World

Joe Biden prepares to take lead on coronavirus. Fiji invites president-elect to Pacific Islands Forum. Ethiopia on brink of civil war. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Suu Kyi on target for re-election in a landslide

In Yangon, a supporter of the National League for Democracy holds a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi after the Myanmar general election.
Credit: Reuters / Shwe Paw Mya Tin

Great power rivalry

United States: Joe Biden, the US president-elect, this week began preparing to govern, despite the incumbent, Donald Trump, refusing to concede.

Trump has repeatedly claimed he is the victim of widespread voter fraud, though he has yet to show evidence. His refusal to accept the election result has been backed by leading Republicans, including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Ted Cruz. Journalists from The New York Times this week contacted election authorities in 50 states to ask whether there was evidence of illegal voting. Officials from 49 said that no evidence existed; officials in Texas, which Trump won, did not respond.

On Tuesday, at his first press conference since being declared the winner, Biden said the Republican Party had been “mildly intimidated by the sitting president”.

Asked about Trump’s stance, Biden said: “I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly … How can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president’s legacy.”

Trump is the first president to fail to win a second term since 1992, and only the 10th in history, though he received almost nine million more votes than in 2016.

Biden this week received congratulatory calls from foreign leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Boris Johnson. He claimed McConnell and other senior Republicans will eventually accept the election result, but insisted the dispute was not affecting his transition plans. An Ipsos/Reuters poll this week found that 79 per cent of Americans believe Biden won the election and 3 per cent believe Trump won, with the remainder unsure or believing the election is still undecided.

Biden this week unveiled a 12-member coronavirus advisory group that will develop a plan for dealing with the pandemic. The team includes Rick Bright, a vaccines expert who has claimed he was ousted as an adviser to the Trump administration after warning about mask shortages and resisting the use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug.

The US is currently facing a surging Covid-19 outbreak, including record numbers of days with 200,000 new cases in a 24-hour period. As of Wednesday, the US had recorded 10,568,714 cases and 245,943 deaths.

The neighbourhood

Fiji: Last Saturday, 12 hours before the American media networks declared the result of the US election, Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, became the first world leader to congratulate Joe Biden.

In a widely shared tweet, Bainimarama said: “Congratulations, @JoeBiden. Together, we have a planet to save … Now, more than ever, we need the USA at the helm of these multilateral efforts (and back in the #ParisAgreement — ASAP!)”

Other Pacific leaders echoed Bainimarama’s sentiments. The election result was largely welcomed in Pacific island nations, which have been urging developed countries to adopt stronger measures to combat climate change.

Biden plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on his first day in office. He has also promised to convene a climate summit within his first 100 days to push other countries to adopt more ambitious carbon emission reduction targets.

Bainimarama has written to Biden to invite him to attend the annual Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in Suva next year. No US president has ever attended, though Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, travelled to the Cook Islands for the summit in 2012.

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, congratulated both Biden and Kamala Harris, who will be the first Black and South-Asian–American vice-president.

“The US election was an event that captivated the world, including PNG,” he said.

Democracy in retreat

Ethiopia: In his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech last year, Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, described the horrific violence he had witnessed as a soldier during the long war against Eritrea, which he helped to end.

“War is the epitome of hell for all involved,” he said. “I know because I have been there and back. I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield.”

But Abiy is now overseeing a large-scale offensive in Ethiopia’s northern state of Tigray that has left the country on the verge of civil war. He has deployed troops to the region to battle the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a party that had previously been part of his ruling coalition. The TPLF’s paramilitary force and other local militias in Tigray are believed to have about 250,000 troops.

Since becoming prime minister in 2018, Abiy has sidelined the TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics for decades. Abiy, who belongs to the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in the country that has about 108 million residents, has clashed with the Tigrayans and some other groups over his push to minimise regional autonomy. The TPLF, defying Abiy, held regional elections in September.

Abiy and the TPLF accuse each other of starting the fighting, which has reportedly left hundreds of people dead. Ethiopians have begun fleeing the country, prompting Sudan to deploy 6000 troops to the border.

On Tuesday, Abiy described the offensive, which has included air force attacks, as “law enforcement operations”. He has insisted that concerns about a potential civil war are unfounded.

Spotlight: Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy is on track for a landslide win in Myanmar’s second election since the military rulers began transitioning to civilian government in 2011.

But the vote has raised questions about the government’s commitment to establishing an inclusive democracy.

In a country of about 55 million people, more than a million people were unable to cast votes due to insurgencies. In Rakhine State, violence led to the closure of most polling stations, but the local Rohingya Muslims are in any case not allowed to vote because they are viewed as migrants from Bangladesh.

The European Union criticised the failure to extend the vote to the Rohingya community and called for byelections to be held soon in areas where voting could not take place. Washington voiced similar concerns and criticised the reservation of a large number of parliamentary seats for the military.

The election follows the brutal military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims in 2017, including mass killings and rapes that were conducted – according to a United Nations investigation – with “genocidal intent”. Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner, has defended the military and dismissed allegations of genocide. Though her international reputation has been tarnished, Suu Kyi’s popularity at home appears to be growing. Her party said this week it believed it had won more than the 390 parliamentary seats – out of 664 – it gained in 2015. 

[email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 14, 2020 as " Suu Kyi on target for landslide re-election".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

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