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  • News and Notes

Fang Lizhi Receives Human Rights Award

At a ceremony held November 15 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., famed Chinese human rights advocate Fang Lizhi received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award. Speakers included Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and television newsman Tom Brokaw. Accepting the award for Mr. Fang was his friend and fellow physicist, Chiu Hongyee. Mr. Fang remains in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing after seeking asylum there during the government's crackdown on prodemocracy protesters last June.

In his acceptance speech, read by China scholar Orville Schell, Mr. Fang expressed his "sorrow and shame" about recent developments in China, but also offered "a small bit of encouragement": "Remember that in the current climate of terror, it may well be that those who are most terrified are those who have just finished killing their fellow human beings. We may be forced to live under a terror today, but we have no fear of tomorrow. The murderers, on the other hand, are not only fearful today, they are even more terrified of tomorrow. Thus, we have no reason to lose faith. Ignorance may dominate in the short term through the use of violence, but it will eventually be unable to resist the advance of universal laws."

In his keynote address, Lech Walesa also cited some grounds for optimism: "Thinking today of Professor Fang Lizhi we remember the young people from Beijing, the students and workers of the Square of Heavenly Peace. Many of them paid with their lives for the natural right of every man to a life in dignity and truth. We of Solidarity well understand our Chinese friends. Only recently we were in a very similar situation. And though all comparisons in this case can be dangerous or even tactless, permit me to say that our presence here today provides reason for hope for our Chinese friends." [End Page 128]

New Turn in Nigeria's Democratic Transition

Nigeria's transition from military rule to civilian, democratic government took a dramatic turn last October 7 when President Ibrahim Babangida rejected the applications of all the political associations that had sought recognition as political parties. Under the military's six-year program for transition-which began with the appointment of a "Political Bureau" in 1986 to set a timetable and design new political institutions-two and only two parties will be recognized to compete in democratic elections. Within a month after the ban on political parties was lifted last May 3, some 88 associations sprouted up to compete for the two spots. But the National Electoral Commission (NEC) established stiff conditions for recognition, and in the end only 13 associations applied.

In rejecting the bids of all 13 associations, President Babangida denounced them for reintroducing all of the political ills-corruption, thuggery, fraud, factionalism, and poor organization-that the military had sought to purge from Nigerian political life when it took the unprecedented step of banning all the old politicians from participating in politics until the expected completion of the transition in 1992. After disbanding all 13 associations, Babangida said his government would itself proceed to establish the new parties, which are to be called the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). The NEC was charged with drafting the constitutions and manifestos of the two new parties, after which all Nigerians will be free to join a local branch of one or the other.

Despite its avowed determination to avoid foreign models, the Babangida administration has deliberately arranged for the SDP and the NRC to adhere to an American-style politics of moderate ideological cleavage. The administration's intention is to free the Nigerian party system from the ethnic, regional, and religious divisions that have traditionally plagued it. The regime also hopes to break the power of monied interests by giving party leaders a chance to emerge from the bottom up, beginning with elections for local-constituency officers. In the same way, the transition timetable emphasizes decentralization by scheduling local government elections first. Such elections were initiated in December 1987 and will be held again early this year on a partisan basis. Later...


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