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600,000 Hong Kongers Vote in Pro-Democracy Primaries Despite Possibility of Breaking the Law

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  • Over 600,000 Hong Kongers took part in primaries for pro-democracy parties over the weekend, seeking to select candidates for the September elections.
  • Hong Kong and Beijing authorities spoke out against the primaries, saying they “undermined” the upcoming elections and likely violated the national security law.
  • Chief Executive Carrie lam also warned candidates that once in office, consistently voting to block bills and directives from Beijing are “subverting state power” and are against the law.

Hong Kong Weekend Primaries

Hong Kong and Beijing officials have spoken out against primaries held over the weekend by pro-democracy groups ahead of September elections, saying such primaries subvert state power and are likely in violation of the national security law.

Many in Hong Kong view this as their last big election and a chance at challenging the government of Hong Kong. Organizers claim that 610,000 people voted over the weekend. Though thousands voted in person, most voted via a mobile app made specifically for this election.

The lead-up to the primary was contentious. On Friday, police raided the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, a major pollster in the city.

There are claims the organization was targeted because it planned to work with the pro-democracy parties and help run the primaries. However, police claimed the raid was actually because computers belonging to the group were leaking the private information of thousands of people, including officers. While police said it was possibly from a hack, they did also state they are investigating whether or not the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute was responsible for the leaks.

On Saturday and Sunday, when voting actually took place, scenes were relatively peaceful. People who physically went to polls to vote did so with no police interference. Results show that a lot of “localists” – younger, more anti-CCP candidates, beat the older pro-democracy crowd. Despite little interference in the actual primaries themselves, officials were extremely critical of them.

Voting to Subvert the State

Late Monday night, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam attacked the primaries, telling reporters, “By the way, there’s no such thing as a primary in Hong Kong’s election system…”

She then added an ominous threat, saying, “As a further note of warning, if this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they call a 35-plus, with the objective of objecting to, resisting every policy, initiative of the Hong Kong SAR government, then it may fall in fall into the category of subverting the state power. Which is now one of the four types of offenses under the new national security law.”

Carrie Lam’s comments on the night of July 13, 2020. (SCMP)

Beijing’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, its highest representative in the city, released a statement about the primary, saying, “With the support of external forces, opposition groups and leaders have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and caused serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections.”

For many readers from democratic societies, some of these comments are likely confusing, such as the idea that primaries are “unfair” to the electoral system; something both Lam and the Liaison Office touched on. To clarify, Hong Kong has held primaries in the past, but beyond that, most countries don’t have primaries as part of the official election system. They’re independently run by the parties to narrow down candidates and are nearly universal in all democracies. This is even true in the United States, which is infamous for having a long and large primary election season.

Both statements also mentioned the 35-Plus plan. The name gives it away, but it’s a movement by pro-democracy parties to try and win 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council, which would allow them to block legislation and potentially force Lam’s resignation. While that might sound like politics as normal in a democracy, according to Lam, wanting to block all directives from Beijing is subverting state power and breaks the national security law.

Now, even if authorities don’t take it that far, Lam did state that many people who went to vote in person were in long lines, meaning groups larger than 50 people, which is currently illegal under the national security law.

Working with Foreign Powers

Hong Kong authorities also levied other serious accusations again primary organizers. The Liaison Office accused Benny Tai, a leading pro-democracy figure and organizer of the primaries, of trying to “seize the governance of Hong Kong and deliberately stage a ‘color revolution.’” Those are peaceful revolutions through civil disobedience and protests are. Famous ones in history include the Philippines’ Yellow Revolution, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

Additionally, the Liaison office tried to insinuate that Tai and other opposition leaders were working with foreign powers, writing: “Who instructed [Tai] to openly manipulate the election in so high-profile a manner? Who gave him such confidence?”

They went on to say, “With the support of external forces, the opposition minority groups and head figures have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and a serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections”

Under the national security law, these are serious crimes that aren’t uncommon in many nations. Most nations make it illegal to get undisclosed foreign help in an election. Under this law, working with foreign powers could mean a prison sentence of at least 10 years to life.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities offered no proof to back up their claims that foreign entities were behind the weekend’s primaries.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (The Independent) (The Hill)

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Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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Over 1 Million Chinese Displaced After Record Rainfall

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The rain has created waist-high waters throughout the capital of China’s Henan province, drastically affecting the lives of its over 10 million inhabitants.


Trapped in a Flood

The Henan province of central China experienced severe rainfall over the last week that has left at least 25 dead and displaced more than 1.2 million people due to severe flooding, according to figures released by Chinese authorities Wednesday.

Meteorologists claim that the sudden, severe rainfall is caused by Typhoon In-Fa colliding with a high-pressure system over Henan province.

The floods have forced people to wade through waist-high water throughout Zhengzhou, the region’s capital. In one tragic incident Monday, 12 people died after they were trapped in the subway amid rising waters. A similar situation occurred Tuesday, causing multiple lines to be trapped in chest-high water for up to three hours before rescue workers managed to save them. Since then, metro authorities have shut down many of Zhengzhou’s rail lines.

Between Monday and Tuesday alone, Zhengzhou was hit with an estimated 25 inches of rain, equating to about 87% of its average annual rainfall. At one point, seven inches of rain occurred in less than an hour.

In an effort to alleviate rising waters, authorities breached a nearby dam to release floodwaters on Tuesday, although it’s unclear how much that helped as many dams and rivers in the region have overflowed for days.

Elsewhere in Henan, villages have been cut off by landslides and flooding, killing at least four others and leaving some areas without power for more than 24 hours.

Long Recovery Ahead

The region was finally able to begin recovery efforts Wednesday as conditions have begun to die down.

Despite reduced rainfall, the situation has still proven to be dire, leading President Xi Jinping to issue a statement through state media ordering authorities to give top priority to people’s safety and property.

In total, more than 17,000 firefighters have been mobilized for rescue efforts, as well as local volunteers and other rescue crews from other provinces.

Chinese companies have rushed to donate money to help the affected communities, and so far over $300 million has been donated.

It’s likely that for some time, hundreds of thousands in the region will be left without homes as authorities begin the work of ensuring that buildings are safe to return to.

See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (BBC) (The New York Times)

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