Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Foreign Digest: Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Hong Kong

Update on the Spanish Parliamentary Elections
            After nine months of being governed by a caretaker government, Spain remains without a government, as the ruling center-right party fell short last week of winning a required parliamentary vote of confidence.  The third-place business-friendly centrist party agreed to support the conservatives, in exchange for the latter’s approval of a comprehensive reform package, but the effort to form Spain’s first coalition government in its history came up only five seats short.  The conservatives had won the most votes in parliamentary elections in December and gained seats in a second vote in June.  Unless a coalition can be formed, Spanish voters will have to return to the polls—possibly on Christmas Day, as the second-place Socialists refuse to form a grand coalition.  King Felipe VI is urging the parties to compromise. 

The Removal of Brazil’s Liberal President
            Brazil’s liberal president was impeached and removed from office last week on corruption charges, marking the official end of rule by the center-left in South America’s largest country, as a center-right parliamentary leader has taken her place.  The unpopular president had been suspended for several months during the investigation.  Brazil suffers from corruption that is widespread among its national leadership, which, together with its political turmoil, threatens its economic growth.

            Since late last year, there have been major setbacks to the Latin American socialist revolution inspired by Venezuela’s dictatorial government.  As I have been posting, in addition to being removed from national power in Brazil and replaced by the center-right, the Left has lost presidential elections in Argentina and Peru to conservatives, while the center-right opposition won a supermajority in Venezuela’s congressional elections and Bolivians rejected a referendum to amend the constitution to allow their leftist leader to serve another term in office.

The Popular Efforts to Remove Venezuela’s Socialist Dictator 
            The largest protests against Venezuela’s dictatorship in many years took place last week against the ruling Socialists, with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans taking to the streets in opposition to the authoritarian government, as Venezuela plunges ever deeper into economic abyss, in addition to their suffering from oppression, corruption and violent crime.  The democratic opposition is organizing a presidential recall referendum, which has already obtained enough valid signatures to advance to the next step, as the dictatorship has thwarted democratic reforms approved by the Venezuelan Congress, led by a two-thirds supermajority of the opposition.  The dictatorship’s electoral commission has been delaying the vote to run out the clock on eligibility for an election to be held to replace the government when there are more than two years remaining in its term, as would be the case until mid-January.  The delays would push the timeline for certifying the results of a referendum and the taking of office of a new government past that point to prevent an interim presidential election and thereby allow the Socialists to continue their authoritarian rule.  The size of the street protests is a sign that the presidential recall referendum would likely gain the required number of signatures and the Socialists could lose the referendum.

The Democratic Opposition Gains Seats in the Hong Kong Legislative Elections
            The democratic opposition gained seats in Hong Kong’s legislative elections earlier this week.  Communist China appoints the city-state’s ruler and reserves 30 of the 70 local council seats for various constituencies; it appoints its allies to those seats.  As in the last elections in 2012, the opposition won a majority of the elective seats, which gives them more than the required one-third to veto constitutional changes.  Pro-democracy activists, including several leaders of the 2014 uprising I had posted about at the time against Peking’s interference in Hong Kong’s elections, won several seats in the city-state’s local elections yesterday on the promise of greater autonomy or even independence for the Chinese-owned territory.  The other democratic opposition candidates favor the current arrangement between Peking and Hong Kong, but oppose China’s violations of it.  There was a record turnout of over two million voters.  

           The former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, after China promised Hong Kong could maintain its free market, its representative government and a degree of autonomy.  However, the Chinese Communists limited the city state’s autonomy in 2014 with a law that placed further restrictions on candidacies for those local council seats that are elective, thereby blocking some opposition leaders from eligibility for election. 

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