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New Delhi, India - May 22, 2024: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the first round of elections in New Delhi in Dwarka

Modi’s narrow win suggests Indian voters saw through religious rhetoric, opting instead to curtail his political power

by Sumit Ganguly

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Narendra Modi, India’s two-time prime minister, was elected on June 5, 2024, as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of political parties that won with a slim majority in the recently concluded parliamentary election. Modi is expected to be sworn in for his third term as prime minister on June 8. The BJP had hoped for a landslide victory in the country’s six-week general election – the largest display of democracy, by far, in a year of voting around the world. But the party scored only 240 parliamentary seats in the final tally and needs coalition partners to secure a majority of 272. The Conversation U.S. spoke with Sumit Ganguly, distinguished professor of political science and the Tagore chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, to understand more about the election results and what they mean for Indian democracy. The BJP had talked about an overwhelming victory, but it seems it will not get a majority. How do you explain these results? Part of the answer lies in the Modi government’s failure to realize that while economic benefits had been substantial, their distribution has been uneven. India has seen a growth in inequality and persistent unemployment both in rural and urban areas. Unemployment of those aged 20 to 24 years is at a high of 44.49%. And that is the overall national number; that data does not tell us that it may be much worse in certain regions. The other explanation is that Modi’s exploitation of historic Hindu-Muslim tensions seems to have run its natural course. You can beat the religious drum – and Modi did with rhetoric including calling Muslims “infiltrators” – but then the day-to-day issues of jobs, housing and other such necessities take over, and these are the things people care about the most. BJP made a miscalculation, in my analysis. It failed to realize that in a country where only 11.3% of children get adequate nutrition, Hindu pride cannot be eaten – ultimately, it’s the price of potatoes and other essentials that matter. Let’s talk about Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state with 80 parliamentary seats. It plays a crucial role in any national election, and Modi and his alliance are set to lose the state. What happened? It’s another example of the same miscalculation we are seeing nationally by the BJP. The chief minister of the state,Yogi Adityanath, saw himself as a firebrand Hindu nationalist leader and likely a successor of Modi. But he, too, failed to take into account how his policies were playing out in the poorer segments of the state’s population, who are mainly Muslims and those at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy. He pursued grand infrastructure projects such as new highways and airports, and those might well have appealed to the middle class – but not to the poor. Additionally, years of presiding over a state government that has used police power to suppress dissent, often those of the poor and marginalized, have taken their toll on Adityanath’s support. What explains BJP’s inroads into the southern state of Kerala, where it is on course to make history by winning a parliamentary seat for the first time? The gains in the south are perplexing and will require more data on voting patterns for a more accurate analysis. Historically, the BJP has not been able to make inroads into the southern states for a number of reasons. These include linguistic subnationalism owing to the hostility toward Hindi. The other issue in the south is that the practice of Hinduism is quite different, including festivals and other regional traditions. The BJP’s vision of Hinduism is based on the “great tradition” of northern India, which believes in the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer gods. The southern states are also engines of economic growth and end up subsidizing the poorer states of the north. As a consequence, there is resentment against the BJP, which has long had its political base in northern India. In July 2023, 26 opposition parties formed a coalition called INDIA – the Indian National Developmental and Inclusive Alliance – to challenge the BJP in the election. Were they given a fair chance? No, the playing field was far from level. The mass media has been mostly co-opted by the ruling BJP to advance its agenda. Apart from one or two regional newspapers, all the national dailies scrupulously avoid any criticism of the BJP, and the major television channels mostly act as cheerleaders of the government’s policies. A number of intelligence agencies are alleged to have been used for blatantly partisan purposes against the opposition parties. Political leaders have been jailed on charges that may prove to be dubious. For example, Arvind Kejriwal, the highly popular chief minister of New Delhi, was charged with alleged improprieties in the allocation of liquor licenses and jailed just days after election dates were announced. Despite the electoral losses, Modi is expected to return as prime minister for a third term. Given that the BJP got just two seats in the 1984 elections, what factors led to the party’s meteoric rise? The BJP has built a solid organizational base across the country, unlike the Indian National Congress, the principal opposition party. And the Congress party has done little to revitalize its political foundations, which had eroded in the 1970s after then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency and a non-Congress government came into power for the first time. The BJP has also appealed to the sentiments of the majority Hindu population through slogans that paint India’s principal minority, Muslims, as the source of myriad societal problems. Hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities surged across India over the past few years. Finally, the BJP also benefited from economic reforms that the earlier Congress government had set in motion from the 1990s, including a national goods and services tax and the privatization of the loss-making, state-owned airline, Air India, thereby contributing to substantial economic growth in India. In December 1992, Hindu nationalists destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque. How crucial was that to BJP’s rise to power? And what should we read into BJP losing its seat in Ayodhya? The destruction of the Babri Mosque certainly galvanized an important segment of the Hindu electorate and led to a growth in support for the BJP. In 1999 – just seven years after the event – the BJP first came to power in a coalition government in which it had 182 out of 543 seats in the Indian Parliament. Two national elections later, in 2014, Modi assumed office as the prime minister with a clear-cut majority of 282 seats. In January 2024, just a few months before the election, Modi inaugurated a newly constructed temple in Ayodhya, the site of the Babri Mosque. It was a carefully stage-managed event with an eye on votes. However, BJP lost its seat in Ayodhya. It’s possible that all the fanfare around the new temple appealed to people outside of Ayodhya – but not to the city’s residents who continued to deal with waste mismanagement and other issues. What’s next for Modi? And what do the results tell us about Indian democracy? It’s certainly possible that Modi will form the government with coalition partners. I believe that Modi, as an astute politician, will most likely learn from this setback and adapt his tactics to new realities. The results might also be a useful corrective – the Indian voter has once again demonstrated that he or she might be willing to put up with some things but not others. Indian voters have demonstrated in the past that when they see democracy being threatened, they tend to punish leaders with autocratic tendencies. We saw this when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat in the elections in 1977. The elections followed a state of emergency that Gandhi had imposed on the country, suspending all civil liberties. Back then, it was India’s poor who voted her out of power. This time around, we might need to wait on additional electoral data about how particular caste and income groups voted. This article was updated on June 5, 2024, with the final election results and other developments.

The Chinese flag and the flag of the Solomon Islands

Will Solomon Islands’ new leader stay close to China?

by Priestley Habru , Claudina Habru

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Former foreign minister Jeremiah Manele has been elected the next prime minister of Solomon Islands, defeating the opposition leader, Matthew Wale, in a vote in parliament. The result is a mixed bag for former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare’s Ownership, Unity and Responsibility (OUR) Party. The party won just 15 of 50 seats in last month’s election. But even though Sogavare declined to stand for PM this week, his party still had the upper hand in the vote after courting independent MPs. So, what kind of leader will Manele be? Will he bring big changes to the country or its relationships with China, Australia and the United States? Quality-of-life issues remain paramount One of the authors here (Claudina) voted in Solomon Islands’ general election in November 2014. At that time, political campaigns were low-key and largely localised to particular areas in the country. Ten years on, we have noticed a huge change in the way campaigns are staged. This year, the livestreaming of campaign events was ubiquitous on social media, which amplified and sensationalised the messages of candidates like never before. Frenzied parades involving floats and legions of supporters were common. Despite all the fanfare leading up to polling day, the primary concern of ordinary Solomon Islanders was not political wrangling, but the dire state of services in the country. The healthcare system is dilapidated, road conditions and infrastructure are poor and power cuts are constant. The increased cost of living and lack of educational and job opportunities have only made daily life more difficult for residents. For example, one voter in Isabel Province told us as part of our research that he did not care what political party his preferred candidate aligned himself with. His main concern was for his MP to continue to provide financial support through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). The fund pays for iron roofing for homes, school fees, outboard motor engines for transport, chainsaws and other material needs. Many voters similarly wanted their MPs to join the majority coalition so they would be able to access more benefits through the government. This was why nine of the independent MPs who unseated incumbents from the governing coalition came back to join that same coalition going into the PM’s election this week. Manele got 31 votes from lawmakers, which included 15 from his OUR Party, three from Solomon Islands People First Party, one from the Kadere Party, nine independents and three other MPs who switched allegiances from Wale’s camp. It was a smart move for Sogavare and his coalition to select Manele as their candidate. Sogavare’s popularity has waxed and waned over the past two decades. He was forced to vacate the PM post after no-confidence votes in both 2007 and 2017. He survived another no-confidence vote in 2021, which led to violent protests on the streets of Honiara and the destruction of Chinatown. Though Sogavare managed to hold onto his seat in last month’s election, he won by just 259 votes. It was his narrowest margin of victory since he was first elected to parliament in 1997. To avoid a similar backlash from voters who did not want to see Sogavare become PM again, the sensible thing for his coalition was to select another candidate. The 55-year-old Manele is from the same village (Samasodu) in Isabel Province as the governor-general, Sir David Vunagi, which means the two men in the highest offices in the country are closely related. Manele will likely be an inclusive leader. He has a friendly and humble personality, as reflected in his maiden speech in which he acknowledged his rival, Wale, and members of his coalition. A more matter-of-fact foreign policy One of the main reasons Sogavare courted controversy was his increasingly cosy relationship with Beijing since his government switched Solomon Islands’ diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019. He signed a secretive bilateral security deal with China in 2022 that raised alarm bells in Australia. Last year came another deal to boost co-operation with China on law enforcement and other security matters. With Manele now at the helm, the country should return to a more business-as-usual approach to diplomatic ties with China. His experience as a career diplomat, public servant, opposition leader and foreign minister will help him navigate the country’s complex relationships without the fiery rhetoric his predecessor had become known for. In addition, we may finally be able to see what the 2022 security agreement entails now that a former foreign minister is in charge. Asked by the ABC whether his government would keep the deal, Manele said “yes”, then added: If there is a need to review that, it will be a matter for China and Solomon Islands to discuss. However, he may face some pressure from the opposition. Peter Kenilorea junior, the political wing leader of the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUP), has publicly expressed a desire to scrap the security agreement with China. Manele should also maintain a cordial and perhaps more engaged relationship with Australia. When announcing his PM candidacy this week, he reiterated he would continue the long-held Solomon Islands foreign policy stance of “friends to all and enemies to none”. What matters most to Solomon Islanders The broader region must continue to see the plight of ordinary Solomon Islanders as separate from the decisions of its leaders, who at times may not necessarily reflect the wishes of the people. Ask any Solomon Islander in a rural area what he or she thinks of the security agreement with China and the implications for traditional partners like the US, Australia and New Zealand. Chances are he or she might just shrug it off without uttering a response. This is because Solomon Islanders have other pressing issues to worry about, such as how to pay school fees, how to feed their families, how to get their kids to school when the river floods and how to get fuel to take an expecting mother to the nearest health centre. This is what matters most to people’s lives, not diplomatic tussles between global powers.

Chess from flags of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Relations between Russia and China and military cooperation

China, Russia, Iran, North Korea: the new autocrat pact?

by Radu Vranceanu , Marc Guyot

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском It has to be said that the "liberal democratic" model, combining political democracy and a market economy, has struggled to gain traction on a global scale. Instead, in some countries, a hybrid type of regime, which could be defined as "autocratic liberal", has imposed itself over time. This model is based on leadership with little or no democracy, which nonetheless relies on a mix of dirigisme and a market economy to ensure economic growth. The "CRINK" or the alliance of authoritarian powers In contrast to liberal democracies, authoritarian regimes prioritize economic growth as an end in itself. For instance, in China, growth targets are often set by the authorities, with society expected to adapt regardless of the sacrifices involved. The leaders' priority is supremacy in civil and military technologies and control of resources. In such a framework, improving people's standard of living is merely a collateral benefit, subordinate to the primary objective and dispensable as deemed necessary. While respect for human rights is a fundamental pillar of liberal democracies, it is neither a priority nor a constraint for the leaders of these authoritarian nations. In general, their leaders are openly opposed to "Western hegemony". Many leaders of emerging countries show their sympathy for these authoritarian countries; at the very least, they trade with them without any problem. On the military and defence front, the liberal democracies of Europe and North America are grouped around NATO. The United States, as the leader of this organization, has consistently allocated more than 3.4% of its GDP to military spending for many years and boasts substantial armed forces, exemplified by its operation of eleven aircraft carriers as of 2023. Until a few months ago, in Western countries, the invasion of Ukraine was seen more as an isolated Russian action, blamed on Vladimir Putin's hubris. The possibility of coordination between autocrats was not envisaged. However, this perspective is rapidly evolving. In a report to the Senate in April 2024, General Chris Cavoli, Commander of the US Armed Forces in Europe, highlighted the emergence of an "axis of adversaries", which includes China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. On 6 April, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC in an interview that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea were increasingly cooperating against Western democracies and were now forming an "alliance of authoritarian powers". We propose to use the acronym CRINK to denote this informal coalition sharing common economic and strategic interests. Beneath the surface of various incidents, there appears to be tangible coordination among the CRINK countries. Beyond coincidences Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has deployed a significant portion of its armed forces to advance into Ukrainian territory, marking the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War and resulting in numerous military and civilian casualties. Ukraine has recently reported the loss of 31,000 servicemen since the conflict's onset, a figure that may be underestimated, while Russian losses are believed to be even higher. Despite these casualties, Russia continues to maintain the intensity of its war effort. To date, the Russian army in Ukraine estimated to consist of around 470,000 personnel, representing a 15% increase since the invasion began. Meanwhile, China has escalated the frequency of its military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and increased surveillance activities in the region. The simultaneous occurrence of Russian expansionism toward the West and China's heightened communication efforts regarding Taiwan does not appear to be coincidental. This hypothesis gains credence from the numerous summit meetings between the leaders of both nations in 2023, as well as their resounding declarations of unwavering friendship, particularly evident when they announced their "comprehensive strategic partnership for a new era" on November 11. On April 12th, the United States publicly disclosed classified documents revealing that Beijing was supplying Russia with engines for drones and cruise missiles, in addition to military electronic components and satellite surveillance technology. Iran has been escalating its production of enriched uranium and, according to the US military, is providing support to Hamas and attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. In response to targeted Israeli strikes, Tehran launched a swarm of drones and missiles against military targets in Israel on the night of April 13th - marking its first direct attack. The destabilization of the Red Sea region and the ongoing conflicts in the Gaza Strip, as well as increasingly in southern Lebanon, appear to signify Iran's efforts to weaken the United States' military effectiveness. This strategy forces the US to maintain a presence on multiple fronts, which in turn reduces the availability of American arms and munitions for Ukraine. Meanwhile, North Korea is intensifying its provocations by conducting launches of very long-range ballistic missiles and issuing threats of nuclear attacks against South Korea. Mutual sanctions In economic terms, the "war" between the two blocs has already begun. The United States and its allies have been implementing though economic sanctions on Iran for several years, and on North Korea and Russia since 2022. Primarily, these sanctions aim to restrict the ability of these nations to modernize their defense industrial base. In the case of Iran, to slow down its military nuclear program. While there is no overt conflict between China and the West, both the United States and European countries have been pursuing economic decoupling from China for some time. In 2017, convinced that China was not adhering to its commitments regarding free two-way trade, Donald Trump initiated an economic offensive against China by imposing heavy tariffs. Beijing responded by imposing equivalent tariffs on US products. Trump's strategic objectives were twofold: first, to reduce American economic reliance on China, and second, to slow down Chinese technological advancements in the military field by embargoing the export of militarily sensitive American technologies. Joe Biden has not only continued but also reinforced the policy of economic decoupling, intensifying the tariff war and advocating for a "made-in-USA" strategy. Additionally, he has tightened controls on military components bound for China, extending beyond the strict embargo on exports to Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Since December 2023, companies benefiting from subsidies under the microprocessor development program (CHIPS Act of 2022) have been barred from engaging with countries deemed “concerns”. The official list of these countries includes all CRINK members. Europeans have also adopted a strategy aimed at diminishing their reliance on China and revitalizing their industrial sector. It is noteworthy, for instance, that 50% of the world's nitrocellulose fiber exports originate from China, despite these fibers being crucial components for shells, which are currently in short supply on the Ukrainian front. In 2022, the EU implemented a directive safeguarding the single market against subsidized imports from third countries, primarily targeting China. Subsequently, in September 2023, the EU established an anti-coercion mechanism designed to counter countries attempting to dictate policy changes within EU Member States by imposing trade restrictions. Lithuania, for example, faced restrictive trade measures imposed by China after signing a trade agreement with Taiwan in 2021. On the other hand, Russia relied on the threat of cutting off gas supplies to weaken European economic and military support for Ukraine—a strategy that ultimately failed as Europe swiftly diversified its gas sources by turning to alternative countries. Nevertheless, CRINK members, alongside nations like India and Brazil, facilitated Russia's resilience to economic sanctions by not only replacing its former customers and suppliers but also by redirecting trade flows towards Asia. In the first quarter of 2024, Russia's trade surplus reached $22 billion, compared to $15.4 billion during the same period in 2023. According to The Economist, China's imports of Russian oil have surged from 100,000 barrels per day before the war to 500,000 barrels per day at present. In exchange, Chinese exports to Russia are projected to exceed $100 billion in 2023. Since autumn 2023, China has also implemented restrictions on graphite exports, a crucial conductor for electronic components. Satellite imagery indicates that North Korea and Russia have established an arms-for-oil swap program, while Iran is supplying substantial quantities of drones and military technology to Russia as part of an extensive commercial partnership, which includes the construction of a railway line between the two nations. American ambiguities and hesitations During the peak of the Cold War, the United States prepared to engage in two major conflicts simultaneously. The National Defense Strategic Review of 2022 outlines the goal of securing victory in a potential confrontation first in the Indo-Pacific region, given the threat from China, followed by Europe, in response to the Russian challenge. This somewhat ambiguous prioritization and the realities of the global arms race may indicate potential challenges for the U.S. if faced with fighting two major wars concurrently on separate fronts. As the conflict in Ukraine persists, Western public support for the nation appears to wane. Divisions within the US Congress regarding public spending, influenced by Donald Trump's Republican allies, led to a six-month delay in the approval of the latest aid package for Ukraine. On April 20, the US Congress finally approved $60 billion in aid. The shift in stance from US Congressman Mike Johnson, a close ally of Donald Trump who had long opposed aid for Ukraine, and the subdued response from Trump himself, hint at a potential shift in awareness, possibly influenced by new military intelligence. In the interim, European leaders have partially stepped into the fray, despite constraints stemming from the fragility of their defense industry. Figures like Rishi Sunak, Emmanuel Macron, Georgia Meloni, and Olaf Scholz, alongside other EU leaders, have exhibited robust support for Ukraine, underscored by the signing of decade-long bilateral agreements in February 2024. The Czech Republic has succeeded in setting up a European program for the purchase of artillery ammunition and is due to deliver the first stocks in June. Propelled by European impetus, NATO is contemplating a five-year initiative to fund the acquisition of weapon systems and munitions, with an agreement reached in April to deploy new air defense systems. By 2023, Europe's military spending will have reached $588 billion, 62% more than in 2014. Although European arms and munitions production still trails behind Russia, it is gradually gaining traction. In this context, an increasing number of voices are emphasizing the mistake of viewing the war in Ukraine in isolation, without considering the broader geopolitical landscape and coordination among the CRINK countries. This argument has likely resonated with more hesitant members of the US Congress. Should Russia succeed in asserting its dominance in Ukraine, it's highly probable that this would serve as the initial move in a troubling domino effect. Empowered by this triumph and riding on a favorable momentum, other autocratic regimes could follow suit, embarking on similar actions in territories they lay claim to. The cost of stemming this process would be far greater than that of preventing the first piece from falling.

Narendra Modi Prime Minister of India during a roadshow ahead of the Lok Sabha election 2024 in Guwahati India on Tuesday April 16, 2024.

India 2024: anatomy of an election

by Julio Sotes

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Last March 16th, the Election Commission of India informed the public media about the schedule for the upcoming legislative elections in the country for the period 2024-2029. However, this announcement does not mark the beginning of the Indian electoral process, as since 2023, different national political parties had been shaping their candidates and, in some cases, initiating their political campaigns in preparation for the elections. The schedule, announced by the electoral authority, is divided into seven phases, and will be extended from April 19th, 2024, until June 1st of the same year, with vote counting taking place on June 4th. India’s independence from the British Colonial Empire in 1947 marked the beginning of a profound process of political, economic, and social transformations that determined the life of the society and the surrounding countries. The founding fathers of the country, not without setbacks, promoted the drafting and subsequent approval of a constitution that recognized the secular character of the country, reinforcing the idea of a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious India. Additionally, in the text, the foundations of the country's political system were declared, and consequently, its electoral system. India’s political and electoral system: General aspects India is a federal parliamentary democratic republic, so its political system is a combination of the parliamentary and presidential systems with a greater emphasis on the parliamentary system, where the President is the head of state, and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The President is elected by an Electoral College composed of members of Parliament and cannot act without the approval of the Council of Ministers, who are chosen by the Prime Minister. This is why the Prime Minister is more important than the President. The Indian Parliament is bicameral, meaning it consists of the ‘Lok Sabha’ (House of the People or Lower House) and the ‘Rajya Sabha’ (Council of States or Upper House). The ‘Rajya Sabha’ comprises 238 members, representing the States and the Union Territories, and 12 members designated by the President. Candidates are elected by the Legislative Assembly of the States and Union Territories through the single transferable vote system via proportional representation. On the other hand, the Members of Parliament of the ‘Lok Sabha’ are elected every five years directly by the electorate; the Prime Minister is typically the leader of the party with the most seats in the ‘Lok Sabha’. The party which has the majority of the 543 seats in the Lower House of Parliament can form a government and appoint a Prime Minister from among its winning candidates. In case that no party holds a simple majority, different parties form coalitions until they acquire the necessary number of seats to elect a Prime Minister. [1] While some alliances are formed before elections, many alliances are negotiated after results are announced and may even change during a government's term. The legal framework to conduct elections specifies that the supervision, direction, control, preparations, and behavior of the elections shall be established in the Election Commission, independently of the incumbent government (Article 324). The Election Commission also establishes the principle of adult suffrage (Article 326) and makes a general stipulation regarding the reservation of seats for backward castes, tribes, and the so-called Anglo-Indians (Articles 330-333). A person is qualified to be a candidate for election if they are over 25 years old for the ‘Lok Sabha’ and 30 for the ‘Rajya Sabha’, in addition to being a voter in a parliamentary constituency (Times of India, 2024b). The seats are distributed among the states in proportion to their population: more people mean more seats. Approximately 25% of the seats are constitutionally reserved for members from two disadvantaged communities: the Scheduled Castes (SC), also known as Dalits, and the Scheduled Tribes (ST), which represent India’s tribal populations or Adivasis. Eighty-four seats are reserved for SC candidates, and forty-seven seats are reserved for ST candidates (Times of India, 2024a). In these electoral constituencies, only candidates from the protected groups can participate in the elections, although all eligible adults can cast their votes. Although the Indian Parliament recently passed a new measure to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women, the implementation of this law has been postponed until after 2024. 2014 and 2019 general elections in India. A comparative analysis India’s unique characteristics make any political process there highly complex. The extensive geographical dimension, the contrasts between different climates and terrains, the remote nature of settlements, especially in mountainous regions, and the challenge posed by large, overpopulated cities, make election, whether state or general, become an event of immense proportions. In fact, general elections in India are considered the largest political, democratic, and logistical exercise in the world. In the electoral process of 2014, according to the numbers published by the Pew Research Center, there were 788 million voters, including nearly 150 million who would have been eligible to vote for the first time. In a survey conducted by the same Center between December 2013 and January 2014, the Indian public, by a three-to-one margin, preferred the BJP over the then-ruling INC. Additionally, 60% of the respondents stated they had a very favorable opinion of Modi, while only 23% held the same opinion about Rahul Gandhi, the INC candidate (Stokes, 2014). From April 7th to May 12th, 2014, the Sixteenth General Elections were held in India, they were divided into ten stages across the country's 35 states and Union Territories. Voting took place for representatives from 543 constituencies, with 412 for the general population (General), 84 for the Scheduled Castes, and 47 for the Scheduled Tribes. The total number of candidates for these constituencies was 8,251, of which 7,577 were men, 668 were women, and 6 were "others". The average number of candidates per constituency was 15. There were 927,553 polling stations distributed across the country. The electoral roll consisted of 834,082,814 citizens, with 553,020,648 voters participating, reaching an effective electoral participation rate of 66.30% (Moreno Hernández, 2015). The BJP campaign, which presented Narendra Modi for the first time as its strongest candidate for Prime Minister of the country, was characterized by building an image around Modi as the "development man" — the man who would facilitate comprehensive development in India, having successfully implemented his governance model for over 10 years as Chief Minister in Gujarat. The campaign capitalized on popular discontent and sought to focus its message on the upper and middle classes, as well as the youth, through a developmental discourse that extensively utilized information technologies such as social media and unprecedented media bombardment in India at that time. Modi personally addressed over 400 rallies in a span of 7 months, traveling more than 300,000 kilometers to participate in nearly 200 campaign events, while the holographic projections of his figure and broadcasts of his speeches reached nearly all Indian constituencies (Muralidharan, 2014), effectively transforming the parliamentary campaign into what resembled a presidential-style elections. On May 16th, 2014, the total vote count was conducted. The results showed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, as the clear winner, securing most of the constituencies, specifically 336 out of 543, which represents 61.8% of the total seats. It is noteworthy that the BJP alone won 282 seats, accounting for 31.34% of the total votes, meaning that out of the 834,082,814 citizens eligible to vote, only 171,660,230 decided to cast their ballots in favor of the BJP. However, the indisputable victory of the right-wing requires a deeper analysis, as the outcome in 2014 does not compare to the 1984 elections when the Congress Party won 414 seats. This highlights the need for caution when referring to the "orange wave" as a pan-Indian phenomenon (Moreno Hernández, 2015). Voter turnout in Indian elections tends to be high: the parliamentary elections of 2019 saw a 67% turnout of the total eligible population. Votes are cast electronically in over a million polling stations, requiring around 15 million employees during voting. To reach all possible voters in villages and isolated islands in the Himalayas, electoral officials travel by any means available, including trains, helicopters, horses, and boats. In 2019, the elections took place in seven phases between April 11th and May 19th, with all votes being counted on May 23rd. Typically, the first phase of elections is held in a specific set of geographic regions, and subsequent phases gradually move across the country to cover other regions. Without primary elections, party leaders have complete control over the nomination of their candidates. If candidates fail to secure the party endorsement, they may run as independents, putting them at a disadvantage compared to party-backed candidates. Out of 543 Members of Parliament elected in 2019, only four were independent candidates (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). While they are considered the elections with the highest number of voters in the world, due to being the most populous country globally, this exercise is also considered one of the most expensive. According to studies, in the 2019 elections, political parties spent over $7 billion. Specifically, parties and candidates spent approximately $8.7 billion to attract more than 900 million eligible voters (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). Regarding the total number of candidates fielded and the electoral roll, in 2019, 8,054 candidates representing 673 parties contested the elections to have the opportunity to become Members of Parliament. Nearly 615 million people (67.4% of Indians) voted in 2019: this was the highest voter turnout recorded. For the first time in history, the persistent gender gap between male and female participation disappeared. In these elections, the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’ (BJP), in power since 2014, increased its strength by 21 seats to 303 in the ‘Lok Sabha’, securing 38.55% of the votes cast. The number of seats won by its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) also rose to 350, but fell short of a two-thirds majority, and its percentage of votes increased to 45%. In monetary terms, the BJP received over 73% of the declared donations from India's largest political parties in 2017-2018 and over 94.5% of the electoral bonds, totaling at least £19 million. Overall, it is estimated that all political parties spent a total of over £6.7 billion, more than three times the cost of the United States presidential elections in 2016 (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). Mistakes made by the principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), led to it winning only 52 seats out of 545, just eight more than in the 2014 elections. This was a result of differences among political leaders within the organization, a complacent approach to its program in the elections, betting on its voters repeating the trend of rejecting the incumbent government, and a refusal to accept pre-electoral alliances with regional parties in key States (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). India’s 2024 General election: approximations On March 16th, 2024, the Election Commission of India publicly announced the schedule for the ‘Lok Sabha’ elections to appoint the 543 seats. This schedule will be implemented nationwide in seven phases, from April 19th to June 1st, with the vote count taking place on June 4th, including assembly elections, by-polls, and general elections. The current government’s term ends on June 16th, 2024 (Hindustan Times, 2024a). Additionally, the data provided reveals that in this political process, the electoral roll amounts to a total of 968.8 million voters, of which 497 million are men and 471 million are women. It was also reported that 18.4 million voters fall in the age group of 18 to 19 years, 26.3 million are new voters, and 48,044 are senior citizens.  Source: The Times of India Similarly, according to the mandate of the Supreme Court of India, data related to electoral bonds issued to each contesting party between April 12th, 2019, and January 11th, 2024, were published. The figures revealed that the largest recipient of donations was the BJP, and the largest national donor was the company Future Gaming and Hotel Services. This company accounted for bonds worth 1,365 million rupees distributed among several parties. The second-largest donor was Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) with 966 million rupees, of which 60.5% went to the BJP. In financial terms, the BJP received a total of 6,061 million rupees, with MEIL being its largest donor, followed by Qwik Supply Chain and Vedanta. For the INC, the largest donor was Vedanta with 125 million rupees, followed by Western UP Power Transmission Company Limited and MJK Enterprise, amounting to a total of 1,422 million rupees (Hindustan Times, 2024b). Currently, in India, there are two main coalitions competing in the 2024 general elections: the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), both of which include several parties. The NDA, led by the BJP, is a coalition of right-wing conservative parties formally established in 1998 to counter the then-dominant INC. Prominent parties in the alliance include the National People's Party (NPP), Shiv Sena, Janata Dal, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Janata Dal, Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP), and the currently dominant Bharatiya Janata Party since 2014. The candidate for prime minister is the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has stated the intention of securing over 400 seats for the NDA in these elections (Mint, 2024). The INDIA bloc was formed in 2023 by 26 opposition parties. It is currently led by the president of the INC, Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also the leader of the opposition in the Upper House of the Parliament. Other parties comprising the bloc include the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (WION, 2024).  Source: Hindustan Times On Friday, April 5th, the INC released its manifesto, this time focusing on equity, youth, women, farmers, workers, the Constitution, the economy, federalism, national security, and the environment. Its 2019 counterpart, mainly focused on the economy and livelihoods, also committing to cover government contracts and eliminate regulations to start a business. It also promised a budget for farmers and pledged to make the non-payment of agricultural loans a civil crime (Hindustan Times, 2024c). On the other hand, for the 2019 general elections, the BJP's electoral manifesto (Sankalp Patra) addressed issues related to nationalism, agriculture, infrastructure, governance, and zero tolerance towards terrorism. Similarly, commitments to amending the citizenship law to protect religious minorities from neighboring countries and the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution addressing the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and its change to a semi-autonomous position were fulfilled during the party's and Modi's mandate over the last 5 years. In the 2019 manifesto, the BJP also promised a pension scheme for all small and marginalized farmers in the country, a macroeconomic stability, as well as job generation and gender equality (Hindustan Times, 2024c) Final Considerations The main surveys point to the BJP with Modi at the helm as the primary winning force in the elections. While the intention of both his party and the alliance he leads to conquer more than 400 seats is somewhat ambitious and hasn't been achieved since 1984 when the INC won 144 seats, the NDA is poised as the clear winner in these elections. On the other hand, India is divided by rivalries, political defections, and ideological clashes. "Analysts say that discussions about the allocation of seats within the alliance have cooled off, partly due to the demands of the Congress Party to field its own candidates in most seats, even in states where it is weak" (Agrawal and Anand, 2024). The truth is that the 2024 elections in India are shaping up as an exercise where the BJP and its coalition appear as clear winners. At the same time, it is very challenging for opposition leaders and parties to confront Modi, who after 10 years of national governance and 13 years of state administration, has demonstrated mostly successful implementation of his governance model. The INC and INDIA start from a very disadvantaged position when facing an overwhelming media machinery, a government that promotes laws to silence opposition, thus playing on favorable ground. Additionally, it's worth noting the growing popularity of the Prime Minister, who ranks as one of the most popular leaders worldwide with a 78% national approval rating. In a politically and religiously polarized India, where the government has been promoting an economic, social, and religious agenda aligned with the leading party for the past 10 years, and with a powerful technological and media mechanism, it is unthinkable to imagine that Modi will not secure his third consecutive term at the helm of the country. References Agrawal, Aditi y Anand, Utkarsh (2024). Electoral bonds: Donor-party link public after SC push. Hindustan Times. Mint (2024). BJP’s first list of candidates for Lok Sabha elections 2024 to be out today. Rai, Indrajeet (2024). How BJP’s strenghts and weakness match up with Congress’s. Times of India. Times of India (2024b). Congress releases fourth list of 46 candidates for Lok Sabha polls. Wion (2024). Lok Sabha Elections 2024: List of parties competing in the upcoming polls. Moreno Hernández, Dulce J. (2015). De Gujarat a India: Análisis de la trayectoria política y candidatura a Primer Ministro de Narendra Modi. Tesis de Maestría en Estudios de Asia y áfrica, Centro de Estudios de Asia y África, Colegio de México. Stokes, Bruce (2014). Indians’ support for Modi, BJP shows an itch for change. Pew Research Center. Molina Medina, Norbert y Duarte Peña, Juan J. (2015). Narendra Modi y la India de hoy (Primera Parte). Universidad de Los Andes, Centro de Estudios de África, Asia y Diásporas Latinoamericanas y Caribeñas “José Manuel Briceño Monzillo”. Muralidharan, Sukumar (2014). Modi, media and the feel-good effect. Himal Southasian. Roy-Chaudhury, Rahul (2019). Modi’s return as prime minister of ‘New India’. International Institute for Strategic Studies. Hindustan Times (2024a). Lok Sabha Election 2024 Highlights: Polls begin on April 19, results on June 4; MCC kicks in. Times of India (2024a). Lok Sabha elections: BJP releases fifth list of candidates, fields Kangana Ranaut, Naveen Jindal. Hindustan Times (2024b). BJP’s 5th candidates list for Lok Sabha election: Kangana Ranaut from Mandi, Arun Govil from Meerut. Hindustan Times (2024c). In 2019, Congress’s manifesto primarily focused on economy, livelihoods. [1] An important feature of the process of electing the Prime Minister of India is that all candidates must be a member of the ‘Lok Sabha’ or ‘Rajya Sabha’, which means the candidate must contest elections to secure a seat representing a particular locality.

Yeouido, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea - July 18, 2021: National Assembly building

Parliamentary elections in the Republic of Korea and their possible impacts

by Ruvislei González Sáez

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Introduction The recent parliamentary elections held in the Republic of Korea on April 10th, 2024, with the purpose of forming the XXII Legislature of the National Assembly, have had a significant political significance almost halfway through the current president’s term, Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP). Since the beginning of his presidency in 2022, most of the Parliament was dominated by the liberal Democratic Party (DPK), which had won the previous elections of this type in 2020 amid the impact of Covid-19. To understand the political system of the Republic of Korea, it is necessary to know that, during the period of authoritarian government in the 20th century, politics were controlled by a single dominant party, although others formally existed. Since the democratization stage, there has been a marked bipartisanship that has dominated the political landscape. This process has been characterized by the alternation between government and opposition. Initially, the evolution of these two parties has not been under the same name, as they have changed frequently, so they are commonly known as conservatives (identified by the red color) and progressives (identified with the blue color). The change of political branding has accompanied the process of merging political organizations, both before and after elections. These organizations continue to be largely led and centered around the figures of the leaders, showing a high level of factionalism and personalism. Although formally the Republic of Korea presents a multi-party system, it has been de facto a two-party system, characterized by a low level of institutionalization. Its key characteristics are deeply rooted in regionalism and ideology, with generation, class and gender associated with these. Meaning that, traditionally the western part of the country has had a more progressive tendency, while the eastern part has been more conservative, and in 2024 this was no exception (figure 1). The DPK is currently identified as the first and the PPP as the second, respectively; it should be added that in terms of gender, women generally identify more with the DPK, while young men with the PPP. Figure 1: Partisan delimitation by color after vote counting for the 22nd National Assembly elections.     Source: Naver (2024) Year 2022 marked the first time that 18-year-olds were eligible to vote in presidential elections and participate in local elections. Both the former People’s Party, and the PPP saw these young voters as a key demographic group. As the PPP consolidated support among young male votes with the rise of Lee Jun-seok and his claim of reverse discrimination, the DPK intensified its efforts to attract young female voters (Kim, 2022). While the country’s politics are dominated by two main parties, which have changed names at certain times, there is also a group of parties with lesser proportional representation or even none in the National Assembly. The major political forces currently are the DPK and the PPP, although others include the Green-Justice Party (center-left position, supporting dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), New Future (centrist reformist), New Reform Party (conservative), Rebuilding Korea Party (centrism, liberalism, and reformism), Liberal Unification Party (far-right), among others. In total, there are more than 15 minor right-wing parties, around seven that are centrist, and about five that are progressive. There are also others that are focused on a single issue, such as the Women’s Party, and some that have attempted to register without success, like the Nuclear Nation Party, with a fascist conception. [1] For the 2024 parliamentary elections, the Electoral Advisory Committee, composed of 33 experts from various fields including media, academia, legal circles, public relations, and civic groups, was tasked with ensuring fair election management and advancing the electoral system. In a meeting in February 2024, the council promoted new measures to enhance public confidence in electoral management. It was decided to respond to illegal acts such as videos created by artificial intelligence, as had previously occurred against the country’s president, and to improve the objectivity and reliability of electoral opinion polls. Measures were taken, including the addition of verification procedures in the vote counting process; changing the notation format, such as from serial numbers on postal ballots to 1-dimensional barcodes; and managing surveys and vote counting, with constant dissemination of videos from cameras in storage locations, such as advance ballot boxes, to determine the transparency and reliability of the electoral management through the establishment of a plan to improve procedures (National Election Commission of the Republic of Korea, 2024). Parliamentary elections 2024, results and impacts While the National Assembly was controlled by the DPK in May 2022 when conservative President Yoon came to power, the PPP’s efforts were focused on gaining control of the legislature in the recent April 2024 elections. Unfortunately for the latter, the results have once again been dominant for the DPK. The general elections on April 10 saw the highest turnout of the country in 32 years, following a historic peak in early voting, as announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). The total turnout reached 67%, representing an increase of 0.8% compared to the general elections of 2020, which recorded a turnout of 66.2% (see figure 2). Out of 44.88 million eligible voters, approximately 29.66 million people cast their votes in 14,259 polling stations to elect 300 lawmakers for the 22nd National Assembly. (…) Voters cast two votes, one for the 254 single-member constituencies and another for the remaining 46 proportional representation seats. A total of 21 parties contested the elections based on districts, while 38 political parties competed for proportional representation (Jung, 2024). Figure 2: Voting trends in the different elections from 2016 to 2024 in the Republic of Korea.     Source: National Election Commission The main opposition party, the DPK, is poised to achieve a decisive victory in the general elections, with the broader liberal opposition bloc expected to secure up to 200 seats in the 300-member National Assembly. This projection deals a significant blow to President Yoon Suk-yeol. Exit polls conducted by the nation’s top three broadcasters KBS, MBC, and SBS indicated that the DPK was projected to secure between 178 to 197 seats when combining electoral victories with proportional representation seats obtained by its satellite party, the United Democratic Party. This outcome will solidify the DPK’s participation in the current Assembly controlled by the opposition for the next four years. Meanwhile, the ruling PPP was projected to secure between 85 to 105 seats, including those obtained through proportional representation from its satellite party, the People's Party (Lee, 2024). The results were fairly accurate, with almost all votes counted, as the DPK won 161 out of 254 directly contested seats, while the PPP only secured 90 seats (Lee C., 2024). The Rebuilding Korea Party (RKP), a progressive-leaning party led by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, was on track to secure between 12 to 14 seats, marking a notable debut in its first elections since its launch in March. The party chose not to field candidates in the constituencies but focused solely on proportional representation seats. Among other minor parties, the New Reform Party, led by former PPP leader Lee Jun-seok, was projected to secure one to four seats. The New Future Party, headed by former DPK leader Lee Nak-yon, was expected to secure up to two seats (Lee, 2024). The emergence of the RKP is related to internal divisions within the DPK following the conclusion of President Moon Jae-in’s presidency (DPK), which intensified after the 2022 presidential elections when supporters and opponents of Moon divided. Its leader, former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and a supporter of Moon, who emerged as a political phenomenon, is expected to represent a new threat to the administration of Yoon Suk-yeol, as the party made it clear during the electoral campaign that its goal is to punish the “autocratic” administration that, it claims, is controlled by former prosecutors, including Yoon (Nam, 2024). If the final election results, which will be confirmed in the early hours of July 11th (night of July 10th Cuba time), fall within the range of the exit polls, the RKP will be the third largest political party in South Korea, after the main opposition DPK and the ruling PPP. Cho, who served as the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs and Minister of Justice during the previous administration of Moon Jae-in, is widely described as one of Yoon’s main antagonists for the presidency. He has been under scrutiny for years over allegations that he and his wife fabricated academic documents to get their daughter admitted to medical school. Yoon, who was the prosecutor general at the time (2020), insisted on investigating Cho, leveraging those actions to rise in politics among conservatives and eventually be elected president. (…) Cho lost his job as a professor at Seoul National University, his wife went to prison, and their daughter lost her medical license. Under the Yoon administration, the Cho family has literally lost everything, and this background has transformed him into a political champion who has lost everything and is standing against the administration (Nam, 2024). As of 2 am on April 11th in South Korea (1 pm on April 10th, Cuba time), the count stood at 92.95%, with the DPK (더불어민주당) accumulating 158 elected seats out of the 254 seats for single-member constituencies; the PPP (국민의힘), 93, while the New Future Party (새로운미래), New Reform Party (개혁신당), and the Progressive Party (진보당) has each obtained one seat up to that point (see figure 1). Lee Jun-seok, candidate of the New Reform Party, was elected as a member of the National Assembly after 13 years of entering politics. He was the leader of the PPP (the youngest in the party’s modern political history) at the time of the 2022 presidential elections and contributed to President Yoon’s landslide victory. In late 2023, he split from the party and formed a new one after a long-standing feud with the majority faction of the PPP, composed of loyalists to President Yoon Suk-yeol. Lee is considered by the DPK as a leader who could lead the development of far-right populism and is followed by young men who are negative towards feminism. Political figures like former Foreign Minister Park Jin, who resigned from his position to run in the elections, lost with 46.3% against his DPK rival who obtained 53.8%, causing further negative impacts on President Yoon's presidency (박기호, 2024). Even though he loses the majority, it is important for President Yoon to have key figures from his party in the National Assembly. Currently, he is facing internal political challenges regarding the rejection of increases in medical school admissions, questions about his wife's corruption issues, among other elements. The president's popularity level ranges between 34-40% in recent times, so such a setback will affect him for the remainder of his term. These election results could lead Han Dong-hoon, interim leader of the ruling PPP, former prosecutor, and close to the president, to diminish his prominence and wait for the local elections in 2026. The results of the DPK, combined with the satellite parties that support it in the National Assembly, could lead to a series of future conflicts with the executive, making it difficult for Yoon and the PPP to govern freely. The DPK has several contradictions with the PPP from domestic policy to foreign policy. Particularly on foreign policy issues, they are more inclined to improve relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), strengthen ties with China, and not overly reinforce links with the United States. On issues with Japan, they oppose the current policy of rapprochement and maintain firm stances on unresolved historical issues. Regarding China, there have been some recent signs of change with the idea of holding a trilateral summit between South Korea, China, and Japan at the end of May. Final considerations The results of the parliamentary elections in favor of the DPK and against the PPP will complicate the mandate of the current President Yoon Suk-yeol, especially on many domestic policy issues, with three years remaining in his term. In this scenario, the DPK, from the opposition, would have the ability to unilaterally enact contentious bills, neutralizing the power of the presidential veto. In an even worse scenario, which remains plausible, they might attempt to pass a bill to impeach the president. In recent months, they have already tried to take actions, including those related to corruption allegations against the president's wife, involving a gift from the "Dior" brand. So far, President Yoon Suk-yeol has been able to navigate some executive actions through presidential decrees to fulfill several of his political promises without going through parliament. Additionally, he has unilaterally vetoed some bills passed by the DPK. However, several of Yoon's key initiatives, including the abolition of the income tax on investments and the relaxation of the inheritance tax, have remained pending due to the need for law revisions. Losing his party in the elections further complicates the power of veto, as once the president vetoes a bill, it returns to the legislature for a second vote, and to be approved again, it requires the support of more than half of all legislators and approval by two-thirds of those present. During the 2024-2026 period, there could be a political stalemate that not only increases the contradictions between the president and the National Assembly dominated by the DPK, but also within his own party. Escalation of the situation in the Korean peninsula could be a factor that also puts pressure on the DKP-led legislature regarding the executive. REFERENCES Jung Da-hyun (2024). Voter turnout hits 32-year high at 67%. Disponible en: Kim Kaitlyn (2022). Evolution of South Korean Party Politics. Disponible en: Lee Hyo-jin (2024). DPK poised to clinch landslide victory in general elections. Disponible en: Nam hyung woo (2024). Disgraced ex-Minister Cho Kuk returns as political phenom. Recuperado en: National Election Commission of Republic of Korea (2024). NEC Holds the 22nd National Assembly Election Advisory Committee. Disponible en Naver (2024). 제22대 국회의원선거 경기 성남시분당구갑 개표. Disponible en: Swissinf (2024). Cierran los centros de votación en Corea del Sur sin incidentes de importancia. Disponible en: 박기호 (2024). 서울 민주 34곳·국힘 14곳 앞서…양천갑·도봉갑·영등포을·마포갑 접전. Disponible en: [1] Un partido hitleriano que ha presentado su intento de registro por séptima vez. Ver en Comisión Electoral Nacional:

Flags of Japan and DPRK

Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK): current diplomatic gamble

by Jesús Aise Sotolongo

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, recently stated at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives of the Diet that “…he strongly feels the need to boldly change the current situation of the ties between Japan and the DPRK,” and “…it is very important that he himself establishes (…) relations with the President of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, and continues to make efforts through different channels for this purpose”. Immediately, the KCNA agency released, in response to the statement made by the Japanese Prime Minister, a declaration from Kim Yo Jong, the Deputy Director of the Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The One in charge of the affairs related to the Republic of Korea and the United States – now it seems also with Japan – commented that she found it noteworthy that the Japanese media have assessed Prime Minister Kishida’s words as “a different position from before” regarding the issue of DPRK-Japan bilateral relations. She added that “there is no reason not to evaluate positively” the words of the Japanese Prime Minister if he shows the “true intention” to move forward the relations between the two countries “by courageously freeing themselves from the shackles of the past”. He added that if Japan abandons its “bad habits” such as unjustly violating the self-defense rights of the DPRK and stops turning the already resolved issue of abductions into an obstacle, there is no reason to prevent a rapprochement between the two countries and the day may come when Kishida visits Pyongyang. She noted that, if Japan opts for a new path to improve relations and approaches the North with “respectful and sincere” behavior, the two countries can create a “new future” together. According to Kim Yo Jong, she made her statements not from an official position, but in a “personal capacity”, something that can be questioned, as she appears as the closest collaborator of her brother Kim Jong Un, and the fact that she holds the high responsibility of being the deputy director of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee of the WPK, formally requires her to uphold party discipline. The most immediate antecedent to Kim Yo Jong’s remarks was when, earlier this year, as western Japan was recovering from an earthquake that killed more than 200 people and damaged tens of thousands of homes in Niigata Prefecture, the Chairman of the State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, sent a message of “sympathy and condolences” to the Japanese Prime Minister, which was seen as unusual and a conciliatory note, given Pyongyang’s demonstrated animosity towards successive Japanese governments and the systematic messages of grievances sent by the DPRK’s official media. Now, a month later, through Kim Yo Jong, the DPRK sends a new signal that it may be willing to improve relations with Japan. However, many observers view with skepticism the supposed show of commitment towards reconciliation with Japan because, over the decades, events raise suspicious about whether their pronouncements were sincere or not. For well-known historical reasons, the DPRK-Japan relations have never been healthy. Especially, in the last two decades when they have been distinguished by their progressive worsening. Successive administrations, especially those of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, have taken the nuclear threat as a pretext for their militaristic ambitions, something that has severely displeased the leadership in Pyongyang. Due to what the North Koreans call “infamous submission” to the US, expressions of disdain from high-ranking officials towards Tokyo are regular occurrences. The most controversial issue revolves around the matter of the abducted Japanese. Although in 2002, coinciding with the first visit to Pyongyang of then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the DPRK and Japan signed a historic agreement committing an early normalization of bilateral relations and leading to the return of five of the abducted Japanese, Tokyo holds Pyongyang responsible for the abduction of 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, with 12 of them still believed to be in the DPRK. However, Pyongyang admits to having abducted only 13 individuals, claiming to have returned five and stating that the remaining eight had died. What is most unnerving in the eventual Japan-North Korea ties is that Pyongyang assumes the abductee issue as a “settle issue” and Tokyo keeps it as a priority on its political-diplomatic agenda. To date, Japan continues to present the abductees as a premise for talks at any level, while the DPRK considers it as already solved and furthermore, the issue of nuclear weapons and missiles has nothing to do with the improvements of bilateral ties, as Pyongyang considers it as its legitimate self-defense. Japan finds it extremely difficult to accept such conditions. The DPRK’s increasingly sophisticated missiles are constantly being projected into the Sea of Japan and have even flown over Japanese territory. Japan also perceives the possibility that, like South Korea, the DPRK will carry out preventive nuclear strike when it sees signs of real and imminent risk. And, as far as the abduction issue is concerned, all indicates that Japan is not ready to accept that it has been resolved. It is a combination of social forces, forming a critical mass that puts pressure on the Japanese government to act in favor of finding a plausible solution to the abduction issue. In this regard, the Japanese government’s chief spokesman, Yoshimasa Hayashi, stated at a press conference that Japan remains unchanged and “…intends to comprehensively resolve outstanding issues, such as nuclear energy, missiles and abductions”. It is well known that the Japanese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly appealed to its counterparts in friendly countries to the DPRK to make efforts to lead to talks with Pyongyang authorities. It is documented that these efforts have been unsuccessful due to their reluctant stance towards Tokyo. Why is the DPRK rushing to positively assimilate Prime Minister Kishida’s words now? In a previous article, we discussed how at the January 15th, 2024 session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Chairman Kim Jong Un made a decision to sever all ties with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which he called as the “number one hostile country” and indicated to constitutionally endorse a better definition of the border and physically destroy all inter-Korean symbols. We saw that the main thing was to “erase” from the Constitution what he referred to as “inherited concepts” that classify South Koreans as compatriots and likewise, the term unification, removing phrases he assessed as “deceptive” such as “3,000 miles of golden water, rivers and mountains” and “80 million Koreans”, arguing that “…it is correct to specify in the corresponding article [of the Constitution] that the Republic of Korea is firmly considered as the number one hostile country and immutable main enemy”. The above-mentioned contrast with the position that presumably highlights the expectation of an eventual improvement in relations with Tokyo, which has the same status as a major ally of Washington in East Asia, as does Seoul, and which together form a harmonious triangular anti-DPRK alliance. It is notorious that a priority of the DPRK, reinforced in recent times, has always been to fracture the US-ROK-Japan axis. It is convenient to recapitulate that, under the Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump administrations, when Pyongyang – Seoul and Pyongyang – Washington relations exhibited relative understanding and détente, the DPRK furiously attacked the Abe administration, with the same purpose of breaking the alliance. Pyongyang may find it worthwhile to engage with Tokyo under the assumption of forcing open some cracks in the recently strengthened trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. This is because under conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea has sought, with the support of the Biden Administration, closer relations, and more stable ties with Japan, including defense and intelligence information exchange, and to a significant extent, has achieved it. However, the Seoul-Tokyo-US convergence suffers from fragility, which is reflected in the appreciable differences over the shared history between South Korea and Japan, and the ongoing disputes with the former colonial ruler over comfort women and forced laborers. In addition, there is US political volatility; in both Seoul and Tokyo there are uncertainties about whether Washington would directly involve itself in a conflagration involving either of them with the DPRK, as well as whether Washington would accommodate South Korea’s nuclear aspirations and unreservedly support Japan’s abandonment of the status of its Armed Forces as self-defense forces. Still, it can be argued that, as risk management and empathy sustainer, Kishida will keep Seoul and Washington abreast of his dealings with Pyongyang. In March, he will visit Seoul and in April, Washington; these would be important indicators of alignment between the trio. Kishida will seek the blessing of the Yoon and Biden administrations, anticipating that Kim Jong Un will move toward a summit that Kishida has so often called for. Washington has moved forward in supporting Japan’s attempts to engage with the DPRK. The ROK and Japan are in close communication on any future Tokyo-Pyongyang dialogue. Meanwhile, South Korea says that any contact between Japan and the DPRK should be conducted in a manner that helps promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Conclusions We are in the presence of a new diplomatic gamble by the DPRK that illustrates the level of specialization it has reached in managing its complicated relations with the main US allies in East Asia, who, in turn, are perceived as systematically confrontational countries. A straightforward resolution of the outstanding issues for discussion (nuclear weapons, missiles, and abductions) between Kim Jong Un and Fumio Kishida is not to be expected. These are issues on which the DPRK and Japan have diametrically different positions and directly concern the comprehensive strategic security of both countries, including the recurring abduction issue, which is associated with the political gain of any Japanese government. A meeting at the Japan-North Korea summit would be one of the few pleasant surprises to be received in the context of the vicious circle of conflict associated with the DPRK. It would be attractive to see a determined understanding between Pyongyang and Tokyo. It may be foreseeable that a Kim Jong Un - Fumio Kishida meeting will take place, but the past and present history negates any prospect of success. For this to happen, both sides will have to make principled concessions that, if made, will have combined counterproductive political effects. Bibliographic references KCNA. Kim Yo Jong publica declaración con el tema de relaciones Corea-Japón. Disponible en: KBS WORLD Prensa japonesa: Kim Yo Jong busca desestabilizar alianza Seúl. Washington-Tokio. Disponible en: Leonardo Estandarte. Corea del Norte-Japón: Kim Yo-jong plantea la hipótesis de la visita de Kishida a Pyongyang. Disponible en: Kim Yo Jong dice que Corea del Norte está abierta a mejorar sus lazos con Japón. Disponible en: Japón califica de inaceptable que Corea del Norte afirme que la cuestión de los secuestros está resuelta- Disponible en: Jesse Johnson. North Korea-Japan summit push gains steam after remarks by Kim´s sister. Disponible en: Mitch Shin. Will Kim Jong Un Meet with Japan´s Prime Minister Kishida? Disponible en:

Map Indo-Pacific. RCEP country overview.

False democracies in the Indo - Pacific

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

In the first two months of the year, general elections (presidential and/or legislative) were held in three countries of the Indo-Pacific, the area towards which the center of gravity of the world balance is shifting, according to experts: Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Together they account for nearly 700 million inhabitants, almost 9% of the world’s population, and host the largest number of Muslims in the world. The authoritarian bias there is so significant that the elections are mere ceremonies of power legitimization, more directed outside than inside of the country. The same happens in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. Dynastic democracies, tutelary democracies, or both at the same time. False democracies. Bangladesh: a party-state? In Bangladesh, the Awami League won three out of four seats in the Parliament in January, a slightly lower percentage than in the 2018 elections, but with no diminution of its overwhelming power. The country’s prime minister is Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the father of independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman [1]. Abstention, estimated at 60%, best explains the electoral result. The main opposition parties boycotted the elections in protest against the lack of transparency of the process and, above all, against the attacks on basic freedoms. Some of the opposition leaders are serving prison sentences for unjustifiable reasons. Reports of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial executions are frequent [2]. Hasina claims to maintain the progressive line of her father, but the evolution of her regime indicates otherwise. The Awami League has maintained a power alternation with the conservative nationalists. But lately, her most feared enemy has been the Islamist radicals. In this fight, Hasina has counted on the support of India. The current government of Narendra Modi was more sympathetic to the nationalists, but pragmatism has imposed a close collaboration. Authoritarian drift in both countries has favored this convergence. Pakistan: a dictatorship in disguise In Pakistan, the elections have been even more controversial and stormy. The army is the real – if not the only – effective political actor [3]. The parties have wielded power since the military formally ceded it to them in 1998. Only nominally. The military domination over the institutions of the State remains unchanged. The reactive coup d’état has been replaced by preventive actions that determine or strongly condition the electoral result. Those who deviate or threaten to step out of the military script are discredited. It happened again this year. The populist movement of Isham Khan (a former cricket champion, the national sport) was until just two years ago the ruling party, having won the 2018 election. But he was covertly accused of a series of crimes, convicted, and imprisoned in 2022. Ironically, Khan had been the military’s preferred candidate, without whose favor he could hardly have secured victory. He believed that with his popularity, he could sideline his former protectors. Grave mistake. The military pulled the strings of justice, and Khan’s party was prevented from contesting in the elections [4]. The cricketer did not give up. From jail he denounced the military tutelage (which he had previously accepted with better or worse taste) and promoted candidacies related to his party under the label of “independents”. The challenge has been successful but insufficient. The “independents'' won a hundred seats, which are not enough to form a government majority [5]. The two parties that have been alternating in power in the last decades, the Muslim League (led by the conservative Sharif Brothers) and the People’s Party (political structure of the Bhutto family, of a confused and debatable center-left) hastened to agree to form a coalition government. Between them they have more than 130 deputies [6]. The cynicism of Pakistani politics is more than remarkable. The two parties now joining forces have been close enemies with a shared fate: both have been battered by the military, which has imprisoned and forced their leaders into exile on several occasions. In fact, the founder of the Bhutto dynasty (Zulfikar Ali) was overthrown after a military coup in 1971, charged and convicted in 1974 for the alleged murder of a political opponent and finally executed in 1979. His daughter Benazir was twice prime minister, deposed, exiled, and assassinated by an alleged Islamic extremist in 2007, when she was returning to her country. The Sharifs, powerful businessmen, have had a less tragic fate, but they have lived between favor and disgrace. Corruption has been the legal basis for their downfalls, with no little foundations. But it has been used as a weapon when it was convenient for the headquarters. Nawaz Sharif has now preferred to step back from the front line and reinstate as prime minister his brother Shehbaz, who held the post after the fall of Khan. The head of the clan went into exile in Saudi Arabia and only when he successfully negotiated the cancellation of the penalties, he returned to Pakistan to control the political process after the partial liquidation of Imran Khan. The post-election pact also has a prize for the Bhutto family. Although the formal leader of the PPP is Bilawal, Benazir’s son, who really pulls the strings is his widowed father, Asif Ali Zardari, who has also served sentences for corruption, of which there are few doubts. Zardari will be the new President, a more ceremonial position, but not without power to maintain his privileges. The outlook for the two now coalited dynasties is frightening. By 2026, Pakistan will have to pay $78 billion in foreign debt service, one of the highest in the world. This represents almost a quarter of its GDP (340 billion). Negotiations with the IMF are a dogfight, but the room for maneuver is almost nil [7]. Economic deterioration has been unstoppable in recent decades. At the beginning of the century, Pakistan’s economy was five times smaller than that of its rival, India; today it is one tenth [8]. Neither the military nor the political elites have been able to redirect the successive crisis. Pakistan is a ship adrift, in a permanent state of war with India. Both enemies have nuclear arsenals, which adds an enormous factor of danger to their recurrent disputes. Pakistan has been a major player in the protracted war in Afghanistan, as both, an ally and a rival of the United States, successively or alternately. In Washington they never knew whether the Pakistani military was helping or boycotting them. Bin Laden was killed by an American commando while hiding in Abbottabad, a city where many officers live, but the powerful military intelligence always denied knowing his whereabouts. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, relations between Pakistan and the United States have lost weight. In Washington, the “Indian card” is now a priority. However, the traditional economic and military ties between Pakistan and China compel Americans not to neglect this elusive and chaotic partner. Indonesia: Duo of former rivals In Indonesia, things are not looking any better. In the presidential elections, the winner was Prabowo Subianto, an authoritarian military officer who played an outstanding repressive role during the military dictatorship of his father-in-law, General Suharto, who led the country in the last third of the century, amid atrocious violations of human rights [9]. If the pacts in Pakistan lack any political ethics, in Indonesia it is three quarters of the same. Or worse. Five years ago, the current President, Joko Widowo (known as Jokowi), abandoned the pale progressivism of the ‘Democratic Party of Struggle’, founded by Megawati, Sukarno’s daughter, and joined the populist current in vogue. With this tactical shift he managed to defeat the conservative nationalist of GERINDRA (Great Indonesia Movement), who had turned to Prabowo as a ‘strongman’ figure to seize power. Widowo consolidated his hold on power with a populist policy of large infrastructure projects, partly financed by China, a tough hand against crime and radical Islamism, and an ambiguous balance in relations with Washington and Beijing. When he felt strong, Widowo integrated Prabowo into his government as no less than the Minister of Defense. Sukarno would have turned in his grave. That was not all. Jokowi wanted to form his own dynasty, but his son Gibran was still too young to inherit his post. He even had to twist the law (with the complicity of a judge who was his brother-in-law) so that he could be a candidate… but not for his party, from which he definitely separated, but as Prabowo’s second [10]. Success was guaranteed. The duo of former rivals has won the presidential elections by a wide margin. But in the legislative elections the result was more disputed. According to provisional data, the former general will not be able to count on an aligned Parliament. In any case, in such a corrupt and institutionally fragile country, cohabitation could be smoother than expected [11]. The director of the Asia-Pacific program at London’s renowned Chathan House anticipates changes, but he is confident that Prabowo’s pragmatism will limit his authoritarian instincts [12]. This ‘wishful thinking’ by Western analysts when assessing authoritarian regimes with a democratic façade is very recurrent and responds to the persistent logic since the Cold War. After all, what determines their blessing is not the democratic quality of political systems but their willingness to defend or act in accordance with Western interest. And in today’s times, being on the “right side” of history essentially means taking sides with the West in the strategic dispute with China. NOTES [1] [2] “Bangladesh is now in effect a one-party state”.THE ECONOMIST, 8 de enero. [3] “The Military is still pulling the strings in Pakistan’s election”. MUNEEB YOUSUF & MOHAMAD USMAN BHATTI. FOREIGN POLICY, 5 de febrero. [4] “Pakistan’s real test begin after elections”. AL JAZEERA, 8 de febrero. [5] “The rise and fall, and rise again of Imran Khan”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 de febrero. [6] “Imran Khan’s opponents reach deal to shut his allies out of government”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 14 de febrero. [7] “Pakistan can’t stop the cycle of discontent”. HUSAIN HAQQANI. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 16 de febrero. [8] “Pakistan is out of friends and out of money”. THE ECONOMIST, 14 de febrero. [9] “Indonesia’s election winner has a dark past and a cute image”. JOSEPH RACHMAN. FOREIGN POLICY, 14 de febrero. [10] “Indonesia’s election reveals its democratic challenges”. THOMAS PEPINSKY. BROOKINGS, 12 de enero. [11] “La démocratie indonésienne résistera-t-elle à la presidence de Prabowo Subianto?” COURRIER INTERNATIONAL, 16 de febrero; “The world’s third-biggest democracy could be sliding backwards”. ISHAAN THAROOR. THE WASHINGTON POST, 14 de febrero. [12]; “Indonesia’s democracy is stronger that a strongman”. BEN BLAND. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 13 de febrero.

China and Taiwan's flag

Is Taiwan a De Facto Sovereign Nation or a Province of the PRC?

by Jeremy E. Powell

It is a running gag among the pro-Taiwan camp that if you were to ask ordinary folks about Taiwan five years earlier, most could not locate Taiwan on a map. At the time, matters relating to China were mainly debates about Donald Trump’s protectionist stance, as relations between Taiwan and China didn’t receive the attention many would warrant in the face of a potential war. However, ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus—now probably having originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology—and the narrative of a grand alliance between Beijing and Moscow during the war in Ukraine, comparisons have been drawn between the fate of Taiwan and Ukraine. Even though CNN became confused between Taiwan and Thailand a year ago, any mention of Taiwan now will ring the alarm about how the United States can be deprived of semiconductors should it not respond to an imminent threat posed by China. As we move toward 2027, people have been arguing that the US should cease intervening elsewhere to concentrate its ability on defending Taiwan—in other words, Taiwan is the only case worthy of intervention. Unlike Ukraine, the case of Taiwan is more black-and-white as Taiwan stands as a victim of Chinese coercion. Whether on a purely strategic or moral argument, there is a lot of sympathy for Taiwan, regardless of political orientation. Nevertheless, war is still war, and in such a scenario, a confrontation between two superpowers is to be avoided at all costs. Even with nuclear weapons factored out, a clean victory for the US and Taiwan is unlikely due to logistical problems, encirclement, and the high cost of lives. In an interview on Tom Wood’s podcast, Joseph Solis-Mullen argued that the only possible way out is to abide according to the principles of the One China Policy—to lead Taiwan into reunification with China under the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Again, we should oppose a war with China, as it would only deliver catastrophe for the US, China, Taiwan, and likely the other countries surrounding Taiwan regardless of the outcome—though Solis-Mullen did acknowledge that should Taiwan fall under the control of the PRC, human rights in Taiwan will take a sharp turn for the worse. Even though the recent elections haven’t decisively favored the pro–Taiwan independence and anti-PRC Democratic Progressive Party, virtually no Taiwanese identifies himself as Chinese. Even the Kuomintang—the only large party that supports a One China Policy—argues that while Taiwan belongs to China, China is the Republic of China (ROC), not the PRC, and the Kuomintang has recently distanced itself from former president Ma Ying-jeou over comments that reunification is acceptable for Taiwan. After all, by the principle of self-determination and voluntary association (as close as it may get), Taiwan is effectively a country in all but on paper. As far as adherence to the principle of armed neutrality goes, Taiwan shouldn’t receive US arms shipments or a security guarantee (which it has under the Taiwan Relations Act). However, the constraint is that China forces countries that want to establish diplomatic ties with China to adhere to its version of the One China Principle, which stipulates that the legitimate government of China is the PRC. Taiwan, however, can’t move away from the One China Principle but can argue that the ROC is the legitimate government of China. However, the reality is different off-paper where Taiwan is a country. China can coerce countries into either choosing the PRC or the ROC, but it can’t afford to fully coerce everyone. While there’s a strategic side to US-Taiwan relations—given Taiwan’s position in the first island chain—the commercial side is undeniable, thanks to the dominance of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in the semiconductor industry. In other words, there’s a reason why the so-called Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (or Taipei Representative Offices) are there as de facto Taiwanese embassies. While there is a strong element of strategy at play, the US need not abolish all ties with Taipei, just arms sales and defense guarantees as neither China nor the US is willing to risk trade relations to a level too deep. While this may trigger alarm bells for people who support Taiwan, chances are that Japan, Australia, and even some Southeast Asian countries would prefer Taiwan to remain as it is. For many of these countries, a takeover of Taiwan means a step further for China to infringe upon their territories and disrupt trade routes. While it didn’t announce whether it would directly intervene, Japan has labeled Taiwan as a matter of national security and has been bolstering its own defense over the fears that the US might not help Japan. With a military persistently known for corruption and now a diplomatic emphasis on softening tensions, Beijing sees war as undesirable as well. As stated before, the world is not as remarkably united and can be separated into three blocs as it was during the Cold War. “Allies” of the US would prefer to delegate their responsibility to defend themselves to the US, even if they can do the job themselves and keep a check on one another. As for how we should see Taiwan, it’s a country that in some cases might be more libertarian than the US (except for conscription). Whether people want to debate the similarities or differences between “acknowledging” and “affirming” the One China Principle, it doesn’t erase the fact that Taiwan for all intents and purposes is a sovereign country.

Chancellor Sholz and Prime Minister Ibrahim in Berlin

Press conference by Federal Chancellor Scholz and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, on Monday, March 11, 2024 in Berlin - Wording

by Olaf Scholz , Anwar Ibrahim

BK Scholz: A warm welcome, Mr. Prime Minister! I am delighted to welcome you here to Germany for the first time. Your visit is a very special start to a Southeast Asia Week with several high-ranking visits from this important region of the world here in Berlin. The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance to Germany and the European Union. We therefore want to intensify political and economic cooperation. Germany already maintains close economic relations with the region. Malaysia is Germany's most important trading partner in ASEAN. This is of great importance because it is associated with many direct investments in the country, but also with all the economic exchange that results from this. We would like to further expand this partnership. Of course, this is particularly true with regard to the objective of further diversifying our economic relations with the whole world. We want to have good economic and political relations with many countries. We also want closer cooperation on climate protection and the expansion of renewable energies. We are therefore very pleased with Malaysia's announcement that it will stop building new coal-fired power plants and dramatically increase the share of renewable energies. We think this is very important. Malaysia and Germany are established democracies. We are both committed to multilateralism and compliance with international law. It is therefore also right that we deepen our security and defense cooperation. The defense ministries are already working on the necessary cooperation agreements. Of course, we also discussed developments in the Middle East, developments in Gaza and the situation following the Hamas attack on Israeli citizens. It is no secret that our perspective on the Middle East conflict is different to that of others. But that makes it all the more important to exchange views with each other. In any case, we agree that more humanitarian aid must reach Gaza. This is also our clear call to Israel, which has every right to defend itself against Hamas. We do not believe that a ground offensive on Rafah is right. An important step now would also be a ceasefire that lasts longer, preferably during Ramadan, which has now begun and during which we broke the fast together today. Such a ceasefire should help to ensure that the Israeli hostages are released and that, as I said, more humanitarian aid arrives in Gaza. We also have a very clear position on long-term development. Only a two-state solution can bring lasting peace, security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. That is why it is so important that we all work together to ensure that a good, peaceful perspective, a lasting common future is possible for Israelis and Palestinians, who coexist well in the two states. Of course, the world is marked by many other conflicts and wars, especially the dramatic war that Russia has started against Ukraine. It is a terrible war with unbelievable casualties. Russia, too, has already sacrificed many, many lives for the Russian president's imperialist mania for conquest. This is against all human reason. That is why we both condemn the Russian war of aggression. It is important to emphasize this once again. The Indo-Pacific is of great importance for the future development of the world. Of course, this also applies to all the economic development and development of the countries there. I therefore welcome the efforts of Malaysia and the ASEAN states to settle disputes peacefully and to find ways to ensure that this becomes typical of everything that has to be decided there. Any escalation must be avoided at all costs. Peace and stability must always and everywhere be maintained on the basis of international law. This applies in particular to the freedom of the sea routes and compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is why the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct are so important. Thank you once again for coming to Berlin on the first day of Ramadan, at least for our location. We broke the fast together earlier. For me, this is a good sign of peaceful coexistence and solidarity. I see it as something very special. Ramadan Kareem! PM Anwar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chancellor, dear Olaf! Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and for bringing us together today to break the fast! Germany is of course one of our most important partners in Europe. We have seen a huge increase in trade and investment. We can see that major investments have been made. We have visited Siemens. Infineon is a big investor in Malaysia and is showing its confidence in the country and the system here. There are many other examples of companies operating in Malaysia. Of course, my aim is always to expand bilateral relations in the areas of trade and investment and also to benefit from your experience, both in the field of technology and in environmental and climate protection issues. We have set ourselves clear goals for the energy transition. We have drawn up an action plan that is also in line with your policy. Renewable energy, ammonia, green hydrogen - we are pursuing these very actively. Fortunately, Malaysia is also a hub within ASEAN for these renewable energies and technologies. We welcome the German interest in this, also with regard to new investments in the renewable energy sector and with a view to climate change. We have of course discussed this cooperation on this occasion and I am pleased with the Chancellor's willingness to tackle many of these issues. Sometimes we have small differences of view, but it really shows the trust we have in each other. As far as the war in Gaza is concerned, we agree that the fighting must stop. We need a ceasefire immediately. We also need humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. Of course we recognize the concern about the events of 7 October. We also call on Europeans, and Germany in particular, to recognize that there have been 40 years of atrocities, looting, dispossession of Palestinians. Let us now look forward together! I agree with the Chancellor on what he said about the two-state solution. It will ensure peace for both countries. Together we can ensure that there is economic cooperation and progress for the people in the region. We have also positioned ourselves with regard to the war in Ukraine. We have taken a very clear stance against aggression, against efforts to conquer. This applies to every country and, of course, also to Russian aggression in Ukraine. We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. Because this conflict has an impact on trade and economic development as far away as Asia. We have a peaceful region. ASEAN is currently the fastest growing economic area in the world, precisely because it is so peaceful - apart from the issue in Myanmar, but that is contained within Myanmar. The conflict has not spread to the region, although there are of course refugee movements. Within ASEAN, we have jointly agreed on a five-point consensus and the parameters by which the issue can be resolved. The ASEAN countries have agreed that Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia would like to lead the troika together and resolve the conflict with Myanmar. Then there are other issues such as the South China Sea and China. I assured the Chancellor that we are getting along well with China. We have not seen any difficult incidents, but of course we see ourselves as an absolutely independent country. We are of course a small country, but we stand up for our right to cooperate with many countries to ensure that the people of Malaysia also benefit from these mechanisms and from cooperation with other countries. Once again, Mr. Chancellor, thank you very much for this meeting. I am very impressed by your insight, by your analysis of the situation. It is very impressive to see what a big country like Germany is doing, and it was also good to share some of our concerns. I am pleased with the good cooperation. It's not just about trade and investment, it's also about the overall development of bilateral relations in all areas. I also told the Chancellor that the study of Goethe is gaining interest in Malaysia. Questions from JournalistsQuestion: Mr. Prime Minister, can you tell us something about the progress of German investment in Malaysia and can you say something about the challenges for the government in the transition to renewable energy in Malaysia? Mr. Chancellor, in 2022 you spoke about the turning point in German foreign and security policy. But if you now look at ASEAN or Southeast Asia: How does Germany see Malaysia in terms of its bilateral importance, trade and also regional issues? PM Anwar: Within the European Union, Germany is our biggest trading partner. They have made large investments, up to 50 billion US dollars. I have already addressed Infineon and many other leading German companies and I have said in our discussions that we are very pleased that they have chosen Malaysia as an important hub, as a center of excellence, as a training center in the region and I look forward to further cooperation in this area. Of course, I also mentioned that education should be a priority. There are 1000 Malaysian students here in Germany and also several hundred German students in Malaysia. We are also very happy about that. We are working with many German companies to train people and strengthen cooperation. We have taken important steps in renewable energy. We are investing in solar energy, in green energy and in our renewable energy export capacity. There is now an undersea green energy cable to the new capital of Indonesia, another to Singapore, and another cable to the Malay Peninsula. You can also see from the fact that data centers and artificial intelligence are growing and thriving in the Malaysian region that this has great potential. BK Scholz: Thank you very much for the question. - First of all, the turning point lies in the Russian attack on Ukraine. This was the denunciation of an understanding that we have reached in the United Nations, in the whole world, namely that no borders are moved by force. But the Russian war of aggression is aimed at precisely that, namely to expand its own territory as a large country at the expense of its neighbor - with a terrible war. We cannot accept this - not in Europe and not anywhere else in the world. That is why it is right for us to support Ukraine and to do so in a very comprehensive manner. After the USA, Germany is the biggest supporter - both financially and in terms of arms supplies - and in Europe it is by far the country that is making the greatest efforts to help Ukraine defend itself. But this touches on an issue that is important for the whole world. Anyone who knows a little about the history of the world - and it is colorful and diverse - knows that if some political leader is sitting somewhere, leafing through history books and thinking about where borders used to be, then there will be war all over the world for many, many years. We must therefore return to the principle of accepting the borders as they are and not changing them by force. That is the basis for peace and security in the world. That is why we are also very clear on this together. For Germany, however, this does not mean that we lose sight of our own economic development, the development of Europe and the world. As you may already have noticed, it is particularly important for the government I lead and for me as Chancellor of Germany that we now make a major new attempt to rebuild relations between North and South and to ensure that we cooperate with each other on an equal footing in political terms, that we work together on the future of the world, but that we also do everything we can to ensure that the economic growth opportunities and potential of many regions in the world are exploited to the maximum. This is why economic cooperation between Europe and ASEAN, between Germany and ASEAN, between Germany and Malaysia plays such an important role, and we want to make progress in the areas we have just mentioned. Renewable energies are central to this. We know that: We need to increase the prosperity of people around the world. Billions of people want to enjoy a level of prosperity similar to that which has been possible for many in the countries of the North in recent years. If this is to succeed, it will only be possible if we do not damage the environment in the process, which is why the expansion of renewable energies is so important. New and interesting economic opportunities are also emerging, for example in the area of hydrogen/ammonia - this has been mentioned - because the industrial perspective of the future will depend on more electricity, which we need for economic processes - and this from renewable energies - and on hydrogen as a substitute for many processes for which we currently use gas, coal or oil. Driving this forward and creating prosperity together all over the world is a good thing. The fact that the German semiconductor industry and successful German companies in the electronics sector are investing so much in Malaysia is a good sign for our cooperation. We want to intensify this. Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. Your government supports Hamas and, unlike Western countries, has not described Hamas' attack on Israel as terrorism. In November you said that Hamas was not a terrorist organization. Do you stand by this assessment and are you not afraid that this position on Hamas could affect relations with countries like Germany? Mr. Chancellor, I have a question for you: Do you think that Malaysia's position on Hamas could damage bilateral relations between Germany and Malaysia? And if I may, one more question on Ukraine: Germany is still discussing the delivery of cruise missiles to Ukraine. The Foreign Minister said yesterday that a ring swap with the UK was an option, i.e. Germany sending Taurus cruise missiles to the UK and the UK then sending its Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine. Do you think this is also an option? PM Anwar: Our foreign policy position is very clear and has not changed. We are against colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and dispossession, no matter in which country it takes place, in Ukraine or in Gaza. We cannot simply erase or forget 40 years of atrocities and dispossession that have led to anger in the affected societies and also action after action. Our relations with Hamas concern the political wing of Hamas, and we will not apologize for that either. This cooperation has also helped to raise concerns about the hostages. We have no links with any military wings. I have already said that to my European colleagues and also in the US. But we have some different views. The Australian National Congress also recognized long before the Europeans or Americans that this apartheid policy must be abolished. That's why we have taken that position. We need to understand what the fundamental problem with this is. We cannot allow people to be plundered, to have their homes taken away from them. This has to be solved. Am I in favor of people, of children being killed? Absolutely not. No, nobody should do that. That is the consistency in our politics. But I am against this obsession, this narrative, as if the whole problem started on October 7 and would end then. It didn't start on October 7, and it won't end then either. It started 40 years ago and it's still going on today. Against this background, I am of the opinion - and I have also said this to the Chancellor - that we should now look to the future. We have a problem. Do we want to deal with history now, with the atrocities that have happened, or do we want to solve the problem now? Solving the problem now means: the fighting must stop, the killing must stop. Then the whole international community - Germany, Malaysia and all neighboring countries - can ensure that there is no more violence, from any group, against anyone - not against Muslims, Christians or Jews. People must be able to live in peace. Thank you very much. BK Scholz: I have already said it and I would like to repeat it again: Germany's position is clear. Israel has every right to defend itself against the terrorist attack by Hamas. We have always made that clear in recent days, weeks and months, and it remains so. Israel can rely on that. At the same time, we have clear positions on further developments, and these have already been stated. Let me say this once again: we want more humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. We want the hostages to be released, unconditionally. We want there to be no unnecessary victims. That is why we have said very clearly what forms of military warfare are compatible with international law and what we find difficult. I have spoken out on Rafah and on the need for a long-term peaceful perspective with a two-state solution that makes it possible for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to live peacefully in a separate, self-governing state alongside Israel - as a democracy in the region, and where the citizens of Israel can also rely on us. That is the perspective we are working for and what is at stake now. That is why we are working - despite the different assessments of the specific issue - on a peaceful perspective, which is necessary. I would like to repeat what I have to say on the issue of supporting Ukraine in its defense. Germany is by far the country that is providing the most support for Ukraine - financially, but also in terms of arms deliveries. All in all, the deliveries to date and those promised amount to 28 billion euros and 30 billion dollars. That is a considerable sum. We have mobilized everything to ensure that Ukraine receives the necessary support from us - ammunition, artillery, tanks, air defence of various kinds, which is also highly efficient and very much appreciated. Our support is reliable and continuous. Ukraine knows this, and we hear time and again how much this great support is appreciated there. As far as the one weapon system is concerned, I am of the opinion that it cannot be used without control in view of its effect and the way in which it can be used, but that the involvement of German soldiers is not justifiable, not even from outside Ukraine. I have therefore said that I do not consider the deployment to be justifiable and that it is therefore not a question of direct or indirect involvement, but of us being clear on this specific issue. My clarity is there. It is my job as Chancellor, as head of government, to be precise here and not to raise any misleading expectations. And my answers are correspondingly clear. Question: Good afternoon, Excellencies! You both mentioned the situation in Gaza and said that we must look ahead to a two-state solution. But how much influence can this meeting have on a humanitarian ceasefire? PM Anwar: Germany is an important country in Europe and has established good relations with Israel, and we have somewhat better relations with Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority and also with the political Hamas. Other Arab countries and neighboring states of Palestine and Israel are doing what they can. We should also be a little more positive. It is of course a chaotic situation, an uncertain situation. There is no easy solution. The Palestinians have suffered a lot. The Netanyahu government has also been very clear in its stance. There is no easy solution. We have to stop the killing of innocent people on both sides, the killing of civilians. We now need a permanent ceasefire and, ultimately, a two-state solution. This is also possible if the international community has the courage and determination. I have said: sometimes you get really depressed when you have the feeling that this case has already been morally abandoned and that there is no real will from all countries to stop the war and find a solution. I am sure that the countries of the Middle East, the international community, Germany and the other parties involved want this peaceful solution. BK Scholz: We would all have liked the start of Ramadan to have been accompanied by a longer-lasting ceasefire, which would have been linked to the release of the hostages by Hamas and also to an increase in humanitarian aid reaching Gaza. Having said that, the aim now is to bring this about as soon as possible. I believe that would be very important for everyone and could also create prospects for further developments. That is what is at stake now. We are in agreement with the American government and the European Union in everything we do. Many people around the world are also trying to work in this direction - as we have heard here, but this also applies to neighboring countries. What we must prevent is an escalation of the war. We also warn against Iran or the Iranian proxies becoming more involved in this war than is already the case. This must be resolved soon. As I said, how this can be done is something that is very clear to me, to the European Union, to the USA and to many others, and it has also been mentioned here together. Question: Mr. Prime Minister, you said that history should be left behind. But for the Israeli hostages, October 7 is still the present, also for their families. Regarding the talks you are holding with the political leadership of Hamas: What are you talking about? How much hope do you have that these hostages will be released soon? Can you also say something about what you saw on October 7 and the fact that these hostages are still being held by this terrorist violence? Mr. Chancellor, you recently met the Pope, who has now caused controversy with his statements on the white flag, which Ukraine has taken to mean, as the Foreign Minister said, that the Church is behaving more or less as it did at the beginning of the 20th century, in other words that the Church did nothing against Nazi Germany at that time. How do you react to the Pope's statements? PM Anwar: Thank you. I have already made my opinion clear. You cannot simply overlook the atrocities of the last four decades, and you cannot find a solution by being so one-sided, by looking only at one particular issue and simply brushing aside 60 years of atrocities. The solution is not simply to release the hostages. Yes, the hostages should be released, but that is not the solution. We are a small player. We have good relations with Hamas. I have told the Chancellor that, yes, I too would like the hostages to be released. But is that the end of it, period? What about the settlements, the behavior of the settlers? No, it goes on every day. What about the expropriations, their rights, their land, their dignity, the men, the women, the children? Is that not the issue? Where is our humanity? Why is there this arrogance? Why is there this double standard between one ethnic group and another? Do they have different religions? Is it because of that? Why is there a problem? Yes, we want the rights of every single person to be recognized, regardless of whether they are Muslim, Jewish or Christian. I am very clear on that. But of course I cannot accept that the issue is focused on just one case, on one victim, and that the thousands of victims since 1947 are simply ignored. Is humanity not relevant? Is compassion not relevant? That is my point. Do I support any atrocities by anyone towards anyone? No. - Do I want hostages to be held? No. But you can't look at the narrative in such a one-sided way. You can ask if I disagree with some subgroups. But that's not the way to solve the issue. We have to be fair, just, and find an amicable solution that is just, that is fair. BK Scholz: Once again what I have already said: Germany has a special and good relationship with Israel. That is very important to us. That's why Israel can also rely on us. You have a clear position on what is necessary now. That includes the release of the hostages. That includes humanitarian aid. It includes the prospect of a two-state solution. I have already spoken about this, I just want to mention it again here. This is also important for us. We were very supportive of the founding of the state of Israel, and German policy will continue to develop along these lines. As far as the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is concerned, Germany's position is very clear: Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and Ukraine can rely on us to support it in many, many ways. I have already said that we are very far ahead when it comes to the volume and quality of the arms supplies we have provided. That is also true. That is why, of course, I do not agree with the position quoted.

Altar with a portait of King Maha Vajiranlongkorn of Thailand

Opinion – The Future of Monarchies in Southeast Asia

by Pavin Chachavalpongpun

It is a conventional wisdom that monarchy has become an anomaly. In the case of Southeast Asia, this axiom is valid only up to a point. Despite the institutional upheavals, caused by colonialism and its dismantling, the region contains one ruling monarchy (Brunei), and three varieties of constitutional monarchy (Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand) of some political import. Whether the anomaly of monarchies surviving is due to the persistent and natural workings of traditional political values, or whether their existence, besides being partly fortuitous, is now manipulated by elites (even by monarchs themselves), in order to pre-empt the destructive or destabilising effects of modernisation – the very modernisation which seems to make the survival of the monarchy rather unpredictable. The purpose of this short article is not to treat the subject as an anomaly, but to provide some pointers to the survival of monarchies in Southeast Asia under the new political climate. It is not just modernisation that has contested the political relevance of the monarchies, democratisation has posed a threat to their existence too. In the age of democratic consciousness, a question emerges: is monarchy compatible with democracy? So far, some monarchies have successfully entrenched their rule against the tide of democracy. Some are potentially becoming the target of annihilation. For example, the youth-led protests in Thailand in 2020 called for immediate royal reforms. Protesters risked violating the draconian lèse-majesté law which forbids critical discussions on the monarchy. This was the first time in the Thai history in which the monarchy has been made a public agenda. Talks on republicanism in Thailand have remained a taboo. Yet they are proliferating. I argue that the future of monarchies in Southeast Asia depends on the combination of their personal and political capabilities and how they transpire as a non-threatening factor to democracy, at three levels: personal, national and international. At a personal level, the monarchs, more than ever, need to exhibit their increased accountability, transparency and responsibility, if they want to live side-by-side with a democratic regime. On mainland Southeast Asia, the concept of divine kingship has remained highly sacred. The Thai and Cambodian kings are supposed to perform as Buddhist Dhammarajas, or virtual kings, so as to augment their charisma, and subsequently reverence, from their subordinates. Much in the same vein, the Sultans must show that they exercise their royal authority based on Islam. The religious sanctity of the throne is indispensable for the existence of the monarchies. It demonstrates the close intertwining between kingship and religion, and if used wisely, it can enhance further the level of divinity of the monarchs. The collapse of Nepalese monarchy was partly caused by the king’s fading faith in religion. At a national level, the monarchy’s position is intricately related to its role as guardian of democracy. The monarchies, in the democratic world, are obliged to play a crucial part in supporting democratic constitutionalism, as seen in the case of Britain. They may serve as an important symbol of national unity and harmony, particularly in deeply divided societies. In transitional societies, they may assist in bridging past with present to ensure political stability by supporting democratisation and rule of law. In time of crisis, from war, political violence, terrorist attack to natural disaster, monarchs may help the country mourn and heal as part of restoring peace and normalcy. The Japanese Emperor provided an example as a national healer by visiting those affected by tsunamis and earthquakes in the past. Monarchs may be expected to give advice to the head of executive power and perform an essential check on the power of elected legislators. Lastly, at the international level, the monarchies may need to ensure that their existence is in the interests of powerful foreign allies, and that they remain an essential political institution. The United States was known to be a guarantee of security of the Thai monarch during the spread of the communist threat in the region. Foreign recognition of monarchies is important for their survival. All these guides to longevity of monarchies in Southeast Asia do not automatically offer a rosy picture for their future. New factors emerge from time to time to challenge the integrity and legitimacy of their rule. Using illegitimate weapons to manage such challenges may prove counterproductive. They do not necessarily display the monarchs’ ultimate power, but rather their desperation, and insecurity, to cling on to it. The monarchical system has been around for thousands of years. It has become less forceful, and in some cases has ceased to exist, as nations of the world have accepted democracy as the final form of government. The key to the survival of the monarchical institution, therefore, rests on the way in which it acts and reacts in a complementary manner to the rising desire of the people for democracy.