Europe/Americas update: April 1 2019

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EUROPE

UKRAINE

Although there are still some votes to be counted, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has won a clear victory in Sunday’s first round of the Ukrainian presidential election, finishing with just over 30 percent against incumbent Petro Poroshenko at just under 16 percent. Obviously Zelenskiy didn’t get over 50 percent to avoid the April 21 runoff, but polling that shows him pulling far more voters from the third and fourth place finishers than Poroshenko suggests that he’s the prohibitive favorite heading into the second round.

That said, Zelenskiy is a complete political novice, and Poroshenko will apparently be spending the next three weeks painting him as the puppet of another Ukrainian oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, whose 1+1 TV network has given Zelenskiy a lot of positive coverage during the campaign. Zelenskiy will also undoubtedly face charges that he’s soft on Russia, whereas Poroshenko will say he’s proven that he’ll stand up to Moscow. Poroshenko’s biggest weakness is that he’s already been president for almost five years and, well, most Ukrainians really don’t like him. He can’t possibly fix that over the next three weeks, so expect him instead to focus on tearing Zelenskiy down.

SLOVAKIA

The Washington Post’sEmily Tamkin looks at the significance of activist Zuzana Čaputová’s victory in Saturday’s presidential runoff:

“First and foremost it is an important reminder than anti-establishment sentiment does not have to be channeled by populists and that liberal democrat challengers can upset the establishment too,” Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, wrote in an email to The Washington Post.

“By being a political outsider, with a track record of defending the ‘little people,’ she was able to tap into the discontent about the rule of law and the state of the judiciary — without having to act as an anti-establishment populist and embrace the kind of platforms that we normally associate with populist disruptors (nationalism, anti-immigration rhetoric, etc.),” echoed Dalibor Rohac, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Rohac added that Caputova’s victory would likely energize the country’s pro-western, pro-European Union, “reformist forces.”

But it isn’t just that liberals rejoiced at Caputova’s victory — it’s also significant that populist forces saw her as enough of a threat to insult her.

UNITED KINGDOM

The House of Commons once more took up a slate of alternatives to Theresa May’s Brexit plan, and just as it did last week it failed to pass any of them. The two options that came closest to passing were “Soft Brexit,” in which the UK would remain in a customs union with the EU, and a second Brexit referendum, which lost by 3 and 12 votes, respectively. Supporters of the Soft Brexit option actually blamed hardline referendum supporters for scuppering their bill. May is now probably going to bring her plan up for a whopping fourth vote, though the only argument she has left to sway votes to her side is that if her deal doesn’t pass, chaos will ensue.

The “no deal” Brexit deadline is looming on April 12 and the European Union seems increasingly frustrated and therefore probably less inclined to give the UK another extension. May could try to buy time by calling a snap election, but with her own Conservative Party mostly opposed to that because they’re likely to take a beating, she may not have the votes to go that route either.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

A few thousand people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasilia on Sunday to protest the 55th anniversary of the country’s 1964 military coup. The protesters seem to have been motivated by Brazilian President and coup aficionado Jair Bolsonaro’s call for the military to “commemorate” the coup. That call was reinforced on Saturday, when an appeals court judge overturned a lower court ruling barring any such commemoration.

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sacked his electricity minister on Monday in response to the country’s ongoing power woes, replacing him with Igor Gavidia, the former president of a state-owned power company. Gavidia’s first job will be to oversee what looks like a month of power rationing while Maduro’s government attempts to rebuild the country’s electrical grid. Protests against the ongoing power crisis that began on Sunday continued into Monday, with opposition leader Juan Guaidó calling for still more protests against Maduro. Guaidó may be facing some legal jeopardy, after Venezuelan Chief Justice Maikel Moreno called on legislators to strip Guaidó of his immunity as an officeholder. Moreno apparently wants to charge Guaidó for leaving the country in violation of a ban placed on his travel by the Maduro government.

MEXICO

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters on Monday that he wants to help “bring order” to Central American migration to the United States, but argued that the root causes of the migration can only be dealt with by the United States and Central American countries. Which is definitely a fair point, but it does seem that AMLO’s efforts to make life easier for migrants by offering them more humanitarian and work visas have encouraged more people to leave Central America and make their way north. So he’s not just a bystander here. Although the Trump administration constantly bemoans the alleged flood of migrants at the US border, the biggest impact of AMLO’s policies has been in towns across northern Mexico, most of which aren’t equipped to handle the influx of migrants. Anyway, AMLO was responding to Trump’s plans to cut US aid to Central America and maybe close the Mexican border. The former appears to be getting heavy pushback from Congress and the latter would be such a catastrophic blow to the US economy that it’s hard to imagine even Trump actually going through with it.

UNITED STATES

Finally, I leave you with Andrew Bacevich’s thoroughly deserved takedown of a recent Washington Postessay by neoconservative godfather (though these days he prefers to call himself a “liberal interventionist”) Robert Kagan:

Once labeled a neoconservative, Robert Kagan is actually a Friedmanite. Like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, Kagan specializes in elegant oversimplification, regularly producing artfully constructed polemics that are superficially persuasive but substantively misleading. Taken seriously, they can even be dangerous.

Friedman describes himself as “a big believer in the idea of the super-story, the notion that we all carry around with us a big lens, a big framework, through which we look at the world.” Fastening onto some big framework enables Friedman, in his words, to “order events, and decide what is important and what is not.” Choose the correct—or most convenient—big framework and everything becomes clear. This describes Kagan’s approach as well, along with a tendency to deploy act-now-or-all-is-lost rhetoric.

Certain policy types have a particular susceptibility to super-stories that purport to explain everything. It liberates them from actually having to think. For those eager to remain au courant, it signals which way the herd is heading.

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