Sunday, September 21, 2008

Changes at the top

The leaders of both Israel and South Africa stepped down today, in a rare resignation two-fer.

The end of Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister in Israel was no surprise. Olmert's approval rating has been languishing in the single digits for months now, crushed by allegations of corruption within his government (and even within his family), and blame for the month long war in Lebanon in 2006 that many feel strengthened, rather than weakened, Hezbollah's grip on power in that country.

Olmert's probable successor is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will take over the Prime Minister's job if she can form a coalition in Israel's parliament, the Knesset. As Prime Minister Livni could help move the peace process with the Palestinians along, which she supports. The peace process suffered in the past few months along with Olmert's popularity - he didn't have the political capital necessary to move the negotiations along and to convince his fellow politicians to agree to some of the tough choices that the process demands.

Meanwhile South Africa's Thabo Mbeki also resigned as president, a victim of political infighting in South Africa's all-powerful African National Congress. The ANC is the party of Nelson Mandela and it dominates South African politics. Mbeki fell out with the current leader of the ANC Jacob Zuma, who plans to run for president next year. Given the ANC's power in South Africa, Zuma is almost certain to become president.

But last year Zuma was accused with corruption and put on trial. The charges against him were finally thrown out last week, but the belief was widespread that Mbeki had pushed the charges against Zuma as a way of getting rid of a powerful rival.

Now Mbeki is out, and Zuma likely in. Mbeki took over for Mandela when he retired from politics and oversaw South Africa's recent economic growth. He was also the key mediator in power-sharing talks between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai in neighboring Zimbabwe.
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