Monday. 8/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Trouble in paradise

Portugal has often been seen as a political exception among its European counterparts. In the mid-2010s, when much of the EU started shifting to the right – and in some cases the far-right – the Iberian nation remained a bastion of stability. Despite running a minority government, socialist prime minister António Costa (pictured) oversaw a stable alliance since 2015 with his partners on the left, the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and Left Bloc (BE). This allowed him to govern seamlessly, passing laws and approving an annual budget.

That all came to a halt last week. Despite an expansive budget proposal from Costa for next year, his leftist allies said it didn’t go far enough and withheld their support. This is a rare event in Portugal: it’s only the second time since the end of the dictatorship in 1974 that a budget has not been approved. The result? President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has dissolved parliament and triggered elections two years ahead of schedule.

The snap vote comes at a delicate time for Portugal. The country has just started to re-emerge from the pandemic and the consequences of austerity over the past 10 years have only now started to be eased. Early polling suggests that António Costa will be re-elected; his Socialist party is polling 9 points ahead of the main opposition, the Social Democrats, who are in the midst of their own leadership struggle. The leftist PCP and BE, despite sticking to their principles, could well be penalised by the electorate for failing to avoid a political crisis.

Still, the 30 January election is a long way away and it could all change when campaigning officially begins. Patiently waiting in the wings is the far-right Chega party, which won its first seat in 2019. Portugal’s stability and progressive politics are out there for the world to see – but are they visible at home too?

Politics / China

Power supply

The annual meeting of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee began in Beijing today, with about 370 members of the upper echelons of China’s military and ruling political class taking part. On the docket is a “historical resolution”, the likes of which have been passed only twice before in the party’s 100-year history. Though the text wasn’t made public before the meeting, it is expected to consolidate Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s authority and cement his status as the country’s most powerful leader in decades. “One of the tasks of this meeting is to produce a version of history that puts Xi Jinping very firmly at the centre of China’s shiny future and recovery from past humiliations,” Isabel Hilton, founder of China Dialogue, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. The four-day summit is the party’s most high-profile meeting before the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, at which Xi is likely to be confirmed for an unprecedented third five-year term.

Image: Getty Images

Business / Canada

Television drama

An extraordinary family boardroom battle – one that could be straight out of a plot for the fictional family TV drama Succession – is underway at Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies, which was founded by the late Ted Rogers in 1960. On the one side is Ted’s son Edward, who is chair of the board; on the other is Edward’s 82-year-old mother Loretta and two of his sisters. The feud began when Edward sought to remove CEO Joe Natale over perceived underperformance; Loretta’s team retorted by attempting to remove Edward as chair of the board. The case is now being considered by British Columbia’s supreme court and has even pulled Toronto mayor John Tory into mediating. “I have never seen anything like this,” Aida Sijamic Wahid, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, tells Monocle. For many onlookers, too, this is one drama that has felt stranger than fiction.

To hear the full details of Canada’s corporate succession drama, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Climate / India

Damage control

The Indian government has taken a proactive climate step by signing a $251m (€218m) loan from the Asian Development Bank to fund the construction of new flood-prevention infrastructure in Chennai (pictured). In recent years, the capital of Tamil Nadu has been battered by floods during its monsoon season, including a 2015 event that caused more than €2.6bn in damage to the city. The new funds will be used to mitigate the effects of such events, with the addition of 23,000 water-catchment pits, 588km of stormwater drains and a new stormwater pumping station. And while these moves are positive ones that will help the metropolis cope with increasingly volatile weather, the city would be wise to invest in some accompanying green infrastructure. Swales, rain gardens and daylit streams can all help with rain runoff and make the city a greener and more pleasant place to live in, monsoon season or not.

Image: Sayuki-Inoue

Economy / Japan

Young bucks

Families in Japan could soon be in for a payday: prime minister Fumio Kishida is finalising the details of a plan entitling households to ¥100,000 (€760) per child under the age of 18. The plan was one of the election promises made by Komeito, the coalition partner of Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party, and will be part of a larger stimulus package aiming to rebuild the economy after the pandemic. While struggling families could use the help, some are raising their eyebrows over the lack of a cap; even children of affluent parents will benefit, bringing the total price tag to ¥2trn (€15bn). The nation will also be watching future spending plans closely after Japan’s Board of Audit on Friday revealed that almost ¥2bn (€15m) in pandemic-related government subsidies were wrongfully received or overpaid in the past two years. Going forward, the government will need to strike a better balance between necessary pandemic relief and arbitrary, unchecked handouts.

M24 / Monocle Reads

2021 Booker winner Damon Galgut

Georgina Godwin speaks to the winner of the 2021 Booker prize, Damon Galgut. Having published his first novel at the age of 17 and having been shortlisted for the coveted prize twice before, Galgut’s time finally came in 2021. The Promise is an ambitious novel, spanning four decades of South Africa’s history, told through a family saga. In the words of the Booker judges, it poses the knotty question, “Does true justice exist in this world?”

Monocle Films / Friedrichshafen

Inside the airship industry

Airships, once tipped to be the future of flight, are now largely used as costly billboards that drift across cities or over major sporting events. We travelled to Friedrichshafen in Germany to take a peek inside one of the world’s few commercial operations and explore this niche area of aviation. Read more on the story in the November issue of Monocle magazine.

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