Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has returned from his winter holidays with a fresh beard. After a photo of the prime minister was released by his official photographer, he joined a growing list of politicians whose facial hair has sparked fascination.
In the image released of Mr Trudeau, he stares seriously into the middle distance, showing off a jaw line and chin covered with salt-and-pepper hair.
It is not the first time the Canadian politician has accessorised with a set of whiskers.
Before he became the Liberal leader and prime minister, he grew a memorable moustache and goatee combo for the Movember prostate cancer charity.
Facial hair is a look rare enough in modern politics that people take notice when a political leader decides to grow a beard.
In some parts of the world, facial hair can signify a lot more than personal style. The politics around beards have been fraught in Egypt in recent years – in a nation with long-standing, secular traditions, beards have been viewed as a symbol of Islamist hardliners.
In the US, beards have been perceived as a political turn-off for voters for decades and the refuge of the defeated candidate.
Former US presidential candidate Al Gore made headlines after he re-emerged in 2001 from his bitter election defeat with a full beard. Dubbed an “exile beard”, it was subject to intense analysis.
Now they seem to be having a moment.
When former US House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled fresh stubble on Instagram in 2015, he noted that he was the first speaker to have a beard in almost 100 years, and his decision to abandon his clean-shaven look caused a stir.
Only about 5% of the members of the US Congress had beards or moustaches at the time, according to research from Oklahoma State University political science professor Rebekah Herrick.
Republican US Senator Ted Cruz’s beard, which made its first appearance in 2018, fascinated the internet for weeks.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his distinctive white beard, and the country’s media took note when 18 of his 58 ministers inaugurated into his new Cabinet last summer had beards.
In the UK, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, her dislike of facial hair led to accusations of “pogonophobia” – defined as an extreme dislike of beards.
But more recently, the outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was the first bearded man to head a British political party since 1908.
In Canada, the last three leaders of the country’s left-leaning federal New Democrats have had facial hair, including current leader Jagmeet Singh, an observant Sikh who wears both a turban and a beard as part of his faith.
Still, Mr Singh’s predecessor, Thomas Mulcair, faced calls to shave his trademark full beard when he took over the party’s leadership, as reported by the Globe and Mail.
The last Canadian prime minister to wear facial hair was the moustachioed Sir Robert Borden, in the early 20th Century.
It is not clear if Mr Trudeau’s beard will become a permanent fixture or if he will shave before MPs return to Ottawa in late January.
Temporary or not, the post-holiday beard “is more of a mature look, especially with the gray coming through,” Lynne Mackay, with consulting firm Mackay Byrne Group, told the BBC.
“It’s an established look,” said the image consultant who has worked with numerous Canadian politicians, though not Mr Trudeau.
“There is a certain level of maturity that he’s projecting with this beard, there’s no doubt about it.”
The 48-year-old prime minister first came to power in 2015 as a fresh face in Canadian federal politics and on the world stage.
Always an image conscious politician, the photo of the bearded Mr Trudeau released by his team contrasts his youthful political brand.
Following a series of political crises and scandals, he faced a recent tough re-election battle that saw him retain power but fall short of a majority seat count in the House of Commons.
“He doesn’t look so young with this [beard],” said Ms Mackay. “He certainly does look more of a seasoned statesman.”
She noted that facial hair is something that falls in and out of vogue and has seen a revival in recent years.
As a consultant in the business world in the 1980s, she said the clean-shaven look was seen to project openness and integrity.
“Things have come so far since that time,” she said. “Beards are very acceptable in business so I think it’s a natural transition to see it move into politics.”
It is also one of the few ways for men to express themselves with their style “and show a little bit of individualism”, she said.
Is it time for Anwar Ibrahim to step aside? – Aljazeera.com
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
U.S., S.Korea to update war plans while urging diplomacy with N.Korea
The military chiefs of the United States and South Korea said on Thursday they plan to update contingency war plans and review their combined military command while urging North Korea to return to diplomacy.
North Korea’s missile and weapons developments are increasingly destabilising for regional security, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said after talks with his South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook.
Austin and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in Seoul for the first such annual military talks with South Korean officials since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, and the last before South Korean President Moon Jae-in leaves office in May.
North Korea has continued to rebuff U.S. entreaties for diplomacy since Biden took over from Donald Trump, who had three summits with leader Kim Jong Un.
The United States calls on the North to engage in dialogue, Austin told a news conference, saying diplomacy is the best approach to pursue with North Korea, backed up by a credible deterrent.
The changing security environment prompted the United States and South Korea to agree to update longstanding operational planning for a potential conflict with North Korea, as well as review their combined military command, Suh said.
The United States stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice but not a peace treaty.
Currently, the United States would command those troops in the event of war, but South Korea has been seeking to gain “operational control” (OPCON).
Suh said the two sides made progress on meeting conditions for OPCON transfer to South Korea.
The United States has pledged to maintain the current level of U.S. troops in South Korea, he added.
This week the Pentagon released a global posture review that calls for additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea,” including a previously announced decision to permanently base an attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Phil Stewart; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Stephen Coates)
U.S. defense secretary eyes international response to Russia on Ukraine
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday suggested any U.S. response to Russia’s actions towards Ukraine would be carried out in conjunction with the international community, as he called on Moscow to be transparent about its military buildup.
Austin, during a visit to South Korea, also voiced hope that the United States and Russia could work to “resolve issues and concerns and lower the temperature in the region.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Moscow to pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border, saying a Russian invasion would provoke sanctions that would hit Moscow harder than any imposed until now.
Asked whether fallout on Russia would be strictly economic, Austin declined to answer directly, saying only that the “best methods” would be used.
“Whatever we do will be done as a part of an international community. The best case though is that we won’t see an incursion by the Soviet Union into the Ukraine,” Austin said, accidentally calling Russia the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.
Ukraine says Russia has deployed more than 90,000 troops near their long shared border.
Moscow accuses Kyiv of pursuing its own military build-up. It has dismissed as inflammatory suggestions it is preparing for an attack on Ukraine but has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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