- Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide Sunday, beating President Petro Poroshenko.
- Zelensky is best known for playing a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine in a popular TV show
- Zelensky has promised to crack down on corruption and end the war with Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but has not outlined any specific ways to do so
- Many are worried he will be susceptible to Russian pressure.
Volodymyr Zelensky Wins Election
Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the Ukrainian presidential election by a landslide on Sunday, defeating incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with over 73 percent of the vote.
Zelensky has no political experience and is most famous for starring in a television show that translates to Servant of the People, where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine. He declared victory last night after the results came in.
“To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down,” Zelensky said in his victory speech. “Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us. Everything is possible.”
Poroshenko for his part readily conceded his post as president. “Next month, I will leave the post of the head of state,” said Poroshenko in his formal concession. “That’s how the majority of Ukrainians decided, and I accept this decision.”
Poroshenko also applauded the election process itself in a tweet where he wrote: “Ukraine has put a new high standard for the democratic electoral campaign.”
Poroshenko’s concession seems to signal there will be a smooth transition of power when Zelensky assumes office next month.
With this historic election, many are wondering what this means for Ukraine. In many ways, Sunday’s election was a sort of referendum for how Ukrainian’s see the political establishment. Specifically, how they perceive the establishment five years after the 2014 Ukranian Revolution overthrew the government and Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.
Given the results of the election, it is clear that many Ukranian’s are unhappy with the current state of affairs and how the government is handling them. Zelensky is extremely popular because he is viewed as a fresh new leader who does not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite.
He campaigned on promises to crack down on corruption and uproot the political elites that have a ton of political influence. He also promised to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian separatists, which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
However, Zelensky has not said exactly how he will achieve these goals at all.
The Russia Question
In addition to not having outlined policies and plans, many people are also worried that Zelensky is unqualified to deal with Russia. One of Poroshenko’s main criticisms during the campaign was that Zelensky would be unprepared for a confrontation with Russia.
Zelensky has said he will have open dialogues with Russia and has promised not to give away any Ukranian-owned territory in negotiations with Vladimir Putin. However, both experts and politicians are worried he will make Ukraine more susceptible to Russian influence.
Russia has reportedly been careful not to show outright support for Zelensky because if they did, they would likely tank his popularity. However, experts have said that it is fairly evident that Putin wanted Poroshenko out.
Poroshenko addressed the Russia question in a tweet Sunday night writing that the Kremlin “believe that with a new inexperienced Ukrainian President Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia’s orbit of influence.”
Questionable Ties to Ihor Kolomoisky
Despite his promise to crack down on corruption and elites, Zelensky has been criticized for his close ties to a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.
Some have even said that Zelensky is just the surrogate for Kolomoisky, who is a well-known rival of Poroshenko. Kolomoisky moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal.
Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners through their work on television. The television show Zelensky stars in is broadcasted on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, and Zelensky even announced his candidacy on the channel.
Both men have denied that Kolomoisky has any connections to Zelensky’s campaign. Zelensky has promised that he will not be influenced by Kolomoisky while in office.
Regardless of what happens next, Zelensky’s win represents part of the broader global trend of political outsiders using television and social media to win elections against more traditional establishment candidates.
Ukraine’s election will also likely effect Russia and other former-Soviet Union countries, many of which do not have democratic electoral systems. However, unlike other underdog leaders that have been elected recently, Zelensky has come out against populist ideas that have become more and more prominent, like hostility toward immigrants and minorities.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)
ByteDance Lays Off Hundreds of Workers After China’s Private Tutoring Crackdown
Major changes to the massive education industry in China have left many companies scrambling to adapt.
TikTok owner ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees Thursday in response to new Chinese regulations that prohibit private, for-profit tutoring in core curriculum subjects.
These employees worked in ByteDance’s online education businesses, such as GoGokids, which were effectively killed by the new rules. The over 300 workers have been laid off “with compensation,” although it’s unclear just how much compensation they will receive.
The entire education industry, one of the largest in China, was gutted by last month’s new rules, which not only ban private tutoring in the most important subjects but also give preferential treatment to public school students trying to enter China’s top universities.
Some firms, like the $15.5 billion startup known as Yuanfudao, had to largely shut down all marketing while figuring out what to do next. Others have had to shutter nearly all of their facilities. The only exceptions are those that offer tutoring in extra-curricular activities like music, which is still allowed.
Leveling the Playing Field
The move is supposed to help combat inequities within China between wealthier students and those who are poor or from more rural areas. Often, those with fewer resources often struggle to get into top universities because of their need to go to public schools and lack of access to increasingly costly private tutors in subjects like math, Chinese, history, science, and physics.
Those subjects are almost exclusively what Chinese universities look at when considering applicants.
It’s expected that with the ban and preferential treatment to public school students, the percentage of university applicants being accepted will lead to more low-income Chinese people having better opportunities.
Even if the long-term goals have merits, companies like ByteDance and even those outside of China are reeling in the short term.
The new rules not only target for-profit tutoring. They also prohibit most foreign investment into the Chinese education market, bar foreign curriculums, and ban most foreign teachers working in China, effectively shutting off large segments of the worldwide education industry, which catered to sending teachers to China.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Financial Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.