the public off voting for Goff. (In reality, most voters would probably regard a smackdown between Key plus Hide vs Goff plus Peters as a virtual dead heat in obnoxiousness.)

As it happens, shunning Peters will only make him stronger. Meaning: the likely result of Key’s announcement will be that Labour will not embrace Peters either – and thus, the New Zealand First leader will be able to maximize his appeal by promising to sit on the cross benches and keep both the major parties honest. Peters must be thinking: with enemies like Key, who needs friends?

Still, it is all useful information to have, upfront. We now know that Key will not serve with Peters, and will not serve in opposition either, if he loses the election. Taken together, those decisions look less like choices based on principle and more like personal whim. Put it this way: if Key can work with Hide, why can’t he work with Peters? And if he really wants to make New Zealand a better place, shouldn’t that involve a willingness to tough it out in opposition, when the principles that he supposedly believes in would be most at stake, and most in need of a champion?

Mubarak Turns Up the Heat

The violence being unleashed against the demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square looks like the usual work of Mubarak’s goon squads, common since 2005 at least.

Dutifully, the media are calling them ‘pro-Mubarak supporters’. It makes the military’s ‘we won’t fire’ promise look more like a gambit to lure people into a false sense of confidence, where they could then get roughed up by the internal security forces. It looks like becoming a war of attrition, as the regime steadily tries to fragment and terrorise its opponents – and to present Mubarak as the only alternative to chaos. So much for Barack Obama’s calls for an orderly transition.

Different Rules for Haiti

Meanwhile, the US is taking a far different approach to the political crisis in Haiti than to the one in Egypt. In the last couple of days, the most significant event since the January 2009 earthquake has happened in Haiti: former president Jean Bertrand Aristide has reportedly been cleared to return. Still by far the most popular politician in the country, Aristide was ousted by a US-backed coup in 2004 and exiled to South Africa. In recent months though, there has been a messy battle over who is to be the run-off candidate for Haiti’s election against the front-runner, Mirlande Manigat.

The problem being, outgoing president Rene Preval has had his protégé Jude Celestin (the second placed candidate in the opening round of voting) arbitrarily ruled out by a panel of experts handpicked by the US, France and Canada, Celestin has been replaced by a popular local musician called Michel Martelly who has long ties to the US military dating all the way back to the Duvalier regime. Martelly has also publicly opposed Aristide’s return.

Faced with this prospect, the Preval government has dropped the A-bomb, and is reportedly enabling Aristide to get travel documents for his return. Given that Aristide is the only person capable of uniting the bulk of the population and of leading a recovery from the earthquake and cholera epidemic, he is likely to become the target of every reactionary thug in the country. In the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper in nearby Kingston, Jamaica local journalists drew an interesting contrast between the Obama administration’s hands-off policy on Egypt, and its active interventions in Haiti – which have included threats to cut off aid, refusing to accept an interim government, choosing election candidates, and dictating how events will play out –

In earlier statements, purportedly by the State Department, the ultimatum was clear. The US$1-billion pledged to Haiti's recovery programme would be on hold pending the acceptance of the recommendations. In addition, US visas of several officials connected to the ruling party were revoked. This is in stark contrast to the response to the current turmoil in Egypt…

In the case of Egypt, on Sunday Clinton echoed President Obama's sentiments in affirming respect for the sovereignty of that country and a willingness to await the outcome of the massive protest action and then take it from there. Prior to her arrival in Haiti, other members of her staff were far less guarded in their comments about US expectations of the political leaders in that country.

….Clinton [gave assurances] that the United States has no plans to halt aid to earthquake-ravaged Haiti despite the leadership crisis,[but] she maintained the stance that the president's chosen successor, Justin [sic] Celestine, be dropped from the race.

Additionally, her response to the possibility of Préval staying on for an extra three months while the election process plays out, spoke volumes. "That's one of the problems we have to talk about," she said. "There are issues of a continuing government, how that can be structured. And that's what I'm going to be discussing."

Moreover, the Gleaner added, the US seems more agitated about the potential return of the democratically elected Aristide than by the actual return of the former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier The Gleaner, again:

The long-held US position has been that Aristide's presence in Haiti would not be welcomed. This was reconfirmed recently by State Department spokesman PJ Crowley: "Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens," he said in reference to the possibility of Aristide's return.

Such a stance is especially riveting because Crowley sang a different tune when questioned about his country's reaction to the return of Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier. "This is a matter for the Government of Haiti and the people of Haiti," he had then said.

With friends like the Obama administration and the Clintons, the people of Haiti have no need of enemies.


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