Republicans brace for The Donald’s candidacy
Donald Trump steamrollered through Indiana’s primaries on Tuesday, forcing main rival Ted Cruz to suspend his campaign, and making it likely he’ll get enough delegates at the Republican convention in July to win the party’s presidential nomination on the first vote.
Cruz, along with allied third-runner John Kasich, had marked Indiana as the point of counterattack, to stop Trump’s campaign momentum and deny him, in the remaining party primary votes through to California on June 7, the additional delegates needed for a majority − and thus throw the floor open for a “brokered” convention.
In the final run to Indiana, it was no holds barred. Trump raised a spurious tabloid story that Cruz’s father had been an associate of Lee Harvey Oswald. Cruz pointed to Trump’s promiscuous sexual history. “If Indiana does not act,” Cruz said, “this country could well plunge into the abyss.”
Sleaze beat biblical rectitude, it turned out, with Trump getting 53.3 per cent of the Republican turnout, Cruz just under 37 per cent, and Kasich almost 8 per cent. Cruz took the message. “The voters chose another path, and so with a heavy heart, but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.”
It remains to be seen how the Republican establishment will play a Trump takeover, but so far they look like closing ranks behind him even though some think it’s political suicide. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a beating in Indiana, gaining 52.7 per cent of votes to her 47.3 per cent. It’s unlikely to derail her progress to the Democrat nomination, but keeps him nudging her to the left.
A President Trump might have a congenial counterpart across the Pacific: another vulgar and ignorant braggart, with no experience in national government or foreign policy, who threatens extrajudicial processes to deal with criminals and makes campaign remarks that are deeply offensive, especially to women.
This is Rodrigo Duterte, 71, who is the frontrunner in opinion polls ahead of Monday’s presidential election in the Philippines. As long-time mayor of Davao City in the country’s “wild south” of Mindanao island, “Duterte Harry” is promising a vigilante-style leadership to voters. He got on the news here for his joke about the Australian missionary who was taken hostage, raped and murdered in a prison riot in Davao in 1989. “I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first,” he told a laughing audience.
The more moderate and experienced the candidate, such as former teacher and current senator Grace Poe or former international court judge Miriam Defensor Santiago, the less the appeal to the underclasses and provincials, who feel left out of the impressive boom in the Philippine economy. Duterte tells them “the system isn’t working”, and for them it isn’t, or at least not yet. Not that he has any answers, except perhaps a return to Marcos-style corruption and cronyism.
Young Kim Jong-un is getting in with his own party congress, which was due to start in Pyongyang yesterday.
This is the first the Korean Workers’ Party has held in 36 years, so it’s not exactly as though the ruling Kim family has felt there was anything to resolve about its loyalty. Still, it’s a big and puzzling thing that Kim Jong-un has decided to resurrect the party machine, nearly five years since he succeeded his late father Kim Jong-il.
Instead of fireworks, the latest Kim has warmed up the atmospherics with missile launches, including one from a submerged submarine, and may yet conduct another nuclear test. Security tightened around the capital in mid-April, but it was all festive as Workers’ Party delegates enrolled this week.
So what’s it about? Maybe Kim has been unnerved by the massive scale of the annual US–South Korean war games now winding up across the DMZ − which are reported to include practice for “decapitation” raids against the Pyongyang leadership and pre-emptive strikes to take out North Korean missile launch sites and communications networks − and wants to present a less concentrated target.
But Macquarie University specialist Adrian Buzo, who holds the distinction of being the only former Australian diplomat to have served in both Seoul and Pyongyang (in the brief Whitlam-era embassy there), thinks it goes back much further, to Kim Jong-il’s stroke in 2008 when the Dear Leader realised he needed to get a political structure ready to help his young heir consolidate power.
Kim Jong-un, only 33, has had some trouble with his inner circle of regent-advisers since taking over on Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011, feeling it necessary to execute an uncle and sack a number of military chiefs. His father’s Songun (“Army First”) doctrine had also led to the Korean People’s Army accumulating control over the regime’s hard currency, running an estimated 70 per cent of foreign exchange transactions in North Korea’s partly “marketised” economic system. “It had become an economy within an economy,” Buzo told me. “Kim Jong-un has attempted to claw that back.”
Reviving the party is possibly a strategy by Kim Jong-un to put other trusted hands into the economic pie, cutting in the civilian elite in the way China’s Communist Party co-opted new entrepreneurs under Jiang Zemin’s ingenious rewriting of Marxism–Leninism in a doctrine called the “Three Represents”. Kim’s own new doctrine is called Byungjin, pursuing both economic growth and nuclear capability, implicitly telling the KPA its huge conventional military power will become less critical.
The Afghanistan branch of Daesh isn’t winning hearts and minds in the province of Nangarhar, it seems. Local farmers in areas under its control complain that their opium crop has been declared haram (forbidden under Islamic law) and destroyed where Daesh finds it.
That’s in contrast to the Taliban, the more established Islamist opponents of the Kabul government. When they controlled Afghanistan, the Taliban tried to ban opium as haram, too. But as insurgents, they get about a third of their operating funds from levies on the opium and heroin trade. The United Nations estimates Afghanistan produces about 90 per cent of the world’s illegal heroin.
Hours of fun ahead for Scott Morrison’s tax inspectors and others, when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists opens up a searchable database on more than 200,000 companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The information will include, in many cases, the law firm’s internal records of the true owners of such companies, though not details of their bank accounts, financial transactions, emails, passports and phone numbers. That’s journalists being responsible, the ICIJ says, and only putting out what’s in the public interest. Still, it should be enough to get many owners facing awkward questions. The database goes up at 2pm Washington time on Monday, accessible at https://offshoreleaks.icij.org.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 7, 2016 as "Republicans brace for The Donald’s candidacy". Subscribe here.