Sowing the seeds
Canada — Elections
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has added a new portfolio to his cabinet, ahead of the general election scheduled for 21 October. In a reshuffle at the beginning of the year he announced the creation of the rural economic-development portfolio to spearhead economic growth in Canada’s vast farming and fishing heartlands. The portfolio and its inaugural minister, Bernadette Jordan, fulfil a cabinet convention in Canada that states that each of the country’s 10 provinces be represented in the cabinet (Jordan is an MP in Nova Scotia).
It’s also an acknowledgment from Trudeau that the perceived gulf between rural and urban voters – a feature of recent elections in the US and Europe – could influence ballots cast come October. Given that Trudeau won 40 per cent of rural votes in the 2015 election, and that unemployment rates in these areas have risen more swiftly than in urban centres, the calculation is clear. But will it pay off? “Rural areas do tend to be more conservative here,” says Nelson Wiseman, director of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto. “The portfolio is a way of repackaging the government, of appealing to rural areas. It will get some traction but it remains to be seen how much difference it actually makes on the ground.”
Mind the gap
Morocco — Transport
Launched in November, Morocco’s 320km/h bullet trains connect Tangier to Casablanca in just over two hours – less than half the time of a regular train. The €1.7bn project was funded with about €890m from France and about €445m from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the uae. Yet the majority of funds are a loan and some are citing a waste of public money; according to the Stop tgv group, every 10 metres of railway cost the same as building a new school.
Yet supporters insist that the railway will not only boost tourism but will also speed up economic activity. There’s one problem: a lack of passengers. Mohamed Rabie Khlie, director of Morocco’s national rail oncf, says the train would need to double its numbers to six million annually within three years to become profitable.
Finland — Government
Finland’s centre-right government is set to lose its grip on power in the parliamentary elections on 14 April. This despite having done a decent job while in power, according to many pundits; employment rates have been boosted, the economy has been strengthened and long-awaited healthcare reform has been initiated.
So why the discontent? Two left-wing parties have capitalised on insecurity over the fate of the welfare state in light of some of the government’s liberalisation measures. The government also took a hit when one of its coalition partners, the far-right Finns party, split into two. It’s a potent combination that could spell the death knell for a chance at another term.
Q&A – Grace Natalie
Head, Indonesian Solidarity party (PSI), Jakarta
The psi co-founder is standing for parliament in Indonesia’s general elections on 17 April. The former television presenter’s political party, dubbed the Millennial party, aims to engage young people with politics. It’s part of a coalition endorsing president Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) for re-election.
Why are you supporting Jokowi for a second term?
He’s a man of integrity and he’s the best we have right now. And his track record demonstrates his commitment to anti-intolerance. His deputy [when he was] mayor of Surakarta had a Catholic background, and Ahok [former governor of Jakarta] is a double minority. He embraces the diversity that’s in our DNA.
What issue is dominating this election cycle in Indonesia?
Religion is very strong. Jokowi is Muslim but he is still being accused of being anti-Islam. Both candidates for president are competing to appear more Islamic than the other so we don’t get to hear much about their other policies.
What are PSI’s values?
Anti-corruption and anti-intolerance. This latter issue is a real problem here. More and more legislation is being passed at a local level that adopts religion into law, which is against our constitution. We have to speak up.
What are your goals for PSI? To have a representative in parliament. The public is growing tired of established politicians not doing their jobs. Only five laws were passed in 2018. We are used to seeing empty seats in parliament, even during very important votes.
Being Christian and ethnically Chinese, how careful do you have to be? Very. We have lawyers to make sure we don’t break the law but we still have to talk about our political stance. One of my speeches was reported to the police using the same blasphemy accusation that put Ahok in prison.