Lord Acton’s famous phrase about the corrupting effect of power (and absolute power) should have come with a footnote about the “clinging” factor. On any given day, it isn’t hard to find someone in charge, somewhere in the world, using all their wits and energy to hold onto power beyond any reasonable claim to be doing so for the greater good of the nation, business or other realm supposedly being served.
Robert Mugabe is currently in the final throes of his decades-long iron grip on power in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. A slow-motion military coup that began last week (which the generals continue to deny is a coup) is up against a 93-year-old dictator with nine lives, at least.
Zimbabwean daily The Herald's Nov. 20 front page
Observers were expecting Mugabe’s address to the nation Sunday to include a declaration that he was signing away power. Well, guess what? The fear is that when such a power cling is up against a power play, the country is bound to pay in blood. Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim recognized how important it was for African rulers to learn to voluntarily give up power — so much so that he set up a prize whose central purpose was to honor (and pay) national leaders to step aside.
Across the South Atlantic, another continent has seen its share of autocratic power-clingers. To its credit, South America has largely opted for bona fide democratic systems over the past two decades, following years of dictatorships across the region. Several countries have even included constitutional provisions against power-clinging, prohibiting a president from serving consecutive terms. In Chile, as a next-best alternative, we’ve seen recent presidents step aside for the obligatory term out of office ... only to return to run again in the next election.
After the first round of voting on Sunday, Sebastian Piñera, who was Chile’s president from 2010 to 2014, won the first round ahead of a runoff next month to move back into his old office. He would replace Michelle Bachelet, who herself returned to the presidency after Piñera served his first term. It may seem like an odd form of democracy, but musical chairs always beats clinging to your seat.
At the same time, we are witnessing another political drama playing out in Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel announced early Monday that negotiations had broken down in her attempt to form a coalition government with two other parties.
"We are standing here, disappointed and concerned / We've closed the curtains and opened all questions [From Bertolt Brecht's "The Good Person of Szechwan"] — German daily Die Tageszeitung's Nov. 20 front page
This comes nearly two months after Merkel came out atop national elections, and looked to be headed to a fourth term as the leader of Germany’s government, which has no term limits for the position. Will Merkel opt for new elections? If she does, will she stand as her party’s candidate? Or will she instead choose to remain as chancellor even without a parliamentary majority? To cling or not to cling …
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