- Polls from Monday’s election in Ukraine show comedian Volodymyr Zelensky in a massive lead with over 30 percent of the vote.
- Zelensky has no political experience and is best known for playing a teacher who accidentally becomes president after going viral for ranting about government corruption in a popular TV show.
- Zelensky, who ran primarily on an anti-corruption platform, will now have a runoff election against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko on April 21.
Election in Ukraine
Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is the front-runner to become the next president of Ukraine, according to polls from the country’s presidential election on Monday.
Zelensky, who is most famous for starring in a TV show where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine, has run an extremely popular presidential campaign in real life.
The election on Monday is the first of two parts of the presidential election, sort of like a primary. During the first election, Ukrainians vote for the top two candidates in a field of many. This year, Ukraine saw a record number of 39 contenders running for president.
With 92 percent of all votes counted, election officials announced that Zelensky leads the polls with 30 percent of the vote, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko is far behind, with only about 16 percent of the vote.
The third-place candidate is former two-term Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is widely considered one of the most influential women in Ukraine, and currently holds about 13 percent of the vote.
While the polling is still not entirely finished, it seems almost certain Zelensky and Poroshenko will go head-to-head in the final runoff election three weeks from now, on April 21.
Zelensky’s Rise to Power
With Zelensky polling nearly twice as high as Poroshenko, many are wondering: who is Volodymyr Zelensky?
Zelensky is the star of a Ukranian TV show which translates to “Servant of the People.” In the show, he plays a schoolteacher who becomes president after a video of him ranting about corruption goes viral.
The similarities between his character on the show and his actual campaign are striking.
Both Zelensky and his character have absolutely no political experience, and both are extremely popular because they ran on anti-corruption campaigns.
Zelensky and his character are also both viewed as fresh new leaders who do not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite, and are popular with the younger population.
Zelensky is even part of a new political party that was created by the show’s producers and is literally named the Servant of the People Party.
However, Zelensky’s campaign has not been without controversy. In addition to criticisms that he has no political experience, some have claimed that he is just the surrogate for a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.
Kolomoisky is a well-known rival of Poroshenko, who moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal. Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners, as Servant of the People is aired on Kolomoisky’s TV channel.
Zelensky even announced his candidacy on Kolomoisky’s TV channel.
Unsurprisingly, both men have denied any connections to Zelensky’s campaign.
Ukraine’s Political Turmoil
Poroshenko was first elected back in 2014, after Ukraine’s former Moscow-backed president was ousted as a result of the 2014 Ukranian Revolution, which also overthrew the Ukranian government.
The 2014 Ukrainian Revolution was followed by Russia’s infamous annexation of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.
Many world leaders criticized Russia for annexing Crimea, saying it violated both international law and a series of agreements between Russia and Ukraine that protected land belonging to Ukraine.
As a result, Poroshenko campaigned and was elected on the promises of getting back control of Crimea, as well as fighting an uprising of Russian-backed separatists that took control over parts of Eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko has billed himself as a strong defender of Ukraine’s territory and a champion of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, a move that is widely supported by Ukrainians.
However, he is currently failing with his people for two main reasons.
First, many Ukranian’s believe Poroshenko has not done enough to stop the pro-Russain separatists. Since 2014, Ukrainian government forces have fought a brutal war against the separatists which has killed more than 13,000 people in Eastern Ukraine and has reflected poorly on Poroshenko.
Second, and perhaps most significantly, Poroshenko has failed to crack down on government corruption, such as recovering money that had been stolen from the government before he came to power.
In addition to not cracking down on corruption, Poroshenko has also been accused of being complicit in it. Poroshenko himself is a wealthy oligarch, which has lead many to question his connections to other oligarchs.
His campaign also suffered significantly from a military corruption scandal involving some of his top associates.
Much of Zelensky’s support comes from a general frustration with Poroshenko’s lack of efforts to crack down on corruption, as well as the deteriorating economic conditions which have made living standards even lower in Ukraine
Many believe that Zelensky will be a pro-Ukraine president who can offer new approaches to confront Russia and to address the war with the separatists in the East. He has also billed himself as a pro-market candidate who will work to join the EU and NATO.
While Zelinsky seems to be very popular and has received 30 percent of the vote so far, he will still need to reach over 50 percent in order to win the election.
According to polls held by the three main Ukrainian sociological institutes: “37-42 percent of Ukrainians are planning to vote for Zelenskiy in the second round while between 17-19 percent of respondents will vote for Poroshenko. 20 percent said they’ll yet to decide while 21-24 percent said they won’t vote.”
In general, Ukraine’s voting system is much more democratic than Russia’s. Despite the fact that it has troubles, Ukraines citizens are offered a real choice.
Though it is important to note that several million eligible voters were unable or unwilling to cast ballots in Crimea and in the areas of Eastern Ukraine that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
It will be interesting to see what the next few weeks will bring, as the Ukraine gears up for its April 21 election.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Fox News) (Kyiv Post)
Thousands Paralyze France in Pension Reform Protests
- Massive worker strikes and protests have shut down schools, transportation services, and museums in France.
- Though largely peaceful, there have been reports of protesters throwing projectiles at police, smashing windows, and setting fires.
- The strike, which is expected to last into the weekend, is in protest of planned pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.
- Under Macron’s policy, many workers fear they would need to work longer before accessing a pension that would ultimately give them less money.
Strikes Shut Down Trains, Flights, and Schools
Hundreds of thousands of French workers went on strike across the country on Thursday in protest of a proposed new pension reform system.
Under the new system, many unions worry people will need to work longer to see less money than they would under the current system.
As of midday, French officials are reporting that more than 280,000 people have joined protests across the country; however, that figure doesn’t include counts from major cities like Paris and Lyon.
The protests, which are expected to continue Friday and likely to extend into the weekend, have shut down train lines and canceled flights.
According to reports, 90% of high-speed and inter-city trains have been canceled. In Paris, only five of 16 of the city’s metro lines ran Thursday. Further, the international train company Eurostar said it will be operating with a reduced timetable until Tuesday.
Air France has also canceled 30% of domestic flights and 10% of short-haul international flights, that coming amid mass walkouts by air traffic controllers.
If all of that wasn’t enough to cripple transportation, one group is reportedly drawing over the QR codes on e-scooters like Bird so that people can’t use them.
Additionally, according to the education ministry, half of primary school teachers and 42% of secondary school teachers are on strike today. The end result led to some school closing for the day.
Tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and museums were also closed, but more notably, many feared hospital staffing shortages as many medical workers walked out to demonstrate.
For their part, several trade union leaders have promised to continue to strike until Macron abandons his planned pension overhaul.
Reports of Violence
In Paris alone, 6,000 police have been deployed. Reports indicate that 71 people have been arrested in Paris by 3:30 p.m. local time.
With those arrests, there have also been several reports of clashing between police and protesters, with protesters hurling projectiles at police. Police in several cities have since responded with tear gas.
Videos of protesters setting fires to object in the streets have also surfaced.
Because the protest in Paris is so huge, the city’s police chief told all businesses and restaurants along the major march routes to close. Later within the day, new reports surfaced that some protesters had smashed in the windows of some businesses.
French President Emmanuel Macron, however, was described by one senior official as “calm and determined” in the face of the strikes —
Macron is “watchful that public order be respected, watchful as to the difficulties for French people, and watchful also that the right to strike is respected,” the aide said.
Why is France Considering Pension Reform?
Currently, France has 42 different pension systems across both the private and public sectors. That means that people retire at different times and will see different benefits.
Under different forms of the system, for example, aircrews and rail workers get to retire earlier, but people like lawyers and doctors pay a lower tax.
The official age of retirement in France is 62, which is one of the earliest retirement ages in wealthy countries, but that hurdle has already been raised from 60 within the last decade.
Macron, who campaigned on the promise of pension reform, now says he wants to introduce a universal, points-based pension system. While Macron says such a pension system would help the country compete globally in the 21st century, such a system would mean that some of the most advantageous pension plans would be scrapped.
Secondly, if a person were to retire before 64, they would end up seeing a lower pension. For example, if they retire at 63, they would see about 5% less.
French people, however, have generally supported pension reform, with one poll showing 75% of people saying they believed pension reform was necessary. Of those polled, only one-third of people said they thought the government could pull off reform.
House Passes Bill to Sanction China for Treatment of Uighurs
- The House passed a bill condemning the Chinese treatment of Uighurs and recommending sanctions on top Chinese officials.
- The Senate passed a version of the bill in September. The two chambers must now come up with a unified version to pass on to President Trump.
- China responded by condemning the legislation, and saying it “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
- The move comes as the U.S. is already in hot water with China following Trump’s decision to sign an act last week authorizing the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses, among other things.
House Passes Uighur Bill
The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on top Chinese officials involved in perpetrating human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uighur minority, as well as formally condemn the country’s treatment of the Uighurs.
The bill, which was passed with an overwhelming vote of 407-1, also details the efforts of the Chinese government in recent years to ramp up control of the Xinjiang region where the Uighurs reside.
In addition to implementing advanced AI surveillance systems all over the region, the Chinese government has also detained upwards of one million Uighurs in internment camps.
Numerous reports, as well as both public and leaked Chinese government documents, show that the Uighurs are detained against their will in the camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin, swear loyalty to President Xi Jinping, and renounce their faith.
There have also been multiple reports of torture and other human rights abuses, prompting rights groups and countries all over the world to argue that the camps are systems of mass-incarceration for an ethnic minority and a violation of human rights.
China, which originally denied the existence of the camps, now claims that they are vocational boarding schools where they help the Uighurs by giving them job training and education skills. They also claim that it is a safe way to combat terrorism.
Contents of House Bill
The House bill comes a few months after the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation back in September.
According to the text of the bill, the purpose of the Act is to “direct United States resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs” and other Muslim minorities in the region.
The Act also accuses the Chinese government having policies that have “systematically discriminated” against the Uighurs, including:
- “Pervasive, high-tech surveillance across the region, including the arbitrary collection of biodata, such as DNA samples from children, without their knowledge or consent.”
- “The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray.”
- “Facial and voice recognition software and ‘predictive policing’ databases.”
- And “severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the region.”
The bill also accuses China of using the threat of terrorism as a justification for “pervasive restrictions on, and gross human rights violations against, the ethnic minority communities.”
If implemented, the legislation would direct the president to “condemn abuses against” the Uighurs and call on President Xi to “recognize the profound abuse and likely lasting damage” of China’s policies, “immediately close” the camps, and “lift all restrictions on and ensure respect for internationally guaranteed human rights across the region.”
Perhaps most significantly, the bill would also “impose targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government and other officials who have been involved in these abuses.
This would include officials who have been “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”
Among other things, the Act would also direct the Secretary of Commerce to consider prohibiting the sale of U.S. products and services to state agents in Xinjiang.
China condemned the House’s actions in a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” the statement said.
“It seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”
The statement went on to say that the situation is not about human rights, but “fighting violence, terrorism and separatism.” The ministry also claimed that “the international community speaks highly” of its policies in Xinjiang.
“We urge the US to correct its mistakes at once, prevent this bill from becoming law, and stop using Xinjiang-related issues to interfere China’s internal affairs,” the statement concluded. “China will take further reactions according to how the situation develops.”
Congress and U.S.-China Relations
Now, the House and Senate will have to work together to decide on a final version before passing it off to President Donald Trump, who has not said if he will sign the bill.
Despite the legislation’s bipartisan nature, whether or not Trump will sign it up in the air.
The president is already in hot water with China after signing an Act last week, which, among other things, authorizes the U.S. to impose sanctions on Hong Kong for human rights abuses.
Trump had initially been hesitant to sign the Act because he was worried it would complicate trade talks with China, but he ultimately went forward with it after pressure from Republican leaders.
China responded by imposing sanctions on several U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations.
With the Uighur bill almost certain to further disrupt trade negotiations, it remains unclear if Trump will risk sacrificing a possible deal to approve the legislation.
Trump may find himself stuck in double-bind if Congressional leaders again pressure him to sign this bill, and especially if Congress has a veto-proof majority, as was the case with the Hong Kong legislation.
As divided as Congress is right now, they have recently worked together to push through a number of bills targeting China with huge bipartisan support in both chambers.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)
Trump Calls Trudeau “Two-Faced” After Hot Mic Video Surfaces
- A video featuring multiple world leaders appearing to make fun of Donald Trump was recorded at a NATO summit reception on Tuesday.
- The clip, which has now gone viral, features Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among other prominent figures, chatting in a circle at Buckingham Palace.
- Trump responded to the video by calling Trudeau “two-faced” and accusing the Prime Minister of being upset that Trump was pushing him to up Canada’s military spending.
- Trudeau later admitted he was talking about Trump while the others in the video have either flatly denied it or declined to comment.
A video of several world leaders appearing to bash U.S. President Donald Trump at a NATO summit reception went viral on Tuesday.
The 25-second clip shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands huddled together, chatting.
There is a fifth in the circle whose face is never fully seen, but many believe that it is British royal Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter.
In the video, first shared online by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, only snippets of the conversation were picked up.
“Is that why you were late?” Johnson asks Macron in the clip, smiling at him.
“He was late because he takes a forty-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau says, fiddling his drink.
Trump is never mentioned by name in the video, but many viewers speculate that the group seems to be referencing the U.S. President’s actions earlier that day.
“You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau adds later in the video, after more inaudible discussion.
Rutte stands by, listening. Macron chimes into the conversation, but his words are inaudible in the recording.
The video was released just hours after a tense meeting between Trump and Macron, in which the French President pressed the American leader about his involvement with the military conflict in Turkey.
When asked about the video by reporters on Wednesday, prior to his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump responded with an insult—and then a compliment-—aimed at Trudeau.
“Well he’s two-faced,” Trump said of the Canadian Prime Minister. “And honestly, with Trudeau, he’s a nice guy, I find him to be a very nice guy.”
Trump went on to blame Trudeau’s frustration on the dispute over how much Canada is doling out on military spending. All NATO members are required to spend at least 2% of their GDP on national defense, a number that Canada is not currently meeting.
“I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying two percent, and I guess he’s not very happy about it,” Trump said.
“Look, I’m representing the U.S. and he should be paying more than he’s paying and he understands that,” Trump added. “So I can imagine he’s not that happy, but that’s the way it is.”
Trudeau Admits to Talking About Trump
While Trudeau initially ignored reporters’ questions about the video on Wednesday, he later publicly admitted that it was indeed Trump that he was referring to in his comments about a 40-minute press conference.
“Last night I made reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump,” Trudeau said. “I was happy to be part of it but it was certainly notable.”
Trudeau confessed this in a press conference on Wednesday evening, according to CNN. He also addressed his “jaw drop” remarks, saying that they were referencing Trump’s announcement that the upcoming G7 summit will be hosted at Camp David.
“Every different leader has teams who now and then [had] jaws drop at unscheduled surprises, like that video for itself, for example,” Trudeau said.
Other Leaders Distancing Themselves From Video
Although Trudeau came clean, the others featured in the video did not want to be associated with the recorded criticism of President Trump. Johnson flatly denied that he was apart of any such conversation.
“That’s complete nonsense, and I don’t know where that has come from,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”
A spokesperson for Macron told CNN that they had “no comment,” and that the recorded conversation “does not say anything special,” while a spokesperson for Rutte told them they do not comment on closed-door sessions.