The World Today for July 23, 2018

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Winning to Lose

It’s too early to say Brexit has been a failure. But even cautious voices could be forgiven for concluding Brexit has not gone as smoothly as its advocates forecast when Brits voted in 2016 to quit the European Union in 2019.

“Promising to get the EU to change is easy,” went the subtitle of a Bloomberg column about how Brexit has cast British politics into chaos. “Delivering that change is almost impossible.”

Boris Johnson and David Davis – who were foreign minister and secretary of state for exiting the European Union, respectively – recently quit their cabinet posts because they felt their colleagues had negotiated a deal that was too soft on the EU. But the two British politicians aren’t the only ones who have encountered flak for pursuing Euroskeptic mandates they believe they won at the polls.

In Greece, populist leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza political party won office in 2015 by promising to confront European financers who had called on leaders in Athens to cut the budget and increase taxes so the country could pay off its debts.

Instead, Tsipras slashed spending and hiked taxes to avoid ostracism by global financial markets. As a result, he faces stiff opposition when he runs for re-election next year.

“Syriza is not the left-wing party it claims to be,” wrote Zoe Konstantopoulou, a former president of the Greek parliament, in a Guardian op-ed. “It has become a political zombie, crushing every progressive value as it sleepwalks to its electoral demise. Its removal from power is the first step toward restoring democracy in Greece.”

US President Donald Trump and Italy’s new leader, Giuseppe Conte, have a close relationship. Conte’s government has been tough over migration reforms, arguing that Italy should not shoulder the whole burden of African refugees landing on its shores. His ministers threatened to derail a Canadian free trade agreement with the EU and have called for Russia to rejoin the G8.

Their threats to leave the Eurozone, however, have faded into history. Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria wants to keep the euro, the Local, an online news portal, reported. Officials have also recently signaled that they might not really be interested in hurting the Canadian trade pact, Reuters said.

What gives? Money, for one.

International creditors, Brussels bureaucrats and similar forces make great bogeymen on the campaign trail.

In power, however, elected leaders appreciate the potential consequences of upending their economies, sending chills down even the strongest of spines and raising questions about whether they were so sturdy in the first place.



Turning a Hard Right

Spain’s conservative People’s Party selected the more right-wing Pablo Casado to replace Mariano Rajoy as party leader and other countries, such as Brazil, are also taking up the trend of turning a hard right.

Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial far-right politician, has formally declared his candidacy in Brazil’s presidential election in October, the BBC reported. He’s already polling in second place behind ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who is currently serving a prison sentence on a corruption conviction that’s all-but-certain to prevent him from running.

Bolsonaro is running on behalf of the lightweight Social Liberal Party (PSL), which means he’ll only get a maximum of 10 seconds of airtime for his TV campaign ads. However, despite or because of his racist and homophobic remarks, he has millions of followers on social media.

Dubbed “the Brazilian Trump,” he’s viewed by some supporters as a tough leader who’ll crack down on the country’s endemic crime, while millions of evangelical Christians appreciate his uncompromising anti-abortion stand.


Loosening the Grip

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s chief of staff said Sunday that the country must pursue a true multi-party democracy, suggesting that Abiy’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will further loosen its grip on power amid a series of sweeping democratic reforms.

“PM Abiy concluded: Given our current politics, there is no option except pursuing a multi-party democracy supported by strong institutions that respect human rights and rule of law,” Reuters quoted Abiy’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega as saying.

Apart from making peace with neighboring Eritrea, since taking office in April Abiy has released political prisoners and reduced the state’s control over the economy. This month, his government lifted a ban on opposition groups that were considered terrorists.

In theory, the country’s constitution already allows multiple political parties but the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has kept a tight stranglehold on power since it won control over the country in 1991.


Trade, Free and Chained

In the end, the finance ministers of the world’s 20 largest economies opted to close their Argentina summit by effectively agreeing to disagree.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the two-day meeting “very productive” and insisted the debate was not over US protectionism but rather about free trade, CNN reported.

It was a “stark contrast” to the G7 finance ministers meeting in Whistler, Canada, where Mnuchin was effectively isolated. But nevertheless, the final communiqué offered little evidence trade conflicts will be resolved anytime soon, the news channel said.

“I wouldn’t say that we can argue that we made progress, but I think we can clearly say there is a sense we need to keep working to make progress,” said Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

Earlier, Mnuchin had proposed free trade pacts with the European Union and Japan to gain leverage for the US in its parallel dispute with China, Reuters noted. But the offer didn’t go over well. “We refuse to negotiate with a gun to our head,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.


Coos and Debates

After the birth of her daughter in June, there was no time-out for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

To her delight, however, the parliament allowed her to bring her newborn during sessions and debates, Reuters reported.

In an attempt to become more welcoming to new parents and boost diversity, the island nation’s lawmakers are modifying parliamentary facilities by adding a child care center, pool and playground.

Parents can also bring young children to legislative sessions to better bond with them.

“We are going to be as friendly as possible toward their babies,” parliament speaker Trevor Mallard said.

Noting the low representation of women in many legislatures, researchers say they want new rules and accommodations to encourage more women to run for office and take care of their offspring.

Progress is slow but it’s picking up.

The US Senate recently allowed Senator Tammy Duckworth to bring her toddler during a vote against President Trump’s nominee to head NASA, while the UK is considering proxy voting for new parents.

It’s a welcome change. But it makes one wonder if parliaments will become more civil or more raucous.

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