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Xi’s mandate seals march of strongmen

Tuesday, 13 March 2018 00:00 Published in Headlines

The Chinese Communist Party’s decision to give President Xi Jinping a mandate to rule for life is further evidence of the world’s slide towards more nationalist, authoritarian regimes, analysts said.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament, meeting in the imposing Great Hall of the People for an annual session, made Xi the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong on Sunday by scrapping term limits that would have forced him to step down after 2023.
The decision moves one-party China further away from adopting a democratic system that many Western thinkers and politicians had once assumed was inevitable as the country opened up to global trade.
It fits a pattern worldwide that has seen the model of liberal democracy — based on individual rights, the rule of law and the free press — lose ground as many countries turn instead to more authoritarian forms of government.
“We think it (liberal democracy) is normal and obviously it’s not, because in the whole of human history, democracy has not existed for all that long in terms of the international order,” said George Magnus, associate at the China Centre at Oxford University.

Regimes with illiberal leaders “reject the kind of democratic model we have kind of grown up with,” he added.
These include Vladimir Putin of Russia, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, who all came to power through the ballot box but have since trampled democratic norms.
Other global contemporary strongmen include Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who took part in a coup against a democratically elected Islamist government. 
“It is certain that the club of managed (or guided) democracies is growing,” said Caroline Galacteros, director of the Planeting strategic intelligence consultancy in France.
In Europe, Hungary’s Viktor Orban has become a posterboy for what he calls a form of “illiberal democracy” while US President Donald Trump also embodies a spreading strain of aggressive nationalism worldwide.
Trump’s “America First” mantra and attacks on institutions such as the FBI, the judiciary and the free press are testing the democratic checks and balances in the US constitution.
Chinese model
Human rights campaigners warn that authoritarians and autocrats worldwide are exploiting discontent over globalisation, industrial decline, terrorism and migration to justify their actions.
According to the Freedom House human rights watchdog, democracy “faced its most serious crisis in decades” in 2017, which was the 12th year in a row that individual freedoms were found to have declined.
Furthermore, under Trump the US has lost the moral authority to effectively condemn abuses in other countries, critics say, while Europe is struggling with its own nationalists in Hungary and Poland.
“This illiberal temptation is something we should not take lightly today and will doubtless constitute one of the battles France, but also the European Union, will have to undertake in 2018, including with some of its members,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in January.
Democracies managed
In the 1990s, intellectuals such as Francis Fukuyama questioned whether humanity had reached the “end of history”, with liberal democracy and capitalism apparently victorious over communism and totalitarianism. 
But by the turn of the century, analysts were warning of the emergence of semi-authoritarian states — countries that like Turkey and Russia fall somewhere between democracy and dictatorship. 
China’s trajectory was always unknown, but the country has taken a decisive turn away from the idea of a more pluralistic society with greater political freedoms.
And, thanks to its fast economic growth and growing military might, it is serving as a counter-example for the democratic model — with fans in sometimes surprising places.
“The great leaders of the world come from countries that are not great democracies,” said former French president Nicolas Sarkozy at a conference in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
Sarkozy, who faces multiple investigations over corruption allegations related to his one term in office from 2007-2012, said strong leadership in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia meant there was “no populism” there. 

Scuffles in Hong Kong at key vote for democrats

Tuesday, 13 March 2018 00:00 Published in Commentary

Hong Kong, CHINA—Hong Kong’s best-known young activists were heckled by Chinese nationalists in tense scenes Sunday as the city’s pro-democracy camp tries to claw back lost seats in controversial by-elections.
Sunday’s vote once more exposed the city’s deep political divide and comes as China takes an increasingly tough line against any challenges to its sovereignty.
High-profile candidate Agnes Chow was barred from standing because her party promotes self-determination for the semi-autonomous city.
Soon after polls opened, several men and a woman heckled Chow as well as leading pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law near a polling station where they were supporting pro-democracy candidate Au Nok-hin, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
One of the men barged into Wong, who led mass demonstrations in 2014 calling for greater democratic freedoms.
“Traitors and running dogs!” a man repeatedly yelled — insults commonly used by Beijing loyalists against political opponents — while others hurled obscenities.
Wong told reporters that threats to freedoms in the city “prove that it’s more necessary for us to vote”.
Beijing has been incensed at the emergence of activists advocating independence and views calls for self-determination as part of a dangerous split list push.
The vote comes on the day the Chinese Communist Party decided to give President Xi Jinping a mandate to rule for life, fuelling fears that Hong Kong’s freedoms will come increasingly under threat.
The by-election was triggered after Beijing forced the disqualification of six rebel lawmakers who had swept to victory in citywide elections in 2016.
Some were former protest leaders, others openly advocated independence. All were ousted from their posts for inserting protests into their oaths of office.
Four of the six vacant seats are being contested Sunday.
Au said it was a “vote for justice” after stepping in to contest the Hong Kong Island seat after Agnes Chow was disallowed.
The seat was originally held by Law, also a 2014 protest leader, who was among the six thrown out of office.
But pro-establishment politician Judy Chan, standing against Au, said the vote was a chance for “the silent majority, who are tired of a politicized Hong Kong, who detest those who humiliate the country” to push out destabilizing opponents.
‘Systemic violence’
Democracy activists urged voters to the polls as by 6:30 pm (1030 GMT) only 31 percent of the 2.1 million eligible had turned out, lower than the rate in the landmark elections of 2016.
Some voters Sunday hoped a legislature weighted more towards the pro-Beijing establishment would help on livelihood issues in a city with a huge wealth gap and poverty issues.
Some accepted that Beijing was in charge.
“China is the big brother now,” said a retired policeman who gave his name as Kwan.
But others were worried about rule of law in the city.
“I want my children and grandchildren to live in a place with a fair system,” a banker who gave his name as Hong, 56, told AFP.
One 25-year-old university student named Lui slammed the government for using “systemic violence” to disqualify legislators.
The six lawmakers were retrospectively barred from office by Hong Kong’s high court after Beijing issued a special “interpretation” of the city’s mini-constitution, stipulating legislators had to take their oath “solemnly and sincerely” or face being banned.
Pro-independence lawmakers had inserted expletives and waved “Hong Kong is not China” banners during their swearing in. Others added phrases supporting the democracy movement.
The pro-democracy camp has come under increasing pressure since the failure of the Umbrella Movement to win political reform, with some leading activists jailed on protest-related charges.
Even if it wins back all four seats Sunday, it faces an uphill struggle in a legislature which is only half elected, with the rest selected by traditionally pro-establishment interest groups.
Of 70 seats, the democracy camp currently holds 24, only just clinging on to the one-third needed to veto important bills. 

New York, UNITED STATES — To amass a fortune in real estate, despite New York’s crazy housing prices: that is the challenge thrown down by singer Jennifer Lopez and her boyfriend Alex Rodriguez to kids from the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough.
Around 50 young students from the Bronx, most of them black or Latino, have been selected for “Project Destined,” a scheme designed to teach them the ins and outs of financing and real estate and sponsored by J.Lo and A-Rod — as the retired baseball superstar Rodriguez is known.
The youths underwent intense instruction from lawyers, bankers, mortgage companies and realtors, but the course will not be just theoretical.
The student team that comes up with the best business plan will have the chance to buy a building worth $1.5 million in the Bronx and develop it.
In this real estate Mecca, its skyline in constant flux and whose most famous alumnus Donald Trump is now in the White House, good contacts can open unimaginable doors.
That was the philosophy of the project’s two founders, Fred Greene and Cedric Bobo, both of them successful black businessmen who wanted to pass on their knowledge and experience to kids from humble backgrounds.
“What we are doing here is giving kids a chance to work with us almost like apprentices,” said Bobo. “Kids come in, analyze properties, we then buy them and we share a portion of the profits.”
“We want to put owners and stakeholders in the communities where they live, work and play. If we do that, we do a lot,” said Bobo, an experienced investment banker for the Carlyle Group, one of the power houses of Wall Street.
Before moving to the Bronx, where more than 35 percent of the population live in poverty, the program ran in Detroit, Memphis and Miami, helping young people from poorer backgrounds learn the ropes of business.
Escaping the ghetto
At Yankee stadium in the Bronx, the students — split up into six teams — lay out their business strategies to a panel of experts that includes Jonathan Gray, head of the Blackstone Group, and Lopez, the mega-star singer who herself grew up in the Bronx but who is selling her Manhattan penthouse apartment for $27 million.
The winning team will be the one with the most persuasive strategy that secures the greatest profit.
The winners will then become minority shareholders in the development and receive some of the earnings from the property, helping pay their university tuition as long as they stay enrolled in the project and take part in more courses online.
In a pre-training session, Rodriguez chats with participants on an impressive balcony overlooking Times Square.
“Real estate is a way out of the ‘hood,” he says. “For real estate is the one game where you can get rich .. it doesn’t matter if you don’t have any money and it doesn’t matter what market, you can go buy real estate all over the world with no money.”
The ex-ball star says he is living proof of that: he bought a duplex in southern Florida in 2003 and now owns more than 10,000 apartments through his company Monument Capital Management.
“I’m really excited to learn how the real estate market works,” said Jovani Amaxtal, an 18-year-old philosophy student whose Mexican mother works slicing loaves for street vendors. “That’s where the money is!”
Don’t settle for less
“I come from very humble beginnings. My mother worked two jobs. But I believed I was going to be the leader of my family and I was going to make a difference,” said Rodriguez, who grew up in Washington Heights, a Dominican neighborhood in New York.
“Don’t settle for anything less. This is the American dream,” he urged the students.
The price of a square meter of real estate in the Bronx is $3,081: the average annual income of a family is $35,176.
“It’s a lot of hard work but it’s something that everybody could do,” said Charles Wu, one of the project instructors. “You don’t have to have huge money. You can start small and you can build a portfolio over time.”
“Now I’ve told my friend, like, when I am 27, I am going to own the building, or two or five,” said student Andrea Alarcon, 17, who was born in Ecuador and whose mother works long shifts as a waitress to provide for the family.
“Being a homeowner? I’d love to! Having a house under my name... I am ready!” said Ruben Germosa, 18, who the week before had visited Harvard Business School with Bobo, his mouth wide open in awe. He is considering applying next year to the university but still does not know how he would pay the tuition fees. 






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