A new year ought to bring change - hell, it better, after that shitty year - and what better way to celebrate that change than by bringing in a new head of state?
Bolivia's Evo Morales: Morales is the first American Indian to serve as the leader of a country. He ran on a Socialist platform that focused on getting rid of restrictions on growing coca, the plant whose leaves serve as a remedy for altitude sickness. Also, it's used to make cocaine. This makes sense, since he was the leader of the coca growers' union. This sort of strikes me as akin to the U.S. electing the leader of NORML to the presidency, but hey, whatever works.
So far, Morales has taken a liking to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro, though as of now, there's no reason to believe that he would run as repressive a regime as either of those two. He seems like someone with Chavez' social conscience without the annoying authoritarianism. Bolivia's been a traditionally poor country, and if Morales can succeed in fighting some of that poverty, it'll be a huge boon for the left in other countries. My hopes are up, anyway.
On the center-left, we have Chile's Michelle Bachelet. She'll be the first woman to lead Latin America's most socially conservative country. (Though they're getting more liberal. They legalized divorce last year.) She's also a single mom. Let's take a moment to appreciate this. Honestly, how long would an agnostic single mother last in an American political race? Chile was already governed from the center-left, so no real change here. Bachelet wants to give more of a voice to women and indigenous people, so that's cool.
Speaking of pioneering women, Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist, is the first female head of state in Africa since Judith "the Fire" of Ethiopia. Who took office in 950 or so. So yeah, a long time. She's vowed to fight corruption, which is good. Her finance minister was head of a World Bank program, which is not so good. Her defense minister was trained in Israel, which is odd. (Incidentally, he was Chief of Police during the interim government, and did a very respectable job.) But Johnson-Sirleaf's election and peaceful assumption of power are good signs for a country that is working to get out from under Charles Taylor's ugly thumb. And I don't know how ambitious you can be when your first task as President is to get power back to your capital city.
Finally, there's Canada's Stephen Harper, who will presumably be the first Conservative prime minister of Canada in a long damn time. Harper's Conservatives fell flat on their faces in 2004 pushing a conservative social agenda, so he softened up his image this time around, focusing on frustration with Liberal Party corruption and on fiscal issues. In fact, he all but ignored social issues, saying that he'll leave gay marriage up to a "free vote" in the House of Commons (thus likely dooming any attempt to repeal the law) and that he won't even touch the abortion issue.
Here's the Post on his conservative agenda: "He promised to slightly reduce the national sales tax, replace a sputtering national day-care program with direct payments to parents and increase penalties for gun-related crimes... He proposes giving patients a right to seek outside care if they are required to wait too long for a health care procedure in the national system." Perhaps most notably, he wants to pull out of the Kyoto accords in order to develop alternative means to reduce emissions.
Yup. Real right-winger there.
What's more, Harper'll be doing this with only 125 seats out of a 308-seat legislature. The Liberals got 103, the separatist Bloc Quebecois pulled 51, and the liberal New Democratic Party got 28. (There's one random independent.) Note that these are all left or center-left parties. He won't be able to form a coalition with anyone to get 155 votes, and in a legislature where party discipline is a lot stricter than it is here, he'll have an uphill battle to get anything too conservative past anyone. This is hardly a resounding victory for the Canadian right.