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Japan votes in test for new PM Kishida, political stability

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Japanese voters went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to endorse the conservative government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida or weaken the new premier and possibly return the world’s third-largest economy to a period of political uncertainty.

The vote is a test https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/tightrope-election-may-spell-uncertain-future-japans-new-prime-minister-2021-10-28 for Kishida, who called the election soon after taking the top post early this month, and for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been battered by its perceived mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Already, Kishida has struggled to advance policies to help poorer people https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-confronts-rising-inequality-after-abenomics-2021-10-12, while securing a big boost in military https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/with-an-eye-china-japans-ruling-party-makes-unprecedented-defence-spending-2021-10-13 spending and taking a harder line on China https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/japans-okinawa-ruling-partys-tough-china-stance-helps-win-young-voters-2021-10-29.

With his lacklustre image failing to inspire voters, the LDP is on the brink of losing its sole majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time since 2009, opinion polls show, although its coalition with junior partner Komeito is forecast to remain in control.

Japan‘s vaccination drive initially lagged other advanced nations. More than 70% of the population is now fully vaccinated and infections have dropped sharply, but some voters remain wary.

“It’s hard to say the pandemic is completely snuffed out and society is stable, so we shouldn’t have any big changes in coronavirus policy,” said Naoki Okura, a doctor, after voting in Tokyo.

“Rather than demanding a change in government, I think we should demand continuity.”

TOUGH CONTESTS, REVOLVING DOOR?

Several key LDP lawmakers are also facing particularly tough contests, including Akira Amari, the party’s secretary general.

“Revolving-door prime ministers is a weakness that many outside of Japan fear,” Sheila A. Smith, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post. “Prime Minister Kishida will need a unified party and a strong electoral showing on Oct. 31 if he is to successfully tackle Japan’s difficult national agenda.”

Turnout will be crucial, since higher turnout tends to favour the opposition, but many are choosing to vote absentee.

The biggest opposition group, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, is expected to gain seats but not come near toppling Kishida’s coalition.

Still, a big loss of LDP seats could lead to party infighting, returning Japan to an era of short-lived administrations that diminished its global stature, until Shinzo Abe helmed the country for a record eight years to September 2020. The dovish Komeito could also gain more clout within the coalition.

Uncertainty is high, with the Nikkei newspaper estimating 40% of single-seat districts have close races and recent polls showing some 40% of voters undecided.

Voting ends at 8 p.m. (1100 GMT), with projected results likely to come soon afterward from media exit polls.

Kishida’s publicly stated goal is for his coalition to keep a majority, at least 233 seats https://www.reuters.com/article/japan-election/factbox-key-numbers-to-watch-in-japan-lower-house-election-idUSL4N2RI1CL, of the 465 in the lower house. Before the election, the coalition had a commanding two-thirds majority of 305, with the LDP holding 276.

Investors and political watchers are focussed on whether the LDP – in power for all but brief spells since it was formed in 1955 – can keep its majority as a single party. Losing that would erode Kishida’s power base in the factional LDP and the party’s standing against the Komeito.

The usually splintered opposition is united, arranging for only one party – including the widely shunned Japanese Communist Party – to face off against the coalition in most districts, with analysts saying this is creating a number of neck-and-neck battles.

But the opposition has failed to capture the hearts of voters, with only 8% supporting the Constitutional Democrats while 39% back the LDP, according to a poll last week by public broadcaster NHK.

“The other political parties are all scattered, so I can’t leave it to them with confidence,” said Hiroki Kita, 49 and an advertising executive.

“There’s only the LDP, but it’s a negative choice.”

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Elaine Lies, Irene Wang and Daniel Leussink; Writing by Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard)

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Austria's Kurz quits party and parliament, stunning national politics – Reuters

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Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gives a statement as he resigns from all political duties, in Vienna, Austria, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz, who resigned as chancellor in October after he was placed under investigation on suspicion of corruption, said on Thursday he was quitting politics in a surprise move that leaves a power vacuum in his party.

Kurz has been the dominant figure of his People’s Party and Austrian political life since 2017, when he became party leader and then chancellor, winning a parliamentary election and forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. He told a news conference he was leaving politics altogether.

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Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The Message From Glasgow: Climate Politics Is Local – Forbes

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The COP26 Glasgow summit was probably disappointing with little to show by way of policy progress. The conference president, Alok Sharma, noted: “We can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 (degrees Celsius) within reach, but its pulse is weak.” If this is the state of climate politics, it is depressing. Post Paris, aggressive decarbonization was supposed to be up and running. And the best we can say after the Glasgow summit is that it is alive!

Glasgow did move the policy needle a bit. Countries agreed on new rules for carbon trading, tackling methane emission, curbing deforestation, and phasing down coal (although ironically, coal consumption is up this year). In addition, developed countries promised to provide $100 billion annual climate aid between 2021 and 2025.

Did Glasgow influence U.S. climate policy? It neither accelerated nor derailed Biden’s climate agenda. The reason is that climate politics is increasingly local. This is not to say that global climate conferences are a waste of time and resources. They shine the spotlight on climate issues and increase their salience. These conferences also motivate politicians (who probably do not want to look bad among their peers) to make climate pledges. For some, a weak pledge is superior to no pledge. For others, weak pledges demobilize the climate movement by creating an illusion of policy progress.

What Did Biden Hope to Achieve at Glasgow?

Biden’s stated objective was to reclaim U.S. leadership on global climate policy. Of course, it is not clear what the U.S. gains by exercising this leadership? Vanity? A nostalgia for post-cold war Pax Americana?

And it is certainly not clear why U.S. leadership would further the global climate agenda. Does the U.S. have the financial or coercive power to motivate other countries? Is the U.S. the shining light that guides the world on climate issues?

The brutal truth is that the world has moved on without U.S. climate leadership. China leads in renewable technologies and the European Union in policy innovation. America’s economic and coercive power is declining, as demonstrated in the huge budgetary deficits and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And its moral power – give us a break! Domestically, the U.S. has made modest progress in climate policy. Unfortunately for Democrats, blaming Trump for climate problems no longer works. Biden’s own party held up the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives, which  provides substantial funding for climate projects.

Biden’s second objective probably was to reassure his domestic base about his commitment to climate issues. Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not attend the Glasgow meeting with little domestic backlash. Imagine the domestic backlash if Biden stayed home!

So, Biden attended along with a sizeable U.S. delegation.  He said the right things and in the right tone. But is this sufficient to satisfy the U.S. climate movement which wants to see Biden deliver on the climate promises made during the campaign? The reality is that intra-party differences, the fight between the progressives and the moderates, is derailing progress on climate policy. The failure to persuade Democrats to implement his climate agenda undermines Biden’s international and domestic credibility as a climate champion.

Intra-Party Squabbles and the Virginia Election Shock

Historically, U.S. presidents have exercised the bully pulpit power to mobilize legislators behind their policy agendas. But this requires the President to enjoy high levels of public support. And citizens probably support the President, who they perceive to be following the right policies and is able to deliver on them.

After a strong start, Biden has lost public support. As per RealClear politics, his net approval (approval-disapproval) has fallen by almost 30% points: from positive 20.3% 0n January 28 to negative 10.7% on November 27.  

Democrats’ loss in Virginia and a near loss in New Jersey gubernatorial races have further undermined Biden’s image as a leader who can get things done. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) noted: “The voters of Virginia and the voters of America gave us the presidency, the Senate and the House. They expected us to produce.” Indeed, within a few days of the Virginia election shock, the House passed the stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill. Arguably, Biden’s climate credentials in Glasgow and at home would have been stronger, had the House passed this bill earlier. But Biden’s own party denied him this opportunity.

Biden has another signature issue, the Build Back Better (BBB) bill, which has been passed in the House and is being considered in the Senate. This provides an additional $555 billion for climate projects. Does Biden have the political muscle to persuade Democrats to pass it? The problem is that Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) want cutbacks which the House Progressives might not agree to. This will be the second litmus test of Biden’s leadership and legislative skills.

Enter Inflation and Gas Prices

Over the summer, many suggested that inflation is temporary.  Very few do so now. While scholars debate what caused it, inflation will weaken Biden’s Presidency. Americans have become accustomed to a low inflation economy with stable prices. Inflation is already affecting real household incomes as people pay more for electricity and for gas. For example, the average U.S. gasoline prices have increased by 50% since last year: from $2.27 per gallon to $3.40 per gallon.

How has Biden responded? With panic and confusion. He has asked OPEC countries to increase oil production and has authorized releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The deeper problem is that the climate movement implicitly promised a painless transition to a decarbonized economy. Yet, there will be pain, be it in terms of losing fossil fuel jobs or higher energy prices. Biden clearly did not prepare Americans for this inconvenient truth. The insistence on reducing fossil fuel production at home while asking for increased production abroad invites accusations of policy inconsistency from Republicans, blue-collar labor unions, and fossil fuel communities.

Overall, the U.S. climate policy is in a bit of turbulence. Inflation, COVID, the Afghanistan fiasco, rising urban crime, and supply chain shortages are contributing to Biden’s unpopularity. Infighting among Democrats conveys the image of a “do nothing” party, to use Truman’s famous words.  Democrats have about 11 months until the midterms, when Republicans will probably win back the House. This means that the window to make legislative progress on climate policy is slowly closing. Does Biden have the political muscle to compel Democrats to focus on their agreements and not play up the disagreements on climate policy? This probably is the key issue to watch for until the November 2022 midterm elections.

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Is it time for Anwar Ibrahim to step aside? – Aljazeera.com

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s perennial prime minister-in-waiting, is facing questions over his leadership after a humiliating performance by his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in recent state elections.

The lack of votes left many wondering about its chances of success in national elections expected as early as next year.

Pakatan Harapan has been in opposition since a power grab in February 2020. Disgruntled elements within the coalition allied with politicians defeated in the historic elections of 2018 led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the government’s collapse.

Anwar, who was Mahathir’s designated successor, has been trying to win back power ever since, but last month suffered an enormous setback with a hefty defeat in the Melaka state elections.

The PH coalition only managed to retain five seats in the 28-seat state assembly, while allies, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), won four and Amanah, one. Anwar’s party, the People’s Justice Party or PKR, failed to win a single seat despite fielding 11 candidates.

The dismal performance sent Anwar trending on Twitter with thousands of Malaysians panning him over poor electoral strategies, and some urging him to retire to make way for younger leaders.

Analysts say voters punished PH for fielding controversial figures, including former Chief Minister Idris Haron who had been sacked from the PKR rival, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), after he withdrew his support and helped trigger the collapse of the state government in October.

Political analyst Bridget Welsh told Al Jazeera, Anwar, in particular, should be blamed for the poor strategy to field “frogs” – a term used for party hoppers – especially Idris, who had been vilified by PH on their way to victory in the state back in 2018.

“He (Anwar) is the one who advocated for the ‘frogs’, he pushed to accept the ‘frogs’ and he insisted on Idris Haron contesting. These people are tainted. Idris Haron was the reason Melaka was won by Harapan in GE14 (the 2018 election) and what does Anwar do now, pick him as the candidate. Anwar clearly has no understanding of the ground,” she said.

Anwar Ibrahim (second right) has been a prominent figure in Malaysian politics since he was recruited to the United Malays National Organisation by Mahathir Mohamad (centre). Anwar’s downfall in 1998 fuelled calls for reform and led to the development of an opposition that was finally able to win power in 2018 [File: Reuters]

Anwar has been one of Malaysia’s most prominent politicians for nearly 40 years. He emerged as a firebrand student leader, rose through the ranks in the UMNO, and was sacked from his position as deputy prime minister and finance minister by Mahathir in 1998 at the height of the Asian Financial Crisis.

The country watched agog as he was accused of sodomy and put on trial – a stained mattress hauled into court as a key piece of evidence.

Anwar ended up behind bars and has been jailed several times since, but his downfall and the protests that followed helped drive the rise of Malaysia’s first effective opposition.

Collective decision

Anwar’s wife founded PKR while Anwar was in jail – its flag a representation of the black eye he suffered at the hands of the country’s police chief while in custody.

Out of prison, Anwar transformed the party into a formidable force, building a coalition that put in an increasingly strong performance in elections throughout the 2000s.

In 2018, in the wake of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, and once again allied with Mahathir, Anwar’s former mentor, Pakatan Harapan was finally able to claim victory.

Anwar was pardoned and released from yet another prison stint shortly afterwards, and Mahathir named Anwar his successor.

But the transfer of power never happened.

After the PH government collapsed, it was veteran politician Muhyiddin Yassin who was deemed to have the backing of MPs and was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.

PKR Communications Director Fahmi Fadzil insists Anwar should not be blamed for the Melaka debacle.

“It is a collective decision, any decision made in PH is made collectively. At that point in time, to back Idris was a collective decision,” he told Al Jazeera.

The People’s Justice Party was founded by Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail after Anwar was sacked, accused of sodomy and jailed. The flag symbolises the black eye Anwar developed after being beaten in custody [File: Lai Seng Sin/AP Photo]

It is not the first time that Anwar has failed to deliver.

Last September, the former deputy prime minister claimed he had a strong, formidable and convincing majority to form a government, but only saw his plan fail.

And after Muhyiddin resigned after losing support in August, Anwar again claimed a majority to form government – only to lose out to UMNO Vice-President Ismail Sabri Yaakob who became the country’s ninth prime minister.

Indeed, Anwar has been claiming to have the numbers as far back as 2008 when he gathered a mass rally claiming he had enough support to replace then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but nothing came of it.

Al Jazeera requested for an interview with Anwar, but his office had not responded by the time of publication.

Among those seen as potential successors to Anwar are younger, fresher faces, such as his own daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, and PKR Vice-President Rafizi Ramli.

After the defeat, Rafizi, who has maintained a low political profile for the past few years, tweeted that he hoped Pakatan leaders would study the result, “reject ego”, and do better in the next general elections.

Even the DAP’s Anthony Loke, a former transport minister, hinted PH should not be insistent on naming only Anwar for the top post, suggesting other names be considered too.

Pro-Anwar group, Otai Reformasi jumped to Anwar’s defence, saying he should not be made the “black sheep” for the outcome of the Melaka elections.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Amanah Communications Director Khalid Samad said Anwar had weaknesses but that did not mean he needed to go, especially given his contribution to changing the face of Malaysian politics.

“Anwar has his weaknesses but nobody is perfect. If we make a decision based on weakness, there will be no perfect candidate. We must sit down together and make a decision,” he said, referring to the coalition’s choice for prime minister. He did not elaborate on what he considered Anwar’s weaknesses to be.

Reform was part of the appeal for those who voted for the Pakatan Harapan coalition. But conservatives fought against change, and the government backed away from signing the United Nation’s anti-discrimination convention after thousands of ethnic Malay Muslims, the country’s majority ethnic group, protested against the plan [File: Mohd Rasfan/AFP]

Khalid, who represents the city of Shah Alam, was coy on who Pakatan should name to take charge in the run-up to the 15th general elections, but said it would be a collective decision of all PH parties.

“The PH presidential council will decide when the time comes. We are fighting for certain ideals, not certain individuals. Whoever brings these ideals and can bring all parties together is the obvious choice,” he said.

Finding a vision

The Melaka results have highlighted the problems facing the coalition as it tries to win back power in a country, which is 60 percent Malay Muslim, but has large communities of people of Chinese and Indian descent as well as Indigenous ethnic groups. An election in the Borneo state of Sarawak will take place later this month.

Analysts say that the top of the agenda is to win the ethnic Malay vote after the departure of Bersatu, once Mahathir’s party, but now under Muhyiddin and currently part of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Ei Sun Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says Anwar, who is often seen as too liberal by Malays and too religiously conservative by non-Muslims, had failed in his appeal to the Malays.

“The voters voted for PN which contains both a racialist Bersatu and a religious PAS. It is mainly the dilemma faced by a supposedly progressive and liberal PH that finds it difficult to capture an increasingly conservative, racialist and religious Malay voter base, old and young alike,” he told Al Jazeera.

Politicians within Pakatan are also concerned.

“The voter base is saying something. PH is in a quandary, we have no nationalist Malay party as we did in 2018 with Bersatu,” said DAP’s Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago.

Other than capturing Malay votes, PH also has to try and lure young people to the cause.

The coalition has seen its support among the youth evaporate, largely due to their failure to implement promised reforms when they were in power, such as the repeal of repressive laws like the Sedition Act, abolishing student loans, and acceding to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The plan was dropped after a mass protest by ethnic Malays.

PH’s former poster boy for youth, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, has also left the fold to found Muda, his own youth-based party. The party has yet to secure official registration, but has created a new rival in Pakatan’s efforts to attract young voters.

Young people have found their political voice in Malaysia, but have been critical not only of recent governments, but the opposition Pakatan Harapan as well [File: Arif Kartono/AFP]

With Malaysia finally set to lower the voting age to 18 – a reform pushed through by Syed Saddiq when he was youth and sports minister – the youth vote is set to expand the electorate from 14.9 million during the 2018 elections, to 22.7 million in 2023, the deadline for the next elections.

DAP’s Assistant Political Education Director Ong Kian Ming says PH should push out a more youth-oriented narrative focusing on jobs, technology and education opportunities to capture the young people’s vote.

“PH has to regroup to present a new and more compelling narrative moving ahead. PH leaders must show vision and direction to the voters in Malaysia in order to change the current sentiment that is lukewarm and not supportive of PH,” said Ong, who is a member of parliament for Bangi on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

For analyst Welsh, the key is Anwar.

She says the 74-year-old veteran has to make way for those with more dynamic ideas – if PH is to challenge effectively in the next election.

“The issue here is he (Anwar) is clearly not willing to give way. A lot of people think it is about his personal ambition and he is losing the support of party members and the political base.

“You have to position younger leaders and rebrand as a coalition. In short, Anwar has to lay out an exit plan,” she said.

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