Indian Voters Want Accountable Government And So They Voted For Outsider Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi

By Paolo von Schirach

December 29, 2013

WASHINGTONThe Financial Times reports about the high hopes and expectations created in New Delhi by the election of an outsider, Arvind Kejriwal, as chief minister of the New Delhi state government. Kejriwal is the leader of an anti-corruption movement that surprisingly jellied into a new AAP party whose name means “Common Man”. This stunning political upset is highly unusual in India, a country in which traditional political parties are deeply entrenched.

Political upset

Kejriwal electoral success can be explained only by taking into account the voters’ simple desire to have a more accountable government. And here is the issue: “Accountability“. If we think about it, accountability (and other issues directly tied to it, including honesty, transparency, fairness, fair play) is at the foundation of a healthy democracy. 

To the extent that voters feel that their elected leaders are not accountable, to the extent that they feel that officials run the government as a private domain, abusing power and engaging in corruption, then that particular society no longer has a real democracy. It may keep the formal institutions, including elections at regular intervals, but the bond of trust  between those who govern and the governed has been broken. As a result, the system lost its legitimacy. Nothing good comes out of a society run in this way. 

“Consent of the governed”

Thomas Jefferson put it well, long time ago in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Governments are established  to secure the enjoyment of individual freedoms. And they derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed“. In other words, those in government have to make sure that they keep the trust of the people who elected them. Hence the duty to be accountable. By this definition of the proper relationship between elected leaders and citizens, governments that abuse power, that engage in corrupt practices or worse, have lost the essential “consent of the governed“. Therefore they have lost their legitimacy.

No more trust

And this –lack of real legitimacy– is the great malady of modern democracies, often run by professional politicians mostly loyal to their party or just pursuing personal interests, and therefore oblivious of the precious bond of trust between themselves and those who voted them into office.  All this may seem truly elementary. And yet the crisis of many modern republics, (India, Italy, Greece, Ukraine, Brazil and the United States, among others), is  largely caused by voters’  perceptions that elected leaders are pursuing a personal or factional agenda, and therefore are hardly interested in securing the common welfare.

Republican government is extremely simple in principle. But in practice it is based on a deep and nuanced understanding of what it takes to carry out “the will of the people“. And please note that being a good public servant should not be misunderstood with “bringing home the bacon“, a simple and much abused way to “buy consent” and therefore re-election through “gifts”, (subsidies, fake jobs, tax brakes, entitlements), paid for by tax payers. 

The right balance

In fairness, it is really difficult to find the right balance so that wise leaders will enact good policies, always keeping in mind the need to nurture the public trust. In principle, practicing accountability, honesty and transparency sounds simple enough. In practice, things get murky, as the business of running a modern state is very complicated. Still, the only way to keep republican government alive, vibrant and meaningful is for the people to really believe that their elected leaders are honest and are doing their very best.

What the Indian upset means

The emergence, out of nothing, of a  powerful new political force in New Delhi is an indication of the exasperation of many Indian voters with rampant corruption, self-dealing and ineptitude. This does not mean that Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and his followers will be successful.

In fact, the road ahead looks very difficult for his minority government. But it surely means that many Indians, as well as other people elsewhere, are fed up with professional politicians who have no clue about their sacred duties towards those who elected them.

In Mauritius, Love And Silence

MAURITIUS, Cap Malheureux – The Church of Notre Dame Auxiliatrice is a well-known icon of Mauritius, a lovely island, (until 1968 a British colony), in the middle of the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. The church, with its unique bright red roof, is featured on many postcards. And so I went to visit this famous site, located at Cap Malheureux, the northernmost tip of the island.

Inside the church, beyond the simple wooden interior, I found these words on a paper pinned to a board near the entrance:


There is only one master and he dwells within   –St. Augustine

“We have to listen in order to understand

And we have to be silent in order to listen

And it is in this silence that we shall find love”

Nelson Mandela Was Most Of All A Good Man

By Paolo von Schirach

December 16, 2013

PRETORIA – Purely by accident I happened to be here in Pretoria, South Africa, on December 15, the day of Nelson Mandela’s burial. Beyond the official ceremonies and the predictable eulogies, it has been really interesting to watch various special programs on South African TV that gave a vivid portrait of this rather extraordinary man.

Great Leader

Extraordinary, yes; but not for the obvious reasons. Of course Mandela was a famous African National Congress (ANC) political activist, and a political prisoner who endured 28 years of incarceration in really harsh conditions. And then he emerged from prison as the ANC national leader who led the transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994.

We know all that. And this is most impressive. But, while historically significant, all these incredible achievements do not really capture Mandela’s real gifts.

Good Man

Mandela truly believed in his vision. It would and should be possible to build a multi racial democracy in South Africa, a country torn by racial prejudice and deep lines of demarcation between the White Minority and the Black Majority. This is the man who easily talked to and worked with his former White oppressors, being gracious and kind to all of them. This is the man who had lunch with the judge who sent him to prison. This is the man who paid a visit to the widow of the main architect of South Africa’s horrible apartheid legislation. The same legislation that sent him to prison for a huge chunk of his life.

And this was not about Machiavellian political calculation. Mandela really believed that it was possible to create a new pluralistic society in deeply divided South Africa. And he went about promoting this vision not by preaching but by personally engaging people. What was most convincing was his sincerity, his simple charm, mixed with profound dignity and grace.  

A sense of humor

Beyond that, the various stories and testimonials I watched on TV show us a man who had a great sense of humor, who liked telling jokes, who was naturally gracious and who wanted to help children. As he said to his friends: “I am not a Prophet; I just want to serve”. And then there were his personal matters. His highly publicized divorce. His third marriage, and so on. In many respects, Mandela was a normal man, with his faults and his weaknesses. 

Benevolence is his legacy

All in all, my impression is that Mandela was mostly a true Good Man. His great legacy, not just to South Africa but to humanity, is his smiling face and his message of reconciliation between former enemies. As he said once to one of his daughters: “No child comes into this world with hatred in his heart. Hatred is learnt. As children can learn hatred, they can also learn love”. Well said, Tata Mandela. I wish we were all so wise to take these simple truth seriously.

No hatred, no conflict.

Indeed, it would be nice to think of a world in which people, without making a great effort, had a naturally benevolent attitude towards one another. A world in which common sense and fairness would drive negotiations and a world in which we could be animated by empathy and good feelings towards one another.

Will there be others?

As one South African journalist put it, Mandela’s story is totally unique and thus not repeatable. Indeed. In a way, this is how it has to be. We all have our own individual stories. But it would be nice to think that the incredibly rich spiritual legacy left by this Good Man somehow could work like a magic fertilizer that would help yield a crop of other human beings inspired by his principles.

America: Bad Airport Services Tarnish Our Image As a Super-Efficient Post Industrial Economy

By Paolo von Schirach

December 8, 2013

HELSINKI – Almost everybody experienced flight delays and cancellations due to weather or mechanical problems. Add this one to the list of causes: a three-hour delay because of lack of cleaning crews. Yes, of all of a sudden –this is a semi-official version– there were just not enough crews to prepare incoming aircrafts so that they would be fresh and clean and ready to welcome new passengers. On account of that, several international flights were delayed –we are talking hours– at a major US Airport.

A service economy?

Let’s take this unbelievable fact in context. Please remember that America is supposed to be a post-industrial economy totally focused on value added services. If we truly were a world leaders in services, an egregious breakdown such as this one, whatever the semi declared cause (“people were fired because they were caught stealing”), would be simply inconceivable. We are talking about thousands of passengers severely inconvenienced. We are talking about missed connections, missed meetings, works schedules undone.

This should not happen

No major airport in the world can allow this type of breakdown. But it did happen. And of course, to make things worse, the real facts were not revealed. Each announcement talked about an additional twenty minutes delay. Inconceivable that the airlines could not get a proper reading of the actual situation on the ground and make the appropriate announcements. “OK. this is bad. But let’s see how bad. How many cleaning crews do we have? How long does it take to turn around an incoming aircraft, (adjusting for size, number of seats, etc.)? This assessment could and should have been done. Whereas, nothing. Not a thing. Passengers were more or less left standing at the gates, with the mild reassurance that “we are boarding soon”.

Airlines get the blame

Anyway, you get the picture. Unhappy passengers, personal and work agendas disrupted, missed connections and major airlines that get a bad name.

Once again, please think about the fact that America is supposed to be a world leader in services. We design them better, we staff them better, we execute better. We are so good that we teach others.

Well, that’s the theory. In fact let’s say that this “was” the theory. Now it looks as if we need to do major repair work to be at least average.


There Will Be No Tough Negotations With Iran

By Paolo von Schirach

Related story:


December 3, 2013

WASHINGTON – As Washington is enthralled with the political fallout of the Obamacare website debacle, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran may have pretty good reasons for feeling good about himself. Via the accord reached in Geneva –an accord that changes nothing regarding Iran’s underlying ability to produce nuclear weapons materials relatively soon– he managed to achieve two important policy objectives.

New atmosphere

First of all, as a result of the Geneva “diplomatic success”, Iran is no longer a pariah state. Sanctions are no longer on the front burner. Diplomacy and normalization of relations between the West and Iran are now the new priorities. And you can imagine that there will be a powerful push coming from a variety of Western economic interests eager to resume business with Iran to normalize relations sooner rather than later. Beyond that –and this most critical– the Western powers have recognized implicitly at least that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. The open issue is by how much.   

So, Washington gave away all this. And in return for what?

For nothing, ladies and gentlemen.

No substance from Iran

Expect absolutely nothing of substance from Iran. And this is because with the Geneva deal the Tehran government has changed the atmosphere to an extent that any US military strike targeting Iran’s illegal nuclear installations is a political impossibility. And this dramatic change of climate makes it far less likely that Israel, feeling threatened but isolated, will have the courage to act alone, without any political cover from Washington. So President Hassan Rouhani wins in two ways: 1) Now it is alright to talk to Iran; 2) Nobody will go to war to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Except for the (still powerful) pro-Israel lobby, nobody wants this.

To the extent that US policy-makers want to believe that more negotiations will get us somewhere, expect more negotiations, even though they will not yield the only worthwhile goal: namely the reduction of Iran’s nuclear program to a size and scope that is really compatible with civil use purposes.

Kissinger and Shultz warnings

Here I give you the short analysis. If you want a longer, more polished and extremely well presented version, please read the excellent and cogent commentary offered in a WSJ op-ed piece (What A Final Iran Deal Must Do, December 3, 2013) authored by former Secretaries of  State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. There you can find a detailed analysis of the appalling weakness of the Western position and an equally cogent explanation as to why the Geneva interim deal got us essentially nothing of substance.

Smiles and diplomacy

As I said above, we got nothing. But Iran got implicit acceptance on account of their new softer image conveyed by a smiling President Rouhani who does not appear as he escaped from a lunatic asylum, like his predecessor did.

But that’s basically all we’ve got: a better looking new President of Iran who tells us we should be friends. As for his nuclear program, he will negotiate, of course. But he will not give up the right to enrich uranium. And this is precisely the issue.

This is a good deal, really

I suspect that the West, desperately in need of a deal, will simply rationalize defeat by saying that there will be IAEA inspections and so we shall be able to monitor Iran’s future behavior, and so on. In the end, Western leaders will convince themselves that this is the better course of action, because the alternative is a war with Iran they do not want. 

Therefore, as we have already conceded, far in advance, that we shall not take any decisive action against Iran, they have won both the battle and the war. While we worry about Obamacare and millions of Americans without the health insurance coverage they thought they had, Iran will move towards its long term objective to acquire nuclear weapons.