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If your country had suffered decades of crippling corruption, wouldn't you want to prosecute those responsible? Of course you would. On Sunday, almost 98 percent of Mexicans who voted in a national referendum on this subject said, in so many words: "Yes, please prosecute the last five presidents for corruption!"
The catch is that turnout was a dismal 7 percent, meaning the plebiscite fell way short of the 40 percent turnout threshold required for its result to be binding.
The consultation was backed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, a leftwing populist elected in 2018 in part on his pledge to root out graft and wrestle the power of government back to the common people. Since then he has held a number of non-binding referenda on his policies, and floated a recall vote on his own presidency later this year.
But nearly halfway into his single six-year term, the graft referendum blunder raises some questions about the viability of AMLO's political style, and the future of his ruling MORENA party after he's out of office.
Opponents of the referendum say it was pointless. To be sure, putting former presidents on trial for graft would be a huge deal for Mexico, currently ranked 124th out of 179 nations on perception of corruption by Transparency International. Instead, the question is whether the vote was even necessary in the first place.
There was nothing stopping the government from investigating former presidents — or anyone else — before this. And critics note that AMLO hasn't made much progress against graft anyway. It doesn't help that his sister and brother-in-law have been accused of taking bribes, and that AMLO himself has demanded the US stop funding Mexican anti-corruption NGOs which he says are against him.
Moreover, some of the more fevered theories claim that the whole thing was really a ploy to give a pass to influential former leaders whom AMLO would rather not tangle with after all.
For his supporters, the point of the referendum was to give AMLO a clear mandate to go after former presidents — including the most recent one, Enrique Peña Nieto. But again, almost no one showed up. Even AMLO himself didn't vote, saying, in his typical messianic style, that he favors forgiveness over punishment.
Also, putting everything to a vote is part of AMLO's carefully crafted image of a "man of the people" who wants Mexicans to decide directly on issues of national importance instead of through their elected representatives. Members of his base, whether or not they actually turn up, appreciate being consulted because they've long felt neglected by traditional politicians.
The fact that this plebiscite failed so spectacularly, though, shows us that perhaps some of AMLO's magic touch is wearing thin. Don't forget it was just two months ago that MORENA lost its two-thirds majority in parliament in the midterm elections. All of this jeopardizes AMLO's plans to carry out what he calls Mexico's "Fourth Transformation" because he'll need to get his successor elected in 2024.
Still, AMLO himself remains immensely popular. Although his approval ratings dipped a bit over his handling of COVID and the economy, they have stayed above 60 percent throughout the pandemic. Despite record levels of COVID, crime, economic crisis, and drug cartel-related violence, Mexicans — particularly older and rural ones — still adore AMLO because he's a plainspoken, frugal political outsider who fights for them.
That popularity goes a long way — but if the man himself can't get people to turn up for a referendum on a key issue like this, is there something deeper brewing? AMLO still has three years to sort it out, but the second half of his term is looking a lot more challenging than the first.
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August 02, 2021
The COVID delta variant — which first surfaced in India earlier this year — is spreading rampantly throughout every continent, and is now the most dominant strain globally. But low- and middle-income countries, particularly in regions where vaccines have been scarce, are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the more contagious strain. We take a look at the 10 countries now recording the highest number of daily COVID deaths (per 1 million people), and their corresponding vaccination rates.
From Your Site Articles
What We're Watching: China tackles delta, Bolsonaro fans hit the streets for receipts, Nigeria's crypto conundrum
August 02, 2021
China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, though many experts say they are still at least 55 percent effective in preventing serious illness.
Bolsonaro hit the streets for receipts: Ahead of what looks like an increasingly tough fight for reelection in 2022, Brazil's provocative right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has been calling into question the integrity of the vote itself. Recently, he has alleged, without evidence, that there was "fraud" in the first round of the 2018 election, which he won in a runoff. Now, as Bolsonaro trails his most likely 2022 competitor, the popular leftist former president Lula, by double digits in early polling, he has suggested that Brazil's electronic voting systems are vulnerable to new mischief. On Sunday, a few thousand of his supporters took to the streets to support his demand that every vote cast electronically in 2022 come with a paper receipt for easy recounts. To be clear, there is zero evidence that vote tampering of this kind is a real problem in Brazil. Observers worry that Bolsonaro, who has badly mishandled the pandemic and faces potential corruption allegations that could open the way to impeachment, is laying a fictitious groundwork to contest an election that he might lose. Sound familiar?Nigeria's crypto conundrum: The Nigerian government has tried to crackdown on cryptocurrency trading over the past year, but recent figures show that the strategy is backfiring: Nigerians traded 50 percent more in the first five months of 2021 than during the same period last year, according to a Helsinki-based crypto platform. Many factors, including a stagnant economy, corruption, and a pandemic-related drop in remittances and the value of the local currency, have caused the surge in crypto trading in Nigeria, where 62 percent of the population is under the age of 25. (Nigeria is now second only to the US for Bitcoin trading.) Trying to reduce incentives for Nigerians to trade in unregulated currencies, in February the government banned cryptocurrency transactions through licensed banks, a measure that was largely ignored. The government, for its part, says the move is intended to protect users from a volatile and unregulated industry; critics say it's about excessive government control. Indeed, recent events show that any central bank must tread carefully when attempting to regulate crypto, which is fast becoming a major conundrum for monetary authorities around the world. Nigeria's central bank recently announced that it would pilot the launch of its own digital currencies in October as an alternative, but none of these measures seem to have changed Nigerians' behaviors for now.
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It was a weird series of events. Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya took to Instagram to lament that her country's Olympic Committee had registered her for the 4x400 relay event at the eleventh hour (because a fellow participant had failed to pass drug screenings) despite not having trained.
Timanovskaya said her public statement got her barred from running in her next planned event, the individual 200 race, and that she feared for her safety were she to return home — and for good reason: The Belarus Olympic committee is overseen by one Viktor Lukashenko, politician and son of iron-fisted President Alexander Lukashenko, who does not tolerate any dissent. In fact, the International Olympic Committee had previously banned Lukashenko senior and junior from attending the Games in person because of the family's dismal human rights record.
Japan, notoriously inhospitable to asylum applicants, didn't offer Timanovskaya a helping hand, although Poland did give her a visa on humanitarian grounds. She will fly to Warsaw on Wednesday.
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Hard Numbers: Turkey on fire, Malaysia's opposition blocked, Tigrayans vow to fight on, Americans face evictions
August 02, 2021
100: A scorching heat wave has caused more than 100 wildfires across Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coastline in recent days. Scientists say that dry conditions induced by climate change have helped spread the fires, which have already killed eight people and caused mass evacuations from tourist hotspots.
100: Malaysian police blocked 100 opposition lawmakers from entering parliament, which Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassi ordered closed for 14 days because of a reported COVID outbreak. Opposition lawmakers, and lay citizens, have called on Muhyiddin to resign over his handling of COVID. They say he has used the crisis to hold on to power.
400,000: Despite the Ethiopian government announcing a unilateral ceasefire back in June, the head of the Tigrayan rebel forces now says that his group will keep fighting until its ceasefire terms — including a long-term political solution to the conflict — are met. This development comes as the UN warns that at least 400,000 people in Tigray are living under famine-like conditions.
3.6: The federal moratorium on evictions in the US, triggered by the pandemic, expired on Saturday, leaving 3.6 million Americans vulnerable to evictions over the next few months. Progressive House Democrats rallied for the ban to be extended, but the US Supreme Court said that only a new bill from Congress would reinstate the measure. Meanwhile, more than 7 million Americans are reportedly behind on their rent payments.
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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.
Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.
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