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World News in Review: Democracy and Protest

World wide, civil unrest has ensued in response to government actions and threats to democracy.

Hungary: 

The strength of Hungary’s democratic institutions has continued to backslide over the past few months, with the COVID-19 pandemic allowing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban to tighten his grip on the country. Last year, Orban introduced an emergency powers law in order to fight the pandemic, which removed key limitations on his power for an indefinite timespan. Orban is now able to institute orders and laws without approval from Hungary’s parliament. In recent weeks, pro-democracy groups in and outside of Hungary have demanded that the emergency powers law be repealed, while Orban has claimed that it remains necessary for his response to the pandemic. Orban has also cracked down on press freedom during his time in office, withholding information from the media, threatening journalists with legal action, and disbanding news outlets. In an April 28 statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the anti-democratic actions of Orban’s government: “The United States shares the concerns of international press freedom advocates and many Hungarians over the decline of media pluralism in Hungary.” 

Colombia: 

In May, national anti-government strikes and protests broke out across Colombia, with demonstrators demanding democratic change on a range of issues. Labor unions, political organizations, and many Colombian citizens are opposed to a recent tax increase to fund pandemic-related government spending. In response to the public outcry, Colombia’s president, Iván Duque Márquez, withdrew the tax proposal. According to organizers, the protests center on more than just the tax hike — they also seek a fix to worsening poverty and inequality. Colombia’s economy was hit hard by the pandemic, which has resulted in a spike in unemployment as well as anger towards the government. By May 11, 42 people had been killed in the demonstrations, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman. 

Hong Kong:

On April 28, officials approved a new immigration law that could stop individuals from entering or leaving Hong Kong. This has sparked public outcry, as many citizens see the legislation as an extension of “exit bans,” which have been used to keep activists and political dissidents in mainland China against their will. The law comes as China attempts to exert increasing political control over Hong Kong, which led to repeated clashes between protestors and police last year. These recent encroachments on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong have been condemned by members of the international community, including the United States and European Union. 

Chad: 

On May 2, Chad’s military-led regime announced the formation of a new government. This came in response to the killing of Idriss Déby, who led the country for three decades and had recently been elected to a sixth term as president. Chad’s military leadership installed Déby’s son as president, a move that Chad’s political opposition party denounced as an “undemocratic takeover.” In response to this change in leadership, rebel militants threatened to march on Chad’s capital. The United States and France, however, voiced their support for the new government, allying themselves with Chad’s ruling party to fight against the Islamic State and Boko Haram — two extremist groups responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. 

Myanmar: 

Protests have raged in Myanmar since early February, when Myanmar’s military deposed the country’s democratically-elected president and ruling party. In an attempt to restore democratic rule, protestors recently mounted a new campaign — the ‘Spring Revolution’ — consisting of a series of demonstrations across the country. Soldiers fired into a crowd of protestors on May 2, killing eight people and sparking greater unrest. Despite receiving the vast majority of electoral support in Myanmar’s most recent election, former state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, was forced to step down and is now being held in detainment. Military leaders claim that the election’s results were fraudulent, while demonstrators demand Ms Suu Kyi’s release, and an end to the military insurrection.

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