Tuesday. 13/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Vote of confidence

Look at the headline result and the story isn’t all that interesting: Austria’s Social Democrats maintained their stronghold on Vienna over the weekend, winning more than 40 per cent of the vote during municipal elections in a capital city they have governed for decades. But beneath that lies a more interesting story: the far-right Freedom Party’s support has collapsed, dropping from more than 30 per cent in 2015 to a third of that today.

Much of this damage was self-inflicted. The Freedom Party kicked out its former head Heinz-Christian Strache over the infamous “Ibiza” scandal, where Strache was caught on tape offering political favours to a woman posing as the daughter of a Russian oligarch. The scandal severely damaged the party’s reputation and, in response to his ousting, an unapologetic Strache founded his own political faction and contested Vienna’s election, splintering what little remained of the right-wing vote.

But there’s another factor at play here. Austria’s mainstream parties, whether on the left or the right, have (mostly) shown competence in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The national approach has been led by conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose People’s Party gobbled up much of the Freedom Party’s erstwhile support in Vienna, but it’s also true of the Vienna government, which is run by Social Democrat mayor Michael Ludwig (pictured, in centre).

Considering that mainstream parties seem to be on the back foot in many parts of the world, perhaps there’s a lesson in Vienna’s vote: extreme parties thrive not only when they can tap into voters’ fears but also when they can take advantage of broken political systems. Confronting such sentiment, then, is as much about displaying basic competence in government as it is about confronting a hateful ideology. This pandemic has served as a reminder of just how important competence in government is.

Elections / Guinea

Law unto himself

As Guinea’s first democratically elected leader, Alpha Condé’s rise to power in 2010 seemed to signal a new era of optimism for the African nation. However, Condé (pictured) has since become increasingly authoritarian and embroiled in various corruption scandals. Guinea requires its presidents to step down after two terms but the 82-year-old Condé is running for a third term in elections taking place on Sunday having initiated constitutional changes earlier this year to allow him to stand again. These triggered widespread protests that were brutally crushed by police, resulting in 50 deaths and leaving many fearing a second round of clashes as the ballot takes place. “These elections come at a time of high political and ethnic tensions,” says Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Central Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We’re monitoring the situation closely and have called for the Guinean authorities to make sure that security forces are deployed to protect the civilians and their right to peacefully demonstrate.”

Fashion / Tokyo

Soft touch

Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo kicked off yesterday and runs until Saturday. The line-up is smaller than usual but nevertheless an improvement on March, when the event was cancelled altogether. A few brands are bravely staging physically distanced runway shows; others are showing online.

Some of the biggest brands have already appeared outside the main line-up: Sacai, which usually shows in Paris, hosted a stunning (if rainy) outdoor event with a Sade soundtrack at the Enoura Observatory last week, while Hyke, one of Tokyo’s favourite brands, live-streamed its spring/summer 2021 collection on Saturday night. The brands will be feeling the absence of overseas visitors; even if buyers can see images of the looks, they can’t touch the fabrics (always a strong point with Japanese clothes). Tokyo label Auralee compensated by sending buyers textile swatches in a beautiful wooden Element box designed by Takashi Nakahara. A tactile and ingenious idea.

Urbanism / Tel Aviv

Track and field

Tel Aviv residents will soon be able to walk from the city’s cosmopolitan centre to its famed coastline thanks to a new linear park named Hamesila. The first section of the development opened last week, running along a defunct railway line. This initial 850-metre-long stretch of greenery, paths and cycle lanes is sandwiched between the walls and pillars that once supported the first rail line between Jaffa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Although its railway heritage shines through – remnants of the tracks are embedded in the pedestrian walkways – it’s the link that it provides to the coast that is most significant. Speaking to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli architect Opher Kolker said that “the new park will connect the city centre to the sea,” grounding Hamesila in Tel Aviv’s landscape. It’s a reminder that civic infrastructure can enhance and celebrate a city’s natural assets and views, while also providing some much needed room to run, walk and cycle.

Culture / France

For the record

Carla Bruni is back with a new album after a seven-year hiatus. The singer-songwriter and former first lady of France returns with an eponymous easy-listening record that was partially made during lockdown. While nine of the songs were written when Bruni (pictured) was in quarantine, she says that her goal was to distract from our daily challenges, making this charming album a perfect listen for those seeking escapism. “The mood of the album is about love, desire and sensuality. The songs are almost out of time somehow,” she tells Monocle. This spirit is reflected in the first single, the mellow and light-hearted Quelque Chose (Something). But Bruni also has some teasing words of love for her husband Nicolas Sarkozy: she says that the track Le Garçon Triste (The Sad Boy) was inspired by the former French president. Listen to the full interview on The Monocle Weekly.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Can Belgium survive?

After nearly 500 days of negotiations, Belgium finally has a national government. It consists of seven parties but excludes the two biggest – both Flemish nationalist parties. Is Belgium’s complex political system workable in the long term? And can the country hold together? Andrew Mueller asks Régis Dandoy, Carl Devos and Barbara Moens.

Monocle Films / Tokyo

On the paper trail

Who needs paper in a world dominated by technology? Kenji Hall finds out as he visits Kakimori, a small stationery shop nestled in Tokyo’s Kuramae neighbourhood, which has been bringing customers joy over the course of three generations.

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