- 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)
Largest Network in the Philippines Denied Licensing Renewal, Reigniting Concerns Over Press Freedoms
- The Philippine’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN, has been officially taken off the air by the Filipino Congress.
- The outlet has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands of Filipinos die in extra-judicial killings.
- This points to a growing trend of the president and his allies silencing outlets and individuals critical of him.
- The Philippines, once considered a stable and free democracy, currently ranks among the worst in the world when it comes to freedom of the press, according to the World Press Freedom Index.
Largest Broadcaster Pulled Off the Air
The Philippine’s largest broadcaster has been officially pulled off the air by the Filipino Congress after having its broadcast license renewal denied on Friday.
The outlet, called ABS-CBN, employs 11,000 people. It was available to an audience of 60 million and consistently was viewed by over 15 million. It was hoping to receive another 25-year broadcast license after its recent one expired in May.
However, that request was denied by a committee of the House of Representatives after 13 hearings. Most of the committee members are long-time allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extremely critical of the outlet since taking office.
Unlike other outlets petitioning for a license renewal, ABS-CBN weren’t allowed to continue using the free public airwaves while its application was pending, meaning it could only be a paid-subscription service.
Following the decision, ABS-CBN’s president and CEO, Carlo Katigbak, said in a statement on Friday, “We remain committed to public service, and we hope to find other ways to achieve our mission.” He went on to add the network was “deeply hurt” by the committee’s ruling.
The outlet can appeal, although there isn’t much hope that it’ll be successful.
Covering the War on Drugs
Duterte and his allies have long been critical of the outlet, claiming it’s biased, has long-standing labor violations, and is foreign-owned. This angle of attack was the focus of Duterte’s allies when they questioned the outlet during its hearings; however, many of these claims were debunked during the committee hearings.
As for the claims that its biased, that may be true. The outlet refused to air election ads from Duterte in 2016, and was accused by the then-candidate of favoring his opponent.
The outlet has since been a thorn in Duterte’s side because of its ongoing coverage of his drug war. Since taking office, Duterte has encouraged a war on drugs that has seen thousands of vigilante and capricious killings of civilians over accusations they are involved in the drug trade. Police have also been used to carry out attacks.
ABS-CBN has been extremely critical of the attacks and has long kept track of the extra-judicial killings, broadcasting their findings to millions of Filipinos. Duterte already wasn’t a fan of journalists, calling them “sons of bitches” and warning they weren’t exempt from physical attacks, but ABS-CBN’s reporting put it in the crosshairs of the president.
On multiple occasions, the president has stated that he planned to get the broadcaster’s license revoked, even as recently as December telling the station, “I will see to it that you’re out.”
However, despite his long history of disliking the outlet, the president’s spokesman, Harry Roque, tried to distance Duterte from the decision in a statement.
“The palace has maintained a neutral stance on the issue as it respects the separation of powers between the two coequal branches of government. Much as we want to work with the aforesaid media network, we have to abide by the resolution of the House committee,”
Duterte’s War on Journalists
ABS-CBN warned its 11,000 employees that if their license wasn’t renewed, they could expect to be laid off. Assuming their appeal is denied, that is expected to happen.
Congressman Carlos Zarate was appalled at this prospect and the committee’s decision, saying, “Why should we add 11,000 more to the number of unemployed in this most difficult time?” He was alluding to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the Philippines particularly hard with over 50,000 cases nationwide.
Human rights and media organizations decried the vote as a continuation of Duterte’s assault of the free press. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said in a statement, “The decision deprives the Filipino people of an independent source of information when millions are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.”
Another recent example of Duterte’s war against journalists is Maria Ressa, the head of the popular news site Rappler. She has also been critical of the government and its extrajudicial killings as part of its war on drugs. Last month, she was found guilty of libel in a case seen by many as an attempt to silence the site. She faces upwards of six years in prison.
Despite nominally enshrining the freedom of the press in its constitution, the Philippines ranks among the worst in the world in that regard, currently placed at 136 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index.
In addition to revoking the broadcast license of outlets that are critical of the president and charging reporters with libel, Reporters Without Borders claims, “Private militias, often hired by local politicians, silence journalists with complete impunity.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (BBC)
Body of Missing Seoul Mayor Found Just Days After He Faced Sexual Harassment Allegations
- Park Won-Soon, the mayor of Seoul, was reported missing on Thursday and was found dead early Friday morning, days after reportedly being accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary.
- His death was officially considered a suicide after a note was found at his residence.
- The allegations are particularly shocking because Park was a known advocate for women’s rights and was considered a potential presidential candidate.
- His accuser suggested more of Park’s victims existed but were scared to come forward. In accordance with South Korean law, an investigation into the matter has been dropped because of his death.
Body Found at Bukaksan
The mayor of Seoul, a potential presidential candidate and arguably the second most powerful public official in the country, was found dead on Friday, roughly two days after a former secretary from his office accused him of sexually harassing her in 2017.
According to authorities, the body of Park Won-Soon was found on a forested hill on Bukaksan, a mountain in northern Seoul, not too far from his home in the Jongno neighborhood. CCTV footage showed the mayor arriving at the park by taxi at 10:53 a.m. on Thursday. By 5:17 p.m. Thursday, his daughter filed a police report stating that he “had left home four to five hours ago” and left a message that sounded like his will. By this point, his phone was turned off.
Shortly after the report, upwards of 600 officers, K-9 units, and medical personnel were dispatched to search for the mayor. At 12:01 a.m. Friday, his body was found near a bag, a water bottle, a cell phone, writing utensils, and Park’s business card. Police reported that there were no signs this case was a homicide, and after the unveiling of a note from his residence, it was considered a suicide.
In the note, Park wrote that he was “sorry” to everyone and specifically stated that he was sorry to his family for “causing only pain.” His note made no mention of the allegations against him.
Police are in talks with the Park family over whether to conduct an autopsy. In the meantime his body is being kept at Seoul National University Hospital, where supporters could be seen outside crying and shouting, “Get up, Park Won-Soon,” and “We’re sorry, Park Won-Soon!”
Park’s death is a dramatic loss for the city for a variety of reasons. Despite South Korea having the highest suicide rate among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suicide by politicians is quite rare. Additionally, Park has been a staple of life in Seoul, which dominates the political landscape of South Korea. He was the longest serving mayor in the country’s history, having been in the role since 2011.
He was also considered a likely candidate to run for the Democratic party after President Moon Jae-in’s term was up in 2022 – the same time Park’s most recent mayoral tenure would end.
The circumstances leading up to his presumed-suicide have also left many South Korean citizens shocked. On Wednesday, a former secretary from his office went to police and filed a report accusing the mayor of sexual harassment, although this accusation wasn’t public until after Park went missing.
For years, South Korea has been embroiled in its own #MeToo reckoning, leading to many actors, businessmen, and politicians losing their positions and often facing jail time.
However, the allegations against Park, of which few details are actually known to the public, reportedly include unwanted physical contact and inappropriate messages. His alleged victim, according to Chosun Ilbo, gave investigators messages and inappropriate photos Park had sent her while she worked for him. She also allegedly said that there were more victims who were too scared to come forward.
The allegations are particularly shocking because of Park’s past. The mayor was long been considered a pillar of civil rights and women’s rights. He was famous for being a prominent civil rights attorney who founded the nation’s most influential civil rights group.
During his time as a lawyer, he campaigned on behalf of “comfort” women, Korean sex slaves who were forced into the role by the Japanese during the 1930s and ’40s. He also won major cases, including a case in the ’80s, during the country’s dictatorship, against a police officer who molested a woman while she was being interrogated. One of his biggest accolades was winning South Korea’s first sexual harassment case ever in the ’90s.
These actions were often praised by supporters because they challenged South Korea’s strict hierarchical and patriarchal structure, which are ingrained into the culture and language.
During his time as mayor, he focused on the environment and urban renewal for Seoul. Park also focused on fighting and containing COVID-19, leading to Seoul, a city of 10 million, having less than 2000 cases. For comparison, the city of Los Angeles, which is similar in population but less densely populated, had well over 50,000 cases.
Five Days of Funeral Services
In accordance with South Korean law, the police investigation against Park will be dropped due to his death. That’s because police won’t have someone to actually charge a crime with.
Although, when city officials were asked if they would be conducting their own investigation, officials said they are “not yet aware” of the allegations.
Park’s note mentioned that he wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread over his parents’ graves. Currently, the city of Seoul will be holding a mayoral funeral for Park, which means it will last five days. Generally speaking, Korean funerals last three days.
An altar will be set up in front of City Hall in Seoul for citizens and staff members wanting to mourn Park’s death.
See What Others Are Saying: (Yonhap News Agency) (Chosun Ilbo) (The Korea Times)
Hong Kong Bans Students From Engaging in Politics, Nations Respond to National Security Law
- In compliance with Hong Kong’s strict national security law, Hong Kong students are now being banned from engaging in political activity such as singing, skipping class, and posting online.
- Books and other educational material are being removed from libraries or placed under review if they break four crimes under the law: treason, sabotage, espionage, and terrorism.
- Critics and nations, like the US, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK, have called the law vague and are reexamining their relationships with Hong Kong.
- Most recently, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with the city over the recent changes, while also moving to expand visas for Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong University Bans
Students within Hong Kong are now banned from engaging in all political activity as of Wednesday.
This is just the most recent change to Hong Kong life after China’s new national security law was put into effect on June 30. Other changes include banning speech that violates the Four Rules: “treason, sabotage, espionage, or terrorism.”
On Wednesday the city’s education secretary Kevin Yeung announced that “schools are obliged to stop” students from engaging in a ton of political activity, citing that at least 1,600 students under the age of 18 had been arrested at protests.
He added, “We would like to reiterate that no political propaganda activities should be allowed in schools, and no one, including students, should play, sing, and broadcast songs which contain political messages or hold any activities to express their political stance.”
This means activities like posting political slogans, forming human chains, or singing “Glory to Hong Kong” (the unofficial anthem of the protests) are now prohibited. That song, in particular, was targeted because it “contains strong political messages and is closely related to the social and political incidents, violence and illegal incidents that have lasted for months. Therefore, schools must not allow students to play, sing or broadcast it in schools.”
Some of the most serious fighting between protesters and police took place at universities and officials likely hope this move will sap the energy of many pro-democracy protesters, as students were a driving force for the movement.
Hong Kong Quickly Changing
Beyond banning students from protesting, Hong Kong has seen many political activities curbed. Last week, popular slogans associated with the protests were banned for breaking the Four Rules of the national security law. Slogans like “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times!” and “Hong Kongers, build a nation,” are now illegal and seen as undermining Chinese national sovereignty.
One aspect of the national security law and its Four Rules often criticized are that they’re so vague. Nearly any pro-Democracy advocate in Hong Kong is considered to be breaking the law, which over the weekend led to public libraries being forced to review books in their collections that could break these rules.
This meant that a wide array of books are currently “under review” to determine whether or not they need to be banned.
A similar move was made on Monday when Hong Kong’s Education Bureau issued new rules to universities throughout the territory that would also ban books and learning materials.
The rules include banning education materials, “If any teaching materials have content which is outdated or involves the four crimes under the law, unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security, otherwise if they involve other serious crime or socially and morally unacceptable act, they should be removed.”
So, what books can be expected to see a ban in schools? If the public library ban is used as a guideline, books by pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong are likely the first to be removed. Activists Joshua Wong and Tanya Chan both had their books removed from shelves while they are “under review.”
Wong was quick to criticize the move, saying on Monday, “If basic freedom still exists under the national security law, how come the book I published when I was still in high school was banned in the Hong Kong public library?”
The activist went on to add, “It’s not only about the political rights any more. It’s not only about the rights of protesters. It’s about the fundamental freedom or liberty that everyone cherish in this city, being eroded and fade out already.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement criticizing the extent to which the national security law is being implemented, “With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities — in an Orwellian move — have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP.”
He also lamented that rights Hong Kong previously enjoyed, which were shared by most developed Democratic nations, were now eroded, such as freedom of the press.
For their part, the Hong Kong government under Chief Executive Carrie Lam has tried to spin the new national security law and all of the rules coming out because of it as a good thing for freedom in Hong Kong. On Tuesday she told reporters, “Instead of spreading fear, the law will actually remove fear and let Hong Kong people return to a normal peaceful life and Hong Kong will resume its status as one of the safest cities in the world.”
Freedom of the Press
All of these provisions have caused widespread fear over the freedom of the press, which had widespread freedoms in the city before last week. For example, on Monday the Hong Kong government announced that RTHK, a public broadcaster in the city, would be undergoing a six-month review of their “governance and management.” It’s widely assumed that the means the station will be purged of any anti-Chinese Communist party viewpoints.
Despite this, Lam tried to say that journalistic freedom would still exist in Hong Kong. She told journalists that they wouldn’t face censorship or prosecution under the law by stating, “if journalists can guarantee that they won’t breach this law, then I can also guarantee the same.”
This means journalists are safe from prosecution as long as they don’t report on any facts that break the national security law – a law that is written to apply worldwide. Recent coverage detailed that posts written in America are subject to the law, so journalists critical of the regime face repercussions upon entering Hong Kong.
Nations Respond to Shifts
Since the national security law went into effect, Hong Kong has been quickly changing, which has caused countries to reexamine their relationship with the city. Many nations gave Hong Kong special exemptions on the premise that it was separate and distinct from mainland China.
Since June, the U.S. has stated that they would no longer give Hong Kong special trade exemptions, which added fuel to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. The U.S. wasn’t alone, over the last week New Zealand announced it would also review its relationship with Hong Kong and consider new visa and trade rules.
Canada approached the situation from a different angle, announcing last week they would be pulling out of an extradition treaty with the city. That move was followed up by Australia, which announced on Monday that it would also suspend their extradition treaty.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a press conference the country was also changing visas for Hong Kongers, “There will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses.”
Hong Kong students, graduates, and workers in Australia on temporary visas will now have the opportunity to stay and work for an extra five years, and then apply for permanent residency after that time.
The new system, on the surface, sounds similar how the UK plans to deal with Hong Kongers wishing to move to the UK. Although a deeper looks shows they are quite different, notably the UK’s version applies to people who hold a BNO passport. Those passports holders include over 300,000 people who were born in Hong Kong before the territory was transferred back to China.
Australia’s rules would apply to about 10,000 Hong Kongers living in the country.
Although future student visas would also cover a five-year period; however, Morrison said they were “not expecting large numbers of applicants any time soon.”
China was extremely upset with Australia’s decision and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned that Australia should stop interfering in Chinese affairs. He added that China could retaliate by reminding the Australians that most of their exports go to China.
Throughout the world, democratic leaders like Angela Merkel have been pressured to act as the Chinese Communist Party continues to be a polarizing figure on the world stage.