A matter of margins

The UK and Togo: when governments change constituency boundaries

When it comes to laying out the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies, London and Lome have different approaches.

There has been a lot of argument in the British press over the issue of Conservative and Liberal Democrats working or not working together to ensure the coalition government (made up of their parties) continues. Most recently, the UK’s Liberal Democrat Deputy PM Nick Clegg has said that he will not support the boundary changes plans put forward by David Cameron, the Conservative British Prime Minister.

In what seems a simple tit-for-tat move, Clegg said that the Conservatives’ failure to back his Liberal Democrat idea for how to reform the UK’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, resulted in a breach of the Coalition Agreement and left him with no option but to pull out of the boundary changes policy. Clegg may be cross but at least Cameron has not fired tear gas at him or his rowdy Liberal Democrats.

Last week, police in Togo used the lachrymose repellent along with rubber bullets to try to calm riotous anti-government protesters, most of whom form part of the opposition coalition’s ‘Save Togo’ campaign. The Togolese demonstrators are voicing general rhetoric at their regular rallies but one specific focus for their anger is the government’s decision to increase the number of constituencies represented in the Assemblée Nationale from 81 to 91. As such, the protesters want a repeal of laws that they complain the government pushed through illegally.

The parliamentary seat expansion in Togo is the opposite of the UK government’s plan to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 and to try to equalise the number of voters that each MP has. Just like in Togo, there is opposition to the plans, but in the UK it is likely that the Conservatives’ proposed policy will be defeated. The Tories’ government allies the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party are all against the suggested changes.

The UK parliament officially returns to work next week after its summer break and the boundary changes argument will restart. However, the shouting and foot-stamping in the UK differs from the situation in Togo, despite the closeness of the two policies. With a parliamentary election in October, and with opposition public sit-ins scheduled for this week, the civil unrest and police activity in Togo over similar governmental plans shows where the two countries differ most in this similar issue.

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Global face/off

Mini versions of international disputes are being played out in the Olympic Games arenas

We may see the hammers being hurled, the sea being sailed and the roads being run, but throughout the Olympic venues there are interesting quirks, contentious flare-ups and small scenes of wider international political situations.

One of the anomalies of the Games themselves is that the competition begins before the official opening ceremony has taken place. And so it was in Glasgow, two days before the grand spectacular in the Olympic Stadium, where North Korea’s women took on their Colombian counterparts in the football tournament. And the Scottish national stadium Hampden Park was where the North Korean footballers were introduced on the big screen alongside the South Korean flag, a serious mistake and one which was not taken lightly by Pyongyang. After much complaining and apologising the match got under way and the Asian women seemed to have been spurred on by the banner mix-up and saw off the Colombians 2-0.

A few days later, Great Britain’s men played their Argentinian counterparts in the Riverbank Hockey Arena. The tone for this particular game had been set in May when Fernando Zylberberg, one of the Buenos Aires players, took part in a training video (below) on the Falklands Islands (or Las Malvinas) that provoked reactions of patriotism at home and widespread anger in the UK. Ironically, Zylberberg eventually did not make the London 2012 squad because of concerns over his fitness, despite the athletic moves he pulled out in the clip. The controversy over the video unsurprisingly spilled over into the match, with several heavy challenges going in and both teams having players sin-binned.

Source: pupianews, 6 August 2012

The Olympic and Paralympic Games also give smaller nations often disregarded on the world stage the chance to come out and participate. But the process of choosing who is and who is not an Olympic nation is complicated. Hong Kong, Bermuda and Puerto Rico are represented independently of China, Britain and the US despite closer constitutional links. But Kosovo and South Sudan have not been granted International Olympic Committee (IOC) membership yet. Their athletes have to undergo the bizarre but by no means uncommon choice to compete for another country (or, indeed, for the IOC themselves, as in the case of marathon runner Guor Marial) in order to take part in the Games.

Countries which have gone through or are going through the Arab Spring, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, all still turned out teams and with Qatar and Saudi Arabia selecting women athletes, all competing Olympic nations have now had female representatives on their books for the first time.

Another bone of contention is over Taiwan. China considers the island to be its twenty-third province but the Taiwanese feel very strongly that the two countries are just that – separate nations. However, the islanders have no seat at the United Nations and few official diplomatic relations, although many state have informal ties with Taipei. China, (or the People’s Republic of China), exerts a lot of pressure globally to try to win support for Taiwan just to be seen as part of the larger motherland and the island has had to bow to different stresses in order to be able to compete in the Olympic Games. At London 2012, as at Games past, Taiwan (or the Republic of China), uses the name ‘Chinese Taipei’, which is drawn from the name of its capital city. And an invented flag flies above the athletes; one that combines the Olympic rings and the country’s national sun symbol.

But before the Games had even begun there were protests linking back to geopolitics, some of them more laughing matters than others. Iran claimed that the official London 2012 logo was actually a coded reference to Zion, and therefore a secret way of forwarding Jewish nationalist propaganda on a global sporting stage.