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Belarus’s quest for democracy has a female face | Belarus

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The woman in a black dress with a piercing stare folds her arms in defiance. “Eva”, the painting by Franco-Belarusian artist Chaim Soutine, once proudly hung in the gallery of Belarus’s Belgazprombank until its head Viktar Babaryka announced his candidacy for president.

Shortly after, Babaryka was detained on trumped-up charges, thrown in jail and the bank’s artworks, Eva included, seized and removed from public view. Far from being forgotten, Eva’s captivity has become a powerful emblem for the women driving the popular uprising against President Alexander Lukashenko’s tyrannical reign.

Memes of Eva behind bars and being manhandled by riot police have spread across social media channels and the spirit of “Evalution” underlined the distinctly feminist flavour of the ongoing protests.

The emergence of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the main opposition candidate in the August 9 presidential election represented a new kind of challenge to the Lukashenko regime. A former teacher and a stay-at-home mother, she was pushed into the spotlight after her husband tried to run in the elections but was imprisoned. Eventually, Tikhanovskaya was joined by Maria Kolesnikova, the manager of Babyrka’s campaign, and Veronika Tsepkalo, wife of Valery Tsepkalo, another disqualified presidential candidate who was forced into exile. 

Thus, by banishing and imprisoning his male rivals, Lukashenko allowed for a much more powerful alliance to take shape. The image of three strong, independent and charismatic women galvanised the Belarusian public which came out en masse to vote on August 9. The official results were, without a doubt, falsified and although we do not know the real ballot count, it is most likely that Tikhanovskaya – a woman with no prior political experience – defeated Lukashenko.

Ever since he stole the election, the beleaguered strongman has never looked weaker, despite his aggressive posturing. On August 23, the presidential press team released footage of him clad in a bulletproof vest, carrying a rifle and being applauded by riot police. He said that the protesters had “run away like rats”, although in reality, 200,000 people had gathered in central Minsk that day to denounce him. 

The Belarusian authorities have stepped up their distinctly misogynistic crackdown. Female activists have been intimidated with threats of their children being taken away and put into orphanages. Female detainees have been harassed, threatened with, and in some cases, allegedly suffered rape.

The regime expected that this wave of terror would silence the masses, but instead, it acted as a catalyst for more demonstrations, mobilising even apolitical citizens who were so horrified by what they saw that they decided to take to the streets. Protesters have been singing, playing music, clapping, walking, biking, holding flowers and forming chains of solidarity in towns and cities across the country. The Evalution continues to be nonviolent, reflecting the protesters’ insistence that the rule of law, which the government has trampled all over, must be restored by the people.

Lukashenko has a long record of sexist remarks, most recently claiming that society is “not mature enough to vote for a woman”, and that a female leader would struggle to cope. Many Belarusian women would probably not identify themselves as feminists but they certainly reject the president’s primitive views on the place of women in society.

They do not want to remain subjugated by a system that is increasingly alien to them. They refuse to “stay at home and cook borscht”, as Lidia Yermoshina, head of the farcical Central Election Commission, infamously advised female political activists to do in 2011. They live in a globalised, increasingly connected world and have grander visions for their lives and personal freedom than what the regime wants them to have.

The fallout from the fraudulent election has also underscored how an analogue dictatorship struggles to contain a digital revolution. The arrival of new communication tools has severely undermined the patriarchal stranglehold on public life and the tech-savviness of the protesters has enabled them to skirt internet blackouts by organising on Telegram channels.

While the country is illegitimately governed by a Luddite, 80 percent of Belarusian women are active users of social media. During the electoral campaign, Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnkova and Tsepkalo relied heavily on social media platforms to organise meetings in different towns and cities, to raise visibility of their platform, to coordinate different social groups and to disclose evidence of electoral fraud.

The ongoing resistance has considerably undermined the patriarchal norms that prevented women from active participation in political life throughout Lukashenko’s rule

In a pre-election speech, Lukashenko spoke of his “beloved Belarus” and how he would not let his beloved go away. For millions of Belarusian women, it sounded less like a declaration of love and more like an abuser’s threat to his victim. Indeed, the Belarusian people have been held hostage by the man for 26 years but now, finally, they are standing up to their captor and demanding freedom.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Kyrgyzstan votes on constitution boosting president’s powers | Elections News

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Draft constitution will reduce the size of the Kyrgyz parliament and give the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies.

Voters in Kyrgyzstan went to polls on Sunday for a constitutional referendum widely expected to see President Sadyr Japarov’s powers expanded while allowing him to run for office a second time.

Japarov, a 52-year-old populist, has brushed aside political opponents since coming to power on the back of an October political crisis in which he was first released from jail by supporters, beginning a dizzying rise to the leadership.

He confirmed his dominance by posting a landslide victory in a presidential election in January. In a parallel poll, voters also indicated a preference for presidential over parliamentary rule, boosting his drive to overhaul the constitution.

Japarov’s proposed amendments promise a presidency in line with Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asian neighbours, ending a decade-long experiment with a mixed system. The draft new constitution would reduce the size of the country’s parliament by 25 percent to 90 seats and give the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies.

Japarov and his supporters hope the strengthening of the presidency will make the country more stable after its leaders were toppled by violent revolts in 2005, 2010 and 2020.

But local critics have dubbed the draft document a “khanstitution” for its expansion of presidential powers.

Emil Dzhuraev, a Bishkek-based political analyst, said the proposed changes will centralise power in the office of the president. “To such an extent that, basically no national-level institution will be able to do anything without the participation or the sign off on it by the president,” Dzhuraev told Al Jazeera.

In Bishkek, Dukot Yyndybaev, a small business owner, told Al Jazeera the reforms could be a step backwards in the path to full democracy.

“Kyrgyz people have a strong will towards freedom,” he said. “We don’t tolerate backward steps away from democracy. There are more serious issues to be solved in the country than the constitutional referendum, such as unemployment. It is better not to destroy what we have achieved so far.”

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission also criticised the lack of “meaningful and inclusive public consultations and debate in parliament” before the basic law was put to the people in a joint opinion published in March.

The two bodies also raised fears over the “overly prominent role and prerogatives of the President”.

Just last year, Japarov was serving a prison sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute about a gold mine when he was freed by demonstrators who contested the results of the October parliamentary election.

Immediately after his release, Japarov mobilised stone-hurling supporters to evict President Sooronbay Jeenbekov from office and then took the helm as the nation’s interim leader. His sentence has since been overturned.

A recent poll by the United States-based International Republican Institute showed that Japarov was by far the most trusted politician in the country.

The percentage of voters who believed Kyrgyzstan was headed in the right direction jumped from 41 percent last August – when Jeenbekov was in charge – to 70 percent in February and March, poll data showed.

If voters back the draft constitution, presidents including Japarov will be able to run in consecutive elections once more, reversing the single-term limit imposed on leaders during an overhaul of the basic law in 2010.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a key ally, expressed support for the constitutional drive in February when Japarov went to Moscow in his first foreign visit, saying that he hoped it would bring stability to the country of 6.5 million.

Voting in the referendum began at 02:00 GMT and will conclude at 14:00 GMT with results expected shortly after polls close. A turnout of 30 percent is required to validate the election.

 



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour

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President Museveni has urged Ugandans to exploit the available resources to create jobs and stem labour export.

Uganda does not encourage the export of human labour resource abroad,” said Museveni on Saturday, April 10.

”Uganda is a very rich country. It is bad to be poor. What matters is to have attitude change among our people and to put the available resources into use to create jobs,” he emphasized.

 Museveni said Uganda should emulate countries like South Korea and Japan whose nationals do not seek for jobs outside their countries.

The President was meeting the Regional Director of International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mohammed Abdiker in charge of East and the Horn of Africa who was accompanied by the UN Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango.

Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates globally with more than 78% of its population below 30 years.

This is the productive age of many people but while the labour force is increasing with each passing year, the labour market is actually shrinking rendering it incapable of accommodating the 500,000 young Ugandans that join the labour market annually.

This makes labour export the most feasible alternative way out of this unemployment conundrum.

Uganda adopted the externalization of labour in 2005 as a measure to shed off its excess and abundant labour force though this policy has culminated into an industry that is lucrative but unregulated hence the making the need for regulatory processes more needed today than ever before.

Ugandan women were recently warned against the increasing number of criminal gangs in Kampala city who allegedly recruit girls on the streets promising them ‘juicy jobs in Malaysia and other East Asian countries and instead sell them into forced prostitution.

Remittances to Uganda have increased from $ 1.6 billion (Sh4.6 trillion) in 2016, to $ 2.0bn (Sh7 trillion in 2017 and they can only go higher as the labour export industry is regulated and formalized so that the nation can gain from the labour and exploits of her citizens.

Meanwhile, Museveni and Malango discussed the current political situation in the region including Somalia, South Sudan and the DRC.

During the meeting that was held at Independence Grounds at Kololo, the President said the political solution to Somalia was to senstize the nationals about the weaknesses of fronting issues of identity including tribal and religion as opposed to people’s common interests to achieve Socia-economic transformation, prosperity and political stability.

Mr. Mohammed Abdiker thanked the President for his tremendous input on two fronts mainly; fighting for the political stability of Somalia and South Sudan and combating Covid-19 pandemic.

He thanked the President for his support to IOM programmes on disaster response and refugees.

The post Museveni: We Don’t Encourage Export of Labour first appeared on ChimpReports.



Source – chimpreports.com

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Opposition sidelined as Benin votes in presidential election | Elections News

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With most rivals in exile or sidelined, Benin’s President Patrice Talon looks set to win a second term in office.

Voters in Benin are set to cast their ballots in a presidential election on Sunday, days after deadly protests against President Patrice Talon, who is heavily favoured to win a second term.

Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, faces off against two little-known rivals, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

Opponents accuse the 62-year-old Talon of undermining Benin’s vibrant multi-party democracy by sidelining most of his main opponents.

Protests in several cities last week turned violent. At least two people died in the central city of Save when troops on Thursday fired tear gas and live rounds to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway. Five others were wounded.

In the commercial capital Cotonou, several people said they feared violence on election day.

“The events of these last days scare me,” said Christophe Dossou, a student. “I prefer to remain cautious.”

Benin’s President Patrice Talon denies targeting his opponents [File: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws that he said were aimed at streamlining unwieldy government institutions. In practice, those reforms resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from a special economic crimes court created by Talon also fled the country last week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against the president’s critics, including the decision to detain Madougou.

Meanwhile, businessman Sebastien Ajavon, who came third in the 2016 presidential poll, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, while another potential rival, ex-finance minister Komi Koutche, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. Ajavon lives in exile in France, while Koutche lives in Washington, DC.

Talon denies targeting his opponents.

He has campaigned on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.

Soldiers stand in line to block supporters of the incumbent president during an electoral campaign rally at Abomey-Calavi, on April 9, 2021 [Pius Utomi Ekpei/ AFP]

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018 and recorded average annual gross domestic product growth of over 5 percent before the global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“What we did was not easy,” Talon said at one of his final campaign rallies on Friday. “We are strong and we know how to get it done.”

He said he expects a “knock-out victory” for which there would be no need for a runoff vote.

The United States, German, French and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union delegation in Benin all called on Friday for calm and for the vote to go ahead in a free and transparent manner.

“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Results are expected to be announced on Monday or Tuesday.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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