Stories written by Andrew Firmin

The Climate Alarm Is Ringing – It’s Time to Stop Silencing It

The heat records keep tumbling – 2023 was the hottest year in recorded history. Extreme weather events keep mounting up. And yet the voices most strongly calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe are increasingly being silenced.

Global Governance: Time for Reform

At last the UN Security Council has passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. While stopping short of demanding a permanent end to the violence, it goes further than the world’s peak peace and security body had so far managed since the start of the current brutal phase of conflict in October. But the time it’s taken to get to this point signals an ongoing failure of global institutions to uphold human rights.

Russia: Moments of Dissent after Two Years of War

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine marked its second anniversary on 24 February. And while civil society is offering an immense voluntary effort in Ukraine, in Russia activists have faced intense constraints. The suspicious death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny is part of a great wave of repression. He’s the latest in a long list of people who’ve come to a sudden end after falling out with Vladmir Putin.

Pakistan’s Election Outcomes Leave Many Unhappy

Pakistan’s 8 February election has resulted in an uneasy compromise that few wanted or expected. There’s little indication the outcome is going to reverse recent regression in civic freedoms.

Myanmar’s Military Catastrophe: Three Years and Counting

The military must have expected an easier ride. Three years ago, it ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government. But the coup has been met with fierce resistance, unleashing a bloody conflict with no end in sight.

Serbia’s Suspicious Election

Serbia’s December 2023 elections saw the ruling party retain power – but amid a great deal of controversy. Civil society has cried foul about irregularities in the parliamentary election, but particularly the municipal election in the capital, Belgrade. In recent times Belgrade has been a hotbed of anti-government protests. That’s one of the reasons it’s suspicious that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came first in the city election.

Bangladesh: Election with a Foregone Conclusion

Bangladesh just held an election. But it was far from an exercise in democracy. Sheikh Hasina won her fourth consecutive term, and fifth overall, as prime minister in the general election held on 7 January. The result was never in doubt, with the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), boycotting the vote over the ruling Awami League’s refusal to let a caretaker government oversee the election. This practice, abolished by the Awami League government in 2011, was, the BNP asserted, the only way to ensure a free and fair vote.

Sudan’s Conflict Needs Civil Society Solutions

It’s recently been reported that the two main protagonists of Sudan’s current conflict – leaders of the armed forces and militia at war since April – have agreed to face-to-face talks. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African body, announced the potential breakthrough – although Sudan’s foreign ministry has since claimed IGAD’s statement is inaccurate, creating further uncertainty.

Netherlands Latest Country to Tilt to the Right

The Netherlands is the latest country to lurch to the right amid the global cost of living crisis. Its November election saw maverick far-right populist Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) come first. A hardline Islamophobe who’s called for the Quran to be banned could be the next prime minister.

COP28: Climate Summit in Closed Civic Space

The need to act on the climate crisis has never been clearer. In 2023, heat records have been shattered around the world. Seemingly every day brings news of extreme weather, imperilling lives. In July, UN Secretary-General António Guterres grimly announced that ‘the era of global boiling has arrived’.

New Zealand: Political Volatility under Cost-of-Living Crisis

It’s a rapid reversal for New Zealand’s Labour Party, in power for six years. At the last election in 2020 it won an outright majority, the first party to do so under the current voting system. But three years on, it’s finished a distant second in the election held on 14 October. The result speaks to a broader pattern seen amid economic strife in many countries – of intense political volatility and the rejection of incumbents.

Maldives Election: What Now for Civil Society?

Ahead of the presidential election, Solih faced accusations of irregularities in his party’s primary vote, in which he defeated former president Mohamed Nasheed. The Electoral Commission was accused of making it harder for rival parties to stand, including the Democrats, a breakaway party Naheed formed after the primary vote. The ruling party also appeared to be instrumentalising public media and state resources in its favour. Solih’s political alliances with conservative religious parties were in the spotlight, including with the Adhaalath Party, which has taken an increasingly intolerant stance on women’s and LGBTQI+ rights.

Senegal: Democracy in the Balance?

Civic space is deteriorating in Senegal ahead of next February’s presidential election. Recent protests have been met with lethal violence and internet and social media restrictions. Senegal’s democracy will soon face a key test, and whether it passes will depend largely on whether civic space is respected.

Kenya: Cost of Living Protests Met with Police Repression

Protests against the high cost of living in Kenya have been met with police violence. Talks are currently underway between government and opposition – but whatever results will fall short unless it brings accountability for the catalogue of human rights violations committed in response to protests.

Nepal’s Same-Sex Marriage Breakthrough

Nepal is the latest country to join the global wave of marriage equality. On 28 June, its Supreme Court ruled that the government must immediately offer temporary registration of same-sex marriages, pending a change in the law. Around 200 couples reportedly sought to register as soon as the court judgment was made.

Eswatini: Election with No Democracy on the Horizon

Eswatini heads to the polls soon, with elections scheduled for September. But there’s nothing remotely democratic in prospect. The country remains ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, who presides over Eswatini with an iron fist. Mswati dissolved parliament on 11 July, confident there’s little chance of people who disagree with him winning representation.

Cloud Lingers over Sierra Leone’s Election

People went to the polls in Sierra Leone on 24 June to pick a president, parliament and municipal representatives. Results were quickly announced and the president sworn in for a second term. But a cloud of doubt lingers.

Myanmar: Military Junta Gets a Free Pass

The violence keeps coming in Myanmar, under military rule since February 2021. The junta stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with evidence of systematic use of killings, rape, torture and other gross human rights violations in its attempt to suppress forces demanding a return to democracy.

Hong Kong’s Lights of Freedom Extinguished

Nothing was more predictable than repression. Merely for holding candles and flowers, people were taken away by Hong Kong’s police. The occasion was the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, 4 June 1989. Hong Kong was until recently home to mass annual vigils where thousands gathered to keep alive the memory of that day. But that’s all gone now in the crackdown that followed large-scale protests for democracy that erupted in 2019.

Hopes for Renewal Dashed in Turkey

Turkey’s election hasn’t produced the change many thought was on the cards. Now women’s groups, LGBTQI+ people and independent journalists are among those fearing the worse. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country for two decades, first as prime minister and then as president, prevailed in the 28 May runoff poll, taking around 52.2 per cent of the vote, with his opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on 47.8 per cent.

Thailand: Time for Democracy

Thailand’s voters have spoken. In the 14 May general election, they overwhelmingly backed change. Two major opposition parties won 293 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives.

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julie caplin