FEBRUARY 2021 EDITION 37
THE HOME OF STUDENT POLITICAL COMMENTARY
YEAR OF THE CLIMATE? AUGUST LILJENBERG
THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY IN BELARUS
THE CASE FOR NORTHERN DEVOLUTION
It’s a pleasure to introduce this edition of Perspectives, along with a revamped team. Our new Deputy Editors: Catharina, Lily, Ben and Ilgın have all become invaluable members of the team and it is great having them onboard! With a fresh set of eyes, the insights in this magazine are more diverse than ever. A common theme throughout the magazine is the looming reckoning with the devastation caused in the wake of such a terrible year in 2020. In that spirit, my favourite article of this edition has to be Maximillian Bachmeier’s profile on Luis Arce, Bolivian President and former Warwick alumnus! As ever, thanks for reading.
I have thoroughly enjoyed editing this issue of Perspectives, particularly given the challenging 2020 we all had. This edition looks ahead to 2021, discussing the urgency of climate justice and environmental issues. For most of the world, this year will be a year of reform as we begin to emerge, slowly but surely, from the global pandemic. This edition also has a theme of protest, be it the #ENDSARS movement or the movements in India and Thailand discussed in the Asia section. Now is the time to raise our voices to injustice in the world, reforming institutions as we rebuild. I particularly enjoyed reading Braedie Atkin's review of Akala's Natives, discussing the intersections of race and class. I hope you enjoy this edition, stay safe!
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CONTENTS Profile: Luis Arce by Maximillian Bachmeier
#ENDSARS: How a hashtag helped spark a revolution in Nigeria by Hanna Bajwa
Don't count Trump 2024 out just yet by Arthur Kleinman
Will 2021 be the year of the climate? By Thom Barnes-Wise
Thailand student protests: trouble in paradise by Eden Fall-Bailey
Farmer protests and strikes in India must not go unheard by Catharina Schaufler-Mendez
The fight for democracy in Belarus by August Liljenberg
COVID-19 exposes European fault lines by George Ridley
Need to Know: Tigray conflict in Ethiopia
Women's rights in the Middle East: progression or regression? By Ophelia Merali
Modernity against tradition in Saudia Arabia: the case of Neom by Remi Trovo
2020 was Ardern's year: but things will get harder by James Baldwin 18 Australian wildfires: one year on and nothing has changed by Georgina Milner
The case for northern devolution by OisĂn Phillips 20 Book reviews by Laure Renault and Braedie Atkins 21 Should the Electoral College be abolished? By Lily Meckel and Joe Hill 22
LUIS ARCE, PRESIDENT OF BOLIVIA WHO IS HE?
“We have reclaimed democracy” rejoiced Bolivia’s new leader Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, following his landslide win in the presidential elections in October 2020. Born into a middle-class family in the capital city of La Paz, the 57-year-old started out working for the Bolivian central bank for nearly two decades. After serving as the country’s Minister of Economy and Public Finance from 2006-2019, the UK-educated economist eventually ran for president in 2020 and led his socialist party ‘MAS’ back to power. His promise to rebuild the country is oriented towards the Bolivian motto: ‘La unión es la fuerza’ – Unity is strength.
Maximillian Bachmeier is a postgraduate Social and Political Thought student from Stuttgart, Germany.
Arce, who took a hiatus from his engagement at the Bolivian central bank to graduate from the University of Warwick with a Masters degree in Economics, had a profound impact on Bolivia’s economy. During his 13-year tenure as finance minister, key industries such as hydrocarbon, mining and telecommunications were nationalised. The revenues from these state-owned enterprises were in turn reinvested to support small businesses and fund poverty alleviation programmes. As a result, extreme poverty dropped from a staggering 38% in 2005 to 15% in 2017 while the country averaged an economic growth rate of roughly 5% per annum.
DEAR MR PRESIDENT
Following his ministerial accomplishments, Luis Arce secured the win for his party ‘Movement for Socialism’ (MAS) in the 2020 presidential elections with 55% of the votes opposed to his main competitor’s 29%. Although his opponent, conservative Carlos Mesa, as well as right-wing interim president Jeanine Áñez were quick to accept the election results, not everyone was happy with the outcome: only three days before Arce’s official inauguration in November, unknown culprits launched a dynamite attack targeting his party’s campaign headquarters. Luckily, the president-elect survived the detonation unharmed and was ultimately sworn into office in the presence of King Felipe VI of Spain.
Contrary to his mentor and pre-predecessor, left-wing strongman Evo Morales, Luis Arce is viewed as more of a mild-mannered character. This fits the public image of the bespectacled economist who – despite his nickname ‘Lucho’ – many consider a pragmatic technocrat rather than a social warrior. In spite of Morales’ function as MAS party leader, Arce affirmed the former “will not have any role in our government". The new president further promised to leave ideological matters aside when dealing with politicians both domestically and abroad. It is this level-headedness that might prove valuable governing a chronically unstable country.
Although he already announced to serve no longer than one term in office, Luis Arce’s impact in these five years could be a long-lasting one. Besides its rich natural gas deposits, Bolivia disposes of the planet’s biggest reserves of lithium, a metal crucial to satisfy the world’s never-ending thirst for batteries. Arce’s plan of unlocking his country’s potential by sustainably exploiting those reserves might bring unbeknownst wealth to one of the poorest regions in South America. At the same time, a successful democratic-socialist government would be a powerful political symbol beyond a continent that’s riddled with autocrats. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Flickr / UNCTAD
The #EndSARS movement in Nigeria garnered remarkable attention through its social media campaign in 2020. In the wake of the Arab Spring, researchers credited social media as a catalyst for change, a pattern which the #EndSARS movement follows. Originating in late 2017, the #EndSARS campaign is aimed at drawing attention to the human rights violations committed by SARS – Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The squad was created in 1992 to fight violent crimes, however since its formation it has been accused of committing various human rights violations. Amnesty International released a report detailing 82 cases of “young men being subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment by SARS officers across Nigeria”. The report also highlighted the fact that most SARS officers commit their crimes knowing they will never face arrest, prosecution, or punishment. Due to that, the #EndSARS movement aims to raise public awareness and speak out against the unit, ensuring their alleged crimes were known domestically and internationally. The movement gained momentum again in October 2020, with, at the time of writing, almost 28 mil-
lion tweets bearing the hashtag having been posted on Twitter alone. Protests of solidarity and demonstrations occurred in various cities worldwide. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and actor John Boyega issued statements of support online, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey encouraged users to donate bitcoin to the #EndSARS organizer’s cryptocurrency wallets after the Government had frozen the activists’ bank accounts. Actions taken worldwide and within Nigeria proved effective. Within a few days of the protests, on October 11th, 2020, the Nigerian Police Force announced that it was dissolving the unit, effective immediately. This was a major victory, however some protesters recalled that similar announcements have happened before, which resulted in the unit simply being rebranded rather than disbanded. Due to this scepticism, protests have continued. The response of the Nigerian government has been quite telling, as they focused efforts on ending the protests rather than solving police brutality in the country. The creation of a new unit: the Special Weapons and Tactics Force (SWAT) - which has resulted in its own hashtag, #EndSWAT - and the failure to commit to the prosecution of SARS officers has continued to fuel anger in many Nigerians. Several states in Nigeria have set up panels to investigate SARS abuses, yet historically, these panels weren’t successful in carrying out justice, leaving people pessimistic of its outcomes. In 2019, a presidential panel recommended 23 SARS officers be prosecuted for abuses, but to this day this recommendation has not been implemented. In December, the protests continued with ‘Phase II’ of the #EndSARS movement, despite the previous protests ending after the army opened fire on peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate plaza in Lagos. But because the un-
derlying grievances of the protesters remain unresolved, they continue to fight on. A massive security force deployment kept a ‘Phase II’ protest from occurring at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos earlier in December. Additionally, the Government has focused intense pressure on waging a full-scale information war, claiming that the protests have been entirely hijacked by ‘hoodlums,’ and vastly overstating the degree of violence and destruction perpetrated by protesters. Despite these setbacks, Nigerians continue to push for change. Although the international attention the movement garnered helped greatly, long-term policy change must come through lower-profile, careful organising that targets the pressure points of the Nigerian state in a way that is sustained and committed for the long-term. These protests have also shed light on other underlying issues with the Government, which has led to some protesters shifting the focus of the #EndSARS movement to encompass these issues by prolonging the protests. Important among these underlying issues is the current rate of youth unemployment and the sense of hopelessness that this has engendered amongst young people. The #EndSARS movement has now broadened past ending police brutality and has brought underlying issues such as economic hardship, maladministration, and the damaged relationship Nigerians have with the rule of law to the surface. No presidential pledges will satisfy the hunger and expectations of the reawakened Nigerian population, especially the youth. The people are tired of empty promises. They demand change and will not shy away from actively working towards it.
Hanna Bajwa is a second-year Politics and Sociology student from Prestwood, Buckinghamshire.
IMAGE: Unsplash / Ayoola Salako
#ENDSARS: HOW A HASHTAG HELPED SPARK A REVOLUTION IN NIGERIA
An article about the next US election already? Isn't it far too early for that? Not for the outgoing president, apparently. At a White House Christmas party in December, Donald Trump told guests that he and his team would see them "in four years". If we are to take him at his word, he means to secure a second presidential term in 2024. Nevertheless, as absurd as it may seem, the prospect should be taken seriously. Looking back on November, Trump indeed lost the popular vote by 4.4%, a wider margin than in 2016. However, he did manage to secure the ballots of 74.2 million Americans - the highest figure ever achieved by a Republican presidential candidate, and an increase of approximately 11 million over his 2016 tally. Trump lost the election, but the numbers unambiguously illustrate that his messaging resonated with much of the country, for better or worse. That said, it is not as if he was far off an electoral college victory either. Biden won Wisconsin by only 20,682 votes; Georgia by a mere 11,779; and Arizona by an even smaller margin of 10,457. Put another way, if the Republicans had garnered an additional 45,000 votes across these three states, they would have retained the White House. Considering this raw data, as well as the boon generally experienced by opposition candidates running unencumbered by the need to defend their current tenure, it wouldn’t be entirely nonsensical for the GOP to nominate Trump for a third time. Indeed, if the outgoing president had exercised some degree of self-restraint and refrained from inciting an insurrection in the Capitol, he would have been the presumptive nominee going into 2024. For one, the outgoing president enjoyed – and still enjoys - substantial support among his party base. According to a Politico/Morning Con-
sult poll taken in November, a full 53% of Republicans and right-leaning independents selected Trump as their favoured candidate for the 2024 primary. Many Republicans have seemingly been spurned by the capitol riots, with 43% voicing opposition in a recent YouGov poll. However, a marginally higher 45% claimed that the riots were legitimate, and Trump nevertheless seems to have retained credence within the party, with a PBS/Marist poll in their immediate aftermath finding 77% of Republicans voicing approval for their leader. The Capitol riots have certainly diminished the outgoing president’s standing within the institutional GOP, a fact borne out by the prompt resignation of various cabinet officials and the resounding criticism emanating from the party’s Senate caucus. Even figures such as South Carolina Senator Lind-
HIS MESSAGING RESONATED WITH MUCH OF THE COUNTRY sey Graham and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton – hitherto staunch, obsequious allies of Trump – have broken ranks. In spite of this, many other Republican officials have continued to cynically indulge the outgoing president’s whims. A staggering 138 Republican House members voted in favour of challenging Pennsylvania’s election result. And who’s to say that institutional backing will count for much come 2024? After all, Trump was hardly well respected among GOP elites in 2016, yet the base’s sheer enthusiasm was sufficient to bring him victory against more institutionally credible candidates. Is it not feasible that such a dynamic re-emerges during the next election cycle, with loyal grassroots supporters again lining up behind the candidate ostracised by mainstream political figures?
If Trump is not convicted and barred from public office by the Senate (a matter not yet settled at the time of writing) and opts to take such a course, America’s political system will only sink deeper into the quagmire of deadlock and polarisation that it currently inhabits. While its social and economic infrastructure further dilapidates, the planet warms and the geopolitical centre of gravity moves further eastward, the US would embroil itself in a torturous and debilitating re-litigation of the zero-sum culture wars that characterised the previous decade – but this time marked by even greater severity, now that their subject matter would be the credibility of American democracy itself. That said, even if one swaps the protagonists - say, for instance, the next election saw Kamala Harris pitted against Mike Pence - the changes explicitly wrought upon American culture and society by the Trump era aren’t easily revocable, for they were only the culmination of a deeply embedded structural rot. Trump’s presidency was the perfect embodiment of America’s cultural decadence and societal dysfunctionality. For that reason, it would not only be feasible, but morbidly fitting for him to seek a second term in four years’ time.
Arthur Kleinman is a thirdyear PPE student from London. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: The White House / Shealah Craighead
DON'T COUNT TRUMP 2024 OUT JUST YET
WILL 2021 BE THE YEAR OF THE CLIMATE?
nation. In liberal democracies, the idea of cutting these high polluting jobs (in fracking, manufacturing, transport, coal plants and the like) is terrifying, for it seems like an unpopular path to electoral loss and years spent in the political wilderness. For more authoritarian states, where electoral victory is less of a concern, the voices of climate activists can be safely ignored and the corporate leaders who profit from destroying the world can usually maintain the status quo through corruption. The second problem is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the effects it is having upon the world. Putting the staggering death toll aside, which should be viewed as intolerable in and of itself, the economic consequences of the pandemic have been monstrous. The IMF predicts that 2020 will be the worst year for the world economy since the Great Depression and estimates the global cost of recovery will exceed $28 trillion. With an economic disaster like this, it is undoubtable that economic recovery from the pandemic will remain the predominant thought of politicians’ collective consciousness for years and, perhaps, the rest of the 2020s. The good news is that world governments are warming up to the idea that
action to save the planet may be necessary. The Biden Administration, which assumed office on the 20th of January, vows to take major steps forward: recommitting to the Paris Agreement and a series of dayone executive orders to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 are the two most impressive policies. Similarly, Xi Jinping has pledged carbon neutrality by 2060 in China and the EU plans to be the first ‘carbon neutral continent’ by 2050. Whilst there are still notable emitters missing from these new commitments – Russia and India especially are dragging their heels – these announcements are welcome developments and represent a dramatic shift in policy from the 2000s and 2010s where environmental concerns were minimal.
2021 MAY VERY WELL BE A DEFINING POINT IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY
But make no mistake, these commitments have not come about as a result of nations suddenly deciding they need to be paragons of virtue, bastions of morality or stalwart defenders of the earth. Rather, governments are changing their policies because it has finally become politically shrewd to take the side of the climate activist and to claim that, of course, the environment has always been a priority. The Biden campaign was particularly two-faced: presenting him as a “climate change pioneer”, ready to make America a world leader of sustainability whilst simultaneously assuring potential swing voters (primarily Pennsylvanians) that he “never said [he opposes] fracking” and would not ban the industry, as in the last presidential debate. As could be expected from a man who has spent most of his political career having very few concrete opinions, his words change depending on what crowd he is with and the world should not hold its breath and wait to see what action Washington takes. China, meanwhile, has noticed a weak spot in American foreign policy – its own ego. Subverting American assumptions that
IMAGE: Unsplash / Markus Spiske
In a world of considerable terror, where tragedy seems like the foundation of society, one fundamental problem is increasingly grasping at the general public’s fear and lingering in their minds – climate change. It is now an indisputable fact that the planet is undergoing widespread global warming and seeing dramatic changes in weather patterns as a result of human activity and, unless something is done soon, that we will be thrown into a brutal and unforgiving crisis that will permanently and negatively affect both our species and the world at large. Fortunately, humanity has a small slither of time in which to make the bold and necessary changes to our way of life in order to ensure the world can remain in some semblance of normality. 2021 may very well be a defining point in the history of humanity. Unfortunately, two things currently hinder plans to negate climate change; world governments and the large corporations they increasingly represent are profiting off an economic system that encourages and facilitates the destruction of our planet. It is in the short-term interests of world leaders to maintain and expand their countries emission rates to ensure economic growth and riches for their
unless the US does it first, Xi Jinping has placed China front-and-centre in the fight against climate change. In September he promised peak emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2060 and has presented China as a staunch ally to the EU, in regard to climate policy. China is now positioning itself to be the major actor for the climate, meaning that organisations anxious about the environment may be forced to look past China’s notable issues – its treatment of the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and militarism in the South China Sea – as long as it commits to saving the planet for the rest of us. Whilst clearly for cynical and self-serving purposes, the politicisation of the climate is probably a good thing. Only the world’s governments are able to make the sort of sweeping changes necessary to ensure our survival, and whether their intentions are pure or not (and for the most part, they’re not), it is good to see that most major polluters finally have decided they have a dog in the fight. COVID-19 presents the primary danger to climate action. With over 102 million cases and 2.2 million deaths at the time of writing, as well as numerous national lockdowns and market panic across the world, the economic and human costs of Covid have been enormous. The management consultancy firm McKinsey predicts that sectors such as food, transport, manufacturing and entertainment may not recover to 2019 level contributions to GDP before 2025 and large numbers of small businesses will not recover at all. This lack of revenue for governments will be further exacerbated by the need to pay for pandemic relief plans, such as America’s recently passed third stimulus bill worth $900 billion. Indeed, America alone is paying nearly a fifth of their 2019 GDP in Covid relief, and they are on the lower end of the scale. Whilst politicians seem hellbent on funnelling money to the wrong institutions (big banks over the unemployed, for example), it is undeniable that huge masses of money are still being spent and this will fit poorly with the loss of tax revenue that will undoubtedly follow. It is clear from this di-
chotomy that national governments are going to have to make Covid recovery a primary concern for the policies of the coming years and it will capture national and international attention in the same way the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis did. This is a problem for those concerned about climate policy, as they risk being pushed to one side and silenced if they cannot properly present climate action as integral to economic recovery. However, there is still room for hope. Just as the economy has been destroyed, it must be rebuilt which means that now is the perfect time for activists and the environmentally concerned to push a progressive new industrial and economic agenda that can both cater to political concerns and provide meaningful action to protecting the climate. It is important that governments are persuaded to invest large amounts into emerging research and industry that provides cleaner and more sustainable alternatives to current options. Spending on more and better renewable energy, efficient and eco-friendly methods of transportation and research into reversing climate change will provide much needed assistance in numerous ways. These investments will lead to an influx of new businesses, which will mean more skilled, high-paying jobs and in turn more tax revenue and higher levels of economic growth. This will be music to the ears of national governments, and if climate-orientated policy can be presented as a solid economic platform, it is undoubtable that treasuries across the globe will leap at the opportunity. Governments should raise the funds for these plans through levying new and more precise taxes against the worst emitters in a country, especially in places like America and Europe where some of the world’s worst polluting companies are situated. Whilst some environmental taxes do currently exist, they are not enough and need to be fundamentally restructured. Only 3% of environmental tax in Britain is related to pollution and almost half of environmental tax is paid not by big corporations but rather from
regular households. By implementing new taxes designed specifically to target people based on what amount of the national carbon emissions they cause, governments will be able to very quickly raise large amounts of money for Covid recovery whilst also further providing an intense financial incentive for these companies to very rapidly diverge away from high emissions energy production. Regardless of what happens, most world governments are going to enter 2021 desperately looking for economic stability and a return to a pre-Covid world. Rather than looking to the past, however, politicians need to be brave and to adopt radical economic plans. These may upset the old guard of business and political elite, but it is precisely those groups that have led us to many of the problems we face in modern society. Of course, politicians are not usually known for championing climate change which is why it is important for regular people to amplify the voices of the climate and environmental activists that have been calling for action for years. As protecting the environment becomes the war cry of international actors, we can hope to see more meaningful international co-operation. When combined with the opportunity that a post-Covid economic world presents, there are reasons to feel optimistic about the future of the world. But 2019 was proclaimed ‘the year of climate consciousness’ and 2020 ‘the year of climate action’ so perhaps it’s a little premature to declare 2021 ‘the year of the climate’ already.
Thom Barnes-Wise year PAIS student
is a firstfrom Egham.
IMAGE: Flirckr: Tia Dufor / The White House
Thailand. A land of beaches, bucket cocktails, and pro-democracy boycotts. The Thai people endured a lot in 2020: Covid-19, the shutdown of their tourist-based economy, and the resurgence of pro-democracy protests against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. With a long history of political turmoil and 12 military coups since 1932, younger generations of Thais are again protesting for constitutional reform and a less authoritative monarchy. Following the 2014 military coup that placed Chan-o-cha in power, the 2019 general election was considered a chance for change by those exhausted by the undermining of democratic rights. Nevertheless, hopes for progressive change in Thailand were crushed by the state-mandated dissolution of the Future Forward Party (FFP), an opposition party who won the third-largest share of seats in the 2019 general election, as FFP allegedly mishandled political funds. To young Thais, this seemed to extinguish the possibility of broadening the democratic institutions that they had demanded before the election. Consequently, thousands participated in demonstrations on academic campuses against the military government in February 2020. However, protests were halted by Thailand’s coronavirus state of emergency, conveniently implemented by Chano-cha in the wake of the pandemic. More recently, protests have been fuelled again by the abduction of prominent pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, where protestors accuse the state of coordinat10
ing the kidnap. The demonstrations, mainly organised through grassroots movements, have been attended by up to 100,000 Thais. Despite their peaceful marching, they have violently clashed with the military and the state police, who sought the usage of water cannons and alleged chemical sprays. It is clear why younger progressives in Thailand have become weary of their political institutions and the monarchy, led by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who, since his installment in May 2019, has sought to extend his monarchical powers beyond their traditional reigns. Whether it's intervening in the drafting of the Thai constitution or assuming personal ownership of the Crown Property Bureau’s fortune, which was traditionally held in trust for the benefits of Thai people, the King's actions have been repeatedly questioned. Yet, with the lèse majesté laws in place, openly criticising the King’s actions is illegal in Thailand.
CRITICISING THE KING’S ACTIONS IS ILLEGAL With Thailand being politically suffocated by Chan-o-cha and his constitution, enabling extensive military powers and silencing of dissent, student protest groups such as Free Youth have emulated the 3 finger salute to represent their quest for democracy, adopted from Hunger Games. The 3 finger salute symbol dates back to 2014, when it was first used in defiance against General Prayut’s military coup. The salute was aggressively stifled by the government, with anyone who deployed it immediately arrested. The symbol came to represent liberty against the backdrop of authoritarianism. Free Youth have also organised demands for the resignation of Chano-cha, the repealing of lèse majesté laws, and the reversal of King's constitutional powers. Yet, it is barely realistic for Thailand, with a history of
such authoritative governance, to give in to the demands of students, especially since the protests are waning. Many argue that these protests truly represent a clash between the older royalists and the younger progressives. With modern protesters adapting pop culture to the demonstrations, traditionalists demand an end to themed rallies. Moreover, as a result of the pandemic, 8.3 million Thais are estimated to be facing job losses, mostly employees in the tourism and service industry, which produces 7% of Thailand’s annual GDP. Growing anger over the government’s inability to meet students' demands, harsher restrictions on demonstrations, and state-mandated curfews have culminated in divisions among protesters, and the main disagreements are on how to proceed. Student protesters linked to the Thammasat University have distanced themselves from the movement, indicating that the protests will soon start to dwindle as fast as they arose. Chan-o-cha has refused to step down and has continued to clamp down on protesters through the lèse majesté laws, with over 100 protesters charged under the criminal act. Despite this, Prayut’s government has made concessions over re-drafting the Thai constitution, signalling that the pressures of the pandemic alongside students' insistence have forced Chan-o-cha to act decisively. Despite students making up most of the protests, they rely heavily on support from hospitality workers who are fed up with the country’s economic crises. What is more likely is that as Thailand’s economy starts to recover, people most affected by the virus’s devastating economic effects will shift their focus away from political matters and start to rebuild their lives. With Thailand beginning to reopen to tourists, support for students will most likely wane.
Eden Fall-Bailey is a first-year PPL student from Manchester & Singapore.
IMAGE: Flickr / Royal Palace/Handout
THAILAND STUDENT PROTESTS: TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Since September 20, 2020, India has been in turmoil with no foreseeable end in sight. In addition to the dire effects Covid-19 has had on the country - driving it into a recession, exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, and a sharp increase in the unemployment rate - the passing of three controversial farm acts by the Parliament has resulted in nationwide protests and a general strike of unparalleled proportions. Agriculture is the main source of income for around 58% of Indians and constitutes almost 15% towards India’s $2.9 trillion economy. Nevertheless, the people sustaining this vital sector of India’s economy and providing the country with food have been continually plagued by “poverty, underdevelopment, and suffering” according to the Guardian, with India also having one of the highest rates of farmer suicides in the world. According to the 2016 Economic Survey, most farmers in India own “less than one hectare of land”, living ‘hand-to-mouth’, barely making it by. The newly introduced bills would only increase the suffering of farmers, as they seek to further deregulate the agricultural sector, allowing large agribusinesses and multinational corporations to easily exploit farmers. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated the laws “would reform an archaic and outdated system and give farmers more control over their crop prices”, many allege this is not actually the case. The currently semistate-run farming system will be turned into a market-oriented system, eliminating governmentally managed and guaranteed crop prices, which have provided farmers with a degree of certainty to make future investments by assuring farmers receive a minimum price for crops sold. By giving farmers the ‘freedom’ to sell their goods to anyone for any price, big companies would be given the opportunity to drive down crop prices. The anti-farmer bills directly
threaten the already deplorable livelihoods of Indian farmers, triggering protests nationwide, with millions of farmers revolting, primarily in Haryana and Punjab. The main objectives of these protests is for the government to repeal the new laws and legally ensure minimum support prices for farmers. According to the Guardian, these protests have resulted in large sections of the transport industry shutting down, in addition to shops and markets as the protests escalate “with the launch of a national strike”. These protests subsequently converged into a more coherent movement called Dilli Chalo, meaning ‘let’s go to Delhi’, with nearly 10 million farmers blocking major entry points into the capital city, setting up camps at the borders. Although protests have been peaceful, there are reports of police responding by using water cannons, tear gas, and batons in an effort to prevent entry into Delhi. Media reports estimate that 57 deaths have occurred during the protest movement, including farmer suicides. However, the farmers are not alone in their fight. Transport workers’ unions were early in showing their solidarity, blocking essential railways and highways in an attempt to put pressure on the government to listen to the farmers’ demands. Indian workers have been consistently targeted by the Modi government, as it continually privatizes various sectors, curtails labor rights in workplaces, increases the working day, and amends labor laws. Major industries, including transport, coal, and banking, have had enough of Modi’s attacks, which, in addition to the anti-farmer bills, culminated in 250 million people participating in a general strike on November 26; the largest strike in global history. Although the general strike encompassed 615 districts across India, brought states such as Kerala to a standstill, affected various public ser-
vices and 80% of coal production, and, most notably, comprised 250 million workers, mainstream Western media has barely recognised one of the largest organized events in human history. Additionally, the numbers of participants in the farmers' protests are greatly underreported, never reaching more than ‘tens’ or ‘hundreds of thousands’ of protestors. What is the reason for the media’s under and even complete lack of reporting on these massive events? Worker and farmer organization on a scale as large as is currently found in India threatens the bourgeoisie not only in India but globally. Western capitalists are frightened of the power that workers hold when they stand in solidarity, which is why worker ignorance is their bliss. India should serve as a stellar example to the West as to what can be achieved when workers realize their full power. If Indian farmers and workers persevere until their demands are met they can remind the global workforce what power they actually hold and that they can bring about real change.
Catharina Schaufler-Mendez is a second-year PAIS and GSD student from Vienna, Austria. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Unsplash: Naveed Ahmed
FARMER PROTESTS AND STRIKES IN INDIA MUST NOT GO UNHEARD
Following the disputed re-election of President Lukashenko, protests have dominated the country’s socio-political landscape since the spring of 2020. The critical actor in this opposition movement is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was the opposition candidate of the election, following the arrest of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, then the main opposition candidate two months before the election. Currently residing in Lithuania after the political persecution of the Lukashenko regime, Tsikhanouskaya remains a strong symbol of the opposition movement, encouraging hope for Belarus’ political landscape. However, it is more crucial in predicting Belarus’ future to place it in a geopolitical context. Moscow sees central Europe as both a vital buffer and a strategic zone to launch operations against potential NATO aggression. Russia’s military alliance with Belarus also shortens its distance to the Kaliningrad, Russia’s significant semi-exclave between Poland and Lithuania. In any potential military conflict between Russia and NATO, Belarus will be vital to entering the European theatre of warfare. Despite close military and economic ties, the camaraderie between Minsk and Moscow has been waning to a great extent. For the past few years, lawmakers in Minsk have been exploring ways of releasing the Kremlin's grip, especially in the economic landscape, where Russian oil refineries dominate Belarus, and 40% of Belarusian trade is tied to its eastern neighbour.
Moscow’s support of the Lukashenko regime amid the protests should be viewed as haphazard and momentary, a preventative choice to avoid a situation similar to the pro-Western Ukrainian revolution in 2014, allowing Putin time to make up his mind on Belarus.
MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON WILL NOT BE CONVINCED WITH EASE On the opposing side of geopolitical fault lines is the West, which is more fractured regarding its approach to Belarus. The West's principal actors are the new Biden administration, the EU, and countries that share cultural ties with Belarus, such as Poland and Lithuania. After the Trump administration’s much-criticised reluctance to engage in the Belarussian election, Biden has vowed to back opposition movements, with Tsikhanouskaya expressing support for the President and “looking forward to future cooperation” with the administration. Moscow will have taken note of this development, considering the anticipation that Biden will be more prepared to intervene with Russia than the Trump administration was. The EU has had a particular admiration for Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign against Belarus’ human rights abuses during the protests, simultaneously stressing the importance of maintaining democratic integrity within Europe. The EU understands that Belarus is not comparable to Ukraine in 2014, where protests were motivated by strengthening ties with the EU. Therefore, advocating closer EU-Belarus cooperation would likely be punching, rather than poking, the Russian bear. Instead, intervention in Belarus has taken the form of the delegation of democratic and human rights issues to Lithuania and Poland. The latter’s historical and ethnic ties to Belarus have made Poland a significant front for the idea of nationally liberating Belarus
through all means - an idea that might be more unifying in its scope than choosing between the East vs. the West. The popularity of such ideas amid the political stalemate will only grow as time passes. All these seemingly simple factors combined - geopolitical security concerns in Moscow, increased liberal internationalism in the US, and rising Belarussian nationalism - creates intricacies for Minsk and Moscow. Protests have dwindled amid the brutal winters of the Belarussian plains. Lukashenko’s promise in late November to step down either during an (improbable) new constitutional reform or when the sixth term of his Presidency ends can be viewed as an attempt to appease the hibernating and exhausted opposition groups in the country. However, Moscow and Washington will not be convinced with ease. Given the military necessity of Belarus for Russia, any potential replacement of Lukashenko must be, at minimum, neutral in Russia’s foreign policy. This renders the backing of Tsikhanouskaya implausible given her recent statement about cooperation with the Biden administration. However, officials in Moscow won’t rush to continue the policy of backing Lukashenko, a leader who has been both disloyal to Russia and lost the trust of Belarus. Along with the prospect of Biden taking a more active approach in supporting the pro-Western Tsikhanouskaya and, perhaps, financing the opposition groups, Washington and Moscow are at odds regarding Belarus’ destiny. What is clear is that its political fate will be decided as the winter chills moderate, and the public emerges onto the streets once more. Whilst decisions made in Moscow and Washington will be important, It will be those that started the movement, the citizens, who will have a crucial role in the resolution of this political crisis.
August Liljenberg is a third-year PPE student from Copenhagen, Denmark.
IMAGE: Flickr: Fernanda LeMarie / Cancillería del Ecuador
THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY IN BELARUS
Since the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Europe in late January 2020, orchestrated policy efforts by EU/EEA countries and the UK to contain the virus and its economic fallout have revealed the inadequacies of European social safety nets. Social distancing and lockdown regulations introduced by European governments to curb the development of the pandemic have had an unequal impact on the labour market. Aside from essential occupations, those in secure jobs who are capable of working remotely have been relatively unimpeded by state-led restrictions and closures. Meanwhile, workers without standard employment contracts – the self-employed and those working on an informal or semi-permanent basis – have borne the brunt of the coronavirus crisis, since they tend to be low-wage earners with a limited ability to work from home. This supply-side economic shock has led to observed increases in levels of poverty and wage inequality throughout Europe. Economic modelling from the University of Oxford predicts a loss rate of up to 16.2% of income for poor workers across the continent as a consequence of emergency directives, accompanied by a 9.4% rise in poverty according to the headcount index. Analysis shows that these trends are generally more drastic in southern economies like Greece, Italy, and Spain,
where ability to continue working in accordance with protective measures has been demonstrably lower and more unevenly distributed among workers than in northern and central economies like Belgium and the Netherlands. To minimise the adverse effects of this supply shock, European governments have adopted new, or extended existing, social safety net programmes to guarantee income and employment security. Paid sick-leave schemes and unemployment benefits are examples of these provisions. In Germany, the federal government notably eased access to Kurzarbeitergeld – the short-time work benefit – in its initial attempts to alleviate the economic costs of COVID-19. This social insurance programme, which was pioneered by Germany during the 2008 global financial crisis to stabilise employment, has proved instrumental in absorbing the shock on the country’s labour market following a 10% decline in economic output in the second quarter of 2020. The scheme has saved considerable human capital by subsidising employee earnings lost through reduced hours and has been imitated in other European countries such as Sweden and Austria. However, despite its overall success in mitigating the implications of the COVID-19 recession for the labour market, the expansion of Kurzarbeitergeld in Germany still omits to cover a large number of marginal and self-employed workers who do not make social security contributions. According to the 2020 special edition of the Global Competitiveness Report, released by the World Economic Forum, Germany is counted among the economies assessed as being ‘better prepared’ to navigate the repercussions of COVID-19 thanks to their adequate social protection coverage. Denmark, Switzerland, and the UK are also included at the higher end of this measure. However, even in countries like Germany and the UK, which command some of the most robust and generously
financed social protection systems globally, pre-existing structural weaknesses are being accentuated by the pandemic. Low-income workers and the unemployed are falling through the gaps. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed grave fault lines in the UK’s social safety net. As highlighted by the Resolution Foundation, an independent British think-tank focused on reducing inequality, the UK’s Statutory Sick Pay fails to support 2 million of the country’s lowest-paid workers. Many vulnerable workers, including freelancers and zero-hours staff, are also ineligible for both the emergency furlough scheme and self-employment grant, which were first introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak in March 2020. Throughout Europe, hospitality, retail, leisure, and tourism are the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. These sectors are a major source of informal employment, especially for women, young people, and migrant workers. southern economies like Portugal, Spain, and Greece are heavily reliant on tourism, and the low-skilled and non-permanent employees who are most prevalent in this sector have been especially vulnerable to lay-offs. This contributes to the already escalating levels of wage inequality and poverty in southern countries, making the need for comprehensive social security provisions more pressing than ever. The state’s role in providing adequate social safety net coverage must not be downplayed during times of crisis like these. With levels of poverty and wage inequality expected to rise across Europe, especially among southern countries, the livelihoods of low-income workers and the unemployed hang in the balance. While the primary concern of current social safety nets is income support, long-term approaches should aim to expand the social protection floor so that no one is left in the lurch.
George Ridley is a fourth-year German & Russian student from Cheshire. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Unsplash / KOBU Agency
COVID-19 EXPOSES EUROPEAN FAULT LINES
NEED TO KNOW:
TIGRAY CONFLICT IN ETHIOPIA EDITORIAL ITS RISE
WHAT IS IT?
In 1991, Ethiopia came to be ruled by the EPRDF, a coalition of ethnically-based parties, with the TPLF dominating. Although Ethiopia experienced significant economic growth throughout Meles Zenawi’s prime ministry, EPRDF repressed political opposition, becoming a controller of power in the country. Formed in 1975, TPLF ruled Africa’s second most populous country for 30 years. The rise of TPLF, inspired by Marxist-Leninism and a strong sense of national identity, took 16 years; however, with Abiy’s insistent efforts to eliminate TPLF as a political force, the party is exposed to the risk of a dramatic descent.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
An international element is the neighbouring Eritrea that shares the border with Tigray and was in conflict with Ethiopia until Ahmed's peacemaking efforts. On 14th November, Tigrayan forces fired missiles into Eritrea after Gebremichael accused Eritrea of sending troops to Tigray in support of Ahmed's government. Ahmed was praised on an international scale for his reform agenda where he won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. However, Ethiopia is facing a potential civil war where a dubious amount of regard to civil safety is given by both sides. Given recent political events, the question now being asked is whether Ahmed truly is a man of the peace.
Amnesty International recently reported of a massacre in Tigray, allegedly identifying bodies of civilians “who appear to have been day laborers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive". The extent of this tragedy however, is hidden due to the shutdown of communication in Tigray. Witnesses said forces loyal to TPLF were responsible for the massacre, after their defeat against the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF). Apart from this humanitarian crisis and a refugee exodus where 33,000 people have fled the country, there are major concerns that the combination of this armed conflict, the pandemic and the impact of climate change will mean great food insecurity levels.
Ethiopia has been one of the leading elements of peacekeeping missions for the United Nations, which aims to reduce conflict. However, as the situation is spiraling out of control, these missions are likely to be reduced. Foreign countries have urged both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve the conflict, agree to a cease-fire and have respect for international humanitarian law. Although Ahmed declared victory in Tigray, Gebremichael says the conflict is not over yet. This worrying development means that if the situation continues and escalates even further, this could incite a war that could destabilise the horn of Africa.
IMAGE: Flickr / Rod Waddington
In November 2020, tensions between the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa and the regional President of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, erupted. Tensions have been rising since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in 2018. Ahmed recently enforced a merging in the region of Tigray between his party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The breakdown in relations occurred when the TPLF refused to merge, alleging that Ahmed’s rule was an illegitimate one. Despite federal forces capturing Mekelle in late November, fighting and protests have continued.
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Women’s rights in the Middle East are embedded in a rich history of contradictions. As early as the seventh century, Middle Eastern and Islamic law allowed women to have increased legal and property rights, but decreased rights regarding family politics, compared to women in the West. In fact, Turkey was one of the first countries to grant women the right to vote in 1934. Throughout history, Muslims have undergone a process of cultural selection, whereby cultural practices upholding the principles of Islam and Shariah Law were adopted. Shariah law, a history of patriarchy, paternalistic authoritarianism and corrupt autocracy have left women in the Middle East disadvantaged. In contrast, Western women’s rights have advanced in an exceeding proportion to that of Eastern women in the last 100 years. While on the surface the situation for Middle Eastern women appears to be a dire one, politics in these countries is acting as the driving force for change and reducing inequality. However, is this an actual victory for women’s rights or a politically calculated move towards international acclaim? The Istanbul Convention is a resolution signed by 42 European countries, seeking to further enshrine women’s rights in law. President Erdoğan recently announced that Turkey plans to withdraw from the treaty on the basis that it “puts a dynamite on the foundation of family” and that Turkey must pave its own path towards combatting gender inequality. This statement follows the violent murder of Pınar Gültekin, a Turkish university student who was found in a barrel in the woods in July, burned and strangled to death by her former boyfriend. Pınar’s death is one of the innumerable femicides happening in Turkey, particularly those committed within the context of “honour kill16
ings” that are becoming increasingly common in Turkey. As Erdoğan's party rises the conservative ideology has eroded the hard won rights for women. It is estimated that between 417-474 women were violently killed in Turkey in 2019. The campaign group We Will Stop Femicide started tracking the murders after they found out that governmental figures were unreliable, if they existed at all, and varied across departments. Despite Erdoğan's insistence that it is the government who must ensure the protection of gender equality and women's rights, his governmental policies have prioritised traditional family values. Such policies are likely to further institutionalise violence and femicides while cultivating a culture that normalises such behaviour. Meanwhile, former Sudanese President and tyrant Omar alBashir was ousted in 2019, following a six-month-long protest. During the protest, hundreds if not thousands of women experienced politically motivated acts of sexual violence. The new transitional authorities have already begun to dismantle the previous Shariah-law-based regime and repeal laws restricting women's freedoms as the former ruling party has been dissolved. However, the recent sexual harassment of beloved Sudanese singer Asha el-Jabel in August has raised the question of whether the new government's legislation is sufficient to protect women from sexual violence,
dismantle the underlying institutional patriarchy that legitimises such attacks. In fact, the most visible difference between al-Bashir’s autocracy and the transitional government is that gender-motivated attacks are being perpetrated not by the state, as was the case in the 2019 revolution, but by citizens. To ensure the appreciation of women’s rights (e.g. the right to vote and access to education) that Sudanese women fought for and enjoyed prior to the start of al-Bashir’s government in 1989, Sudan must create a legal system that protects the public and punishes perpetrators. In contrast, the development of Saudi Arabia’s women’s rights has accelerated rapidly in the last few years. The self-proclaimed 'new Saudi' is characterised by a range of reforms that further women’s rights, such as women gaining the right to drive in 2017. However, these reforms implemented by Mohammed Bin Salman are not as revolutionary as they appear. While the four most prominent female activists who fought to make driving legal for women languish in prisons, Saudi Arabia cannot claim to be furthering women’s equality. Whilst it is without doubt that the advancement of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is a good thing, the government’s wielding of this reform displays an underlying political agenda. Namely, to win over young Saudis, prevent uprisings against the royal family, and gain a position of influence within international politics. Over the next few decades, women’s rights in the Middle East have a long way to go. In order to truly revolutionise gender equality in the Middle East, governments in these countries must tackle the underlying patriarchal beliefs that underscore years of oppression.
Ophelia ond-year student
Merali is a secPAIS & German from Northamptonshire.
IMAGE: Flickr / UNHCR / S. Rich
WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST: PROGRESSION OR REGRESSION?
In order to modernise the country and diversify its economy, the Saudi Arabian government (in collaboration with Egypt and Jordan) is planning to construct “Neom”, a mega-city that will attract investment from all over the world. This has led to clashes with the Huwaitat; one of the oldest tribes in the region. Can Saudi Arabia modernise without disrupting traditional ways of life? Potentially.
“NEOM” CAN BE TRANSLATED AS “NEW FUTURE” The word “Neom” can be translated as “New Future”. It is a fitting way to describe the ambitious plans for this city which were unveiled in 2017. Situated in North-West Saudi Arabia and in a part of Egypt’s Sinai region which has been leased for around $10 billion; it will cover 10,230 square miles, making it 33 times bigger than New York City. Officials have said that the city will “contain more robots than humans, mass electronic surveillance to tackle crime, drone operated air-taxis and a seaside luxury-resort, cruise and entertainment complex”. Neom will also contain “towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centres, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations”. Such facilities are intended to attract “more than a million citizens from around the world”. Expected to cost $500 billion, Neom forms part of the “Vision 2030” plan which aims to move Saudi Arabia away from its reliance on oil revenues. It also forms part of a broader goal to embrace modernity and fundamentally transform the face of Saudi Arabia. As Neom’s website puts it, it will “embody an international ethos and embrace a culture of exploration, risk-taking and diversity”. Neom has the potential to bring a lot of economic benefits to Saudi Arabia. However, it has brought the government into conflict with the Huwaitat
tribe, which has lived in the North-Western province of Tabuk for hundreds of years. Given that the tribe has lived there for longer than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has existed (it was established in 1932), the prospect of more than 20,000 Huwaitat residents being evicted from their homelands to make way for Neom has triggered tensions. Hostilities have been exacerbated by the way the Saudi government is alleged to have gone about conducting displacements. According to local residents, envoys went to tribal areas and told them that they would face eviction if they did not accept $3,000 of compensation per family and leave voluntarily. Those who have resisted are said to have had their social media accounts disabled, been arrested and held in unknown locations without being able to contact anyone. It is also alleged that Saudi Security Forces have killed the most vocal opponents, such as Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti. Other methods, such as destroying homes, cutting off electricity and pressuring employers to make life difficult for residents, are also alleged to have been used to force them out. The UN has been called to investigate. All this may not seem particularly surprising. Dawn Chatty, a professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration at Oxford University, argues that this kind of unilateral action “is typical of the way Mohammed Bin Salman operates.” That being said, the British drove natives off their ancestral homelands in places such as New Zealand and Australia while the American settlers did the same to the Native Americans. Evicting indigenous people to make way for ‘civilisation’ has always existed and sadly the practice will probably continue for a long time. The West would therefore be wise not to indulge in moral self-righteousness. There could be a way to integrate modernity and tradition in Saudi Arabia. Many members of the Huwaitat seem keen to contribute to the development of Neom.
Alya Alhwaiti, a representative of the Huwaitat in London, told Al Jazeera: “At the beginning of the project, the government told the al-Huwaitat tribe that they would be involved in Neom’s development and that their area would become one of the most famous in the world. The tribe was excited.” This suggests that incorporating the Huwaitat and their culture into the Neom project would be a far more effective way to realize it. The controversy surrounding Neom represents a clash between modernity and tradition. Yet could the regime and the Huwaitat work together to bring much needed economic diversification while preserving traditional ways of life? It will certainly not be easy. Recent events have created an atmosphere of distrust within the Huwaitat. However, there is a lot to gain for all parties if they can put their differences to one side and work together. Self-interest may eventually generate collaboration.
Trovo is a third-year student from Surrey. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Unsplash / Yasmine Arfaoui
MODERNITY AGAINST TRADITION IN SAUDI ARABIA: THE CASE OF NEOM
2020 WAS ARDERN’S YEAR: BUT THINGS WILL GET HARDER
their manifesto four days before the vote and prior to Ms. Ardern’s Covid-19 response, they were on course to lose the election as many policies promised in 2017 have failed to surface. Ms. Ardern’s recent charisma undoubtedly helped voters elect her and her party once more.
THE PRIME MINISTER IS THE REASON BEHIND LABOUR'S WIN
the rest of the world looks on in envy. Ms. Ardern’s strategy greatly influenced a landslide election win in October. Her ruling Labour Party won a second three-year term, this time with a majority; the first time a party has won in this way since New Zealand brought in proportional representation in 1996. Labour won 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament. For the past three years, Labour have had to rule with New Zealand First (NZF), who limited the agenda of Ms. Ardern, but with NZF wiped out from Parliament altogether, they can now look at the possibility of a much more productive three years. For many, the Prime Minister is the reason behind Labour’s win. During her premiership, she has united Kiwis, pulling them together in the face of tragedy – remarkably so, in the face of the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand history in 2019, and furthermore following the onset of the pandemic – referencing the “team of 5 million” (that is, everyone in the country). Labour only released
But what is next? Labour now have a mandate to govern alone and make change without having to try and win over other parties. In 2017, Ms. Ardern came into office promising a reduction in child poverty, an end to homelessness and the building of cheap homes. Now, she will try once more to achieve these goals. Their 2020 manifesto also commits to investing in critical infrastructure and creating more jobs, as well as providing loans to small businesses. Left-wing voters will be expecting Ms. Ardern to be radical in tackling poverty and inequality but, following an election win which saw Labour win traditional National Party votes, she is unlikely to be as progressive as they may hope. Indeed, she promises to govern “for every New Zealander”. Ms. Ardern has scrapped plans for both a wealth and capital gains tax and will only raise income tax on the top 2% of earners.This does present problems, providing no substantial way out of the economic woes faced by the pandemic, and will fail to please everyone. 2020 will shine brightly on the legacy of Ms. Ardern and be remembered as her year, amongst numerous other things. But things may not remain this joyous for her.
is a from
IMAGE: Flickr: Nevada Halbert
New Zealand is often recognised as being a popular expat destination, having a breath-taking landscape and having more sheep than people. But, this year, the country has taken centre-stage for another reason: their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister, has to take full credibility for her rational and effective approach, which saved countless lives. The strategy has also achieved the ambitious goal that one could only seemingly dream of; the near elimination of coronavirus. Their adoption of a Zero-Covid strategy was an idea which aimed to rid the country of the virus from the off, as opposed to just limiting its spread as most countries decided to do in the hope of keeping the economy moving. In an interview with the Press Association, Ms. Ardern suggested that the original goal of flattening the curve “wasn’t sufficient” for the country, leading to the ambition – fuelled in part by fear – of elimination. They did this by establishing a four-tier alert system, in place from the beginning – as opposed to the flitting of the system so many of us have grown all too accustomed to here – which described what phase of restrictions the country would be put in. Ms. Ardern and her Cabinet acted quickly, placing New Zealanders under Tier 4 restrictions on 25th March, when 50 cases were recorded. In comparison, Boris Johnson placed the UK under lockdown on 23rd March, when 967 cases were recorded (in both countries, the actual cases were a lot higher). Additionally, the imposition of a travel ban was undoubtedly beneficial – whilst other countries continued to import Covid, New Zealand did not, quelling its spread. Some government modelling suggests the country could be partially closed as far off as 2022, a small price to pay. The fast-moving response has given New Zealand their vast freedoms they enjoy today whilst
In 2019 over 60% of the Australian public were recorded to believe that global warming is a serious and pressing problem and that the government should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs. As such, it came as a major surprise when, in what was dubbed ‘the climate election’ in 2019, Australia re-elected a Liberal-led centre-right coalition headed by Scott Morrison, instead of the expected mandate to be handed to the Labor Party to pursue its ambitious targets for pursuing renewable energy and cutting emissions. But after nearly 80% of Australians were affected in some way by the wildfires at the beginning of 2020, and public support for new coal mines continually decreases, even amongst conservative coalition voters, according to a poll conducted by the Australian National University (ANU), Morrison’s rightwing apathy towards climate change and its severe consequences for Australia’s population and natural environment is viewed increasingly as unfavourable. A year on from the wildfires that ravaged Australia, Morrison’s government has slightly altered their climate change rhetoric, but in terms of their actions, very little has changed. Even this minor change is likely due to the anticipation of the success of now President-elect Joe Biden, rather than a response to the shift in popular opinion of Australian citizens towards
climate change. This move was similarly made by China, Japan, and South Korea, all of which adopted pledges of nearing net-zero emissions in the lead up to the USA’s presidential election. It is hardly a coincidence that from the moment Biden was predicted to be the winner, Morrison’s rhetoric around climate change became noticeably more progressive, saying that Australia wants to “reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible”. Whether these promises will be fulfilled in the remaining years of Morrison’s administration is still to be seen, but based on their history and lack of present-day action, any significant change and improvement to Australia’s climate crisis seems highly unlikely. The Coalition’s history offers little encouragement. The former Liberal-led coalition government, headed by Tony Abbott, repealed Labor’s carbon price, attempted to gut the Renewable Energy Target, and abolished agencies pushing for a transition to low-emissions energy. Morrison himself while Treasurer told his opponents not to be ‘scared’ whilst brandishing a lump of coal in Parliament given to him by the CEO of the Minerals Council, and has consistently backed fossil fuel companies ahead of renewables. For the majority of the last year, the coalition government has ignored persistent entreaties from environmentalists, scientists, and major businesses to adopt a more progressive approach to environmental policy and to commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The Coalition has also refused plans which aim to utilise Australia’s economic recovery following Covid-19 to promote and cement the transition to low emissions and sustainability. Instead, Morrison has committed to a programme of “gas-fired recovery”, doubling down on fossil fuels in
Australia. Whilst not quite as dangerous as coal extraction, of which Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter for power usage, the Government aims to lock in the architecture for fossil fuel extraction for decades to come, rather than pivot away from coal. Regardless of the social and environmental costs, the goal is to squeeze as much profit from the dying industry as possible. Although continual fossil fuel extraction may boost Australia’s economy in the short-term, it will only harm it in the future, as the fossil fuel market will eventually disappear, harming economies that remain rooted in its exportation. Whilst Morrison claims Australia is “meeting and beating” their emissions targets, he is using statistics and goals which are fundamentally flawed, and fossil fuel emissions, the primary driver of the climate crisis, have continued to rise. Morrison also falsely claims Australia is leading the world on renewable energy, even though spending on clean power fell by 56% last year. The coalition government under Abbott pledged a 26%-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030 in the Paris agreement, however department data suggests national emissions will only be 16% below 2005 levels by 2030, short of the minimum 26% goal, and well short of the 45-63% coal scientists actually recommended Australia commit to. Instead, they pat themselves on the back for ‘beating’ the most minimal of its targets from the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. If even the devastating wildfires, still scarring Australia’s recent memory, could not prompt Scott Morrison to change his rhetoric around climate disaster, it is very unlikely that anything will prompt him to change his actions.
Georgina Milner is a second-year PAIS student from Romford, London. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Flickr: Stephen Hass
AUSTRALIAN WILDFIRES: ONE YEAR ON AND NOTHING HAS CHANGED
In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, members of the public can elect both MPs to Westminster and representatives to relative legislative assemblies, along with ministers for certain devolved institutions, such as health, education, and agricultural/infrastructural affairs. For England, however, all matters concerning these areas are decided on solely by Westminster. For instance, if there is the need for a bridge to be built anywhere in England, it must be approved by the Treasury. With a population of 10.4 million people in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined, why does Northern England, with a population of 15.5 million (25.6 million if you include the Midlands), not have its own devolved government? First, it is worth noting that the geographical area of northern England is heavily debated, with boundaries of geography, population, political opinion, or economic factors. One definition could establish the regions of North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber as the North, however, this would distance the West Midlands from northern English culture, despite the fact that they identify more with ‘The North’ than ‘The South’, albeit small in comparison to “neither North nor South”. Geographer Danny Dorling illustrates a diagonal line that stretches through the midlands. In this, however, while
Worcester and Coventry are geographically more south than Leicester and Lincoln, for Dorling the former are in ‘The North’ and the latter are in ‘The South’. Despite this confusion, people of England generally have an understanding of the North/South divide that exists in England. 71% of those surveyed by YouGov not only believed that there was a divide, but also that the North suffers more economically. Furthermore, according to the Office of National Statistics, the top 10 areas in England with the highest Gross Disposable Household Income are all in London and the South East, while the bottom 10 are all situated in the North West, Yorkshire and The Humber, and the Midlands. This economic divide illustrates the need for elected representatives that act directly for the people of the area in order to improve the economic situations that exist today. The obvious criticism to this is that northern England already has representatives in Westminster, many more than Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Therefore, why is there the need for a separate devolved government in northern England? The reality is that Westminster heavily favours London and South England. In addition to the fact that the last three Prime Ministers were elected from Southern constituencies, under Boris Johnson this divide is likely to increase due to his opinion that the “jam” (economic success) of London “must not be spread too thinly over the dry Ryvita” (economic depression) regions of England. A change of Prime Minister from a more northern region wouldn’t dramatically change the situation either as there are currently 158 parliamentary constituencies in North West, North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber and 105 in the Midlands. The South still has more representation, with 270 parliamentary constituencies in the East, London,
South East and South West. The problem is not based on political opinion, but rather on the political institution itself. Moreover, COVID-19 cases are disproportionately higher in northern parts of England due to more concentrated living areas as a result of low income which is much higher in the North, resulting not only in more deaths and worsening health conditions but also more severe lockdown restrictions that severely impact local businesses. While these restrictions are necessary to contain the virus, there wouldn’t be as much a need for such restrictions if economic income were more secure. It is because of this that the devolved government of northern England should include both the three northernmost regions of England along with the Midlands. The ministerial departments most necessary should be economy/finance, education, health, and Agricultural/infrastructural affairs, enabling northern regions to support their own communities directly, such as roads, railways, community outreach programs, mental health clinics, and schools; a stark contrast to being decided, or more likely neglected, by London. Much like Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the people of northern England would still have a voice in Westminster, only now would they have more accurate local representation. Labour leader Keir Starmer’s proposals to shift power away from Westminster was met with criticism, citing Blair’s failed attempts of decentralisation during the 2000s. If the heavy support for Brexit found in northern England is any indicator, however, the reality is that decentralisation needs to go further. If Northerners truly ‘want their country back’, a devolved government in Northern England is the greatest means of securing it.
Oisín Phillips is an MA International Security student from Co. Down, NI.
IMAGE: Unsplash / William McCue
THE CASE FOR NORTHERN DEVOLUTION
BOOK REVIEWS LAURE RENAULT REVIEWS BATTLE FOR PARADISE BY NAOMI KLEIN
Naomi Klein delivers a vivid picture of the situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria throughout her book “The Battle for Paradise”. She describes the awful conditions Puerto Ricans have had to face before linking it back to the overall policies enforced on the country. Her analysis connects various problems experienced by inhabitants to the failures of corporate globalisation, neoliberalism, and more generally, capitalism. While this book offers a good basis to delve into the politics of Puerto Rico and to start unravelling the unbalanced relationship between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico, the book falls short in her failure to account for the territory’s history. She diminishes the importance of its colonial past by barely mentioning it in just one chapter and completely overlooks deeper issues related to its legal situation. Klein also completely disregards the role of its colonial past in the structuring of racial violence and erases the agency at play in handling natural events and their consequences, completely negating the responsibility of the developed countries by omitting the disproportionate effects of environmental degradation on low-income populations and indigenous communities. Even in the solutions she pushes forward such as the development of solar energy, she fails to acknowledge the exploitative relations that have left Puerto Rico as a laboratory for new technologies in its recent history. In conclusion, while the concepts developed are pertinent for the study of our current global economy, Klein misses the mark while applying it to this particular case by negating the differences of Puerto Rico due to its past and specific political status. Laure Renault is a second-year PAIS student from Toulouse, France.
BRAEDIE ATKINS REVIEWS NATIVES BY AKALA Throughout Natives (2019), Akala, an activist, journalist, poet, and an award-winning rapper and author, forcefully unpicks the carefully stitched seams in the racist and classist fabric of modern-day Britain. A powerful blend of biography and socio-political study, this book unveils the myth of meritocracy, equality and justice in the UK’s education, political and criminal justice systems, as well as critiquing the legacy of a seemingly benevolent British Empire. Not only is this book well-sourced and an accessible read, but it is written by a man who is not a disconnected academic searching for objective truths or limited by inherent racial or class bias. Akala’s lived experience as a mixed-race, working-class boy growing up in 1980s London is powerfully drawn upon in helping expose past and present racial and class inequality that is omitted from, and perpetuated by, our education system, national conversation and in government policy and legislation. Reasons to read this book are endless. Akala confronts the falsehood that is ‘black-on-black’ violence, uncovers how the academic abilities of black children are underestimated and explains how a rose-tinted understanding of Britain’s colonial past helps justify current neo-colonial foreign policy. For many of us then, this book acts as a long-overdue history lesson, with Britain's past glorified within school textbooks under a narrative of ‘civilisation’ and ‘Empire’. Natives makes plain the need to unlearn racist historical narratives and dismantle the structures and institutions of a country founded on class hierarchy at home and racial hierarchy abroad. Its message is urgent, a message you must urgently read.
Braedie Atkins is a third-year PAIS student from Tilbury, Essex. FEBRUARY 2021
In 2016, President Trump became the 5th President to win the Presidency, without winning the popular vote. The US, a country that hails itself as being one of the first and oldest democracies in the world has many praiseworthy aspects to how it functions and has been a blueprint for other democracies around the world. Yet the electoral college is not an example of this. There has been a continuous debate on whether the electoral college should be abolished. I am making the case that it should be as it is undemocratic, unrepresentative, and antiquated. Firstly, the electoral college is undemocratic. Five winners from the 58 Presidential elections in US history and two out of the last three Commander-in-Chiefs won the electoral college but lost the popular vote. This means that a minority of the population decided the election outcome, ignoring the majority opinion. The winner-takes-all approach, wherein a candidate wins either all or none of the electoral votes, disregards millions of people’s voices. It explains why voter turnout is so low since people’s votes don’t count in certain parts of the country. Professor of Sociology Doug McAdam of Stanford University has argued that political equality, the concept that everyone’s voice matters, is a pillar of democracy that the electoral college doesn’t comply with. This, in addition to the fact that the electoral college constantly reinforces a two-party system by suppressing third-party movements, proves it to be undemocratic and in need of a replacement. Secondly, the electoral college is unrepresentative. Some states have more electoral weight or are battleground states that are important to win. The votes of the citizens in these states matter more. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa are heavily fought for in elections despite only represent22
ing a small fraction of the country. Professor McAdam has also analysed the 2012 General election and found battleground states accounted for only 20% of the total population. The system gives smaller states more power in determining a president than other states with much larger populations, such as California. The electoral college is also unrepresentative as people vote for electors who vote for the president instead of directly voting for the president themselves. Usually, electors vote for the candidate their district voted for, yet there are repeated instances in history of ‘faithless’ electors, who vote for candidates who did not win their respective states. Despite the rarity of this, the concept overall makes it unrepresentative and does not give the people the direct decision to elect a president. Lastly, the electoral college is antiquated. It was a compromise made at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 between the president being elected by congress or by popular vote. It has only been amended twice since its creation, not having adapted to a changing America. Its fundamentals have not changed, such as that it gives more power to smaller, rural areas, despite 80.7% of US-Americans living in urban areas today according to the US census bureau. Additionally, the number of electoral votes each state has depends on its number of representatives, and representatives are distributed based on population size. The distribution of representatives has a racist history known as the 3/5 compromise. The North thought slaves, which were legal to have in the South, should not count towards their population as they were not free citizens. Yet, the South wanted slaves to count towards their population as this would give them more representatives and influence. The result was a compromise where slaves counted as 3/5 of a person, giving the South more electoral power despite slaves not having the right to vote for them. TIME magazine states that this compromise
led to slaveholding candidates winning the presidency 32 out of 36 years after the constitution was created. Whilst slavery was eventually abolished, and the civil rights movement gained African Americans the right to vote, the history and impacts of the electoral college are problematic. This old-fashioned system is rooted in slavery and racism and should be abolished to help deconstruct structural racism in the US. These are only three of many reasons why the electoral college is flawed and should be replaced. The system has greatly impacted the trajectory of US policymaking. Think of how different America would look today if the popular vote had determined presidents: George W. Bush would not have won in 2000 and Donald Trump would have never taken office. Politicians’ opinions on abolishing the electoral college are divided along partisan lines. Yet, according to Pew Research, 58% of Americans want it to be replaced by a national popular vote. For so long, the electoral college has not listened to the majority opinion; it is time that representatives in congress do and change the system.
Lily Meckel is a first-year PAIS student from Germany & the USA.
IMAGE: Flickr / Gage Skidmore
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE SHOULD BE ABOLISHED
The system of electing the US president needs reform, not revolution. The urge to abolish the Electoral College is understandable – its foundations seem to be corrupted by pro-slavery sentiments; its mechanisms rely on an elite group of electors being trusted to carry out the people’s will; most unsettling of all, it can result in a candidate being elected without winning the popular vote – as with Trump in 2016 and Bush in 2000. However, while it may seem the solution to all these genuine concerns is to wipe the slate clean and consign the Electoral College to the dustbin of history, such a rash move is firstly unachievable and secondly actually undesirable.
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE CAN BE REFORMED Firstly, the Electoral College is here to stay. Changing the Constitution would prove almost impossible, especially on such a contentious issue. The closest that the Electoral College has come to abolition was in the Congress of 1969-71. Despite the proposal to shift to a French-style two-round electoral system benefitting from bipartisan support in the House and the endorsement of the incumbent President Nixon, it was filibustered by Senators concerned that this change would dramatically reduce their
states’ influence and therefore see the concerns of their constituents cast aside. Even if it had passed through the Senate, the proposal would have needed the approval of 38 state legislatures – something that was very far from certain. If America had an opportunity to abolish the Electoral College, this was it. In our age of hyper-partisanship, widespread disillusionment with the establishment and historically low levels of public trust in the government and the media, it is inconceivable to see Electoral College reform receiving bipartisan support. Crucially, the issue is now split pretty clearly down partisan lines – 89% of Democrats support abolition, while just 23% of Republicans are in favour of it. This reflects the fact that abolishing the Electoral College would heavily favour the Democrats. Therefore, it would be unfeasible to get such a controversial plan through Congress; Republican Senators would filibuster any bill that somehow managed to pass through the House, and achieving the super-majority required to circumvent such a tactic would prove even more impossible. All of these obstructions considered, it’s clear that the most pragmatic route is reform, not abolition. The Electoral College can be reformed to address its flaws, while still retaining the advantages that the Founding Fathers intentionally codified. Proponents of abolition argue that the Electoral College grants disproportionate influence to swing states during elections, causing candidates to spend vast amounts of time and money courting a small number of voters. Here it must be remembered that the US is, by design, a constitutional republic – not a democracy. The Founding Fathers were deeply concerned that direct democracy could lead to demagoguery and mob rule. Therefore, the Constitution
intended to ensure that an incoming president appeals to large swathes of the population across the US. A popular vote would see candidates focus all their attention on densely populated urban areas, to the detriment of the rest of the country. Additionally, the Electoral College has served to ensure that there is a clear winner. President Trump’s accusations of voter fraud and corruption are undermined by the fact that he decisively lost the Electoral College vote. Had he made such claims after an election that was decided by nation-wide direct democracy, the razor thin margins of victory would necessitate millions of ballots to be recounted. Abolishing the Electoral College would dangerously undermine the decisiveness, and therefore potentially the legitimacy, of elections. However, there is precedent for adapting the Electoral College so as to allow each voter to have more influence at a local level. Each state doesn’t have to be ‘winner-takes-all’. Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes using the congressional district method. This involves allocating two electoral votes to the overall state popular vote winner, and then one for each popular vote victory in each of the states’ Congressional districts. This allows for split electoral votes within the state, meaning that there are many more vote contests and ultimately that each individual vote has more relative influence. This would also alleviate the issue of city centres making rural votes irrelevant. This adaptation would create far more competition for the support of voters who would otherwise be considered politically valueless. While we may all feel a primal urge to uproot the Electoral College, upon closer inspection it must be acknowledged that reform is the only realistic pathway to a better system. It may be broken, but it’s not beyond repair.
Joe Hill is a second-year History & Politics student from Doncaster, South Yorkshire. FEBRUARY 2021
IMAGE: Flickr / Maryland GovPics
SUPPORTING THE STUDENT VOICE IN PAIS In PAIS we value your feedback; we know this is a challenging time and we want to do all we can to support you to succeed. Based on your ideas, we have put together an exciting agenda of events, activities and opportunities this term and beyond - please check our emails, social media and webpages for more details.
Academic Support Academic support for students is a top priority in PAIS so please: - Sign up for our Virtual Common Room chats on a range of topics including essay writing, wellbeing and the liberated curriculum. - Benefit from our online workshops on essay writing for second years and finalists - Benefit from our online workshops on preparing for your online open book exams.
Study Choices In response to your feedback, we have put together detailed online guides on making your study choices, including which modules to take, which assessment methods to choose and advice on applying for postgraduate study.
Student Voice We want to hear from you and have a number of opportunities for you to feed-back on your course throughout the year including via your Course Reps and our end-of-year module evaluation surveys. There is also the National Student Survey (NSS) which will open for finalists on Monday, 8th February we would love you to complete it!
Employability Series Following your feedback, we are running an Employability Series with a number of exciting speakers from a range of careers speaking at events this term. Details will be shared shortly.
Events and Seminar Series Embed yourself in the PAIS research culture and attend our Wednesday Research Seminar Series which is open to all PAIS staff and students. Finalists are also encouraged to join the Burning Issues: Geopolitics Today MA lecture series which focuses on contemporary world politics. Follow Us on Social Media to find our more: www.twitter.com/PAISUndergrad www.facebook.com/paiswarwick www.instagram.com/paiswarwick
Edition 37 of the Perspectives Magazine, based at the University of Warwick.