100 days of Biden: Back to the Future?

Reading time: 7 minutes

Joe Biden has completed 100 days in office, a mark historically known to be thoroughly scrutinized by the American society and a key point to illustrate what the Administration has done so far, and what are their main goals and challenges ahead.

The 100 days mark is known to be a predictor of how well the Administration will perform during the 4-year span, and the first moment of analysis of approval ratings of the President compared to some of his predecessors.

A fast mover

Joe Biden has moved fast and steadily, with the Biden Administration issuing more executive orders than his predecessor Donald Trump. Executive orders include not only executive actions, but also reversals of predecessors’ actions.

Biden has issued 52 executive orders against 39 of Donald Trump and 34 of Barack Obama, in the same time period. Of those 52 executive actions, close to half, 24, have been reversals of orders executed by the Trump’s administration, mainly in the health and immigration sector.

The focus has been on tackling the biggest health crisis the United States has faced: The Coronavirus.

Figure 1: Joe Biden’s Executive Orders (First 100 days), Source: The White House; Graphic: Christopher Hickey, CNN

Immigration policies and equity have been two of the other key components where Joe Biden has invested his time, which can be explained by Donald Trump’s strongly opposing views on the matters.

Vaccination and SARS-CoV-2

Regarding vaccination, the President has set bigger goals as his tenure went forward. The initially set goal of 100 million vaccine shots was substituted by 220 million shots by the end of March, which was seen by many as an unrealistic goal. The truth is, according to official data from US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the goal has even been surpassed: 235 million vaccine shots have been administered during this period.

The increase has mainly been done through the information campaign that has been led by this Administration, which ensures the safety of the vaccines and its long and short-term benefits for the country. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) also included a strong funding component for vaccination, which cannot be understated in helping the country achieve its targeted goals.

The Administration has also pledged close to $4 billion to COVAX, the main program designed to achieve global vaccination.

Schools have been reopened slowly and the healthcare investment, fueled by the ARP, has reached all-time highs to fight the spread of the virus.

As a result, there has been a strong decrease in cases and deaths all around the country, which reduced the pressure on the American health institutions, as well as on the governors of each state, that were coping with challenges hard to overcome regarding Covid-19 measures.

Figure 2: Covid-19 cases from March 2020 to the 25th of May 2021, Source: CNN/CDC

Immigration: the great challenge ahead

Immigration was a strong topic of discussion during Biden’s campaign, as there was a general uncertainty to how the Democratic president was going to manage the strong stances the previous administration had towards border control and immigration in the country.

The strategy regarding immigration has mainly been to reverse what was done by Donald Trump, as there have been 10 reversals regarding the topic, more than in any other area of action of the Biden’s administration.

One of the key reversals was to the law passed by the previous administration that empowered the U.S authorities to rapidly expel migrant children caught at the border without their parents. The measure, which has been seen to have been crucial to improve the efficiency of the reunification process, has led to a raise in the number of children looking for their families at the borders of the country.

Despite the positive early results, the sheltering of children has been under fire by fellow democrats, as well as the increased strain on healthcare services, who reduced the number of beds destined to migrants by 40% due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The health situation of these children has been one of the main topics of American politics for the past few months and will certainly be an interesting topic to follow as it unfolds.

Economic Relief and Job Creation

The economic recovery in the United States due to the effects of SARS CoV-2 has generated the biggest stimulus plans the country has ever witnessed. 

The massive relief proposal, the American Rescue Plan, was approved last March and includes strong economic stimulus, such as $1,400 stimulus’ checks and a $15 increase in the federal minimum wage.

Some of the other measures include a federal income tax break and more than $350 billion to states and local governments, the latter being seen as a key turning point in the states’ fight against difficult challenges, such as the renters and child tax credit struggles.

A record number of jobs have been created by the Biden Administration in the first 100 days. More than 1.3 million jobs have been added, a record number that will likely keep rising due to the strong stimulus strategy that has been employed by the Administration.

The American Jobs Plan intends to increase that number. The 22.5 trillion dollars plan is not going to be only focused in traditional infrastructure (roads, railroads, bridges, among others) but also in electric vehicles, R&D, green economy and supply chains, just to name a few. It is important to highlight that bipartisan commitment in this matter is hard and tends to lower the original proposed value of the plan.

Figure 3: Job growth evolution, Source: BBC: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It is also important to state that future economic measures may not have Congress’ easy approval, as the expenditure is already achieving high numbers which may trigger a negative response by the conservative members of the Congress and the House.

Foreign Policy

Although many thought the US-China relationship was going to be the main discussion point of the Biden Administration regarding foreign policy, the President has overcome the topic by putting in place a measure that trumps it: the complete withdrawing of troops from Afghanistan until September 11, which marks the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, in New York.

The withdrawal of troops from the country was initiated by Barack Obama, and slightly reversed by Donald Trump but is now being fulfilled by Biden, as he looks to only keep in the country the crucial troops for American diplomats’ protection.

The strategy has, however, been thoroughly criticized by the conservative wing of American politics, as it is believed that it will undermine the strength of the United States position in the Middle East.

The Administration has also placed efforts on salvaging the US-Iran nuclear deal, with ongoing talks at a very early stage.

The position on Russia, a long-declared enemy, has also been strong and decisive, with the President expelling Russian diplomats in response to the SolarWinds attack and to the interference in the 2020 US elections. The president went even further accusing Vladimir Putin of being an “assassin” in a BBC’s official interview.

The efforts to restore policies regarding the environment have been headlined by the return to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, even though no plan has yet been underlined to meet the goals of reducing carbon emissions.

In sum, President Biden has been active regarding foreign policy, which was seen as crucial to reverse Donald Trump’s stances on the matter.

Approval Ratings

Joe Biden has shown strong approval ratings, higher than Donald Trump’s 40% but still not matching his democratic counterpart, Barack Obama.

Of the 53% of adults that approve Biden’s first 100 days, 90% are democrats, 61% independents and just 9% republicans.

Coronavirus and the economic recovery seem to be the main booster of Biden’s public perception, as they represent the two main reasons for the approval rating of the 46th President of the United States.

What is further restraining the approval rating are two challenges that strongly lie ahead, as mentioned along the article: border patrol and immigration.

Figure 4: Presidential approval rating, Source: NBC News

In sum, Biden’s first 100 days have been eventful and challenging, due to the lack of unity in the Nation after the incidents at the nation’s Capitol. Many challenges lie ahead, such as bipartisan commitment in key issues, such as the America Jobs Plan, and diplomatic crisis such as Israel, Iran, or the EU. It will be interesting to see how the administration will fare in these matters.

Miguel Ferreira

Miguel holds a Bachelors in Communication Sciences and is a NovaSBE Alumni. He previously worked as an external consultant for Câmara Municipal de Cascais and currently has a role of political consultant at Companhia de Consultadoria e Comunicação do Porto.

In September 2021, he will be integrating EY-Parthenon as a Consultant in the area of Public Policy.

He considers himself an avid reader with interests over public policies and political strategies.

Palestinian Election

Reading time: 7 minutes

For the first time since 2006, Palestinian citizens were expected to exercise their right to vote in legislative elections initially scheduled for the 22nd of May 2021. In a complex geopolitical territory located at a crossroads between Africa and Asia and with a past of Western influence, the opportunity to express their voice in the polls is a rare occasion for Palestinians. As it has been seen in current events, these elections are expected to trigger reactions from the international community and neighboring powers, notably Israel.

Modern Palestine’s complex past

Although the region of Palestine has long been controversial, regarded as the Holy Land by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the State of Palestine dates back to the 20th century.

Between 1896 and 1948, due to Zionist movement [1], and later to flee prosecution across Europe during the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of Jews re-settled on what was initially the Ottoman Empire and following the Empire’s fall, British Palestine, in a majorly Arab and Muslim populated area. The local Arab community, which started developing their identity as Palestinian Arabs, resisted the attempt of a national Jewish homeland, claiming the land was theirs. Arabs thought Britain would endorse them in return for their support against the Ottomans during the First World War [2], but Great Britain and France predicted instead an international division of the territory [3]. In 1947 and marking the fall of British rule, the United Nations (UN) proposed a partition plan to split the territory in two and grant the city of Jerusalem, disputed by both parties as their rightful capital, a special international status. While the Jewish community agreed to the plan, Palestinians feverishly opposed it, the scheme being interpreted by locals as “Europeans trying to steal their land”.

Figure 1: UN proposed division of territory between Israel and Palestine in 1947
Source: Vox

Two major conflicts in the 20th century were especially defining for Palestine. Firstly, the Arab-Israeli war (1948) opposed Israel to five Arab powers: Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, seeking to establish “a unified Arab Palestine”. Following the conflict, Israel controlled more than two-thirds of former British-ruled territory. Additionally, Jordan took over the West Bank while Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded with the objective of forming an Arab state in Palestine, largely comprised of the territories that had previously been British dominated and would now be illegitimately occupied by Israel. The second major event was the Six Day War (1967), which again resulted in significant land losses for Palestine to the benefit of Israel, who took over the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Nonetheless, the PLO’s existence was recognized by the Israel through the Oslo Accords (1993), in exchange for Israel’s right to exist to be recognized by the PLO itself. Following these agreements, Yasser Arafat (PLO), Shimon Peres (Israel) and Yitzhak Tabin (Israel) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.

Palestinians wish to establish a State in a part or in all territory that is now occupied by Israel. Today, the State of Palestine is officially recognized by more than 135 UN powers (but not by the United States and Israel) and includes parts of modern Israel as well as the Gaza Strip, along the Mediterranean Coast, and the West Bank, which is located west of the Jordan River, although no international consensus regarding the borders has been achieved. Around 20% of the Israeli population identify as Arabs. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are home to a majorly Arab population, territories which are also disputed by Israel, although many Palestinians also live in neighboring countries like Lebanon.

Fatah, Hamas and the long-lasting division of Palestinians

For decades, Fatah, the major political party in the PLO, dominated Palestinian politics. Fatah leaders negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords that handed limited control of Palestinian territories from Israel to the new Palestinian Authority (PA). Since then, they have led the government through successive crises and peace deals with Israel and international parties.

In 1987, however, the opposition party Hamas was created on the pretext that Fatah and the PLO were too compromised with Israel. Hamas disagreed with many of the deals, and soon came to be seen by many as a threat to peace in the region, a violent extremist group who did not accept the existence of Israel and actively seeked its destruction. In 2003, Fatah negotiated with Israel under US President Bush’s “roadmap for peace” – a plan to end conflict in the region by creating a stable Palestinian state alongside Israel, which Hamas opposed.

In the 2006 legislative elections, Hamas won a surprising victory. With 74 out of the 132 seats in the Legislative Council, it could take control of most government positions. In response, the US and Israel imposed economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. They hoped these would destabilize the government, leading to new elections.

The formation of a Hamas government, in which Fatah refused to participate, led to an increase in hostility between both sides. These tensions quickly turned into incidents of violence between the supporters of the two groups, leading to dozens of deaths.

Figure 2: Hamas demonstrators clash with Palestinian Security Forces in the West Bank
Source: The Eletronic Intifada

In early 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a coalition government, in order to end violence in the streets and lift international sanctions against Palestine. However, it was just some months until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader, declared a state of emergency and dismissed the coalition, including the Hamas Prime Minister. Hamas, regarding the President’s actions as unconstitutional, formed an alternative government. A brief civil war erupted, with each party supported by different factions of the armed forces. These conflicts concluded with Hamas taking control of the Gaza strip, and Fatah having control of the West Bank.

Figure 3: Division of Palestinian State in the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank, controlled by Fatah
Source: ResearchGate

Since 2007, many attempts have been made to mend the conflict. Disagreements over holding elections led legislative and presidential votes to be postponed in both territories. Numerous talks and attempted deals between the two parties were unsuccessful. Most recently, in 2017, Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold new legislative elections in 2018, but these never occurred. On the West Bank, President Abbas announced elections would be held in 2019, but then postponed them.

Palestinian Elections – Dream or Reality?

In 2021, Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold legislative and presidential elections once more, later scheduling them for the 22nd of May. However, it was not long until Abbas postponed both indefinitely, allegedly due to uncertainty regarding Palestinians’ access to polls in East Jerusalem. In fact, just as in the 2006 elections, while Israel has control of the area, it has issued no formal announcement on whether it will allow elections to take place.

This postponement has been widely criticized not only by Hamas, but also by future voters, especially those under the age of 34, who have not yet been able to exercise their rights. Some believe Mr Abbas postponed the elections by fear of not having enough support, as he has seen his popularity shrink in polls. Having led the country for a decade over his initial mandate, new younger faces are now competing against him even within his the party. Both Fatah’s party member Marwan Barghouti, who is currently in jail, and Nasser Al-Qudwa, who is the nephew of Fatah’s founder, will compete against Abba, being a symbol of a younger generation who seeks to reshape the party’s values. However, Fatah still holds some advantage over Hamas in election polls, partly due to the latter’s mismanagement of Gaza, who has seen three destructive wars over the last 10 years.

Figure 4: Mural painting in Gaza City calling on people to vote for the 2021 elections
Source: BBC

15 years later, these elections could symbolize a reunion of Palestinians with democracy.

The delay will cause a great disappointment among Palestinians, most of (whom) hoped it was time to end the dividiond and bring about a change.

Talal Okal, Gaza analyst

In light of the previous events, what will these elections mean? Will they mark a turning point in Palestine’s history, or is history just repeating itself?

[1] According to Britannica, Zionism is a “Jewish nationalist movement supporting the creaton of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. [..]. Though Zionism originated in eastern and central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, it is in many ways a continuation of the ancient attachment […] of the Jewish religion to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills of ancient Jerusalem was called Zion.”

[2] McMahon–Hussein Correspondence.

[3] Sykes–Picot Agreement.

Sources: Britannica, History, BBC, Vox, Albawaba, Aljazeera, Reuters, Washington Post, Financial Times, Oxford Journals, Brandeis University Publication

Ana Terenas

Manuel Barbosa

Antonio Payan

Maria Mendes

Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Conflict

Reading time: 6 minutes

On October 5th, 2017, 3 police stations in the city of Mocímboa da Praia were raided by 30 armed attackers, killing 17 people, including two police officers and a community leader. This attack marked the beginning of a prolonged conflict in Mozambique which has destabilized the province of Cabo Delgado and has triggered a humanitarian crisis.  

Mozambique is being hit by a devastating wave of terrorist attacks. The unrest has already resulted in over 4.000 deaths and 700.000 internally displaced people within the Cabo Delgado province, where the conflict is centred. These attacks are part of an ideologically driven war, where Islamist militants are attempting to establish an Islamic State. The main insurgent faction is Ansar al-Sunna, locally called Al-Shabaab. It has ties to ISIL, but it is not controlled by them. There is, however, evidence that ISIL has sent trainers to aid the insurgent forces. 

Mozambique as a vulnerable country 

Mozambique, which ranks as one of the lowest countries in terms of GDP per capita, has extreme levels of internal wealth inequality, and the northern provinces have disproportionately high poverty rates. These inequalities are especially worrisome given the large amount of internally displaced people at the moment. One of the UN’s main targets currently is to ensure those people are assisted and taken care of. According to the UN’s World Food Program, over 950.000 people are currently facing severe hunger in northern Mozambique. Moreover, the north’s significant exposure to terrorism and violence is partly due to lower wealth in the region and explains how 100 radicals sufficed to occupy and control Palma, one of the largest cities of the province. Northern Mozambique was targeted due to its insufficient ability to oppose violence and fragile infrastructures. Most radicalized members are Mozambiquan nationals and come from Cabo Delgado. The other members come mostly from neighbouring countries, such as Tanzania, Somalia, and Kenya. The group finances its operations through illegal contraband, religious networks, and human trafficking, which they primarily use to send new recruits to neighbouring countries for military and ideological training. 

There’s no end to terror. What are the impacts? 

The terror in the Cabo Delgado province has lasted for almost four years now. In this period, there have been recurrent cases of group beheadings, violence and the raping of women, burning of houses, attacks on buses, and ambushes on public roads. The last major event was the attack on one of the province’s most important cities, Palma, located close to Total’s multi-billion-euro natural gas project. 

“Valued between 20 and 25 billion euros, the company’s extraction project is the largest private investment underway in Africa”, but after the continuous attacks in Palma, Total withdrew the remaining staff it kept in the project, delaying a billion euro valued initiative that had scheduled the first liquefied gas export for 2024. 

Strongly impacting the country’s exports, the attacks also resulted in important economic consequences for Mozambique. In fact, the sudden interruption of Total’s activities affected other companies with links to their value chain. The “armed attacks in northern Mozambique have caused losses of 174.4 million euros and led to the closure of 1.110 companies”, stated the president of the Confederation of Economic Associations (CTA). Of the total number of companies that have been forced to close due to the armed violence in Cabo Delgado, 410 are from the districts directly affected by the attacks. Due to strong connections within the value chain, many companies suffered indirectly from the attacks through exposure to those chains of trade. It is estimated that 198.000 jobs were lost, of which 56.000 in business units in the districts affected by the violence and 143.000 in the family farming sector, during the almost four years of conflict. 

Moreover, the crisis has officially been declared a humanitarian disaster. According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 18.661 people have fled Palma following the attack. Of those displaced, 43 percent are reported to be children and 31 percent women. The organization raises concerns over the possible spread of cholera, “warning that, since March [2021], 15 local authorities in at least five districts of the province have recorded 3.141 cases and 16 deaths”, measles, and, of course, Covid-19. The country has also been experiencing the negative effects of climate change, as various cyclones hit the region. As the strength and frequency of natural disasters increase, existing wealth inequality and the country’s vulnerability continue to escalate. 

The world is watching 

As the conflict persists, the news of the dramatic events quickly spread around the globe, triggering responses by many countries and organizations. The Mozambiquan President, Filipe Nyusi, expressed the need for help from the Commonwealth to cope with Covid-19, as the country is having difficulty controlling the virus with so few resources and amidst a military conflict. “The Commonwealth can make a difference, acting as a whole, in mobilizing more resources to acquire vaccines against Covid-19 [for member countries with fewer means],” Filipe Nyusi declared. 

Portugal, which has close ties to Mozambique, sent 60 members of the military to assist the country following the Palma attacks, in addition to recently offering 250 thousand euros in aid. The Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MNE) condemned “vehemently” the terrorist attack, while the president of the Camões Institute said that the next cooperation program with Mozambique, to be signed by the end of the year, should be marked by the crisis in Cabo Delgado, advocating the strengthening of aid: “We are going to start negotiating the strategic program of cooperation with Mozambique for the next five years and we obviously cannot be unaware of what is happening [in Cabo Delgado], both in humanitarian and development aid terms,” said Ribeiro de Almeida. 

Globally, the United Nations (UN) is also watching carefully the recent events in the African region. The president of the UN Security Council ensured that the situation is being followed with maximum attention, due to a possible “rapid expansion” of the violence to other African regions. The UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, also assured that the Office on Sexual Violence is closely monitoring the Mozambique region. However, the UN special representative to the African Union said that the insurgency in Mozambique is not advanced enough to justify international military intervention or peace operations. 

More humanitarian and economic aid is being planned both by the UN, Portugal, and other nations, but the conflict keeps persisting and seriously threatening the country’s economic development, says the IMF director for Africa. The question that remains to be answered is, still, for how long will this atrocious situation drag on? 

Sources: BBC, Expresso, Observador, Publico, RTP, TVI, UN News, Visão 

Christian Weber

Ana Terenas

Pedro Estorninho

Israel’s [uncertain] future

On March 23rd  2021 Israel held its fourth legislative elections in two years. No candidate was able to secure enough parliamentary seats to stay in power, meaning Israel’s political crisis will remain unsolved in the months to come.

Following the 2009 legislative elections, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party finished second, Netanyahu was able to create a majority coalition with several other right-wing parties. He formed a new government and was nominated Prime Minister. This was his second term as Israel’s head of government, following his 1996-1999 term that ended with a vote of no confidence by the parliament. Netanyahu managed to win both the 2013 and the 2015 elections, securing his stay in power by forming coalitions with smaller right-wing parties.

In 2016, Israeli prosecutors started investigating Netanyahu on charges of corruption, and on November 21st 2019 the Israeli attorney general formally indicted Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. If convicted, the sitting Prime Minister could face up to 13 years behind bars.

Netanyahu’s charges

Benjamin Netanyahu is involved in three court cases, known as 1000, 2000 and 4000. Case 1000 concerns the Prime Minister’s relationship with two businessmen. Netanyahu allegedly received from these businessmen a quasi-continuous supply of cigar boxes and cases of champagne. These gifts amounted to almost €170,000, and Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust.

Likewise, Case 2000 also sees the incumbent Prime Minister charged of fraud and breach of trust, but these charges regard Mr. Netanyahu’s meetings with Israeli media mogul Arnon Mozes. Both are alleged of striking an agreement, where Mozes’s media group would improve their coverage of Mr Netanyahu, in exchange for restrictions on the Israel Hayom newspaper, Mozes’s competitors. The attorney general has also charged Mr. Mozes with bribery.

Case 4000 concerns what attorney general Mandelbilt called a “reciprocal agreement” between Prime Minister Netanyahu, who at the time was also the communications minister, and Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications company, who also owned the news website Walla. Netanyahu is accused of using his powers and authorities as a public servant to promote matters of substantial financial value pertaining to Mr. Elovitch’s businesses, dealing on several occasions with changes in regulatory frameworks. In exchange, Mr. Elovitch and his wife exerted continuous pressure on the director-general of the news website Walla, to change their coverage to be aligned with Mr. Netanyahu’s demands.

Benjamin Netanyahu in his second court appearance

Israel’s political crisis

With the investigation and indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu came a clear rise in “anti-Netanyahu parties”, whose main campaign goal centred around deposing the Prime Minister. The largest contender to Netanyahu’s power was Benny Gantz, who had the support of the Blue and White political alliance. Gantz managed to tie Netanyahu in terms of parliamentary seats in the April 2019 elections, preventing Netanyahu’s coalition from obtaining a majority in parliament and forcing renewed elections in September 2019. In the September rerun both main parties lost seats, making considerable efforts to form a new coalition. Netanyahu approached his religious and ultra-orthodox allies, and Gantz the liberal aisle of the parliament. Nonetheless, those efforts fell short, and new elections were yet again scheduled for March 2020.

Benny Gantz managed to secure a parliamentary majority, but his coalition parties failed to agree on a government program and refused to sit together in government. The Covid pandemic led to the need of an emergency coalition, and Gantz felt forced to break his campaign promise and form a coalition government with Netanyahu and other smaller parties. This decision severely affected Gantz’s popularity, both inside his party and among voters. This, together with disagreements between Gantz and other parties in the coalition, led to the collapse of the government, when it did not manage to approve a state budget before the end of 2020. According to Israeli law, this calls for the dissolution of the parliament, and the scheduling of elections within 90 days, resulting in the March 21st elections.

Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu casting their vote

Political deadlock

With all votes now counted, no party can be considered a clear winner. Netanyahu’s opponents hold 57 seats of the parliament, while Netanyahu and his coalition partners solely hold 52. 11 seats are still up for grabs as two parties are yet to commit to either side, the United Arab List and Anthony Bennett’s Yamina. The decisive party may well be the United Arab List, a small Islamist party that won four seats. Their leader, Mansour Abbas, has openly stated his willingness to negotiate with both sides of the aisle. For Netanyahu to secure a majority, he would need his former aide turned critic Naftali Bennett and the United Arab League. However, to balance a coalition with nationalists, ultra-orthodox members and an Islamist party seems like an impossible task.

The anti-Netanyahu camp, however, only needs the United Arab List’s four seats to secure a parliamentary majority and oust Benjamin Netanyahu. Benny Gantz already tried to form a coalition with Islamist parties following the last elections, to no avail, citing disagreements with the Islamist party’s leadership over national and security issues.

President Rivlin is trying to solve this deadlock by holding consultations with each party in the coming weeks, but it is far from clear what the outcome of this stalemate will be. If a coalition fails to be formed, the President will be forced to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, the fifth legislative elections in two years, leading to further political instability in a country that has been plagued by it throughout the last two years.

Sources: Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle, Reuters

Hugo Canau

Manuel Barbosa

António Payan Martins

Christian Weber

Myanmar’s Coup d’État

Reading time: 6 minutes

On the morning of February 1st, 2021 several members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were deposed by the military, which proclaimed a year-long state of emergency, and handed the power to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Ming Aung Hlang. The military declared the November 2020 General Election invalid, claiming the vote was fraudulent. By February 2nd, 400 members of Parliament had been placed under house arrest, confined to their government housing complex, and guarded by soldiers.  

For some westerners, this coup d’état may have come as a surprise, but Myanmar’s high-ranking military officers have been threatening this for months. 

What led to the coup? 

On November 8th, 2020, Myanmar held General Elections that resulted in a landslide victory for NLD. The military and the Union Solidary and Development Party (USDP), which hold close ties, as many party officials are former military personnel, began making allegations of widespread voter fraud following their defeat. They even threatened to take decisive action if these matters were not properly addressed.  

All allegations were dismissed by the election commission, on January 27th General Min Aung Hlaing publicly announced he would not rule out the possibility of a coup d’état and the abolition of the constitution if the constitution would fail to be upheld.  

Then, on February 1st, one day before the scheduled swearing-in of the new government and members of parliament, the coup d’état was carried out. 

How was the coup carried out? 

The military placed various members of the NLD under house arrest, as well as other civilian officials, such as Ms. Aung Saan Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint. Furthermore, the military quickly gained control of the country’s infrastructure and telecommunication services, suspending television broadcasts, as well as telephone and internet coverage in most major cities. 

As soon as February 2nd, people started flooding the streets in protests against the military. Hospital staff, teachers, and government officials joined civil disobedience movements threatening to strike until the elected government was restored. The protests escalated daily, with information being shared through Twitter and Facebook, leading the military junta to shut down the internet. 

Protestors defying military orders in a mass stike
Source: BBC

By February 9th, the police were using crowd control tactics to disperse the masses, such as water cannons and rubber bullets to clear the streets. This day was also marked by the shooting of Mya Khaing, a 19-year-old protester, shot by police while seeking shelter from water cannons under a bus stop. The shooting was recorded by bystanders. She was declared brain dead on February 12th and was taken off life support on the 19th. Mya’s death sparked national outrage, which further fueled the protests. 

Mya Khaing (20) became the face of the protests after she was shot and killed by the police, while seeking shelter from a water cannon under a bus stop
Source: CNN

The military junta tried to deescalate the situation by promising to hold new elections as soon as the state of emergency is lifted. This promise failed to appease the masses, as they continued to flood the streets by the hundreds of thousands. This defiance of the military’s orders was confronted with an escalation of violence by the police and armed forces, who launched a brutal crackdown.  

As of March 20th, the international press reported that over 2100 people were arrested, including 29 journalists, and over 120 have been confirmed dead. The deadliest day was the 3rd of March when at least 38 people were killed during protests, with witnesses saying the police and the military were using live ammunition against unarmed crowds. On the evening of the 6th of March, NLD party official Khin Maung Latt was pronounced dead while in police custody, following his arrest by the military earlier that day. Official sources state he died of a heart, but family members quickly questioned the various bruises found around his head and neck, arguing their family member was beaten to death. 

The historic role of the military in Myanmar 

Following Myanmar’s (then called Burma) independence from Britain in 1948, a democratic system was instituted until the 1962 coup d’état orchestrated by General Ne Win, who ruled the country for 26 years. General Ne Win tried to implement a new ideology, which became known as “Burmese Socialism”, where Marxist views were influenced by Buddhism. 

General Ne Win was ousted in 1988 following a wave of protests against the dire economic situation Myanmar was facing in the 1980s. These protests resulted in 3000 deaths, and Ne Win was forced to resign, being replaced by another military junta, but maintaining an active presence behind the scenes. 

Myanmar’s military junta was officially dissolved in 2011, following the 2010 General Elections, which were widely dismissed as fraudulent by western nations. For a country that, at the time, was celebrating 63 years of independence, this marked the end of 49 years of military rule. However, the military continued to hold a substantial amount of power, as according to the constitution, it has the right of holding 25% of the seats in the House of Representatives, as well as in the House of Nationalities. Furthermore, the ministries of home, border affairs, and defense must be headed by a serving military officer. 

The role of Aung San Suu Kyi 

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of General Aung San, an instrumental figure in Burma’s independence from Britain and considered the “Father of modern-day Myanmar”, was under house arrest for a total of 15 years between 1989 and 2010, on charges of undermining the community peace and stability. 

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi
Source: The Guardian

In 1991, as the leader of the NLD and under house arrest, she won the national elections but was restrained from assuming power by the military junta. Ms. Suu Kyi was an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression and was therefore awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, while under house arrest. 

After her 2010 release, she contested and won the 2015 general elections, the first openly contested General Elections of the 21st century, by a large margin. As Ms. Suu Kyi was married to a foreign national and has children who have foreign nationalities, the constitution forbids her from becoming president, and she assumed the role of state counselor to President Win Myint. 

Her international image was tarnished by her defense of the military during the Rohingya Crisis, where Myanmar was accused of genocide by the International Court of Justice, for crimes against the Rohingya Muslim minority. 

This support of the military did not save her during the coup, as she was one of the first politicians detained by the military. She is once again under house arrest and faces obscure charges that could land her in prison for up to 6 years. She is accused of violating import restrictions, as six walkie-talkies were found in her villa compound, as well as contravening a natural disaster management law by interacting with a crowd during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms. Suu Kyi has been denied legal representation during her trial, and this process is widely seen as a pretext to keep her under detention.

 It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it

Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991

The upcoming weeks will be decisive for the prospect of democracy in Myanmar. If the military junta is able to maintain its firm grip on power, we could expect another chapter in the history of military oppression of political and individual freedoms in Myanmar. However, if the masses can resist and depose the increasingly violent military junta, this could be a major step in the development of their freedom, as it could lead to a clear separation of powers within Myanmar’s political system, paving the way towards democracy. 

Sources: Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Nikkei Asia, Reuters, The New York Times

Francisco Pereira

Christian Weber

Afonso Monteiro

QAnon, the far-right conspiracy taking over the mainstream

The Storm is Here

Human Beings love a good story, we crave for narratives that breakdown and explain information in a way we find compelling, sometimes in ways which confirm our own biases. Battles of existential good and evil have long been effective narratives to capture humanity’s attention, from religious myth to sci-fi blockbusters.

QAnon is in a way no different than a typical good versus evil type of story. It has roots in the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which refers to several stories that circulated around the internet alleging that Hilary Clinton and top Democrats were part of a paedophilia ring, that held satanic rituals from the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington D.C.. Later in October 2017, a user by the name Q started posting on 4chan, commenting on a cryptic statement by Donald Trump, “The calm before the storm”.

 The storm in question? A supposed culmination of a battle between evil and good in which the good, will finally triumph defeating thousands of members of the “Cabal”, a group of powerful elites involved in paedophilia and focused on destroying the US, by arresting and executing them or, if they are lucky, sending them to Guantanamo Bay. This was the beginning of a growing internet community that spread theories about a cabal of satanic paedophilic politicians, celebrities and media figures that control the world.

The “Q” is a reference to Q-clearance – the maximum level of access to secret documents in the US government. Several posters on Q boards claim to be government insiders, some in the FBI and CIA, and thus having access to relevant information regarding the conspiracy.

Our Lord and Saviour Donald Trump

There is an intimate connection between QAnon and politics. Every good story needs a hero, a protagonist, in this case it is the current President Donald Trump, who acts as a messianic figure in the conspiracy mythology. He is the saviour of the United States, the one who will stop the Cabal and finally usher a time of peace and prosperity, free of paedophilia, illegal migrants, and supposed Islamic invasions. QAnon supporters study the Presidents words carefully hoping to spot coded language possibly related to this secret mission. For example, in a meeting regarding the North Korea nuclear programme, Donald Trump referred to a “Calm before the storm”, which was interpreted as a “stand-by” kind of comment.

QAnon and Trump supporter at a rally

QAnon and Trump supporter at a rally

QAnon has slowly infiltrated the political discourse and slid its way into national politics. Signs of support for the conspiracy became common in Trump rallies and republican events after 2018. In the 2020 elections, 27 candidates for the House of Representatives (25 republican and 2 independent) reportedly believed in QAnon, two of which were elected.

The conspiracy, except for some specific mythology and coded language, seems to share many of the common tropes of the far-right: paedophilia, Islamic invasion, an anti-system sentiment, and a deep distrust of institutions. Consequently, such movements tend to exhibit huge flexibility and adaptability to any new narrative that becomes relevant, for example, COVID scepticism.

QAnon goes international

QAnon Flag being waved at a Anti-Lockdown protest in Berlin

QAnon Flag being waved at a Anti-Lockdown protest in Berlin

As QAnon grows, so does its Geographical outreach, which found fertile ground within European conspiracy theorists and far-right movements. The Coronavirus Crisis has been a catalyst for the spread of QAnon, having the Q signs appeared in protests over Coronavirus’ restrictions in Germany, Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal.

With the international expansion, QAnon lost its attachment to American politics, and it has adapted its language and narratives to better fit the different international realities. Earlier this year, in Germany (largest QAnon community besides the English-speaking countries), a large-scale joint NATO’s exercise was perceived as an attack, by Donald Trump, to free the German people from the control of the “deep state”. When the exercise was re-scaled this spring due to COVID, it was theorized that Merkel had created this “fake pandemic” to end the liberation plan.

Merkel has become an especially nefarious QAnon character, as her support for refugees led Merkel to be branded as a puppet of the global elite. The community attacks to her range from accusations of being a “Zionist Jew”, part of the Rothchild family, or even the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler.

QAnon supporters in Romania

QAnon supporters in Romania

Social media

With Trump rising in 2016, the expression “fake news” became widespread, and it was popularized the idea that Media institutions were partisan and acted on a political agenda to purposefully manipulate the population, observing that the reliance on social media, as the only source of information has been increasing.

However, social media lacks accuracy by exposing many users to conspiracy theories, clickbait, hyper partisan content, pseudo-science, and even fabricated “fake news” reports. This low-credibility content seems to spread quickly and easily and, because social media’s algorithms act in ways which reinforce pe7ople’s biases, it exposes the users to the type of content to which it previously engaged positively. Therefore, in recent years social media giants have been criticized, being forced to walk on a thin line between misinformation prevention and freedom of speech.

With its steady growth, QAnon  changed from forums like 4chan, to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, increasing its access to millions of people. Between March and June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon activity nearly tripled on Facebook and doubled on Instagram and Twitter, which also serve as a platform to radicalize milder conspiracy theorists, such as anti-vaxxers, into full QAnon believers later linked with far-right movements.

Some social media companies currently imposed tougher restrictions on their platforms. In 2019, Twitter removed several accounts that were supposedly connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency that had been disseminating a high level of QAnon content. Later, in July 2020, Twitter initiated an all-out ban on QAnon’s affiliated accounts and promised changes in the algorithm in order to mitigate the spread of related conspiracies. Facebook also announced measures that limit the presence of QAnon contentment across its platform.

The calm after the Storm

There is nothing unique about the narratives spread by QAnon, they share many of the typical conspiracy tropes prospered in a time of political and social instability, using COVID as a powerful tool to increase its reach. More worrisome is that unlike at any other historical time, conspiracy theories now enjoy near unlimited access to huge social media platforms, where information can be spread widely with no accountability. In these platforms, there is an increase in the promiscuity of some of these theories with political movements, which use each other and social media, to leverage their popularity. It remains yet to be understood if Social Media companies have the technical capacity to restrict these movements and have the moral authority to assess which movements deserve to be restricted.

Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. won the 2020 US Elections, becoming the President-elect, with his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America being planned for January 20th, 2021.

After a turbulent election week, delayed by prolonged counting, due to an increased number of mail-in ballots and early votes, as well as allegations of voter fraud. The fog eventually cleared, and Joe Biden has come out victorious, with decisive upsets in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia. Some results have been highly disputed, and the Trump campaign has already called for a recount in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona. Despite all this, everything points towards Biden beating Trump, 306 to 232 Electoral College votes.


Senate and House of Representatives

Joe Biden is experienced for the office, having already served two terms as US’ Vice-President under the Obama administration, as well as six terms as Senator of Delaware.  His presidential campaign was based on being an experienced, traditional American politician, with an old-fashioned appeal and charismatic honesty.

With Biden at the helm, it feels like Washington’s future will be predictable and optimistic, unlike the last four years of Donald Trump’s erratic presidency.

The first two years of Biden’s mandate, however, will highly depend on the outcome of Georgia’s Senate runoff race. If Democrats can secure both seats, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Kamala Harris, the Vice-President, serving as tiebreaker. As the House of Representatives is already held by Democrats, it would be considerably easier for Biden to pass some of his more ambitious policies, that stem from a more progressive wing of the party if both chambers were held by Democrats. Biden managed to gather the support of these progressive members of the Democratic Party, following his nomination for the Presidency. The impact of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s and Bernie Sanders’s policies, if passed, could bring a substantial shift not only to American politics, but also to its socio-economic structure.

On the other hand, if Democrats are unable to secure both Senate seats, Biden must wait until 2022 to try to obtain a Senate majority, when 34 Senate seats will be up for election. Until then, Biden would have to strive for Bipartisan measures, that would be less ambitious than his proposed measures, especially regarding a new tax plan and healthcare bill.


What can we expect of Biden’s Presidency?

Biden has already stated that on his first day in office, he will rejoin both the Paris Climate Deal and the World Health Organization, following Trump’s unexpected withdrawal from both these agreements, in 2017 and April of this year, respectively.

It has been made clear by the elected President, that he will tackle this pandemic with a science-based approach, appointing a task force of scientists led by Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Biden administration will also have to face the current crisis that was brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic. This will be one of the major hurdles to surpass, as restructuring the economy will be vital to ensure that the American Economy overcomes this crisis. The plan is to primarily help low-income families, as they were the most affected by the current crisis, by encouraging the creation of small businesses and their expansion to economically disadvantaged areas. These areas are predominantly inhabited by minorities, and these measures would allow for greater racial equity throughout all social classes and ethnicities.

In the long-run, Biden plans to take concise action towards fighting Climate Change, seeking to invest $2 trillion to boost clean energy and rebuild deteriorating infrastructure. According to Biden, the US is currently facing “A Child Care Emergency”. To tackle it, he plans to invest $775 billion to lower the cost of and expand the access to healthcare for Americans. To raise funding to apply these measures, the Biden administration plans a tax increase on people earning over $400.000 a year, as well as multi-million dollar companies, who benefited from tax cuts under the Trump Administration. However, as mentioned before, these highly ambitious, but ground-breaking measures, are extremely difficult to be approved in a Republican-controlled Senate.


Biden’s plan on Foreign Affairs

Biden has clearly stated that he intends to revitalize the Iran Nuclear Deal, following Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from it, correcting the subsequent unforgiving economic sanctions that plummeted the Irani economy into a deep recession with soaring inflation and shortages of basic goods.

The election of Biden for President was not the desired outcome for Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as Biden announced he would reassess the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. He further declared he will demand accountability over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist murdered inside the Saudi consulate, in Istanbul. The military support provided to Saudi Arabia by the US government in the Yemeni Civil War has also been questioned due to the increased death toll of civilians by Saudi Air and Drone strikes. This contrasts Mohammed bin Salman’s relationship with Donald Trump, who in 2019 referred his Saudi counterpart as “a good friend of mine”, after deciding not to confront the Saudi leader following the murder of Khashoggi.

During his tenure as Vice-President, Joe Biden was highly critical of Putin especially following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. He maintained this rhetoric after Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, was poisoned. However, Biden commented encouragingly the extension of START, the latest nuclear arms reduction pact between Russia and the US, that is set to expire in February.

Regarding China, Biden plans to take a more measured and multilateral approach to “pressure, punish and isolate China”, than the Trump administration’s barrage of sanctions on Beijing. 

“This is the time to heal America”

In his victory speech, the President-Elect displayed empathy and tried to reach out to those who did not vote for him. Essentially, Joe Biden attempted to convey a positive message that sought to reunite the American people, following a tumultuous election.

“To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies. They are Americans. They are Americans.”

— Joe Biden in his victory speech

For now, one must wait until the Electoral College meets to officially declare Joe Biden the President-elect, as Donald Trump has not yet conceded, and is still trying to fight a legal battle to annul what he deemed to be “illegal votes”. Only time will tell if Biden will be able to unify and heal a country deeply split by polarizing issues, that range from police brutality and institutional racism, to gun control and immigration. Without this unity, it will be even more demanding to ensure the US can come out of the current crisis stronger, as they did many times before, as a country.

Sources: Aljazeera, CNBC, EuroNews, Financial Times, Futurism, Reuters, The New York Times.

Christian Weber - Christian Weber João Oliveira - João Oliveira

João Sande e Castro - João Sande e Castro

Trump vs Biden Clash – The Illusions within US Politics

Reflecting on 2016-2020

In January 2017, Donald Trump took the office of the United States presidency, carrying with him the promise to “Make America great again”. Somehow, it feels like Trump has been there for a lifetime, while simultaneously having arrived just yesterday. Four years have passed since the 2016 elections and, in retrospect, it surely feels like it was a decisive moment in time. Brexit had just happened, right-wing populism was gaining traction throughout Europe, and Donald Trump seemed to be going all-in on his presidential campaign; overall, there was a huge wave of uncertainty, a collective feeling that something big was about to happen, and that nothing would ever be the same. In November, Trump’s victory pointed towards this change. The defeat of the Democrats was supposed to mean a greater landmark – the categorical rupture of the status quo, a definite breach in the politics of the establishment – or so it was portrayed by Trump and his team.

Four years have passed, and we recognize a fragile, divided America. A nation fiercely hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, disrupted by boiling racial tensions, alarmed by the uncertainty of a perilous recession and, amidst all, the distressing political environment over in D.C.. Once again, the American people will go to the polls and decide who will lead them in the next four years. The questions to be raised should reflect an interrogative posture toward the change that Trump promised, whilst reflecting on the economic achievements of the current administration, the social attainments to better the lives of the population, which encapsulates the management of the pandemic outbreak.

Supporter of Trump’s 2020 campaign

Supporter of Trump’s 2020 campaign

The purpose of this article is to provide an insight on Trump’s time in office, whilst simultaneously analyzing his and Joe Biden’s campaigns, the ideological contrast between the two, reflecting on the decisiveness of the result. Has Trump’s America experienced a structural shift, when taking into account the political history of the US, or is a hitch-like phenomenon present, where a country reminisces over a past that never was?

The Promises and Misadventures of Donald Trump

President Trump has been rather consistent regarding his controversial character and erratic persona. He has been able to remain in the spotlight throughout his four-year term, whether we take into consideration cases like his 2020 impeachment process or his contentious posture towards the media, his opponents, and his political counterparts. Economically, the US has achieved some important goals, from drastic tax cuts to historically low unemployment rates. Trump has been somewhat successful at putting his protectionist agenda into practice, renegotiating trade deals, and positively impacting domestic manufacturing industries. However, Trump’s action towards healthcare, environmental policy, social matters (gun laws, abortion), immigration measures, have all been subject to severe criticism and have induced concern from national and foreign politicians.

One should question if the USA is any different from when Trump took office or, in other words, whether America has become great again. The impact of the Trump presidency has been felt, but did it really disrupt the political paradigm? Has the swamp been drained? In many crucial issues, the President has been unable to reverse the position in which America is placed. The US has gravely increased its trade deficit with China. It has not cemented a particularly stronger position regarding foreign policy. It has yet to make a strong reform on many issues Trump committed to, concerning health, crime and justice, among others. The President’s campaign this year emphasizes the major improvements of his term, while continuing to promise big boosts in employment, tax cuts and American foreign affirmation, mainly concerning his Chinese counterparts. Is this enough?

All the turmoil that hit the US in 2020, from the Covid-19 pandemic, to the racial division, which caused riots all over the country, indicates that we should understand the direction in which the country is moving. In 2016, America felt it needed Trumpism – it craved for disruption. Has that necessity been expanded, or is it time to return to normalcy?

A cartoon by Joe Heller on Trump’s America

A cartoon by Joe Heller on Trump’s America

The Case for Joe Biden

Former Vice-President Joe Biden is the embodiment of this return to normalcy. In a way, he is the representation of a traditional American politician. He rose to the Senate at a very young age, held numerous important public positions and he has to him an old-fashioned appeal and a charismatic honesty, which has always allowed him to connect with the working-class, blue-collar community. His politics serve as an ideological alternative to Trump, leaning towards a moderate approach to solving the problems of the USA, to water down these turbulent times and to heal together. Incidentally, these bases are the ones which the Democratic Party intends to present as the Trump alternative. We must analyse what a Biden presidency would really represent for America.

Biden’s campaign has placed focus on Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic. The USA has the most cases and deaths across all countries, and the Democrats have pointed to the President’s recklessness and late action as a major cause of such impact. Furthermore, Biden is focused on improving and building upon the Affordable Care Act, ensuring an equitable solution for the health and the economic crisis and is overall aligned with the usual Democratic Agenda. This comes to show Biden is not proposing anything particularly innovative or different from the usual politics of the US. His campaign is far more ideological, emphasizing a message of rebuilding the country and “soul of America”, starting over and starting better.

The Trump vs Biden Debate, on the 29th of September

The Trump vs Biden Debate, on the 29th of September

However, Biden has had quite a controversial side to his demeanour. For once, his age is being pointed out as a major drawback, as his health conditions, regular gaffes and blunders are often in the spotlight. Besides, he has been under a number of controversies. Past ones include sexual harassment allegations and conflicts of interest in his action in the Ukraine involving his son. Presently, he stirred turmoil by questioning the identitary legitimacy of African-Americans who failed to cast a vote for the Democrats.

Joe Biden has an appeal to him. Many consider him to be “the lesser of two evils”. However, it should be enquired – is he truly offering something that America has never had?

A Final Note of Hopelessness

Many Americans are questioning how it got to the point where they have to choose between two unloved figures. One can blame the whole structure of American Politics and the two-party system. Some say the ruling party changes whilst nothing else does. Others say these tendencies lead to extreme and populist positions. Yet, the truth is that there is a sense of hopelessness in the politics of America. These sentiments are strikingly reflected in the reactions to the first Presidential Debate, as the majority perceived it as a circus-like show displaying the absurdity of politics.

Polls are suggesting a Biden victory, not only on the popular vote, but also in the majority of the so-called “swing states”, fundamental to win the Electoral College. The Senate polls also give a good chance of a Democrat win. Should they be able to conquer the Presidential position and the Senate, while maintaining the House, the Democrats would have a clear upper hand in the decision-making process within the US.

Whether we take into consideration the populism within Trump’s “Law and Order” rhetoric, or the “return to normalcy” approach by Biden, it is crucial to comprehend the lucid limitations of these elections. The structural shift Trump promised is rather questionable, whilst his campaign has been lacking the strength and efficiency we witnessed in 2016. On the other hand, we must look at the America Joe Biden is promising to heal. Surely, one should question – isn’t the status quo politics what caused the US to hurt in the first place?

If America is constantly facing a cycle of booms and contractions, an unwanted loop in the socioeconomic core of the country, Americans may be questioning not only their politicians, but also their political system. Nonetheless, the American people shall make themselves heard on the 3rd of November.

Stay-at-Home protests in Denver, Colorado, demanding the ceasing of the pandemic restrictions                                                           

Stay-at-Home protests in Denver, Colorado, demanding the ceasing of the pandemic restrictions

Protests in Minneapolis, following the death of George Floyd by an act of police brutality

Protests in Minneapolis, following the death of George Floyd by an act of police brutality

joao.sc João Sande e Castro

Socialism and chaos in the land of oil

Venezuela’s resurrection

The 1990s were a time of great instability and unrest in Latin America. The recovery from the debt crisis of the late 1980s forced South American governments to adopt neoliberal policies, opposed by many social and political movements. Despite the economic growth brought by the increase in oil prices after 1973, Venezuela was unable to escape an economic and political crisis. In this context, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez attempted twice to topple Venezuela’s government in 1992, as the head of the armed socialist movement which he created in the prior decade (MBR-200).

None of the attempts were successful and Chávez was arrested in the last one. However, all imprisoned members of MBR-200 were pardoned in 1994 and had their political rights reinstated. This allowed Chávez to run for President, in 1998, promising to get rid of corruption, help the poor and reduce the power of the elites. These promises turned Chávez into the favorite candidate, and for the first time in the democratic history of Venezuela, a candidate outside the traditional party system won the elections.

On election night, Chávez declared: “Venezuela’s resurrection is underway and nothing and nobody can stop it”. The so-called “Bolivarian Revolution” began. A Constituent Assembly was formed to rewrite the country’s Constitution in line with the illiberal, populist, and socialist ideals of the new government, paving the way for Chávez’s consolidation of power.

The most emblematic reform during his first mandate was the creation of the “Bolivarian Missions”, a series of programs that focused on social justice, social welfare, anti-poverty, and education, which effectively lifted millions of Venezuelans out of poverty and granted them new opportunities in life. This conceded Chávez an enormous popularity-boost, and a re-election by landslide in 2006. The government then started a program of nationalization, taking control of the oil industry, telecommunications, electricity, steel, and cement companies.

A slow-motion catastrophe

Hugo Chávez won his third straight presidential election in 2012. However, he was unable to attend his Presidential Inauguration due to advanced illness, and in March 2013, two months after the ceremony, he perished. His right-hand man, Nicolás Maduro, succeeded him as president, by winning the presidential election in 2013. This election, however, showed Maduro was not the charismatic leader Chávez was, as he only managed to win by a narrow margin of 1.5%, contrasting Chávez’s victory over the same opponent by 11%.

Hugo Chávez’s funeral procession, 2013

Hugo Chávez’s funeral procession, 2013

The economic problems existent during the final years of Chávez’s presidency were aggravated during Maduro’s mandate. With an economy over-reliant on the extraction and exportation of oil, the decrease in oil prices and the internationally imposed sanctions weighed heavily on the economy. To add to these issues, in 2014 the government was faced with student protests in several cities that escalated to armed confrontations, fuelled in part by the scarcity of basic goods, such as toilet paper and food items.

In 2016, the increasing contestation and frustration of the people towards the government led to the largest defeat of the Chavistas in the ballots, when the opposition gained control of the National Assembly. In the same year, 1.8 million signatures were collected in a petition for the removal of the President. Receiving a rejection, the opposition took the streets in mass protests throughout the country. By then, it was clear that the country was split in half.

Following the protests, Maduro’s government lost the popular support that masked Chavéz’s autocratic exercise of power, turning Nicolás Maduro into a full-blown dictator. In 2017, the Supreme Court (packed with judges aligned with the government), dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and the government proceeded with the election of a Constituent Assembly, boycotted by the opposition. Using increasingly fraudulent methods, and with the support of Maduro’s enthusiasts,  the Constituent Assembly was tasked with drafting a new constitution.

In 2018’s presidential election, the opposition, again, called for a boycott and for clean elections, following the arrest of several opposition leaders. Their demands, however, were not conceded and Maduro was re-elected. Yet, these results were rejected by the EU and the United States, due to their concern over the aforementioned irregularities.

Perceiving the actions of the government as illegal, the opposition turned its support to the leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself as president in 2019, and a diplomatic crisis arose when several other countries recognized Guaidó as President. Nevertheless, he was unsuccessful in ousting Maduro from power, and as long as the army remains loyal to the Bolivarian Republic, Maduro will maintain a firm grip.

Protests against the Constituent Assembly in 2017

Protests against the Constituent Assembly in 2017

A failed-state

It can be argued that some policies conducted by Hugo Chávez successfully improved the quality of life of the Venezuelan people. Health, literacy, and poverty indicators show good results for the first years of chavismo, as well as some economic indicators. Chávez delivered on most of his initial promises, cementing his power and popularity among large sections of the country, however, his socialist reforms created a handicapped economy, overly dependent on oil exports, and turned Venezuela into a centralized state undermined by corruption and incompetence.

Ideologically driven, nationalizations resulted in a crippled economy, unable to produce even the most basic goods, due to the lack of investment throughout nearly all industries. By the time of Chávez’s death, the falling oil prices were already destabilizing the regime, but nowadays, Venezuela is highly susceptible to swings in the international oil market.

Chávez left an extremely polarized country, with a fragile economy, high rates of crime and violence, but a political and military class loyal to the regime, allowing Maduro to remain in power without making any meaningful reforms. While the country’s economy collapsed, the opposition grew, and living became surviving.

Ever since Chávez took power, Venezuela became increasingly isolated internationally. An anti-imperialist rhetoric aimed at the USA, and an alignment with countries like Cuba led to successive international sanctions that have been an important factor in the economic destruction of the country.

In the last years, the continuous effect of all these problems led to the exacerbation of economic struggles. In 2019 the real GDP is estimated to have declined 35%, while the inflation rate was 65037% in 2018, and 19910% in 2019. The poverty rate of households reached 87% in 2017, and the unemployment rate, in the same year, attained 27.1%. The impact on people’s lives is easy to understand. Close to 80% of Venezuelans do not have access to continuous clean drinking water and basic sanitation, which are now a privilege of the wealthy. Ironically, in an oil-rich country, even fuel is scarce. Since 2009, blackouts have become common and widespread in Venezuela with increasing frequency. Blackouts place the whole country in a stand-still: Businesses are unable to operate as telecommunication networks and public transportation cease to function properly. Adding to this, extended periods of blackouts damage food and medicines, which is critical in a country that is already experiencing shortage of these goods.

In 2016, a survey by the Bengoa Foundation discovered that nearly 30% of children were malnourished, while in 2017 another study found that 64% of Venezuelans experienced a reduction in weight, and 61% slept hungry. The lack of medicines and medical items has led to deaths from otherwise preventable diseases. This shortage of basic supplies is even more problematic with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Life is so unbearable that millions of Venezuelans have fled the country in the last years, mainly to Colombia, as well as to other South American countries.

Venezuela is a “failed state”, as former Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma said. A prosperous country destroyed by incompetent politicians. The regime failed in every aspect other than its own survival. Maduro is still able to command the loyalty of a corrupt political and military class, control the elections, and fend off international pressure.

Unfortunately, for the Venezuelan people, the end of their misery is unforeseeable.

People try to rescue packages from a humanitarian aid truck set afire in the border to Colombia in 2019

People try to rescue packages from a humanitarian aid truck set afire in the border to Colombia in 2019

Sources: The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Conversation, BBC News, Macrotrends, Público, NPR, Al Jazeera, The Next System, CNN, The Washington Post, CSIS, France24, The New York Times, The New Yorker

EU’s Black Sheep: The False Prophets of Poland

Freedom, democracy and the rule of law. These were the three most important principles upon which the European Union was founded, as stated by Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. In May 2004, when Poland and nine other countries accessed the EU, these were the beliefs they sought to comply with, to their people. However, never have these values suffered from such blatant and dangerous violations, as of today. Sixteen years after the largest expansion of the Union, the Polish state constitutes a major threat to the ideals that cement and define Europe. But how have we come to this point? And most importantly, how will this mayhem be turned around?

Context and History

The Polish “European Project” dates back to its notable economic performance in the 1990’s and its desire of convergence and dissociation with the eastern bloc. Years of negotiation led to a national referendum, in which 77% of voters were in favour of Polish accession to the EU. In 2007, charismatic pro-EU politician Donald Tusk became prime-minister, ensuring a somewhat successful ruling alongside his party, Civic Platform. The following years marked a significant period of growth in Poland, with the reinforcement of its infrastructures, schools, industries and highways, the financial support of the EU and remarkable economic development.

Image 1 - Poland’s GDP per capita growth rate (1992-2019), compared with other European counterparts. The Polish growth has been considerably superior.

Image 1 – Poland’s GDP per capita growth rate (1992-2019), compared with other European counterparts. The Polish growth has been considerably superior.

Although the approval rates of the EU were indeed favourable in Poland, the rise of the nationalist, conservative and Eurosceptic party, PiS (Law and Order) was imminent. Founded in 2001 by the Kaczyński twins, two enticing politicians, this party claimed that the Polish government had become representatives of a corrupt and elite institution, submissive to the European Union. This narrative was appealing to a conservative mass of Polish citizens. It is important to highlight Poland’s issues with its independence, as the country has faced numerous attacks and invasions in the past centuries, often having its own sovereignty withdrawn. The impact of all these devastating decades was a collective trauma and insecurity of losing independence and identity. PiS were very successful in portraying this image to the Polish people, promising to retrieve Poland to its fellows citizens. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, the moderate coalition was unable to secure a victory, after Tusk, its main figure, left to preside over the European Council. As a result, PiS formed a majority government, following its crushing victory.

After PiS gained control of both houses of parliament, they also took over the presidency, with Andrzej Duda’s victory in 2015, who stands in office as of today. His voter-friendly appearance and posture allows the party to appeal to the more moderate voters, while Kaczyński operates behind the curtains. The next step for the party was to take over the judicial system.


Democratic Threats and the European Response

Firstly, Law and Order neutered the constitutional court. What was supposed to be an unbiased judicial body to assess the legislation according to the fundamental laws of the country, was now a servant of the main party, packed with loyalist judges and lacking any sort of independence.

Image 2 - Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS. This politician has been successful for the rise of a nationalist, conservative movement throughout the Polish territory.

Image 2 – Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS. This politician has been successful for the rise of a nationalist, conservative movement throughout the Polish territory.

Following this, the government set a number of laws that threatened the whole independence of the judicial branch. For instance, in 2017, a law was passed that set different retiring ages for male and female Supreme Court judges and giving the minister of justice discretionary power to prolong the mandate of some judges. Furthermore, a Disciplinary Chamber was created to review the decisions of the Supreme Court. Many questioned the independence of this body, whose members were appointed by the government. The Rule of Law was under imminent threat. Political rule reigned amidst Polish Courts, a pattern that followed through the next years, illustrated by various new laws. One of which was a recently appointed act which determined that judges may be punished for implementing a judgement of a supranational court. This represented a flagrant attack on the prevalence of European Law over domestic mandate. A further infringement occurred over a 2018 law that lowered the retiring age of all Supreme Court Judges. It resulted in the dismissal of 27 of the 72 justices, one of which was the President of the institution. The tension between the Supreme Court and the government had risen tremendously as an attempt of judicial takeover was on sight and European action was urgent.

“It is with a heavy heart that we’ve decided to initiate article 7.1”

— Frans Timmerman

These were the words of Frans Timmerman, the then European Commission First VP, in late 2017. The article in question is a punitive clause seeking to discipline countries that breach the core principles of the EU, and if needed to sanction them or even suspend their EU voting rights. The Union viewed the recent laws passed by the Polish government to disrupt the necessary independence of the judicial structure of the nation and an evident violation of the Rule of Law. It was not only a threat to the Polish people, but to the whole foundation of the European Union.

However, the case of Article 7 is still ongoing. Europe seems to be incapable of resolving the rule of law issues in Poland and the main cause of such irresolution is the need of unanimity from the remaining member-states for the European Commission to apply punishments. Poland is being backed by Hungary, another nation dangerously sliding onto autocracy and illiberalism. These two have formed an unofficial partnership which empowers their continuous breaches on democratic values through the need of unanimity vote to implement the punishments the EU seeks to apply. The constant mutual support of the two governments endangers all the values that shape the EU, since every time one ruptures the rule of law, it has the pat-on-the-back-like comfort of the other, which perpetuates the cycle to this day.

Freedom in Peril

The attack on judiciary independence doesn’t stand alone in the repertoire of the government’s attacks on democracy. Despite the democratically legitimacy of both parliamentary elections and a rule marked by intensifying nationalism and strong economic growth, Poland is holding a questionable position on humanitarian and progressive causes. During the refugee migration crisis, Poland was one of the nations who bluntly refused to receive migrants and blocked a deal on the redistribution of refugees within Europe. Kaczyński and PiS have adopted an Islamophobic, anti-immigration stance in their phenotype, despite the ECJ declaring their refusal to be against European Law.

Images 3 and 4 – Throughout the last decade, Poland has been marked by a number of protests from conservative to progressive ones. The most notable ones were the manifestations on Poland’s National Day in 2017, carried out by nationalists and white-supremacist groups.

Moreover, last year Poland declared the creation LGBT free zones, where almost 100 municipalities adopted an unwelcoming stance on the ideology. Whilst the declarations were local and unenforceable, the ruling party has often supported homophobic stances, further enhancing the Christian rhetoric of PiS. Poland is still a considerably homophobic country, as same-sex marriage and civil union are still not permitted. Freedom of press is equally in danger, as a growing tendency to criminalize defamation has pushed the expression of media and news outlets to an increasingly restricted ethos. Poland is the third worst-positioned EU country in the World Press Freedom Index, only behind Greece and Hungary.

Image 5- Map of Poland, with the LGBT ideology-free zones in red. Almost a third of the country territory has declared these statements

Image 5- Map of Poland, with the LGBT ideology-free zones in red. Almost a third of the country territory has declared these statements

Image 6- Poland’s data regarding the 2020 World Press Freedom Index

Image 6- Poland’s data regarding the 2020 World Press Freedom Index

The future is rather unsettling for Poland. If on the one hand, Poles are aware and willing to protest against the undemocratic decisions of the government, on the other, the residing feeling of Polish identity, the Polish family and Polish patriotism is boiling up through the masses, fevered by Kaczyński and his party. The certainty is the following: one must not overlook Poland’s situation. To say this is just a regular right-wing ruling would be an understatement, for we are witnessing the endangerment of European democracy right before our eyes.

Europe must stand its ground and fight the rise of illiberalism, or continue to dig an endless hole of bureaucracy and futile irresolution.

Sources: Financial Times, POLITICO Europe, World Bank, EuroActiv, Deutsche Welle

Teams: Global Politics, European Affairs