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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 22, 2023

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International Updates

I think this forum often shines when people talk about foreign affairs or give updates from their own countries, so - in the same spirit as calling for regular coverage and analysis of the Hill - I’d like to try and start a tradition of brief weekly updates on big happenings from around the world. I’m not an expert on most places and will definitely not be able to get everything. People should feel free to spin off of anything they find interesting, to add onto this with coverage of other places that were missed, or to post their own. Unintentionally, this week’s theme is elections and struggles for national power.


In a process with shades of Peru’s ongoing crisis, Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso recently dissolved the National Assembly following their failed attempt to impeach him for (allegedly) mishandling a deal involving the state oil company. This means Lasso is now ruling by decree. Difference being, this seems to be actually allowed under the Ecuadorian constitution; it’s currently being challenged in court but it doesn’t seem like anyone thinks it will be successful. He can govern like this for up to six months, but yesterday announced there will be an election in August, which he is allowed to run in (though he hasn’t announced if he will). In the meantime, he seems to be making the most of his interim by cutting taxes and creating special economic zones to attract foreign investment.


Right wing parties won a majority in the legislative assembly in Sunday's election, largely due to a deteriorating economy, significant internal instability, and President Gabriel Boric’s failure to make headway on campaign commitments. You probably remember the kerfuffle last year about reforming Chile’s constitution. The current constitution is inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship and there’s large agreement (80%) it should be replaced, but little in the way of common vision for what should replace it. Last year President Boric attempted to pass a more left wing constitution with some built in idpol elements like gender equality and greater indigenous rights, but it failed to pass a referendum, with 62% in opposition. The incoming current right wing coalition is actually led by Boric’s opposition candidate from the last election, Antonio Kast, and they will now have their own shot to pass a new constitution.


The Turkish election is scheduled this Sunday for the run off between Erdogan and opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The matchup is a little reminiscent of Hungary, in that six opposition parties have teamed together in a longshot, big-tent coalition to unseat an increasingly entrenched strongman, and also in that they are likely to fail. Despite sky high inflation and the recent tragic earthquakes, Erdogan is favored to win, which would continue his streak in power from 2003. BBC reports that Kilicdaroglu is in a bit of a political pinch in that he needs to court both nationalist and Kurdish parties, which have some incompatible interests (ie, the former wants a harder crackdown on perceived or real Kurdish militantism). Even if he wins the presidency, Erdogan’s AKP and allied MHP have a parliamentary majority, so there’s probably not a ton a new president can change.

El Salvador

In a similar vein, El Salvadoran civil society groups have also formed a big tent coalition with four right- and left-wing opposition parties, including President Bukele's former party FMLN, to mount a unified attempt to unseat the increasingly autocratic leader in next year's election.


The US and Saudi Arabia recently negotiated a seven day ceasefire between the Army and the RSF paramilitary in Sudan. Ideally, the ceasefire should give a little time to distribute humanitarian aid, though reportedly bombings have continued in the capital of Khartoum and the nearby cities of Omdurman and Bahri. Over a million people have been displaced so far, with the Red Cross warning it will be incredibly hard to house and provide for the 80,000+ refugees in Chad after the rainy season begins.


Thailand’s election on the 14th has been covered as a major upset, with junta-backed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha only receiving 7% of the vote, and voters overwhelmingly trending towards the anti-monarhcical and anti-military opposition parties, Move Forward and to a lesser extent Pheu Thai. There is a limited extent to how much this matters because since the military coup in 2014 the armed services control one third of the seats in parliament, unelected, and any opposition faces a steep uphill battle to get the 376 votes needed to unseat the PM. Even if they did surmount this threshold, the military can just do another coup whenever; “Thailand has averaged one coup every seven years since 1932 . . . nine years have passed since the last one, so a coup is now overdue.” Still, it speaks to significant discontent with the monarchy-military rule (the previous king was fairly popular, his 2016 successor Vajiralongkorn - say that five times fast - much less so, and the “lèse majesté laws” punishing any criticisms of him have become a sore point).


Ayatollah Khamenei is 84 and has been battling illness off and on for the past few years, so soon his succession will be an unavoidable issue. Foreign Affairs reports that while the process for this is a well established vote by the “Assembly of Experts,” there is significant disagreement within the assembly and the different elite factions they represent, with interlocking alliances and power politics far more complicated than Iran’s broader Assembly (over 120 elite “parties” vs basically 2 relevant national parties: the moderates and conservatives). If the chaos of the last transition from Iran’s foundational leader is any guide, the upcoming one will be extremely fraught as well, which is a recipe for instability when coupled with Iran’s significant public discontent from the government’s ruthless suppression of the last year of protests.

Ireland's asylum seeker protests continued with some farmers in County Clare blocking the roads to a hotel after they found out that refugees were bussed in during the night. There were some reports of people setting up blockades and checking people's passports and boarding buses to do a headcount but I haven't seen any proof.

Right now it looks like the blockade has been lifted after the Minister of State visited and struck a deal with the protestors, although the demonstrations are going to continue.

I‘ve read various different articles covering the anti-migrant protests but I still don’t feel like I have much context for them. Did something recently happen to drive all of this to a head?

There was no single incident, you've got a housing crisis meeting a huge intake (per capita) of refugees from Ukraine plus an increase in asylum seekers from the rest of the world. At the start of the year we were at the point where the government had nowhere to put asylum seekers so they arrived and went straight to sleeping on the streets. This type of sentiment has been bubbling for years and there had already been quite a few cases of arson in empty hotels and the like that had been earmarked to become asylum centres.

At this point I am wondering if there is any example of a broad coalition winning against a single popular strongman leader in two way elections. Watching this stuff from the inside has been very instructive. When you get 6+ (there are a lot more parties in support who aren’t in coalition formally) very different parties in a coalition it just degenerates to the most stupid base discourse. At this point Erdogan looks like a significantly more sane and reliable candidate than supposedly peaceful Western oriented Kılıçdaroğlu

I’ve been wondering that as well actually, there must be an instance of it working somewhere, but it seems like the kind of thing doomed to fail. In El Salvador in particular, I’m not sure what parties that have been long time bitter rivals are going to agree on in a coalition. The article I read said they’re going to unify under a civil society-approved “human rights candidate,” but it’s not like either of those parties were all that great on human rights either.

Israel managed to briefly unseat Netanyahu that way.

True but almost feels like the exception that proves the rule

Good example, though I guess it also demonstrates how hard it is to hold onto power with those kind of coalitions.


One of the many conflicts around the world that has been overshadowed in the past year by the Ukrainian war has been the ongoing civil war in Burma (or Myanmar, if you insist). Now, there is a sense in which there has been civil war in Burma for the entirety of its postcolonial history as various minority groups have attempted to secede and established de facto independent states in the highlands, often funded by selling opium, but the past two years have seen a marked increase in violence, including in the formerly peaceful lowlands, following the 2021 coup d'état. Even with increased popular support, the various insurgent groups have been unable to break the impasse and descriptions of the Burmese military's attacks on villages in the countryside often read like something out of the Vietnam War. This is all made even more sad by the fact that this is a country that seemingly should be a development success story, having once been the wealthiest nation in Southeast Asia.

I used to try hard to keep track of all the ethnic armed organizations and secessionist groups in Myanmar but am hopelessly lost on them now. Tragic to see the conflict still doesn't have any end in sight. I read a journalist once argue that post-WW2 Burma should be understood less as a postcolonial state and more as a country still in the active process of trying to establish colonization (of the Bamar majority over all of the minority provinces).

One of the many conflicts around the world that has been overshadowed in the past year by the Ukrainian war has been the ongoing civil war in Burma (or Myanmar, if you insist).

Not surprising - the rebels in Burma/Myanmar lack money, connections and lobbying/public relation skills to make their cause heard in the Western world, and no one who has them sees promoting this cause as useful (for now).

But there is one unlikely group watching them - 3d gun printing community, overjoyed when they see for, the first time in history, printed guns used in real war.


Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega continues his slide into dictatorship. For the past couple years, he's been stifling free speech, removing critics and opponents, and independent media outlets. The latest he's done is seize a dozen private universities, either closing them outright or taking control. Of the 12 universities seized, seven are based in Nicaragua and five were the virtual campuses of foreign universities.

There's something almost darkly amusing in the absurdity of a would-be autocrat siezing Zoom school. Do you know if these schools will continue to run operated under the government or is higher education just on pause indefinitely?

Also topical is Amnesty International's report last month on the regime's human rights abuses.

I'm supportive of Erdogan winning in Turkey's elections since him being in power means two things. First, Turkey is more likely to have a pro-refugee stance (compared to the opposition) and thus alleviate pressure off Europe. Second, his quasi-islamist sympathies ensures that Turkey is unlikely to join the EU any time soon or even get stuff like free visa access, which they've been whining about for almost a decade now.

Erdogan is a "known entity" and despite the scaremongering painted by the Turkish liberal bloc, he's pretty pragmatic.

Alternatively, if they don’t get the economy under control then Europe may look increasingly like a better option, not just for Middle Eastern refugees but for the broader population as well.

Erdogan is pretty loopy but he isn't that bad. I follow their economy fairly closely. They will see more devaluations but no Lebanon-style collapse.

I also doubt there will be some full collapse, I’m more referring to Erdogan holding strong to not addressing inflation by raising interest rates at all, but you probably know the situation better than i do

On Chile, do we know what the right wing parties are likely to produce as a draft constitution? Are they going to come up with the conservative version of the progressive wish list vaguery that Boric tried to ram through, an easy-to-rig constitution that keeps them in power forever without saying that, or an actual normal constitution?

I'm not totally sure. When the original referendum was held about whether the constitution should be reformed at all, Antonio Kast was opposed (and is in general a Pinochet apologist), so maybe the changes won't be significant. The original constitution was controversial because of built in authoritarian / pro-military rules that have been removed, plus still-standing laws restricting the government's ability to interfere in the economy, which Kast doesn't want changed. Some in his coalition might see this as an opportunity to push more right-wing culture war stuff, but they still need to pass a national referendum so there's a limit to how crazy they can get.