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CWA # 188, 23 November 2019

The World this Week
Elections in Sri Lanka and Protests in Georgia, Chile & Czech

  GP Team

Aparupa Bhatthacherjee, Sourina Bej, Rashmi Ramesh, Parikshith Pradeep, Harini Madhusudan
International Strategic & Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

 

Sri Lanka: Return of the Rajapaksas
What happened?
On 16 November 2019, the eighth presidential election was held in Sri Lanka. Out of 39 candidates contesting, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP) won the election with 52.25 per cent. His immediate contender Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP) has received 43.8 per cent of the total vote. 

Gotabaya immediately has appointed a 16-member interim cabinet to be headed by his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the newly appointed Prime Minister and Finance Minister. Mahinda has been the former President of the country till 2015. Gotabaya has also promised to call for a snap parliamentary election, soon.

What is the background?
The snap parliamentary election will play a significant role for the Rajapaksas and their new SLPP party. Currently, the SLPP and its allies have only 96 legislators which is not sufficient to pass any legislation. The party needs to gain a majority in the 255 members Parliament in this election.

If Rajapaksa secures the majority in the Parliament it will have an impact on the ethno-religious fabric of the country. In this current election, it was clear that the majority of voters who have elected Gotabaya are Sinhalese. Gotabaya who was the defence minister during his brother's tenure is revered as a war hero by Sinhalese. But to Tamils and other liberals, he is remembered for executing extra-judicial deaths, kidnapping, and threats. Nonetheless, the recent Easter bombing on 21 April and the failure on behalf of the previous government, paved the easy road for his win. Gotabaya, who promised security and the better defence was automatically taken to be the best choice by most, except the minorities.

The majority of Tamil and Muslim voted for Premadasa. The Tamil’s lack of support towards the Tamil National Alliance Party is due to anger towards their representative and past inabilities to do much.

What does it mean?
First, the victory of Gotabaya in Sri Lanka follows the same pattern and is part of the wave of the rise of populism in South Asia. Even before the elections, most of the analysts were confident of his win. Though, given his history, the enormous votes he received were surprising. Also, Sujith Premadasa was a strong opponent, given his lineage of being a former President’s son and also being a vibrant leader. Thus, Gotabaya was win brought another populist to power.

Second, this election made the divide within UNP evident. The oldest and once most respected party of Sri Lanka lost not only this election but also respect due to the in-fight between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa.

Third, as aforementioned the ethnic and religious divide is more prominent in this election. Gotabaya who is previously known to support the Buddhist Sinhala nationalists could make the situation worse. Although he has claimed to work with other minorities too for the larger national development it seems farfetched, given his record. 

 

Protest in Georgia over constitutional reform
What happened? 
With thousands of protesters gathered in Tbilisi since 16 November, Georgia has been witnessing a second wave of protests in 2019. The current demand is to instil the constitutional changes that were promised by the governing Georgian Dream Party. The demonstrators continue to take to the streets, protest outside various government buildings and set up tents at the foot of the parliament.

What is the background? 
Following the June protests that left 240 people injured, the Georgian Dream Party had promised to amend the electoral system, which was heavily tilted to favour the ruling party, and introduce proportional representation. This transition will enable smaller parties to be part of the decision-making process, contest elections, thereby allowing a wider representation of the Georgian society. 

However, the constitutional amendment did not pass in the Parliament last week. Disappointed by this failure, people have taken to the streets once again to protest. 

What does it mean? 
Large anti-government demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks in almost every continent: Algeria, Bolivia, Britain, Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Czechoslovakia, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. A fight for democracy is what the protesters in Georgia have termed their rallies to be. 
The significance of the protests in Tbilisi is threefold: 

Firstly, the failed amendment vote sparked a deadlock in parliament with opposition politicians refusing to attend sessions this week, while 12 Georgian Dream members left the ruling party- has been the trigger of the protest. Domestically, the country is witnessing a second wave of anti-incumbency that has now put the governing party in a position where it has to either chose between snap elections or forcefully subdues the protests. The present public perception is that the current system may be “no free and fair elections.″ 

Secondly, the protest in Georgia is regionally significant. Since the country fought a war with Russia in 2008, any protests within the country assumes regional importance for Russia and the eastern bloc. In June the protests had a vivid anti-Russia sentiment after a Russian MP delivered a speech at the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) from the speaker’s seat. It not only angered the politicians home but also pushed the people to protests in what they saw a growing bonhomie between the government and Russia. If the government subdues the protest coercively the possibility of anti-Russia sentiment marring the protest narrative is likely. 

Thirdly, the protests in Tbilisi has gained the support of the US and the European Union giving the country its much-needed backing from the Western bloc especially when Georgia is looking to join the institutions like the NATO and EU. However triggered mostly by domestic reasons, most of the leading countries in the region such as Russia, US, Germany, UK have not come out with a strongly worded support for Georgia. It is yet to be seen whether Georgia will walk down the same path as Chile or Lebanon in succeeding to overturn the government with fresh elections. 
   
The awakening in Chile: A stride towards a new constitution 
What happened?
Earlier this month, protestors in Chile demanded the framing of a new constitution that would eventually pave the way for a democratic setup. The Chileans won a crucial vote in favour of a new constitution, in the previous week. An overwhelming eighty per cent of the population favours a new constitution, while a meagre fifteen per cent approve the leadership. This made President Sebastian Pinera agree to the demands of the people.

What is the background?
Protests in Chile began when school students and youth opposed a hike in subway fares in Santiago. It gradually gathered momentum, leading to the closure of several subway stations. Though the cause for the dissent was a fare hike, issues like health, wage, employment, pensions soon became a part of the more significant cause. This occurred although Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in the South American continent. Inequality was hurting the wellbeing of the citizens in this case. As a response to the protests, the government declared an emergency and deployed armed forces on the streets of Chile. 

When the situation seemed out of control, the government introduced reforms concerning the demands. The protesters rejected these reforms, and their demands grew further. Pinera agreed for constitutional reform and finally ceded to the demand of framing an entirely new constitution. The ruling party along with the opposition presented “Agreement for Social Peace and a New Constitution”, which puts forth the necessary steps to be involved in the process of writing a new constitution and the nature of participation of citizens in the process. 
What does it mean?

The current constitution was framed during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship that lasted between 1973 and 1990. While there have been some reforms in the constitution over the years, it does not help establish a form of government that adheres to the true principles of democracy. If the proposed new constitution takes into consideration people’s interests, the culmination of the process would be a democracy. 

Latin America is witnessing a wave of protests in Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Haiti, and Ecuador. The domino effect has played in a manner where Latin American protests are being compared with that of the Arab Spring. However, it must be noted that the two regions are entirely different, and the causes for protests are also quite different. While the Arab region demanded democracy itself, Latin America is demanding a better form of democracy. It is yet to be known if visible changes will occur in these countries, or will it face a slow death. 

 

Mass Protests in Iran
What happened?
Protests erupted in Iran after the government reintroduced a petrol rationing scheme and hiked gas prices in its bid to cut energy subsidies and redistribute the same in other sectors. The national oil distribution body announced petrol rationing would be done through the use of smart cards.

Protesters have taken to streets, affecting basic services in more than 100 cities. This move has affected cab drivers, transport owners, and energy reliant marketeers; students from universities have staged protests calling the regime’s decision unacceptable. While, the police have used live ammunition to stave off protestors leaving hundreds injured and rest arrested, the government has blocked internet services.

What is the background?
The government announced a similar fuel rationing scheme in 2007, enraging motorists and causing widespread protests. The 2007 decision was to keep up with sanctions and dispense subsidies towards human developmental sectors.

Iran has witnessed a series of protests. The 2018 protests revolved around economic concerns as compared to the present situation which includes issues such as corruption, anti-regime sentiments and a larger ambit of economics. While the 2019 protests may have taken cues from the earlier ones, there has been a substantial increase in the number of casualties and arrests.

The government’s inability to recalibrate initially is at human costs. Khomeini’s support for the scheme has attracted naysayers and a large audience for regime change. The Supreme leader warned the protesters would be hanged if they led movement. Officials through state-sponsored media have blamed the US and external players.

What does it mean?
First, the resentment against Iran’s domestic energy policy has ballooned into an anti-regime movement. Rising frustration of masses highlights the failing political confidence upon Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Khomeini’s regime no longer enjoys the 1979 rapport, highlighting the decay of an institution which can lead one to question the 40-year-old revolution fundamentally.

Second, corruption, coupled with poor living standards, has posed direct challenges to the existing government. This indicates the flaws with the existing leadership and the public’s need for effective governance.

Third, the signing of the nuclear deal yielded Iran developmental autonomy and relief, but the American withdrawal has managed to stir a portion of protests. The IMF projected a 9 per cent fall in Iran’s economy for 2019, signalling a slow decline. Amidst this, Trump’s policies combined with sanctions has deemed the nation’s economic ascent unprofitable.

Fourth, the large protests bring to fore efforts by victims and the rise of awakened citizenry despite a plagued regime. International criticism has been effective in bringing to fore the events and pressuring Iran to take corrective measures.

30 years since the Velvet Revolution: Czechs want the PM to resign
What happened?
The year 2019 marks 30 years since the Velvet Revolution had swept the city of Prague. Existing allegations were confirmed by a court decision this week, that the Czech prime minister collaborated with the StB who were the Communist-era secret police. This led to a dramatic turn to the anniversary celebrations. One day before the anniversary, the police stated that 250,000 attended anti-government demonstrations in Prague on Saturday, when a non-violent demonstration led by students motivated the nation to rise up against Communism.
The demonstrations are demanding the resignation of PM Andrej Babis. Babis is a business tycoon who is listed as an StB agent in its official archives but has consistently denied cooperating with the StB knowingly, saying he has been wrongly identified in the documents.

What is the background?
17 November 1989 eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, student protesters filled the streets of Prague, the tide of freedom that had swept Berlin had reached the Czech capital. Soon, these students were joined by Czechoslovak citizens of all ages. By 20 November 1989, a half-million Czechs and Slovaks filled Prague’s streets and took over Wenceslas Square. The Communists were forced out. By the end of 1989, Czechoslovakia was on its way to having an elected President for the first time since 1948. 

The Czechs and Slovaks have taken to the streets. The threat is no longer Communism but right-wing populism. Last year, protests erupted in Slovakia after the murder of a journalist of Jan Kuciak. In June 2019, an estimated 200,000 Czechs are known to have flooded the streets demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Babis’ rise to power came partly due to his promise to crack down on corruption, but he has been accused of inappropriate use of E.U. funds. 2019 spring, Czech police said they recommended fraud charges against him. Come fall, he is accused of cooperating with StB. 

What does it mean?
The 30 years anniversary of the Velvet revolution seems like a bittersweet moment for the people of Czech. Pensioners Miloslava and Pavel Šimáček who took part in the mass protests 30 years ago, came back on Saturday because they were opposed to Babis being Prime Minister. The organizers of this week's protests Million Moments for Democracy, a student group, carefully chose the 30 years anniversary as a symbol to show without the Velvet Revolution they wouldn’t even have had the chance to try to change things. The organizers said,  "How else shall we celebrate the anniversary than by raising our voices in defense of democracy?"

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