PARIS — It was the kind of headline that risks fading into your news feed as if it were barely news: "Ivory Coast: As Presidential Election Approaches, International Criminal Court Worries About Violence," Jeune Afrique magazine announced last week.
And so it followed, as votes were cast this past weekend in President Alassane Ouattara's contested run for a third term, with Radio France Internationale reporting that violence had begun to spread as the opposition rejected the result and called for "an opening to a civilian transition."
Elections, we're reminded again, are both the strongest safeguard and weakest link of any country calling itself a democracy. For those without a long or deep democratic tradition, from West Africa to Southeast Asia, the act of opening the polls can become the moment the true nature of the system is laid bare — either for the unrest set off in the streets, or the certainty of the results, or as we've seen recently in Belarus, both.
The messy counting of the votes in Ivory Coast, of course, coincides with another campaign coming to a head an ocean away. There, instead, ahead of Tuesday's U.S. presidential election, similarly worded headlines jump straight off the page: "With Election Day Looming, an Anxious Nation Hears Rumblings of Violence" is one from The Washington Post. Another from NBC News reads: "Trump has Signaled He Won't Accept an Election Loss. Many of his Voters Agree."
Elections are both the strongest safeguard and weakest link of any country calling itself a democracy.
In the months after Donald Trump's 2016 victory, commentators from less-than-democratic parts of the world noted, sometimes with a cruel twinkle of irony, that the new president resembled the political "strongmen" American governments had long propped up elsewhere. Trump, to a large extent, has done his part to fulfill such predictions: bullying opponents and allies alike, regularly attacking a free press, egging on the basest behavior of his worst followers — all fueled by a craven desire for attention and utter disregard for telling the truth.
Still, we are told that "the institutions" of democracy, including the 2018 mid-term elections that handed the House of Representatives back to Trump's rivals, have been built to withstand such power grabs.
Voting in Abidjan on Nov. 1 — Photo: Yvan Sonh/Xinhua/ZUMA
Now, the ultimate institutional test has arrived for what Americans like to boast is the "world's oldest democracy:" For the first time in living memory, the basic discharge of safely and properly electing the nation's leader is said to be in serious doubt. The subtext is that nothing guarantees the perpetuity of one form of government or another, as we've seen repeatedly over the past century, from 1930s Germany to to 1970s Chile to Thailand since 2014.
As an American who has lived abroad for years, I've read these headlines with much trepidation, but also with a bit of distance that comes from, well, distance; but perhaps from also having watched how power changes hands in different countries, where repeated failures of the most fragile democracies stand in stark contrast to the resilience of more stable political systems.
There are entire chunks of American public life that will be hard to recover.
Since its independence from France in 1960, Ivory Coast, has sadly fit too often in the category of the democratically fragile. President Ouattara came to power in 2011 only after a civil war had been set off by the refusal of longstanding President Laurent Gbagbo to cede power after "postponing" elections for five years. And now Ouattara himself has claimed a third election victory, even though the constitution sets a limit of two terms. Opponents have largely boycotted what they say is a rigged contest, and the country is bracing for what could again be protracted conflict.
The similar cloud of uncertainty and diminishing trust is now hanging over the American democracy. With its 224-year history (flaws and all), as well as the United States' continued superpower status, mean the rest of the world will be watching — strongmen and democratic activists alike.
Commentators have been cataloguing the entire slabs of American public life that will be hard to recover after four years of Trump, and harder still after eight. Much of what this president has tried to undermine are those other fundamental components of a functioning democracy: pluralism, civil debate, basic decency.
Still, with Election Day upon us, I am doubtful that he will succeed in upending that cornerstone of free and fair elections. In recent days, courts have overturned Republican party attempts to limit voting — a sign that the institutional safeguards are working. No, what worries me most about the fate of our political system is something else: that the undemocratic candidate might win again. Or, to paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt: the only thing we have to fear is democracy itself.
Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.
[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]
• Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.
• Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.
• COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.
• Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."
• First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.
• China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."• Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.
"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.
A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.
Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.
📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.
📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."
— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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