Friday 5 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 5/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Emmanuil Papavasileiou

Choices, choices

Coming from the country that birthed democracy, I expect my fellow Greeks to fully embrace both their electoral right and their freedom to have representation. This year I have not been disappointed. Out of a population of 10.6 million, 9.8 million have registered for the forthcoming election scheduled for 21 May when, following this week’s Supreme Court approval, there will be a total of 36 parties and coalitions running for parliament.

Among the top contenders will be the ruling New Democracy party, led by prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured), and the main opposition Syriza-Progressive alliance, led by former prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Gunning for third place will be the rebranded PASOK, formerly the largest ruling social democratic party, and the Communist Party. Despite the plethora of choices, the Supreme Court banned former lawmaker Ilias Kasidiaris’s National Party – Greeks from running. It is an unprecedented decision and the first such move since the country’s return to democracy in 1974. Since 2020, Kasidiaris has been serving a 13-and-a-half-year prison sentence for murder, assault and for being a leading member of the criminal organisation Golden Dawn.

The ruling is right. It might initially seem undemocratic to ban a political party that is polling above the 3 per cent threshold required to gain representation in parliament. But for the democratic process to function, voices seeking to subvert it need to be muted. According to latest polls, none of the mainstream parties is poised to win an outright majority and – if they cannot agree on a coalition – there could be a second general election in July. Whatever the outcome, this year’s process signals a much-needed respite from far-right political rancour, often generated by Kasidiaris, that has overshadowed Greek politics in recent years.

Emmanuil Papavasileiou is Monocle’s newsletters editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Affairs / Colombia

Making peace

Talks between Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group entered their third round this week, with representatives of both sides meeting in Cuba (pictured). Both sides have stated that they hope to reach a ceasefire agreement at the meeting, following talks in Venezuela and Mexico in recent months. The ELN, Colombia’s largest remaining rebel organisation, is estimated to number 2,500 fighters. The group has been accused of financing its activities through drug trafficking, illegal mining and kidnapping, and is responsible for an attack in late March that killed nine Colombian soldiers. The talks will be overseen by Colombia’s neighbours Mexico, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil, as well as Norway. For Colombia’s first left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, who is himself a former M-19 rebel, the talks are a test of his ability to usher in a more peaceful era for the country.

Image: Shutterstock

Aviation / France

Joining forces

Rumours are flying in France that a second national flag carrier could be on the cards. The idea of a new mega-airline to serve alongside Air France has been raised before but the pandemic has given the idea more impetus, with carriers either struggling or consolidating, often with the aid of state bailouts. That’s where the notion of a merger between the companies that currently service France’s overseas territories comes into play.

While Air France has emerged from the lockdowns stronger, the same cannot be said for the financially hard-hit Corsair, Air Caraïbes and Air Austral, companies that fly to destinations including the French West Indies, the Indian Ocean and French Guiana. A consolidation would be no easy task; even if France’s overseas minister, Jean-François Carenco, is open to the idea, there are plenty of hurdles ahead. In the end, it might be market realities that get this deal off the ground.

Image: Reuters

Media / Southeast Asia

Hard pressed

The 2023 World Press Freedom Index, released this week by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), traced several notable shifts in Asia, a region that encompasses both democracies with a raucous free press and one-party dictatorships with no independent media. Malaysia jumped up 40 places, from 113th to 73rd, its highest-ever RSF ranking, thanks to its new coalition government that came to power in November, pledging to improve press freedoms.

Meanwhile, Asia’s youngest democracy, Timor-Leste, which has not jailed a single journalist in its 21-year history, became the only non-European country in the global top 10. Other Asian countries were at the other end of the list, with Vietnam, China and North Korea taking the bottom three places. Myanmar has come 173rd this year, following a military coup in 2021. To rank the 180 countries, RSF analysed various criteria including the numbers of journalists arrested or killed, and social or cultural stigma against reporters. It remains to be seen whether naming and shaming the offenders will encourage countries at the bottom of the list to change their ways.

Image: Shutterstock

Construction / India

A bridge too far?

After decades of construction, India has announced that the Chenab Bridge will be open to the public by the end of this year. At 359 metres off the ground – 29 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower – it will be the world’s highest railway bridge and will connect the contested Jammu and Kashmir region with the rest of the country. While that might benefit those who live in the valley, it will also allow India to transport soldiers and arms to the region more easily.

Until now, New Delhi has relied on air support and National Highway 44, which is often closed during the winter months, to supply its troops in Kashmir. Though politicians have hailed the project as a boon for the economy, many of the region’s residents remain sceptical, fearing that the new ease of transport could result in increased militarisation – especially as tensions between India and China are mounting at the northern border between the world’s two most populous nations.

A longer version of this piece features in Monocle’s May issue, which is out now

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

The Barnes Dance

David Stevens investigates a particularly well-choreographed way to cross the road.

Monocle Films / Lisbon

Meet the Photographers: John Balsom

The Jogos da Lusofonia are an Olympics-style sporting event for people from the world’s Portuguese-speaking nations. We dispatched John Balsom – a photographer known for his powerful portraits – to the 2009 games in Lisbon. In our latest film, Balsom shares his memories of the assignment and how he captured such a fast-paced sports story on vintage film cameras. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy now.


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