The Showman, the Democrat and the Cleaner: Bulgaria after the elections
Introduction: The beginning of a new era
On March 26,the mandate of the Bulgarian 44th National Assembly expired. After having talked with all political parties, President Rumen Radev, announced new elections for 4 April, when the spirits should have calmed. The President has regretted not having the possibility to call citizen to the polls in September 2020. In effect, crowds of citizens came out against in summer 2020asking for that. Still, the government did not resign and regular elections went on
Still, demonstrators’ wish for the Prime Minister’s, Boyko Borisov, and the Chief Public Prosecutor’s, Ivan Geshev, demission influenced the electoral outcome. Nearly all political analyst upheld this view, albeit the Chief Public Prosecutor is not an elected post. In fact, Borisov’s party lost an impressive number of preferences both as a share of the total and in sheer numbers. In comparison to 1.1 million preferences (33.65%) in 2017, this year it got about 850,000 votes (26.18%). However, the ‘protest vote’ did not merge under a sole flag; on the contrary, it split in three. In part, it distributed to two newly-formed lists: Stand up! Bastards out (Izpravi ce! Mutri vŭn, ISMV) and There is such a people (Ima takŭv narod, ITN). Meanwhile, the coalition Democratic Bulgaria (Democratichna Bŭlgaria, DB) got a fair share of these votes in big other urban areas.
Some welcomed the outcomes as the birth of a “new Bulgaria in which Borisov can win the elections […], but he cannot grab hold of power”. After all, expectations for a new cabinet and, relatedly, for the whole society rests with of a group of novices. Hence, it is valuable to learn furtheron the parties that capitalised on the pre-elector protest.
The populist showman — Ima takŭv narod
Before the elections various surveys reported over 20% support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and no more than 12% for ITN. Yet, the Socialists marked the worst debacle since the party’s establishment in 1991. Meanwhile, on election days, Slavi Trifonov’s, a folk-rock star and former showmen, formation beat all expectations. Winning 560,000 votes (ca. 17%), ITN became the second-largest party and Trifonov the country’s most powerful Bulgarian politician besides Borisov.
ITN is a “personal party” completely dependent on its founder-leader. Trifonov has gathered ample policymaking power. For several months, ITN did not hold conventions, but folk concerts. Its populist grandiloquence spellbound those residing in smaller towns and especially embittered young people. Still, Trifonov’s strategy is not unprecedented. He grasps the sort of demagogy that another comedian, Volodymyr Zelenski, employed to become President of Ukraine.
The urban Democrat — Democratichna Bŭlgaria
Lat years’ demonstrations started a few meteoritic careers. Nevertheless, a few of the personalities who emerged in July and August 2020 has kept rising ever since. And the 46-year-old Hristo Ivanov is the most notable amongst them. Raised in a middle-class family, Ivanov’s comes from one a dynasty of office-bearers by vocation. Both of his relatives participated pro-actively in the Bulgarian Communist Party’s life. In the late 1980s, his mother took part in quite a few nonconforming currents within the Party until he was expelled from the organisation.
Figure 1 On the night of the election, Ivanov (in the photo above) declared: “We are not surprised by the result, we have managed to build a working coalition. This is an important part of the change we are seeing across the political landscape.”
A born rhetor, Ivanov founded and chairs Da! Bŭlgaria, a list which won some seats in Sofia’s municipal council. He got nation-wide renown during last summer as he propagated dissatisfaction by unleashing the umptieth outrage against Borisov’s and the Chief Prosecutor’s corruption. In conjunction with other minor parties, Ivanov established DB, a coalition which gathered about that 10% of the vote. Scanning its programme, DB looksas a right-of-the-centre, liberal alliance focusing on the fight against corruption and judicial reform.
The ‘Cleaner’ who shocked the left
Similarly toIvanov for DB, most of ISMV’s accomplishment boils down to a single captivating character: former Ombudswoman Maya Manolova. However, her supremacy on the rank and file is in no way comparable to Trifonov’s on ITN. In effect, ISMV is not actually a ‘party’ with a proper structure and a hierarchical organisation. It seems much more to be a loose assembly of several civic movements and NGOs. ISMV has significant struggled to be the embodiment of the protests of Summer 2020. Still, some of the currents that flow in the streets of Bulgaria resisted these attempts.
Figure 3 Maya Manovola, leader of ISMV, declared that her deputies will never join any “overt or covert alliance with Borisov”
All in all, ISMV tilts quite towards the political left while displaying a strong Europhile orientation. It shares with ITN and DB the dedication to fend off corruption and reform the judiciary. Still, ISMV’s approach to these aims is fundamentally diverse from, for instance, DB’s — whereas ITN has advanced no concrete proposal.
Scenarios: A minority government or the Constituent Assembly?
Whether Bulgaria will have a new government depends on a couple of variables. First, GERB remains the largest parliamentary group. Hence, it will not be easy to form an anti-Borisov cabinet. Meanwhile, the Socialists have lost most of their relevance because of internal unmanageableness and a dawdling leadership. Uncertainty and instability loom at the horizon.
Figure 4 Summary of the characteristics of the risk associated to Bulgarian elections’ results.
The parties emerging from popular protests are very diverse. Thus, it is quite unlikely that the new cabinet – were there ever to be one – will start a new season of political reforms and deliver on its promises. However dreary the situation may seem, many seem motivated to improve Bulgaria’s institutions. Voters recompensed anti-corruption candidates and rejected the status quo. Accordingly, it could be the case for ITN, DB and ISMV to agree on a minority government with the Socialists’ external support.
Yet, such a government is not the only possibility. Sectors within these three parties may find and entente and accelerate “judicial reform”. Passing the 2020 draft of a new constitution would automatically trigger new elections for a constituent assembly. And, this time, protest parties are likely to consolidate their gains.
If Paris sneezes, will Europe catch cold?
The Austrian Chancellor Metternich once said “Quand Paris s’enrhume, l’Europe prend froid” (“When Paris sneezes, Europe catches cold”). With the French President Emmanuel Macron all set to visit Beijing in early April, can France lead the rapprochement between the European Union and China?
“Une voix européenne”
Set to be accompanied by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the French President plans to “carry a European voice” on his state visit to China, the details of which were revealed by L’Élysée on Friday. On top of his list is the agenda to end the Ukraine War. Macron has called China’s engagement in resolving the Russia-Ukraine conflict that came in the form of a 12 point plan a “good thing“. Beijing’s position paper urges all parties to support Russia and Ukraine in negotiating a way out of the conflict while upholding the UN Charter and values such as respect for territorial sovereignty, abandoning Cold War mentality, non-interference in internal affairs among others.
The French President has further urged China not to militarily aid Moscow, an accusation made by the Western powers that Beijing has consistently denied. He plans to push China to use its influence over Russia so as to prevent the latter from using chemical or nuclear weapons. Macron noted that the War would only come to an end if “Russian aggression was halted, troops withdrawn, and the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine and its people was respected”. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has also expressed a similar willingness and is ready to visit China in April. Luxembourg too resonates the opinion of engaging closely with Beijing.
Both Chinese and Western media reports note that this “competition to book flights to China” among EU leaders stems from their realisation that they “cannot lose China” owing to the latter’s increasing international significance. While many have voiced support for engaging with Beijing, not all are on the same boat.
A House Divided
The European Council meeting earlier this week, which remained focussed on Germany’s tussle with EU leaders on its decision to end the use of traditional combustion engine cars, did discuss China albeit in an inconclusive manner. While France, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg have signalled their intentions to engage with Beijing; Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland have expressed concerns over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent high profile visit to Moscow which is being seen as “cementing of a dangerous alliance”. The concern is not just suspected military aid to Moscow but also the growing threat of a war between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan where Europe finds itself caught in the middle. Apprehensions too remain over increasing economic reliance on China.
While there has been no consensus on how the EU as a bloc must shape its China policy, Macron has clarified– although France values EU’s coordination, it follows an “independent foreign policy” thus highlighting that he would push to negotiate with China, with or without his regional allies.
Paris et Pékin
Beijing is not only France’s 7th largest customer and 2nd largest supplier (with a 9% market share in France) but also presents an opportunity for the French President who idealises Former leader General Charles de Gaulle to challenge what the French call hyperpuissance or unchallenged “hyperpower” of the United States. For Macron, relating himself to General de Gaulle is equivalent to “claiming to own a piece of the true cross”. Afterall, it was the General who defied Western allies to establish ambassadorial relations with Beijing in 1964, a period of simmering Cold War tensions that brought Paris seething criticism. Though Macron has no serious qualms with Washington, he does seek a voice that crafts his role as a major leader on the international stage.
On the domestic front, Monsieur le Président finds himself in trouble. The highly unpopular Pension Reform Bill that raises retirement age from 62 to 64 was passed without a Parliamentary vote, resulting in nationwide protests. Opponents suggest other measures such as increasing taxes for the rich and the corporates, a move refuted by Macron for the possibile harm it might bring to the financial system. Amidst a scenario where things have gotten as serious as nationwide halts in services and a no-confidence motion against the President, enhanced ties that bring more investments from China can help, an opportunity Macron will try hard to clinch. But the political environment certainly makes things difficult.
Worsening ties and a Confident China
The “Balloongate” controversy was yet to cool off when a new crisis in Sino-US relations erupted in the form of calls to ban the TikTok app over alleged illegal data collection which many in the US Congress suspect land in the Chinese Communist Party’s records. Parallely can be seen a change in Chinese attitudes towards Washington.
Amidst the recent session of the National People’s Congress, President Xi criticised “Washington-led attempts” to “contain, encircle and suppress” China which pose “serious challenges to Beijing’s development” (“以美国为首的西方国家对我实施了全方位的遏制、围堵、打压，给我国发展带来前所未有的严峻挑战。”), a rare moment when the Chinese leadership has clearly named the United States in its criticism.
A policy shift too seems to be on the cards. Xi’s new 24 Character Foreign Policy, which Dr. Hemant Adlakha believes, marks “China’s new foreign policy mantra in the ‘New Era’ ” acting as its “ideological map to attain national rejuvenation by 2049”, has replaced Deng Xiaoping’s 24 Character Strategy focussed on never seeking leadership and assuming a low profile. The characters “沉着冷静；保持定力；稳中求进；积极作为；团结一致；敢于斗争 ” which translate as “Be calm; Keep determined; Seek progress and stability; Be proactive and go for achievements; Unite under the Communist Party; Dare to fight” clearly demonstrate a more pronounced international role that China envisages for itself.
China’s confidence is further elevated by its success in brokering peace between staunch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. With the handshake that brought the Sunni Arab Kingdom and the Shiite Persian theocracy together, Beijing has not only garnered accolades from nations across the region but has also succeeded in pulling American allies such as Riyadh to its side to some extent. Xi’s Moscow visit shows how he is determined to craft Beijing as an alternative negotiator to Washington, no matter how much criticism comes his way.
How much can France influence the EU?
As the political climate between US and China heatens, those trying to balance between the two would find the alley narrowing. But considering the stakes, Macron will try. The question however arises, how much of an influence could France exert on the EU?
Being the only Permanent seat holder of the United Nations Security Council post-Brexit, France certainly has a heavy weightage when it comes to policy making in the European Union. Macron too is a leader with a vision. His “grand plan” includes uniting the regional body as a strong political, economic and social bloc by shedding off the influence of the United States. However, there have being many tussles and Paris has found itself at loggerheads with many in the bloc including Turkey and Germany.
Macron has also raised eyebrows over his stance on Russia. After attempts to charm Putin failed, the French President assumed an ambiguous position which included criticising the war but not commiting to defend Ukraine. As expected, it did not fare well with the allies in Europe.
The air has finally cleared and a “defeat Russia but don’t crush it” stance has appeared. Monsieur le Président certainly wants to chart a pragmatic path that inflicts minimum harm and that’s what would be a priority when he lands in Beijing to talk about the war. Would he receive the support of EU allies? Seems difficult, given his past misjudgements and the regional organisation’s recent tussles with Beijing ranging from trade negotiations to the issue of human rights violation.
How successful Macron gets in making EU negotiate with China also depends on how successful Beijing gets in getting Moscow on board, which after all is more difficult than dealing with Tehran and Riyadh. While Russia seems agreeable to China’s plan of ending the war, Putin has bigger ambitions and far lower stakes in launching an all-out war with Washington and allies than Beijing does. The deepening “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for new era” between China and Russia remains unclear and so is how much dependence on Beijing would dictate any change in Putin’s plans. Even if China’s actions embolden Russia as claimed, Beijing knows it is in its favour to tone down Moscow’s belligerence considering the economic costs and military harm that Washington is capable of lashing. Macron too is unsure about how tightly he would like to embrace China. For now, better ties is what he eyes. The question arises – If Paris sneezes in favour of resetting ties with Beijing, would the rest of Europe catch the cold? Only time will tell.
Powerful Protest in Geneva Indicates India’s Human Rights Abuses
On March 3, 2022, a unique protest was held in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva. This peaceful protest was made by placing standees, 4D view tents, posters and banners bearing details of Indian human rights abuses. The protest depicted pictorial messages regarding the treatment of women in India, child marriages, Indian Christian persecution, religious extremism, state of minorities, state-sponsored terror attacks on minorities, treatment of Dalits, and burning of Christian churches and religious preachers.
The protest was organized by several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists. The aim of this protest was to highlight the human rights abuses that are taking place in India and to draw attention to the plight of the victims of these abuses.
One of the most significant issues highlighted in this protest was the treatment of women in India. India has a poor record when it comes to women’s rights, with high rates of sexual violence, domestic violence, and child marriages. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 88 rape cases reported every day in India in 2019. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue and to put pressure on the Indian government to take action to protect women’s rights.
Another issue highlighted in the protest was Indian Christian persecution and religious extremism. India is a secular country with a diverse population, but there have been numerous incidents of violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims. The protest aimed to draw attention to the growing intolerance and extremism in India and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect religious minorities.
The protest also highlighted the treatment of Dalits, who are considered to be the lowest caste in India’s caste system. Dalits face discrimination and violence on a daily basis, and their rights are often ignored by the Indian government. The protest aimed to draw attention to this issue and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of Dalits.
Another issue highlighted in the protest was the burning of Christian churches and religious preachers. There have been numerous incidents of violence against Christians in India, including the burning of churches and attacks on religious preachers. The protest aimed to draw attention to these incidents and to call on the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of religious minorities.
The protest in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva was a significant event, as it drew attention to the human rights abuses taking place in India. The Indian government has been facing criticism from human rights organizations for its poor record on human rights, and this protest added to the pressure on the government to take action to protect the rights of all its citizens.
Reports suggest that there has been an increase in incidents of Christian persecution and religious extremism in India in recent years. There has been an increase in attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were 366 incidents of violence against Christians in 2019, including 40 incidents of violence against churches. Christians in India are often accused of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. However, Christian leaders deny the allegations and claim that they are baseless.
Moreover, human rights organizations and activists have accused the Indian government of being involved in state-sponsored terror attacks on minorities, including Christians. The government has denied the allegations. Some Indian states have enacted anti-conversion laws, which make it illegal to convert someone to a different religion through force, fraud or inducement. Critics say the laws are often used to target Christians and other religious minorities. Religious minorities in India, including Christians, face discrimination in various aspects of life, including education and employment. Some reports suggest that Christians are often denied access to government benefits and services.
Overall, the issue of Christian persecution and religious extremism in India is a complex and sensitive one, with various factors contributing to the problem. It is important for the Indian government and society to address the issue and work towards creating a more tolerant and inclusive societyTop of Form
Bottom of Form
Indian claims to have a rich culture and history, but its obsession with Pakistan has brought criticism in international diplomatic circles. It is time for the Indian government to take action to protect the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their caste, religion, or gender. The protest in front of the UN Headquarters in Geneva was a reminder that the world is watching, and the Indian government must take action to address the human rights abuses taking place in the country.
EU’s Energy and Politic Approach to Indonesia: Between Hate and Love
Authors: Akhmad Hanan and Mayora Bunga Swastika
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Europe has been forced to seek alternative energy sources other than Russian gas. Previously, Russia supplied around 40% of Europe’s gas needs through pipelines owned by Russia’s Gazprom. However, Russia decided to cut their gas supply to Europe as a counter action of US and its ally economic sanction. As a result, Europe has left no choice but to buy expensive LNG, optimize renewable energy sources, and tap other coal-producing countries.
Winter came, and it tormented Europeans even more. The energy scarcity due to the absence of Russian gas put many European countries into crisis. They had to pay higher for alternative energy sources as a domino effect of the Russia-Ukraine war. They also decided to utilize coal, contradicting their robust commitment towards energy transition goals and the Paris Agreement. Europe’s decision to turn back on coal has also altered the global energy transition’s geopolitical landscape. Europe is seen as a region supporting accelerated energy transitions and encouraging countries outside the region to follow suit. However, currently, Europe is taking steps contrary to efforts to accelerate the energy transition.
At the same time, Indonesia got their windfall profit through the European situation due to the rising coal price in the market. Europe has been one of Indonesia coal exporters, and following the disruption in Europe’s energy supply, Indonesia attempted to capitalize on the situation by increasing export quotas to Europe. This strategy was taken since Indonesia is one of the world’s largest coal producing countries.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade reports coal exports to Europe reached 6.6 million tons in December 2022. Previously, Indonesia only exported less than 1 million tons per year to the same region at the same time. The main reason was some European countries such as Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany increased their demand for Indonesian coal significantly.
Additionally, Indonesia became the top global coal exporter in 2022, with a total of 469 million tons, 9% higher than the previous year. Indonesia used to export coal to developing countries, mainly in Asia. As a result, Indonesia’s state revenue exceeded the targets by almost three times higher than expected. The Indonesia’s ministry of finance calculated the realization of state revenue reached 7.8 million USD, 2.8 million USD higher, and it was highly contributed from the coal trading.
Relations between Indonesia and Europe regarding energy commodities are indeed often tug-of-war. Hitherto, the European Union’s relationship with Indonesia was strained due to Indonesia’s decision on palm oil and nickel commodities. Indonesia’s decision to utilize palm as a biofuel source was feared to increase land use change in tropical forests and reduce its capacity to be a natural based solution in climate change mitigation.
Indonesia’s decision to ban nickel export was also being challenged by the European Union at the WTO in November 2019. The EU claimed this decision was unfairly harming its stainless steel industry. However, Indonesia insisted this decision was made for national development. From Indonesia’s point of view, Indonesia’s decision is one of the efforts to protect its national interests to fulfill domestic supply. Indonesia’s downstream plans will be threatened if Indonesia lifts the nickel export ban as desired by the EU. The Indonesian government has a target to build a nickel smelter in Indonesia. However, Indonesia lost the EU lawsuit regarding the nickel export ban.
Indonesia-Europe relations and Indonesia’s defeat in the nickel export ban lawsuit show that the issue of international relations is still closely interdependent. A country cannot only pay attention to its domestic interests but also pay attention to common interests. In this case, Indonesia and EU benefit from each other when conducting economic cooperation, especially export-import. This can be seen from the benefits when coal exports to the EU increase. Of course, the benefits of this cooperation will not be obtained if the two countries do not cooperate.
Apart from Indonesia’s interest in securing domestic supply, Indonesia should be able to take opportunities to cooperate with other countries, including the EU, in the energy sector. Cooperation between countries that cannot be avoided in the era of globalization should be the foundation for Indonesia in making and carrying out foreign policy. Indonesia must find a win-win solution in its relations with other countries because doing protection in this era is not a solution.
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