Is Malaysia heading for ‘BorneoExit’? Why some in East Malaysia are advocating for secession



FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA

James Chin, University of Tasmania

Unity is a common theme every year on Malaysia Day, the holiday celebrated last week that marks the day Malaysia became a federation in 1963.

That year, Britain agreed to relinquish control of most of its remaining colonies in Southeast Asia — Singapore, North Borneo (now called Sabah) and Sarawak. They then joined with Malaya, which had gained independence from Britain in 1957, to form a new nation called Federation of Malaysia.

The legal instrument to form the federation is called the Malaysia Agreement (MA63).

Yet, for the people of Sabah and Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, the agreement left many with mixed emotions. Some people in these states have long desired secession and, in recent years, the drumbeat of separation has only grown louder.

This issue is now a key political issue in the Sabah state election this weekend and upcoming the Sarawak elections, which must be held before the end of 2021.

The two parts of Malaysia are separated by the South China Sea.
Shutterstock

Source of historical grievances

In a nutshell, most people in Sabah and Sarawak (also known as East Malaysia) are unhappy with federation because they think it has not delivered on two main promises made in 1962 — high levels of autonomy and economic development.

In the first area, the federal government has stripped away a lot of local powers in Sabah and Sarawak in the last 57 years. On top of that, the federal authorities have tried to impose the same toxic racial and religious politics found in Malaya (also known as West Malaysia) to the eastern states.

East Malaysia is much more ethnically and religiously diverse compared to the west. For example, the Malay population is a minority in both Sabah and Sarawak; in fact, no ethnic group constitutes more than 40% in either state. As a result, political Islam has not taken root here.




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In fact, one of the defining features of East Malaysia is intermarriage among the different ethnic and religious groups. The divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is reasonably insignificant — a marked difference from the often suspicious attitude Islamic leaders have toward non-Muslims in Kuala Lumpur.

In terms of economic development, Sabah remains one of the poorest states in Malaysia. And the infrastructure in both Sabah and Sarawak is vastly underdeveloped compared to the west of Malaysia.

To add insult to injury, more than half of Malaysia’s oil and gas production comes from Sabah and Sarawak. The common joke is that all the iconic infrastructure in peninsular Malaysia, such as the Petronas Towers, Penang Bridge and Kuala Lumpur international airport, was built with money from East Malaysia.

The infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur far exceeds that in Malaysia’s eastern states.
FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA

Britain’s hand in the federation

In recent times, one of the biggest grievances in East Malaysia comes from the process of decolonisation administered by the British after the second world war.

There is clear, documented evidence that back in 1962, the colonial office in London used its powers and influence to get the local leaders in Sabah and Sarawak to agree to the formation of Malaysia.

The British wanted a clean exit from Southeast Asia and to ensure its former colonies did not turn to communism. So the British conceived the idea of a “Federation of Malaysia”, where its former territories would come under a single political entity.

Activists in East Malaysia say if the British had not supported the formation of the federation, it was highly unlikely local leaders would have agreed to it. Many would have instead preferred independence or a federation consisting of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei (which gained independence from Britain much later, in 1984).

A campaign event in Sabah ahead of this weekend’s elections.
Shutterstock

What Sabah and Sarawak want

All these historical grievances have led to a growing movement in Sabah and Sarawak advocating for secession from the federation.

With elections upcoming in both states, all local politicians — including those serving in the federal government — are now claiming to be MA63 nationalists trying to keep “Malaya out” of Sabah and Sarawak.

Social media is one key reason the secessionist movement has taken off in East Malaysia. It is now much easier for advocates to organise and magnify their grievances.

What the Sabah and Sarawak people want, at the very least, is a constitutional amendment to recognise the special autonomy of both states. But a significant minority argues the whole federation has failed, and thus secession is the only way forward.

Currently, the secessionist groups pose no real threat to the federation. But if enough people buy the secession argument in the future, public sentiment may be too strong for the national leaders to ignore.

How should the federal government respond?

There are basically two options available to the federal government.

The first is the ostensibly easy option — the political route. This would require the federal government to recognise the historical grievances and try to resolve them.

However, this is not as simple as it seems. The government is reluctant to grant real autonomy to the two states, worried this will end up weakening federal powers in the other 11 states of the federation.




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There was an attempt to reword the Constitution last year to symbolically recognise the special status of both states, but it failed.

This is the only way to keep the federation together, however. The federal leaders need to agree to recognise the special status of Sabah and Sarawak and grant them wide autonomy in the Constitution, as envisaged in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

The second option for the government is to play a wait-and-see game. Politically, this is dangerous, as the final outcome could very well be secession.

By way of comparison, the push for independence in Catalonia was similarly based on historical grievances that mushroomed into a mainstream political movement and eventually an independence referendum — declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

At the very least, what is happening on the ground in East Malaysia suggests the decolonisation process in Southeast Asia is not yet complete. This colonial legacy is not merely history, but is clearly reflected in the present reality.The Conversation

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously low


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Grattan Institute

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcement that he’ll prioritise reducing unemployment ahead of reducing government debt is welcome news.

The government is required by the Charter of Budget Honesty to develop and publish a fiscal strategy to be used in each budget.

The one that it has been using doesn’t mention unemployment at all and instead talks about offsetting new spending “by reductions in spending elsewhere” and commits it to “achieve budget surpluses, on average, over the course of the economic cycle” – something that’s not going to happen for a long time.

A realistic fiscal strategy is a good idea. A lot of behaviour is driven by expectations. If consumers and businesses think the government is going to slash and burn its way to a surplus, any stimulus in the meantime will be less effective.

People are more likely to save, and businesses less likely to hire, if they think tax hikes and spending cuts are around the corner.

A clear statement that is not the case will help.

But the Treasurer’s pledge to keep running deficits “until the unemployment rate is comfortably back under 6%” is nowhere near ambitious enough.

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman William McChesney Martin Jr. once famously said that the central bank’s role is “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.

Tightening budget policy – raising taxes or cutting spending – when unemployment crosses the 6% mark would be packing away the booze when many of the guests haven’t even arrived.

In the 15 years before COVID-19 struck, Australia’s unemployment rate had been above 6% only briefly, between mid 2014 and early 2016.


Unemployment rate, 2015 – 2019

Seasonally adjusted.
ABS Labour Force, Australia

The unemployment rate was well below 6% before the pandemic struck, yet the labour market was clearly running below its potential.

Before the pandemic, the Reserve Bank revised down its estimate of the unemployment speed limit – the unemployment rate at which inflation and wages would accelerate – from 5% to around 4.5%.

The Treasurer should wait until we’re closer to that speed limit before reaching for the brakes. The difference between 6% and 4.5% unemployment might not sound like much, but it amounts to an extra 200,000 people or so in work.

And it affects the rest of us too. Most Australians won’t get anything more than modest pay rises until the labour market tightens.

The danger is declaring victory too soon

The government handled the acute phase of this crisis well, although not perfectly. It deserves credit for moving very quickly to support the economy. But the danger now is that it turns too soon to budget tightening, stunting a nascent recovery.

This is the mistake many governments and central banks made after the global financial crisis – acting commendably to shore up activity in the crisis phase, but then pulling away support before enough of the damage had been repaired.

With interest rates so low, the government has a lot of capacity to run deficits without the debt-to-GDP ratio getting out of control.

As Frydenberg noted, “with historically low interest rates, it is not necessary to run budget surpluses to stabilise and reduce debt as a share of GDP — provided the economy is growing steadily”.




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It’s a point made by former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard in one of the most influential recent papers in economics – his 2019 presidential address to the American Economics Association.

Blanchard noted that when the interest rate on government debt is less than the nominal growth rate of the economy, “public debt may have no fiscal cost”.

We’ve access to money for nothing

The Australian government can borrow for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of about 0.9%. It recently issued 30-year fixed-rate bonds for less than 2%.

Both are less than the Reserve Bank’s inflation target, suggesting that over time in real terms the money will cost nothing.

Over the past five years, Australia’s nominal growth rate has averaged 4%. The most recent Intergenerational Report projected average nominal growth of 5.25% a year for 40 years.

Even if economic growth falls well short of that projection it is hard to imagine it going below the rate at which the government can borrow for very long.

That means debt is likely to remain manageable relative to the size of the economy, and debt servicing costs will be modest, particularly compared to the benefits of stimulus.




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Over the medium-term the government will need to ensure its debt is sustainable and does not continue to rise as a share of the economy.

But rushing too quickly to “repair” the budget position would be an economic ‘own goal’ – hampering job creation, economic growth, and ultimately the bottom line it sought to protect.

Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said this week that “absent the fiscal stimulus, the economy would be significantly weaker and debt levels even higher”.

He is right. Taking the foot off the economic accelerator when unemployment is at 6% would condemn Australia to a long and slow recovery. It’s not in the Treasurer’s interest, and it’s not in ours.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘This country belongs to the people’: why young Thais are no longer afraid to take on the monarchy



Wason Wanichakorn/AP

Greg Raymond, Australian National University

Thousands of Thai students turned out over the weekend to protest in Bangkok — the latest gathering in a long-simmering movement against the power structures that hold sway in Thailand.

The three core demands of students are to dissolve parliament, amend the constitution and for the government to stop harassing dissidents and others.

The protests began in January, took a break during the COVID-19 outbreak and then resumed in July.

One of the triggers was the disappearance and apparent abduction of political activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Cambodia on July 4.

More broadly, protesters are angry at the perceived illegitimacy of the government (headed by the leader of the 2014 coup Prayuth Chan-ocha), the dissolution of leading reform party Future Forward and the government’s performance in handling the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

In the past month, protesters have also begun demanding reform of the monarchy — a topic long deemed unmentionable in a country with strict laws against criticising the royal family.

Where the protests go from here remains to be seen, but so far, the government has exercised relative restraint toward the gatherings, preferring to arrest leaders one by one away from the demonstrations and avoid street clashes.

But the protesters have made one thing clear: they will no longer be ruled by fear. And some believe the public airing of grievances about the monarchy marked a turning point.

Police stand guard outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
RUNGROJ YONGRIT/EPA

Why symbolism matters in Thailand

The weekend protests were heavy on symbolism. They were held at the Royal Plaza, commonly known as Sanam Luang, which has been used for decades for both royal ceremonies and activities such as kite flying. It has also been an important site for exercises of power and protest.

Public access to Sanam Luang has been restricted in recent years, so to reclaim the square was itself a highly meaningful gesture.

The protesters also staged a ritual: the laying of a new People’s Plaque in the square. The new plaque read

at this place the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch, as they have deceived us.

Students install the new plaque declaring ‘This country belongs to the people’. By the next day, it was gone.
Sakchai Lalit/AP

To appreciate the significance, some historical context is important. The original People’s Party Plaque was laid in 1936 to commemorate Thailand’s the abolition of the absolute monarchy and the establishment of its first constitution four years earlier. It read:

Here, at dawn on 24 June 1932, the People’s Party has brought forth a constitution for the progress of the nation.

This plaque disappeared mysteriously in 2017, shortly after the death of Thailand’s long-serving and much-revered king, Bhumipol Adulyadej, and the instalment of his successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The disappearance of the plaque was part of a pattern of vanishing monuments related to the 1932 revolution. No public statement was made about the disappearance of the plaque and no individual or agency took responsibility.

In laying the new plaque over the weekend, the protesters invoked the spirit of all Thais who had fought for democracy in the past, including the revolutionaries Pridi Banomyong and Phibun Songkram.

They also included representations from minorities, such as the LGBTI community, and those from Thailand’s northeast and far-southern provinces. These groups are widely believed to have been disenfranchised under Thailand’s military government and its creeping authoritarianism.

The protests have drawn wide support from young Thais, including those calling for equal rights for LGBTQ people.
DIEGO AZUBEL/EPA

The plaque itself displayed the three-fingered “Hunger Games salute”, widely used by protesters since the 2014 coup and representing the values of freedom, equality and brotherhood/sisterhood.

The new plaque was not long for Royal Plaza, though. Within a day, it had
been quickly removed and replaced with cement.

Worries about erosion of democratic freedoms

There has been increasing unease among younger Thais at these clandestine efforts by the military-backed government to erase the memory of Thailand’s democratic birth.

The younger generation voiced their frustrations with the government and the eroding democratic freedoms in the country in the lead-up to the 2019 election — the first vote in Thailand since the coup.

They voted in droves for Future Forward, a party whose key message was no more coups. But Prayuth, the leader of the junta that seized power in 2014, was nonetheless chosen as the new prime minister by the parliament last June.




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Future Forward was then dissolved on a legal technicality in February, suggesting Thailand is adopting the sophisticated authoritarianism of its neighbour Cambodia.

There have also been fears Thailand’s rulers are only superficially abiding by the constitution.

One example was Prayuth’s refusal to promise to uphold the constitution during his swearing-in ceremony.

This followed King Rama X’s decision to amend the constitution unilaterally after it had been approved by the people by referendum.

Political uncertainty in Thailand: mass demonstrations and new lines of debate.

Where do the protests go from here?

The plaque-laying students will likely face repercussions, although they probably will not be charged with lèse majesté. Since taking the throne, Rama X has indicated a strong preference against using these laws. The government has many other legal instruments at its disposal, such as charging protesters with sedition.

While momentum for constitutional reform is starting to gather pace in the parliament, concrete action on reforming the monarchy will be slower and more difficult. The students say their wish is not for a republic, but for a monarchy above politics and below the constitution.




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As the country’s next generation of leaders in waiting, it seems inevitable that change in this direction will occur.

The students are next calling for a nationwide strike on October 14, another day redolent with symbolism. It was on this day in 1973 the Thai people overthrew a military dictatorship.The Conversation

Greg Raymond, Lecturer, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keating is right. The Reserve Bank should do more. It needs to aim for more inflation



Ashwin/Shutterstock

Chris Edmond, University of Melbourne and Bruce Preston, University of Melbourne

Former prime minister Paul Keating isn’t alone in wanting the Reserve Bank to do much more to ensure economic recovery.

In an opinion piece for major newspapers he has said it ought to be directly funding government spending rather than indirectly by buying government bonds from third parties.

But we think there’s something else the Reserve Bank can do.

Governor Philip Lowe is right to call on governments to spend more, creating “fiscal stimulus”.

But we don’t think that absolves the Reserve Bank of the need to provide more “monetary stimulus”.

Simply put, the Reserve Bank needs to create more inflation. Quite a lot more.

For years now, the bank has chronically undershot its inflation target of 2% to 3% per year. This has to stop.


Consumer price inflation since the Reserve Bank’s 2-3% target


ABS Consumer Price Index, Australia

Inflation plays a vital role in government finances, through its influence on nominal income growth. Higher nominal income growth lowers outstanding debt as a fraction of income.

To appreciate the size of the effect, if average inflation runs at 1.5% per year rather than 2.5% per year (the bank’s central target), after a decade prices will be roughly 10% lower.




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As a consequence, public debt as a fraction of national income will be 10% higher, and that’s before taking into account the revenue implications of lower inflation.

Too much inflation creates its own problems, but so does too little.

Of course, the Reserve Bank’s options are limited right now. Short term interest rates are effectively zero and can’t go much lower without turning negative, an idea the bank has so far resisted.

The bank needs to commit to “too much” inflation

But there are things the bank can do, and they involve making clear its plans for when inflation recovers.

When economic growth revives, be it in 12 or 24 months, the bank will face a choice between raising rates to more normal levels, or continuing to keep them extraordinarily low.

The RBA should do the latter and promise serious inflation, more than it is comfortable with, for some time to come.




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Promising to overshoot its target band will raise inflation expectations and then inflation itself, lowering the real interest rate.

This will buttress the recovery, supporting economic growth. It will also greatly improve the state of government finances.

How much inflation should the RBA generate?

It should aim for average inflation of 2-3% over a long window, at least ten years.

This will place a clear upper bound on how much inflation is appropriate over the long term, while requiring substantial inflation for some time to make up for the sustained undershooting of its target.

It’s being tried in the United States

Such a policy might sound unusual. And there would be protests about credibility and the risks of changing institutional arrangements during a crisis.

But the United States Federal Reserve recently adopted such a policy after an extensive review.

There’s no reason Australia’s Reserve Bank couldn’t do the same.

As it happens, hardly any formal change is required. Its Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy says its goal is 2 to 3% inflation “on average, over time.”

So there’s no need to change the wording, merely the interpretation.

It could make clear that a practical change had taken place by referring to the new regime as a “price-level target”, since targeting inflation over a long time is equivalent to targeting a path for the overall level of prices.

It’d hold the bank to account

Regardless of the label, such a clearly enunciated approach would make monetary policy more effective and help the government with its finances.

And that’s not all. An average inflation target would provide a clearer benchmark against which to assess the bank’s performance and thus strengthen the accountability of one of our most important institutions.

Too often in the past the bank has excused its failure to hit its inflation target by appeals to a vague and shifting list of factors outside of its control.




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While some excuses may have merit, the existing regime does not well communicate how such undershooting determines what the bank will do in the future.

By contrast, an average inflation target would clearly communicate that whatever the excuses for undershooting, future policy will be set to overshoot until average inflation is back on target.

It’s appropriate for fiscal policy to take the lead right now. But monetary policy has to be ready to do its job too.The Conversation

Chris Edmond, Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne and Bruce Preston, Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reserve Bank ‘dallies with indolence’ instead of helping government pursue full employment: Paul Keating


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former prime minister Paul Keating has launched an extraordinary attack on the Reserve Bank, accusing it of having “one of its dalliances with indolence”, and describing it as “the Reverse Bank”.

Keating, who was treasurer in the Hawke government and once boasted of having the Reserve Bank in his pocket, said the bank’s job was “to help the government meet the task of full employment” and it was failing in this.

He criticised its officials for being “the high priests” of incrementalism, rather than doing what the situation called for.

His outburst, in a statement issued on Wednesday, followed a speech this week by the bank’s deputy governor Guy Debelle who canvassed the pros and cons of options for further monetary policy action if the bank’s board decided it was needed.

These included buying bonds further out along the curve, foreign exchange intervention, lowering rates without going into negative territory, and moving to negative rates.

Keating labelled Debelle’s contribution “meandering thoughts”.

“Knowing full well that monetary policy can now no longer add to nominal demand – something that now, only fiscal policy is capable of doing, the Reserve Bank is way behind the curve in supporting the government in its budgetary funding measures,” Keating said.

“For a moment, it showed some unlikely form in pursuing its 0.25% bond yield target for three year Treasury bonds and a low interest facility for banks.

“But now, after 600,000 superannuation accounts were cleared and closed down, with 500,000 of those belonging to people under 35 – a withdrawal of $35 billion in personal savings, and further demands arising from the employment hiatus in Victoria, [Debelle] yesterday strolled out with debating points about what further RBA action might be contemplated.”

Keating said that in his office when he was treasurer, the bank was nicknamed “the Reverse Bank”, because it was too slow raising rates in the late 1980s and too slow lowering them in the early 1990s – which gave Australia “a recession deeper than it would have otherwise had”.

As treasurer he’d “worn the cost of the bank’s indolence in the task of smashing inflation”. And as a measure of his giving the bank more discretion, as prime minister he’d worn the “great political cost” of the bank’s rate rises in 1994.

“As history has shown, when a real crisis is upon us the RBA is invariably late to the party. And so it is again,” Keating said.

The bank’s act had two objectives – price stability (not a problem at the moment) and full employment, Keating said.

“The Act says the Bank and the government should endeavour to agree on policies which meet that objective – in this case, employment.”

The bank “should be explicitly supporting the government so the country does not experience a massive fall in employment”, hitting particularly younger workers.

But instead of that, Debelle “conducts a guessing competition on what incremental step the Bank might take to help,” Keating said.

“These are the high priests of the incremental. Making absolutely certain that not a bank toe will be put across the line of central bank orthodoxy.

“Certainly not buying bonds directly from the Treasury – wash your mouth out on that one – what would they say about us at the annual BIS meeting in Basel?

“Not even ambitiously buying sufficient bonds in the secondary market, like the European Central Bank or the Bank of Japan.”

He said the bank should “shoulder the load. And in a super-low inflationary world, that load is funding fiscal policy. Mountainous sums of it.

“In an economic emergency of the current dimension that means putting the orthodoxy into perspective and doing what is sensibly required.”

Like other central banks, the Reserve Bank “has become a sort of deity, where lesser mortals might inquire, however respectfully, what the exalted priests might be thinking or have in mind for their prosperity or the country at large,” Keating said.

“The Governor and his deputies do not wear clerical collars and black suits. But that is the only difference in their comport and attitude.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This is why the fight over the Supreme Court could make the US presidential election even nastier



Evan Vucci/AP

Jared Mondschein, University of Sydney

As the two sides in US politics begin jockeying for position following the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the similarities to the 2016 presidential election are striking.

That year, the fierce battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was made all the more contentious because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to allow a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died in February.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged instead to “let the American people decide” the fate of the Supreme Court vacancy. His gambit worked. Trump won the election and successfully appointed a conservative justice to the court, some 14 months after Scalia’s death.

In recent days, however, McConnell is saying something altogether different. He’s made clear the Trump administration will decide who Ginsburg’s replacement will be — not the American people on election day.

Protesters began gathering outside McConnell’s house in Kentucky soon after Ginsburg’s death.
Timothy D. Easley/AP

And Trump has also already announced he will nominate a woman to the court — signalling his intention to move quickly to replace Ginsburg, with just over 40 days left before the vote.

The impending fight guarantees an already rancorous race will become even more acrimonious, with long-lasting implications.




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Why the Supreme Court is so important

As the third branch of government in the US, the Supreme Court not only keeps the powers of the other two branches (the legislative and executive) in check, it makes landmark decisions that can fundamentally transform the country, such as its 1954 ruling that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

With the Supreme Court now featuring three judges appointed by Democratic presidents and five appointments by Republicans, the potential replacement of the progressive Ginsburg by a conservative judge could have generational implications for issues like affordable health care and access to abortion.

The Supreme Court has even settled contested presidential elections in the past, and with legal challenges to the 2020 election already mounting, there’s every likelihood this could happen again.

Why Republicans are passionate about conservative judges

Unlike American politicians, who are subject to the ballot box and term limits, federal judges — including Supreme Court justices — serve lifetime appointments.

The importance of such judicial appointments to Republicans cannot be understated. Few, if any, issues are more sacrosanct to them.

A key reason for this is that demographics are not on the side of the Republicans. The US is gradually becoming more urban and non-white — two trends that favour the Democratic Party more than Republicans.

This could explain why McConnell, whose memoir is called The Long Game, has prioritised the appointments of conservative judges to federal benches. These judges would certainly outlast the seemingly inevitable decline of conservative political power.

McConnell has said his motto for the year is ‘leave no [judicial] vacancy behind’.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Before Trump was elected in 2016, many Republicans questioned just how conservative he would be. In response, the Trump campaign made the unusual move of releasing a list of its intended candidates for the Supreme Court.

The list of established conservatives effectively quelled conservative concerns about the Trump candidacy. Indeed, exit polling in 2016 indicated 26% of Trump voters said Supreme Court nominees were the single most important factor in their decision to vote for him — compared to 18% of Clinton voters.

With Trump’s victory reliant on a combined margin of just under 80,000 votes across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, even the smallest of advantages — in this case, those deciding who to vote for based on the Supreme Court — could have had outsized importance.




Read more:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped shape the modern era of women’s rights – even before she went on the Supreme Court


Why Democrats are more passionate than ever

Some have posited a Supreme Court vacancy may help Trump’s chances in this year’s election because it shifts the focus of the race away from the president’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis and the poor economy.

But this ignores how much the issue could also energise the left. Indeed, in the hour after the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing, Democrats raised US$6.2 million on the Democratic digital fundraising platform ActBlue — more money in a single hour than the website had ever seen. This record was broken the next hour when donors gave over $100,000 a minute on average to total $6.3 million.

Altogether, some $42 million was raised in less than a day by Democratic online donors.

In 2016, many Republicans said they held their noses and voted for Trump because they were worried about the Supreme Court. Four years later, unenthusiastic Democrats may do the same with Joe Biden.

Biden’s campaign will likely turn the Supreme Court nomination fight into a referendum on the Affordable Care Act.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

‘Nothing is off the table’

Constitutionally, McConnell and Trump face few barriers in their mission to confirm a conservative justice to take Ginsburg’s place. Even a “blue wave” on election day — in which Democrats take control of the Senate and the White House — couldn’t stop them because the winners are not sworn into office until January. This would ostensibly provide enough time for the Republican-led Senate to confirm a Trump nominee.

There is no doubt what McConnell and Trump are planning to do. The more pertinent question is whether 49 Republicans in the Senate will go along with them.

Even the most anti-Trump Republicans — like Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year — have supported the president’s previous picks for the Supreme Court. (Only one Republican chose not to support Brett Kavanaugh following his contentious confirmation hearing.)




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But amid deep political polarisation, the likes of which America has not seen for generations, some Republicans are asking themselves about the long-term impact of rushing through a Supreme Court justice — most notably, what doors this opens for Democrats if they gain power.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said “nothing is off the table” if Republicans try to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the outcome of the election.

Crowds gathered at the Supreme Court in the hours after Ginsburg’s passing.
Alex Brandon/AP

Some Democrats, already frustrated by Republicans having nominated 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices despite Republicans having lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, have already pledged to make fundamental shifts to the country if they win the power to do so.

This could include giving statehood to Democratic-leaning Puerto Rico and Washington, DC — thereby almost assuredly giving the Democrats four more senators.

Some Democrats have also proposed expanding the Supreme Court to dilute the conservative votes — an idea Biden has explicitly criticised in the past.

Regardless of the electoral outcome, the death of Ginsburg only further raises the stakes and the likelihood of unrest in an already contentious election. There is no winner in such an outcome.The Conversation

Jared Mondschein, Senior Fellow & Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coalition regains Newspoll lead; time running out for Trump



AAP/Dean Lewins

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 16-19 from a sample of 2,068, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 3% One Nation (steady) – all figures from The Poll Bludger.

65% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 31% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +34. Anthony Albanese’s ratings fell into negative territory: his net approval was -1, down three points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-27 (58-29 last time).

The last Newspoll had the Coalition’s lead dropping from 52-48 to a 50-50 tie, while Morrison’s net approval was down seven points. This Newspoll implies movements in the previous Newspoll may have been exaggerated.

It is also possible the federal Coalition is benefiting from restrictions to fight coronavirus becoming less popular in Victoria. A Morgan Victorian state poll (see below) gave Labor a narrow lead, but that lead was well down on the November 2018 election result. In other state polls, there was a clear surge to the incumbent government.

Australian state polls: Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania

A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted September 15-17 from a sample of 1,150, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead over the Coalition, a six-point gain for the Coalition since the November 2018 state election. Primary votes were 38.5% Coalition, 37% Labor and 12% Greens. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

A South Australian YouGov poll, conducted September 10-16 from a sample of 810, gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead over Labor, a six-point gain for the Liberals since March, likely due to the state’s handling of coronavirus. Primary votes were 46% Liberals (up seven), 35% Labor (down three) and 10% Greens (down one).

Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had a massive surge in net approval, to +52 from -4 in March. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas had a +22 net approval.

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 18-24 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 54% (up 11 since the last publicly released EMRS poll in March), Labor 24% (down ten) and the Greens 12% (steady). Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein led Opposition Leader Rebecca White by 70-23 as better premier (41-39 to White in March).

Time running out for Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Thursday.

Six weeks before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate gives Joe Biden a 6.8% lead over Donald Trump (50.3% to 43.5%). This is an improvement for Trump from three weeks ago, when he trailed by 8.2%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 6.6% in Wisconsin, 4.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.5% in Arizona and 2.0% in Florida.

In my article three weeks ago, the difference in Trump’s favour between the Electoral College tipping-point state and the national vote had widened to three points, but this difference has fallen back to about two points, with Arizona and Pennsylvania currently two points more favourable to Trump than national polls.

If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he gets exactly 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the 270 required for a majority. Maine and Nebraska award one EV to the winner of each of their Congressional Districts, and two to the statewide winner. All other states award their EVs winner-takes-all.

Under this scenario, Biden would need one of either Nebraska’s or Maine’s second CDs for the 270 EVs required to win the Electoral College. Nebraska’s second is a more likely win for Biden as it is an urban district.

The US economy has rebounded strongly from the coronavirus nadir in April. Owing to this, the FiveThirtyEight forecast expects some narrowing as the election approaches. Every day that passes without evidence of narrowing in the tipping-point states is bad news for Trump. Biden’s chances of winning in the forecast have increased from a low of 67% on August 31 to 77% now.

While Trump has improved slightly in national polls, some state polls have been very good for Biden. Recently, Biden has had leads of 16 points in Minnesota, 21 points in Maine, 10 in Wisconsin and 10 in Arizona.

Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 43.2% approve, 52.7% disapprove (net -9.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, his ratings are 44.0% approve, 52.8% disapprove (net -8.8%). In the last three weeks, Trump has gained about two points on net approval, continuing a recovery from July lows.

The RealClearPolitics Senate map has 47 expected Republican seats, 46 Democratic seats and seven toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51-49, unchanged from three weeks ago.

Coronavirus and the US economy

The US has just passed the grim milestone of over 200,000 deaths attributable to coronavirus. However, daily new cases have dropped into the 30,000 to 50,000 range from a peak of over 70,000 in July. Less media attention on the coronavirus crisis assists Trump.

In the US August jobs report, 1.4 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 1.8% to 8.4%. The unemployment rate has greatly improved from its April high of 14.7%.

The headline jobs gained or lost are from the establishment survey, while the household survey is used for the unemployment rate. In August, the household survey numbers were much better than the establishment survey, with almost 3.8 million jobs added.

It is probably fortunate for Biden that the September jobs report, to be released in early October, will be the last voters see before the election. The October report will be released November 6, three days after the election.

I believe Trump should focus on the surging economy in the lead-up to the election, and ignore other issues like the Kenosha violence and culture war issues. Particularly given the Supreme Court vacancy, Biden should focus on Trump and Republicans’ plans to gut Obamacare.

Implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

On Friday, left-wing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. While Democrats control the House of Representatives, only the Senate gets a vote on judicial appointments, and Republicans control that chamber by 53-47.

Even if Democrats were to win control of both the Senate and presidency at the November 3 election, the Senate transition is not until January 3, with the presidential transition on January 20.

There is plenty of time for Trump to nominate a right-wing replacement for Ginsburg, and for the Senate to approve that choice. That will give conservative appointees a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Science is political’: Scientific American has endorsed Joe Biden over Trump for president. Australia should take note


Rod Lamberts, Australian National University and Will J Grant, Australian National University

In an unprecedented step, prestigious science publication Scientific American has launched a scathing attack on President Donald Trump and endorsed his opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, in the upcoming US election. It’s the first presidential endorsement in the magazine’s 175-year history.

To this, we say: about bloody time! As we’ve noted before:

Science is political. The science we do is inherently shaped by the funding landscape of government and the problems and issues of society. This means that to have any influence on how science is organised and funded in Australia (or the US or any other country), we as scientists and science communicators must act in ways that matter in the arena of politics.

It’s now more critical than ever, as the editors at Scientific American clearly lay out, that the people who are actually knowledgeable about the world’s crises speak out and represent that knowledge (or “collective wisdom”) in public, out loud and with their names attached.

Under Trump, science isn’t just ignored. It is lampooned and directly attacked, especially on issues such as climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. This actively threatens the lives (and livelihoods) of not just millions of Americans, but countless others around the world.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has shown blatant disregard for scientific recommendations and has actively peddled misinformation, such as when he suggested UV light could be used to treat patients.

Respect the messenger

In the past, it has been suggested scientists who comment beyond their specific, narrow sphere of reach by delving into politics are tainting their credibility – perhaps even behaving unethically.

But as we now stare down the barrel of an ongoing global pandemic (and relentless climate change continuing in the background), to remain quiet on the politics is not just unethical, but actively dangerous.




Read more:
5 big environment stories you probably missed while you’ve been watching coronavirus


The argument that science is somehow tainted by offering policy or political opinions is an idea whose time has long gone.

Who is better placed to add valuable weight to public debates about the key problems we’re facing, than those who represent the voice of evidence, reason and debate (such as Scientific American)?

As one of us has previously argued, in Australia we should encourage scientists and science communicators to:

Become more active in challenging the status quo, or to help support those who wish to by engendering a professional environment that encourages risk-taking and speaking out in public about critical social issues.

It’s the principle, not the votes

Scientific American is not entirely alone in pushing for the involvement of scientists in public policy and action. Other reputable publications have taken similar stances in the past.

In 2017, Nature argued “debates over climate change and genome editing present the need for researchers to venture beyond their comfort zones to engage with citizens”. Earlier in 2012, Nature explicitly endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

In Australia, our news publications have a tradition of endorsing political parties at federal elections, but our science publishing landscape has typically remained agnostic.

Peak bodies such as the Australian Academy of Science, and Science and Technology Australia, have commented on the political decision-making process, but have rarely been so forthright as the Scientific American’s recent editorial.

Not only should scientists take a stand, they should also be encouraged and professionally acknowledged for it.

Scientists as citizens have the right to advocate for political positions and figures that support the best possible evidence. In fact, when it comes to matters as serious as COVID-19 and climate change, we believe they have an obligation to.

Scientific American’s intervention may not impact votes, but that’s not the point. The point is it’s crucial for people who believe in knowledge and expertise to stand up and call out misinformation for what it is. To do less is to accept the current state.

Editor in Chief of Scientific American Laura Helmuth speaking to an audience.
Laura Helmuth is the ninth and current Editor in Chief of the Scientific American magazine. She was appointed to the role in April this year.
@webmz_/Twitter

Australia’s work in progress

Nonetheless, many scientists in Australia rely on government funding. This can make it difficult to speak up when legitimate evidence clashes with the orientation of the government of the day. Confronted with the possible loss of funding, what can a scientist do?

There’s no perfect solution. Many may feel the risks of speaking are too great. For many, they will be.

In such cases, scientists could perhaps look for intermediaries to make their case on their behalf – whether these are trustworthy journalists, or publicly visible academics like us.




Read more:
Research reveals shocking detail on how Australia’s environmental scientists are being silenced


In the long term, defending those who have gone out of their way to act responsibly will help. The more this becomes normal, the more likely it will become the norm. But it’s also an unfortunate reality that change rarely occurs without discomfort.

When it comes to truly world-shaking crises like COVID-19 and climate change, scientists are political citizens like everyone else. And just like everyone else, they need to weigh the price of action against the price of inaction.

Speaking out can’t always be someone else’s job.The Conversation

Rod Lamberts, Deputy Director, Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University and Will J Grant, Senior Lecturer, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stardust and substance: New Zealand’s election becomes a ‘third referendum’ on Jacinda Ardern’s leadership



GettyImages

Stephen Levine, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

The delay to the New Zealand election date — to which not every country’s citizenry would have adjusted with such alacrity — was only the latest event in a year when the unexpected and the extraordinary have become constant features of a fragile “new normal”.

What was expected to be a prime ministerial contest between Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges led, briefly, to one with Todd Muller before settling on a choice between the prime minister and Judith Collins.

Labour might have set the precedent with its desperate leadership change just weeks out from the 2017 election, but it’s unlikely this was what the National Party had in mind when it first contemplated the dismal opinion poll figures.

For a country whose politics have sometimes been considered boringly predictable, the prelude to the October 17 election has been anything but.

So it is virtually impossible to judge the Labour/New Zealand First/Green coalition’s performance by conventional measures.

The government’s original programme — as articulated in the November 2017 speech from the throne — reflected the three parties’ policy preferences, modified by post-election negotiations and agreements. But that bears little resemblance to the events that have subsequently shaped the reputation of the government and the prime minister.

woman holding electric drill in front of advertising billboard
New Zealand National Party leader Judith Collins puts up an election hoarding and hits the campaign trail.
Getty Images

The pandemic election

Nothing in the Labour Party’s 2017 campaign could have prepared the party, its leadership or the electorate for a succession of life-and-death crises: the attack on the Christchurch mosques, the disaster of the Whakaari/White Island eruption and finally the COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns, border closures and economic consequences.

The crises have arisen with almost Shakespearean qualities, prophesied in Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”




Read more:
The Facebook prime minister: how Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s most successful political influencer


New Zealand responded well in each case, displaying unity, resolve and concern. That speaks volumes for the government and its leadership, but also for the country and its people in general. A leadership that calls on a nation to unite can only succeed when the public complies.

At the same time, public compliance is likely when there is respect for the country’s leadership. Respect is an impermanent reputational asset, of course, won or lost as a result of decisions made and communicated.

The New Zealand Labour Party’s first television campaign advertisement, fronted by leader Jacinda Ardern.

The prospect of single-party government

Amid these unpredictable and disruptive events, then, New Zealand’s electoral system (though still relatively new) now represents a kind of certainty and stability.

The 2020 parliamentary elections are the ninth to be held under the mixed member proportional (MMP) system. Having been approved, established and reconfirmed by referendums in 1992, 1993 and 2011, the system is no longer particularly controversial.

However, MMP’s success in delivering greater parliamentary diversity has also accustomed New Zealanders to coalition governments. Might this change in 2020? If the leaders’ debates and other campaign events don’t significantly affect voter preferences and current polling, an outright Labour majority is possible.




Read more:
Lowering New Zealand’s voting age to 16 would be good for young people – and good for democracy


That would be the first such election result since the introduction of MMP in 1996. But, as with other voting systems, MMP does not guarantee a particular outcome. The country may yet see a return to single-party government.

A third referendum

So, this election is not a normal contest in which political parties parade their programmes and ideological predilections before intermittently interested electors.

Instead, voters emerging from semi-traumatic circumstances — from confinement, new social habits and financial stress — will be asked to reflect on the performance of leaders whose decisions have had literally life-or-death consequences.




Read more:
Rogue poll or not, all the signs point to a tectonic shift in New Zealand politics


New Zealand elections have traditionally been about the economy. Voters make choices along semi-tribal lines, reflecting traditional party alignments. Those features will be present in 2020 as well, but they are likely to be influenced by other considerations.

New Zealanders are being called on, first and foremost, to reflect on the performance of the prime minister, whose image dominates every Labour billboard and advertisement.

Alongside the referendums on legalising recreational cannabis use and the End of Life Choice Act, the election itself has become, in effect, a third referendum on the prime minister’s instincts, judgment and determination.

When we published our analysis of the 2017 election we titled the book “Stardust and Substance” — a reference to her then-opponent Bill English’s description of Jacinda Ardern’s supposedly ephemeral “stardust” quality.

This time around, while the stardust is still there, what most voters will be contemplating is the substance of the prime minister’s achievements, and whether other leaders and parties could have done as well, or better, faced with the same constellation of challenges.


The author is organising the traditional post-election conference (involving party leaders, journalists and academics) at Parliament on December 9 (registration here).The Conversation

Stephen Levine, Professor, Political Science and International Relations, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Federal government pre-empts national cabinet to raise the cap for returning Australians


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government, under pressure to expand and accelerate the return of stranded Australians, has pre-empted national cabinet by announcing the “cap” on these arrivals will be expanded from about 4,000 up to 6,000 a week.

After the announcement Western Australia immediately hit out, saying the national cabinet process was being flouted.

More than 25,000 people are presently registered as having expressed a wish to return, and there have been numerous hardship cases in the media and in representations to MPs offices.

The government says the new weekly caps will be: NSW 2,950 (present cap is 2,450), Queensland 1,000 (500), South Australia 600 (500), and Western 1,025 (525). Victoria, struggling out of its second wave, will not have any arrivals.

This adds up to only 5,575 but the government hopes the other jurisdictions will take some people, although there are not commercial airline services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.

The government wants the higher numbers operating by late this month.

The caps were imposed at the request of states, which were concerned at pressure on their quarantine facilities, in particular when Victoria, where there was a quarantine breakdown triggering the second wave crisis, stopped taking any returnees.

People wanting to come home are not just facing the problem of the cap but the difficulty of securing flights, and at reasonable prices.

Unveiling the higher cap Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who has responsibility for aviation, said he had written to premiers and territory leaders to tell them the caps for international flights based on quarantine levels.

“Not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas, I accept that. But we want to get as many of those who need to come home, want to come home, paid for a ticket to come home, to be able to do so”, McCormack said.

The federal government says it has constitutional power over quarantine, and so does not need the states’ approval. But it will take the new quotas to Friday’s national cabinet.

Under the existing deal the states make the quarantine arrangements and carry the cost – although they are now charging returnees.

The opposition has called for the government to use RAAF planes to return some people. But the government says there are thousands of unused commercial seats, and the VIP fleet has only very small capacity. It also rejects calls for the use of federal facilities for some of the returnees, saying they are not available or suitable.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, asked on Perth radio whether WA had agreed, said he did not know but “we very much hope they will”.

WA premier Mark McGowan said he had not known about the announcement beforehand and described it as “very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet”.

“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan said.

He warned of the risks of putting pressure on hotel quarantine and said using Commonwealth facilities should be looked at.

The federal government says it would consider ADF assistance with more quarantine, noting ADF personnel have been helping WA with hotel quarantine for weeks.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was extraordinary the matter was being dealt with through a letter from McCormack and said Scott Morrison should call “his dogs off” and work with the premiers.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that after a request from the prime minister “I consulted my relevant ministers and the police commissioner, who is in charge of quarantine, and everybody said they could take on that extra load”. Her agreement was on the basis other states agreed.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also indicated her government was willing to take more people.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.