Safeguarding democracy worldwide looms as a major task for 2023, requiring global collaboration to succeed, as Alan Austin reports.
*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.
IT HAS BEEN a bad week for several national leaders who now appear more likely than ever to serve prison time for criminal activity while in office. It has also been a bad week for some of the countries they served. But not all. Some nations are passing the tests presented by criminal leaders better than others.
In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was President from 2007 to 2012, has been found guilty of corruption after offering a magistrate a prestigious placement in exchange for information about a criminal investigation into Sarkozy’s finances. He was originally sentenced to three years in gaol with two suspended. This week, all appeals were exhausted. The guilty verdict stands and Sarkozy will be incarcerated.
There has been some incredulity in France that Sarkozy will in fact be subject to the law like everyone else. But this is generally seen as desirable, even on Sarkozy’s centre-Right side of politics. There is no serious clamour against the judgment or the sentence.
This contrasts dramatically with Peru where more than 48 people have died in protests following President Pedro Castillo’s gaoling last month. Castillo tried to dissolve the Parliament and rule autocratically but was immediately impeached by congress members – 101 votes to six – and replaced by his Vice-President, Dina Boluarte.
The ex-President of Brazil, Peru’s South American neighbour, is also likely to be prosecuted for refusing to hand over government after last October’s bitterly-fought national Election. Far-Right leader Jair Bolsonaro falsely claimed the Election was rigged, boycotted the inauguration of incoming reformist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and has only reluctantly called his supporters to end their violence. He is currently living in Florida, USA.
In scenes highly reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol insurrection on 6 January 2021, Bolsonaro’s supporters ransacked Brazil’s Congress and the presidential palace in the federal capital Brasilia on Sunday a week ago.
In stark contrast to the USA, police swiftly quelled the riots with more than 1,500 arrests.
Presidential criminality in the USA
Events in the United States over the last week make it almost certain former President Donald Trump will face criminal charges. The atmosphere there is far closer to the volatility of Latin America than the Gallic calm of France.
The first development was in Georgia last Monday where a special grand jury completed its report into unlawful interference by Trump and his allies in the 2020 Presidential Election count.
This follows the infamous January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and others, in which Trump said:
“There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes... So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break... All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
Specific charges arising from the Georgia report are still pending.
The second development was the release of first-hand evidence from pro-Trump Republican Party chairwoman Ronna McDaniel that Trump asked her personally to engage in fraudulent interference in the 2020 Election count.
The significance of McDaniel’s testimony is that this is direct evidence, not merely hearsay, as was much of the damning testimony presented to the Select Committee which investigated the 6 January 2021 insurrection.
Several other countries have unresolved matters involving potential criminal activity by former leaders. These include the Philippines, Colombia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Australia, where the new anti-corruption body has a long list of potentially-criminal activities by former Coalition governments to investigate.
The forces of destruction are global. So for sound government to be preserved, it is vital that pro-democracy movements receive support from neighbouring countries and beyond.
Role of the mendacious media
Malicious international media organisation News Corp has been a major player in fomenting political instability and violence across the United States and elsewhere.
News Corp’s Fox News has led the disinformation campaign which has spread the manifest lies that the 2020 Election was stolen, that Trump is the duly-elected president, that the Biden family is corrupt and that violence is necessary to reclaim the country.
News Corp has run “news” items in Britain, the USA and globally supporting the anti-democratic protests in Brazil by furthering far-Right conspiracy theories.
Fox News regular guest and Trump associate Steve Bannon has played a highly visible role in the USA and Brazil by repeating the blatant lies that both elections were stolen and urging physical mayhem.
Threats of further violence
The risk of widespread bloodshed in the USA when Trump is charged, or when convicted should that happen, is high. Trump supporters have already been gaoled for attacks planned or executed against the Governor of Michigan and the husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. More than 940 MAGA supporters have been charged following the Capitol insurrection. Republican leaders have actively fomented violence, including Trump himself on more than 30 occasions.
Republican former Senate leader Lindsey Graham threatened on Fox News that Americans should expect violence even if Trump is merely charged.
He did not urge restraint:
“If there’s a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information... there will be riots in the streets.”
Critical importance of justice being done
It is vital that the rule of law takes its course and criminal activity is duly punished whenever proven. Continuing democracy depends on justice being done and seen to be done, on effective deterrence against criminality, and on universal respect for the courts of law.
This is the challenge of 2023. Happy New Year.
*This article is also available on audio here:
Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.
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