eyes on the U.S.

It’s On! World Watches As Clinton-Trump Showdown Kicks Off

SF street art showing Clinton and Trump as The Shining's twins
SF street art showing Clinton and Trump as The Shining's twins

PARIS â€" This month’s Republican and Democratic national conventions put an end to whatever doubts may have persisted about the parties’ respective presidential candidate choices. There were grumblings to be sure â€" from Ted Cruz and the "Anyone but Trump" crowd at the Cleveland convention, to the "Bernie or Bust" folks among the Democrats in Philadelphia. But what’s done is now done: From now until November, it's Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton.

Worldcrunch continues to follow foreign coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign, from all languages and corners of the globe â€" as the match-up is officially launched between the brash billionaire with zero political experience and the quintessential Washington insider who served as first lady, senator and secretary of state.

As their nominations were sealed, each candidate got some official endorsements from abroad: Trump picked up a nod this week from controversial conservative Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Clinton got a thumbs-up from Jean-Claude Junker, the president of the European Commission.

What many foreign observers seem to agree on, however, is that in the face of historically high disapproval ratings of both candidates, the winner of the Trump vs. Clinton contest will ultimately be whoever is less unpopular among so many would-be voters.

The lesser of two evils

Increasingly, the rest of the world is waking up to the fact that Trump may wind up in the White House. Vittorio Zucconi, the longtime Washington-based analyst for Italian daily La Repubblica, writes Friday that after dueling conventions, there is little doubt that Clinton is the more "presidential" of the two candidates. "But this obvious gap between the two candidates does not mean that Clinton has the victory tucked in her white pants suit," Zucconi writes. "The paradox of this electoral season is that ... the incoherent vanity of Trump, his unpreparedness ... could play to his advantage. In the face of our collective anxiety and a mixed-up world, irrationality could be the winning card for someone who doesn't know what he wants other than the impulse to change things at any cost."

An editorial late last month in Barcelona’s el Periódico was entitled "Hillary Clinton, despite it all." In the democratic primaries, the article notes, Clinton beat her closest rival, Bernie Sanders, soundly. "And yet she has failed to generate enthusiasm among her party affiliates, even when she has a chance of being the first woman to win the White House." If she does win, according to el Periódico, it’ll be because people fear the prospect of a Trump presidency, not because of any real love they have for Clinton.

In the Catalan city’s other leading daily, La Vanguardía, writer Juan M. Hernández Puértolas asks the question of whether Clinton might also benefit from her "many homelands." Leaders like George W. Bush (Texas) and Ronald Reagan (California) are synonymous with just one place, while Clinton has strong links to a number of different places, Hernández Puértolas points out. Raised in Illinois and educated in New England, the candidate also lived in the "deep south" â€" in Arkansas â€" for many years, in Washington D.C. and New York.

Clinton’s chances could also depend on how the U.S. stock market performs in the coming months, according to France’s Les Echos, a business paper. History suggests, in more cases than not, that the candidate from the incumbent party wins if, during the three months before the election, the S&P 500 Index is up. If not, the opposition candidate wins. The trend has held true for 19 of the 22 elections held since 1928, the daily points out. The last exception to "the rule" was in 1980.

If the former first lady does win, she’ll make history as the first woman elected president of the U.S. This potential "milestone" made it to Friday's front page of German daily Rheinische Post, which features Clinton in a revised, all-female version of Mount Rushmore alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.

But that would set another precedent as well: America would have its first "first gentleman" â€" and an ex-president at that. Journalist Frédéric Autran writes in the French newspaper Libération that Bill Clinton’s presence in the White House could be "cumbersome" for Hillary. "Specialists agree that Bill Clinton, who spoke Tuesday night at the democratic convention in Philadelphia, would certainly â€" but behind the scenes â€" play a major role in his wife’s administration, something that wouldn’t be without risks," the articles notes.

Gotta stop Trump

And if Trump comes out ahead? The same Libération ran this ominous front page on July 23, warning there were only "A Hundred Days Left To Stop Him."

Libération, July 23

More than a few observers see the prospect in a decidedly negative light, nowhere more so, perhaps, than in Latin America, where the candidate’s promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and his description of Mexican migrants as "rapists and murderers" hasn’t earned him many friends.

The Republican candidate’s July 21 acceptance expand=1] speech, at the Republican national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, did little to tame those fears. In an essay published in Colombia’s El Tiempo, Panamanian singer and activist Rubén Blades wrote that Trump’s address reminded him of "Benito Mussolini and the fascist rhetoric of the 1930s."

Across the Atlantic, Portugal’s Publico also took issue with the businessman’s fiery speech. In a recent editorial, the daily said that Trump’s decision "to opt for an obsessively apocalyptic discourse" represents a break from campaign tradition.The article acknowledges, however, that the approach has so far proven effective for Trump, allowing him to push aside his many Republican challengers. "One by one, he beat 16 opponents, including three senators, two governors and Bush," Publico pointed out.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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