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Muhyiddin keeps Malaysian politics in lockdown – East Asia Forum



Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Just over six months ago Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin talked the country’s monarch into declaring a state of emergency — the first in Malaysia since the devastating racial riots of 1969.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin raises a thumb on arrival at a health district office for the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in Putrajaya (Photo: Calvin Pan/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via Reuters).

Muhyiddin said emergency powers were to give his government the political stability and the legal powers needed to enforce COVID-19 control strategies. A spike in cases at the time had threatened to derail what had been overall an effective response to the initial wave of the pandemic in 2020.

Since then, Malaysia’s COVID crisis has gone from worrying to disastrous. New daily cases reached a peak of over 13,000 on 15 July — worse, on paper, on a per-capita basis than neighbouring Indonesia (where, admittedly, testing rates remain dismal).

The state of emergency has had its desired short-term political effects over these six months, however. A core element has been the suspension of federal parliament — conveniently so for Muhyiddin, whose government is propped up by politicians who defected alongside him in early 2020 to bring down Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan government. Without an electoral mandate of his own, and supported by a slim parliamentary majority, Muhyiddin has kept his party backers happy by doling out seats in a bloated cabinet.

With the emergency orders set to expire on 1 August, the clock might be ticking down on Muhyiddin’s leadership. In early July the former ruling party UMNO formally declared it no longer supports Muhyiddin. But with many of its MPs nevertheless remaining in his cabinet, the party is half-in, half-out. Rival political bosses — including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and two-time prime minister Mahathir Mohamad — await Muhyiddin’s downfall for a chance to put together the numbers to support their own prime ministerial bids.

The parliament’s suspension hit pause on this stand-off. It will resume for a ‘special’ sitting on 26 July, just days before the emergency powers expire. Legal experts say that Muhyiddin will need parliamentary approval in order to extend them, but it’s not clear whether he has the numbers to achieve this.

Also unclear is whether MPs will be able to move a motion of no confidence against the prime minister — if such a motion is debated and is successful, parliament must be dissolved and an election called within 60 days. With the government signalling it won’t allow any debate during next week’s session, Muhyiddin’s opponents will likely have to wait for the next regular sitting of parliament in early September.

An election would finally put Muhyiddin’s prime ministership out of its misery. But it’s the last thing Malaysia needs from a health perspective: the country doesn’t have a workable system of absentee voting and going to the polls would further worsen what is an escalating public health crisis.

Not since the economic crisis of 1997–98 have the elite power plays seem more divorced from the real problems confronting Malaysia’s people, writes Bridget Welsh in this week’s lead article. ‘Muhyiddin’s “all Malay” government gave ethnonationalists what they asked for, and it has not performed’, observes Welsh. As a result, ‘more Malays are taking a hard look at ethnonationalist governance and find it wanting’.

The result at the grassroots is that ‘circumstances are opening the way for collaboration across previous political fault lines’. As the safety net struggles to keep many Malaysians from falling into lockdown-induced poverty, ‘COVID-19 has placed the issue of inequality centre-stage, bringing longstanding divides to the surface, but in a manner that differs starkly from the zero-sum ethnic lens of the past’.

Grassroots energy is one thing; whether the political system will be responsive is another.  ‘How this mobilisation will evolve remains unclear’, says Welsh. ‘Different notions of rights, responsibilities and community are coinciding with narrower models of race, exclusion and elite entitlement’.

Certainly, the pandemic has had counterintuitive political effects all over the world. In Europe, it has taken the wind out of populists’ sails and to some extent rehabilitated the political mainstream. In Southeast Asia, leaders like Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte have remained popular despite botched pandemic responses, benefiting from effective spin machines as well as citizens’ low expectations of health care systems. Malaysia is somewhat different to these lower middle-income democracies: it is a more firmly middle-class country with a well-developed health system that, before the pandemic arrived, was challenged by ‘first world’ chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Just how deep ‘middle Malaysian’ — and particularly ethnic Malay — disillusionment with the political elite runs will only be revealed at an election; in the context of the country’s parliamentary gerrymander, public anger doesn’t necessarily translate neatly into electoral upsets. If Muhyiddin or one of his ministers lead the government to the polls later in 2021, their best hope is that voters in key seats will prefer the devil they know, especially as the vaccination program gains pace.

On that front good news is finally emerging. Malaysia has now given over a quarter of its 32 million strong population at least one shot, with 45 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine on the way to take care of the rest.

That gives Muhyiddin an overwhelming incentive to keep buying time — ideally by using extended emergency rule to keep politics, as it were, under lockdown.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

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Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times



The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

“Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

“The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

“Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

Max Rossi/Reuters

Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

“They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters



A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Independent MP Derek Sloan hopes his new political party ‘excites’ Canadians about politics – Global News



Independent MP for Hastings Lennox and Addington, Derek Sloan, has confirmed to Global News that he is in the process of trying to launch his own political party. The MP says it will be called the “True North” party, pending Elections Canada Approval.

“I think Canadians are disenfranchised with the current political landscape, and I’m hoping to excite Canadians about politics and about Canada and to really get people happy again about Canada and hopeful,” said Sloan.

A spokesperson for Elections Canada said that they are working to ensure all requirements under the Canada Elections Act are met, in order for Sloan’s party to become official.

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In the meantime, Sloan has been spending time outside of his riding during the pandemic, making a number of trips to Western Canada.

Sloan explained that his travels are necessary in order to promote his “movement” on a national scale.

“Right now I believe for the sake of our riding, I need to sort of boost the popularity of this movement across the country,” said Sloan.

Sloan became an independent MP earlier this year when he was removed from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Former conservative senator, Hugh Segal, says Sloan’s move to create a new party could negatively impact his former party.

“If he’ll be more to the right, he’ll obviously be taking some votes away from the Conservatives at that far right-winged edge in his constituency and other constituencies where there may be candidates for his new party,” said Segal.

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Liberal Mike Bossio lost his seat to Sloan last election, and will be trying to win it back during the upcoming election.

Bossio believes Sloan has become a polarizing figure in the riding due to his views (ranging from abortion and LGBQT2 issues, to COVID-19 and vaccines.)

“He has a very different worldview that he’s been sharing with Canadians. It’s certainly not a view that I share in any way, shape or form, I think that it’s a toxic and dangerous view,” said Bossio.

Sloan says while he’s starting to build momentum for his new party in Western Canada, his intention to run in his own riding has not changed.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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