The ‘generals’ elections’ that turned against Pakistan’s military

Pakistan’s 2024 general elections were dubbed the “most rigged” in the country’s history, with the popular Imran Khan barred from running and the military seen as backing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. That was before results showed Khan-backed independent candidates leading the race. The stage appears to be set for a turbulent period after an irate electorate reacted to the military’s perceived meddling in politics – again.

Voters in the 2024 Pakistani general elections manoeuvred sheaves of ballot papers offering a profusion of symbols including tables, chairs, apples, airplanes, calculators and kitchen appliances. But there was no cricket bat on the ballot. 

With former cricket star and prime minister Imran Khan behind bars, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was banned from using its signature icon in a country where symbols are important tools for the electorate because of high illiteracy rates. This forced PTI-backed candidates to run as independents, each using different symbols that stretched ballot papers and the national imagination.

The country’s real power-wielder, however, was not on the ballot paper, and Pakistanis were never given a symbol or say on the issue.

The 2024 general election was dubbed the most rigged in Pakistan’s history, with wags on social media calling it the “generals’ election”, referring to the all-powerful military in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

The consensus ahead of the vote was that regardless of who forms a government, the army would continue to rule the roost. The newly elected civilian administration would simply have to follow the rules of the Pakistani power game to survive.

In the course of its 76-year history, Pakistan has developed a system that some scholars call a “hybrid regime” featuring a mix of civilian politics and military interference in electoral democracy. The tacit agreement sees the generals controlling defence and foreign policies, leaving domestic socioeconomic issues to the politicians.

But the hybrid model has been changing in recent years, putting Pakistan in dangerous terrain. And the man widely believed to be calling the shots in the military has done little to inspire national confidence.

Prospect of a ‘chatterbox’ parliament

With Khan losing military support, and his party stymied at the poll, the military’s chosen candidate, veteran politician Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party was expected to snag an outright win.

An outright Sharif win would see the dynastic Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto – going into opposition. It would see the two establishment parties once again dominating Pakistani politics.

But after a surprisingly strong showing by PTI-backed independent candidates, who led the national election results, Sharif changed tack on Friday, declaring he would form a coalition government.

“We don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems,” he said.

Nawaz Sharif, center, addresses supporters in Lahore, Pakistan, February 9, 2024. © K.M. Chaudary, AP

Under Pakistan’s electoral rules, victorious independent candidates can join any party in the 336-seat National Assembly. With the imprisoned Khan facing nearly 200 legal charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets, experts predict the popular former cricketer-politician is likely to remain behind bars for several years.

The results of Thursday’s vote point to fractious political period ahead, warns Ayesha Siddiqa, senior fellow at King’s College, London, and author of “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”. “If there are many independents in parliament, it will make the house a chatterbox,” she noted. “It will be an unruly, funny kind of parliament with everyone going for each other’s jugulars.”

Khan’s fall from military grace

Overseeing the political turbulence is the man at the helm of the military, Pakistani army chief General Asim Munir. This comes as the country faces major economic and security crises.

Khan may be behind bars, but he remains a political force. The former cricketer-politician maintains that the myriad legal charges against him are politically motivated. Most Pakistanis, including Khan’s opponents, do not disagree. A weak judiciary means Pakistan is ranked 130th out of 142 countries on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.

A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024.
A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024. © Anjum Naveed, AP

Since General Munir was appointed army chief in November 2022, Khan’s legal woes have multiplied. At times, they have taken an absurdly personal turn.

Relations between the two men have been acrimonious since Khan was elected prime minister in 2018 and replaced Munir as chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency with a loyalist, according to Pakistani media reports.

Read morePakistan army chief’s deepening rift with Imran Khan

On February 3, just days before the election, a Pakistani court sentenced Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to seven years in jail in a case related to their marriage, which it declared “un-Islamic”.

The verdict was widely criticised by legal experts as a “disgrace” and a “damning blot” on Pakistan’s judiciary.

Sharif rises again

When he stood for elections in 2018, Khan was widely seen as the military’s candidate, “handpicked, groomed and installed” by the generals. But that was until Khan fell out with the army in a fate shared by Sharif, the politician widely tipped to be Pakistan’s new prime minister.

Khan and Sharif’s reversal of fortunes reflects the dramatic shift in Pakistani politics, which has been likened to a “Game of Thrones”. In 2017, Sharif was ousted as prime minister when he attempted to institute civilian oversight of the military. After he was hit with a slew of corruption charges, Sharif went into self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving sentences. Khan at that time was viewed as the army’s favourite son.

But as the country spiralled into political turmoil last year, with Khan’s supporters storming army residences and bases in unprecedented displays of disaffection with the military, Sharif was back in the generals’ favour.

After four years of exile, Sharif returned to Pakistan last October.  Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.

A businessman and former chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, Sharif has a record of pursuing economic growth and development. During his previous stints as prime minister, the billionaire politician sought closer trade ties with India, Pakistan’s giant neighbour and arch-foe.

Sharif’s return to Pakistan was widely viewed as a sign that the military was seeking a safe pair of hands to handle the country’s crippling economic crisis. But over the past few months, the military has been increasingly encroaching on the economic turf.

Army takes top seat on economic council

More than seven decades after independence, Pakistan is facing its worst economic crisis. Inflation has hovered around 30 percent, sending the currency, the rupee, into freefall. Last year, the impoverished South Asian nation narrowly escaped a sovereign debt default when the IMF approved a $3 billion bailout package.

While it was provided a band-aid from the brink, Pakistan still has to tackle major structural problems since it is seeking a new IMF bailout programme after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.

As the crisis deepened last year, Pakistan established an apex economic body, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), to coordinate economic and fiscal policies. 

The formation of the SIFC was touted as a key move to raise international investor confidence and uphold democratic governance. But then the army secured a top seat at the economic policy table, raising eyebrows in fiscal circles with the announcement that the co-chair of the new SIFC was none other than army Chief General Munir.

When ‘dangerous duffers’ call the shots

The 2024 vote saw the army playing an exceptionally heavy card, even by Pakistani standards. The tactic appeared to have failed, with voters overcoming the odds to elect PTI-backed candidates. But this could spell a period of further turbulence, analysts warn.

“Assuming most of the independent candidates are PTI, if [Sharif’s] PML-N has to form a government, it will have to form a coalition,” said Siddiqa. “The weaker the coalition, the stronger [the] military.”

The military’s meddling in politics has long earned the wrath of Pakistani democratic rights defenders. Nearly 15 years ago, one of the country’s leading human rights lawyers, the late Asma Jehangir, created a stir when she called the country’s military leaders “duffers” on a live TV show.

Jehangir subsequently modified her monicker to “dangerous duffers”, noting that the term implied the military top brass was “not only incompetent, but incapable of learning”. 

The latest election has shown that Jehangir’s verdict still holds, according to Siddiqa.    

“They haven’t changed that much, they’re still dangerous duffers because they think they have a role in governance,” she said. “But the military is a strong pole, and so are the political parties. With this election, the political parties are back in play. It now depends on how they conduct themselves.”

In the past, Pakistan’s political parties have formed common cause with the army in a bid to unseat rivals. The lack of civilian unity to relegate the military to the barracks has enabled the generals to periodically meddle with the ballots. Following Thursday’s vote, social media sites were awash with messages by Pakistanis calling for dialogue and national unity. If their calls are ignored, it will not be for the first time in Pakistan’s troubled history.

Source link

#generals #elections #turned #Pakistans #military

Senegal’s democratic record on the line as presidential vote delay sparks crisis

Violent protests have roiled Senegal since President Macky Sall abruptly called off a planned election at the weekend, with just three weeks to go before the high-stakes vote. The crisis puts one of West Africa’s most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region faces democratic backsliding and a surge in military coups.

Senegal’s parliament voted on Monday to delay the country’s presidential election until December 15, two days after President Sall stunned the nation of 18 million people by calling off a planned February 25 vote.  

The bill adopted by the National Assembly effectively extends Sall’s 12-year tenure, which was due to end on April 2. It was passed near-unanimously, with 105 votes in favour and just one against, after several opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the chamber. 

Its passage came as police used tear gas to disperse protesters gathered outside the parliament building and as mobile internet services were suspended nationwide to counter the threat of “hateful and subversive messages on social media”. 

The controversial move marks the first time a Senegalese election is postponed since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1974. It has triggered fierce protests in the West African nation, seen as a democratic bastion of stability in a volatile region roiled by successive military coups. 

‘Constitutional coup’

The decision to delay the vote, just hours before campaigning was officially set to begin, has exacerbated an already tense political climate, with Sall’s critics accusing him of cracking down on opponents and seeking to hold on to power.  

In a televised address on Saturday, the president cited a dispute between the parliament and the country’s Constitutional Council over the disqualification of some candidates, arguing that this had created a “sufficiently serious and confusing situation” to justify delaying the vote. 

His opponents, however, suspect the postponement is part of a plan to extend Sall’s term in office or influence whoever succeeds him. They claim he feared his chosen successor, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, was in danger of losing the election. 


Opposition figure Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the president, denounced “a constitutional coup”, while two opposition parties filed a court petition challenging the election delay. The president’s announcement also sparked the immediate resignation of cabinet minister Abdou Latif Coulibaly, who expressed his dismay at Sall’s move. 

“Maybe it’s just that when you’re in power, you think anything is possible,” Coulibaly told FRANCE 24’s sister radio station RFI. The president “cannot extend his term, it’s impossible”, he added.  

Senegal’s democratic credentials now hang in the balance, said political analyst Gilles Yabi, head of the Dakar-based think tank Wathi, pointing to a constitutional crisis brewing. 

“The situation is alarming because the Constitutional Council, which upholds the constitution and the separation of powers, has come under attack,” he said. “I fear we are entering a period of uncertainty and weakening of our institutions, starting with the one that is most important for protecting freedoms and the fundamental principles of democracy.” 

Echoes of deadly unrest 

Senegal’s political crisis has led to fears of the kind of violent unrest that broke out in March 2021 and June 2023, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.  

The catalyst for the unrest was the arrest and later sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in a rape case his supporters claim was politically motivated. Sonko and other prominent opponents have denounced a drift towards authoritarianism and accuse the government of manipulating the justice system.  

In the run-up to the last presidential election in 2019, legal woes prevented opposition figures Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade from challenging Sall. Sonko was likewise barred from the forthcoming vote, though his back-up candidate Bassirou Faye is on the ballot. 

Speculation that the incumbent might seek a third term in office, despite a constitutional two-term limit, had further stoked unrest, until he announced in July that he would not stand again. 

“On April 2, 2024, God willing, I will hand over power to my successor,” Sall confirmed on December 31, in what should have been his final New Year address as Senegalese president. 

Accusations of hanging on to power mark an ironic twist for the incumbent, who had led the challenge against his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade in 2012, arguing that the latter’s bid for a third term in office was unconstitutional.  

“Sall himself had warned Wade that he could not stay one extra day as president,” said Yabi of the Wathi think tank. “Back then, he was very clear that any attempt to extend a mandate was contrary to the constitution.” 

A ‘democratic model’ for the West  

Sall eventually ousted Wade, his former mentor, in a run-off vote in 2012. Twelve years on, Senegal’s fifth president since independence prides himself on having transformed the country during his two terms at the helm. 

Sall has introduced sweeping reforms and launched major infrastructure projects, including motorways, industrial parks and a new airport. He has also sought to position himself as a respected and influential player on the international stage, championing the respect of constitutional order even as a wave of military coups swept the region, toppling democratically-elected governments one by one. 

His standing as the leader of a bastion of democracy in the region explains why Senegal’s international allies have expressed concern at the current crisis – but refrained from condemning Sall’s move. 

As a “model of democracy”, Senegal is of extreme importance to the West, said Douglas Yates, a West African politics expert at the American Graduate School in Paris.  

“American presidents visit Senegal precisely because it is a model of democracy,” he said. “And for France, it is one of the most democratic French-speaking countries left standing.”


In a statement on Monday, the US State Department said it was closely monitoring the situation in Dakar. It urged “all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair and timely elections”. 

On Tuesday, West African bloc ECOWAS, of which Senegal is a key member, expressed its “preoccupation”, encouraging Dakar to “urgently restore the electoral timetable”. 

Rights groups were more alarmist, with Human Rights Watch warning that the country’s status as “a beacon of democracy in the region (…) is now at risk”. 

The advocacy group wrote in a statement: “Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course.” 

Despite the alarm, analysts have played down fears of a military takeover akin to the ones witnessed across West Africa in recent years. Senegal has never experienced a coup since gaining independence from France in 1960, making it a rare outlier in a troubled region. 

“Coups are a real concern given the pattern in the region, but Senegal is a unique case,” said Yates. “It’s had three peaceful transitions of power. It’s a consolidated democracy. Elections really are the only game in town.” 

Source link

#Senegals #democratic #record #line #presidential #vote #delay #sparks #crisis

Venezuela’s highest court upholds ban on opposition presidential candidate Machado

The prospect of a free presidential election in Venezuela was dealt a heavy blow Friday when the country’s highest court upheld a ban on the candidacy of María Corina Machado, a longtime government foe and winner of the primary held by the opposition faction backed by the United States.

The ruling came months after President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition reached an agreement aimed at leveling the playing field ahead of the election later this year. The deal led Washington to ease economic sanctions on Maduro’s government.

Machado, a former lawmaker, won the opposition’s independently run presidential primary in October with more than 90% of the votes. Her victory came despite the government announcing a 15-year ban on her running for office just days after she formally entered the race in June. 

She was able to participate in the primary election because the effort was organized by a commission independent of Venezuela’s electoral authorities. She insisted throughout the campaign that she never received an official notification of the ban, and said that voters, not ruling-party loyalists, are the rightful decision-makers of her candidacy.

After the court issued its ruling, Machado tweeted that her campaign’s “fight to conquer democracy through free and fair elections” is not over. 

“Maduro and his criminal system chose the worst path for them: fraudulent elections,” she wrote. “That’s not gonna happen.”


She did not offer any details of her next steps, and her campaign declined to comment.

Machado had filed a claim with Venezuela‘s Supreme Tribunal of Justice in December arguing the ban was null and void and seeking an injunction to protect her political rights.

Watch moreVenezuela opposition leader Machado: ‘The Maduro regime is in its weakest position ever’

 

Instead, the court upheld the ban, which alleges fraud and tax violations and accuses her of seeking the economic sanctions the U.S. imposed on Venezuela last decade. 

The U.S. eased some of the sanctions on Venezuela’s oil, gas and mining industries in October after Maduro’s government and the opposition group known as the Unitary Platform signed the agreement addressing electoral conditions. The accord also led to a swap of prisoners between Washington and Caracas in December. 

The deal signed on the Caribbean island of Barbados narrowed the scheduling of the presidential election to the second half of 2024 and called on both sides to “promote the authorization of all presidential candidates and political parties” to participate as long as they comply with the law. The latter provision prompted the government to allow candidates to appeal their bans.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reverse some of the sanctions relief if Maduro’s government fails to lift bans preventing Machado and others from running for office, and if it fails to release political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment on the court’s action.

Geoff Ramsey, senior analyst on Venezuela at the Atlantic Council think tank, said Maduro’s government was never going to let Machado be a presidential candidate because “her popularity makes her too much of a threat.”

“The timing of this will make it almost impossible for the U.S. government to ignore,” he said. “The problem for Washington is that it’s essentially run out of ways to pressure Maduro. How do you threaten a regime that’s already endured multiple coup attempts and years of crippling sanctions?”

The harshest sanctions were imposed after Venezuela’s last presidential election, which was widely considered a sham and cost Maduro international recognition as the country’s legitimate leader. 

The U.S.-backed opposition stunned its allies and adversaries when more than 2.4 million people voted in the primary, including in neighborhoods long considered strongholds of the governing party. The high turnout came amid Venezuela’s continuing economic struggles and despite government efforts to discourage participation.

After the vote, Maduro and his allies called the opposition’s primary fraudulent. Attorney General Tarek William Saab opened criminal investigations against some of the organizers and later issued arrest warrants for some of Machado’s collaborators.

Over the past two weeks, Maduro, Saab and Jorge Rodriguez, the leader of the National Assembly and the government’s chief negotiator, have linked opposition supporters and people close to Machado to a number of alleged conspiracies they claim were devised to assassinate the president and his inner circle.

Rodríguez, without mentioning Machado, tweeted Friday that “despite the serious threats from far-right sectors against the peace of the Republic,” referring to the alleged conspiracies, “the mechanism established within the framework of the Barbados Agreements has been met.”

Rodríguez vowed to hold the presidential election this year. Maduro will be seeking to add six more years to his decade-long presidency marked in its entirety by political, social and economic crisis. Under Maduro’s watch, millions of Venezuelans have fallen into poverty and more than 7.4 million have migrated.

A U.N.-backed panel investigating human rights abuses in Venezuela in September determined that Maduro’s government has intensified efforts to curtail democratic freedoms ahead of the 2024 election. That includes subjecting some politicians, human rights defenders and other opponents to detention, surveillance, threats, defamatory campaigns and arbitrary criminal proceedings.

Election campaigns in Venezuela typically involve handouts of free food, home appliances and other goods on behalf of governing party candidates, who also get favorable state media coverage. Opposition candidates and their supporters struggle to find places to gather without harassment from government activists and to get fuel to travel across the country. 

A common government practice for sidelining adversaries is to ban them from public office, and it is not limited to presidential contests. 

Such a ban was used retroactively in 2021 to remove gubernatorial candidate Freddy Superlano when he was ahead of a sibling of the late President Hugo Chávez but had not yet been declared the winner. Superlano’s substitute was also kept off the ballot via a ban. 

The court on Friday also upheld a ban on former governor and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who dropped out of the primary race before the vote.


“What they will never be able to ban is the Venezuelans’ desire for CHANGE,” Capriles tweeted. “… Today more than ever, let nothing and no one take us off the electoral route.”

(AP)



Source link

#Venezuelas #highest #court #upholds #ban #opposition #presidential #candidate #Machado

Airstrikes are unlikely to deter the Houthis

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

TEL AVIV — In a preemptive bid to warn off Iran and its proxies in the wake of Hamas’ October attacks on southern Israel, United States President Joe Biden had succinctly said: “Don’t.” But his clipped admonition continues to fall on deaf ears.

As Shakespeare’s rueful King Claudius notes, “when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” And while exasperated Western powers now try to halt escalation in the Middle East, it is the Iran-directed battalions that are bringing them sorrows.

Raising the stakes at every turn, Tehran is carefully calibrating the aggression of its partners — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in the Red Sea —ratcheting up to save Hamas from being destroyed by a vengeful Israel. And out of all this needling, it is the Houthis’ more then two dozen attacks in the Red Sea that crossed the line for Western powers — enough to goad the U.S. and the United Kingdom into switching from a defensive posture to launching strikes on dozens of Houthi targets.

As far as Washington and London are concerned, Western retaliation is meant to give teeth to Biden’s October warning, conveying a clear message to Iran: Stop. But why would it?

Privately, the U.S. has reinforced its warning through diplomatic channels. And U.K. Defense Minister Grant Shapps underscored the message publicly, saying the West is “running out of patience,” and the Iranian regime must tell the Houthis and its regional proxies to “cease and desist.”

Nonetheless, it’s highly questionable whether Tehran will heed this advice. There’s nothing in the regime’s DNA to suggest it would back off. Plus, there would be no pain for Iran at the end of it all — the Houthis would be on the receiving end. In fact, Iran has every reason to persist, as it can’t afford to leave Hamas in the lurch. To do so would undermine the confidence of other Iran-backed groups, weakening its disruptive clout in the region.

Also, from Iran’s perspective, its needling strategy of fatiguing and frightening Western powers with the prospect of escalation is working. The specter of a broadening war in the Middle East is terrifying for Washington and European governments, which are beset by other problems. Better for them to press Israel to halt its military campaign in Gaza and preserve the power of Hamas — that’s what Tehran is trying to engineer.

And Iranian mullahs have every reason to think this wager will pay off. Ukraine is becoming a cautionary tale; Western resolve seems to be waning; and the U.S. Congress is mired in partisan squabbling, delaying a crucial aid package for Ukraine — one the Europeans won’t be able to make good on.

So, whose patience will run out first — the West or Iran and its proxies?

Wearing down the Houthis would be no mean feat for the U.S. and the U.K. In 2015, after the resilient Houthis had seized the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Saudi Arabia thought it could quickly dislodge them with a bombing campaign in northern Yemen. But nearly a decade on, Riyadh is trying to extricate itself, ready to walk away if the Houthis just leave them alone.

The United Arab Emirates was more successful in the country’s south, putting boots on the ground and training local militias in places where the Houthis were already unpopular. But the U.S. and the U.K. aren’t proposing to follow the UAE model — they’ll be following the Saudi one, albeit with the much more limited goal of getting the Houthis to stop harassing commercial traffic in the Red Sea.

Moreover, Western faith in the efficacy of bombing campaigns — especially fitful ones — has proven misplaced before. Bombing campaigns failed to bring Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to heel on their own. And Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and Syria have shrugged off Western airstrikes, seeing them as badges of honor — much like the Houthis, who, ironically, were removed from the U.S. terror list by Biden in 2021. They seem to be relishing their moment in the big leagues.

War-tested, battle-hardened and agile, the Houthis are well-equipped thanks to Iran, and they can expect military replenishment from Tehran. They also have a firm grip on their territory. Like Hamas, the Houthis aren’t bothered by the death and destruction they may bring down on their people, making them particularly difficult to cajole into anything. And if the U.S. is to force the pace, it may well be dragged in deeper, as the only way to stop Iran replenishing the Houthis would be to mount a naval blockade of Yemen.

Few seasoned analysts think the Houthis will cave easily. Tom Sharpe, a former Royal Navy captain and specialist anti-air warfare officer, said he’d suggest “just walk[ing] away.”

“Make going round the Cape the new normal,” he wrote last week, albeit acknowledging he’d expect his advice to be overruled due to the global economic implications. But degrading the Houthis enough to make the Red Sea safe again, he noted, would be “difficult to do without risking a wider regional conflict in which the U.S., U.K. and friends would be seen as fighting on the Israeli side.”

And that is half the problem. Now ensnared in the raging conflict, in the eyes of many in the region, Western powers are seen as enabling the death and destruction being visited on Gaza. And as the civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave mounts, Israel’s Western supporters are increasingly being criticized for not doing enough to restrain the country, which is determined to ensure Hamas can never repeat what it did on October 7.

Admittedly, Israel is combating a merciless foe that is heedless of the Gazan deaths caused by its actions. The more Palestinians killed, the greater the international outrage Hamas can foment, presenting itself as victim rather than aggressor. But Israel has arguably fallen into Hamas’ trap, with the mounting deaths and burgeoning humanitarian crisis now impacting opinion in the region and more widely.

A recent poll conducted for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that 96 percent of the broader Arab world believe Arab nations should now sever ties with Israel. And in Britain, Foreign Secretary David Cameron told a parliamentary panel he feared Israel has “taken action that might be in breach of international law.”

Meanwhile, in addition to issuing warnings to Iran, Hezbollah, and others in the Axis of Resistance to stay out of it, Biden has also cautioned Israeli leaders about wrath — urging the Israeli war Cabinet not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

However, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 75 percent of Jewish Israelis think the country should ignore U.S. demands to shift to a phase of war with reduced heavy bombing in populous areas, and 57 percent support opening a second front in the north and taking the fight to Hezbollah. Additionally, Gallup has found Israelis have lost faith in a two-state solution, with 65 percent of Jewish Israelis opposing an independent Palestinian state.

So, it looks as though Israel is in no mood to relent — and doesn’t believe it can afford to.



Source link

#Airstrikes #deter #Houthis

Taiwan’s new president: Five things you need to know about William Lai

TAIPEI — Forget Xi Jinping or Joe Biden for a second. Meet Taiwan’s next President William Lai, upon whom the fate of U.S.-China relations — and global security over the coming few years — is now thrust.

The 64-year-old, currently Taiwan’s vice president, has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a historic third term in power, a first for any party since Taiwan became a democracy in 1996.

For now, the capital of Taipei feels as calm as ever. For Lai, though, the sense of victory will soon be overshadowed by a looming, extended period of uncertainty over Beijing’s next move. Taiwan’s Communist neighbor has laid bare its disapproval of Lai, whom Beijing considers the poster boy of the Taiwanese independence movement.

All eyes are now on how the Chinese leader — who less than two weeks ago warned Taiwan to face up to the “historical inevitability” of being absorbed into his Communist nation — will address the other inevitable conclusion: That the Taiwanese public have cast yet another “no” vote on Beijing.

1. Beijing doesn’t like him — at all

China has repeatedly lambasted Lai, suggesting that he will be the one bringing war to the island.

As recently as last Thursday, Beijing was trying to talk Taiwanese voters out of electing its nemesis-in-chief into the Baroque-style Presidential Office in Taipei.

“Cross-Strait relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past eight years, from peaceful development to tense confrontation,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Chen Binhua said, adding that Lai would now be trying to follow an “evil path” toward “military tension and war.”

While Beijing has never been a fan of the DPP, which views China as fundamentally against Taiwan’s interests , the personal disgust for Lai is also remarkable.

Part of that stems from a 2017 remark, in which Lai called himself a “worker for Taiwanese independence,” which has been repeatedly cited by Beijing as proof of his secessionist beliefs.

Without naming names, Chinese President Xi harshly criticized those promoting Taiwan independence in a speech in 2021.

“Secession aimed at Taiwan independence is the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation,” Xi said. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end, and will be disdained by the people and sentenced by the court of history.”

2. All eyes are on the next 4 months

Instability is expected to be on the rise over the next four months, until Lai is formally inaugurated on May 20.

No one knows how bad this could get, but Taiwanese officials and foreign diplomats say they don’t expect the situation to be as tense as the aftermath of then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022.

Already, days before the election, China sent several spy balloons to monitor Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry. On the trade front, China was also stepping up the pressure, announcing a possible move to reintroduce tariffs on some Taiwanese products. Cases of disinformation and electoral manipulation have also been unveiled by Taiwanese authorities.

Those developments, combined, constitute what Taipei calls hybrid warfare — which now risks further escalation given Beijing’s displeasure with the new president.

3. Lai has to tame his independent instinct

In a way, he has already.

Speaking at the international press conference last week, Lai said he had no plan to declare independence if elected to the presidency.

DPP insiders say they expect Lai to stick to outgoing Tsai Ing-wen’s approach, without saying things that could be interpreted as unilaterally changing the status quo.

They also point to the fact that Lai chose as vice-presidential pick Bi-khim Hsiao, a close confidante with Tsai and former de facto ambassador to Washington. Hsiao has developed close links with the Biden administration, and will play a key role as a bridge between Lai and the U.S.

4. Taiwan will follow international approach

The U.S., Japan and Europe are expected to take precedence in Lai’s diplomatic outreach, while relations with China will continue to be negative.

Throughout election rallies across the island, the DPP candidate repeatedly highlighted the Tsai government’s efforts at diversifying away from the trade reliance on China, shifting the focus to the three like-minded allies.

Southeast Asia has been another top destination for these readjusted trade flows, DPP has said.

According to Taiwanese authorities, Taiwan’s exports to China and Hong Kong last year dropped 18.1 percent compared to 2022, the biggest decrease since they started recording this set of statistics in 1982.

In contrast, Taiwanese exports to the U.S. and Europe rose by 1.6 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, with the trade volumes reaching all-time highs.

However, critics point out that China continues to be Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, with many Taiwanese businesspeople living and working in the mainland.

5. Lai might face an uncooperative parliament

While vote counting continues, there’s a high chance Lai will be dealing with a divided parliament, the Legislative Yuan.

Before the election, the Kuomintang (KMT) party vowed to form a majority with Taiwan People’s Party in the Yuan, thereby rendering Lai’s administration effectively a minority government.

While that could pose further difficulties for Lai to roll out policies provocative to Beijing, a parliament in opposition also might be a problem when it comes to Taiwan’s much-needed defense spending.

“A divided parliament is very bad news for defense. KMT has proven that they can block defense spending, and the TPP will also try to provide what they call oversight, and make things much more difficult,” said Syaru Shirley Lin, who chairs the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation, a Taipei-based policy think tank.

“Although all three parties said they wanted to boost defense, days leading up to the election … I don’t think that really tells you what’s going to happen in the legislature,” Lin added. “There’s going to be a lot of policy trading.”



Source link

#Taiwans #president #William #Lai

US Supreme Court to decide if Trump can be kept off ballots

The Supreme Court said Friday it will decide whether former President Donald Trump can be kept off the ballot because of his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, inserting the court squarely in the 2024 presidential campaign.

Issued on:

4 min

The justices acknowledged the need to reach a decision quickly, as voters will soon begin casting presidential primary ballots across the country. The court agreed to take up Trump’s appeal of a case from Colorado stemming from his role in the events that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

Underscoring the urgency, arguments will be held on Feb. 8, during what is normally a nearly monthlong winter break for the justices. The compressed timeframe could allow the court to produce a decision before Super Tuesday on March 5, when the largest number of delegates are up for grabs in a single day, including in Colorado.

Trump, speaking at a campaign event in Iowa, said: “All I want is fair. I just hope that they’re going to be fair.”

The court will be considering for the first time the meaning and reach of a provision of the 14th Amendment barring some people who “engaged in insurrection” from holding public office. The amendment was adopted in 1868, following the Civil War. It has been so rarely used that the nation’s highest court had no previous occasion to interpret it.

Colorado’s Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, ruled last month that Trump should not be on the Republican primary ballot. The decision was the first time the 14th Amendment was used to bar a presidential contender from the ballot.

Trump is separately appealing to state court a ruling by Maine’s Democratic secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, that he was ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot over his role in the Capitol attack. Both the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state’s rulings are on hold until the appeals play out.

The high court’s decision to intervene, which both sides called for, is the most direct involvement in a presidential election since Bush v. Gore in 2000, when a conservative majority effectively decided the election for Republican George W. Bush. Only Justice Clarence Thomas remains from that court.

Three of the nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Trump, though they have repeatedly ruled against him in 2020 election-related lawsuits, as well as his efforts to keep documents related to Jan. 6 and his tax returns from being turned over to congressional committees.

At the same time, Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have been in the majority of conservative-driven decisions that overturned the five-decade-old constitutional right to abortion, expanded gun rights and struck down affirmative action in college admissions. 

Some Democratic lawmakers have called on Thomas to step aside from the case because of his wife’s support for Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Thomas is unlikely to agree, and there was every indication Friday that all the justices are participating. Thomas has recused himself from only one other case related to the 2020 election, involving former law clerk John Eastman, and so far the people trying to disqualify Trump haven’t asked him to recuse.

The 4-3 Colorado decision cites a ruling by Gorsuch when he was a federal judge in that state. That Gorsuch decision upheld Colorado’s move to strike a naturalised citizen from the state’s presidential ballot because he was born in Guyana and didn’t meet the constitutional requirements to run for office. The court found that Trump likewise doesn’t meet the qualifications due to his role in the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021. That day, the Republican president had held a rally outside the White House and exhorted his supporters to “fight like hell” before they walked to the Capitol.

The two-sentence provision in Section 3 of the 14th Amendment states that anyone who swore an oath to uphold the constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it is no longer eligible for state or federal office. After Congress passed an amnesty for most of the former confederates the measure targeted in 1872, the provision fell into disuse until dozens of suits were filed to keep Trump off the ballot this year. Only the one in Colorado was successful.

Trump had asked the court to overturn the Colorado ruling without even hearing arguments. “The Colorado Supreme Court decision would unconstitutionally disenfranchise millions of voters in Colorado and likely be used as a template to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters nationwide,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

They argue that Trump should win on many grounds, including that the events of Jan. 6 did not constitute an insurrection. Even if it did, they wrote, Trump himself had not engaged in insurrection. They also contend that the insurrection clause does not apply to the president and that Congress must act, not individual states.

Critics of the former president who sued in Colorado agreed that the justices should step in now and resolve the issue, as do many election law experts.

“This case is of utmost national importance. And given the upcoming presidential primary schedule, there is no time to wait for the issues to percolate further. The Court should resolve this case on an expedited timetable, so that voters in Colorado and elsewhere will know whether Trump is indeed constitutionally ineligible when they cast their primary ballots,” lawyers for the Colorado plaintiffs told the Supreme Court.

The issue of whether Trump can be on the ballot is not the only matter related to the former president or Jan. 6 that has reached the high court. The justices last month declined a request from special counsel Jack Smith to swiftly take up and rule on Trump’s claims that he is immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, though the issue could be back before the court soon depending on the ruling of a Washington-based appeals court.

And the court has said that it intends to hear an appeal that could upend hundreds of charges stemming from the Capitol riot, including against Trump.

(AP)

Source link

#Supreme #Court #decide #Trump #ballots

Ukraine needs a government of national unity

Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and the author of the forthcoming book, “Battleground Ukraine: From Independence to the War with Russia” (Yale University Press).

In recent weeks, discourse about the war with Russia has turned deeply pessimistic in Ukraine.

A difficult Ukrainian counter-offensive, with lesser results than anticipated, has fueled deeply dark discussions about a deadlocked and bloody long-term war with Russia. Meanwhile, analysts and politicians have started to snipe at Ukraine’s military and political leaders, blaming them for the war effort’s failure and even speculating about defeat.

Further feeding this atmosphere of pessimism is evidence of tension between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s military command, as well as delays in military aid from the United States. And these pressures now need to be addressed.

Clearly, the period of euphoria propelled by major Ukrainian military victories and territorial advances is over. So, too, is the period of grandiose promises by Ukrainian officials.

Last winter, an official spokesman for the president had proclaimed he expected to spend the next summer in Crimea. No less extravagant a promise was echoed by the head of military intelligence, who predicted Crimea would be liberated within six months, bringing official promises of a major spring counter-offensive with significant territorial gains along with it.

Early battlefield success also contributed to near universal approval for Zelenskyy among Ukrainians. Despite slow Russian advances in the Donbas and scant Ukrainian victories later on, happy talk on the state-dominated TV “marathon” — joint programming produced by the bulk of the country’s main television networks — continued to promote frontline success, helping Zelenskyy maintain his popularity.

All this changed, however, when Ukraine’s 2023 counter-offensive stalled. The massive loss of fighters amid meagre gains and a slow-moving positional war eroded public trust in the president and his team for the first time since the war began.

A subsequent mid-November poll gave Zelenskyy a trust rating of only net 32 percent plus — meaning two-thirds of Ukrainians trusted the president, while a third now did not. This was a steep decline from polls earlier in the year, and far below the trust ratings of the armed forces and their commander, General Valery Zaluzhny.

A later poll conducted for the President’s Office and leaked to the Ukrainska Pravda news site showed Zelenskyy was neck and neck with Zaluzhny in a hypothetical race for president. Moreover, Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party — which currently holds over two-thirds of the seats in parliament — would see its presence shrink dramatically if elections were held today.

And as Zelenskyy’s support weakens, Ukraine now faces a number of challenges and difficult decisions. These include a deadlock on the front, a rapidly depleting supply of munitions, some erosion of support from Europe, and an impasse in the U.S. Congress over a bill to provide for the military needs of both Ukraine and Israel. His star power notwithstanding, Zelenskyy faces new difficulties in maintaining high levels of military and financial support for Ukraine both in North America and in Europe.

Additionally, the ranks of Ukraine’s armed forces — initially populated by experienced military professionals with combat experience and highly motivated volunteers — have suffered mass casualties during these brutal two years of war. Аs a result, military recruiters — now called “people snatchers” — are scouring cities and villages in search of males aged 18 to 60 for military service. Sometimes, these recruiters are not merely using coercive tactics against draft dodgers but detaining and pressuring those not called or exempt from service into signing on. And such tactics are contributing to justifiable public anger toward the authorities

In addition to such unpopular tactics, Zelenskyy will soon likely need to need to dramatically widen the national military mobilization and shift social spending toward military expenditures, if only to hedge against any decline in, or interruption of, financing from key allies. Both moves will be highly unpopular.

All this doesn’t mean Russia will prevail. Indeed, Ukraine has basically fought Russia to a standstill. Taking minor territorial losses in the Donbas, while gaining modest territory in the south and forcing Russia’s navy to the eastern reaches of the Black Sea, it has effectively restored freedom of navigation for commercial vessels in the sea’s west.

Zelenskyy has also been a courageous and successful wartime leader. But much of this was dependent on steadfast public support. Near-universal domestic approval gave him political carte blanche to shape policy and strategy. But while Ukrainians remain united in their aim of defending the country, unqualified support for Zelenskyy and his policies is declining. And the embattled democracy is subsequently witnessing a revival in national politics.

Zelenskyy’s team itself has contributed to this politicization. After Zaluzhny soberly spoke about the difficulties of Ukraine’s war effort, while providing a road map that could ensure victory, his public comments were shot down by officials from the President’s Office.

In early November, Zelenskyy’s foreign policy advisor Ihor Zhovkva went on national television to assert that Zaluzhny’s statement “eases the work of the aggressor” by stirring “panic,” adding there should be no public discussion of the situation at the front. Zelenskyy himself then chided the general in an interview, warning the military not to engage in politics.

Deputy Head of the Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Maryana Bezuhla piled on, alleging Zaluzhny had ignored U.S. General Mark Milley’s recommendations to mine Ukraine’s border with Russian occupied Crimea back in 2021 — an act of negligence, she implied, that cost Ukraine large swaths of territory in the south. However, Zelenskyy is unlikely to seek Zaluzhny’s dismissal, as it would instantly launch the soldier on a political career.

And that’s not all. On the heels of this kerfuffle, Zelenskyy’s allies in parliament then blocked a visit to Poland and the U.S. by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The ostensible reason behind this was a report from Ukraine’s security service suggesting Poroshenko’s trip would be exploited by Russian propaganda. Of particular concern was a planned meeting between Poroshenko and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The idea that a seasoned leader like Poroshenko, whose tenure as president earned Western praise for his diplomatic skills, could be manipulated is, on the face of it, preposterous. And it later turned out that Zelenskyy himself would be meeting Orbán and didn’t want to be preempted.

These clear fractures need to be dealt with now.

Furthermore, as importantly, as domestic support erodes, Zelenskyy’s term in office is due to formally expire in May 2024, while the parliament’s four-year term expired in October. New elections are well-nigh impossible with millions of voters outside the country, a million engaged at the front and millions more internally displaced or under Russian occupation. Elections amid bloody combat and constant missiles and drone attacks on urban centers are unlikely, and would require both legislative and constitutional changes.

This issue of expiring mandates would be moot were the ratings of Zelenskyy and his party unassailable, but polls show a creeping disenchantment with both.

In this context, the time is ripe for Ukraine’s president to consider establishing a broad-based government of national unity. Opening the government to opposition and civil society leaders in this way would instantly provide legitimacy to the leadership team, reduce opposition criticism and widen the circle of voices that have the president’s ear.

There are compelling precedents for such a step too. For example, as World War II began, Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood Britain faced an existential threat that required sustaining national unity and created a broad-based coalition government. Churchill installed his main rival — Labour leader Clement Attlee — as deputy prime minister, and added Labour’s Ernest Bevin, a former trade union leader, to the national unity cabinet.

Similarly, this practice was followed most recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered opposition party leaders a place in a unity government after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attacks. The proposal was accepted by centrist Benny Gantz.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Zelenskyy has relied on an exceedingly narrow circle of trusted advisors. But while he meets with his top military command, intelligence officials, visiting Western leaders and the media, he has largely shut himself off from civic leaders, political critics and rivals — including some with important foreign policy, national security and economic experience.

Their inclusion in leadership posts would offer Zelenskyy additional input on policy options, allow for discussions of alternative tactics and contribute to new approaches when it comes to external relations. With national unity showing signs of fraying, a government that includes the opposition would truly give it a boost.

The only questions are whether Zelenskyy is flexible enough to overcome his contempt for most opposition leaders, and change his style of governing from highly centralized decision-making to more broad-based consensus-building.



Source link

#Ukraine #government #national #unity

The demon of irredentism is back with a vengeance

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Geopolitical atavism has become fashionable, politically expedient and unchecked by the major powers who are either distracted or complicit. Today the globe is pockmarked with latent or current irredentist disputes, Mark Medish and Alex Rondos write.

ADVERTISEMENT

History has come roaring back to challenge our sense of global order. 

So long as the post-World War II international system commanded broad respect, we could pretend to keep the peace while camouflaging the contradiction between the principles of sovereignty and self-determination that are embedded in the UN charter.

The system assumed that the world’s dominant powers would contain the contradiction with a combination of appeal to normative rules and a generous application of pragmatism that may have offended many a purist.

The balancing act no longer holds. We are entering a new and very dangerous era made more perilous by nationalist bluster and cavalier ignorance of historical details that should command the attention of major powers.

We need to understand where irredentism comes from

The immediate symptom of the geopolitical malaise is irredentism. The term gets its name from late 19th-century Italian claims on adjacent “unredeemed lands” — Italia irredenta — in the Austro-Hungarian, French and British empires.

We have seen this demon rear its head before, in the 1930s and again with the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Now the pattern is back with a vengeance. And we must understand it better in its contemporary setting.

It is fundamentally about strife from incomplete decolonisation. The key players are former empires reluctant to admit that they are over and those who believe that the end of imperial control deprived them of a new national redemption.

Decolonisation led to random line-drawing of borders across Africa, the Middle East and other places. 

Bureaucrats of the British and French Empires imposed whimsical legacies on the shape of dozens of former colonies. The seeds of irredentism are scattered across the globe. Whether they sprout into new conflicts and how to manage that risk is a central challenge of our time.

Unfinished disputes pockmark the globe

Geopolitical atavism has become fashionable, politically expedient and unchecked by the major powers who are either distracted or complicit. Today the globe is pockmarked with latent or current irredentist disputes.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in which Vladimir Putin claims to be reuniting core Russian territories, and the war in Gaza launched by stateless Palestinian groups against Israel are bloody examples of the trend. 

China’s longstanding cross-Strait dispute with Taiwan is a variant of the irredentist theme.

After Azerbaijani forces recently seized the enclave of Nagorno-Karbakh from Armenian settlers, President Ilham Aliyev announced “We have returned our lands, we have restored our territorial integrity […] we have restored our dignity.” This is not aberrant behaviour, but part of a pattern haunting world peace.

A series of “frozen conflicts” from Cyprus to Kashmir to the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula mark places on the map where contested territorial claims have been long simmering but so far contained largely by diplomatic manoeuvres following military stalemates.

The spirit of the times smells like World War II

Few regions are immune. We are witnessing similar fault lines in the Horn of Africa. Conflict in Sudan and Ethiopia has jeopardised the security of maritime passage in the Red Sea. 

Ethiopia has questioned the legality of frontiers drawn over a century ago between the Ethiopian Emperor and the colonial powers of the times and called for permanent access to the sea. 

Local regional powers — the so-called “middle powers” — feel they can create spheres of influence either to project control or to protect their security interests. In the case of the Horn, these are principally the powers of the Arabian Peninsula.

The consequences need to be well understood. This is a moment redolent of the runup to World War II. Great powers were consumed by competing ambition and mutual suspicion.

ADVERTISEMENT

The international order — to the extent the League of Nations represented that — had frayed and the way opened for the reckless and the ruthless to create new realities through violence.

In a world where norms are neither respected nor enforced, the ambitions and fears of countries are reduced to the political manipulation of territory and identity. Multilateralism will be supplanted by regional protection rackets.

Unchecked, these dynamics will generate new types of conflict. Territorial fragmentation, ethnic purification and boundary disputes will proliferate. Local regional powers will seek proxies and local insurgents or weakened governments will seek patrons.

Convening, not coercing — this is the way

How to put the genie back in the bottle? In the absence of a world government with enforcement tools, the dream of a liberal world order without hot territorial disputes is a chimaera.

However, mutual interest in the avoidance of chaos argues for pragmatic management. Frozen conflicts are better than hot ones.

ADVERTISEMENT

Military force cannot provide durable solutions but instead usually lays the ground for a harvest of new grievances. Diplomacy is key. If irredentist conflicts continue to erupt, it should not be for lack of diplomatic efforts by stakeholders and honest brokers.

Back-channel talks and negotiations between belligerents are not a sign of weakness. Pragmatism calls for countries within regions in dispute to get more used to talking to each other directly. 

If they don’t, they will be consumed by the interference of their richer and more powerful neighbours or by far more radical or criminal movements that don’t care either for boundaries or states.

To prevent protection rackets from prevailing, it also falls to great powers like the United States, the European Union, the UK, and others of like mind who do not wish for chaos, to use their formidable diplomatic capacity to convene — not coerce — parties towards new regional regimes of territorial integrity and non-interference. 

The alternative to pragmatism is the abyss. As UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold once said, the point is “not to take mankind into paradise, but to save humanity from hell.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Mark Medish is a former senior White House and US Treasury official in the Clinton administration who now serves as vice chair of PA Group, a strategic consultancy. Alex Rondos is former EU special representative for the Horn of Africa and serves as a senior adviser at the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#demon #irredentism #vengeance

Facebook shuts thousands of fake Chinese accounts masquerading as Americans

Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the U.S. ahead of next year’s elections, Meta said Thursday. 

The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues.

Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization.

The newly identified network shows how America’s foreign adversaries exploit U.S.-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the U.S., India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations.

“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms. “Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the internet ahead of next year’s elections, and we need to remain alert.”

Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the U.S.

To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets.

Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform’s focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust.

For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the U.S. election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted.

When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests.

And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile.

“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta’s approach to disinformation and hate speech. “Watch what Meta does, not what they say.” 

Meta executives discussed the network’s activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections. 

But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it’s easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters. 

“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media. 

Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories.

Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there’s little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves.

Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.”

Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk’s posts.

Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned.

Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia’s recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the U.S. but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation.

Nimmo, Meta’s chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America’s political debate ahead of next year’s election.

“This is important ahead of 2024,” Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.”

(AP)

Source link

#Facebook #shuts #thousands #fake #Chinese #accounts #masquerading #Americans

The disquieting shadow of Javier Milei looms over Argentine democracy

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

As the second round of the presidential elections approaches on Sunday, the prospect of Milei’s presidency raises each and every red flag, posing a grave threat to Argentina’s democratic institutions, Dr Matías Bianchi writes.

ADVERTISEMENT

As Argentina marks 40 years of continued democracy — the longest stretch in its history — a disquieting shadow looms over its political landscape. 

The emergence of Javier Milei, a libertarian economist-turned-presidential candidate with a rhetoric steeped in authoritarianism, presents a stark challenge to the nation’s democratic fabric.

Milei’s ambivalence towards democratic norms is evident. In a television interview, he questioned the efficacy of democracy, citing Arrow’s theorem to argue against democratic decision-making. 

More troubling are his proposals that directly contradict Argentina’s Constitution, such as the suggestion to outlaw public demonstrations — a clear infringement on civil liberties. 

“We are nearing the end of the caste model, based on that atrocious idea that, where there is a need a [human] right is born, but they forget that someone has to pay for it all. [And the] ultimate aberration [of this idea] is social justice,” a statement that openly references and then contradicts Article 14bis of the Constitution and its social protections. 

Likewise, he and others like him propose promoting an unconstitutional law that would “prohibit public demonstrations.”

Argentina has long been grappling with economic mismanagement, escalating poverty, and a growing disenchantment with its political class. 

In a climate of discontent, Milei’s message, which ostensibly challenges the establishment, has found resonance. But the change he advocates could potentially unravel the democratic gains painstakingly achieved over four decades.

Milei’s authoritarian tendencies, a worrying prospect

As the second round of the presidential elections approaches on Sunday, the prospect of Milei’s presidency raises each and every red flag, posing a grave threat to Argentina’s democratic institutions. 

Even if he is not elected, his authoritarian ideas and style, like rallying while brandishing a chainsaw, may linger in the country’s political discourse, challenging democratic forces to forge a renewed social contract that fosters and expands democracy.

Our think tank, Asuntos del Sur Global, recently conducted a study measuring the authoritarian threats to Argentina’s democracy by systematising public declarations of presidential candidates. 

The study adopted the seminal work of Harvard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s seminal work, “How Democracies Die”. The findings are alarming: Milei’s discourse and proposals exhibit clear signs of authoritarianism, a worrying prospect for Argentina’s democratic future.

One of the threats identified by the study is the denial of political opponents’ legitimacy as a red flag of authoritarian behaviour. 

Milei’s derogatory references to opponents, ranging from labelling them as “political diarrhoea”, to outright verbal assaults such as “collectivist sons of bitches” or “I could crush you from a wheelchair”, fit this pattern disturbingly well. 

Such rhetoric not only polarises the political discourse but also undermines the very principles of democratic debate and dissent.

Another indicator of authoritarian tendencies is the tolerance or endorsement of violence. Milei’s response to the attempted assassination of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — treating it as a mere criminal act rather than a symptom of a deeper societal malaise — coupled with his praise for repressive acts during Argentina’s dark dictatorship era, signals a dangerous inclination.

Perhaps most alarming is Milei’s readiness to curtail the freedoms of opponents and the press. Threats of legal action against journalists and political adversaries reveal a disposition towards stifling dissent and criticism — a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

Erosion of Argentina’s democracy is not just a local issue

The stakes are high. Argentina stands at a critical juncture, facing a choice between preserving its democratic legacy or venturing down a path that could erode its hard-won democratic foundations.

ADVERTISEMENT

As Argentina navigates this key crossroad in its political history, the responsibility to safeguard its democracy does not rest solely on the shoulders of its citizens; it is a call to action that should resonate across the globe.

For the Argentine people, the call to action is clear: participation and vigilance. Participation, not only in terms of casting votes but also in actively engaging in democratic discourse, is vital. 

Civil society, media, and educational institutions must work together to foster a culture of democratic values and critical thinking. 

This involves challenging authoritarian narratives, promoting transparent and fact-based political dialogue, and nurturing the next generation’s commitment to democratic principles.

Furthermore, Argentinians must hold their leaders accountable, ensuring that any attempts to undermine democratic norms are met with strong, unified resistance.

ADVERTISEMENT

Internationally, there is a need for a concerted response. Democratic nations, international organisations, and human rights groups should closely monitor the situation in Argentina, ready to counteract any undemocratic shifts. 

Economic and diplomatic leverage can be employed to support democratic institutions and civil liberties. 

Additionally, international media must shine a spotlight on Argentina’s democratic challenges, raising global awareness and fostering solidarity. 

This international attention can serve as a deterrent against authoritarian tendencies and provide moral support to those fighting for democracy within Argentina.

One nation’s fate impacts the entire global community

Finally, it is essential to recognize that the struggle for democracy in Argentina is emblematic of a larger global trend where democratic values are being tested. 

ADVERTISEMENT

As such, supporting Argentina’s democracy transcends national borders; it is part of a broader imperative to defend democratic ideals worldwide. In this interconnected world, the fate of democracy in one nation impacts the stability and values of the global community. 

Hence, the defence of Argentine democracy is not just Argentina’s concern it is a regional and global responsibility, demanding a unified and resolute response.

Dr Matías Bianchi serves as Director of Asuntos del Sur Global, a think tank dedicated to democratic innovation in the Global South. He earned his PhD in political science at Sciences Po.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#disquieting #shadow #Javier #Milei #looms #Argentine #democracy