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Politics this week | The world this week – The Economist

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The WHO said that most new cases of covid-19, a novel type of coronavirus, are now being reported outside China. The number of cases surged in South Korea; Italy recorded hundreds of infections, more than in any country outside Asia; and there were worries that Iran was underreporting the spread of the epidemic within its borders. Iran’s deputy health minister tested positive for the disease. See article.

China postponed the annual sessions of its rubber-stamp parliament because of concerns about the outbreak of covid-19. The meetings had been due to start in Beijing in March and involve thousands of delegates. Despite a fall in the daily numbers of new cases in China, Xi Jinping, the president, said the epidemic was “still grim and complex”.

A Chinese court sentenced Gui Minhai, the co-owner of a bookshop in Hong Kong that sold gossipy works about China’s leaders, to ten years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”. Mr Gui is a Swedish citizen who is also claimed by China as its national. His detention has fuelled widespread alarm in Hong Kong about the erosion of political freedoms.

Mahathir Mohamad resigned as prime minister of Malaysia, after his own party, Bersatu, decided to leave the ruling coalition. He remains in office as a caretaker. Anwar Ibrahim, his long-time rival and leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the biggest party in the coalition, has put himself forward as a replacement. It is unclear whether either man has the support of most MPs. See article.

The Afghan army, the insurgents of the Taliban and NATO forces all pledged to observe a week-long “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan’s civil war. If it holds until February 28th, America and the Taliban will sign a peace deal in Qatar on February 29th. See article.

Thailand’s constitutional court disbanded Future Forward, the country’s third-biggest political party, and banned its leaders from politics. It is the eighth party the court has dissolved since 2006. See article.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, summoned a crowd of hundreds of thousands to cheer for Donald Trump. But the American president’s visit was marred by communal riots in Delhi, which claimed 33 lives. See article.

Taur Matan Ruak, the prime minister of East Timor, resigned after parliament voted down his budget. The president must now decide whether to name another prime minister or call elections.

Foreign policymaking

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, announced a wide-ranging review of the country’s place in the world post-Brexit that seeks “innovative ways” to push overseas interests. Outside experts will be used to challenge “traditional Whitehall assumptions”, a nod to Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s powerful special adviser, who has clashed with civil servants. Mr Cummings has criticised waste in the Ministry of Defence.

Sajid Javid, who resigned as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer after a skirmish with Mr Cummings, attacked a move to align the Treasury more closely with thinking in the prime minister’s office. Mr Javid said that this was not in the national interest.

The race to be the next leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, and probable chancellor after Angela Merkel quits next year, now has only three runners. Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, got a big boost when Jens Spahn, the up-and-coming federal health minister, said he would not contest the race, but would support him instead.

Residents of the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios fought with riot police in an attempt to stop an expansion of detention camps to house more migrants arriving mostly from the Middle East via Turkey.

Degrees of brutality

Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades, died. The former despot was toppled during the Arab spring of 2011, amid protests over poverty and his repressive rule. He faced trial for corruption and murder, but mostly avoided punishment. Many Egyptians expressed nostalgia for Mr Mubarak, who ruled with a lighter touch than the current dictator, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. See article.

Hardliners won parliamentary elections in Iran, scooping three-quarters of the seats. The regime claimed a mandate for its confrontational stance towards America. But thousands of moderates and reformers were barred from running and, as a result, turnout was the lowest in a parliamentary election since the Islamic revolution in 1979. See article.

Faure Gnassingbé, the president of Togo, won another term in an election marred by irregularities. Mr Gnassingbé has been in office since 2005, when he took over from his father, who had first seized power in 1967.

The police in a state

A strike by police in Ceará, in north-eastern Brazil, led to a sharp rise in the number of murders in the state. At least 170 people have died since police stopped work on February 19th in a row over pay. A senator, Cid Gomes, was shot as he drove a digger towards striking police. The government has sent in the army.

Protests by police in Haiti against poor working conditions led to battles between them and the army. At least one soldier died. The country’s Carnival celebration was cancelled.

Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal barred Evo Morales, a former president, from running for a seat in the Senate in elections due in May. Mr Morales left office in November after Bolivians protested against his re-election.

Her day in court

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two of the charges brought against him in New York: of rape (by having sex with a woman against her will) and of forcing oral sex on a woman. He was acquitted of three charges, including the most serious. Scores of other women have accused him of sexual misconduct. See article.

The latest Democratic debate produced the usual fireworks. It was the last to be held before the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, when Democrats in 14 states will vote on who they want to be their presidential candidate. Bernie Sanders remains the firm favourite following his decisive win in Nevada. See article.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Russia is meddling in the primaries to get Mr Sanders elected, and is also stepping up plans to interfere in the general election to re-elect Donald Trump. So it is a win-win situation for the Kremlin if either Mr Sanders or Mr Trump is victorious in November. See article.

This article appeared in the The world this week section of the print edition under the headline “Politics this week”

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March 30, 2020 What's Next for Timor-Leste's Politics? – The Diplomat

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Since January, Timor-Leste’s politics has been shrouded in uncertainty following the collapse of its previous governing coalition after the failure to pass a budget amid coalition infighting. Though a new government looks set to take office soon, it will face a range of formidable challenges that will need addressing.

While Timor-Leste has made progress towards statebuilding in some areas since its full independence back in 2002 after a painful struggle against colonialism, it still faces significant political and economic challenges as one of the world’s poorest economies and a polity that that has seen eight governments come and go in less than two decades.

Those challenges have continued on over into 2020 as well. In January, the prior government that had been led by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak collapsed after failing to pass a budget, leaving open the possibility of the formation of a new government. And over the past month or so, indications surfaced that a six-party coalition in Timor-Leste led by independence leader and former prime minister Xanana Gusmao has the necessary support to form a new government.

But even if a new government does take office soon – the country’s ninth in less than two decades – Timor-Leste faces some significant challenges ahead. Politically, managing a six-party coalition with a slim majority at just 34 out of 65 parliamentary seats will not be easy, especially given its fragility (currently, the Gusmao-led National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) holds 21 seats; KHUNTO and Democratic Party have five seats each; and three parties have just one seat each). Economically, beyond getting a budget passed, the new government will have to have to contend with short and long-term challenges which include falling energy prices amid a global coronavirus pandemic as well as advancing the Tasi Mane petroleum project, critical given that almost the entirety of government revenue still comes from hydrocarbons.

Of course, that does not mean that these issues are insurmountable. Indeed, for some, Gusmao’s return and the advent of a new government does offer a new opportunity to reset the country’s politics and make progress on the country’s challenges in a more sustainable manner amid what appears to be a more turbulent global outlook. But the key question for Timor-Leste, as ever, is less about whether it can form another government, but whether the country’s leaders can overcome their differences just enough to hold governing coalitions long enough to manage this mix of opportunities and challenges.

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Trump brings his tear-down-your-opponents politics to the coronavirus fight – The Washington Post

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“One of the issues we’re struggling with is the demand increase,” said Ed Pesicka, CEO of the health-care logistics company Owens & Minor. “You know, used an anecdotal example of one hospital in New York that traditionally uses roughly [10,000] to 20,000 masks a week [and is] now using [200,000] to 300,000 masks a week. So you multiply that times the entire U.S., let alone the same demand outside of the U.S.”

Trump seized on that increase to make a point.

“How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? Ten to 20,000 masks to 300,000?” he said. “Even though this is different, something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? . . . Somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that.”

It’s not terribly complicated. An increase from 10,000 to 300,000 is a thirty-fold increase. Consider the sorts of shifts that might drive that increase: a virus that’s far more contagious than things like the seasonal flu, and a flood of patients pulling in health-care workers from throughout the hospital. The former shift means that protective equipment needs to be worn and changed more often. The latter means that more people need to wear it. That thirty-fold increase is the far end of the scale. Pesicka also talked about an increase from 20,000 to 200,000 — a jump only a third the size.

Later, after criticizing New York state for warehousing ventilators instead of distributing them immediately to hospitals, Trump revisited Pesicka’s comments, claiming that “the biggest man in the business is, like, shocked” at the increase — a sentiment that Pesicka did not express in his public comments.

Trump’s suggestion that the masks were being purloined quickly gained attention, prompting his campaign to go into damage-control mode. It focused on a statement from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) from March 6.

“There have been thefts of medical equipment and masks from hospitals, believe it or not. Not just people taking a couple or three. I mean actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. He added that he has asked the state police to investigate marketplaces that are selling masks and “playing into this, exploiting anxiety.”

One campaign staffer also pointed to an article in which a doctor reported “thefts of respirator masks and other essential protective equipment in lobbies and other high-traffic areas.”

All of this distracts — intentionally — from Pesicka’s main point: the need for protective equipment is surging and straining the ability of manufacturers and distributors to provide it. For all of Trump’s touting of how much is being done, which continued during a lengthy interview on “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning, it’s nonetheless obvious that the resources were not on hand to meet the surging needs of hospitals across the country.

The Trump campaign has repeatedly cited Post reporting indicating that the national stockpile of medical supplies was not replenished after a surge in need in 2009, ignoring that three of the subsequent years were ones when Trump was president. Trump’s comments Sunday were probably driven in part by a Post report that an early-February request for $2 billion in funding to replenish the strategic stockpile was slashed to $500 million at the end of the month, a 75 percent cut.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that New York hospitals are losing 10 percent of their masks to theft. There’s no evidence that the scale of whatever losses are still occurring is that dramatic, but let’s just say it is. Does that change that there is a dire shortage of masks and a need for more? Does that reduce the number of masks that are needed? Should the federal government instead provide only the 10,000 or 20,000 that hospitals used to get?

Trump has repeatedly suggested that there is somehow something suspect about New York’s requests in particular. Perhaps he sincerely thinks there is, given the way in which some enrichment schemes in the city have historically worked. But his insistence to Fox News’s Sean Hannity that New York was requesting more ventilators than it needed last week — as well as his arguments on Fox on Monday that the state did not buy ventilators that were available when they were for sale in 2015 (and when the coronavirus at the center of the pandemic likely did not exist), that the state is not distributing ventilators (because it’s waiting to see where they’re needed) and that New York hospitals are allowing masks to be stolen by the thousands — all have a main focus: shifting blame away from himself and onto Cuomo and others.

This is a political strategy. It’s one that served him well in the 2016 general election campaign, focusing negative attention on Hillary Clinton and helping suppress enthusiasm for her candidacy. His victory that year can be attributed to people who didn’t like either major-party candidate, a group he won by double digits, including in the three states that gave him his electoral vote margin. Here, again, he is offering America another focus of its frustration.

For his base of support, it’s icing; most don’t need his redirection in order to stay loyal. For everyone else, though, it introduces a conversation about where points of failure exist that are not centered in the White House. His campaign officials respond to questions about Trump’s comments about the 300,000 masks as though they are incensed that the president’s claims should be treated with skepticism or were not obviously true. In reality, they and Trump are thrilled to have the conversation be one in which they can equate Cuomo’s narrow, old comments with Trump’s sweeping, new ones — and one in which masks being swiped from a hospital lobby in Boston is a reason that New York doesn’t have the masks it needs now.

Both on Sunday and in his interview Monday morning, Trump spoke about how the virus has affected a hospital in Queens, near where he grew up. It’s hard not to live in the area, as Trump did for most of his life, and not be affected by the obvious strains and fear that New Yorkers are experiencing.

For a president focused on winning reelection in seven months, though, it’s also hard to resist trying to figure out which opponent needs to be scapegoated to make yourself look better by comparison.

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Procedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? | TheHill – The Hill

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The procedural peregrinations of the $2.2 trillion emergency spending bill were dizzying to say the least; downright mind-boggling to be more accurate.

To begin, the Senate acted first on the stimulus package, notwithstanding the constitutional mandate and House precedents that require revenue and appropriations bills to originate in the House. That requirement was circumvented by the Senate taking up a minor 16-page House-passed tax bill and substituting the bill’s language in its entirely with the 800-plus-page emergency spending measure.

The original House bill (H.R. 748), titled the “Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act,” was introduced by Rep. Joe CourtneyJoseph (Joe) D. CourtneyOvernight Defense: 32 dead in ISIS-claimed attack in Kabul | Trump says Taliban could ‘possibly’ overrun Afghan government when US leaves | House poised for Iran war powers vote next week Fixing the disability workforce crisis Overnight Defense: Inside Trump’s 4B Pentagon budget | Highlights include .4B for Space Force, preview of Air Force One paint job | Senate eyes Wednesday debate on Iran war powers | 109 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries from attack MORE (D-Conn.) in January 2019. It would repeal the excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored healthcare coverage, the so-called “Cadillac tax” in the Affordable Care Act. By May, the bill had picked-up some 367 House co-sponsors, more than enough to qualify for placement on the new House Consensus Calendar (which requires at least 290 co-sponsors).

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In July 2019, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealDemocrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Judge puts new hold on Democrats’ lawsuit seeking Trump tax returns MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state’s protective equipment MORE (D-Mass.) called the bill up under a suspension of House rules, a procedure which allows for 40 minutes of debate, no amendments, and requires a two-thirds vote for passage. The measure passed handily, 419 to 6, and was sent to the Senate.

In the Senate H.R. 748 lay dormant until Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump’s war against coronavirus Louisiana Republican: People upset at ‘spending porn on pet projects’ in latest stimulus bill Coronavirus pushes GOP’s Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (R-Ky.) seized on the bill as the vehicle to be hijacked for the stimulus package. After two Democratic filibusters and hours of bargaining, bickering and dickering, a bipartisan agreement on McConnell’s amendment in the nature of a substitute was reached with House and Senate Democrats and the White House. The bill was then taken up on March 25 and passed unanimously, 96 to 0.

While House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump’s war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is ‘most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history’ The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency MORE (D-Calif.) originally hoped to pass the bill by unanimous consent to spare forcing members back to the Capitol from their districts, it became apparent there was enough grumbling from both parties that a vote would be needed. Members were given a day to return to Washington.

It was still not clear whether a quorum of 216 members would materialize (there are currently five vacancies in the House). Nevertheless, on Friday morning, March 27, at 9 a.m., Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House The Hill’s 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington MORE (D-Md.) called up by unanimous consent a special rule, coincidentally numbered H. Res. 911, that provided for a vote on a motion to concur in the Senate amendment to H.R. 748 after just three hours of debate.

Over the course of that debate dozens of members came to the floor to voice their support for the measure, most being allocated just one minute or less to speak. As is the custom, the two party leaders, Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyMcCarthy says fourth stimulus bill might not be necessary Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (R-Calif.) gave the wrap-up speeches for as long as they wished to speak.

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Pelosi at one point turned to beckon to the galleries, where many members were encouraged to sit to maintain COVID-19 distancing guidelines. She in effect urged members watching from their offices to come now, saying the sooner they got there, the sooner she would stop talking.

Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — US coronavirus cases hit 100,000 | Trump signs T stimulus package | Trump employs defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | New concerns over virus testing Overnight Defense: Trump signs T coronavirus relief package | What’s in it for defense | Trump uses defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | Hospital ship arrives in Los Angeles MORE (R-Ky.) had vowed to force a House vote, stating, “I came here to make sure our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent.” When the chair put the vote on concurring in the Senate amendment and announced the motion was agreed to by voice vote, Massie asked for a recorded vote.

The chair then requested those members wanting a recorded vote to rise. Under House rules, 44 members’ support (shown by standing) is required to force a roll call vote. The chair announced that an insufficient number of members had risen, therefore a recorded vote was not ordered. Massie objected to the vote on the ground that a quorum was not present. The chair immediately announced that a quorum was indeed present (apparently having done a pre-count), and that the Senate amendment was adopted. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is ‘a wise and prudent decision’ MORE signed the measure into law later that day.

The episode confirms that when our country is under serious threat from whatever source, Congress can move expeditiously to address the crisis. This is not the Schoolhouse Rock version of “I’m just a Bill.” No formal committee action was taken on the emergency bill – starting with Rep. Courtney’s minor tax bill which ballooned into the ultimate omnibus spending and tax relief bill.

It wasn’t exactly an immaculate conception. Dozens of members and staff from the relevant committees and leadership had worked tirelessly for days to put together a bill that secured widespread support. Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump floats restoring full corporate tax deduction for meals as coronavirus derails restaurants Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump’s war against coronavirus Sunday shows – New coronavirus projections, quarantine talk dominate MORE proved a consummate dealmaker to ensure White House backing in the end. It may not be the textbook way to legislate but sometimes it’s the only way. And by the way, Courtney’s original excise tax repeal did not make the cut in the final enacted bill.

Don Wolfensberger is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson center and Bipartisan Policy Center, former staff director of the House Rules Committee, and author of “Changing Cultures in Congress: From Fair Play to Power Plays.” The views expressed are solely his own.

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