Thursday. 24/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Eyes on Italy

Over the past few years, Europe has looked time and again to Italy as something of a bellwether for political and social changes. First there was the national election in 2018 that brought to power an unlikely coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League, and that scared many into thinking that such populist parties could end up taking charge across the continent. More recently – under the current ruling coalition, between the centre-left Democratic party and the M5S – Italy’s position as the initial epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe led many to observe, and take note, of its measures to contain the virus.

The results of a constitutional referendum and regional elections, both announced this week, should once again encourage people in other nations to watch closely. Long a mainstay of the M5S agenda, the referendum saw almost 70 per cent of Italians vote in favour of a drastic cut of more than a third of elected representatives in Italy’s two parliamentary chambers. The resounding result seems to confirm the theory that populism is thriving in the country. But the regional election results show a more nuanced picture: the M5S haemorrhaged votes and the League failed to find success in key areas, while the Democratic party held areas it feared it might lose.

In the first election since the pandemic, Italians have backed a government that, arguably, has been competent in steering the country through the past year. Pundits have speculated for a while about whether coronavirus would spell the end of populism across Europe. To find out whether this really is a tide-turning moment or just a temporary blip, to keep Italy in your sights.

Politics / Malaysia

Royal appointment

Malaysian politics is a notoriously messy affair and a shock announcement from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (pictured) yesterday has only added to the maelstrom. Claiming that a “strong majority” of MPs – both from outside the ruling coalition and defectors within it – is backing him to replace prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Anwar is supposedly awaiting an audience with the king. Yet the monarch is in hospital and cannot see him, delaying the meeting and leading some observers to suspect foul play. “It’s hard to see that Anwar has the support he claims,” Carlo Bonura of the Centre of South East Asian Studies at Soas, University of London, tells The Monocle Minute. Bonura believes that Anwar might, in fact, be taking a huge political gamble, timing the announcement ahead of state elections in Sabah in a bid to sway voters. “Anwar won’t release his list of supporters until he sees the king,” says Bonura. “But from here, it’s hard to make the numbers add up.”

Society / Japan

Flicking the switch

Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured) has announced a plan to create a “digital” agency next year. The idea is to help society, and government in particular, run more efficiently. Japan has long been a pioneer of developing and manufacturing digital products for export but everyday life in the country has far less of a digital footprint and the government’s administration remains antiquated.

The pandemic has underlined the need for change: the provision of a one-off grant of ¥100,000 (€814) for every citizen was delayed because central and municipal governments and ministries use different computer systems. A team of experts will be assembled this month to kick-start the project and the agency will recruit top talent to help make changes across government bodies. Japan need not become a cashless, faceless society – but a more efficient government that benefits the people is a smart idea.

Urbanism / Tel Aviv

Taking charge

Charging electric vehicles in a city can be an inconvenience but a pilot programme in Tel Aviv might offer a solution. The city is working on the implementation of electric roads that can wirelessly charge public transport. In an initial stretch of road about half a kilometre long, new buses will be able to recharge by receiving energy from an electricity grid under the asphalt. If successful, there are plans to roll this out city-wide, potentially eliminating the need for endless charging stations or terminals. “We have no doubt that if the wide-scale experiment is successful, it will not only benefit the public but also save resources and improve the operational efficiency of public transport,” says Meital Lehavi, deputy mayor for transportation in the city. “And maybe even a new world-class method of electrification will emanate from Tel Aviv.”

Cinema / Switzerland

Change the picture

Its streaming services might have dominated small screens across Switzerland over lockdown but Swisscom is now pushing to expand its offering beyond the living room. As part of a major rebrand announced this week, Swisscom TV will become Blue TV and its Kitag chain of cinemas (Zürich branch pictured) will be known as Blue Cinema. The plan is that the movie theatres will be transformed into Unterhaltungshäuser (entertainment houses) and include bowling alleys, sports bars and gaming arcades. It’s a bold move from the telecoms provider when many are still tentative about leaving their sofa to enjoy the latest releases. But six months of restricted socialising has left many in Switzerland devoid of human contact. Investing in a rebrand now seems perfectly timed for a wholesale return to Unterhaltung in the coming year.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Green buildings and landscapes – how do we make them?

From sustainable concrete alternatives to urban reforestation, we talk to architects, landscape architects and designers who are finding innovative ways to make their projects – and our planet – just a little bit better.

Monocle Films / Canada

Reading the tea leaves

Vancouver Island might not be famous for growing tea but its lush soil has proved perfect for starting an idyllic farm.

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