Fiji addresses looming economic crisis. Singapore’s death penalty criticised. States including Chile nationalise natural resources. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Biden to run again in 2024, despite voter concern

US President Joe Biden smiling with his hands in the air in celebration.
US President Joe Biden announced his re-election campaign this week.
Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Great power rivalry

United States: On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that he will compete for a second term as United States president, increasing the likelihood of another tumultuous contest against Donald Trump – a rematch that the vast majority of Americans do not want to endure.

In a video released on Tuesday, Biden, who is 80 years old, said he wants to “finish the job” and ensure that the nation’s civil rights are protected. He said he would defend the US against Republicans who were threatening to ban books, cut abortion access, restrict voting rights, limit transgender rights and prevent safer gun laws. Vice President Kamala Harris will once again be his running mate.

“Around the country, MAGA [Make America Great Again] extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms,” Biden said.

Polls show most Americans want neither Biden nor Trump to run again in 2024. An NBC survey this week found 70 per cent of Americans – and 51 per cent of Democrats – believed Biden should not run, and 60 per cent – though only about a third of Republicans – believed Trump should not run.

Surveys have found that Biden’s age is a concern for many voters. The oldest US president after Biden, Ronald Reagan, was 77 years old when he left office; Biden would be 86 years old at the end of a second term. Trump will be 78 years old at the next election.

Separately, Vladimir Yermakov, a senior Russian foreign affairs ministry official, said this week the risk of a nuclear confrontation with the US was growing due to the war in Ukraine. According to the TASS news agency, he said the US must end its “current course of confrontation with Russia”.

Ukraine last week received a shipment of US air defence systems, which will help the Ukrainian military to overcome the weakness of its air force and is expected to be the prelude for an imminent effort to recapture territory from Russia.

A British intelligence report this week said Russia’s winter offensive in Ukraine appeared to be ending and had largely failed. It said Russia now appeared to be preparing for a Ukrainian counteroffensive. 

The neighbourhood

Fiji: Sitiveni Rabuka, Fiji’s prime minister, convened a national summit this week to address a looming economic crisis and one of the world’s most severe economic contractions, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with three major cyclones.

A World Bank report released earlier this month found that Fiji’s debt reached 90 per cent of gross domestic product last year after a plunge in tourism, which generates 30 per cent of jobs. Fiji’s GDP dropped 17 per cent in 2020 and a further 5 per cent in 2021 – the worst contraction in the world, aside from Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palau.

Rabuka, who defeated former prime minister Frank Bainimarama at an election last year, convened a two-day economic summit this week that included 500 government and private sector attendees. He said the country’s development depended on it moving beyond the fierce political and social divisions that arose in recent years as Bainimarama clamped down on his critics.

“A brighter future for our nation requires our communities to be united and to move away from divisions,” Rabuka told the summit.

The government’s soaring debt has left it struggling to find revenue to provide cost-of-living relief to lower-income households. Some in the government believe taxes will need to increase and that the value added tax rate will need to be lifted.

The permanent secretary of the ministry of finance, Shiri Gounder, told the summit tourism was rebounding, which is raising hopes of an economic recovery. He said tourist numbers in January, February and March were higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“If this trend continues for the next 12 months, tourism will return to 2019 levels,” he said.

Democracy in retreat

Singapore: On Wednesday, Tangaraju Suppiah, a 46-year-old Singaporean, was hanged at Changi prison for conspiring to smuggle cannabis – a charge he always denied.

In a controversial case that led to international criticism of Singapore’s persistent use of capital punishment for drug offences, Tangaraju, who insisted he was innocent, reportedly refused a plea deal that would have involved a 12-year prison sentence. His family and activists also said he was questioned by police without a lawyer and was denied access to a Tamil interpreter.

Tangaraju was sentenced to death in 2018 over an attempt in 2013 to smuggle 1.02 kilograms of cannabis from Malaysia. He was not caught with the cannabis but his phone number was linked to two men who trafficked the drugs. He was arrested while on remand for offences involving drug consumption and failing to report for a urine test.

Tangaraju’s family said they wrote to Singapore’s president, Halimah Yacob, to ask for clemency but did not receive a reply. Smuggling more than 500 grams of cannabis in Singapore attracts the death penalty.     

Kirsten Han, a journalist who campaigns for judicial reform, told Al Jazeera this week: “He was not arrested with the drugs, he was not even on the scene. He was basically tied to this case after the fact.”

The Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore said Tangaraju was “accorded full due process under the law, and had access to legal counsel throughout the process”.

Malaysian lawmakers this month abolished mandatory death sentences, including for drug-trafficking. Singapore executed 11 people for drug offences last year, including a man who was believed to be intellectually disabled.

Spotlight: States nationalising resources

Chile: Chile’s leftist president, Gabriel Boric, has unveiled plans to nationalise the country’s lithium industry to try to boost the payoff from its vast reserves and ensure that the environment is properly protected, in a move that reflects a global shift towards exerting public control over commodities.

Boric, 37, was sworn in last year as Chile’s youngest-ever leader after promising to combat inequality and introduce a fairer, greener economy. He announced reforms this month that will give Chile a controlling interest in all future projects to extract lithium, which is used to produce rechargeable batteries and is experiencing soaring global demand. Chile has one of the world’s largest known reserves of lithium and is currently the second-biggest producer, behind Australia.

“This is the best chance we have at transitioning to a sustainable and developed economy,” Boric said in a televised address. “We can’t afford to waste it.”

Mexico nationalised its lithium deposits last year, Bolivia did so years ago, Indonesia has banned exports of nickel, which is also used in batteries, and Zimbabwe and Myanmar have also imposed restrictions over exploitation of their resources.

Boric’s plan is not a full-scale nationalisation, as private companies will still explore for and mine lithium in partnership with the government. Mining firms attacked the plan, saying that it will reduce investment in Chile’s resources sector.

But Mariano Machado, from Verisk Maplecroft, a firm that analyses global risk, told Associated Press: “Chile appears to have gone for a model that is in the middle, in which the state has the upper hand, given that it’s a resource that is considered strategic.”

The move will need approval later this year by Chile’s congress, where Boric does not have a majority.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 29, 2023 as "Biden to run again in 2024, despite voter concern".

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