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Malaysian politics has been plunged into chaos, it may take a long time to recover – CNN

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That seems to be the main lesson from three days of political chaos in Malaysia, as the 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad managed to resign both the premiership and leadership of his party, but keep both jobs, and have accusations of betrayal turn into pledges of loyalty and support from all sides of the parliamentary divide.
Appointed interim-Prime Minister by the king following his resignation, Mahathir is likely to form a new government within a few days, though negotiations could continue through the week and the country could still be on track for a snap election at some point in the near future.
How did we get here? The answer to that involves a decades-long rivalry, accusations of backstabbing, a mess of acronyms and Malaysia’s sometimes fraught religious and ethnic divides.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad waves after he was granted an audience with King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.

Political crisis

After louder and louder rumblings of internal turmoil, the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition abruptly collapsed Monday amid accusations several high-profile members, led by Mahathir, were negotiating with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to form a new government.
UMNO was Malaysia’s traditional party of government, fielding all the country’s post-independence leaders, until the 1MDB financial scandal and subsequent unpopularity of Prime Minister Najib Razak saw it turfed out of office by the PH coalition in 2018.
How 1MDB finally caught up with Najib RazakHow 1MDB finally caught up with Najib Razak
That coalition was led by Mahathir, a one-time UMNO leader and prime minister, who joined the opposition in order to bring down Najib, who he regarded as massively corrupt. Najib is currently on trial over numerous charges relating to the 1MDB scandal, which he denies.
While some members of PH were suspicious of Mahathir’s motivations, his star power and ability to appeal to traditional UMNO supporters undeniably helped in their ultimate victory. He subsequently became prime minister under an agreement that he would eventually hand over power to fellow PH leader Anwar Ibrahim.
It was that transition that appeared to be in doubt this week, yet another wrinkle in the decades-long saga that is Anwar and Mahathir.
Anwar was once the older man’s heir apparent, until he was fired by then-Prime Minister Mahathir in 1998, and charged with corruption and sodomy. He would spend much of the next two decades in and out of prison, as first Mahathir and then Najib brought more prosecutions against him.
In 2018, with more and more revelations about Najib’s alleged crimes emerging and public clamor for his removal growing, Mahathir formed a breakaway party of former UMNO members, Bersatu, and joined the PH coalition.
Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, endorsed Mahathir and served as his deputy. Following their victory, Anwar received a royal pardon that allowed him to enter politics again. He was elected to parliament in October 2018, clearing him to assume the premiership.
Despite suspicions that Mahathir might backtrack on this deal, given his long and not-exactly-collegial history with Anwar, many of his critics were reassured by his statements that he saw himself more like a temporary caretaker, helping the government get back on track. After all, when he assumed office at 92, Mahathir became the world’s oldest leader, how long could he really expect to stay in power?
Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of Pakatan Harapan (The Alliance of Hope), wait for Mohamed to be sworn in as Malaysian prime minister, outside the National Palace 'Istana Negara' on May 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of Pakatan Harapan (The Alliance of Hope), wait for Mohamed to be sworn in as Malaysian prime minister, outside the National Palace 'Istana Negara' on May 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
As Mahathir showed this week, however, his age has not dented in the slightest his political wiliness and ability to play all sides at once.
The latest crisis appears to have arisen from within Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) and the perpetual prime minister in waiting’s own interpersonal relationships, or lack thereof, with his main rivals. Writing Monday, Malaysian politics analyst Bridget Welsh said that “divisions over leadership, racial politics and reform had split the (PH) coalition for some time.”
“The more Anwar Ibrahim pushed for a date of the transition, the more the forces opposed to his leadership worked to consolidate an alternative,” she said.
Following a weekend of frantic closed-door meetings between all sides, Anwar came out in support of Mahathir on Monday, blaming the attempted political coup on a PKR faction led by deputy leader Azmin Ali, who he promptly sacked.
The cartoonists who helped take down a Malaysian prime ministerThe cartoonists who helped take down a Malaysian prime minister
“Those from my party and outside are using his name. He reiterated what he said to me earlier. He had no part in it. He made it very clear in no way would he work with those in the past regime,” Anwar told reporters Monday.
Another top PH leader, Lim Guan Eng, also voiced his support of Mahathir and condemnation of Azmin and other PKR defectors, who he said were attempting “to form a back-door government to replace the existing democratically-elected PH government with a new coalition.”
“In objecting to this nefarious attempt to subvert and undermine the people’s mandate given to PH, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had submitted his resignation as Prime Minister,” Lim said in a statement posted online, adding that his Democratic Action Party (DAP) would support Mahathir remaining as premier.
Indeed, that seems to be the one thing everyone agrees upon. In a statement widely reported by Malaysian and regional media, Azmin and 10 other former PKR lawmakers accused Anwar and his allies of being the “real traitors,” attempting to force Mahathir into a lame-duck situation.
“Last Friday, we saw an attempt by some of PH top leaders forcing the prime minister to set a date to resign and proceed with the transition of power to PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,” the statement said. “The campaign, which started a few months ago, has gained momentum to divert the people’s attention from efforts to restore the country’s economy and make institutional reforms.”
Najib Razak, outgoing Prime Minister of Barisan Nasional party speaks during a press conference following the 14th general election on May 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Najib Razak, outgoing Prime Minister of Barisan Nasional party speaks during a press conference following the 14th general election on May 10, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ethnic strife

If a new political realignment does emerge from the chaos of this week, it is likely to be of a very different flavor to the Pakatan Harapan coalition.
When that grouping came to power, it was the first time in the country’s post-independence history that the dominant parties in government were multiethnic ones. The new cabinet also included numerous Chinese and Indian Malaysians in prominent positions. While PH was hailed by many observers as more representative of Malaysia’s ethnic makeup, its mix of parties made it vulnerable, with several, including Mahathir’s own Bersatu having Malay-first leanings which led to tensions within the PH alliance.
In the new Malaysia, signs of an older, uglier politicsIn the new Malaysia, signs of an older, uglier politics
In Malaysia, over 60% of the country’s 32 million population belong to the Bumiputera — a group known as “sons of the soil,” which includes ethnic Malays, and natives of Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo. At 21%, Chinese Malaysians make up the country’s next largest ethnic group, followed by Indian Malaysians at 6%.
The potential members of a new coalition are primarily Bumiputera parties, similar to the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition helmed by former UMNO leader and prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib himself oversaw a strongly Malay-first administration and increase in racialized politics, a strategy he has doubled down on in opposition, while he awaits his various trials for corruption. Many observers believe this strategy to be the driving force behind UMNO’s alliance with the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), a former rival.
The presence of PAS in any potential new coalition, as well as the almost entirely monoethnic makeup of it, will alarm many urban Malaysians and ethnic minorities, and would be a major step back from the post-racial political transformation some were hailing in 2018.
Nor is there any guarantee that such a monoethnic coalition would actually be any more stable than its predecessor.
“Like the one that has just crumbled, the would-be new coalition also comprises strange bedfellows who until recently were fighting like cats and dogs, be it in Parliament or the media,” wrote Malaysian commentator Joceline Tan this week. “Malaysia is in for another roller coaster ride, assuming the new government that may be formed soon will last till the next general election.”

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg

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Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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Now, more than ever, the N.W.T. government needs party politics – CBC.ca

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This column is an opinion by former Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In 2019 near the end of my term as an MLA, I proposed implementing a caucus system that, among other things, would allow for political discipline of MLAs. At the time MLAs rejected any changes that would limit their jealously-guarded independence. What they failed to recognize was that this proposal was not about imposing discipline, rather it was about enabling politicians to effectively discipline MLAs when required. 

The Norn affair and the pronounced lack of any real accountability in the legislature over the government’s failings are the consequences of being governed by a gang of loosely aligned political independents who lack common vision and leadership.

This point was made by MLA Rylund Johnson who said, “In party systems, the party whip would probably make sure this never happens. Party caucuses would kick members out and make them irrelevant …Those aren’t tools that we have in consensus government.”

The consensus system is based on little more than good intentions and is powerless to address its own failings, with MLAs routinely using their constituents as a convenient smoke screen for their own bad behaviour. 

Sound familiar? It should, it happens all the time with the recent example of Steve Norn being the most spectacular failure of political will to date in the 19th Assembly.

Norn’s sustained attacks on his colleagues and the legislature were left virtually unchecked by MLAs, who stood by silently. Public confidence in elected officials has been shaken to the point that two former premiers have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing sitting MLAs. Scandal and policy failures have become the chief commodity of the Legislative Assembly and Caroline Cochrane’s government.

While other provinces acted swiftly with new spending and policies to bolster their economies and attract new health-care workers, the Cochrane government has wrung its hands, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia. We have watched in real time as our health-care system has buckled and broken under the strain of the pandemic, with no plan yet released for economic recovery after months and months of delay. And despite the outcry from Northerners for their government to act, the “unofficial opposition” of regular MLAs is absent, or at least silent, unable to muster the courage and unify to demand better government from the cabinet. 

In the Northwest Territories the people have a choice in who gets to take power but not in how that power is used, nor can they hold the powerful accountable during elections. MLAs appoint the premier and cabinet, who are solely accountable to each other. This means that voters have no say over who forms government or what that government does for its four-year term and cannot hold that government accountable for its decisions. This leaves accountability in the hands of an undisciplined committee of regular MLAs who lack resources, staff, and experience to provide alternatives to cabinet policies. Public policy development and implementation are the sole domain of unelected bureaucrats in the government’s senior management.

Despite the constant mythologizing of consensus government as a superior form of government, founded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, the fact is none of the N.W.T.’s self-governing Indigenous nations use consensus systems, nor did Indigenous people design the system when it was first implemented decades ago. That honour falls to federal bureaucrats when they devolved responsible government to our young territory. Despite their frustration, Northerners continue to consent to an undemocratic democracy where their electoral choices have been reduced to little more than an overblown hiring competition. 

A culture of silence has taken root in the N.W.T.’s democratic discourse. The fear of reprisal from those in power forces many to whisper in the back of coffee shops and speak anonymously to reporters, when they ought to be able to freely express their own views and see those views transformed into political action.

There was a time that the consensus system served Northerners well. But that time has passed, made clear by persistent scandal and public policy implosions that have not stopped since the last election. We’ve seen devolution create a modern N.W.T. granted nearly full responsibility over its land and resources. It is now time for evolution to transform our political system into a modern multi-party democracy that can provide unity and real action on the most pressing issues.

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Italy, France to deepen ties as Merkel’s exit tests European diplomacy

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The leaders of Italy and France will sign a treaty on Friday to strengthen bilateral ties at a time when European diplomacy is being tested by the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Quirinale Treaty is aimed at enhancing cooperation between Paris and Rome in areas including defence, migration, the economy, culture and trade.

The signing ceremony comes shortly after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive French leaders.

The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate, and both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged United States.

“Macron’s intention is to create a new axis with Italy, while it is in Italy’s interest to hook up with the France-Germany duo,” said a senior Italian diplomatic source, who declined to be named.

RENAISSANCE

Originally envisaged in 2017, negotiations on the new treaty ground to a halt in 2018 when a populist government took office in Rome and clashed with Macron over immigration.

Relations hit a low in 2019 when Macron briefly recalled France’s ambassador to Italy, but there has been a renaissance this year following the appointment of former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi to lead an Italian unity government.

A French diplomatic source rejected suggestions that the new axis between the European Union’s second and third largest economies represented any re-alignment of Paris’s diplomatic priorities.

“We have never played a jealousy triangle with European partners. These bilateral relations, when they are strong … complement each other,” the source said.

The Quirinale Treaty, named after the Italian president’s residence and loosely modelled on a 1963 Franco-German pact, is expected to lead to Paris and Rome seeking common ground ahead of EU summits, just as France already coordinates key European policy moves with Germany.

Full details of the pact have not been released but there will be special interest in sections covering economic ties and cooperation in strategic sectors.

French companies have invested heavily in Italy in recent years, but Italian politicians have accused Paris of being less forthcoming when Italian businesses seek cross-border deals.

Earlier this year, state-owned shipmaker Fincantieri’s bid to take over its French peer Chantiers de l’Atlantique collapsed, thwarted by EU competition issues.

Italian officials suspected Paris actively sought to undermine the deal behind the scenes.

 

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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