WeChat not included in government’s discussions with social media on protecting election

Seems like an oversight given the many signs of Chinese government interference with Chinese Canadians:

The office of Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould chose not to include a popular Chinese-language app in discussions it had with major social media platforms about protecting the upcoming federal election.

Gould unveiled her government’s plan to protect the upcoming federal election from interference at a press conference in January. One aspect of the four-pronged plan was entrusting social media platforms “to act.” In a practical sense, the government has asked platforms to ensure they’re not being exploited to spread disinformation and that they adhere to the new election laws introduced by the Liberals in Bill C-76, which pertain to them.

“As the Minister has said, we expect social media platforms to take concrete actions to help safeguard this fall’s election by promoting transparency, authenticity and integrity on their platforms,” Meg Jacques, spokesperson for Gould, told iPolitics in an email last week.

In the lead up to the election, the government has had back-and-forth dialogue with the companies that operate many of the major platforms. In letters dated June 21 and obtained by iPolitics through an access to information request, Gould wrote to companies including Snap Inc. (which owns Snapchat), Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, reiterating her expectation that they “ensure the 2019 election is free and fair.”

Gould has also previously said she had been in touch with Reddit and Pinterest. She never reached out to WeChat.

Asked for a reason why her office didn’t communicate with WeChat like it did with others, Jacques said that the minister’s office chose to work with major social media platforms that had “an established corporate presence in Canada.”

WeChat does not have company offices in Canada. Reddit does not list an office in Canada on its website, either.

In the June 21 letters, Gould requested each of the companies to affirm their commitment to the “Canada Declaration on Electoral Integrity Online.” Announced by Gould about a month earlier in the House of Commons, the declaration includes a dozen measures for platforms to follow to ensure democratic precesses like the election aren’t meddled with.

Gould also wrote to the companies asking that they respond with a description of the actions they’ll be taking during the writ and newly introduced pre-writ period. The letters also outline to the companies who in each of the government’s law enforcement bodies are their point people in cases where they may identify potential nefarious actors attempting to exploit their platforms.

WeChat

WeChat is a Chinese messaging, social media and e-commerce app. It’s widely used by Chinese speakers around the world, with approximately 1.1 billion monthly active users. By comparison, Facebook reported 2.7 billion monthly users across its apps — which include Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram and, of course, Facebook — during the first quarter of this year.

WeChat is a popular platform for Chinese-language news, but the company has been previously criticized for censoring certain news. In December, StarMetro Vancouver reported that the app had been blocking stories about Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s bail hearing, before once again allowing readers access to stories once she was released on bail.

The recent 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre was another instance when pictures and keywords related to an event were kept off WeChat.

The app was thrust into the Canadian political spotlight earlier this year because of an incident during the Burnaby South byelection. Liberal Party candidate Karen Wang was the source of a controversy for posting on the app, urging voters to support her because she was Chinese, instead of NDP Leader and byelection candidate Jagmeet Singh, who she described as being “of Indian descent.” Wang resigned as the Liberal candidate shortly after.

Earlier this year, all MPs were warned to be wary about conducting official business on WeChat because of concerns that the House of Commons cybersecurity team had with the app.

At that time, iPolitics reached out to the offices of all MPs who represented ridings where the Chinese population made up at least 30 per cent of the riding’s total community, according to data collected in the 2016 census. Three MPs, Liberal Jean Yip and Conservatives Alice Wong and Bob Saroya, said at that time they used or had used the app in the past, in their role as a federal representative. Yip and Wong both planned to continue using the app. Each of the MPs described using it similarly to how they used other social media platforms.

iPolitics attempted to contact WeChat for this story by reaching out through multiple points of contact. The company did not respond.

Jacques said government officials “continue” to communicate with social media platforms in the lead up to the election.

“(Officials) are encouraged by their efforts to date to address online disinformation,” she said.

Like the platforms that Gould’s office has maintained a dialogue with, WeChat is bound by online advertising rules introduced by the Liberals in Bill C-76, which, among other things, require it to keep political ads displayed in a registry, if they’re shown on the platform.

Election Advertising

On Tuesday, Braeden Caley, spokesperson for the Liberal Party, wouldn’t say whether or not the party would use WeChat to advertise ahead of the election. The People’s Party hadn’t yet made a decision about whether or not it will advertise on WeChat, according to its executive director Johanne Mennie. The other three parties that are expecting to run candidates in all 338 ridings did not get back to iPolitics about whether or not they plan on advertising on the app, by the time this story was published.

Source: WeChat not included in government’s discussions with social media on protecting election

The first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win

One wonders what took them so long (the first Chinese Canadian MP was Douglas Jung, a Conservative MP elected in the Diefenbaker landslide of 1957):

Liberal candidate Gladys Liu has been officially announced as the winner in the Victorian seat of Chisholm — making her the first ever Chinese-Australian female member of Federal Parliament’s Lower House.

Key points:

  • Roughly 20 per cent of the population in the seat of Chisholm are of Chinese ancestry
  • Ms Liu beat out Labor’s candidate with a margin of 1,100 votes
  • If a Labor challenge is successful, it could trigger a by-election in Chisholm

Speaking for the first time after being declared the winner, Ms Liu said she was thrilled to have won what was one of the election’s tightest contests.

Ms Liu beat Labor’s candidate and fellow Chinese-Australian Jennifer Yang by just 1,100 votes to gain the crucial multicultural seat.

She praised her team for their deep commitment to her campaign and said she received a great welcome when she arrived in Canberra to take up her historic new role.

“It is a great addition to a great team, because not only am I female but I can speak … two other languages, and also I am coming from a different ethnic background and that will enrich not only the country but also the parliamentary setting,” she said.

The challenges of a divided community

Ms Liu was born in Hong Kong, but the former speech pathologist has put down roots in Chisholm since moving to Australia three decades ago.

Roughly 20 per cent of the population in the seat of Chisholm are of Chinese ancestry, but the community is heavily divided along politcal lines.

Ms Liu won the seat with just 50.58 per cent of the vote over Ms Yang who gained 49.42 per cent for Labor.

Ms Liu seemed unfazed by the narrow margin, saying “no one party can have 100 per cent support”, and the split vote among the Chinese community was “consistent with the voting trend in the country”.

“In terms of the political awareness … a lot of Chinese have shown interest in different political parties, their values, their policies,” she said. “I think this a great achievement and improvement from the whole community.”

Ms Liu said her goal was to represent everyone in the community “whether they voted for me or not”.

“This is one of my jobs — to make sure they are well represented and their voices are heard in Canberra,” she said.

Accusations of dirty tactics

But Ms Liu’s win has been called into question by Labor party officials.

Last month, she had to fend off accusations of using dirty tactics during the campaign after the ABC revealed she had posted a how-to-vote card on Chinese social media platform WeChat.

Ms Liu at first denied authorising the material, but the ABC recorded information showing she posted the how-to-vote card under her own WeChat account at the end of April.

“I feel there were a lot of nitty gritty, some minor things or even non issues and some lies as well.”

The message told voters to “copy exactly as it is to avoid an informal vote”, suggesting any other preferencing would result in an invalid ballot.

The Labor Party is set to challenge Ms Liu’s win,alleging such material was designed to confuse voters into voting for the Liberals.

If a Labor challenge was successful, it could trigger a by-election in Chisholm.

But Ms Liu said she only posted material that was “authorised by the Liberal Party headquarters” and she had “no control” over what her supporters posted.

When challenged over the how-to-vote card, Ms Liu responded, “What’s wrong with that? All parties do that”.

As for her political future, Ms Liu said her “priority is to serve Chisholm and represent them”.

When asked if she will be running for minister she replied, “Let me go to Federal Parliament for the first sitting and see how it goes.”

first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win ABC News Liberal candidate Gladys Liu has today been officially announced as the winner in the Victorian seat of Chisolm — making her the first ever Chinese-Australian female member of Federal Parliament’s Lower House.

Source: The first Chinese-Australian female MP hopes to unite divided community after historic win

Denmark’s centre-left set to win election with anti-immigration shift

Ongoing shift:

Tacking left on welfare and right on immigration looks likely to pay off for Denmark’s Social Democrats, who are widely expected to return to power this week as voters desert the centre-right government and the far right.

A poll this weekend predicted the centre-left party, led by Mette Frederiksen, will be the country’s largest with about 27% of the national vote after the election on Wednesday, while the “red bloc” of left-leaning parties it leads is on course for more than 55%.

The outgoing centre-right government of the prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is forecast to finish a distant second on about 18%, with support for the far-right Danish People’s party predicted to collapse to barely 11%: half its score in the 2015 vote and a repeat of the DPP’s poor performance in the European elections last month.

The projected results follow the adoption by Denmark’s mainstream parties of hardline anti-immigration policies previously the preserve of the far right, which immigrants and human rights campaigners believe have led to a rise in racist abuse and discrimination.

Rasmussen’s Liberal party and the Social Democrats have both backed widely criticised measures on immigration, arguing they are needed to protect Denmark’s generous – if increasingly creaking – welfare system and to integrate migrants and refugees already in the country.

But discrimination cases are up and the number of racially or religiously motivated hate crimes registered by Danish police – which is likely to be lower than the actual figure because not all incidents are reported – surged to 365 in 2017 from 228 the year before.

Louise Holck, the deputy executive director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, said: “Politicians are moving very close to the boundaries of human rights.”

With a welter of tough new legislation aimed at discouraging further non-European immigration, the immigration minister, Inger Støjberg, installed a counter on the ministry’s website showing the government had tightened the law 114 times.

Many measures, some of which have been sharply criticised by Danish human rights campaigners and the UN refugee agency, have been supported not just by the DPP – a key ally propping up Rasmussen’s minority government – but also by the Social Democrats.

The centre-left party has repeatedly rejected criticism of this approach, saying it was necessary. “You are not a bad person just because you are worried about immigration,” Frederiksen said during a debate earlier this month.

Polls suggest, however, that the centre-left party’s tough stance swayed some voters to switch their support back from the populist DPP, which also faces a stiff challenge from two new small far-right parties, including Stram Kurs, which wants Islam to be banned and Muslims deported.

The Social Democrats have also won support by promising to increase public spending due to widespread anger in Denmark at what many voters see as the gradual erosion of the welfare state.

Cuts to healthcare services have led to the closure of one-quarter of state hospitals in the past decade, and one recent survey showed more than half of Danes did not believe the public health service offered the right treatments, prompting more than one-third to take out private health insurance, compared with 4% in 2003.

Other cuts over the past 10 years have led to the closure of about one-fifth of state schools, while spending per person on services such as care homes, cleaning and rehabilitation after illness for the over-65s has fallen by one-quarter.

Frederiksen has promised to raise public and welfare spending by 0.8% a year over the next five years, making businesses and the wealthy pay more through higher taxes and partially rolling back some recent pension changes.

Source: Denmark’s centre-left set to win election with anti-immigration shift

Despite falling numbers, immigration remains divisive EU issue

Easier to continue campaigning even if the numbers are falling, than address more substantial and complex issues:

Migrant arrivals to Italy have almost dried up, new asylum requests across the European Union have more than halved in three years and at the end of 2018, Hungary’s reception centers housed just three refugees.

On the face of it, Europe’s migrant crisis appears over, but the shockwaves still resound around the continent ahead of this month’s European Parliament election, and nationalist politicians are looking to capitalize on the continued tumult.

“The most important thing is that leaders are elected who oppose immigration so that Europe will be in a position to defend itself,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Romania last week.

Opponents accuse far-right and populist parties of grossly exaggerating the problem, but the issue still resonates, with a YouGov poll published on Monday showing that immigration was currently the voters’ top concern, followed by climate change.

The survey, carried out in eight EU states, showed just 3% of respondents thought “all is well” on the migration front, YouGov said. Only 14% believed the European Union had done a good job handling the emergency.

Once consigned to the fringes of European politics, anti-immigrant parties saw support surge in 2015 when more than a million refugees and migrants flowed out of the Middle East and Africa in search of a safer, better life in Europe.

The influx caught EU governments by surprise, stretching both social and security services, and revealing the inability of Brussels to find a way of sharing the immigration burden in the face of wildly conflicting national interests.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nationalist and eurosceptic parties are expected to chalk up their best ever result in the May 23-26 EU vote, putting them in a strong position to shape policy in the 28-nation bloc over the coming five years.

LOSING MOMENTUM

In all, some 4.57 million people have requested asylum here in the European Union since the last EU vote in 2014, a threefold increase over the prior five-year period, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat. But the numbers are receding.

Thanks partly to much tighter controls, often put in place by newly empowered anti-immigrant parties such as the League in Italy, new arrivals to Europe fell to under 150,000 last year here, U.N. data shows, with even fewer expected in 2019.

Headed by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the League looks set to emerge as Italy’s largest party in the May ballot, with polls suggesting it will win around 30% against 6% at the last EU election in 2014 and 17% at a 2018 national ballot.

Since taking office last June, Salvini has effectively closed ports to migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, helping cut new arrivals here to around 1,100 so far in 2019 here, down some 90% on 2018 levels and 98% on the same period in 2017.

But latest polls suggest momentum for the League might be slowing, with the focus on immigration starting to fade – at least in Italy, where concerns about the economy and corruption are pushing to the fore.

“Salvini hopes immigration will remain a central issue because it is one that generates most support for him,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of political analysis firm YouTrend.

“But is hard for him to say ‘we have reduced migrant arrivals by 98 percent’ and then keep saying immigration is a threat. This is creating a problem for him,” Pregliasco told Reuters.

Looking to keep migration in the spotlight, the League and its political allies in Europe have been quick to portray the newcomers as a security threat, pointing to deadly jihadist attacks over the past five years, including assaults in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, London and Barcelona.

A poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations said there was a clear majority in every country for better protection of Europe’s borders, while Europeans saw Islamic radicalism as the biggest threat facing the continent.

“There is a creeping Islamisation, a population change, or a population displacement,” said Heinz-Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom (FPO) party, a junior coalition partner.

PLAYING ON FEARS

Mainstream parties accuse the populists of playing on base emotions and say they are not interested in finding a comprehensive solution to the refugee question, which could include quotas for redistributing new arrivals around the bloc, and better integrating migrants into European society.

“The danger I see is that there are politicians in Europe who have a reason to keep this problem alive,” Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate for the EU center-right, told Reuters.

Germany took in more than a million asylum-seekers in 2015 – a decision welcomed by human rights groups, but that also stoked support for the anti-migrant, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Tapping into discontent amongst part of the electorate, AfD entered the national parliament for the first time in 2017 and is the only German party that is putting an emphasis on immigration in campaigning for the EU vote.

“Refugees are bringing crime into our towns,” the AfD has said in Tweets and leaflets ahead of the ballot – an assertion rejected by its opponents.

Mainstream German parties are focusing on other issues and hoping immigration will fall off the radar screen. It is a similar story in France, where President Emmanuel Macron’s party has listed immigration as only its number 5 priority, with the environment in the top spot.

Gerald Knaus, chairman of the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative think-tank, believes that by relegating the question, moderate parties will allow extremist rivals to frame the debate and let the anti-immigrant narrative predominate.

“What is lacking from mainstream parties is a coherent, convincing message that they can control arrivals without violating human rights,” he told Reuters.

“The majority of people want migration control but they also have empathy for refugees. As things stand, these voters have no-one to turn to (in this election).”

Australia: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

Same applies in Canada with the exception of the more complicated Australian voting system:

Australia’s culturally diverse electorates are set to play a key role in determining the outcome of the 2019 federal election on Saturday.

That’s because they are often the most marginal seats, with candidates forced to pay particular attention to language barriers, and a wide range of issues important to migrant communities.

The 10 most marginal of the more multicultural seats, based on languages spoken at home, are all in New South Wales and Victoria.

Six are held by Labor, while the Liberals held four but lost Chisholm when Julia Banks defected and is now running as an independent candidate.

To try and tap into culturally diverse communities, politicians from both sides have had campaign posters and how to vote cards translated into different languages and lobbied Chinese Australians on WhatsApp.

They have also lobbied hard for cultural and religious leaders to back them.

But with Australia home to 300 different ethnic groups, it can often be hard for politicians to get traction on issues specific to the different backgrounds, say academics and those working with migrant groups.

“It’s very difficult because there’s great differentiation among and within migrant communities in Australia,” Jayana Nadarajalingam from the University of Melbourne’s School of Government said.

“And this differentiation is across many different interrelated dimensions, such as race, culture, religion, language, class, just to name a few.”

Ms Nadarajalingam told SBS News it was important to remember issues and concerns also change with time and across generations.

“For these reasons, unless politicians properly consult members of migrant communities and ensure that the consultation is a two-way process, it would be near impossible for them to properly ascertain the complexities of the issues migrant communities face.”

With almost half of Australians having at least one parent born overseas, Ms Nadarajalingam said there have been concerns about politicians and media outlets risking generalising the issues facing people from migrant backgrounds.

“Not all of these issues are internal to Australia and their lives in Australia. Many also have concerns that are to do with ties that they have to countries that they left or in many cases fled,” she said.

“There are some generalisations that you can draw, but because we live in a complex society and there’s economic institutions, social institutions that have to navigate, I think there’s great differentiation, within specific migrant communities and also across them.

“We have to be careful about not being too broad-brushed about how we perceive migrant communities and voting patterns.”

Conservative leanings

Even if there are common issues that many members of migrant communities face, the way they might want to respond may be different. This stands in general contrast to the 2017 same-sex marriage survey, which illustrated how conservative the multicultural vote can be.

The result was a clear ‘yes’ victory but 12 of the 17 seats that voted against same-sex marriage were diverse ones, in Sydney’s west.

Could those more conservative views see left-leaning seats swing to the right in the federal election though? Ariadne Vromen from the University of Sydney says it is unlikely.

“The marriage equality plebiscite was kind of a distinct event,” the professor of political sociology told SBS News.

“It’s true that in western Sydney they were more likely to vote no in those particular electorates. Whether or not that translates into a conservative vote for the Coalition will depend on how campaigning happens in those areas. But those are pretty safe Labor seats.”

‘Proud’ to be voting

The 18 May poll marks the first time 18-year-old fashion student Geraldine Kaburakikuyu will be allowed to vote. It’s the first time for her family too after they migrated from Kenya in 2010.

The issues that Geraldine says will sway her vote, though, are different from her mother’s.

“Probably education and public transport,” she told SBS News.

“Just because I got to uni and always catch the public transport. That’s probably what affects me most, but I feel like for my mum it’s more about housing.”

Geraldine says she is proud to cast her ballot, a feeling shared in her suburb of Mortdale in south-west Sydney, by other overseas-born voters.

“I feel good considering everywhere election is a big issue, and most people don’t enjoy the privilege. So I’m pretty lucky to be here in this country,” said one voter who migrated to Australia from Malaysia more than 50 years ago.

Temporary resident Tehmoor Rasheed says he’s passionate about Australian politics. And says he dreams for the day when he’ll get to vote here.

“Every vote counts,” Mr Rasheed said.

“Nowadays democracy comes from every vote, so of course I will be really happy whenever I will be eligible to vote.”

‘Most confusing electoral system’

But according to Dr Jill Sheppard, a politics lecturer at the Australian National University, voting can prove a difficult process for many migrants.

“We have about the most confusing electoral system in the world, so for a lot of people if you’re not from an English speaking background, or if you’re not very literate in Australian politics, voting in Australian elections can be a bit of a nightmare,” she said.

And Professor Vromen believes there’s another issue yet to be fully addressed by the major parties – and that’s a lack of diversity in political candidates. She says this could hinder many migrant’s chances to connect with the parties vying for their vote.

“There are very few politicians from diverse cultural backgrounds in Australian politics, and that’s what we kind of need to focus on more into the future, that younger communities do see themselves reflected within our politics.”

Dr Sheppard agrees.

“The Anglo vote, the native Australian-born vote, is still very very strong, and we have research for instance from Australia that they don’t really like ethnic minority candidates,” she said.

“As long as there’s still that overwhelming Anglo-Australian vote, they will continue to demand candidates that look like them and it is increasingly hard for ethnic minority voters to find candidates who will represent them culturally.

Source: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

After Israel’s election, the country is on a dangerous political path: Erna Paris

Good thoughtful commentary. Should Netanyahu follow on his election commitments regarding annexation, will certainly make it harder to argue against BDS:

In her final work, The March of Folly, the late historian Barbara Tuchman defined her subject as “the pursuit of policy contrary to public interest.” Her criteria for folly were threefold: An alternative course of action was available; the actions were endorsed by a group, not just by a particular leader; and the actions were perceived as counterproductive in their own time.

Among Ms. Tuchman’s far-ranging examples were the Trojan Horse and the American war in Vietnam. Were she alive today, she might have included the increasingly dangerous trajectory of Israeli politics.

Following the country’s election this week, Israel, the United States and the Jewish diaspora have arrived at a historical juncture. Although Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, tied in terms of seats, the former may well govern at the will of a coalition whose ethno-nationalist policies threaten the democratic nature of the country and promise to destroy even the rhetoric of a peace process.

The new entity includes Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an offspring of Kach, the party of the late Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel in 1994 for inciting racism, and designated a terrorist organization in both the United States and Canada. Jewish Power advocates the annexation of the occupied West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to its 2.8 million Palestinian residents, a move that would create a state like South Africa under apartheid. The party also promotes the deportation of “Arab extremists,” dependent upon an undefined “loyalty test.”

In catapulting Jewish Power to centre stage and becoming beholden to its politics, Mr. Netanyahu may have overstepped and altered the political status quo. There would be consequences to radical illiberal legislation. First, the anger of the Palestinians and the larger Arab world, with inevitable security implications. Second, the annexation of millions of West Bank Palestinians would transform Israel into a binational state, threatening both its democratic and Jewish character. Third, the hitherto tight support of diaspora Jews for the State of Israel could fracture – a process that started weeks ago when news of Mr. Netanyahu’s alignment with far-right extremism became known.

The relationship of diaspora Jews to the State of Israel is complex and quasi-religious in nature. Based on ancient biblical yearnings coupled with the emergence of political Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the desire for a safe homeland peaked in the wake of the Holocaust and was celebrated with the creation of the state. Seventy subsequent years of war and failed peacemaking with Arabs who also claim rights to the region have incrementally toughened the minds of Israelis and many of their supporters in the diaspora, especially during the long swing to the right under the governance of Mr. Netanyahu. But the radical views of Jewish Power may be a historic dividing line, for they are widely seen to betray the ancient core values of Judaism itself: deeply ingrained ethical imperatives, held by the religious and secular alike, such as Tikkun Olam – the biblical mandate to make the world a better place.

Such values also underpin liberal democracies such as the United States, and there are signs of fracture. A Muslim member of Congress, a Democrat, caused an unprecedented ruckus by questioning unwavering American support for Israel. Harder to impugn was the unique criticism emanating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which called Jewish Power “racist and reprehensible.” Stigmatizing Israeli Arabs is “immoral,” the influential U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League added. Rabbis in both the United States and Canada also weighed in.

But other considerations may be riskier still for the long-term diaspora-Israel relationship. The majority of American Jews vote Democrat, but contemporary Israelis admire U.S. President Donald Trump. There’s a chasm of values in that equation. Jewish Power has also opened a consequential political wedge: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders openly wished for Mr. Netanyahu’s defeat without being vilified. Add in the further perils of demography, for as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, along with the fervent nationalism born of the 1967 war, younger Jews around the world are statistically less attached to Israel than their elders.

Diaspora Jews cannot vote in Israeli elections, but Israel is a U.S. client state, and a shift in Jewish support will matter. Paradoxically, should Mr. Netanyahu cross a perceived moral line, principled resistance from the diaspora may help prevent Israel, the beloved country, from pursuing its perilous march to folly.

A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood

Good in-depth read about the upcoming elections and the tensions between moderates and fundamentalists:

When Indonesians head to the polls next Wednesday for what is expected to be the world’s biggest direct presidential election, 70 per cent of its 193 million registered voters are expected to cast their ballots in a single day.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, wears its hard-fought democracy with ease. I witnessed this during each of its previous three presidential elections – in 2004, 2009 and 2014 – and again in recent weeks as I journeyed across rural and urban Java – the country’s main island – to speak to voters, understand their views, and gauge what their choices might be, come election day.

Direct presidential elections were first held in 2004, six years after student protests and mass riots in several cities ended the 32-year rule of Indonesia’s authoritarian leader Suharto.

Until this year, polling for local councils, regional assemblies and the national parliament were held three months before the presidential election.

Generally, I have emerged largely optimistic from my on-the-ground, straw-poll research expeditions.

Indonesians cherish the opportunity to vote; it’s something they would not readily sacrifice. Whether in east, central or west Java, an island with a population of more than 140 million, I have met people eager to discuss the merits or failings of their leaders, and conscious of the responsibility they have to register their hopes and concerns at the ballot box.

Yet, over time, I have noticed that competitive politics increasingly divides the country socially, though not so obviously along class lines, as in Europe. In Indonesia the electoral divide is, alarmingly, along religious lines – between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The story of Indonesia’s 2019 election is one of two countries. In one, an aspiring, mostly urban middle class worries about the erosion of tolerance and diversity; in the other, growing numbers of pious and conservative Muslims, many of them educated in rural religious schools, want laws that put Indonesia on the road to Islamic statehood.

These divergent visions sit uneasily alongside each other, and when Indonesians go to the polls this time round, those fearing the erosion of tolerance will largely vote for the incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, a former city mayor with a common touch and an unthreatening manner; those who want the country to veer towards Islamic statehood will vote for Prabowo Subianto, a gruff former special forces commander who fought and almost won the election against Jokowi in 2014.

31 organisations urge Indonesians to abstain from voting in presidential polls

I saw these two Indonesians two weeks before the election in the west Java capital of Bandung, where a gathering of nervous middle-class millennials at a modern sculpture park worried about the decay of diversity; and at an Islamic teaching complex not far away, where the conviction of disciplined faith had thousands of devotees hanging on to every word of charismatic preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar. After the preaching was over, AA Gym, as he is known, sat patiently on an elevated office chair while the faithful lined up for selfies or to kiss his hand.

Such an unquestioning and disciplined following presents an obvious opportunity to politicians in search of votes. Prabowo doesn’t come from a devout Muslim background: his mother was a Catholic, his brother, Hasyim Djojohadikusumo, established a charismatic Protestant church. Yet Prabowo presents himself as a champion of conservative Islam.

Widodo has courted Chinese cash. He’s about to find out the cost

“They call me a radical,” Prabowo told thousands of supporters at a rally in the west Java town of Ciamis on April 6. “Yet I believe in Islam as a religion of peace that tolerates other religions.”

But that’s not what the conservative Islamic lobby supporting him wants.

At a religious school on the outskirts of the west Java town of Purwakarta, the head of security punched the air and claimed himself to be the only person with the guts to support the incumbent president.

“Everyone around here supports Prabowo because they believe he’ll promote their religious agenda of a caliphate,” said Asep, a wiry man who practises a Sundanese martial art.

Outside, a large poster for the Prabowo campaign portrayed the candidate and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, against the image of hardline Islamist Rizieq Shihab who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia to avoid facing criminal charges under the Anti-Pornography Act (Rizieq is accused of sending explicit WhatsApp messages to a woman who is not his wife).

To enhance his appeal to the conservative Islamic groups, Prabowo promises to bring Rizieq home, and presumably the charges will go away too.

“They believe Prabowo will bring [Rizieq] back, but they don’t understand the law in the country,” said Asep waving towards Al Artoq school, which he claims has 4,000 followers from around the area.

THE MUSLIM LOBBY

Equally alarming is President Widodo’s response, which has been to try to win support from the conservative Muslim quarters by choosing a conservative Muslim cleric as his running mate.

My findings in west Java suggest this strategy has not worked. Prabowo still draws strong support from the devout Muslim population of west Java, where he won over 40 per cent more votes than Jokowi in 2014.

What is worrying, though, since Jokowi is likely to win the election at the national level, is how much leverage the Muslim lobby will now have on the president during his second term.

This makes many Indonesians who support Jokowi feel uneasy.

“Why do state schools and offices need to have mosques?” asked a Muslim mother who claims that her Buddhist son was denied promotion because he wasn’t a Muslim. She was attending a discussion for millennials led by the Minister of Religion Lukman Hakim at a modern sculpture gallery in a swanky north Bandung neighbourhood. Lukman’s response, to explain that the constitution and a battery of laws guarantee religious freedom, did not sound convincing.

“What about the recent incident in Bantul? Where Muslim residents refused to accept that non-Muslims could live among them?” asked another member of the audience.

The flustered minister shrugged off the incident, arguing that dialogue helped to repair these “misunderstandings”.

It is hard to misunderstand the signals that Prabowo’s supporters are sending. At the rally in Ciamis, a group of young men mounted the stage shortly before the candidate arrived. “We are the ‘Two-One-Two mujahideen’,” one of them cried. “Under our command, God willing, we will pursue our goal of the caliphate,” one of the young men shouted. Two-One-Two refers to the broad coalition of conservative Islamic groups who mounted mass rallies at the end of 2017, forcing Jokowi’s concession to demands to prosecute his former deputy on a charge of blasphemy.

In what many Indonesians consider a turning point for the country’s respect for religious diversity, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was accused of blasphemy after a doctored video was submitted as evidence that he was insulting the Koran. A court later sentenced him to two years in jail.

The crucible of this vision of Indonesia under Islamic law can be found a few kilometres down the road from Ciamis. Set in verdant rice fields, the Miftahul Huda school is the largest of its kind in west Java. More than 4,000 students come here to study the Koran. After surrendering my ID I was permitted to drive up to the executive office, where after a while a pair of surly youths dressed in black invited me to sit on the floor.

“Who are you and where are you from?” the younger man asked suspiciously.

Narrowing lead before presidential vote nothing to fear for Widodo, says spokesman

The conversation was sparse. No, they do not engage in politics; students are not even allowed outside the school perimeter without special permission. Yet it was from here in 2017 that the first march on Jakarta was organised to demand Ahok’s arrest.

Back in Bandung, I caught up with Jalaluddin Rakhmat, a member of parliament for Jokowi’s main party platform, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

“Both Prabowo and his Muslim supporters suffer from delusions,” he said in his humble home situated just north of the regional capital. “Prabowo thinks if he wins he can dump the Muslims. The Muslims in turn are using Prabowo to come to power.”

It’s a bit like the way Christian evangelicals think they are using US President Donald Trump.

Jalaluddin, who is from the small Shiite minority, is among those who fear the erosion of tolerance for diversity. “We Muslims who are with Jokowi stand for a different Islam: we don’t want to take Islam as the basis of the state.” For people like us, he said, “if we go to Prabowo we will find monsters”.

EROSION OF TOLERANCE

The problem for Jalaluddin, and like-minded Indonesians anxious to shore up pluralism, is that Jokowi is widely regarded as having failed to deliver as a moderate. He has been soft on human rights and has pandered to the Islamic right. Many young people living in the Indonesia of tolerance and pluralism are too scared to vote for Prabowo but dislike Jokowi. They might spoil their ballots, or not vote at all.

Is there a way to reconcile these two Indonesias? While canvassing views I came across an interesting experiment in social development. A group of Muslim activists at Salman Mosque, which sits next door to Bandung’s Institute of Technology, were looking for ways to harness Islamic teaching to progressive change.

In Bekasi, the ‘Jersey of Indonesia’, a clue to Widodo’s election hopes

“We’re looking for local champions,” said Salim Rusli, who runs Al Wakaf, an NGO attached to the mosque, which has a long history of student activism. These can be local ulamawho use Islamic teaching to promote innovative thinking about mundane issues such as marketing vegetables or who foster constructive communication with local government.

This kind of grass-roots societal approach could also begin to build bridges across the religious divide that has opened in Indonesian society. But it will require political leaders like Prabowo to stop using Islam as a political weapon, or Jokowi to strengthen his leadership by framing a national narrative that more actively and effectively defends the tolerance of minorities.

Source: A choice for Indonesia’s voters: tolerance … or Islamic statehood

Danish left veering right on immigration

Another Nordic country struggling with integration:

Denmark’s right-wing government might once have expected pushback from the left-wing opposition when it introduced a controversial new integration policy.

No longer.

A recent government proposal, to be finalized by parliament in the fall, would target the country’s so-called ghetto neighborhoods with a series of sanctions and incentives. The intention is to bring immigrant communities fully into Danish society — by force if necessary.

Children living in the targeted areas would be compelled to attend day care for 25 hours a week, to ensure they learn the country’s language and values. Parents who take their kids back to their countries of origin for extended periods could face prison or deportation. Crimes committed in the neighborhoods would carry heavier sentences. Buildings would be demolished if necessary.

The last touches to the package are expected to be fully approved with a large parliamentary majority, including the enthusiastic support of the largest opposition party, the left-wing Danish Social Democrats.

“We tried to negotiate this to be, you might say more draconian,” said Mattias Tesfaye, the party’s spokesman on immigration and integration. “We think the government has been soft on this.”

Flanking on the right

Political parties across Europe are grappling with immigration policy. Concerns about new arrivals have helped propel far-right parties into government in Austria and Italy and elevated the xenophobic Alternative for Germany into its country’s largest opposition party.

The issue has posed a particular dilemma for Europe’s left-wing parties, which have suffered a wave of electoral defeats as political rivals accuse them of being responsible for untrammeled immigration. Some have shifted to an economic critique of migration due to wage competition, while others have doubled down on a defense of diversity and assistance for refugees.

The response of the Danish Social Democrats is an outlier: They have tried to outflank their competition by backing the government in a string of eye-catching bills on immigration and integration and demanding harder measures still.

Last year, the Social Democrats overhauled their party’s political agenda for only the seventh time in their 140-year history. The result, “Together for Denmark,” adopts much of the language of the anti-immigration right, including the term “parallel societies.” The policy describes these as places “where foreigners and their descendants live, isolated from the Danish community and with values that are not Danish” and calls them “unacceptable.”

In addition to throwing its support behind the ghetto plan, the party has supported the government in allowing the jewelry and valuables of asylum seekers to be seized by authorities in payment for their reception, and in banning face veils.

“Why should the social democratic position be we should leave people alone, and leave the right with the argument that we have to have a common cultural background?” asked Tesfaye, the son of a Danish woman and a refugee from Ethiopia, who serves as the party’s point person on the issue. “It should be a core issue for social democratic parties to break down these parallel societies and make sure we all belong to each other.”

The strategy may be paying off: Opinion polls indicate the party may lead a left-wing coalition into government next year.

Attacking from the left

The Social Democrats blame the perception that they are soft on immigration for recent electoral troubles. After governing Denmark for most of the 20th century, they have been out of power for all but four years since 2001.

That was the year immigration became a defining political issue, in an election that immediately followed the September 11 attacks on the United States. Voters began to abandon the left in favor of tough-on-immigration right-leaning governments, showing they were willing to compromise on the welfare state if it meant migration controls.

The right-wing populist Danish People’s Party drew voters away from the left as it lent support to governments on the condition they impose immigration freezes and cut refugee support, steadily reshaping the policies of its rivals in its own image.

In April 2017, around the same time the Social Democrats released their new party policy, Tesfaye published “Welcome, Mustafa,” a book analyzing 50 years of his party’s stance on immigration. In it, he refutes the party’s image as being pro-open borders, revealing years of debates and divisions on the issue and rehabilitating early figures who warned integration could be a problem, but who were ignored.

Tesfaye draws on the experience of his own family. When his father was granted asylum, he struggled to integrate because it was not clear what Denmark expected of him, Tesfaye recalled.

“We have to be very explicit. We have to say for example: We need you to support a secular state where there’s a religious freedom, and where the common rules of society are supported by secular arguments. We need you to make sure your children learn Danish. We need you to live not just in one place where all the refugees are,” Tesfaye said.

Reframing immigration

The Social Democrats formulate opposition to immigration as an integral left-wing position, necessary to protect the party’s traditional working-class voter base from immigrants who would compete for their jobs and send their children into their schools.

Tesfaye defends the ghetto plan, for example, as necessary to defend the welfare state, arguing that people can be asked to pay up to 53 percent in income tax for health, education and a safety net only if they feel part of a common unit with their fellow citizens.

Tesfaye also defends the measure as an investment in children’s education — a classic Social Democrat policy — and argues it should be applied across Denmark.

“With migration to Denmark it’s our own voters, and our own families, who have paid the highest price,” he said. “It’s a problem for a Social Democrat if we have areas in our country where the language is shifting to Arabic or Turkish, because it undermines the common ground [on which] the welfare state is based.”

The number of asylum seekers granted permission to reside in Denmark — though the number dwindled to 2,700 last year from a peak of 11,000 in 2015 — is still too much for the country, he said. Syrians, Iranians, Afghans and Eritrean make up the largest numbers of people seeking asylum in Denmark.

“When as a little boy I walked around in the second-biggest city of Denmark, I had a black father,” he said. “People were turning their heads because he was black. Not in a negative way, but just because it was so extraordinary that a black man was walking around in our suburb. This has changed in my lifetime.”

Since 1980, non-Western immigrants have risen from being 1 percent of the population to 8.5 percent now. “It’s been uncontrolled, we can’t control who is coming to Denmark and from where,” Tesfaye said.

His party now supports retaining border controls with Germany — an emergency measure as Denmark is within the European border-free Schengen area — until it is satisfied that the EU’s external borders are controlled. It wants to set up a processing center for refugees outside Europe where asylum seekers can apply, to stop them traveling to Denmark in advance. The number accepted should be capped, family reunifications limited, and immigrants incentivized to return to their country of origin or be deported where needed.

In the ghetto

The reality of the ghetto laws will soon hit the residents of the low-rise apartment buildings of Mjølnerparken, a leafy housing development north of Copenhagen.

“Our shared language is Danish, our common identity is Danish,” says Muhammed Aslam, chairman of the residents’ association in Mjølnerparken. “We don’t see it as a parallel society at all” | Andrew Kelly/Reuters

By the government’s analysis, Mjølnerparken is one of the most severe “ghettos” — of its 1,752 residents, 82 percent are non-Western immigrants or their descendants, and 43.5 percent are unemployed.

Muhammed Aslam, chairman of the residents’ association, sees it differently.

“About 30 different nationalities live here, of different backgrounds and cultures. Our shared language is Danish, our common identity is Danish,” he said. “We don’t see it as a parallel society at all.” 

Residents reject the label “ghetto.” Though the area has gained a certain notoriety due to some gang shootings — rare and shocking for Denmark — its pristine playgrounds and tranquility make it hard to see this as a “ghetto” by any international understanding of the term.

“I don’t agree with this form of collective punishment,” said Iliana, 53, a nurse and translator from Romania who declined to give her full name. She had lived in the country for 25 years, and was sharing a picnic with women from Denmark and Iraq in a courtyard between apartment blocks as children played nearby. “They’re punishing everyone before people have done anything wrong,” she said. 

Aslam, who moved to Denmark with his parents from Pakistan in 1969 when he was 7, said he felt the government was betraying the values of the country he grew up in.

“Given my fantastic experience growing up with such a fair democracy as Denmark I couldn’t have imagined even five years ago that we could have ended up with a law that’s so discriminatory,” said Aslam, an estranged member of the Social Democrats. “It takes away the principle of equality before the law.”

Aslam said he does not recognize the government’s image of Mjølnerparken, and urged politicians to enter into dialogue with the community about what the area really needs — apprenticeships for young people and help to find employment, he suggested.

“It has become a competition about who can be the toughest against immigration, refugees and Muslims,” he said with a sigh. “That’s going to be the basis on which the next election is won or lost.”

Source: Danish left veering right on immigration

Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

Failure of integration policies and approaches and political leadership:

Polish-born pensioner Agata sits in the sunny open square of the Rinkeby shopping centre, on the outskirts of Stockholm, and laughs when she hears Donald Trump’s name.

Last year the US president warned of a surge in violence in Sweden after a US television report about neighbourhoods like Rinkeby, and the supposed cover-up of immigrant criminality there.

Before Agata moved to Rinkeby 20 years ago she lived in Trump’s home town – New York City – where she learned a thing or two about gang crime that even Rinkeby cannot match.

“It is mostly nice and quiet and clean here, the black people are polite and friendly, but outsiders are only interested when bad things happen,” she says, sitting beside an open-air fruit and vegetable market.

Leaving the Rinkeby underground station is like crossing continents with public transport. Shiny, white, downtown Stockholm is just 18 minutes away but here the streets are populated by Iraqis and Somalians, many in headscarves and even a handful of women in niqabs.

Some 90 per cent of people living here are foreign-born and crowds of working-age men sit around in cafes, testament to failed integration and a jobless rate three times the Stockholm average.

When night falls, another Rinkeby emerges, populated by gangs of young men who hang around and zip around on scooters as the occasional police helicopter watches from above.

Half a century after it was planned, Rinkeby – and similar immigrant suburbs in Gothenburg and Malmo – have become a contested symbol in Sweden’s closely watched general election on Sunday.

Most of the heated campaign has been dominated by immigration and integration issues – with the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) calling the tune.

Burning cars

Its election videos show tower-block neighbourhoods like Rinkeby in drab grey, overlaid with ominous music and slow-motion footage of riots and burning cars.

What are officially referred to as “vulnerable areas” are “no-go zones” for most Swedes, who know these places only from crime reports. There have been riots every other year in Rinkeby and fatal shootings are no longer a rarity. Swedish national statistics show 41 fatal shootings last year – more than double the 2011 number.

In the SD narrative, this is a direct result of unchecked immigration that “ruined Sweden” and brought in 160,000 people – proportionately more than any other European country.

On the defensive, Sweden’s Social Democrat-led government has since tighted up migration laws. But locals in Rinkeby say the real problem is not about new immigration but old, failed integration policies of state alimentation and benevolent apathy.

Talk to Ahmed Abdirahman about the neighbourhood he has called home for 20 years, after moving here from Somalia as an 11 year old with his family, and the word he keeps using is segregation.

He grew up in Tensta, next to Rinkeby, and is an integration expert at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

His mother pushed education and the Swedish language and her son displays an eloquent determination to assist those who were less fortunate by lobbying Sweden’s politicians.

Xenophobic rhetoric

A new integration effort is needed, he says, from a language-learning push to an opening of native Swedes’ networks to jobseekers with immigrant roots.

Abdirahman sees the rise of the populist SD and its xenophobic rhetoric as a serious risk, but also a chance to create a more inclusive Swedish “togetherness” model for this century.

“Until now people were afraid to discuss problems with migrants before for fear of being labelled racists,” he said. The challenge now is to balance overdue law-and-order measures against immigrants who commit crime without overshooting the target because of social media distortions and half-truths from incomplete statistics.

“Most people believe immigrants take out of the system yet, as soon they take a job, putting back into the system as millions of foreign born citizens do here, they are no longer registered anywhere as such,” he said.

Back in Rinkeby main square, local Social Democrat candidate Mohammed Nuur, of Somali descent, is promising his neighbours “early-age [crime] prevention is an investment in the future”.

From behind a shop window sign, reading “Politicians must be begin to act”, a Swedish-Egyptian sales assistant says her work colleagues are Palestinian and Iranian.

“Things are rougher here than 20 years ago,” she said, “but we are all Swedes and not giving up our neighbourhood – if we get help.”

Source: Integration and immigration key battlefield for Swedish election

Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

Good if somewhat disjointed commentary:

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hold a hearing in Frank vs. Canada, a test case on the voting rights (in federal elections) of expatriate Canadian citizens. Everybody agrees that they definitely have some. The Charter is unambiguous about assigning such a right to all Canadian citizens. The question is whether this is a right that can be temporarily withdrawn, as the law now does, from a Canadian who has been apart from Canada for some time and is outside the reach of its law and institutions.

Lower courts have already offered conflicting answers, so it is hard to be sure what the Supreme Court will do. But emotional framing is bound to weigh a great deal in the final argument. In the court of origin, the government made an argument that letting long-term expatriates vote was unfair to the poor wretches who are trapped in Canada and who have no choice but to live with its government.

This was a sort of “dilution of voting power” argument, but it had the effect of sounding like the legal arguments that used to be made against prisoner voting — arguments that were ultimately thrown out. The Supreme Court approved inmate voting in 2002; having been asked “Hang on, you’re going to let a convicted rapist have the same voice in government as his victim?”, it returned what is now the accepted answer. “Yes, that’s the nature of a right. Like it or not, rapists have ’em too.”

This involves us in some logical awkwardness, because convicts have plenty of other rights whose free exercise we forbid after due process of law. But on the other hand, prisoners are definitely stuck with the Canadian state, and with its exclusive privilege of retaliatory violence, in an even more obvious sense than free residents are. It would thus be a bit weird to make Canada’s determination to count convict votes part of an argument, by extrapolation, for expatriate voting.

Weird or not, that’s what the originating judge did. He saw these as analogous questions of personal dignity. We don’t want to devalue or question the Canadian-ness of people who have been away for many years, but who feel Canadian and insist on being Canadian.

The majority on the Ontario Court of Appeal panel that next heard Frank vs. Canada cleared its throat and said, as it were, “Whoa, let’s start over.” Those judges chose a guiding metaphor that had not been used in the original contest: the philosophically notorious “social contract.” Resident citizens have duties and obligations that expatriates don’t: obvious ones include taxes and compulsory jury service (how would expatriates like to be reeled back in for that?), but there is also the big, obvious one of “being subject to Canadian law,” the vast obsidian bulk of which applies only on Canadian soil. Moreover, we exclude non-resident citizens from social entitlements like public health insurance.

But there is nothing in the text of the Charter that requires or urges a “social contract” framing of core democratic rights. The appeal court was, as I see it, trying to find a way of dressing common sense in legal language — asking, in effect, “Hang on: we’re really going to let U.S. taxpayers with Canadian passports vote in Canadian elections?” We have seen what often happens to such “Hang on …” arguments at the Supreme level.

Until recently, no one had considered letting expatriate citizens vote as a matter of right. The whole issue cropped up because Canadian law had, from the First World War on, to devise obviously desirable provisions for voting by Canadians who are abroad in uniform and in the foreign service. Citizens who are away from Canada just because there is more money or opportunity or sunshine somewhere else are not in the same position as those who are actual living tendrils of the Canadian state. But since the law makes a distinction between mere economic expats and offshore agents of Canada, the expats have an opportunity to denounce the distinction and wriggle through the hole.

For some reason, everyone recognizes that the “expatriates have a right to express Canadian identity” argument does not quite work for provinces. A Quebecer living in B.C. is likely to have a meaningful, even essential personal connection to Quebec, but there exists no legal concept of Quebec citizenship, or at least none recognized by the federal government.

I wonder, though, whether the resident citizen’s right to vote in federal elections could be logically severed from mere geographic accident, if we are going to adopt that view of things. Shouldn’t I be allowed to vote for a member of parliament in my hometown, although I no longer know much of its concerns and circumstances in detail, and almost never visit? Bon Accord, Alta., did form my character! And I suppose I care about it! From a polite distance!

Some Canadian citizens might be able to claim a right to cast a vote in many places with which they have some prior connection — maybe even an ancestral one. The opportunities for tactical voting would be hilarious. On what grounds could this kind of frenzy be ruled out, in logic, if the emotional principles of disfranchised expatriates are admitted by the law?

Source: Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting