World

Donald Trump returns to the campaign trail after Covid-19. A weeping Kim Jong-un apologises to North Korea. Anwar Ibrahim asks Malaysian king to appoint him prime minister. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Ardern on track for a resounding victory

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is surrounded by supporters at a shopping mall in central Christchurch on Wednesday.
Credit: AP Photo / Mark Baker

Great power rivalry

United States: On Monday, Donald Trump flew from Washington to Florida to address his first campaign rally since contracting Covid-19. He did not wear a mask when boarding Air Force One in Washington, or when speaking at the rally.

“They say I’m immune,” he told supporters. “I feel so powerful.”

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, told CNN that holding campaign rallies without mandatory social distancing or masks – as Trump does – was “asking for trouble”. Several Trump rallies are believed to have led to infections, and deaths.

“The data speak for themselves,” Fauci said.

Support for Trump has dropped significantly since he announced he had tested positive on October 2. According to polling averages compiled by the FiveThirtyEight website, 52.4 per cent of voters support Democratic contender Joe Biden and 41.9 per cent support Trump – a 10.5-point margin, up from a margin of 7.6 points on October 2. Trump’s approval among older voters has dropped due to concerns about his handling of the pandemic. This may have led to his decision to hold his first rally in Florida, where retirees helped him win the state in 2016.

Joe Biden has been trying to win back the support of white, working-class voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. He has presented Trump as reckless and out of touch, urging the president to “get out of the sand bunker”. On Tuesday, Biden addressed retirees in Florida, asking: “How many of you have been unable to hug your grandkids in the last seven months?”

A second debate was due to be held earlier this week but was cancelled following Trump’s diagnosis, though he wanted it to go ahead. The next debate, likely to be the last,is expected to be held this Thursday.

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: Jacinda Ardern is on track to win an election in New Zealand on Saturday after campaigning on her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and her plan to steer the country to economic recovery.

Since her surprise success at the 2017 election, Ardern has won international acclaim for her assured, empathetic handling of the Christchurch terrorist attacks and the deadly volcanic eruption at Whakaari, or White Island.

But her domestic record is mixed. She has struggled to deliver on her promises to address inequality and was forced to abandon a decade-long plan to build 100,000 affordable homes.

The opposition leader, Judith Collins, who has led the National Party for just three months, has blamed Ardern for failing to prevent a recent second wave of Covid-19 cases, which was believed to have been caused by breaches in quarantine facilities for travellers entering from overseas. Collins has also attacked the Greens, Labour’s main coalition partner, who want to impose additional taxes on New Zealanders whose net worth is more than $NZ1 million.

Ardern has ruled out such a tax, describing Collins as “desperate”.

Opinion polls indicate Ardern is set for a strong victory and could win an outright majority of seats for her ruling Labour Party, which would be the first majority for a political party since the country’s electoral laws changed 24 years ago. The results are due to be announced on Saturday, from about 7pm, local time.

Democracy in retreat

North Korea: Addressing a military parade in Pyongyang last weekend that featured the usual mix of goosestepping troops and imposing weaponry, Kim Jong-un openly wept as he apologised for the condition of the nation.

Wearing a suit and tie rather than his trademark Mao-style suit, Kim gave a rare display of contrition, expressing regret for his failures in addressing the everyday difficulties faced by North Koreans.

“Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily,” he said, according to The Korea Times.

“I am really sorry for that.”

Kim’s moment of crying, which appeared in officially released footage, was seen as evidence of mounting pressure on his regime caused by international sanctions, floods and typhoons, and border closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which have damaged North Korea’s trade with China. The 36-year-old dictator said he was grateful that no North Koreans had been infected with the virus, a claim widely believed to be false.

The climax of the pre-dawn military parade was the unveiling of a new intercontinental ballistic missile. The weapon, believed to be 24 metres long, is the country’s largest-ever missile and was carried on the back of a specially made vehicle, believed to be the country’s largest launch truck.

Kim said North Korea was continuing to develop nuclear weapons and would use them if threatened, though his tone was less bellicose than in other similar addresses. His comments, and the presentation of the new missile, were seen as an attempt to remind the United States presidential contenders that he will continue to demand respect and recognition, no matter how much Trump or Biden is occupied with other matters after the election.

Spotlight: Anwar tries again

Malaysia: During his decades in Malaysian politics, Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly edged close to becoming prime minister. His two initial bids failed after he was convicted of sodomy charges. Then, after spending years in prison, he reunited with his former mentor and rival Mahathir Mohamad to stage a political comeback at the last election in 2018. Mahathir became prime minister and was due to cede control to Anwar, but the handover unravelled. Earlier this year, Malaysia’s king appointed Muhyiddin Yassin to become prime minister.

Now, Anwar is attempting yet another comeback. On Tuesday, he met the king after claiming he has the backing of enough MPs to form a parliamentary majority. The king, who can appoint a new prime minister if a candidate has sufficient support, did not immediately respond to Anwar’s entreaty. The palace said Anwar had revealed the number of MPs who support him, but not their identities.

Anwar, 73, has presented himself as a reformer committed to tackling corruption and ending racial divisiveness, but his affiliations and priorities have changed throughout his long political career.

Anwar this week urged Muhyiddin, who has a tiny majority, to resign. Muhyiddin has insisted he still has parliament’s support. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 17, 2020 as "Ardern on track for a resounding victory".

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