The group of eight parties from all over the political spectrum has just enough seats for the necessary majority, and any last-minute defections would cause the deal to fall apart.
Israel’s New Coalition, Explained
A group of Israeli opposition leaders announced Wednesday night that they had reached an agreement to form a coalition government and oust Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
Currently, the group is composed of eight political parties from the hard right, the left, the center, and one Arab party.
A much more logical coalition would be composed of the parties on the right. That cannot be formed without Netanyahu’s Likud party, which is the largest of the conservative parties by far. However, many of the prime minister’s previous allies — led by the hard right leader Naftali Bennett, who formerly served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff — have abandoned him in favor of the new coalition.
The significance of this move is contextualized well by The New York Times, which explained that the effort “would be akin to Mitch McConnell abandoning Donald Trump to work with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Chuck Schumer — and Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer saying yes.”
If the deal is finalized, it would form a government of political opposites that agree on very little beyond the sentiment that Netanyahu needs to go and that his efforts to stay in power after four failed elections in two years are hurting the country.
Also of note here: if the government assumes office, it would mark the first time an Arab party is part of the ruling coalition.
As for how power would be divided up under the agreement, Bennett would serve as prime minister for two years. After that, center-left opposition leader Yair Lapid would take the position.
In order to keep their tentative coalition together, the two leaders have promised to focus on issues where the diverse groups could reach compromises at the beginning, such as education and infrastructure.
They would, by contrast, avoid divisive areas, such as new policies on Israeli-Palestinian issues, where the views of the eight parties range from religion-centered advocates of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to secular leaders who support an independent Palestinian state.
Keeping the coalition together will be tenuous, and nothing is set in stone.
While the opposition leaders have outlined a deal, it still needs to win a vote of confidence in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, before the coalition can take over as the new government.
That creates a very precarious situation because if a deal is made, the new group would hold the barest majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. As a result, if just one party defects before the vote of confidence, the whole agreement could fall apart — a move that could very well pave the way for a fifth election.
Netanyahu and his remaining allies plan to capitalize on this key factor. The speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Levin, is an ally of Netanyahu and is expected to use parliamentary procedure to delay the vote by at least 12 days.
That extra time will give the embattled leader a chance to lobby and pressure party leaders in the coalition who are still on the fence about forming such an ideologically divided government — a campaign he has already begun.
On Thursday, Netanyahu made it clear that he intends to fight on, taking to Twitter to list concessions that he claimed the right and center parties made to gain the Arab party’s support.
“All right-wing Knesset members must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” he wrote.
As for if his pressure campaign will work, it all comes down to a cost-benefit analysis of whether this coalition is worth the risk.
Many of the leaders are uncomfortable working with each other and have made serious compromises to even reach an agreement on a coalition goverment. The alternative, however, is likely another election cycle, during which Netanyahu would keep power.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy
Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.
People Go Back to Bars
The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.
On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.
In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.
Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.
In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.
Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.
Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.
Is China Ready to Reopen?
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.
But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.
Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.
There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.
Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.
Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.
Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.
Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People
The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.
After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people.
According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125.
During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.
“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.
Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government.
In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.
“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.
The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.
“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.
Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters.
Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals
Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.
Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies
Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.
Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.
The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.
For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.
An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”
Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.
As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.
Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.
The Arc of History Bends Toward China
Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.
Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.
Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.
At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.
Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.
Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.
Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.
Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.