Wednesday. 5/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Rocking the vote

For our June issue, several of Monocle’s correspondents wrote about what we’d like to see happen in our home cities after the coronavirus pandemic. My dispatch from Hong Kong looked ahead to the Legislative Council – LegCo – elections in September and called for “a battle of ideas at the ballot box, not a return to the pitched battles between protestors and police”. Wishful thinking, to say the least.

While the pandemic put an end to street violence, it also put another bullet in Hong Kong’s democracy movement by providing chief executive Carrie Lam with cause to postpone the election for a year. The opposition says that last Friday’s decision was a cynical political move to prevent them from taking control of LegCo for the first time. True or not, Lam (pictured) certainly acted in haste. The election was not for another month and polling day could have been pushed back by two weeks. Alas, there’s little point in dwelling on what might have been. So what does the future have in store for Hong Kong?

Attention is currently fixed on how an interim Legislative Council will be made up. There is no legal provision for an extension so Lam has appealed to Beijing for a directive; law-makers there are expected to fill the constitutional void next week (cue more howls from the opposition). The next 12 months are also likely to see the LegCo rule book rewritten so that no pro-democracy camp can gain control or block government bills. Alongside overdue modernisations such as electronic voting, filibustering could be banned and there is talk of extending voting rights to Hong Kongers living in neighbouring Guangdong, presumably to boost the pro-Beijing voter pool. With protests all but outlawed, Hong Kong’s opposition might soon be out of options; legal ones at least.

Politics / Russia

Flicking the switch

Protests against the Kremlin are showing no signs of abating after thousands took to the streets of Khabarovsk for a fourth weekend. The demonstrations were sparked by the recent arrest of Sergei Furgal, an opposition regional governor who is accused of organising murders dating back to 2004. Furgal’s supporters believe that the charges, which Furgal denies, are motivated by his 2018 victory over a Kremlin-backed candidate. It’s not just the support for Furgal that’s striking, though: it’s also the speed at which the protests have shifted. “He was not personally popular,” Mark Galeotti, Russia analyst and senior associate fellow at Rusi, told Monocle 24’s (The Globalist) [https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-globalist/2287/play/]. “His arrest, which under other circumstances might well have passed unnoticed, catalysed this general sense of being fed up.” One protest is hardly a concern for Putin but events in Khabarovsk show how quickly an opposition-led movement can gather steam. As Galeotti adds, “There is a prevailing sense in Moscow that the country is entering some bumpy times.”

Elections / Sri Lanka

Family affair

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections are getting underway today in a contest that is expected to confirm the country’s status as a family-run firm. The poll has already been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic but a sizeable victory for the party of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (pictured) would allow him to begin to reform the country’s constitution to strengthen the presidency, while ensuring that his older brother, and former Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa remains in post as prime minister. “It is quite apparent that the two are presenting themselves as a double act,” Charu Lata Hogg, associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House, told The Briefing. “They are closely aligned not only in terms of their political agenda for the country but they are also backed by similar forces. We won’t see any significant shift in policies.” This might be a year of tumult – but don’t expect a political earthquake in Sri Lanka.

Media / Brazil

Book in business

Brazil’s publishing industry is back on the up. After a few difficult months since the beginning of the pandemic, revenue from book sales in June and July rose by 4 per cent compared with the same period last year. One of the reasons for the good numbers is the growth in digital sales; though physical stores have reopened in many of Brazil’s biggest cities, footfall is still lower than in the past. Another interesting aspect to the trend is that Brazilians have been turning over a political leaf as their country grapples with its identity. Among the bestsellers during lockdown in Brazil are George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which currently sits atop the fiction list, and Brazilian philosopher and activist Djamila Ribeiro’s non-fiction title Pequeno Manual Antirracista, a book that discusses racism and how to confront it.

Design / New York

Map judgement

Design aficionados still swoon at the New York subway map designed by Massimo Vignelli, which graced the city’s underground walls until 1979. And while the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) might not be bringing it back, it is in the market for some wayfinding feedback for the future. At the 86th Street station in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the MTA is trialling six different types of giant maps. These include neighbourhood and station plans, and there’s also a first for the Big Apple subway: a geographically accurate map where the lines follow the real-life train routes. But that won’t be the reason why design junkies want to make the journey there: they’ll be flocking to see a slightly updated version of Vignelli’s famed 1972 map among the crop too.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories: A Dickensian pub crawl

As hospitality reopens in the UK just in time for the last of the summer sun, Monocle’s Christy Evans takes us on a journey through London with a tour of Charles Dickens’ pubs.

Film / Food & drink

Artisanal Ice Cream

In an ode to summertime, Monocle films hits the road to sample artisanal ice-cream makers with a difference. In Denmark, Japan and Canada we meet the innovators challenging taste buds one scoop at a time.

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