By Robert A. Vella
Kenya and Spain, two countries on two old world continents separated by differing cultures and climes and thousand of miles of rugged terrain and dangerous sea. Yet, each are nations like so many in this profoundly uncertain 21st century – at odds with their own peoples and floundering to preserve their national unity. One is currently struggling to stay together, while the other is willfully tearing itself apart.
The problem of internal dissent is now so acute that it is afflicting even the most stalwart of unions, such as the U.S. and Europe. Yes, there are nations in much better shape (e.g. Canada); but, they seem more like stout ships steaming through very stormy seas than great majestic islands anchored solidly in bedrock. This growing polarization of our collective cultures and political ideologies should be of utmost concern for all. That it is not might be the most worrisome thing of all.
(Bloomberg) — Kenya’s chances of holding a rerun of last month’s annulled presidential election on time are fading as electoral law amendments proposed by the ruling party widen divisions at the commission organizing the vote, according to an official at the electoral body familiar with developments.
Some senior members of the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission will refuse to take part in a new election as things stand, said the person, who asked not to be identified for reasons of personal safety. Amendments that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party plans to pass in parliament would effectively place the commission under its control, the person said.
The main opposition alliance on Thursday quit negotiations over how to manage the Oct. 26 vote, saying amendments proposed by the Jubilee Party would “create a lame-duck commission.” The changes would include enabling commissioners to appoint a new chairman and reducing the number of people required to make a quorum, according to a copy of the bill provided by government spokesman Eric Kiraithe’s office.
Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the Aug. 8 election after finding the electoral authority committed “irregularities and illegalities.” The opposition, led by Raila Odinga, has demanded changes be made to the IEBC’s staff and systems — a move opposed by Kenyatta, who was initially declared the winner of the vote.
Europe faces another high-stakes secession vote this weekend after Scotland’s failed referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in the 2014, and the U.K.’s vote last year to leave the European Union, probably by 2019. This time around, Spain is in the hot seat as its semi-autonomous region of Catalonia pushes ahead Sunday with an independence referendum that Madrid says is illegal and wants to block. Here’s why it’s happening, and why it matters.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regions. It is situated in the country’s northeast, Barcelona is its lively and tourist-friendly capital, and it’s home to 7.5 million people. Spanish and Catalan are the official languages, but Catalan is the dominant one. Catalonia contributes disproportionately to Spain’s national coffers. It accounts for about one-fifth of the country’s economy and 30% of foreign trade. Technology, fashion and pharmaceuticals are among its major industries.
When did this all start?
Catalonia emerged as an autonomous community several hundred years ago. Its drive for independence in modern times can be traced to the Spanish Civil War, when the country’s military dictator Francisco Franco abolished any hopes of full autonomy. He suppressed the region’s culture, language and many civil liberties. After Franco’s death in 1975, and Spain’s return to democracy, Catalonia opted to pursue more limited forms of political control rather than full independence.
Why is Catalonia’s vote happening now?
Momentum has been building for several years. In 2014, the region held a symbolic, non-binding independence vote. It passed easily with 80% support. However, turnout was less than 40% and polls show opinion is probably more closely split. Catalans resent contributing far more in tax revenues to Spain’s central government than any other region and increased calls for independence have coincided with the country’s financial crisis. Catalonians feel they are a victim of their own economic success. There is widespread dissatisfaction over what they see as Madrid’s insufficient recognition of Catalan culture, language and identity.