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Defining Elections And Democracy, From China To Italy

In Hong Kong
In Hong Kong


There is no set recipe for democracy. Still, we can agree that the ingredients must include basic guarantees of free speech and free elections: If you don't have the right to speak out against those in charge — and eventually vote them out of power — you are living under some form of rule that cannot be called democratic.

Over the past 48 hours, China, the world's largest autocracy, has inadvertently reminded us what a democracy is. It is true that few have considered the country anything approaching democratic since the 1949 revolution that brought on Mao Zedong's decades of brutal dictatorship. But the decision in the early 1980s, by then Chinese Communist Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping, to set a limit on the presidency of two five-year terms has at least given some semblance of renewal. On Sunday, that was swept away by the current leader, as Xi Jinping has moved to extend his rule beyond 2023, effectively giving him the right to rule indefinitely.

That other component in any would-be democracy, free speech, is a bit harder for the powers-that-be in Beijing to control. The BBC has noted that the decision to end term limits set off rounds of criticism on China's social media site Sina Weibo. Not surprisingly the censors quickly stepped in, banning such basic phrases as "I don't agree," "election term," and "proclaiming oneself an emperor."

A sprinkling of free speech does not change the fundamental flavor of an autocratic regime.

Meanwhile in China's grayest area of democracy, the former British colony of Hong Kong, the prominent daily newspaper, The South China Morning Post, went ahead on Tuesday with a front-page article, raising major questions about Xi's decision. The daily quoted Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst with consultancy firm Gavekal Dragonomics, who blamed current problems on "Xi's concentration of power at the top level: where the person making policy is increasingly insulated from criticism or feedback, leading to bad decisions and poor results."

An interesting exception to prove the rule, for a sprinkling of free speech does not change the fundamental flavor of an autocratic regime.

Meanwhile, in countries that pride themselves on guaranteeing free speech and free elections, there are other kinds of risks. Ahead of national elections in Italy on Sunday, we are reminded that people saying what's on their minds, and politicians looking to unseat those in power, is not in itself always a good thing.

The increasingly popular leader of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, has made anti-immigrant rhetoric the centerpiece of his campaign, and Milan-based Corriere della Sera daily reports on at least one of the consequences. A mother of two adopted children wrote a bitter Facebook message to the candidate: "Dear Salvini, I am a mother of two splendid adopted African children … I wanted to thank you for the gift you've given to my children of moments of terror quite out of the ordinary." The 49-year-old mother says that her daughter now cries at night with the fear that if Salvini wins, she will be sent back to Africa, while her son has recently been subjected to virulent racist insults from his soccer teammates.

One of the great weaknesses of a democracy is that bad people can wind up in charge. The only antidote, of course, is that same democracy that guarantees they won't stay there forever.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

How Biden's Mideast Stance Weakens Israel And Emboldens Iran

The West's decision to pressure Israel over Gaza, and indulge Iran's violent and troublesome regime, follows the U.S. Democrats' line with the Middle East: just keep us out of your murderous affairs.

Photo of demonstration against U.S President Joe Biden in Iran

Demonstration against U.S President Joe Biden in Iran.

Bahram Farrokhi


The Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weak both structurally and for its dismal popularity level, which has made it take some contradictory, or erratic, decisions in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

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Other factors influencing its decisions include the pressures of the families of Hamas hostages, and the U.S. administration's lukewarm support for this government and entirely reactive response to the military provocations and "hit-and-run" incidents orchestrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, which include Hamas. Israel has also failed to mobilize international opinion behind its war on regional terrorism, in what might be termed a full-blown public relations disaster.

The administration led by President Joe Biden has, by repeating the Democrats' favored, and some might say feeble, policy of appeasing Iran's revolutionary regime, duly nullified the effects of Western sanctions imposed on that regime. By delisting its proxies, the Houthis of Yemen, as terrorists, the administration has allowed them to devote their energies to firing drones and missiles across the Red Sea and even indulging in piracy. The general picture is of a moment of pitiful weakness for the West, in which Iran and other members of the Axis - of Evil or Resistance, take your pick - are daily cocking a snook at the Western powers.

You wonder: how could the United States, given its military and technological resources, fail to spot tankers smuggling out banned Iranian oil through the Persian Gulf to finance the regime's foreign entanglements, while Iran is able to track Israeli-owned ships as far aways as the Indian Ocean? The answer, rather simply, lies in the Biden administration's decision to indulge the ayatollahs and hope for the best.

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