The new season of Game of Thrones, which premiered Sunday, will surely be filled with all manner of sabotage, conspiracy, and politicking. The fictional world of author George R. R. Martin is essentially a timeless story of the pursuit of power as an end in itself. But that same show, it appears, is not only playing on HBO this summer. Accusations of corruption and authoritarianism continue to roil multiple seats of power across the planet, as political leaders operate in a perpetual state of crisis management where the goal of holding onto power has replaced actual governing.
On Sunday, the opposition in Venezuela held an unofficial referendum on embattled President Nicolas Maduro's plan to revise the country's constitution. Some 7.1 million people, constituting about 37% of the electorate, turned out for the unprecedented vote, and unsurprisingly they overwhelmingly dissented from Maduro's sweeping reforms.
Caracas-based El Universal (July 17) reports high voter turnout
The Venezuelan President, whose approval rating has hovered around the mid-twenties for more than a year, has sought to fight off popular backlash as the country has sunk into a now eight-year-old economic crisis. Referendum voters called on the military to protect the existing constitution, demanded new elections, and rejected a proposed constitutional assembly. But Maduro appears utterly unwilling to give into the opposition's demands, and has redoubled his efforts to maintain power. In May he proposed revising the constitution in a half-hearted attempt to appease the opposition that currently controls the National Assembly, as he continues to refuse early elections.
Also this past weekend, Turkey marked the one-year anniversary of a thwarted coup that left more than 300 dead. Speaking on Sunday, President Erdogan spoke of "so many enemies...waiting at the door that will not give us the right to live another day." According to Istanbul-based daily Cumhuriyet, the Turkish President vowed earlier to "sever the heads of these snakes' who supported last year's plot. Indeed, the President has been rather draconian in response to the coup. Since last July, authorities have detained more than 110,000 people who purportedly supported the attempted overthrow of the government.
Opposition leaders, while largely ineffectual, have lambasted Erdogan and his supporters for abusing their power. But the Turkish president maintains that the country's new presidential system hasn't sacrificed its democratic values. After all, the United States has functioned on a similar system for nearly 250 years.
Of course, comparing oneself to American democracy isn't what it used to be. Last week's revelation that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Kremlin-linked, Russian national claiming to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race has only fanned chaos in Washington. While President Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing in last year's tumultuous election, evidence to the contrary has mired his presidency. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released this past weekend revealed that only 36% of American approve of President Trump's job performance.
To be sure, as shameless as they may seem in their respective power grabs, the leaders of Venezuela, Turkey, and the United States still claim to be working in the interest of the people. Elsewhere in the world, the powerful don't even bother with democracy. News this weekend out of Saudi Arabia, a petroleum-fueled monarchy, was the "imminent" beheading of 15 peaceful pro-democratic demonstrators. That, sadly, is a storyline that can compete with George R.R. Martin's twisted imagination.