Tag Archives: democracy

British Election Brings Mayhem

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May arrives on Number 10 Downing Street on the morning after Britain’s election in London, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 9, 2017

British voters have shown Prime Minister Theresa May the door.

Her gamble to call an early election in the expectation of strengthening her Conservative majority in parliament – and thus her clout in upcoming negotiations on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union – failed dramatically.

When the final votes were tallied in the dawn hours of Friday morning the Tories were reduced to a minority of 319 seats in the 650-seat house. May said on Friday she will seek to continue in government, probably with the support of the 10 elected members of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, traditional allies of the Tories.

The implications of this drubbing for the Conservative government are profound. For May herself, the writing is on the wall. If she does not choose to quit the party leadership and premiership herself, it is a matter of months at the most before the Tory caucus settles on a slate of candidates to supplant her.

For Britain, the results have much deeper implications. The Westminster government is due to start talks in 10 days time with Brussels on the terms of departure from the EU. Key issues are how much Britain is forced to repay the EU in exit fees, what transitional arrangements will be put in place during the two to three years of the exit process, and what, if any, agreements can be reached on future free-trade arrangements.

The election result has weakened dramatically the bargaining position of the British negotiators. Whether the process can keep to the envisaged two-to-three year exit time table and how painful the extraction is now heavily dependant on the generosity, if any is on offer, of the remaining 27 EU members.

Theresa May called the election saying she needed a “strong and stable” majority in parliament with which to confront Brussels. The reality was that she and her advisers saw the Tories had about a 20 point lead in the polls over the main opposition Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. He, with his unreconstructed left-wing views and apparent lack of anything approaching charisma, was widely dismissed as “unelectable.”

May, much to the chagrin of many Tories, called an unnecessary snap election, and she has paid the price.

Corbyn proved to be an effective campaigner, especially among young voters. Labour produced a manifesto that spoke to widespread disenchantment among voters at the grinding austerity measures pursued by successive Conservative governments.

There was also a common determination among people who voted in last year’s referendum against leaving the EU. In that vote, 52 per cent voted to leave and 48 per cent remain. Among those remainers is widespread belief and anger that they have been forgotten as the exit process starts. They are upset that Theresa May has opted for a so-called “hard Brexit.” This appears to mean no attempts would be made to forge agreements with Brussels on such things as migration, easy movement of labour and free trade before Britain leaves. In tandem with that is anger that the May government has been secretive about its plans and details of the current talks with Brussels.

If the Conservatives hang on to government, the whole atmosphere around the dealings with Brussels will change. The Labour Party is going to have much more influence on the process, simply because of its added authority in the House of Commons. This is likely to result in much more open debate about the negotiations and negotiating positions as they go along.

The election was clearly a referendum on Theresa May’s leadership, but it was also a reaction to last year’s “Brexit” referendum.

Both the Conservatives and Labour picked up notably larger numbers of votes than they did in the last general election in 2015. But Labour picked up many more than the Tories, and this translated into 26 more seats. A major factor in both parties’ growth in support was the virtual disappearance of the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose highly effective campaigning against the EU spooked former Tory prime minister David Cameron to call the referendum last year.

It had been expected that the Tories would gain most from the disappearance of Ukip. However, in Britain’s rust belt, the ravaged old industrial areas of the Midlands and northern England, many traditional Labour voters opted for Brexit in the referendum, believing that free immigration under the EU had robbed them of their jobs. With Ukip gone, these people returned to the traditional Labour Party loyalty.

Also, many young people who neglected to vote in the referendum and who felt cheated out of their future by the decision to leave the EU, came out to vote this time. They seem to have gone mainly for Labour.

A notable sidebar to the election was the near collapse of the Scottish National Party. It lost 21 seats, with the Conservatives picking up 12, Labour six and the Liberal Democrats three. In the referendum Scotland voted heavily to remain in the EU, and the victory for Brexit led SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to demand another vote on Scottish independence. With this result, the prospects of another independence referendum for Scotland have disappeared, for the moment.

The Conservatives now have a major problem picking likely candidates to succeed Theresa May. Several high-profile ministers lost their seats in Thursday’s election and there are thus four names on the slate at the moment.

There’s the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who performed well in the campaign, particularly in TV debates. David Davis, the minister responsible for negotiating Brexit, is another. Then there’s the Defence Minister Michael Fallon, who is a smooth performer, but perhaps a bit too smooth. Finally, there is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who campaigned for Brexit, and who could probably have won the leadership in the wake of Cameron’s resignation last year had he stood.

Far from bringing stability and certainty to the British political scene and the Brexit process, this election has produced massive uncertainty. Not least of those questions is who will be Prime Minister in a few weeks or months time.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, and Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry gesture at a counting centre for Britain’s general election in London, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Related stories:

UK Election a Debacle, Brexit Looms, by David Milliken and Kate Holton   Report

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would lead a minority government backed by a small Northern Irish party after she lost an election gamble days before the start of talks on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Text of Theresa May’s statement, Reactions   Fact Box

Prime Minister Theresa May made the following statement in Downing Street on Friday after she lost her majority in a national election…

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.” Return to his column page.

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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French election a pivotal European test

Related story: Security issues dominate key French vote. Above, a man looks at campaign posters of the 11th candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

By Richard Maher 
April 21, 2017

French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. The Conversation

For the first time in 60 years, polls suggest that the two candidates who garner the most votes in the first round will likely not belong to either of France’s main parties.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, is all but certain to advance to the May 7 runoff. There she is likely to face the independent Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and one-time economic adviser to President François Hollande.

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A Le Pen victory could lead to France’s withdrawal from the Eurozone and even from the European Union, a once unthinkable prospect that would have repercussions far beyond the continent.

In a crowded field of 11 contenders, which includes a car factory mechanic, a Trotskyite high school economics teacher and a long-term activist who wants to colonise Mars, four candidates have a realistic shot at making it to the second round.

In addition to Le Pen and Macron, they include former prime minister François Fillon, who is under judicial investigation for misuse of public funds, and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Le Pen and and Fillon ended their campaigns early after a gunman shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées on the evening of April 20. The gunman was shot dead by police while attempting to flee.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Le Pen’s chances might get a boost from the incident because she has taken a hard line against Muslim immigration and has vowed to make the fight against Islamic terrorism an “absolute priority”.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends a news conference in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Top two contenders

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The National Front has been around for 45 years, but it has never been in a better position to capture the French presidency; it is no longer a fringe party.

For the past year, Le Pen has been at or near the top of the polls. The question has never been whether she would make it to the second round runoff but who she would face there.

Le Pen has vowed to “drastically” reduce immigration into France, combat the “Islamification” of society and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership.

Saying that she wants France to be a “true country” and not “a mere region of the European Union”, Le Pen proposes to exit the Eurozone and reintroduce the franc, leave the EU’s Schengen border-free area and hold a national referendum within six months of taking office over leaving the EU.

Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in the latest polls. A graduate of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the traditional training ground for France’s business and government elite, he launched his En Marche! (Onward!) movement just over a year ago.

Only 36 when Hollande appointed him to run the ministry of economy in 2014, he is one of the youngest people to ever hold a cabinet position in France.

Macron presents himself as a reformist, pro-Europe, pro-business technocrat. He wants to preserve many elements of France’s social model while enhancing the country’s global competitiveness.

He is a strong defender of European integration, and has said that he wants to forge a new Franco-German partnership to lead Europe. He praised German chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than a million migrants and refugees into Germany, saying it saved Europe’s “collective dignity”.

Still, many voters remain sceptical of Macron, pointing to his youth, inexperience and undistinguished record in government.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

Corruption and disarray

Just a few months ago, François Fillon was widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Elysée Palace. A socially conservative free-market defender, he defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy (his one-time boss) and former prime minister Alain Juppé to win the nomination of the centre-right Republicans last November.

Accused of giving his wife and two children generous salaries for fictitious jobs as parliamentary aides, Fillon was last month charged with several counts of embezzlement. His support has steadily declined since the story broke in January 2017, and it now appears unlikely that he will advance to the second round of voting.

France’s traditional left is also in disarray. Hollande, its first Socialist president since François Mitterrand’s tenure ended in 1995, is the most unpopular president in modern French history. With an approval rating that at one point sunk to 4%, Hollande is now the first sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic not to run for reelection.

Instead, the Socialist Party nominated Benoît Hamon, who beat out former prime minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s campaign, which promises a universal basic income, has failed to gain traction; he is currently polling in fifth place.

Unexpectedly, though, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the Communist Party, has made a late surge. He is now running neck-and-neck with Fillon in the number three spot, behind Le Pen and Macron.

Mélenchon, who has called for a “citizen revolution”, opposes the EU and NATO, wants a 90% maximum income tax rate and to lower France’s official working week from 35 hours to 32.

Detrimental to Europe

Most current polls concur that Le Pen and Macron will advance to the second round runoff next month, with Macron ultimately beating Le Pen by a 20-point margin.

While a Le Pen victory remains unlikely, it is not implausible. Much will depend on voter turnout; a low showing is expected to help Le Pen. Her supporters tend to be more motivated to cast their ballots than those of other candidates.

Current forecasts suggest that turnout may be as low as 65% in the first round. That would be the lowest in recent history (the previous low was 72% in 2002).

If, in the second round, Fillon’s, Hamon’s and Mélenchon’s supporters opted to stay home rather than vote for Macron, Le Pen could eke out a narrow victory.

Europe has had a number of important elections and referenda over the past year, but none with the gravity and significance of France’s presidential election.

The EU will survive Brexit: the UK entered the European Economic Community, the EU’s precursor, late and was always lukewarm on the enterprise. But it would not survive a French exit. And a Le Pen victory next month may lead to the unraveling of both the idea — and the reality — of a united Europe.

There’s folly in mistaking the improbable for the impossible, as Brexit and Donald Trump proved in 2016. “What seemed impossible.” as Le Pen herself said the morning after Trump’s presidential triumph, “is now possible.”

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Richard Maher is a Research Fellow in theGlobal Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Next story: Security issues dominate key French vote, by Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier: The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

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Security issues dominate key French vote

Related story: French election a pivotal European test. Above, French CRS police patrol the Champs Elysees Avenue the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier 
April 21, 2017

PARIS (Reuters) – The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

With the first round of voting in the two-stage election taking place on Sunday, far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen promised tougher immigration and border controls to beat “Islamist terrorism” if elected.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, who narrowly leads a tight race ahead of Le Pen, said the solutions were not as simple as she suggested, and that there was “no such thing as zero risk”.

Anyone who said otherwise was irresponsible, said Macron, a former economy minister in the government that Le Pen has repeatedly criticised for its security record.

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There are four leading candidates in a race that is still too close to call. Sunday’s voting will be followed by a runoff on May 7 between the top two candidates.

The first poll conducted entirely after Thursday’s attack suggested Le Pen had gained some ground on Macron.

While he was still seen winning the first round with 24.5 percent, his score slipped half a percentage point while Le Pen’s rose by one to 23 percent.

Conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, and the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon were both down half a percentage point on 19 percent in the Odoxa poll for the newspaper Le Point.

The attack on the Champs-Elysees boulevard in the very heart of the capital added a new source of unpredictability to an election that will decide the management of France’s 2.2 trillion euro economy, which vies with Britain for the rank of fifth largest in the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump told the Associated Press on Friday he thought the attack will “probably help” Le Pen because she is the candidate who is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

Trump told the AP in an interview he was not explicitly endorsing Le Pen but that he believes the attack will affect how French people vote on Sunday.

The outcome could also have a bearing on France’s place in the world and in a European Union still reeling from Britain’s decision to leave. While Macron is ardently pro-EU, Le Pen wants to quit its single currency and potentially hold a referendum on leaving the bloc.

All the candidates are seeking to woo the huge number of undecideds – some 31 percent of those likely to vote, according to an Ipsos poll on Friday.

Fillon also seized on the attack, which was claimed by the militant group Islamic State, saying the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of the next president. “It’s us or them,” he said.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

TRUMP TWEET

Financial markets, though, shrugged off the latest twist in the campaign, with French benchmark bond yields hitting a three-month low.

The Champs-Elysees shooting is the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist militants on France since 2015, in which more than 200 people have been killed. A truck ploughed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice last year, killing more than 80, while coordinated attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris claimed about 130 lives in November 2015. There have also been attacks on a satirical weekly and a kosher store.

However, previous attacks that have taken place shortly before elections, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional polls, and a shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidentials, did not appear to boost the scores of those espousing tougher national security.

An assault on a soldier in February at Paris’s Louvre museum by a man wielding a machete also had no obvious impact on this year’s opinion polls, which have consistently said that voters see unemployment and the trustworthiness of politicians as bigger issues.

SECURITY FORCES ON ALERT

One policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in Thursday night’s attack.

Investigators are trying to assess whether the gunman had accomplices, anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference, adding that the shooter had never shown any signs of radicalisation despite a long police history.

After an emergency meeting of security officials, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces, including elite units, were on alert to back up the 50,000 police earmarked to ensure safety during the election.

“The government is fully mobilised. Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country,” Cazeneuve told reporters. “It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation, which would play into the hands of the enemy.”

Controls on immigration and national security are cornerstones of Le Pen’s National Front agenda, and on Friday she said she would reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on intelligence services’ watch lists.

Macron was quick to respond.

“I’ve heard Madame Le Pen saying again recently that, with her in charge, certain attacks would have been avoided,” he told RTL Radio. “There’s no such thing as zero risk. Anyone who pretends (otherwise) is both irresponsible and deceitful.”

TIGHT RACE

In an Elabe poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, and published on Friday, both Fillon and Melenchon were seen narrowing Macron and Le Pen’s lead.

Should both Macron and Le Pen make it to the second round, he was likely to win the runoff by 65 percent to 35, according to the survey for BFM TV and L’Express magazine.

Fillon, who has slowly clawed back some ground lost after a fake jobs scandal, saw his score in the first round rise half a percentage point to 20 percent.

Melenchon, who would hike taxes on the rich and spend 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of borrowed money on vast housebuilding and renewable energy projects, gained 1.5 points to 19.5 percent as he built further on the momentum he has generated with strong performances in television debates.

If Melenchon makes it to the runoff, he was projected by the survey to beat either Le Pen or Fillon by comfortable margins, although he was seen losing to Macron by 41 percent to 59.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Ingrid Melander, Laurence Frost, Bate Felix, Jean-Baptiste Vey, John Irish; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)

Next story:  French election a pivotal European test, analysis by Richard Maher: French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. It could have repercussions far beyond the continent.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Russian interference threatens European democracy

By Richard Maher, European University Institute
March, 2017

With important national elections scheduled this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, European officials on edge about possible Russian interference are pursuing various measures to counter it. The Conversation

But with a daily onslaught of fake and misleading news, repeated attempts to hack computer systems of “anti-Moscow” politicians and political parties, their task is immense.

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Vladimir Putin, official photo

Russian efforts to tilt elections and national referenda to suit its interests are ongoing. According to a report released by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Russia’s influence on the 2016 US election, Putin’s government “has sought to influence elections across Europe”.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic security agency, also warned of “growing evidence” of Russian attempts to influence Germany’s federal elections, set for September.

Alex Younger, the head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, finds “profound” the risk to British sovereignty posed by the kind of state-directed fake news, propaganda, and other acts of subversion the Kremlin routinely engages in.

Russia has denied interference in the US or European elections, and calls such accusations examples of rampant “Russophobia” in the West.

Undermining democracy

Disinformation campaigns, or what are also sometimes called “active measures” in the “information space”, have become an increasingly important feature of Russian military doctrine.

The goal of these campaigns is to weaken and undermine support for the European Union, NATO, and public trust and confidence in democracy itself. And with the rise of anti-establishment, anti-EU politicians across Europe, Russia has found an increasingly receptive audience for such operations.

Russian propaganda campaigns date back to before the Cold War. But the sophistication and volume of these efforts are greater today than in the past. The internet has opened up new modes and opportunities for Russia to influence foreign elections — and new vulnerabilities for democratic societies, for which the free flow of information is a fundamental feature.

There is evidence, for example, that Russia played a role in several key national referenda across Europe last year: in April, when Dutch voters rejected an EU treaty with Ukraine that would have led to closer political and economic ties; in June, when British voters opted to leave the EU; and in December, when Italian voters rejected constitutional reforms championed by then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leading to his resignation.

The results of each of these votes served Russia’s broad interest in undermining EU cohesion.

Russian interference in Western elections can take various forms. Its operators may disseminate false or misleading news via blogs, websites, and social media or hack into computer networks and email accounts to steal and then leak compromising information against politicians seen to be anti-Russia (for example, Hillary Clinton). At the extreme, hackers may rig computer systems to manipulate election vote counts.

Russia’s disinformation campaigns also aim to instil doubt, confusion, and cynicism in the democratic process, erode public trust in institutions and in the news media — even to the point of eliminating the very idea of “a shared reality”. This foments populist anger and anxiety.

Thus disinformation campaigns and cyberespionage are for Russia attractive means to undermine Western governments and societies.

They’re also hard to track down and stop, offering Russia plausible deniability. Russian officials can operate covertly and through intermediaries, making it hard to find conclusive evidence directly implicating top Kremlin authorities.

It is often not clear if hackers are working with clear directions from Moscow or if they simply share sympathies with the Russian government and are acting independently.

A clear and present threat

Dutch authorities are so concerned about the possibility that its election could be manipulated that the interior minister announced that ballots will be counted by hand in the upcoming national election. Experts had warned that government computer systems were vulnerable to attack and disruption by state actors.

Likewise, the German government has advised of the possibility of a Russian cyberattack against the country’s federal elections. Russia is already suspected of hacking into the German Parliament’s computer network in 2015. German officials also suspect that Russia was behind a computer hack last November that resulted in 900,000 Germans temporarily losing internet and telephone service.

Putin has a powerful incentive to undermine German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been one of his most outspoken critics in Europe. She is also one of the strongest voices in favour of maintaining EU sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who is running on a pro-EU platform ahead of French presidential elections in April and May, has accused Russian hackers of targeting him in an attempt to smear his candidacy. Richard Ferrand, the secretary-general of Macron’s En Marche party, has said that the campaign’s website and databases have been subject to “hundreds, if not thousands” of attacks from inside Russia.

An existential threat

Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, argues that Russian election interference and manipulation, if unchecked, could pose an “existential threat” to Western democracies.

European governments are taking various steps in response. They have tried to educate voters on how to identify fake news and have threatened retaliatory measures against Moscow if its subversive activities persist.

The EU has even created a team whose mission is to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns” by weeding out false or misleading online news.

Despite the various successes it can plausibly claim, election interference can also backfire on Russia. US intelligence agencies have traced the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer systems back to the highest levels of the Kremlin and before leaving office in January, President Barack Obama imposed a range of sanctions and other retaliatory measures on Russia.

Such public hacking and disinformation campaigns have further damaged its relations with the West. Russia will now be the primary suspect for any electoral problems or irregularities in the future.

With Brexit negotiations, the rise of anti-EU and anti-establishment political parties, and the uncertainty surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump, Europe already faces a precarious moment. But since Russian disinformation campaigns target the very foundations of liberal democracy, they represent something perhaps even more sinister, threatening, and potentially destructive than Europe’s many other troubles.

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Richard Maher is a Research Fellow, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at the European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Rule of Law vs Rule by Man

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
January 29, 2017

A sign at the Women's March protesting President Donald Trump's inauguration in Vancouver, on January 21. © Deborah Jones 2017

A sign at the Women’s March protesting President Donald Trump’s inauguration in Vancouver, on January 21. © Deborah Jones 2017

The American Dream has shrunk to one simple question: rule of law, or rule by man?

Will Americans govern themselves by laws — or be ruled by a man? The question is as old as civilization. Every political idea in history has confronted it.

Peoples ruled by man could only pray for a wise, smart, and far-seeing ruler — or wage war to overturn him. (Most were and are men, though many claimed divine endorsement.) Historically, enough people were unhappy with rulers and arbitrary rules to fight for democracy, to claim some degree of sovereignty for each person, to find ways to work together to draft enduring laws.

America once embodied this dream, but such ambitions, and its democratic notions of equality and opportunity, have been long crumbling. High-quality evidence (see this Princeton research, or this Guardian report, or this ProPublica series on Dark Money in politics) suggests America’s democracy is illusory, and a sophisticated, slick and secretive “rule by the rich” is winning a war on its founding ideals.

The situation would be easier to grasp if there were an easy catch phrase. “Neoliberalism” gets much attention, and blame. But the campaign against America’s democracy is far more complex, and shape-shifting, than any academic concept like neoliberalism. Perhaps it’s more like “rule by paid-off lawmakers and other useful idiots,” all secretively manipulated by for-profit corporations, oligarchs and ideologues, who insist their subjects believe, cultishly, in whatever economic models most benefits the leaders at any point in time. And that’s a mouthful, unfit for either sound bite or tweet.

“The United States is a nation governed by the rule of law and not the iron will of one man,” insisted  Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, this weekend. Citing America’s constitutional laws, the ACLU led the fight against the ban President Donald Trump issued Friday on people from Muslim-majority countries, including refugees. Late on Saturday, a judge sided with the lawyers and imposed a partial stay on the ban.

Score one for for the lawyers, and the rule of law.

But that was just one battle in a long-running war. Rule of law is up against rule by man. Expect casualties.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2017

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for reprint inquiries.)

Further information:

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Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

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Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

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Thailand’s Game of Thrones enters new era

A woman walks past a portrait of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at a department store in central Bangkok, Thailand January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

A woman walks past a portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun at a department store in central Bangkok, Thailand January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 14, 2017

While people in the United States grapple with having done exactly what the Founding Fathers railed against and have elected a cartoon version of George III, the entrenchment of authoritarian democracy is going much more smoothly in Thailand.

Mind you, in Thailand the country’s aristocracy and its military leaders have been busy for 10 years creating a managed democracy. And the whole charabanc risked sliding off the road last October 13 when much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej died and his despised and mistrusted son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, prepared to ascend the throne.

However, after three months of largely invisible negotiations behind the heavy curtains in the corridors of power, the project to give Thailand’s nearly 70 million people a highly restricted democracy overseen by the military is back on track. But King Bhumibol’s death has thrown the timetable a bit off track. Elections, in their new restricted and highly stylised form, are unlikely to be held before 2018, when there had been hopes of having them this year.

Thirty years ago it appeared that all 10 countries of Southeast Asia were travelling purposefully and positively down the road to stable democracy. But Thailand’s reversion to military-vetted democracy and the election of the self-confessed murderer Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, means that there is now only one country in Southeast Asia – Indonesia – which can be called a democracy in the fullest sense of the term.

Vietnam and Laos remain one-party communist states. Burma, also called Myanmar, is still under military rule with only a thin veneer of civilian politics. Malaysia has been ruled by the same party – the United Malays National Organization – since independence from Britain in 1963 and now bubbles over with corruption. Singapore is not so much a country as a corporate conglomerate controlled by the family of founding father Lee Kuan Yew. Cambodia is the personal domain of Hun Sen, who in one guise or another has ruled the country since 1985. Brunei is a sultanate – an absolute monarchy — sitting on top of a large subterranean bubble of oil.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

Thailand’s new constitution, slotting it into this community of democracy lite regimes, is all ready for the approval process. But it got side-tracked by the death of King Bhumibol and frictions between the Crown Prince, now King Maha, and the military regime, led by coup leader and now Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. The new constitution was sent to King Maha for royal approval on November 8, but he hasn’t responded yet. That may now happen after a compromise this week removing the authority of Prem Tinsulanonda, 96, the Machiavelian and scheming head of King Bhumibol’s Privy Council who has been regent since the old king’s death. King Maha wanted Prem out of the way so he can establish his own authority over his court and royal household, and attempt to create his own relationship with the military and government.

Once King Maha approves the outline of the new constitution it will go back to the Constitutional Drafting Committee, which will have 240 days to write the necessary laws. These will then go to the National Legislative Assembly, which will have 60 days to debate and approve the process. If the assembly wants to make changes, these will have to be considered by joint sessions with the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

And then the whole thing will have to go back to the king for royal approval. New elections must be held within 150 days of royal assent for the new constitution. So it is very hard to visualise a timeframe that allows for new elections this year.

There are three decisive elements in the new constitution. The first changes the law dealing with political parties. This is aimed at encouraging participation by small parties, forcing the creation of parliamentary coalitions and making it impossible for a single-party government. Second, there will be a senate appointed by the military to keep check on the activities of the lower house of parliament. Third, a “crisis committee” will allow the military to intervene and remove the elected government if it thinks national security is under threat.

This is the culmination of over a decade of protests, riots, coups, bloody military crackdowns, and huge social and political upheaval at the heart of which is one objective – to destroy the political power of self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was an extraordinary innovation in Thailand’s politics when, after a career building a massive mobile phone and telecommunications corporate empire, he burst onto the political scene in the 1990s. He founded the Thai Rak Thai party, with its populist pledge to better the lives of the country’s large rural peasant population, and swept to power at the head of a strong coalition government in 2001. This was remarkable enough in Thai political history, but then in 2005 Thaksin did something unique. He not only won re-election, but did so with a clear majority for his Thai Rak Thai party of 374 of the 500 seats in parliament.

The royalists’ knives were out for him immediately and Thaksin’s behaviour did much to encourage the belief among urban elites that he was a republican intent on overriding the central position held by the king in the country’s political discourse. There were several occasions when Thaksin showed what many people considered disdain for the monarch.

Street protests against Thaksin began in early 2006. Demonstrators alleged he was corrupt, that he had avoided massive tax liabilities in the sale of one of his companies to the Singaporean national wealth fund, and that he had restricted press freedom. Thaksin’s response was to call a snap election in April, in which, with the benefit of a boycott by most other parties, he won 462 of the 500 parliamentary seats. But then the Constitutional Court ruled that election was invalid, and a new election was ordered to be held in October.

That never happened because on September 19, while Thaksin was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the army launched a coup and took control of the country. It set up a junta, which was quickly recognised as the government by King Bhumibol. It is highly unlikely, however, that the king was involved in the planning or giving prior for the coup. But there is evidence that the head of his Privy Council, Prem Tinsulanonda, was deeply involved in the military take-over.

An air of embarrassment hung over the whole escapade. The Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved by the Constitutional Tribunal, and a return to civilian rule after new elections was promised within a year. That’s what happened in 2007, except that the election was won by new parties affiliated to Thaksin. He remains highly popular among the rural poor, and although he operates from exile, he is able to use his vast wealth to finance political operations at home.

Predictably, the election result re-energized the anti-Thaksin forces. Over the next months there were dozens of protests and violent incidents leading to the occupation of Bangkok’s international airport and the occupation of the government district. The political deadlock was broken when the Constitutional Court in 2008 banned Thaksin’s proxy governing party and opened the door for the opposition Democrat Party to take power.

However, when the Democrat Party Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, called an election in 2011, a majority of Thai voters again showed their loyalty to Thaksin. Thaksin’s latest political operation, the Pheu Thai Party, run by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won an outright majority. But in May, 2014, the Constitutional Court again intervened and removed Yingluck from office after finding her guilty of abuse of power. It was then that the Commander of the Royal Thai Army, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, stepped in with a coup and installed himself as Prime Minister.

Prayuth is being much more diligent than were the 2006 coup plotters in trying to ensure that Thaksin cannot yet again win an election and take control of government. But the death of King Bhumibol and the coming to the throne of King Maha may complicate this mission. Thaksin and King Maha appear to have formed a close relationship, though it is difficult to fathom the basis of the alliance or how deep are their political bonds.

They have at least one thing in common. Both live outside Thailand. Thaksin spends most of his time in Dubai since he went into self-imposed exile after the 2006 coup. King Maha has lived in Munich, Germany, for many years where his eventful personal life attracts less attention. He has had four wives, messy break-ups between marriages, a progression of mistresses, and many children from these liaisons whose rank in line for the throne changes with the status of their mothers. His vindictive nature is not confined to the women in his life, which is why King Maha’s accession to the throne is a matter of much disquiet and fearful apprehension.

So the possibility that King Maha may become a promoter of Thaksin’s overt return to Thai politics carries the prospect that the country is not approaching the end of more than a decade of upheaval, merely the opening of a new and doubtless equally colourful chapter.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

Uneasy lies the head that wears Thailand’s Crown, by Jonathan Manthorpe, December 2014  Column

It’s a story that would have William Shakespeare licking his lips and sharpening his quill. The tale has everything that excited the creative juices of The Bard. There’s a dying king, much loved and revered by his people for his care for their wellbeing. But waiting in the wings is a hated, rapacious and vindictive Crown Prince. Even the most fervent royalists among the people are consumed with anxiety about what may happen when the prince assumes the throne and grasps the powers of monarchy. There is a rival for the crown, the king’s daughter, who has earned the public’s affection because of her charity and good works. But it is unclear whether she has the desire or the will to challenge her brother for the throne.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Legislation needed in world’s newest frontier: the datasphere

By Jean-Sylvestre Bergé and Stéphane Grumbach 
October, 2016

The rise of information technologies – smartphones, sensors spread across public and private spaces, data analytics – has led to the production of considerable amounts of data on human activity and the world around us.

The quantity of data has increased exponentially, in parallel with Moore’s law, which predicted in 1965 that computers’ capacity would double every 18 months.

Scientists have had to introduce new units of measurement such as zetta, denoting thousands of billions of billions (10²¹ or 1000000000000000000000), to designate these orders of magnitude, which were known in the realm of natural sciences but, until recently, absent from the realm of human activity.

Burgeoning data has given rise to a new space – the “datasphere” – a sort of image of the physical world, with traces of real-world activities, including our position at any given moment, our exchanges, the temperature of our homes, financial movements, trading of goods or road traffic.

All of this poses a new challenge to the law, which now has to define its own relationship with this modern sphere.

Data bit

In order to be understood as a new space, the datasphere must be considered as a system formed by the whole range of digital data.

While the hydrosphere (the global mass of water, including oceans, lakes, rivers and ground water) relies on the molecule H2O, which determines its reservoirs and flows, the datasphere can be built on the data bit.

Like water, data exists under different states: open, widely accessible, or proprietary, with access restrictions. Data can be static, at rest, or in motion. As with water, a data cycle transforms little drops into large masses.

Data is generated from the activity of humans or equipment everywhere. It then flows into storage and processing centres and returns to the individual players following transformation.

Like the hydrosphere, the datasphere interacts with the global environment. It is anchored in the physical and economic worlds, while also being largely independent, much like oceans and clouds.

Its foundation is primarily physical: the datasphere rests on real infrastructure, formed of data centres, undersea cables, communication satellites, and so on. Far from negligible, this physical foundation consumes around 10% of the world’s electricity production.

Economic and legal factors

The datasphere’s foundation is also economic. It relies on major economic actors, mostly multinationals with their complex links to administrative and government institutions. Taxation and state surveillance programmes root these platforms into political territories. And their importance is growing astonishingly fast.

If, in 2010, half of the top ten market capitalisations were in the energy sector, most of them are today in the datasphere. A single oil company, Exxon, is now among six digital platforms (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Tencent), in this reversal of trend, symptomatic of the Anthropocene.

Data firms like SimilarWeb in Tel Aviv collect millions of informations.
Baz Ratner/Reuters

The idea of the datasphere raises questions about the way the law comprehends space. It’s likely that answers must be sought through the construction of public international law, as has been done for the sea, international canals, rivers and lakes, the atmosphere and outer space.

The question is whether the datasphere requires the same “need of law”. Answers have already been given in the specific context of the internet, for instance. The image of “cyberspace” with its libertarian ambition for independence and the types of players involved, feeds a wide-ranging debate on the subject.

But, in the context of the datasphere, which can potentially encompass all human activity on the planet, the question deserves special scrutiny. Still, to the best of our knowledge, no comprehensive study identifying the datasphere as a space, potentially subject to one or more legal regimes, has been carried out.

Unlike the other spheres (such as the lithosphere, the hydrosphere or the atmosphere), the datasphere is not yet considered a specific field of human activity into which the law could intervene*.

Nevertheless, this area requires careful examination, particularly on the overall relationship between the emerging new space and its relationship with physical space and new digital territories.

New relationships

The datasphere can trigger the creation of new relationships within conventional institutions, such as states, cities, districts, or international and regional organisations.

With everything digitised, data no longer belongs to the state, or a specific city agency, or even to the individual; it is given over to the public realm, where everyone can have access to it. Because data can be shared and used widely, collaboration between different levels of government, both nationally and internationally could grow.

New relationships might also result from the massive phenomenon of transferring activities from local, regional and federal administrations into the datasphere. Take, for example, labour relations. The internationalisation of certain service-provision apps, such as Uber, has brought the applicability of local labour laws into question. While some cities have successfully banned Uber, in other places – despite mandatory minimum wages, working hours, and other rights – Uber drivers remain distinctly beyond the realm of national legislation.

There are many relevant illustrations of the law’s quest to cover human ingenuity: space law is constantly shifting, as are discussions on the regulation of the high seas and the highly debated case of the Arctic. Even the biosphere is being given legal status via the “Mother Earth” law in Bolivia.

The datasphere expands into the technosphere, which is the system formed by all human industries, from energy production to administration, from agriculture to transportation.

But the law must understand it as a new space, offering an appropriate framework to understand the new relationships emerging from all human activities.

* “La sphère des données et le droit” : nouvel espace, nouveaux rapports aux territoires” Journal du droit international (France), Issue 2016/4 – will appear also as The Datasphere and the Law: New Space, New Territories.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Jean-Sylvestre Bergé is a Law professor – Fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), Université Jean-Moulin Lyon 3 Stéphane Grumbach is a senior research scientist at ENS Lyon This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy

Paramilitary policemen hold weapons as they provide security near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Paramilitary policemen hold weapons as they provide security near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By J.R. Wu
June 4, 2016

TAIPEI (Reuters) – On the anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on student-led protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Taiwan’s new president told China on Saturday that democracy is nothing to fear.

Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on the 27th anniversary that Taiwan could serve as an example to China.

Tsai said in the run-up to Taiwan’s elections earlier this year that she had seen people from China, as well as the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, mixing with crowds in Taiwan.

“These many friends, after experiencing things for themselves can see that in fact there’s nothing scary about democracy. Democracy is a good and fine thing,” wrote Tsai, who took office last month.

China sent in tanks to break up the demonstrations on June 4, 1989. Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

The subject remains all but taboo in China, where President Xi Jinping is overseeing a broad crackdown on rights groups and activists.

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy Above, a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy Above, a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Tsai also said in her Facebook post about the Tiananmen crackdown’s anniversary that nobody could deny the material advances China had made under the Communist Party.

However, China would win even more respect internationally if it gave its people even more rights, wrote Tsai, who is from Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwan is the only part of the Chinese-speaking world which holds free elections, and Tsai risks upsetting Beijing with her frank remarks on Tiananmen.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it views as a wayward province under its control and is deeply suspicious of Tsai. Chinese officials have accused her of pushing the island towards formal independence.

In Beijing, security was tight at Tiananmen Square, with long lines at bag and identity checks. The square itself was peaceful, with hundreds of tourists stopping to take photos in the early summer sun.

While most state media made no mention of the sensitive anniversary, the English version of popular Beijing-based tabloid the Global Times wrote in a commentary that people in China had put the events of 1989 behind them.

“The annual hubbub around the June 4 incident is nothing but bubbles that are doomed to burst.”

China dismissed a statement by the U.S. Department of State on the political turbulence in 1989, urging the United States not to harm bilateral ties, the official Xinhua news service reported.

Tsai said Taiwan understood the pain caused by Tiananmen because Taiwan had similar experiences in its struggle for democracy, referring to repression under the martial law enforced by the Nationalists over the island from 1949 to 1987.

“I’m not here to give advice about the political system on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, but am willing to sincerely share Taiwan’s democratic experience,” she said.

In Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and is the only place on Chinese soil where June 4 commemorations are tolerated, around 125,000 people attended the main candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, according to organizers’ estimates, which local broadcaster RTHK said was the lowest attendance since 2008.

The police estimated attendance at 21,800.

In a sign of persistent tensions around Hong Kong’s future and its relationship to mainland China, an activist shouting for Hong Kong independence tried to rush the stage at the vigil.

A number of university students boycotted the main vigil and instead held separate on-campus events discussing the city’s current political situation instead of just commemorating the events of 1989.

Reuters estimated about 2,000 people attended events at local universities.

Pro-Beijing groups cordoned off areas near Victoria Park where they set up mainland Chinese flags and shredded yellow umbrellas to symbolize Hong Kong’s 2014 street protests that called for democratic reforms but failed to achieve them.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Faith Hung, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Venus Wu, Teenie Ho, Tris Pan, Sue-Lin Wong, Hera Poon, Joyce Zhou and Clare Baldwin in HONG KONG; Editing by Paul Tait and Hugh Lawson)

Next read these analyses by Jonathan Manthorpe:

Hong Kong activists split over Tiananmen Square

For the first time, Hong Kong’s Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions, will not take part in the Victoria Park demonstrations. Instead, it will help organize a number of events and demonstrations confronting democracy and even independence in Hong Kong’s future.

DPP Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai gives a speech during a news conference to promote her campaign for the 2016 presidential election in TaipeiBeijing tests mettle of Taiwan’s Iron Lady President

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response. Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Trump and Clinton prove America’s voting system is broken

Democracies everywhere are suffering. Voters protest. Citizens don’t vote. Support for the political extremes are increasing. One of the underlying causes, we argue, is majority voting as it is now practiced, and its influence on the media.

By Michel Balinski  an Rida Laraki 
May, 2016

Having outlasted all his opponents, Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton is closing in on locking up the Democratic nomination.

Clinton and Trump may have won primaries, but are they really representative of what the American people want? In fact, as we will show, it is John Kasich and Bernie Sanders who are first in the nation’s esteem. Trump and Clinton come last.

So how has it come to this? The media has played a big role, of course, but that Trump versus Clinton will almost surely be the choice this November is the result of the totally absurd method of election used in the primaries: majority voting.

This is a strong statement. But as mathematicians who have spent the last dozen years studying voting systems, we are going to show you why it’s justified and how this problem can be fixed.

With majority voting (MV), voters tick the name of one candidate, at most, and the numbers of ticks determine the winner and the order of finish. It’s a system that is used across the U.S. (and in many other nations) to elect presidents as well as senators, representatives and governors.

But it has often failed to elect the candidate preferred by the majority.

In 2000, for example, George W. Bush was elected president because of Ralph Nader’s candidacy. In the contested state of Florida, Bush had 2,912,790 votes, Al Gore 2,912,253 (a mere 537 fewer) and Nader 97,488. There is little doubt that the large majority of those who voted for Nader, and so preferred him to the others, much preferred Gore to Bush. Had they been able to express this preference, Gore would have been elected with 291 Electoral College votes to Bush’s 246. Similar dysfunctions have also occurred in France.

Imagine how different the U.S. and the world might be today if Gore had won.

A quick glance at the U.S. presidential primaries and caucuses held on or before March 1 shows that when Trump was the “winner,” he typically garnered some 40 percent of the votes. However, nothing in that result factors in the opinions of the 60 percent of voters who cast ballots for someone else.

As Trump is a particularly divisive candidate, it is safe to suppose that most – or at least many – of them strongly opposed him. The media, however, focused on the person who got the largest number of votes – which means Trump. On the Democratic side of the ledger, the media similarly poured its attention on Hillary Clinton, ignoring Bernie Sanders until widespread enthusiastic support forced a change.

An election is nothing but an invented device that measures the electorate’s support of the candidates, ranks them according to their support and declares the winner to be the first in the ranking.

The fact is that majority voting does this very badly.

With MV, voters cannot express their opinions on all candidates. Instead, each voter is limited to backing just one candidate, to the exclusion of all others in the running.

Bush defeated Gore because Nader voters were unable to weigh in on the other two. Moreover, as we argue further on, majority voting can go wrong even when there are just two candidates.

The point is that it is essential for voters to be able to express the nuances of their opinions.

Majority judgment (MJ) is a new method of election that we specifically designed to avoid the pitfalls of the traditional methods.

MJ asks voters to express their opinions much more accurately than simply voting for one candidate. The ballot offers a spectrum of choices and charges voters with a solemn task:

To be the President of the United States of America, having taken into account all relevant considerations, I judge that this candidate as president would be a: Great President | Good President | Average President | Poor President | Terrible President

To see exactly how MJ ranks the candidates, let’s look at specific numbers.

We were lucky to find on the web that the above question was actually posed in a March Pew Research Center poll of 1,787 registered voters of all political stripes. (It should be noted that neither the respondents nor the pollsters were aware that the answers could be the basis for a method of election.) The Pew poll also included the option of answering “Never Heard Of” which here is interpreted as worse than “Terrible” since it amounts to the voter saying the candidate doesn’t exist.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 5.53.28 PM

Majority judgment of presidential candidates. Authors provided.

As is clear in the table, right, people’s opinions are much more detailed than can be expressed with majority voting. Note in particular the relatively high percentages of voters who believe Clinton and especially Trump would make terrible presidents (Pew reports that Trump’s “Terrible” score increased by 6 percent since January.)

Using majority judgment to calculate the ranked order of the candidates from these evaluations or grades is straightforward. Start from each end of the spectrum and add percentages until a majority of voters’ opinions are included.

Taking John Kasich as an example, 5 percent believe he is “Great,” 5+28=33 percent that he is “Good” or better, and 33+39=72 percent (a majority) that he is “Average” or better. Looked at from the other end, 9 percent “Never Heard” of him, 9+7=16 percent believe he is “Terrible” or worse, 16+13=29 percent that he is “Poor” or worse, and 29+39= 68 percent (a majority) that he is “Average” or worse.

Both calculations end on majorities for “Average,” so Kasich’s majority-grade is “Average President.” (Mathematically, the calculations from both directions for a given candidate will always reach majorities at the same grade.)

Similarly calculated, Sanders, Clinton and Cruz all have the same majority-grade, “Average President.” Trump’s is “Poor President,” ranking him last.

To determine the MJ ranking among the four who all are rated “Average,” two more calculations are necessary.

The first looks at the percentage of voters who rate a candidate more highly than his or her majority-grade, the second at the percentage who rate the candidate lower than his or her majority-grade. This delivers a number called the “gauge.” Think of it as a scale where in some cases the majority grade leans more heavily toward a higher ranking and in others more heavily toward a lower ranking.

In Kasich’s case, 5+28=33 percent evaluated him higher than “Average,” and 13+7+9=29 percent rated him below “Average.” Because the larger share is on the positive side, his gauge is +33 percent. For Sanders, 36 percent evaluated him above and 39 percent below his majority-grade. With the larger share on the negative side, his gauge is -39 percent.

Majority judgment ranking of presidential candidates. Authors provided

Majority judgment ranking of presidential candidates. Authors provided

A candidate is ranked above another when his or her majority-grade is better or, if both have the same majority-grade, according to their gauges (see below). This rule is the logical result of majorities deciding on candidates’ grades instead of the usual rule that ranks candidates by the numbers of votes they get.

When voters are able to express their evaluations of every candidate – the good and the bad – the results are turned upside-down from those with majority voting.

According to majority judgment, the front-runners in the collective opinion are actually Kasich and Sanders. Clinton and Trump are the trailers. From this perspective the dominant media gave far too much attention to the true trailers and far too little to the true leaders.

Tellingly, MJ also shows society’s relatively low esteem for politicians. All five candidates are evaluated as “Average” presidents or worse, and none as “Good” presidents or better.

But, you may object, how can majority voting on just two candidates go wrong? This seems to go against everything you learned since grade school where you raised your hand for or against a classroom choice.

The reason MV can go wrong even with only two candidates is because it does not obtain sufficient information about a voter’s intensity of support.

Take, as an example, the choice between Clinton and Trump, whose evaluations in the Pew poll are given in the first table above.

Lining up their grades from highest to lowest, every one of Clinton’s is either above or the same as Trump’s. Eleven percent, for example, believe Clinton would make a “Great” president to 10 percent for Trump. Trump’s percentages lead Clinton’s only for the Terrible’s and Never Heard Of’s. Given these opinions, in other words, it’s clear that any decent voting method must rank Clinton above Trump.

However, majority voting could fail to do so.

To see why, suppose the “ballots” of the Pew poll were in a pile. Each could be looked at separately. Some would rate Clinton “Average” and Trump “Poor,” some would rate her “Good” and him “Great,” others would assign them any of the 36 possible couples of grades. We can, therefore, find the percentage of occurrence of every couple of grades assigned to Trump and Clinton.

We do not have access to the Pew poll “ballots.” However, one could come up with many different scenarios where the individual ballot percentages are in exact agreement with the overall grades each received in the first table.

Among the various scenarios possible, we have chosen one that could, in theory, be the true one. Indeed, you can check for yourself that it does assign the candidates the grades each received: reading from left to right, Clinton, for example, had 10+12=22 percent “Good,” 16+4=20 percent “Average,” and so on; and the same holds for Trump.

So what does this hypothetical distribution of the ballots concerning the two tell us?

The first column on the left says 10 percent of the voters rated Clinton “Good” and Trump “Great.” In a majority vote they would go for Trump. And moving to the tenth column, 4 percent rated Clinton “Poor” and Trump “Terrible.” In a majority vote this group would opt for Clinton. And so on.

A hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Authors provided

A hypothetical head-to-head matchup. Authors provided

If you add up the votes in each of these 11 columns, Trump receives the votes of the people whose opinions are reflected in four columns: 10+16+12+15=53 percent; Clinton is backed by the voters with the opinions of columns with 33 percent support; and 14 percent are undecided. Even if the undecided all voted for Clinton, Trump would carry the day.

This shows that majority voting can give a very wrong result: a triumphant victory for Trump when Clinton’s grades are consistently above his!

Voting has been the subject of intense mathematical research since 1950, when the economist Kenneth Arrow published his famous “impossibility theorem,” one of the two major contributions for which he was awarded the 1972 Nobel Prize.

Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a French philosopher and mathematician.

This theorem showed that if voters have to rank candidates – to say, in other words, who comes first, second and so forth – there will inevitably be one of two major potential failures. Either there may be no clear winner at all, the so-called “Condorcet paradox” occurs, or what has come to be called the “Arrow paradox” may occur.

The Arrow paradox is familiar to Americans because of what happened in the 2000 election. Bush beat Gore because Nader was in the running. Had Nader not run, Gore would have won. Surely, it is absurd for the choice between two candidates to depend on whether or not some minor candidate is on the ballot!

Majority judgment resolves the conundrum of Arrow’s theorem: neither the Condorcet nor the Arrow paradox can occur. It does so because voters are asked for more accurate information, to evaluate candidates rather than to rank them.

MJ’s rules, based on the majority principle, meet the basic democratic goals of voting systems. With it:

  • Voters are able to express themselves more fully, so the results depend on much more information than a single vote.
  • The process of voting has proven to be natural, easy and quick: we all know about grading from school (as the Pew poll implicitly realized).
  • Candidates with similar political profiles can run without impinging on each other’s chances: a voter can give high (or low) evaluations to all.
  • The candidate who is evaluated best by the majority wins.
  • MJ is the most difficult system to manipulate: blocs of voters who exaggerate the grades they give beyond their true opinions can only have a limited influence on the results.
  • By asking more of voters, by showing more respect for their opinions, participation is encouraged. Even a voter who evaluates all candidates identically (e.g., all are “Terrible”) has an effect on the outcome.
  • Final grades – majority-grades – enable candidates and the public to understand where each stands in the eyes of the electorate.
  • If the majority decides that no candidate is judged an “Average President” or better, the results of the election may be rescinded, and a new slate of candidates demanded.
  • It is a practical method that has been tested in elections and used many times (for judging prize-winners, wines, job applicants, etc.). It has also been formally proposed as a way to reform the French presidential election system.

It should come as no surprise that in answer to a recent Pew poll’s question “Do you think the primaries have been a good way of determining who the best qualified nominees are or not?” only 35 percent of respondents said yes.

Democracies everywhere are suffering. Voters protest. Citizens don’t vote. Support for the political extremes are increasing. One of the underlying causes, we argue, is majority voting as it is now practiced, and its influence on the media.

Misled by the results of primaries and polls, the media concentrates its attention on candidates who seem to be the leaders, but who are often far from being deemed acceptable by a majority of the electorate. Majority judgment would correct these failings.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Michel Balinski is an applied mathematician and mathematical economist, “Directeur de recherche de classe exceptionnelle” (emeritus) of the C.N.R.S. , École Polytechnique – Université Paris Saclay.  Rida Laraki is Directeur de recherche CNRS au LAMSADE, Professeur à l’École polytechnique, Université Paris Dauphine – PSL.  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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To have a healthy democracy, it is not enough to hold regular elections, or for every person to get one – and only one – vote. At the heart of democracy is the idea that by voting for a particular party, the people confer upon that party legitimate authority to govern. But if a vote is to justify a ruler’s claim to authority, a number of conditions need to be met.

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Inequality threatens democracy — investors

By Laurie Goering
April, 2016

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia's northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Katy Migiro

A farmer waits to receive emergency food aid in the village of Estayish in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region, February 11, 2016. Picture taken February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Katy Migiro

OXFORD, England — (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Growing global wealth inequality is becoming a fundamental risk to democracy and to economies around the world as more people feel government rules are “rigged” in favour of the rich leave them with few options, investors and governance experts said this month.

“It’s very dangerous,” said Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. “If people can’t aspire to succeed within the system, they will aspire … outside the system, in ways that break the system.”

That frustration is feeding into everything from the contentious U.S. presidential race to growing dissatisfaction over the amount of aid money that lands in the hands of rich-nation consultants rather than reaching the poor, experts said at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford.

In the United States, for example, “trickle down” economic policies that support tax cuts for the rich with the aim of boosting economic growth and jobs have led to a $2 trillion annual redistribution of wealth from the bottom 99 percent of earners to the top 1 percent over the last 30 years, said Nick Hanauer, a former venture capitalist and now head of Civic Ventures, which aims to drive social change.

If the trend continues, by 2030, the top 1 percent of Americans will earn 37 to 40 percent of the country’s income, with the bottom 50 percent getting just 6 percent, he said.

“That’s not a capitalist market economy anymore,” he warned. “That’s a feudalist system and it scares … me.”

Globally, half of the world’s wealth is now held by just 1 percent of the world’s population, according to a 2015 report by Credit Suisse, a financial services company.

That trend toward greater inequality – driven in part by tax policies and shifts such as the growing power of corporate lobbyists in the United States – is leading to the increasing belief that political systems can no longer deliver results for many people, said Darren Walker, president of the U.S.-based Ford Foundation.

Many people feel that “the political apparatus of democracy is corrupted” and the result is “dissatisfaction by huge swathes of the population about the potential of democracy to deliver anything of value and meaning to their lives,” he said.

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SUITCASE OF MONEY

It is also putting the United States in an odd spot when it comes to enforcing anti-corruption rules overseas, including in the aid business, he said.

U.S. aid groups ask, “Can we really trust Africans to spend this money in the way Congress has appropriated?” Walker said. “People say, ‘Poor you, you have to bring a suitcase of money when doing things in Africa.'”

“But we have the same thing in the United States – but you don’t have to bring a suitcase. You bring a check. And you get the same effect. You give it to the officials’ fundraiser and say, ‘By the way, I need you to do this for me,'” he said.

“It’s no different (except) it’s legal,” he added. “We need to (see) our own culpability in this inequality.”

Aid agencies and social enterprises – businesses that strive for social good as well as profits – also are part of the problem when huge sums of money they spend on bringing people out of poverty in poor countries end up in the pockets of rich-world consultants, the experts said.

Donors “make a lot of fuss holding us to account on the money we get,” Woods recalled a frustrated representative of an Indonesian organisation saying. “But for every dollar we get, 80 cents stays in the beltway (around Washington DC),” she said.

Many organisations – including USAID – are now trying to improve that percentage, delegates at the Skoll Forum said. But progress in helping aid recipient countries build their own systems to take care of their own problems has been slow.

BUILDING CAPACITY

The goal of giving “capacity building grants”, Walker said, should be to make sure “you don’t need to go back to Africa. So there is a rich, robust civil society there. That’s the vision, and we’re a long way from it.”

Investing more in civil society groups in poor countries, rather than just U.N. organisations, is one way of bringing change, said Degan Ali, the executive director of Adeso, a local charity working in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Reversing growing inequality will depend largely on revamping government policies and making rules fairer, changes that often need to be driven by public pressure, panelists said.

Those might include everything from ensuring that civil servants don’t change with each election to eliminating private schools to drive funding into improving state-run schools, the panelists and audience members said.

Woods noted that her own university education in New Zealand was funded by taxes. “That opportunity is one we’re all agreed is open to far too few people today. We have to think about why,” she said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Ros Russell:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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