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How Opposition Parties In 3 Countries Are Performing In Pandemic Politics – NPR

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The coronavirus gave a boost to many presidents and prime ministers around the globe. Take a look at three democracies: the U.K., Israel and Brazil.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An average of polls shows that 53% of the American public disapproves of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Just 43% approve. But that hasn’t necessarily been to the advantage of his rival Joe Biden. On average, his lead in national polls is only half that margin. He’s not alone. Around the world, right-wing leaders who have praised the U.S. president have either stumbled in the face of the health crisis or capitalized on it as opposition leaders hang back. We’re joined now by several distinguished NPR correspondents. Philip Reeves in Rio de Janeiro. Phil, thanks for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You’re welcome.

SIMON: NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: And NPR’s Frank Langfitt in London. Hello to you, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu looked like he was in big trouble, once again, after three deadlocked elections. But then came the virus. How did that affect his political fortunes?

ESTRIN: Oh, it changed his fortunes completely. I mean, before the – before the pandemic, he was struggling. He was indicted for corruption. Some of his political allies turned against him, and more and more voters were just getting tired of him. He’s been in office for a decade. And then a former Army general, Benny Gantz, decided to run for prime minister. He mounted the most serious challenge Netanyahu has faced in a decade. Then, three rounds of elections came and ended in stalemate.

And then came the coronavirus. And Netanyahu, you know, he has not downplayed it, like Boris Johnson has in the U.K. He snapped into action. He closed Israel’s borders pretty early on. He mobilized the army and the intelligence agencies. The whole crisis just played into Netanyahu’s brand as Mr. Security, and he called on the opposition leader to put aside politics and share power. That’s exactly what happened. The opposition leader just agreed to a unity government. He is letting Netanyahu stay on as prime minister, and I think it just shows how unified the opposition was to begin with.

SIMON: Phil, let’s turn to you in Rio because, of course, President Bolsonaro has even entered into U.S. accounts, and he has downplayed the virus. However, the death toll in Brazil is increasing. How have the political opposition – has the political opposition responded?

REEVES: Well, Bolsonaro is facing huge criticism from across much of the political spectrum, and the decibels have just gone up some more because his health minister quit yesterday, reportedly because he objected to Bolsonaro’s plans to expand the use of chloroquine, the anti-malarial drug. And he’s the second health minister to go in less than a month. The one before him was fired by Bolsonaro. And in between, the justice minister quit, accusing Bolsonaro of politically interfering in law enforcement.

So all of this is reinforcing the view that Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic is a disaster. Brazil’s now registered around 15,000 deaths. The number of new cases is higher than anywhere except the U.S. Yet Bolsonaro’s engaging in the politics of confrontation and ideology. He’s been going to war with state governors who are urging people to stay home and, in some cases, introducing lockdowns. Bolsonaro favors opening up the economy. And therefore, he’s trying to channel the blame for the aftermath, the economic damage that this pandemic will cause, which will be vast, onto governors and other institutions of state.

SIMON: And we have to ask. In a democracy, to what degree is any of the opposition getting through with the public? How is it changing Bolsonaro’s political fortunes?

REEVES: Well, the polls show that the people who – the numbers who disapprove of his performance are rising, and they’ve risen quite sharply. He’s also facing numerous petitions in Congress for his impeachment. So that’s a symptom of the growing anger and alarm over his handling of this.

Yet it’s important to say, Scott, that, you know, the opposition is divided. And there’s also a feeling among some of his key political opponents that now’s not the time to impeach him. After all, there’s a pandemic going on.

There is one politician you would expect to be on an all-out attack, and that’s the former President Lula da Silva, who was released from jail in November. You’ll recall he was imprisoned on corruption charges. He says it was an entirely political prosecution and he denies those charges. He’s been remarkably subdued, although perhaps there’s a change of tone now. He spoke this week to a virtual meeting of his fellow leftists, and he accused Bolsonaro of showing no respect for the courts or Congress, of putting Brazil on the path to authoritarianism. That’s probably a reference to the number of military officers, or retired military officers, that he’s been bringing into government. And now Lula has started pushing congressional leaders to put one of those impeachment petitions, and there are more than 30 of them, to the vote.

SIMON: And turning to Frank Langfitt in London, where all this is playing out a little differently, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially downplayed the pandemic, then getting it himself, reversing his approach and imposing a national shutdown. Tell us about the response of the new head of the Labour Party.

LANGFITT: Well, it’s been really interesting, Scott. The new head is a guy named Keir Starmer. And basically, he’s holding the government to account, I think in some ways kind of giving a textbook example of how you do this. Now, the government, as you mentioned, doesn’t really have a strong record here – most deaths in Europe, not enough PPE and way behind on testing. And this guy, Keir Starmer, he’s a former prosecutor, and he’s treating Johnson a little bit like a defendant in a court case. Now, he is being polite, but he’s being very forensic. And for instance, every Wednesday, they have Prime Minister’s Questions, which is nationally televised. And what Starmer will do is ask very tough questions, like there are 10,000 unexplained deaths in nursing homes. How is this? Now, Johnson, he is a populist. Like the president, he is an entertainer. He’s not really a detail guy. And normally, what he might do if he got in a tough situation is try to rile up his side of the crowd in the House of Commons. Well, with social distancing, there’s nobody there but himself. And so, you know, Starmer has really been able to put him on the ropes, and it’s been fascinating to watch.

SIMON: Any – does it seem to register with the British public?

LANGFITT: So far, a little bit, yes. There’s a YouGov poll out I think earlier this week that showed Starmer’s actual net approval rating slightly higher than Johnson’s. But I wouldn’t read that much into this because this is going to be a very long road. People don’t know Starmer that well. And also, it’s clear that the Conservative Party would like to get people back into the House of Commons as soon as possible, in part because Johnson seems to be having a pretty tough time.

SIMON: Daniel Estrin, back to you in Jerusalem. The Israeli opposition hasn’t been able to oust Netanyahu after a decade. I guess in your explanation, he doesn’t seem to be in any mood for conciliation right now, does he?

ESTRIN: Well, in some ways, I mean, he does have to compromise because he’s sharing power with centrists now. He’s in a unity government. So he won’t be able to do some of the things that the right wing wants him to do. In other ways, he may try to use this momentum to push forward on a very controversial geopolitical move and try to annex some parts of the West Bank.

But all in all, it is a victory for Netanyahu. You know, he made this convincing argument. Just like we hear in Brazil, it’s resonating. Put politics aside, it’s the coronavirus. And, you know, I think polls show here that if he held elections today, he would win by a landslide. He’s been able to make this case to the public that he’s still a worthy leader during this pandemic.

SIMON: Well, I want to thank all three of our distinguished correspondents for being with us for this important conversation today about some of the political implications of fighting coronavirus. NPR’s Frank Langfitt has been in London, Phil Reeves in Rio de Janeiro and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you all very much.

REEVES: You’re welcome.

ESTRIN: Thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: You’re very welcome, Scott.

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China grows 'more assertive' in world politics as the U.S. leaves behind a vacuum, ex-diplomat says – CNBC

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China has been flexing its geopolitical muscles as countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus pandemic — a reflection of Beijing’s belief that “China’s time has come,” a former U.S. diplomat said on Thursday.

In addition to pressing ahead with a new national security law for Hong Kong, China has toughened its stance on Taiwan — which it considers a wayward province that must be reunited with the mainland. Beijing has also kept up its aggression in the disputed waters of South China Sea and recently, at its border with India.   

“China is being more assertive in pursuing goals that we know that it’s had in a number of decades,” Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

“So clearly, this is an assertion of strength and it reflects a belief that China’s time has come, combined with the fact that this may be seen as a very good opportunity when America seems to have lost interest in global leadership and when there’s distraction from the coronavirus,” he added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, visits a commercial street in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, April 22, 2020.

Ju Peng | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Daly worked at the U.S. embassy in Beijing in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a cultural exchange officer. He also served as an interpreter for both American and Chinese leaders, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and ex-Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Geopolitical experts have said that China’s rise as a global power is a major contributor to tensions with the U.S. — the world’s largest economy that’s regarded as a global superpower and a world leader since World War II.

But the U.S. appears to have ceded much of its global leadership since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. That has opened the door for China to pursue some of its long-standing geopolitical goals more aggressively, said Daly.

South China Sea, India

Beijing has not let the coronavirus pandemic affect some of its territorial pursuits.  

It has kept up its hostility in the South China Sea, in which it has overlapping territorial claims with multiple countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Beijing claims nearly the entire resource-rich waterway, which is a vital commercial shipping route where trillions of dollars of world trade reportedly passed through.

Just last month, China’s relations with India also appeared to worsen when a military standoff started along the border they both share. Both sides blamed each other for initiating skirmishes which multiple reports said involved fist fights and stone-throwing, but the countries have since indicated their willingness to seek a diplomatic deescalation. 

Taiwan

At the same time, Beijing increased pressure on Taiwan with frequent military drills near the island, reported Reuters. China said those drills are routine, according to the report.

China claims the self-governed island of Taiwan as its own province which could be taken by force if necessary. Beijing has touted a “one country, two systems” model which it uses on Hong Kong, but that idea was not popular with Taiwan — and even less now after months of protests in Hong Kong.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said last week his country would “resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking Taiwan independence.” Li, the second-in-command, notably dropped the word “peaceful” when he referred to “reunification” with the island.

Hong Kong

Meanwhile, tensions have been reached fever pitch in Hong Kong as well.

The Chinese-ruled city was handed to China by the United Kingdom in 1997, and is governed under the “one country, two systems” principle which allows Hong Kong some freedoms that its mainland counterparts don’t enjoy. They include self-governing power, limited election rights, as well as a largely separate legal and economic framework from the mainland.

However, China pressed ahead to introduce a national security law in the city last week, essentially bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature

Critics see the proposed legislation as Beijing’s move to tighten its grip on the special administration region following months of pro-democracy protests that turned violent at times.  

Those issues that China has been pushing ahead with in recent months “aren’t new,” said Daly.

“What is new is them pursuing all of them with such vigor simultaneously,” he said. “And clearly they see vacuum and perhaps a lack of will from other nations, the United States in particular, to stand up for this.”

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Trump’s dangerous militarization of U.S. politics – The Washington Post

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The events of this week have startled even those who have been alarmed for some time about the trajectory of American politics. On Monday, Trump used security forces to disperse demonstrators before a photo op by a church. In the days since, he has kept up his steady drumbeat of divisive rhetoric, vowing to unleash the armed forces on U.S. cities. Such calls, echoed by Trump loyalists, belie the scenes of peaceful protesters gathered daily outside the White House.

We may be now inside Trump’s “Götterdämmerung,” as Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution declared — the “vicious downward spiral” as his presidential term draws to a combustive end. National polls show Trump slumping behind Democratic challenger and former vice president Joe Biden. On the streets of Washington, out-of-town federal forces confront protesters, including armed officers with little to no identification of the agency to which they belong.

Trump’s inner circle is doing little to curb his aggressive instincts as protests over the death of George Floyd continue across the country. Attorney General William P. Barr warns of a “witch’s brew” of extremists, no matter that the majority of marches and demonstrations have not been violent. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper speaks of U.S. cities as “battlespaces.” A White House spokesman told reporters that “all options are on the table” regarding military deployments to quell protests, language the administration more often uses when seeking to deter geopolitical adversaries overseas.

So far, the most significant rebuke to the president came from his former defense secretary. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us” Jim Mattis wrote in a widely circulated statement Wednesday. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

“Every appearance in uniform, every word out of the mouth of a senior military leader, at this point has consequences,” wrote Eliot Cohen, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “While these men and women are not the only or even the prime safeguards of American freedoms, they constitute an important line of protection. And if they are willing to take a bullet for the country, they need to be entirely prepared to take obscenity-laced tirades and a pink slip for it.”

Critics warn of the damage already done by Trump’s threats to use military might at home. “Creating a sense that the military is a partisan political actor really does violence to the nature of the civil-military compact of the United States,” said Kori Schake, a former Pentagon official at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to the New York Times.

“To divide and conquer at home, using the United States military, is an incredible escalation of the government’s coercive power,” said Alice Friend, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to Reuters.

The world’s sole superpower is starting to look like more fragile countries elsewhere. Trump and his loyalists are only the second camp in the Western Hemisphere this past month to entertain notions of domestic military crackdowns: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have urged a full-fledged takeover of the administrative state as the president faces a storm of controversies amid the coronavirus pandemic. And while top brass in both countries now feel compelled to publicly pledge fealty to their constitution and democracy, experts fear a growing far-right radicalization further down the ranks, especially among the local police.

“The Trump administration and its allies in Congress should dispense with incendiary, panicky rhetoric that suggests the U.S. is in armed conflict with its own people, or that some political faction is the enemy, lest security forces feel encouraged or emboldened to target them as combatants,” noted the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that focuses on conflict prevention and rarely comments on domestic American affairs.

On one hand, the erosion on view challenges the country’s deep embrace of its armed forces as a wholly benign actor. The irony of prominent Republicans calling for the military to flush out demonstrators on the 31st anniversary of that kind of intervention in Beijing was not lost on many commentators.

“Tiananmen in the American imagination is something fantastic and distant, deliberately placed far away and long ago,” wrote Rui Zhong in Foreign Policy. “It is a black mark against the Chinese state alone, rather than a possibility in America itself. Only under a dictatorship could such things happen, we say, forgetting Ocoee, Opelousas, Tulsa, or Kent State.”

On the other hand, it also serves as a reminder to observers abroad of the limits of American commitments to democracy and the rule of law. “It will certainly be very easy for leaders in Africa, those with their own dictatorial tendencies, to justify future behavior by referencing the actions of the U.S. administration in the last few weeks,” wrote Nigeria-based analyst Idayat Hassan. “What Africans can learn from recent U.S. events is that democracy must never be taken for granted and that the rights of all citizens must continually be fought for.”

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Politics This Morning: Canada slowing COVID-19 infection rate, but threat remains as restrictions ease, says Tam – The Hill Times

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Good Friday morning,

Fresh figures from federal public health officials showed that Quebec and Ontario account for more than 90 per cent of the country’s COVID-19 caseload. The latest projections, released yesterday, suggested that Canada could see between 97,990 to 107,454 cases by June 15.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said while Canada has made progress in curbing the infection rate and controlling the spread of the epidemic, the threat hasn’t fully abated, as there is still no vaccine for the virus.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Jane Philpott has been tapped by Ontario to advise it in its efforts to collect racial and socioeconomic data during the pandemic. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Philpott said her job will be to bring together “huge amounts of information” that have been siloed. Such data, she said, will be useful in improving the government’s research efforts and response to medical care. Her position is unpaid.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted not to comment on the release of a video that shows an RCMP officer hitting an Inuit man with his truck in Kinngait. The chief superintendent of the Nunavut RCMP has called for an investigation into the incident. According to the Globe, the victim was arrested for public intoxication, but was not charged. Mr. Trudeau reiterated comments he made earlier this week, acknowledging the existence of systemic racism amid the ongoing protests against police violence, triggered in the wake of George Floyd‘s death.

As anti-racism and police brutality protests show no signs of waning, one activist and some Parliamentarians said that there’s growing recognition that it’s time to go beyond long-overdue “piecemeal reforms.” 

Independent Senator Rosemary Moodie observed the protests, which are colliding with a deadly pandemic that’s disproportionately affecting racialized communities, are drawing out more allies. “Every race is out there on the streets, supporting the concerns of what’s happening,” Sen. Moodie said.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, who immigrated to Canada as a refugee from Somalia, told Toronto Star that the process for addressing systemic racism in Canada starts with amplifying the “voices of those who feel that sting of discrimination of racism as part of their lived reality,” who can define the scale of the issue. He said there’s also work to be done at the community level, by empowering groups who are front-line responders when incidents occur.

Seniors Minister Deb Schulte said the government delayed the rollout of COVID funding for seniors to prevent fraud, which has been an issue flagged public servants in the processing of cheques through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program. The top-up in financial assistance to vulnerable seniors will arrive the week of July 6. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough sought to assure MPs the government intends to pore over cases where fraud might have occurred.

In scheduled events, the House Indigenous Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear from First Nations Tax Commission and the Inuit Business Council, among others, at 11 a.m. Happening simultaneously is the Government Operations Committee meeting, where industry officials and Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Canada are slated to testify. The Industry Committee, meanwhile, is holding a hearing at 2 p.m. Witnesses include the Montreal Port Authority and Spartan Bioscience Inc.

The Hill Times

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