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Worldcrunch Today, Jan. 11: Looming Impeachment, Beijing Lockdown, Kyrgyz Election

Skiing in central Madrid, Spain, after the country was hit by snow storm Filomena, which brought the heaviest snowfall in 50 years, killing four people and bringing central Spain to a standstill
Skiing in central Madrid, Spain, after the country was hit by snow storm Filomena, which brought the heaviest snowfall in 50 years, killing four people and bringing central Spain to a standstill

Welcome to Monday, where impeachment looms for Trump, a new COVID strain is identified in Japan, and cases spike in China to the highest level in five months. Also, find out what made sharks' ancestors even scarier ...

SPOTLIGHT: SWEDEN REVISITED, FROM NORDIC MODEL TO PANDEMIC PARIAH


On one of the final Fridays of 2020, I passed through the Malmö airport customs and underwent that subtle metamorphosis from The Swede to a Swede. This crossing from the definite to the indefinite is familiar to all returning expats, and its downside (deflated exceptionalism) and perks (nostalgia, familiarity) are felt at the first native exchange, and then sporadically with depreciating force — until, if you stay long enough, you're once again part of the herd.


At this year's homecoming however, the usual reassimilation also included a new adjustment: to a country that had lost its international shine. Yes, Sweden is still perceived abroad as exceptional. But this past year, the government's refusal to impose rules to restrict contact to combat COVID-19 led to a death toll higher than all of the country's northern European neighbors combined. By flirting with a strategy of so-called "herd immunity," decades of reverence for the Swedish model of common sense and social protection has steadily turned from doubt to outright disdain.


After the baggage carousel and two successive cigarettes on the rain-and-wind swept platform (there is zero fluctuation in these regional weather conditions for eight months of the year), I ended up on a bus splashing its way closer to Sweden's forested and somber middle, towards a somber two-roomer my dad (Gunnar) calls home.


Ever worry about your country's reputation? Ever participated in sullying it? Arriving home prompted some fleeting guilt for having criticized the government's pandemic response in conversations with friends in France and articles I'd written in English. But as we rumbled northward on this crowded and humid regional bus, and as the sniffling and coughing multiplied, I verified that I was the sole mask-wearer on board. No, Sweden's laissez-faire strategy was a train wreck, and it was right to call it out.


"Sure, there's some international schadenfreude too, no doubt." Gunnar landed in his oversized brown armchair. "And," firing up his pipe, "Who can blame them. Passing judgment from the sidelines is always risky business."


I'd had that national reputation discussion a few weeks back, in another living room back in Paris. "Fucking easy for you to say!" Ryan, my former college roommate and a U.S. military vet, was barking at my computer screen, where I had cued up a 1972 clip of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme condemning the Vietnam War. From the other side, Ryan was making Gunnar's point. Sweden was at the height of its international standing in the 1970s, when students from all over the world were shipped to the freshly remodeled Stockholm suburbs to witness our welfare utopia. My father's generation had the luxury of being engaged, but not involved in, the troubles of the outside world.


"In a way," Gunnar continued, "we became the world's conscience … a humanitarian superpower, if you will. But we never had to make the impossible decisions — Vietnam, 9/11 — of an actual superpower."


That was then. Now Sweden faces its own war, on home turf, and needless casualties are piling up. That a new emergency law went into effect Sunday, granting the government the power to impose coronavirus-related curbs for the very first time, only highlighted how wrong-headed the government's policy has been until now. Of course, the undoing of our folkhem (welfare state) and Sweden's global influence started long before our government decided to bet on herd immunity. But there's no denying that the glory days left a stubborn residue of what was a very healthy self-imagery. Bidding farewell to father and fatherland, I wonder where we'll be once COVID-19 is behind us: What will it mean to be a Swede? How will it feel to be The Swede?


Carl-Johan Karlsson


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Capitol riot aftermath: Donald Trump faces imminent prospect of becoming the first president ever impeached twice ahead of what is sure to be another turbulent week in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House will call on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president through an executive branch procedure never before applied — failing that, the Congress will quickly proceed with impeachment. Trump, who's been banned from social media, has been silent for four days — though First Lady Melania Trump released a statement early Monday condemning the violence but also lashing out at her critics.

• COVID-19 latest: A new coronavirus variant has been identified in Japan. This third strain has been detected in four travelers from Brazil's Amazonas state. It would differ from the two other variants from Britain and South Africa, known to be highly infectious. China registers the highest daily jump in new cases in over five months, prompting a new lockdown in Beijing.

• Indonesian plane crash: Indonesia authorities have announced recovery of the two black boxes from Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, which crashed Saturday into the ocean with 62 people on board.

• New West Bank settlements: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes ahead construction of some 800 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The announcement comes just before the Jan. 20 arrival in the White House of Joe Biden, who opposes new settlements.

• Kyrgyzstan elections: Frontrunner Sadyr Japarov is set to win Kyrgyzstan's presidential elections by a landslide, with partial results showing him with almost 80% of votes. The country has been in a political crisis since parliamentary elections' results were disputed last October, leading to protests and the resignation of then-President Jeenbekov.

• Facebook shuts Uganda accounts: Facebook has taken down several fake and duplicate accounts in Uganda belonging to government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of this week's presidential election.

• Scary baby shark! Study finds that baby megalodons, sharks' ancestors, were "6-foot-long womb cannibals."



"Black boxes signal gets traced", titles Indonesian daily Jawa Pos, alongside a picture of rescuers recovering bodies of victims from the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, which crashed shortly after its departure from the country's capital city Jakarta.


CAPITOL BREACH AFTERMATH, THE LATEST

Five days after the world witnessed unprecedented scenes of violence as thousands of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. capitol, the country is grappling with the consequences of the assault that left five dead.

A SECOND IMPEACHMENT?

Democrats are pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would declare President Trump unfit for office. If Pence doesn't respond within 24 hours, the House will move to impeach him on charges of inciting insurrection. "As the days go by, the horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this President is intensified and so is the immediate need for action," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. In an interview with 60 Minutes, she warned about the risk that Trump could pardon his supporters who stormed the Capitol.

BIDEN'S PRESIDENCY

Even if the Democratic-controlled lower house swiftly impeaches Trump, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him. While such a trial would shine the spotlight on Republican senators, the situation also creates serious problems for President-elect Joe Biden. Current Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, has already ruled out a vote before the Jan. 20 inauguration. A Senate trial afterward, which could lead to banning (the future ex-President) Trump from ever holding office again, threatens to complicate the beginning of Biden's presidency. Speaking on Sunday to CNN, House Majority Whip, Democrat James Clyburn, suggested delaying the transmission of the articles of impeachment to the Senate to trigger the process of a trial to avoid Biden's "first 100 days' being dominated by debate over his predecessor.

TWEETING NO MORE

Over the past 72 hours, Trump has essentially been banished from the Internet. His false and incendiary posts on Twitter and Facebook have earned him permanent bans from the two biggest social networks, which had been key to his communication strategy. But also Parler, the smaller network favored by staunch Trump supporters because it doesn't moderate his posts, was essentially shut down when Google and Apple both removed it from their app stores, while Amazon.com shut off its web services. Still, the moves by the tech giants didn't sit well with many, including critics of the president. "We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now," Kate Ruane, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a statement on Friday. "But it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier." French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire went further, telling France Inter radio this morning that he was "shocked" that the social networks could take such action: "The regulation of the digital space can't be carried out by the digital oligarchy itself. The digital oligarchy is one of the threats that weighs on our nations and our democracies."

RIOTERS PAST (AND FUTURE)

A Nashville bartender and a retired U.S. Air Force from Texas officer pictured carrying plastic zip tie handcuffs during the storming of the U.S. Capitol were arrested Sunday. Another rioter who wore a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt was identified as a Virginia man, as FBI-led efforts to track down individuals from the Jan. 6 mob continue following the arrests of several prominent far-right figures. AP reports that so far, at least 90 people have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanor curfew violations to felonies related to assaults on police officers, possessing illegal weapons and making death threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Meanwhile, fears of more violence have led Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser to call for increased security in the capital ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.


-72.7%

Heathrow is reporting a 72.7% drop in passenger numbers, with just 22.1 million people flying through the west London international airport last year, down 58.8 million compared to 2019.


Over the past 30 years, corruption has taken root in our country in almost every area of our life — from now on, we will not tolerate such outrageousness.

Projected winner of Kyrgyzstan's presidential election Sadyr Japarov, speaking at his campaign headquarters in the country's capital Bishkek. Sunday's election came just three months after a popular uprising over a disputed parliamentary vote sent the country into political chaos.

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Geopolitics

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.


The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.

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David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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