(Image: New Statesman)
If walls could talk, the structures that house our democracy would teach a desperate lesson. Beneath the gold and gilt and glamour, parliament is a ruin. Its walls are riddled with asbestos; its cracked pipes tip dirty water into the chamber; and fires break out with alarming regularity. A cross-party inquiry in 2016 found steam lines, gas pipes and water pipes piled haphazardly on top of one another, in a “potentially catastrophic mix”. Without urgent renovation, the whole edifice faced “sudden, catastrophic failure”.
It is not just the building that is in trouble. Trust in parliament has never been lower. According to the Hansard Society, barely a third of voters trust MPs “to act in the interests of the public”. Forty two per cent would prefer it if governments did not “have to worry so much about parliamentary votes”, while more than half want “a strong leader who is willing to break the rules”. An unwritten constitution, once prized for its flexibility, has created a chaotic patchwork of competing authorities – including the referendum, an uneven devolution settlement and member-led parties – with little consideration of how they fit together. In short, Britain’s parliamentary democracy has rarely felt more under siege. (Read more)
More than 20 years ago, I hid in a Khartoum University toilet stall with three other students. We held our scarves over our noses to limit the stench, as well as the teargas that was streaming through the doors. A student union election had not gone the way the government liked, and soon the campus was stormed by security forces armed with batons and gas grenades. At one point, security pickup trucks drove around campus apprehending students at random and beating them.
Eventually the campus was cleared, and we ventured out, retching. I remember, as we tried to make our way home down the Nile on the north side of the campus, a long stream of choking, crying and coughing students. Security officers stood in the street, randomly striking students with sticks and batons, meting out humiliating insults as they did. When I walked past, one struck a male student on the back. He teetered. “Where are the heroes?” mocked the officer, as he beat the student again. “I thought you were heroes?” The young man took the blows and never looked back as he walked away. (Read more)
On the afternoon of April 5, 2019, just three days after the resignation of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, demonstrators took to the streets once again after nearly eight weeks of protest. As many predicted, the demand to end Bouteflika’s twenty-year rule was one of many to come. The demonstrators’ February chants of “no to Bouteflika,” specifically protesting against his bid for a fifth term, shifted to broader demands to remove the system, or “Le Pouvoir.” Calls for the dismantling of the system speak to long-held grievances against the country’s endemic corruption and stagnant economy.
While the leaderless popular movement appears united so far in what it stands against, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to agree on its demands and emerge as a coherent political force. The movement’s support from a broad cross section of society could help it politicize to solidify gains, but many obstacles lay ahead. (Read more)
The New Yorker
he Ecuadorian Embassy in London is situated at the end of a wide brick lane, next to the Harrods department store, in Knightsbridge. Sometimes plainclothes police officers, or vans with tinted windows, can be found outside the building. Sometimes there are throngs of people around it. Sometimes there is virtually no one, which was the case in June, 2012, when Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, arrived, disguised as a motorcycle courier, to seek political asylum. In the five years since then, he has not set foot beyond the Embassy. Nonetheless, he has become a global influence, proving that with simple digital tools a single person can craft a new kind of power—a distributed, transnational power, which functions outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries. Encouraged by millions of supporters, Assange has interfered with the world’s largest institutions. His releases have helped fuel democratic uprisings—notably in Tunisia, where a revolution sparked the Arab Spring—and they have been submitted as evidence in human-rights cases around the world. At the same time, Assange’s methodology and his motivations have increasingly come under suspicion. During the Presidential election last year, he published tens of thousands of hacked e-mails written by Democratic operatives, releasing them at pivotal moments in the campaign. They provoked strikingly disparate receptions. “I love WikiLeaks,” Donald Trump declared, in exultant gratitude. After the election, Hillary Clinton argued that the releases had been instrumental in keeping her from the Oval Office. (Read more)
Anna Bagaini and
If someone had said in 1996 that Benjamin Netanyahu would still be prime minister 23 years in the future, nobody would have believed it. Yet he has managed to obtain what until recently seemed almost impossible in Israel – a fourth consecutive electoral victory. With this, he has become the second longest serving prime minister in the history of the country.
This is not, however, the only reason why this election can be considered one of the most important in Israel’s political history. Indeed, Netanyahu might have finally found his nemesis in Benny Gantz who, with his newborn electoral alliance (Kahol Lavan), won just as many parliamentary seats as Netanyahu’s Likud party. Still, despite expectations about a massive political change, Netanyahu will continue as prime minister in what will perhaps be the most extreme right-wing government ever to run the country. Here are some key components to his success. (Read more)