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Fight for rights

HONG KONG — ELECTIONS

Hong Kong voters will march to the polls on 24 November to exercise their limited democratic rights. More than 450 district council seats across 18 districts are up for grabs in the local elections and campaigning around the special administrative region will be overshadowed by one controversial issue: the right to appoint the next leader of Hong Kong by popular vote. For now that decision continues to be made by a small group of the city’s elite (guided by Beijing) and this democratic deficit has stirred months of ongoing anti-government street protests calling for genuine universal suffrage.
Despite having sufficient backing from Beijing’s liaison office to fund grassroots initiatives, pro-government parties are preparing for a tough battle at the ballot box. Some leading political figures have even criticised Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive Carrie Lam and her much-hated extradition bill for placing their candidates in a difficult position with an incensed electorate. Nevertheless, the rival pro-democracy camp have their work cut out to win a majority of council seats, particularly with an overwhelming increase in registered voters across all age brackets this year.
The last local council elections took place not long after the Umbrella Movement ended in late 2014. Although pro-democracy parties received an overall bounce in the polls, causing several protesters to win high profile local council races, the pro-Beijing parties still went on to occupy more than twice as many seats. “It’s not going to be an easy win for either party by any measure,” says Paul Zimmerman, an independent councillor from the southern district of Pok Fu Lam. “Swinging the elderly vote will be hard because they are not as driven by the latest unrest. They only know – and will support – the people who’ve looked after them for years.” He adds that it’s crucial for candidates to encourage greater transparency between the government and its people.

The clock’s ticking

NEW ZEALAND — ELECTIONS

A week is a long time in politics but three years can also fly by. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern is entering her final year in office with one eye on elections that must be held by November 2020. Kiwi leaders serve one of the shortest terms of office in the world and there are renewed calls for reform; it’s thought that longer terms will allow leaders to take on bigger issues and ensure better legislative oversight. Parliamentarians generally support the move but Kiwis have twice voted the proposal down by a convincing margin.

Greasy palms

ETHIOPIA — CORRUPTION

A police officer should neither expect nor deserve a reward for refusing to accept a bribe – so it says much about the corruption within Ethiopia’s police service that just such an acknowledgment has been made. Abiy Ahmed, the country’s prime minister since last year, has presented a certificate of recognition to officer Siraj Abdella from Afar’s regional force after he turned down a bung of etb40,000 (€1,250). Abiy announced in July that 799 corrupt officials were rooted out in 2018 and listed corruption among the factors fuelling Ethiopia’s instability. But is he making an impact?
“There are mixed accounts of changes to corruption,” says Jason Mosley, research associate at the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. “[But measuring] corruption in Ethiopia is messy, so measuring the impact of Abiy’s policies is difficult.”

Q&A

DOMNA MICHAILIDOU

Deputy minister of labour and social affairs
Athens

Greece’s new conservative government took office in July, with many voters optimistic at the prospect. At 30, Domna Michailidou is the cabinet’s youngest member – and one of only five women.

The momentum in Greece seems positive. Are there signs of economic recovery?
Yes. For the past year it’s obvious that investors, from funds to banks, have been pre-empting the start of a very stable new government. It’s strange to think that Greece was the first to bring populism and political instability to the European sphere but now we are suddenly a beacon of stability compared to other countries: Italy, the UK – Spain is not the most stable either.

How do you aim to make Greece business-friendly?
We’re reducing corporate tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent. With property tax, we’re reducing it for low earners.

How do you plan to tackle unemployment?
[Prime minister Kyriakos] Mitsotakis said that you don’t tackle poverty with benefits, you unroot poverty with jobs. So tackling unemployment is through the creation of jobs, which is through investment.

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