World

Brexit deadline nears. Joko Widodo chooses new Indonesian cabinet. Chaos erupts in Chile. Justin Trudeau narrowly returned in Canadian election. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Justin Trudeau faces a hung parliament

Voters photograph re-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he prepares to make his victory speech.
Credit: Cole Burston / Getty Images

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

Britain: On Tuesday, the British parliament finally backed a Brexit deal in a 329-299 vote that ended three years of wrangling and appeared to clinch a spectacular victory for Boris Johnson.

Minutes later, however, MPs delivered him a humiliating defeat and rejected his insistence that they scrutinise the 110-page European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill within three days to enable Britain to leave the EU by next Thursday. Instead, they resolved in a 322-308 vote to request a further delay.

So the current deal, as the speaker of the house of commons, John Bercow, put it, is “static, but not a corpse”. Brussels was expected to agree to a delay of up to three months. Johnson has previously threatened to call an election if parliament demands a further extension.

The new bill keeps EU law in place in Britain until December 2020 and allows Northern Ireland to remain part of the EU’s customs regime, a compromise that the main party from Northern Ireland rejected. In the end, Johnson’s deal passed with the support of 19 pro-Brexit Labour MPs.

Afterwards, Johnson told parliament the passage of the bill was “joyful”. “For the first time in this long saga, this house has … embraced a deal,” he said.

“Brexit day” appears to be drawing nearer but is unlikely to fall on October 31. The saga continues.

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Indonesia: Joko Widodo this week unveiled his new cabinet, which featured several surprises and gave an indication of Indonesia’s likely direction during his second term as president.

Claiming on Twitter that he wanted ministers who were “innovative … not stuck in monotonous routines”, Widodo appointed Nadiem Makarim, the 35-year-old co-founder of Gojek, which has expanded from a ride-sharing service into a $US10 billion tech company. Makarim was given the portfolios of education and culture.

But other appointments were slightly less innovative.

Widodo offered a cabinet post to Prabowo Subianto, his rival both at this year’s election and in 2014. A former military general and the son-in-law of the dictator Suharto, Prabowo has been a prominent figure in Indonesian politics for decades and has been linked to rights abuses during military operations in Timor-Leste and West Papua. In recent years, he has courted hardline Islamists to try to topple Widodo. In May, he accused Widodo of election fraud, refusing to accept the results of the national vote. This stance, widely seen as a ploy to demonstrate his strength and win a cabinet position, led to riots in Jakarta that left at least eight people dead.

Widodo met with Prabowo at the presidential palace on Monday and offered his rival a defence-related post.

“I will work hard to meet his goals and expectations,” Prabowo said.

This appointment, and Widodo’s move to ensure that the main opposition parties were included in the government, added to concerns about the tenor of the Indonesian president’s next and final five-year term.

Despite his commitment to promoting growth and investment and embarking on large-scale development of road, rail and telecommunications projects, Widodo has overseen, or failed to resist, a weakening of democratic norms and institutions. This has included plans to curb the powers and independence of the country’s anti-corruption commission and to introduce a revised criminal code that would ban extramarital sex. Within days of his swearing-in, analysts were describing Widodo as a “lame duck”.

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Chile: In recent years, Chile, the most prosperous country in Latin America, has been held up as a model of stability that has avoided the political and economic havoc of the region. On October 17, the country’s president, Sebastián Piñera, a centre-right billionaire who first introduced credit cards to the country in the 1980s, gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he described Chile as “an oasis”.

Just days later, chaos erupted, as mounting protests led to riots, looting, arson and clashes with security forces that have left at least 15 people dead. Piñera declared a state of emergency and deployed 10,000 troops, adopting tactics not seen since the dark days of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

The trigger for the violence was a 3 per cent rise in metro fares, which prompted students to launch a fare-evasion movement, including jumping turnstiles and dangling feet over platforms to stop trains. A police crackdown eventually sparked mass street protests motivated by concerns about the country’s stark inequality. Despite the nation’s growth, many in Chile are struggling due to low wages and pensions, rising power bills and an ailing health system.

Piñera quickly abandoned the fare increase and claimed he had “listened with humility … to the voice of my compatriots” – but not before resorting to Pinochet-era constitutional powers to quell the unrest.

This has caused anxiety in Chile and appeared to draw more support for the protesters.

“Seeing soldiers on the streets sends shivers down my spine,” Carmen Araya, a 74-year-old resident of Santiago, told Reuters. “It’s like going back to 1973.”

The violence and the curfews continued this week, threatening to overshadow an upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, to be held in Santiago next month.

SPOTLIGHT: Trudeau survives

Canada: Four years ago, Justin Trudeau won a stunning election – his centre-left Liberal Party vaulting from 34 lower-house seats to 184 – and was embraced as a much-needed beacon of progressive politics in Canada and around the world. “Sunny ways,” he declared, as he ended the nine-year reign of Stephen Harper, a conservative who withdrew Canada from the Kyoto climate change agreement.

Trudeau did little to quell the hype around his prime ministership but has failed to live up to it.

This week, he won a second term but will lead a minority government. The Liberals are projected to win 157 seats in the 338-seat house of commons, compared with 122 for the Conservative Party, which won the greatest share of the total vote, with 34 per cent.

“I have heard you, my friends,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau, now 47, was Canada’s second-youngest leader when he was elected in 2015. He appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, legalised marijuana and euthanasia and welcomed Syrian refugees.

But his charm faded following a series of political compromises and personal scandals. He introduced a tax on carbon emissions, angering the resource-rich provinces, but also embarked on a massive oil pipeline expansion, which angered his urban voter base. His reputation was badly tarnished after a scandal where he pressured his attorney-general to settle a corporate corruption case, which he claimed would save jobs. He was also widely mocked during a state visit to India, in which he and his family appeared in local garb in front of tourist sites. This may have exacerbated the damage from his most famous scandal, involving the emergence of photographs and footage showing him in blackface and brownface.

But Trudeau has survived. He is likely to form a ruling alliance with the left-wing New Democratic Party and that could result in more progressive policies in areas such as climate change and taxation. But such a move could heighten the widening gulf between the western prairie provinces, which strongly backed the Conservatives, and the Liberals’ eastern strongholds.

“From coast to coast to coast, Canadians rejected division,” Trudeau claimed in his victory speech, as he prepared to face a hung parliament.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 26, 2019 as "Justin time for hung parliament". Subscribe here.

Jonathan Pearlman
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.