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  • Yale professor reframes Liberalism, urges Liberals to be less negative and more ambitious in Yale-NUS public lecture

    By Varun (Editor) Professor Moyn delivered the Yale-NUS lecture on Global Affairs on March 7. Source: In the aftermath of World War II and in the throes of the Cold War in the middle of the 20th century, fearful Liberals reacting to a turbulent world around them lost the thread and often conflated Liberalism with Libertarianism. But to defeat Trump in the polls this November, it would do Liberals good to return to Liberalism’s mid-19th century roots — preaching an idea that is more upbeat and ambitious and talked about Liberalism as a collective project, as opposed to one that is more doom and gloom and focused on individual liberties, argued American legal scholar and historian Samuel Moyn in a public lecture on March 7, 2024. Moyn, the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and History at Yale University and author of the 2023 book Liberalism Against Itself, was in town to deliver a lecture titled “Saving Liberalism from Crisis” as part of the Yale-NUS Lecture on Global Affairs series sponsored by the late professor Saw Swee Hock. Another core argument Moyn made in his lecture was that instead of taking a binary “upvote or downvote”, “agree or disagree” view of Liberalism, one should appreciate that there is no single Liberal philosophy, and that there are different “Liberal tendencies” worth evaluating. Moyn said that Brexit in the United Kingdom and Trump’s victory in 2016 prompted a slew of books that purported to answer the million-dollar question vexing anxious liberals then: Why was Liberalism failing? The most famous of these included Why Liberalism Failed by the conservative American political theorist Patrick Deneen (which found its way into Barack Obama’s reading list in 2018), The Retreat of Western Liberalism by the Financial Times journalist Edward Luce, and Liberalism and its Discontents by Stanford University political scientist Francis Fukuyama. On a foundational level, all of these books — regardless of whether they critiqued Liberalism as a philosophy or, in Moyn’s words, were being “apologetic” for it — conceived of Liberalism as a five-hundred-year-old idea that rose as a “modern” response to then-prevalent ideas of traditional Christendoms, and was both accompanied and sustained by notions of individualism and secularity. But the true history of Liberalism, Moyn argued, traces its origins to continental Europe in the early 1800s — particularly in post-revolutionary France, which was grappling with dramatic political and social upheaval. Only then, Moyn said, did groups and individuals start to self-identify as ‘Liberals’. While the key aim of the self-professed Liberals then was to launch a modern and stable political project that enshrined various freedoms and liberties into law, at its heart, Liberalism was “a collective project of creating a free community of equals through the setting up of a mix of public and private institutions”, as opposed to being more narrowly focused on the liberation of the individual from all that surrounded him, including the community and the state within which he existed, Moyn said. In other words, while emancipation was a key theme for them — be it “dismantling feudal structures, breaking down barriers based on religion and tradition, or unlocking economic opportunity for the individual” — Liberals, Moyn said, also understood that emancipation had collective features and that a state needed to create some of the conditions that allowed people to be free and equal. By the mid-20th century, however, reacting to events like the Cold War and the fall of the Weimar Republic, Liberals made freedom from and against the state a central plank of the agenda of Liberalism, thereby becoming Libertarians in all but name. Importantly, these conceptions of Liberalism continue to hover over Liberals today, Moyn argued. They, however, should move away from what he derisively calls ‘Cold War Liberalism’, and instead, take it upon themselves to advocate for positions like more robust and comprehensive welfare programs, more economic redistribution, larger states, and more state intervention, in line with the collective project that Liberalism was at its inception, while making the positive case for why voters should believe in these ideas, instead of motivating them to support Liberals by merely doubling-down on the fears of illiberalism, Moyn said. The lecture came right on the heels of Nikki Haley dropping out of the 2024 presidential election, making a Trump VS Biden re-match in November all but certain. Thus, the portions of the talk that centred around how Liberals could “sell” Liberalism to the public seemed both timely and pertinent. Moyn, in response to an audience member’s question, said that Democrats and the Biden administration could not be excessively “celebratory” of all the achievements that the president has racked up during his first term in office, and instead needed to meet people where they were. Even as Biden has done more to forward a Liberal and Progressive agenda than any president in living memory, often drawing comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt, whose New Deal economic programs pulled the US out of the Great Depression, Moyn noted that it might take some time for people to feel the largesse of the federal government positively touch their lives, and thereby shape their political preferences. Yet, beyond the defense of Liberalist essentials, Liberals also need to offer their supporters something positive to believe in, Moyn said. One such positive vision he advocated for was a society where communities, emancipated, were freed to pursue originality, innovation and ingenuity, making Liberalism a “spiritual project of creativity and individuality”. Varun is a Year 2 FASS student and an editor at The Convergence. His interests include civil-military relations and migration. In his free time, he likes visiting museums and reading.

  • Negotiating the Politics of Kindness: The Forgotten Vietnamese Refugees of Singapore’s Hawkins Road

    By Charmaine (Editor) Southern Vietnamese Seeking Safety and Freedom in Singapore. Source: Vietnamese Heritage Museum When conflicts and wars arise, the spotlight is shone on states, with the media amplifying their wins and losses. The real losers in the aftermath, who are less talked about, are the refugees. As defined by the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. Often, they are civilians who bear the brunt of historical trauma in the aftermath of conflicts even though they are not their perpetrators. Consequently, many seek refuge in neighbouring countries in search of safety and optimistic lives. Yet, states that reverse their open-door policy of accepting refugees could cause refugees to live in limbo in temporary refugee camps. Between 1975 and 1996, in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, Southern Vietnamese searched for safe havens and political asylums. Known for its humane treatment, the sole Vietnamese Refugee Camp at Hawkins Road in Singapore soon crushed the hopes of those who once thought they had a chance of integration into a new society. This article explores the negotiation of pragmatism and kindness by the Singaporean state in its reversal of accepting refugees and its future stance on refugee crises. A Tokenistic Paradise? The mass exodus and sudden arrival of Southern Vietnamese refugees led the Singapore government to create a refugee camp site on the periphery of the island in 1978. Located between View Road and Woodlands Avenue 4, it housed 32,457 refugees waiting for asylum from Europe, Australia and the United States. The site existed as if it were a separate town carved out from Singapore, with facilities such as a temple, a hospital, a language school and a soccer field to appease the new arrivals. Such a strategy was interesting and unique, given that many refugee camps were run down and provided little to no recreational facilities and places for community-building. However, these amenities were not part of Singapore’s long-term nation-building plans to integrate these Vietnamese refugees into society. Rather, they resulted from negotiations between the refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to establish “an assistance program, which included a provision for cultural orientation and English as a second language”. Many of these refugees also pushed for an English education since it could help them understand the customs of and hopefully resettle in the US and other Western countries more easily. A Vietnamese Nation Carved Out in a Foreign Land. Source: Vietnamese Heritage Museum The above blueprint of the community at Hawkins Road was a rough sketch provided by Vinh Panh, a former Vietnamese refugee who stayed there from 1980 to 1990. The area was managed by the UNHCR, which negotiated biennially with the Singaporean government and leased it at a monthly rate of S$8,000 till the end of 1990. Singapore gradually ended the camp’s operations in 1990 and officially closed it in mid-1996 after the last few refugees were repatriated to Vietnam, and the road was no longer used after that. View Road Hospital remained functional as one of the public hospitals caring for mentally ill patients till 2001. Thereafter, it was converted into View Road Lodge, a foreign workers’ dormitory, in 2008 that lasted until 2012. The Hospital was demolished, and the plot of land was returned to the Singapore Land Authority. Today, Hawkins Road has been erased completely from the map, and there are no tangible markers of the area’s history. Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Source: Refugee While some interest was expressed by Singapore’s political leaders to allow these refugees to enter the country, there was no resolve to resettle them here permanently. In fact, after its quick retraction of willingness, the government has always portrayed the site as a transit area, highlighting its scarce land size and economic constraints in supporting these refugees. Short-term assistance was permitted, but not long-term resettlement. Nonetheless, while economic pragmatism has been framed by the state as not wanting to lose valuable resources to the refugees, an overlooked aspect is the state’s expectation of economic benefits from accepting refugees into Singapore. In May 1975, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was firmly against the long-term solace the refugees hoped the Singapore government would provide. He argued, “We all import beef, we are developed. If we lost say, a thousand to 1,500 of our top management, we would be importing corn, not beef. One good management team gives 10,000 men their jobs, and that is what I don’t want to lose. But carpenters, masons, plumbers, I am happy. But they can’t get in.” This quote reveals the assumption that Southern Vietnamese refugees were uneducated and low-class citizens who could not contribute to the nation’s economy since they could not land themselves in jobs that Singapore deemed economically valuable. Similarly, in February 1977, Lee stated in another conference, “We are a small, weak and overpopulated country, not in need of labour of the kind that comes on these perilous journeys in unseaworthy boats”. [9] The dismissive attitude towards the Vietnamese refugees exemplified how the state did not want their presence to add an economic burden to Singapore’s society by presuming that they could not pick up skills to boost the economy. Additionally, Lee’s quick change in portraying Singapore as an unattractive place to live showcased his heightened anxieties despite the country being viewed as economically prosperous then, since its annual real GDP grew about 13% from 1966 to 1973 and 9.2% from 1970 to 1980 respectively, earning it the admirable title of having “one of the highest growth rates in the developing world”. From a Reluctant Acceptance to a Complete Rejection To be accepted for transit, refugees had to fulfil two requirements: be guaranteed resettlement by another country and only stay in transit for 90 days. The former requirement largely eliminated a bulk of refugees who had no intention to relocate from Singapore. As such, many were turned away under Operation Thunderstorm, where the Singapore Armed Forces checked the refugees for their asylum status. The latter prerequisite was more achievable since the refugees were already going to be relocated. Refugees were allowed to stay under these conditions as the leaders of the time felt it was imperative to uphold bilateral relations between states and maintain Singapore’s international image. However, the tardy transition process from Singapore to Western countries likened the camp at Hawkins Road to a dumping ground for rejected asylum seekers who failed to fulfil asylum criteria in these Western countries. Moreover, Singapore’s threats against unwilling refugees to send them back to Vietnam caused these refugees to conduct protests, hunger strikes and suicide attempts, leading to social instability. Since the first requirement was not met over time, Singapore repatriated these refugees back to Vietnam, which gained some political stability after a few years. Some refugees contended that Singapore’s political will was weak. An interview by Beth from Advocates for Refugees - Singapore with Lea Tran, a Hoa Vietnamese refugee who resettled from Singapore to the United States, asserted that Singapore’s fears of an economic disadvantage were unfounded since refugees provide the much-needed manpower for its ageing population and its goal of attaining 6.9 million people by 2030 based on its Population White Paper. Singapore’s US$60,000 contribution to the UNHCR should also be honoured by taking a more active role in resettlement since it already seemed to support refugee crises. Nevertheless, from Singapore’s point of view, its kind-heartedness had been taken advantage of. In 1998, then-Minister of Home Affairs Mr Wong Kan Seng articulated, “We have learnt our lesson and we will no longer accept any refugee even if a third country promises to resettle them.” The tardy resettlement process and eventual breaking of promises led the state to adopt a “prevention is better than cure” mindset. Since the state cannot guarantee how long it would take for refugees to resettle, it would not accept them to prevent uncertainty and undesirable outcomes in the first place. Crucially, Singapore was never a signatory to the 1951 Convention, so it defended itself against criticisms of its indifference since it did not have to abide by the international rule that discourages repatriation amidst danger. In sum, Singapore constantly straddles pragmatism and kindness as it portrays itself as a mere assistance in humanitarian crises, especially regarding refugees, instead of committing itself fully by allowing refugees to resettle in the country permanently. Its present-day fears of potential defaults on promises can be justified by the Vietnam refugee crisis, which explains its closed-door policy today. Singapore’s only form of help is through monetary means, and the state does not seek to change its reluctance to find better solutions. As one of the reasons for rejecting the intake of the Vietnamese refugees was due to their weak labour skills, it would be interesting to see if Singapore’s stance improves should future refugee crises involve the wealthy and influential who can propel its economy to greater heights since it highly prioritises economic pragmatism. Charmaine is a Year 3 Political Science and Southeast Asian Studies major who is an editor at The Convergence. She loves to hear about the life stories of those usually not shown in mainstream media and hopes to share them to empower these communities. She is interested in ethnic nationalism and activism, and ground-up heritage-making initiatives from the Southeast Asian region. When free, she is a full-time professional daydreamer and plans for her retirement in the mountains.

  • Elections in 2024: Preview of a packed and pivotal year

    By Yiyang (Editor) and Andras Around five dozen national elections would be held in 2024, with profound implications for democracy and authoritarianism as well as regional and global geopolitics. Photo source: Half the world will be holding national elections this year. This includes some of the world’s largest democracies including the US, India and Indonesia, as well as pivotal hotspots such as Pakistan and Taiwan whose choices of new leadership can have geopolitical repercussions far beyond their borders. Large chunks of entire subcontinents — in particular Latin America (El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela) and South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India) — may see changes in political leadership, while authoritarians may further entrench themselves in some others (Belarus, Russia and Bangladesh for sure, but quite likely in India and El Salvador as well). This article gives a quick sketch of the most pivotal elections in the year ahead — what to expect, what is at stake and what to look out for. While our aim is to provide a quick, CliffsNotes-style overview, some degree of interpretation and analysis is inevitably involved, especially for the more significant elections. Some elections, of course, receive more public attention by merit of having greater international interest and significance to broader political trends, but for students of politics, quite a number of elections would be of interest, including a few that typically escape the media spotlight. Besides questions of global geopolitical significance — which electoral outcomes in the US, Taiwan and India, for instance, are sure to raise — many elections are worth observing for potentially advancing democratic transition or backsliding, illiberalism or the rule of law, populism or normalcy. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should serve as a quick preview of the elections that observers of political events would most want to turn their attention to. The year’s election marathon kicked off earlier this week with two South Asian elections. On Jan 7, Bangladesh held an essentially sham parliamentary election that entrenched de facto one-party rule. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returns to a fourth consecutive term (and fifth overall) with her Awami League (AL) securing a supermajority of 223 out of 300 seats; most of the remaining seats are held by independents that are proxies for the regime. In the lead-up to the election, the AL deployed massive state repression to secure its position; in response, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the polls and urged its supporters to do the same. In spite of its astounding “victory”, the AL failed in its secondary objective of gaining renewed legitimacy. One of the motives for authoritarian regimes to hold elections is to “prove” they are legitimately popular, but faced with a predetermined outcome, most of the Bagladeshi electorate ignored the polls, leading to a low turnout estimated at 28% (although the AL claims the figure to be 40%). For the foreseeable future, this means the continuation of dictatorship, and prospects for peaceful political change in the long run appear dim. A sharp regional contrast was drawn two days later in Bhutan, where voters went to the polls for the second round of a “relatively free, fair and credible” election for the National Assembly. The campaign was dominated by the poor state of the economy, and the electorate has expressed a clear desire for change. Both the governing centre-left Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNP) and its conservative opposition Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) were eliminated in December’s first round. The liberal People’s Democratic Party (PDP) prevailed in the runoff, winning 30 of the 47 seats in the legislature; its leader Tshering Tobgay is set to become Prime Minister for a second time. The remaining seats go to the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP), a newly founded centrist outfit. This fourth national election since the constitutionalisation of Bhutan’s monarchy in 2008 shows a clear consolidation of competitive multi-party politics and peaceful transfers of power; however, royal power and influence over policy remains strong. This would be soon followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in one of the most closely-watched geopolitical hotspots — Taiwan. While polls indicate that the more pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — the party of the outgoing incumbent Tsai Ing-wen — is marginally in the lead, the more pro-Beijing Kuomintang (KMT) is presenting itself as a stabilising force that would not raise tensions further or risk aggravating Beijing, while still preserving Taiwanese autonomy. Beijing finds it hard to negotiate with the DPP, which has challenged the 1992 Consensus and whose party platform explicitly states that “Taiwan is a sovereign state”. Nonetheless, the DPP is likely to be prudent, aware that most voters prefer the status quo. Additionally, Cross-Strait relations is not the only issue influencing voters — a fact that outside observers frequently overlook. Typical quality-of-life issues, such as an ageing population and unemployment (especially among youths), may factor into voters’ decisions as much as Cross-Strait relations. Meanwhile, a third party, the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), has gained some real estate in what has typically been a two-party system. While its presidential candidate, Ko Wen-je, is unlikely to win the election, the party could take advantage of the DPP’s expected loss of majority in the Legislative Yuan to gain a few extra seats. That might just be enough to produce a hung parliament where no single party has a majority of seats; if so, it would be the first time since 2008 such an outcome has emerged in Taiwan. A hung parliament, in any country, is always a political headache, generating gridlock and instability. As a semi-presidential system, Taiwan would not experience problems with government-formation (the Cabinet is appointed by the President and not the Legislative Yuan), but would surely struggle to pass laws smoothly, as well as likely having a Speaker that is not the DPP’s top choice. In such a case, the TPP would possess disproportionate bargaining power as the middle-of-the-road party sandwiched between the KMT and DPP; its support would likely be needed by whichever party seeking to pass legislation (unless the KMT and DPP can somehow find common ground). We get only a few weeks’ breather before El Salvador (Feb 4), Pakistan (Feb 8) and Indonesia (Feb 14) take the spotlight. El Salvador will kick off the month with presidential and parliamentary elections, with President Nayib Bukele — “Latin America’s first millennial dictator” — set to win a constitutionally dubious second term, in all likelihood matched by a legislative majority or even supermajority. Bukele enjoys genuine popularity for his authoritarian policies (such as harshly cracking down on gangs), in addition to the destruction of almost all constitutional checks and balances and repression against political opponents and civil society. Pakistan’s general election is scheduled for Feb 8, though even this remains uncertain as parties aligned with the military move for a second unconstitutional delay. Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, headed by Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir, aims to keep former Prime Minister Imran Khan — the very man they installed in office in 2018 — and his populist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) out of power. Khan and the military began falling out as early as Oct 2021, and Khan was ousted as premier in April 2022 by the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). Refusing to concede defeat, Khan attempted to leverage his personal popularity to return to power, leading to his arrest in May 2023 and again in August, from which he remains incarcerated. Meanwhile, a large number of PTI candidates have had their nominations rejected, and the Election Commission is attempting to strip the party of its election symbol. Judicial intervention may ease the pressure somewhat — tentatively, PTI’s election symbol is likely to be restored, and most of its candidates allowed on the ballot — but the election will certainly be unfree, unfair and semi-competitive. With PTI out of the way, the competition to lead the next government is confined to the PML-N and PPP, while the presence of several pro-army minor parties increase the chances of a hung parliament that would make any government that emerges dependent on the military’s goodwill. However, it is likely that whichever party taking office would not be content in the long run to remain Gen. Munir’s junior partner, which means further political instability should be expected. In Indonesia, Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) is set to step down at the end of his two-term limit, but enlisting his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as running mate of his current Defence Minister (and former opponent) Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, which polls indicate is in the lead to win the presidential election, hints at an attempt to build a political dynasty. Gibran himself, aged 36, was only allowed to run for office after the Constitutional Court — prompted by Gibran’s family connections — allowed candidates below 40 to run for president and vice-president if they have been elected to office previously, a criteria which Gibran, as current mayor of Surakarta, meets. Meanwhile Prabowo, as a retired military general from the Suharto era, has a record of human rights abuses, which many younger, post-reformasi voters tend to overlook. Opposing the Prabowo-Gibran pair are former academic and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, who appear to be finding ways to work together to erode Prabowo’s lead. Indonesia’s elections are held in a two-round run-off format, where the top two candidates in the first round (Feb 14) — if no one receives over 50% of the votes — advance to a second round (on Jun 26) where they contest only against each other. Should Prabowo fail to win directly in the first round, he would be facing off against either Anies or Ganjar, who would most likely have the backing of the other. Between the two, Anies appears more likely to advance to the second round — ever since the Prabowo-Gibran pairing, many anti-Jokowi voters who used to support Prabowo when he ran against Jokowi have now switched to Anies instead. We close the month — and yes, we are still only in February — with Senegal and Belarus. Senegal is set to elect a new president on Feb 25 as Macky Sall reaches his two-term limit. Sall has endorsed his Prime Minister Amadou Ba to contest against the currently incarcerated opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, whose candidacy remains in doubt owing to an ongoing libel case (the Constitutional Council will rule on this issue on Friday, Jan 12). Clashes between the supporters of Sall and Sonko last year have already caused over a dozen deaths, and if Sonko is left off the final list of cleared presidential candidates — which would be released on Jan 20 — more unrest is sure to follow. With its current trajectory, Senegal — once seen as among the more stable and better-performing democracies in West Africa — appears to be going down the path of democratic backsliding. On the same day, halfway around the world the hegemonic authoritarian regime of Belarus would hold (very likely rigged) parliamentary elections. President Alexander Lukashenko — who has ruled the nation ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and in 2020 brutally crushed a powerful opposition movement — has just signed a law barring exiled opposition leaders from ever contesting elections. Victory for his electoral vehicle Belaya Rus and other dummy parties is a foregone conclusion. Lukashenko’s longtime ally and sponsor, Vladimir Putin, is holding presidential elections in Russia on Mar 15–17, the first federal electoral exercise since his invasion of Ukraine. There should be no surprise as to what the outcome would be. Similar sham elections — formally contested but without any meaningful competition — are also to be expected in mid-February in Azerbaijan, June in Rwanda, and December in Uzbekistan. Authoritarian elections would also feature in Iran, where the parliamentary election on Mar 1 will be the first since the 2022 popular uprisings. Triggered by Mahsa Amini’s murder by religious police after being arrested for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards, the first wave of demonstrations were brutally suppressed but protests have recurred ever since. Additionally, it is uncertain how the recent bombings in Tehran (which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for), as well as the ongoing war in Gaza, would affect the elections. While genuine opponents of the Islamic Republic will certainly not be allowed to run, Iranian elections have historically varied between the blatantly rigged and the limited, controlled competition between moderate “reformists” proposing partial changes to the system and “principlist” hardliners defending it wholesale. It remains to be seen which category the March exercise will fall into. More one-sided authoritarian elections are to be expected later in the year, though the opposition may not be as helpless as in the fully “sham” elections described above. In Chad, “transitional” president Mahamat Déby is aiming to upgrade his status into an ostensibly legitimate one in the presidential and parliamentary elections in October. Déby assumed office in a supposedly interim capacity after the former president, his father Idriss Déby, was killed in battle against armed rebels in April 2021. Since then, Déby and his junta have brutally repressed pro-democracy protests. With a divided opposition, it is likely that Déby would succeed in transitioning his interim status into an official one. In Mozambique, the former liberation movement FRELIMO, in power since the country’s independence from Portugal in 1975, is a rare example of an authoritarian regime which enforces term limits on individual leaders, including the incumbent President Filipe Nyusi. While FRELIMO has recently engaged in outright rigging to avoid losing control of important municipal governments, it is likely to face a stiff challenge in its Oct 9 presidential and parliamentary elections from its longtime rival RENAMO, which regularly wins a significant share of the popular vote and legislative seats. In December, Algeria’s ruling civil-military oligarchy — sometimes simply called le pouvoir (“the power”) — will face its electorate for the second time since the 2019 Hirak protest movement that forced it to depose long-time dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is likely to run for and claim a second term, but the reforms introduced under his tenure are widely considered to be merely cosmetic and popular discontent remains high. In April, the pace slows down slightly, with only South Korea scheduled to hold its legislative election on Apr 10. While this election would not typically be considered very significant globally, a recent assassination attempt on the opposition leader Lee Jae-myung, of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) highlights the growing polarisation of South Korean society. While the liberal DPK holds a legislative majority, Yoon Suk Yeol of the conservative People Power Party (PPP) holds the presidency, through which he has utilised state power to undermine Lee and the DPK, such as launching a series of investigations against Lee on corruption and other criminal charges. In response, the DPK has refused to approve many of Yoon’s appointees to the Supreme Court. While the DPK has recently won a by-election in Seoul — a key swing constituency — the upcoming national election is expected to be neck-to-neck, with the DPK hamstrung by Lee’s trial and infighting and the PPP plagued by Yoon’s unpopularity. Around this time of the year, we should also expect India to hold general elections, which have yet to be scheduled but are due by May. Incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third term, which would allow him to continue transforming India from a secular democracy into an authoritarian Hindu state. Unlike in 2014 when it came to power or in 2019 when it defended an economics-focused first term, the BJP is now on the ballot having openly deployed state power against Indian Muslims, including a plot (for now halted) to strip many of their citizenship, arbitrary violence by law enforcement, and inciting and tolerating pogroms. Modi also continued his project of assaulting constitutional checks and balances “with a thousand cuts” in his second term, moving against fourth-branch institutions, the federal structure and opposition MPs. Individually defeated time and again, most opposition parties have united in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to run a single national campaign against the BJP — an increasingly common and successful trend in anti-authoritarian politics. If the coalition’s ongoing talks on seat-sharing succeed, virtually every constituency across the country will see a two-person race between INDIA and BJP candidates (otherwise, the BJP will be easily re-elected). It is very unlikely that INDIA would manage to replace the BJP, but reducing its majority — currently 290 of 543 MPs — could reintroduce electoral competitiveness and remove Modi’s ability to amend the Constitution at will, crucial considering the government’s recent trial balloons on the feasibility of major constitutional changes. Another overwhelming BJP victory, on the other hand, would mean opening the door to more extreme majoritarianism and steps towards one-party rule. As we enter the summer, Latin America’s electoral super-cycle picks up its pace. While Latin American elections typically lead to the removal of the incumbent — from 2018, 20 out of 22 free and fair presidential elections were won by the opposition — this time, voters seem set on rewarding leaders who best address their most fundamental needs, in particular reducing violent crime, creating jobs and combating inflation. In most cases, regime renewal — including for illiberal regimes — is to be expected. In the Dominican Republic, President Luis Abinader looks set to renew his term on May 19 given his high approval rating for achieving economic growth, raising living standards, combating corruption and handling the Covid-19 pandemic competently. Regime renewal is also to be expected in Mexico, where parliamentary and presidential elections on Jun 2 — expected to be free and fair — are likely to return the left-wing populist Morena party to power. While incumbent President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO) is term-limited, his successor Claudia Sheinbaum is leading in the polls, aided by AMLO’s popularity from raising wages to keep up with inflation, investing in public infrastructure, increasing social assistance and lowering homicide rates. If Sheinbaum is successful in becoming Mexico’s first female president, she will no doubt carry on with Morena’s statist socio-economic policies, but there is also a risk that she will continue AMLO’s attacks on independent institutions. In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s regime has a history of electoral irregularities, and although he is also under American pressure (enforced by oil and gas sanctions) to hold free and fair elections, that seems unlikely to occur (although some concessions may be made), and Maduro is widely expected to hold on to power. The date for the election is not yet set, but Maduro and the opposition have publicly agreed to hold it in the second half of the year. By contrast, voters in Panama look set to punish the deeply unpopular President Laurentino Cortizo and his party on May 5. Ten candidates are looking to succeed Cortizo, whose two-term limit ends on a note of strong public opposition to his renewal of an unpopular copper mining contract and underlying problems with corruption and environmental damage. Though it is too early to tell, the frontrunner to replace Cortizo appears to be the corrupt former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009–14), whose victory would mean immunity from his decade-long prison sentence, handed down in July 2023 for money laundering. In spite of these scandals, his time in office is remembered by voters as a more stable and economically prosperous time. The closest resemblance to a regular, non-populist democratic election comes in October, where Uruguay’s presidential and parliamentary elections are expected to be genuinely competitive and a tight race between the Multicolour Coalition and the leftist Broad Front opposition coalition. Moving to Europe, a number of parliamentary and presidential elections are set to be held this year, though most have not yet set a date. The main theme is whether the populist far right movement would advance its gains from 2023, where Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Greece saw far-right parties entering government while dictator Hungarian Viktor Orbán renewed his leadership. On the other hand, in the same year Spain kept its far right from government (albeit by allying with the far left and accommodating nationalist parties), while Poland’s liberal opposition coalition defeated the far-right populist government of eight years. Immigration, Euroscepticism, governments’ responses to the Covd-19 pandemic, inflation woes and support for Ukraine are the hot-button issues for the far right. Portugal’s parliamentary elections on Mar 10 is shaping up to be a tight race between the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the historically more popular, but scandal-hit incumbent Socialist Party (PS). The PSD has formed a pre-electoral alliance with the more conservative CDS-PP, though fortunately it has ruled out allying with the rising populist, anti-establishment party Chega. Ireland could face early elections in the face of refugee and immigration issues — which have caused race riots in Dublin — as well as property prices and rents that are among the highest in Europe. Meanwhile, Belgium looks to preserve its famously chaotic status quo in its Jun 9 parliamentary elections. In Austria, the far-right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) — which has already been repeatedly included in previous governing coalitions and effectively normalised — is surging in polls ahead of parliamentary elections due this autumn. The FPÖ, which has Nazi roots, faces a plausible chance of becoming a coalition leader and naming the chancellor this time, fuelled by xenophobia, public discontent over the Covid-19 pandemic and inflation, as well as a fragmented and scandal-hit Left. Identity politics also weigh heavily on neighbouring Germany. Though federal elections are not due until October 2025, crucial state elections in three of the five states of the former East Germany have the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) consistently polling over 30% of popular support. If those numbers translate into the composition of the new state assemblies, mainstream parties may struggle to maintain their cordon sanitaire against the AfD only by forming a tenuous all-party coalition ranging from conservatives to democratic socialists. Further east, Romania also faces a rising far-right threat by the ultra-nationalist, anti-establishment, anti-Covid vaccine Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR). At the European Union (EU) level, European Parliament elections are scheduled for 6–9 June. The elections will be a crucial barometer for the extent and nature of Europe’s general political shift to the right and its relation to the future of European integration, with polls projecting that the far right will improve on its 2019 results considerably. As the year nears its end, we come to perhaps the most important election of all — that of the United States on Nov 5, which is shaping up to be a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. For now, however, all eyes are on the US Supreme Court, which has just granted certiorari to hear Trump’s appeal against his disqualification by the Colorado Supreme Court, with arguments set to open on Feb 8. The Colorado court had found the former President’s involvement in the Jan 6 insurrection — for which he also faces criminal charges separately — a violation of Section 3 of the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment, which disqualifies officers under or of the United States “who, having previously taken an oath…to support the Constitution…have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” The issue is whether the phrase ought to be interpreted narrowly as applying only to the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War — which would allow Trump to run — or more broadly to mean all insurrections generally. While the Colorado case affects only voting within that state, the Supreme Court’s decision would have nation-wide implications. Ruling in Trump’s favour would forestall similar attempts to keep him off the ballot, while ruling against him would surely invite similar challenges in other states. So far, Maine’s Secretary of State has removed Trump from the ballot based on Section 3, a decision which Trump is contesting in the state courts. In contrast, the Supreme Court of Michigan, a key swing state, has rejected the Section 3 challenge to Trump. Trump is also likely to use his court appearance to appeal for immunity from his four ongoing criminal cases, which collectively add up to 91 criminal charges. If Trump is disqualified, it is unclear who will take his place as the leading Republican candidate, with the Republican primaries still under way. Meanwhile, Biden faces consistently low approval ratings, with his Gaza policy attracting strong opposition from pro-Palestine voters. The year will come to a close on Dec 7, with the quadrennial presidential and parliamentary election (the latter first-past-the-post, the former going to a runoff if no candidate wins an absolute majority of the vote) in Ghana. Amidst a disastrous economic situation, the two-party system in place since the 1990s is coming under stress. President Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) is term-limited, but his Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia has prevailed in a competitive primary for the NPP nomination. His main opponent would be former president John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), who is aiming to make a comeback after two consecutive losses. While NPP and NDC have historically been the key players in Ghana, a third party, New Force, led by businessman Nana Kwame Bediako aims to shake up politics with a more sharply anti-establishment campaign. Meanwhile, former NPP senior leader Alan John Kyerematen has quit the party to form the Movement for Change. For the first time, Ghana could face a multi-candidate race rather than a straightforward NPP-NDC contest, making a runoff for the presidential election possible and breaking the two-party duopoly in Parliament. However, civil liberties and media freedom are coming under stress, raising fears for the stability of West Africa’s most consolidated democracy. Several notable elections remain unscheduled but are due this year. Three dominant-party democracies are holding general elections in Southern Africa towards the end of the year, with differing prospects for the incumbents. Botswana’s governing party since independence, the centre-right Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), has weathered a period of weakness but is likely to be returned to power comfortably, aided by divisions in the opposition and the first-past-the-post electoral system. In Namibia, the centre-left former liberation movement SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) is impeded by internal factionalism while attempting to reverse its declining vote share over the last decade. It is almost certain to remain in office, with Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah set to succeed the term-limited Hage Geingob and become the first woman to serve as President, but its margin of victory will play a key part in defining the future course of Namibian politics. Finally, the African National Congress (ANC), which has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in the 1990s, is making its sixth and most difficult bid for re-election in the spring. Although not as reviled as his hyper-corrupt predecessor Jacob Zuma, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s popularity has been on the decline. A number of centrist to right-wing opposition parties are presenting voters with a common governing alternative, the Multi-Party Charter (MPC), emphasising economic growth and clean administration. The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) aims to erode the ANC’s left flank, attacking its failure to more thoroughly alter the socio-economic legacies of apartheid and colonialism. There is a realistic chance that the ANC would lose its legislative majority for the first time; if so, South Africa will witness the historic advent of national coalition governments. Sri Lanka is due to hold a presidential election by October, its first national vote since the 2022 protests that ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). With his resignation (which he tendered by email from Singapore), Rajapaksa left the presidency Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party (UNP), who has been accommodative to the SLPP and now seeks to renew his term in spite of a profoundly anti-establishment public mood. With rising poverty and malnutrition, an India-friendly foreign policy unpopular with the dominant ethnic Sinhalese, as well as his association with Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe is polling second-last among the four candidates, ahead of only the SLPP itself. Leading the polls is Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the left-wing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), followed by Sajith Premadasa of the centrist Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Neither party has led a government before, although the SJB is a breakaway from Wickremesinghe’s once-powerful UNP. The SLPP has yet to declare a candidate. The United Kingdom (UK) is also due for a General Election by Jan 28, 2025, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has signalled that it will be called in the autumn. Polls show that for close to two years, Sunak’s Conservative Party has been heavily trailing the centre-left Labour (which has been out of office since 2010), with voters alienated by economic malaise, chronic infighting and political scandals. Labour leader Keir Starmer has shifted his party’s platform sharply towards the centre while emphasising the issues of competence and integrity; YouGov’s latest poll shows the party capturing 46% of voter intention (in contrast to 22% for the Conservatives). Meanwhile, Sunak also faces a threat of conservatives defecting to the right-wing populist Reform Party (currently at 9% of voter intention). All signs thus point to the Tories losing their close to 15-year hold on power. On the whole, 2024, with its relentless pace of elections, does not look to be an optimistic year for democracy. Authoritarian and hybrid regime renewals or victories are to be expected in most cases, especially in South Asia, Latin America and Africa, while the populist threat remains in Europe. Dominant parties in Southern Africa may face some challenges but are still set for renewal. While some degree of normalcy remains in the three East Asian elections, the one in Taiwan carries immense regional and global geopolitical stakes. Similarly, the US remains highly unstable domestically, to everyone’s detriment both at home and abroad. Yiyang is a Year 3 Political Science major who is an Editor at The Convergence. Among many interests, he is primarily interested in political theory, applied ethics, political institutions and democratization. He has an unhealthy habit of buying more books than he can read. Andras is member of the Class of 2023 at Sciences Po Paris's Undergraduate College on the Le Havre campus.

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  • Submission Guidelines | The Convergence

    Submission Guidelines The Convergence covers a wide range of topics and issues related to Singaporean society and politics. It aims to present broad views and clear thinking by interested students and individuals, so as to raise greater awareness and stimulate active and constructive discourse among our readers. Articles should be written in proper English and delivered through a clear and cohesive tone that can be read with ease and pleasure by a general audience. The Convergence accepts and publishes online articles and materials of several categories according to topics. Examples of Topics: Pertaining to Education, Economics, Society, Health, Environment and Politics. Other topics are welcomed through discussion with The Convergence team. Articles that relate to Singapore would be preferred. Between 900 to 1,800 words. Please provide a (website) link to citations if used. Please also provide a Reference list. General guidelines for submissions: All pieces for The Convergence are to be written in English. Pieces have to be double-spaced and adopt the Times New Roman font, size 12. Justify all pages and use 1-inch margins on top and bottom as well as left and right. Acceptable file formats are .doc, .docx, although .docx is preferred. Our publication uses the Chicago/APA manual of style, but we do not require submissions to be formatted as such upon submission. All submissions or relevant pitch to be sent to . Pieces that have been published on The Convergence may be re-published on other publication platforms with the approval of the Editorial Board. Such pieces should also credit The Convergence as the original publisher. ​

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