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Why Guyana’s political stalemate matters – The Washington Post

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No, this isn’t Venezuela, but neighboring Guyana, which is entering its fifth month of political paralysis since the results of a March 2 presidential election were thrown into question by allegations of vote-rigging and fraud.

A lengthy recount of the ballots, which found a narrow victory for the opposition, only intensified the standoff. The ruling multiparty coalition led by President David Granger has latched on to an observations report by the country’s chief elections official, which said that as many as 115,000 of the approximately 400,000 votes cast in the election should be invalidated and that emigrants and the deceased were registered as having voted. Granger’s opponents reject the accusations as “baseless” and say their presidential candidate, Irfaan Ali, should be allowed to take the oath of office. The bulk of the international community, including Caricom, the Caribbean’s main regional bloc, and the Organization of American States, or OAS, appear eager for Granger to concede.

But he isn’t quite ready to do so. In a recent interview, Granger said his country and its interim government was abiding by a constitutional and legal process to manage its elections. Injunctions and appeals have taken the dispute to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. “Guyana is not a rogue state,” Granger told Today’s WorldView. “We are on a path, albeit a slow one.”

Nevertheless, Guyana is being increasingly viewed as a troublesome actor. The OAS issued a statement in June calling on Guyana “to begin the process of transition, which will allow the legitimately elected government to take its place.” Both OAS and Caricom observers certified the recount results and say there is enough evidence to justify Granger conceding defeat.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week urged the Guyanese to “get on with it” and threatened potential punitive measures on Guyana or its leading officials if the country’s democracy remains deadlocked.

“Recent reports suggest questionable maneuvers by interested parties designed to continue forestalling a final declaration of results, which members of the press say indicates a defeat for the incumbent government,” read a bipartisan statement from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “President Granger should honor the will of the Guyanese people and concede.”

They added that, for the sake of “the future of democracy and the rule of law in our hemisphere, the ongoing uncertainty and gamesmanship must end.”

Granger urges outside patience. “I’m not a gamesman,” he said, insisting that the alleged rigging of the March election remained the real issue. “I don’t see any corruption, any fraud, delay,” Granger said of the impasse. “If there’s any fraud, it went into the boxes when the ballots were cast March 2.”

“The election is considered the most important since Guyana became independent from Britain in 1966, given the recent discovery of major oil and gas deposits near its coastline,” the Associated Press reported last month. “But the impasse has largely paralyzed life in the country of some 750,000 people. The Finance Ministry warned it’s unable to access funds amid the coronavirus pandemic because there is no functioning Parliament, which was dissolved in December.”

The delay has chilled investor enthusiasm in Guyana, where ExxonMobil has taken the reins of cultivating its oil industry. The U.S. company recently announced that the political stalemate and the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic were complicating its plans to ramp up oil production this year.

“The lure of petroleum revenue made these elections more exciting, perhaps more contentious than ever,” Granger admitted. But it also fueled a divisive election campaign that played largely along ethnic lines. The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), once the dominant ruling faction, is heavily backed by Guyana’s Indian-origin population. Granger’s party draws its strength from Afro-Guyanese voters, though it is in alliance with a smaller faction that champions multiracialism. He and his allies point to the proliferation of “fake news” on social media and have accused the PPP of bringing in Cambridge Analytica, the notorious (and now defunct) British political consultancy, to weaponize racial grievances.

“International business headlines discuss investor confidence in this small South American country on the brink of political disaster,” wrote Guyanese academics D. Alissa Trotz and Arif Bulkan. “But for Guyanese, the fundamental issue is how vulnerable our ongoing polarization makes us to this latest chapter of multinational resource extraction and exploitation.”

Granger appeared less perturbed. “We don’t have race riots or religious riots. We don’t have terrorism,” he said. “It’s a question of political competition, and I’m very confident it can be resolved in a peaceful way.”

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Timeline: Thailand's turbulent politics since 2014 military coup – Reuters Canada

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai protesters, led by student groups, are returning to the streets calling for the ousting of the government less than two years after a general election was held. One group has openly criticised the monarchy, in a rare show of defiance.

FILE PHOTO: Thai students protest against a court’s decision that dissolved the country’s second largest opposition Future Forward party, less than a year after an election to end direct military rule, at Mahidol University, outside Bangkok, Thailand February 25, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File photo

Here are the major events that have led up to these protests:

May 22, 2014 – Military stages a coup, ousting an elected government for the second time in a decade, citing the need to restore order in the face of street demonstrations against a populist government linked to telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was ousted in a coup in 2006.

Oct. 13, 2016 – Constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies after a 70-year reign. His son becomes King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

April 6, 2017 – A military-backed constitution is ratified after being approved in a referendum, with changes requested by King Vajiralongkorn that increased his powers, paving the way for an election.

Feb. 7, 2019 – The king rebukes his sister, Princess Ubolratana, over a Thaksin-linked party’s nomination of her as its candidate for prime minister. The party is later dissolved by a court before the election.

March 24, 2019 – General elections held amid complaints of cheating and vote-buying. Former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup and was then prime minister of a military government, heads a pro-army party that wins the most votes.

Nov. 20, 2019 – Court disqualifies rising opposition figure Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, from parliament prompting thousands to rally in Bangkok.

Jan. 12, 2020 – More than 12,000 people join an anti-government “Run Against Dictatorship” in the biggest show of dissent since the 2014 coup. A rival group holds a run in support of Prayuth.

Feb. 21 – Future Forward Party is banned for illegally taking a loan from its billionaire leader, Thanathorn, prompting small student protests on university campuses.

March 22 – Given restrictions to stop the novel coronavirus, student protests peter out but online criticism of government continues, with some also directing criticism at the king. The hashtag “#whydoweneedaking?” is posted more than 1 million times.

June 8 – Small protests held to call for an investigation into the disappearance of an exiled government critic in Cambodia.

June 15 – Prayuth warns political activists not to criticise the monarchy.

June 24 – Protesters gather to mark the anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

July 18 – About 2,500 protesters gather at Democracy Monument, one of the largest demonstrations since the coup, calling for the dissolution of parliament and new elections.

Aug. 4 – Speakers call for the monarchy’s power to be curbed at a rally attended by hundreds in Bangkok.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Robert Birsel

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Exclusive: Fauci says regulators promise politics will not guide vaccine timing – Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. regulators have assured scientists that political pressure will not determine when a coronavirus vaccine is approved even as the White House hopes to have one ready ahead of the November presidential election, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

“We have assurances, and I’ve discussed this with the regulatory authorities, that they promise that they are not going to let political considerations interfere with a regulatory decision,” Dr. Fauci told Reuters in an interview.

“We’ve spoken explicitly about that, because the subject obviously comes up, and the people in charge of the regulatory process assure us that safety and efficacy is going to be the prime consideration,” he said.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, is behind Democrat Joe Biden in public opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Trump has lost ground in part due to voter concerns over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A vaccine announcement in October could help Trump’s chances in the nationwide vote.

“I’m certain of what the White House would like to see, but I haven’t seen any indication of pressure at this point to do anything different than what we’re doing,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I mean obviously they’ve expressed: ‘Gee, it would be nice, the sooner the better.’”

Trump has suggested publicly that a vaccine could be ready long before the end of the year. In the interview Fauci offered a more conservative view, suggesting drugmakers will likely have tens of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines in the early part of next year.

Fauci and other doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including its coordinator Deborah Birx, have come under criticism from the president for portraying the pandemic in less rosy terms than he has sought to emphasize.

Trump said in a recent interview with Axios that the virus was “under control.”

Asked if he shared that assessment, Fauci said some parts of the country were more under control than others.

“We’re a big country. You can pick out some parts of the country that are looking good and you could say is under control; you could pick some parts of the country that are on fire, in the sense, I mean you’re having outbreaks that you know you don’t get 70,000 cases a day when nothing’s going on.”

More than 157,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 and more than 4.7 million cases have been reported in the country and its territories, according to Reuters tallies.

Earlier this week the president criticized Dr. Birx for giving a sobering description of the state of the pandemic.

Fauci said the doctors try to focus on the science rather than political distractions.

“What we try to do, you know maybe some could do it better than others, is to focus like a laser on what we’re supposed to be doing: getting this epidemic under control,” he said.

Fauci said differences in the seriousness with which people had taken the virus in the United States had hampered the response to the pandemic in comparison to other countries.

“We have somewhat of a disjointed approach to things,” he said. “If we had a uniformity of it, and everybody rode together in the same boat, we probably would do much better.”

Fauci and other medical professionals have urged Americans to wear masks and maintain a social distance to prevent the spread of the virus. He lamented the fact that mask-wearing had become political earlier in the pandemic.

Trump declined to wear a mask in public for months and Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism for not wearing one when he visited the Mayo Clinic in April.

FILE PHOTO: Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases prepares to testify ahead of a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

“Thank goodness that’s changed,” Fauci said. “I’m very pleased now that we’re seeing the vice president consistently wearing a mask, the president tweeting that you should be wearing masks. That’s a good thing. That’s a step in the right direction.”

Video: Reuters interview with Anthony Fauci here

Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Howard Goller

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'Sheep without a shepherd': Hong Kong churches torn by politics – Reuters Canada

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HONG KONG (Reuters) – When Hong Kong’s largely peaceful pro-democracy protests turned violent last summer, it drove a wedge through every section of society, dividing friends, families and also worshippers at its more than 1,500 churches.

Ricky Wong Wai-hung, 54, Pastor-in-charge of Trinity Theological Baptist Church, poses after an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The majority of people in Hong Kong follow some form of Buddhist, Taoist or other traditional Chinese religion, but the former British colony has about 900,000 practicing Christians, about 12% of the population according to government figures, split almost evenly between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. There is no consensus among them about the protests or China’s tightening grip on the city.

Canaan Wong, Blesson Chan and Kristy Chan, all in their mid-20s, are part of a group of about 40 people who in late June quit their positions as mentors and teachers at the evangelical Tung Fook Church, because they said they felt pressure from senior church leaders to keep quiet about political matters.

They said several pastors were told by church leaders to remove their names from public statements opposing a bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, the issue which sparked the protests. The bill was eventually withdrawn. The three said they did not know which church leaders, or how many, were telling pastors to remove their names.

“It sends chills down our spine with such self-censoring,” said Wong. “This shows that in this church, politics clearly overrides religion and truth.”

The group wants the church to speak up on political issues, such as the new national security law enacted by China on June 30, which makes anything that Beijing regards as subversion or promoting independence punishable by life in prison.

“We are not asking for a yellow church,” said Blesson Chan, using the local shorthand for pro-democracy. “We just feel that church is a part of the society and should not be hiding up in an ivory tower.”

The group is set to have talks with leaders of the church, which is located next to the headquarters of China’s new national security agency in Hong Kong, about how to resolve their issues. A representative for Tung Fook church said it wanted to “enhance communication and eliminate misunderstanding” with the group.

If the church does not take a stand, the three said they feared it will end up resembling the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a Protestant organization in mainland China that is closely controlled by the state and whose leaders staunchly support the Chinese Communist Party.

The National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China declined to comment.

Although China is an officially atheist state, it does allow certain state-supervised religious organizations, such as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, to operate. However, Beijing has closed down many so-called underground or house churches outside the state-controlled system and has imprisoned worshippers on the grounds that they are more loyal to their religion than to the Chinese state.

Chinese authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

‘TEAM JESUS’

On the other side of the divide is a 49-year-old police officer, who said he left the Christian and Missionary Alliance Tak Tsuen Church after 14 years last June, when he was abused by fellow worshippers who told him the police deserved to be attacked by protesters.

“As Christians, seeing the police bleed and wounded, how can you think it’s good and we deserve it?” said Sing, who asked to be identified by only one name. The church did not reply to a request for comment.

Shortly after, the policeman joined Trinity Theology Baptist Church, set up by former police officer Ricky Wong, 54, as a refuge for police who felt unwelcome elsewhere.

“I want to minimize my brothers’ and sisters’ hatred towards the yellow camp,” Wong told Reuters, referring to the general opposition among police officers to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” said Wong, quoting a passage from the Bible. “These people are also lambs.”

Wong said the 120 or so members of his church, which include many members of the uniformed services plus some doctors and teachers, pray at secret locations for fear of being targeted by pro-democracy activists.

Despite his concern about the yellow camp, Wong said he did not identify as blue, or pro-Beijing. Instead, he described his congregation as “Team Jesus.”

ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD

When China took back control of Hong Kong in 1997, it adopted the principle of “one country, two systems” and agreed to uphold the territory’s Basic Law, its de facto constitution, which includes the freedom of speech and religion.

That principle is now seen to be under threat after China imposed the new national security law, which supporters say will bring stability to the financial hub, but critics say will crush all forms of freedom.

Hong Kong’s government did not reply to a request for comment. It has said previously the new security law preserves “the basic rights and freedom lawfully enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.” The law makes no mention of religious groups.

Nevertheless, church leaders are treading cautiously.

A day before the law was imposed, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong, the umbrella group for the city’s 164 Baptist congregations, posted a message critical of the law on the convention’s website, but took it down a day later.

“We expect the government to enact just laws to make society harmonious and stable,” said Lo in the withdrawn post, arguing that the new security law could not achieve long-term stability and that only a truly democratic system would lead to prosperity. 

Lo, 68, told Reuters he was unnerved by an anonymous caller who accused him of encouraging violence.

Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by the Chinese state, singled out Lo for what it called “hijacking the churches.” The newspaper did not reply to a request for comment.

“In churches now, different people, different political stances are constantly fighting,” said Wong. “Right now, I don’t think the rift in our society can be mended.”

Reporting By Yanni Chow in Hong Kong; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Bill Rigby

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