Issue 171: 2018 09 27: Surprise, Surprise

27 September 2018

Surprise, Surprise

Certainties and uncertainties.

By Neil Tidmarsh

We live in unpredictable times.  The world is in a state of flux.  The old order which has sustained it for decades is under threat.  Nothing is certain any more.

Take the news from the Maldives this week, for example.  President Abdulla Yameen was defeated in the presidential election by opposition leader and sole challenger Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.  What a shock!  Who could have predicted that?

In President Yameen, the Maldives had an old-school leader, a master of all the well-established tactics for defending his position; he seized power in 2013 in what has been condemned as a coup, and since then he has arrested judges, sacked MPs, muzzled the press, jailed one former president (his own brother), forced another (the country’s first democratically elected leader) into exile, and sent troops into the Supreme Court and into parliament whenever they have defied him.  (See The Maldives Coup, Shaw Sheet issue 140)  His supporters and the security services employed fraud and voter intimidation in this election, allegedly, and the police raided the offices of his only challenger the day before voting started.

The president should have been a safe bet to win this election.  Who wouldn’t have put a tenner on him, given the chance?  And yet his challenger, Mr Solih, won an amazing 58% of the vote and Mr Yameen agreed to stand down!  “The Maldivian people have decided what they want” the president declared.  “I have accepted the results.”  What’s going on?

Or take the news from Russia this week, for another example.  President Putin’s ruling party – United Russia – lost two elections!  It lost the governor’s seat in the far eastern Khabarovsk region; the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (in fact, a hard-line nationalist party with eccentric policies) won it from them with 70% of the vote.  It lost the governorship of the Vladimir region near Moscow, again to the LDPR which won by a margin of more than 20% even though its candidate hardly bothered to campaign.  And in another election for governor, a United Russia victory has been challenged by the head of the Central Election Committee (a government-controlled body defying the government’s candidate?!) who claims that vote-rigging cheated the Communist Party candidate out of the governorship and has ordered a re-run of the election in the Primorsky region.  These set-backs for President Putin follow other defeats for United Russia by the Communist Party in local elections in central Russia, Siberia and the far east earlier this month.

Admittedly, the LDPR and the Communist Party are usually described as “friendly opposition” to the governing United Russia; it’s generally understood that they’re only tolerated by the Putin regime in order to provide the illusion of democracy; by all accounts they’re not supposed to criticise the government in parliament or seriously challenge it in elections.  This month, however, they have done both, by attacking the government’s hikes in the pension age and by ousting United Russia governors in five regions.  For the first time since its foundation in 2001, President Putin’s party is looking distinctly shaken.  Again, what is going on?

Where can we turn to for reassurance amid such disturbing and puzzling turmoil?  Who can we look to for the comforts of continuity, predictability and certainty?  To the world’s two oldest and most influential civilisations, of course.  To China and Europe.

I don’t suppose anyone was surprised this week when the Hong Kong National Party, with its manifesto for independence, was banned and its members threatened with jail.  A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch described the development as “a milestone in Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms”.

I don’t suppose anyone was surprised this week either when European Union judges supported the European Parliament in agreeing that MEPs expenses should not be open to public scrutiny.  Each MEP can – and often does – receive over €100,000 (tax free) in expenses each year without having to account for a single cent of it, without having to produce a single receipt, invoice or any other document.  (And that’s only a quarter of the allowances and entitlements an MEP can pocket each year.)  They don’t see why they should allow public scrutiny of this use of public money, and the European Court of Justice has this week ruled in their favour, supporting their “refusal to grant access to documents relating to subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances”.  (See comment MEP’s Accountability in this issue of Shaw Sheet.)  No doubt those British politicians who were caught out in Westminster’s parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009 are wistfully gazing across the Channel in envy and admiration.

In these disturbingly unpredictable times and in this puzzlingly uncertain world, it’s reassuring to know that some things remain reliable and unsurprising.



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