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Considering that democracy is often held up as the beacon of a truly civilized society, it’s somewhat strange that the political system is demonized. After all, politicians are often dismissed as a group of liars who will never live up to their promises, spinning tales, putting priorities at the forefront of lawmaking that have little bearing on the average citizen. Politicians, so the saying goes, aren’t to be trusted.

It’s a very strange attitude considering the fact that politicians are the very representatives of democracy. If we truly want to uphold the democratic process that we hold so dear, should we not have a better respect for the people who enter into these institutions?

The above is questionable, not helped by more than a few dodgy politicians always around making it seem like doubt is a sensible way of responding to those who seek power. However, it’s an example of one of the primary reasons given when people are asked to justify why they don’t vote. Why vote, so the line of thinking goes, when they’re all the same – and can’t be trusted anyway?

Political Apathy: Classless, Ageless, Raceless

It doesn’t matter which section of society you study, they all have the same uniting factor: they don’t vote. Turnout figures across the world are incredibly low when you consider voting is the very instrument of democracy, something we are brought up to be proud of, see fit to defend.

Looking at the cold hard facts is sometimes all you can do to see a consistent pattern. In the recent USA Presidential race, only 60% of the eligible electorate voted. Considering that was one of the most talked about Presidential races of all time, it seems surprising that 40% of voters decided to stay at home.

This isn’t just a USA problem, either. In the UK, the Brexit referendum in June of 2016 may have garnered a respectable 72% turnout, but the General Election the year before only scraped to 61%, down from a historic high of 83% for the first post-war election. The French Presidential election of 2017 looks to be on its way to a historically low turnout, while the last elections in Canada may have produced the biggest turnout in 20 years… but it was still only 68%. Sweden, with its massively-engaged populace and 85% turnout in 2014, is more the exception than the rule.

So this is a truly worldwide problem – but what are the reasons for it, aside from the aforementioned feeling that people can’t trust the politicians? By identifying the causes of the ills, anyone with an interest in increasing engagement in the voting process can begin to see how to mend the significant rifts across the world. Maybe some of these will even sound familiar to you. That’s without going as far as the Australians, who have made voting compulsory and hold elections on a weekend to make sure

1. Want To Vote; Can’t Vote

In some countries, sections of the populace may want to vote, but they can’t due to immigration status. Most developed countries require you to be a full citizen of that country to vote. Even if you have permanent leave to remain and have been living there for years, without citizenship, you can’t vote.

It seems bizarre that citizens who are required to pay tax are not allowed to have a say in how that money is spent. But as you learn about naturalization, it can be a viable route to being more grounded in a country anyone with immigrant status now calls home. If this applies to you or anyone you know, it’s as good a reason as any to look into changing your status.

2. The Feeling That “One Vote Doesn’t Matter”

This is an overriding sentiment for those who don’t vote; that their singular vote won’t make a difference. This is particularly the case if, for example, a Democrat wishes to vote in Texas – a state that, with the best will in the world, is never going to return anything but a Republican as its President. If you’re in a “safe” seat, then it feels like your vote doesn’t matter.

There is an element of truth to this, too – no single voter can make a difference. However, it’s through small increments against the incumbent that a movement is formed. A better way of putting it is that not voting is actually a vote for the sitting party/politician. Even if you just vote for protest reasons, it’s a real protest that will be noticed if you take that vote from the sitting representative.

3. Lack Of Political Engagement

For those with an interest in politics, the idea that someone isn’t politically engaged can seem strange. Given that our entire world depends on the decisions of politicians, how can people not pay attention?

Well, maybe they have better things to think about, immediate problems in their own lives. Maybe it bores them; maybe they don’t see the link between their basic life and what politicians discuss.

There is no way to force people to become more politically engaged. If you are passionate about politics, then you can try and introduce them to it, but some people just aren’t interested. There are no easy solutions here, though pressing the nature of democracy requiring a vote is a good first step.

4. Lack Of Time

Finally, lack of time. Some people don’t vote as they don’t have the time to learn all they would prefer to about a candidate. Or, they literally don’t have the time (or ability) to get to a polling station on the big day.

Changes have been made to voting in recent years that make the need for one day, one vote, a thing of the past. Early voting is now available in many countries, via forms such as postal voting. Hopefully, as these become more well known, this is one reason that can fade into history – bringing turnouts up as a result.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.

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China

What a Rising Xi Jinping Means for China and the World

Manak Suri

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Xi Jinping China

Source: en.kremlin.ru

“Watch this man.” These were the three words used by the founding father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew to describe a relatively unknown Xi Jinping while he was yet to become the President of the People’s Republic of China. Today, in addition to being China’s “paramount leader”, Xi is arguably the most powerful man in the world, and even if leaders across the world were doubtful about it till now, the developments in the previous week were sure to make them think again.

19th Party Congress: How it unfolded

Xi today, Xi forever?

The Communist Party of China assembled the previous week for its 19th Party Congress, a political summit that takes place every five years to decide upon the country’s future and the future is precisely what Xi has fixated his eyes upon. According to the current rules, Mr Xi must step down as the leader when his term ends in 2022 and as tradition dictates, a successor must be appointed. While only time will reveal whether Mr Xi steps down from the presidency at the end of his term, it increasingly looks that he is not keen to do so, having failed to hint towards any successor for the time being. His apparent intentions to stay put were further solidified with the appointment of the new members to the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision making authority in the country after the president. Each of the members appointed to the body is over 60 years of age, which means that they are highly likely to retire when their term comes to an end with the next meeting five years later. Interestingly, two-thirds of them are also known to be Mr Xi’s loyalists.

Xi Jinping Thought: A force to be reckoned with

“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” or the “Xi Jinping Thought” for short was written into the party’s constitution at the end of the Congress. The thought consists of 14 principles calling for deep reforms, conserving the environment, the party’s complete control over the army, and the importance of the unification of the country. The development was highly publicised and with good reason. With the “Xi Jinping Thought” embedded in the constitution while still being in power, Xi Jinping has drawn comparisons from all over the world to Mao Zedong himself. Moreover, he has ensured that anyone that opposes him will do so at the cost of their removal from the party. When Xi asked the delegates at the end of his address for any objections, shouts of “meiyou” which means “none” rang through the Great Hall of the People.

Mr Xi has declared the start of a “new era” for China, and undoubtedly for the entire world. It is therefore important to ask what significance these developments hold for the country and for the world at large.

What this means for China

The inclusion of Xi’s thought in the constitution means that the same will be taught in schools, colleges, and other institutions throughout the country, infusing his ideology among the Chinese on a cultural level. Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center puts it aptly when he says that the move “greatly increases, … broadens, and deepens Xi Jinping’s personal power within the Chinese system”.

The president has already found a wide support of the Chinese population with his push for modernisation and his crackdown on corruption has been hugely popular among the masses. Since his election in 2012, Mr Xi’s anti-corruption drive, famously known within the country as the “tiger and flies campaign” has either disciplined or expelled nearly a million party members. As his stance on corruption remains as stern as ever, many have come to view it as a political tool used by him time and again to get rid of political rivals. However, the corruption drive has undoubtedly proved to be effective and fruitful for the country’s business climate.

While Mr Xi’s crackdown on corruption has garnered immense coverage, the crackdown on humans rights activists and NGOs has not received its fair share. China has struggled for decades in its battle for free speech. In 2015, many human rights lawyers were detained and many international NGOs faced stricter curbs to keep them from functioning. As the president has left little room for any opposition within the party, the authoritarianism and censorship are by no means expected to be relaxed, ensuring that there is no opposition from outside the party as well.

Powerplay: China’s standing on the global stage

Donald Trump was among the world leaders who wished the Chinese president when he congratulated him on his “extraordinary elevation”. The reverence he holds for Mr Xi was quite apparent when he said: “some people might call him the king of China.” The surprise, however, came when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un congratulated the president on his “great success” since the two leaders are not known to be fond of each other. The intent here is clear. Both sides need a China that is continuously growing in power on their side in their stand against each other, and that means a closer association with Mr Xi. Chinese influence in the world is unlikely to stop there.

While speaking to CNN, James McGregor, author of “No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism”, mentioned that “given the chaos in Washington and also the dysfunction in Europe, the world is looking for leadership.” Mr Xi enjoys a great level of stability and largely unquestioned authority in a time where the leaders of Western democracies face intense competition at home. As such, his message to his party and to the world is clear: in the coming decades, China will “stand proudly among the nations of the world” and “become a leading global power. ” However, it will do so on its own terms, emphatically rejecting the Western political models.

These intentions are perhaps best evidenced by The Belt and Road initiative, China’s attempt at connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa with each other through a modern take on the Silk Route, into which it has already pumped hundreds of billions as loans and aid to countries across all three continents. While the project has been met with opposition from Japan, India, and the USA, many of China’s neighbours have expressed their support for it, which speaks of its influence on the global stage.

With the people’s army under the control of the party, Mr Xi also looks to achieve the twin goals of increasing the military might and the protection of China’s sovereignty. “We will not tolerate anyone, using any means, at any time to separate one inch of land from China”, he said in his address which is seen as a warning to both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Enhancing combat capability is also linked to the Chinese interests in the South China Sea, where its activities of building and militarisation of islands have received backlash from the international community.

“If one is big”, Mr Xi said on the final day of the Congress, “one must act big.” There’s no doubt that Mr Xi intends to put these words into action at the global level. Lee Kuan Yew once rightly pointed out about China that the world would do well to remember:  “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”

References:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/china-congress-xi-jinping-petricic-1.4371251

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/03/interview-lee-kuan-yew-on-the-future-of-us-china-relations/273657/

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/10/china-xi/544035/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/xi-jinping-china-communist-party-constitutional-amendment-ideology-enshrined-superpowers-future-mao-a8017111.html

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Europe

UK Attempts To Bypass European Commission On Brexit Blocked By Brussels

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Brexit European Union

Via geographos

As the UK and EU draw deeper and deeper into uncharted waters, Brexit negotiations are becoming increasingly erratic. As negotiators from both states met this week to discuss items such as the Northern Ireland Border, the rights of EU citizens currently residing in the UK and the notorious ‘divorce bill’, there have been numerous reports of frustration within the British camp.

Frustration

Recently it was revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May, believing talks to be at an impasse, intended to go over the heads of the EU’s Brexit negotiators and appeal directly to world leaders such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. When questioned about this, however, Brussels officials close to the negotiations intimated that Mrs May would not be able to circumvent the negotiations process.

The officials pointed out that both French and German leaders had agreed prior to the talks that negotiations would come “as a single package” where “individual items cannot be settled separately” and that no member state would abstain from negotiations in favour of individual agreements.

One year on…

It has been over a year now since the UK referendum in which the country voted (at a rate of 52% to 48%) to leave the European Union in an unprecedented political and economic chain of events, the repercussions of which will take years to fully realise but which the world glibly knows as Brexit. It’s a small name for such a political leviathan. Many of the world’s leading bankers and economists still aren’t sure what to make of. Recently CEO Lloyds Bank Antonio Horta-Osorio (who has been lauded for restoring the bank’s profits to pre-financial crisis levels) expressed doubt and uncertainty over the long term economic effects of Brexit. It’s somewhat telling that former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned shortly after the vote, claiming that his involvement in the ‘Remain’ campaign put him at odds with the will of the people but it’s possible that he had the prescience to realise that he had no hope of taming this wily and unpredictable beast. One year on, the beast only seems to have become further enraged by the negotiating process.

Difficult negotiations

Theresa May has gone into Brexit negotiations with some questionably aggressive negotiating tactics. The first round of talks were mired by her strangely audacious assertion that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The frustration has clearly been felt on both sides with chief negotiator Michel Barnier urging Mrs May to begin negotiating “seriously”. The French government also demonstrated an unwillingness to circumvent negotiations earlier this week, stating that it “fully supports, on the substance as well as on the method, Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate” and asserting that claims that Mrs May can somehow bypass the procedure “are founded on absolutely nothing and do not reflect reality”. Brexit Minister David Davis, however, retains an optimistic tone, stating;

“Our goal remains the same: we want to agree a deal that works in the best interests for both the European Union and the United Kingdom and people and businesses right across Europe. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get back to work once more…”.

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Politics

Jeff Sessions Is Planning to Go After States Legalizing Medical Marijuana

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shisha marijuana smoke

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions apparently wrote a personal letter in May to Congress, asking it to remove the medical marijuana protections that had been in place for four years. That ban was put in place by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. President Trump’s signed spending bill extended the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment through the end of 2017, and Senator Sessions wants to repeal it.

The Details of the Letter

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions asked Congress to repeal the ban the Department of Justice had been following that prohibited the Feds from going after medical marijuana suppliers in states where it had been legalized. In short, the ban prevents the federal government from enforcing federal drug law in states where medical marijuana has passed, and he’s asking Congress to lift the ban so that federal law is applied equally to all states – including those that legalized medical marijuana.

The Impact If Passed

If the ban were lifted, the Department of Justice would regain the authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and shut down medical marijuana distributors. The federal government could then shut down medical marijuana in states that legalized it, including Colorado’s very recent approval of it. Everyone, from growers to dispensary workers to medical marijuana patients, would now be subject to potential DEA prosecution. However, as of this writing, Congress has not issued a response to Senator Session’s request.

Why the Legal Shift Wouldn’t Actually Help

The intent is to go after drug addiction that is harmful, though one can argue the policy is misguided since it is opioid addiction and overdose that is responsible for the rising death rate among the poor, not medical marijuana. The end result of criminalized medical marijuana would thus increase drug convictions and incarcerations, but not the growing addiction and death rates it is intended to address.

There is growing evidence that medical marijuana can help those addicted to opioids, and penalizing medical marijuana may end up undermining the potential treatment of the opioid addiction epidemic. The stated desire to fight crime is an honorable intention but isn’t furthered by this legislative change, since violent crime rates actually go down when medical marijuana is legalized.

Scientists like Raphael Mechoulam have been working for years on educating people on the various benefits of marijuana and a vast majority of constituents truly believe in its benefits in treating conditions such as glaucoma, depression, and alleviating pain associated with chemotherapy and AIDs.

The Scalise Shooting

The June 14th shooting of several Republican officials by liberal, pro-medical marijuana Bernie Sanders supporter, James Hodgkinson, might fuel the fire of some hardline Republicans. Violence in the name of various political causes is often used to rally various bases against a cause. Hardline Republicans might use these actions to completely de-legitimize the benefits of medical marijuana. 

The medical marijuana debate has been resolved to date by the Feds essentially leaving the issue to the individual states, regardless of federal drug laws that make medical marijuana illegal. Senator Sessions asked Congress to repeal the amendment that allowed for this de facto state-based solution. Congress to date has done nothing while President Trump seems fine with leaving things as they are.

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