Malala in Wonderland

A Global diary

Malala Yousafzai is to international diplomacy what Alice is to Wonderland. In a Mad Hatter’s world, where little is what it seems, democracy is whatever you want it to be and truth fades faster than the Cheshire cat’s smile, she is a cool, forgiving voice of reason, who can indeed think six impossible things before breakfast.

Having survived a Taliban bullet in October, the Pakistani champion of girls’ education spent her 16th birthday in June addressing with precocious eloquence a youth session of the United Nations, to rapturous applause. A Nobel Prize is rumoured: a superstar is born.

She is not the only one. George Alexander Louis Windsor, Prince of Cambridge, first baby of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, had a constitutional role even before he had a name. He is third in line to the British throne, ensuring a reserve of heads of state for the UK and 15 Commonwealth realms for 100 years – without need of a ballot box.

But Princes Charles, William and George must wait their turn. While Belgium’s King Albert II, 79, abdicated to make way for Crown Prince Philippe in July, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, still sprightly at 87, soldiers on after 60 years. Britain’s democracy gets curiouser and curiouser for many observers, but not the Brits themselves, who consistently register approval ratings for the monarchy beyond the dreams of politicians.

One such dreamer might be Mohamed Morsi who, barely a year after being elected by millions of Egyptians, was ousted by the military and held in custody amid bloody scenes. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced this as a coup; other parties, claiming the president treated his victory as a licence to override opposition, called it a revolution.

But Pakistan, where the army routinely intervenes in politics, achieved a landmark. For the first time since its foundation in 1947, power passed from one elected leader to another. Nawaz Sharif had been twice ousted by the military, as was his late, great rival, Benazir Bhutto. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected after her assassination in 2007, and, to general amazement, completed his term. Will it be third time lucky for Sharif? Only if Pakistan loses its name for unpredictability.

For really murky politics, however, Iran is unrivalled. Hassan Rohani, a former chief nuclear negotiator, was elected president, beating Saeed Jalili, favoured candidate of the religious clique who really run the country. The ayatollahs did their best to ease their man’s path, arresting two leading reformists from the last presidential election, and banning all non-conservatives from standing, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. But the frustrated electors were having none of it. They voted for the most pragmatic and least hardline candidate on offer.

Western democracies are not immune from such quirks. We say hail again to Kevin Rudd, who came back from the political undead to unseat Julia Gillard, Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, in a ballot of Labour MPs, without the wider electorate involved. Gillard could hardly complain: she was Rudd’s friend and deputy until toppling him in a similar ambush in 2010. Rudd said: “In 2007 the Australian people elected me to be their Prime Minister, and that is a task I resume today with humility.” Hubris is a dish best served cold.

Italy, meanwhile, seemed intent on getting along with almost no government at all. Centre leftist Enrico Letta became Prime Minister with the support of the right-wing Silvio Berlusconi, who bounced back from political limbo faster than you could say bunga-bunga – the term adopted for his ‘elegant dinner parties’ at which girls were allegedly procured for sex.

Playing Tweedledum to Berlusconi’s Tweedledee in this political wonderland is former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He also faces trial accused of ‘aggravated pimping’ following sex parties allegedly arranged for his benefit in Lille while he was a frontrunner to become French President.

As with Berlusconi, Strauss-Khan does not deny attending the parties, but refutes knowledge of prostitution.

Finally, Edward Snowden, the US whistle blower or traitor – depending on your point of view – has been granted a year’s asylum by Russia. So, in a case bursting with moral ambiguity, we have a fugitive from the professed Land of the Free, seeking sanctuary in the name of free speech from the country where members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band remain jailed. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party continues.


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