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The Legacies of North Korea and Brazil - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Media attention and limelight has recently focused on two countries, who are witnessing preparations to transfer power in two different ways, under two contrasting experiences. In Brazil, people this week have been following the first round of the Presidential Elections, to choose a successor to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is considered the most popular president in the history of his country, thanks to his achievements. However, he is due to relinquish the presidency at the end of his second term, because the constitution prevents a third term.

President Lula, as he is known, was not preoccupied with amending the constitution to remain in office for life, but instead turned his attention to building his country. He succeeded in achieving stunning economic growth, making Brazil one of the fastest growing economies, with a growth rate comparable to China. Brazil is now classified as the eighth largest economy in the world. During his two successful presidential terms, President Lula was able to re-correct the economic course of the largest country in South America (an area of 3.3 million square miles and a population of around 194 million people), by reducing inflation, external debt, and encouraging investment and economic growth, thus achieving a major economic boom. At the same time, he kept his promises to the voters by helping the poor, and reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots, by raising the minimum wage, modifying the pension system, and implementing other reform programs. President Lula was born in a poor environment, where he left school at 14 years of age, to work as a basic laborer. He made his way to become one of the leaders of the labor movement, and he did not forget his poor upbringing when he moved into politics, where he won the presidency twice in a row.

As Lula da Silva prepares to leave office next January, Brazil has become a significant emerging economic power, and has gained international respect, enabling it to win the competition to host the 2014 World Cup, in addition to the 2016 Olympic Games. The man leaves a legacy of success, making the two most prominent contenders in the presidential race scramble to emphasize their commitment to continue with his plans. They bear the slogan ‘continuity’, rather than the slogan ‘change’, which led Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency, for example. Thanks to this legacy, Dilma Rousseff, the Labor Party candidate supported by Lula da Silva, became the favorite to win the election in its second round, which will be held at the end of this month. Despite his success and popularity, Lula da Silva did not seek to change the constitution in order to stay in power, in the manner of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for example. Nor did he think about passing his presidential legacy onto any of his five sons. Instead, he will leave office, satisfied with a successful record that has prompted several prominent newspapers and magazines worldwide to include him amongst the world’s most influential global political figures. Furthermore, he was chosen by the World Economic Forum, during its annual meeting in Davos at the beginning of this year, as the leading international political figure. He was described by U.S. President Obama as “the most popular politician on the face of the earth”.

Another political transition that has attracted attention over the past few days, for various reasons, is the experience of North Korea. Here, arrangements to transfer power are in place, amid a severe [information] blackout. This country, with its remnants of communism, prefers to highlight its nuclear and military capabilities, instead of economic and political achievements. Information leaked from North Korea during the first general conference of the Communist Party for more than 30 years, indicated that there are steps in place to pave the way for the transfer of power from Kim Jong-Il, the ‘Dear Leader’ as he is known there, to his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un. He promoted his son, who is in his twenties, to the army rank of General, appointed him as Vice-Chairman of the Military Committee, and has admitted him into the party leadership. The conference appears to have been arranged in order to take these steps. It was interesting that Kim Jong-Il seeks to bequeath his son by giving him control of the military, but this is simply because there is no other legacy which he could leave. His country has witnessed a famine that is said to have killed a million people, and current economic conditions are dire, amid chronic food shortages, and international isolation.

This ‘republic’ maintains a system of communist rule, and targets neighboring successful and stable ruling systems such as South Korea and Japan. It is strange that North Korea has become, and not even in a gradual manner, completely controlled by the bodies and organizations of one party. The ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il inherited power from his father, the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Il Sung, after a process similar to what happened last month, within the corridors of the ruling party. However, Kim Jong-Il has gone a step further than his late father. Not only has he promoted his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, in preparation to assume overall leadership, but he has also sought to accommodate his sister in the ruling elite, who was also promoted to the rank of General during the last party conference. She is married to an influential figure in both the party and the state, and it is reported that he is responsible for everyday affairs.

There is a great difference between the experiences of North Korea and Brazil. The former is characterized by a military grip over the ruins of a country which adheres to communism, and is now collapsing under the weight of poverty and hunger. Meanwhile, regarding the latter, politicians are scrambling to hold on to the legacy and policies of the previous leader, who is leaving in accordance with the constitution, having achieved remarkable success for his people and his country.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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