US presidential elections: nothing to celebrate

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I do sincerely hope that we won’t wake up tomorrow morning with the terrible news of a Trump presidency. Having said that, the world is already an awful place, a Clinton presidency won’t change that and will likely make it worse, but having Trump there would be a disaster, for Americans and everybody else.

As for third parties, they are just as bankrupt as the main choices. We have Gary Johnson, a libertarian who tells fairy tales about the virtues of the “free market” and supports the gun lobbies. And Jill Stein, a faux green who invests her significant savings into fossil fuels and the defense industry, and wants us to believe that she offers an anti-capitalist, pacifist and environmentalist alternative to Trump and Clinton.

My hope is that, from tomorrow, people in the States will continue the work to build a progressive political formation around principled and visionary leaders like Bernie Sanders, that takes seriously the demands for social justice that come from grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter and the Standing Rock protests. The goal is to have a viable alternative to the corrupt centrism of the current Democratic establishment, with no overtures or “strategic” arguments justifying the return of white supremacy and militant racism and xenophobia, and with a clear anti-war and green agenda. Sadly, none of the four main presidential candidates offers this. Whatever happens tonight, we’ll have no reason to cheer or celebrate.

Dark days ahead for Zambian democracy

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In a controversial decision that left many shocked and confused, yesterday the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) judges ruled 3 to 2 that the opposition petition should be dismissed without hearing. This reversed the previous ruling on Friday night that gave the petitioners and the respondents two days each to present their arguments.

The ruling disregards the right to a fair hearing and leaves a huge rift unhealed, as the opposition party UPND and their candidate Hichilema were not allowed to make their case after a hotly contested election characterised by political violence, major curbs on media freedom and striking irregularities in the counting process. The opposition rejected the ruling and Hichilema mentioned yesterday that he might try to move the case to the High Court. The constitution however does not provide any other avenue beyond the ConCourt to challenge the presidential election results.

This leaves a legal and political void, because no due process has taken place to allow the two main parties to begin a process of reconciliation, and to reassure Zambians that a peaceful and democratic environment will be restored.

President Lungu has decided to press on with his systematic attack on the rule of law, and continued to put pressure on the ConCourt judges until they gave in. Lungu was not willing to let the law take its course. He is set on consolidating his grip over state power, and is showing no willingness to negotiate with anybody who disagrees with him, or represents different interests and views.

With the main independent media shut down, the opposition party silenced, and the constant threats sent by State House and the PF supporters in the streets, Zambians who have a different view of how politics should be run will not be able to voice their concerns freely and without fear. The uncertainty and instability that marked the last few months are only likely to increase.

Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Blair and Bush’s war in Iraq

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Today Sir John Chilcot released his report on the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath (you can download the report here). He summarised his findings in a televised speech (available here). report on the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath – the report is now available online. The very first impression from Chilcot’s statement is that the findings are damning for the US-led coalition that decided to invade Iraq, and particularly Tony Blair, whose actions were at the centre of the British inquiry.

The report expresses major doubts over the legality of the intervention, and it makes it clear that military intervention at that stage was not necessary. The strategy of containment as per UN Security Council resolution 1441 could have continued for some time – Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was given the option to disarm under international monitoring. Blair and Bush went to war before all options for peaceful resolution were exhausted.

The intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used by Blair to justify the war was flawed, and Tony Blair and his government did not challenge it, as they should have. Tony Blair was warned of the risks of increased terrorist activity, internal strife and regional insecurity posed by a military intervention, but he did not make effective plans for a peaceful and viable post-conflict strategy.

Although it comes several years after the fact – the inquiry was set up in 2009 – this remains a major indictment on an event in world history that continues to affect the global current state of affairs. Several hundreds of thousands of civilians died in Iraq since the invasion, and many more were displaced. Soldiers on both sides also died for an unjust an unjustified war.

The report gives some hope at a time when similar mistakes are being repeated over and over again in Syria and the Middle East, and increasing militarisation across the globe is fuelling deaths, unrest and instability.

De-escalating existing conflicts and pushing for a concerted effort to re-establish world peace remains the key priority of our age. The grave mistakes of the Iraq War clearly show that peace cannot be delivered through war and conflict.

UK should Remain in the EU to stop the global advance of the far right

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Tomorrow the British will go to the polls to decide whether UK should stay within the European Union or not. I truly hope that the majority will vote to Remain.

Whatever the final result, the referendum debate has shown there is a worrying rise of xenophobia across all sectors of British society, in a country where migrants have always been welcomed and that has featured among the most cosmopolitan in the world. Many on the Leave side have openly campaigned against migrants and for national chauvinism, spreading incorrect information and unfounded arguments to fuel hate and resentment.

Even more worrying, the debate on immigration around the EU referendum saw many on the left opening the way for the legitimisation of the widespread resentment against migrants. Several prominent figures – including union leaders, intellectuals and Labour party members – have stressed the need for “controlled immigration” and the protection of British workers vis-a-vis all other workers.

Admirably, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his principles and insisted on his pro-immigration stance. The priority should be solidarity across all those hit by the crisis to fight the devastations of neoliberalism and austerity. Migrants are a convenient scapegoat to divert the public’s attention from the real cause of their plight: the drastic reduction of state welfare, widespread privatisations and a wholesale attack on workers’ rights.

Other sectors of the radical left have maintained their commitment to internationalism and inclusion, but campaigned for Leave, hoping that a Leave victory would open a crisis within the Tories from which the left might emerge victorious. Like sectors of the Sanders’ base in the US, and leftists across Europe, they are unwittingly paving the way for the rise of the far right, in the hope that this pragmatic short-term convergence of interests will topple neoliberal technocracy and lead to systemic change.

The reality is that the Tory right and the far right UKIP are much better positioned to capitalise on UK exiting the EU, and they have been the real protagonists of the Leave campaign. Brexit would be one major step towards a global advance of far right populism. It could be followed by a Trump victory in the US presidential election in November, a Le Pen victory in the 2017 French presidential elections, and a victory of the left/right populist 5 Star movement in Italy in 2018.

The EU is in deep crisis and British PM Cameron’s EU deal means that if Britain votes to Remain, the way will be opened for a technocratic curtailing of freedom of movement – all member countries would be allowed to put a temporary break on migration from other EU countries, if they can prove that their state budgets are under substantial pressure. This would be no victory either. But handing the UK to a right-wing alliance that thrives on hate and xenophobia is undoubtedly far worse.

Bernie Sanders’ new task is to convince his supporters to back Hillary Clinton

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Check out my latest piece on Bernie Sanders and the US presidential race, published today in The Independent.

Here is an extract:

“Many who voted for the Vermont senator will not vote for Clinton, and some might even switch to Trump. According to a recent poll, if Sanders runs as a third candidate in November, he would get 18 per cent of the votes, and Trump would defeat Clinton.

These trends hint at a seismic change in American politics. The race for the White House is no longer a fight between Democrats and Republicans. It is turning into a clash between the establishment, represented by Clinton, and rising popular dissent, converging on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.”

A left vision for basic income

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Today Swiss people are voting in a referendum that will determine whether to include a universal basic income in the federal constitution. The constitutional amendment proposes the institution of a basic income to be given for life to the whole population unconditionally, that is, without any specific requirement like income assessment or job status. The basic income should be set at a level that guarantees human dignity and meaningful participation in public life.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is a major achievement that the discussion has gone so far in a country like Switzerland that is at the centre of global capitalism.

It is also time however to reflect more critically about the wave of interest basic income has spurred around the world. We need to avoid the misuse of basic income as a tool to dismantle the welfare state in the global North, and legitimise the advance of austerity and free market capitalism. In the global South, the danger is that previous pilots have set basic income at very low levels, reinforcing double standards about what a decent livelihood should be for Southern citizens vis-a-vis people in the North. Here too, the danger is that a low payment that does not cover the basics would be used as a way to avoid building strong states that deliver decent public services to their citizens.

These risks are real. We need more engagement from the left, to make sure that we push for a basic income that complements a strong welfare state. This also means that we can’t uncritically endorse any move towards basic income just on the basis that “it is good for the movement”. Let’s keep our critical minds switched on, and contribute constructively to make sure that basic income works for people, and not against them.

The original vision of the concept stresses the need for a safety net that guarantees a decent living to all. Pushing for a modest cash check as a substitute for welfare provisions and labour rights would work in the opposite direction.

Democracy after Sanders: building a progressive alternative, beyond social media and mass rallies

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Check out my latest piece on Sanders and the US presidential race, published by openDemocracy on 26th May.

Here is a short summary:

“The US presidential primaries have shown that there are important similarities and convergences in methods and tactics between Donald Trump’s followers and sections of Bernie Sanders’ mass support. Even though the two movements have radically different goals, the politics of feeling and the use of social media and mass rallies to campaign for utopian change are closer than one might imagine. But while social media activism and mass rallies can act as a catalyst to spread a vision, they cannot on their own deliver the desired change.”