Thailand Turmoil

Digestible Politics is back with daily posts helping you understand the world around you in a digestible manner!

Today, we shall be talking about what is happening in Thailand and the political crises currently happening…

The Prime Minister

The court in Thailand decided to get rid of their Prime Minister (Yingluck Shinawatra) because it was found she had illegally repositioned the national security chief of Thailand so he would have a different role in government. A further 9 members of the Thai government were told to resign.

Many people are angry about what has happened, believing the court is biased in favour of the opposition.

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What next?

Fears are increasing because it is believed that fights could break out between the ‘red shirts’ (those who support the Prime Minister) and those who are against the Prime Minister.

This political nuisance is nothing new in the country and many protesters have been protesting throughout the Prime Minister’s time in office, by occupying buildings and disrupting elections. So far, approximately 30 people have died during the protests.

Who is the leader of Thailand now?

Those ministers in cabinet who remain are currently leading the country with a caretaker Prime Minister (Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan) – Digestible Politics loves this name!

After disruption at a previous election earlier in the year, a new election is being held in July. However, there are fears that there will be even more protests to come in these elections.

The latest crises

A controversial amnesty bill (an amnesty is where you give a pardon to someone) was passed by the government, which could potentially lead to Thaksin Shinawatra (a former leader and also Yingluck’s sister) returning to politics without ever setting foot in jail.

Many thousands of people have showed their opposition to the bill, which was eventually dropped, but anti-government protests remain.

What are your thoughts on the protests in Thailand? Should they have ousted their Prime Minister?

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Bangladesh Elections – Your Questions Answered

Tomorrow Bangladesh holds its 5th national election. The main two parties are the Awami League (Leader Sheikh Hasina) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP Leader Khaleda Zia). These elections have come under the media spotlight after the BNP and its allies have decided to boycott the election.

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What is the risk?

– The Awami League is expected to win by a huge majority as a result of the opposition’s boycott. This will certainly undermine the credibility of the election. Violence is also expected to be an issue tomorrow as political workers from the parties clash.

Why has the Bangladesh Nationalist Party decided not to take part?

– The country has previously held elections with a neutral caretaker government to ensure that the election process is fair. But, in this election, the Awami League have refused to create a neutral caretaker government. This is believed to undermine the fairness of the election.

Impact of the boycott

– 154 out of the 300 seats are uncontested, which means the Awami League would win without trying. However, it is believed that continued protest and violent clashes will result from the election.

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The main people

– The leader of both the Awami league and the BNP have been rivals for the past two decades as power shifted between the two parties. This election is likely to increase this tension dramatically. The third party’s (JP) leader H M Ershad has declared that the JP will also not be participating in the election furthering the complications.

What other issues are there?

– Violence, unemployment and poverty is high and afety and wage levels are low, which is not being helped by political instability. It is reported by The Asia Foundation that 75% of voters would like a neutral caretaker government during the election, so it will be interesting to see whether voter turnout will be on the same level as previous elections.

World Political implications

– Countries including the USA and the UK have refused to send observers to Bangladesh. This has weakened relations geopolitical and dented Bangladesh’s global image.

The election

– In the previous election there was a 70% voter turnout, but this is expected to be much less tomorrow. Although in 2008 the results were announced within 24 hours, the announcement of tomorrow’s results will depend on how peacefully the election is carried out.

What are your views on the elections? Should the Awami League set up a neutral caretaker government to maintain the peace?

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Prisoner Sentencing

How long a sentence should a murder get in prison?

In the UK life sentences rarely actually mean life, whilst in the USA this is fairly common. Currently in the UK only about 50 people are subject to a whole-life sentence, most recently Dale Cregan for murdering 4 people. In the USA, however, approximately 40,000 people are imprisoned without much hope of release. Furthermore, this figure does not include those American prisoners who have been given extremely long fixed term sentences. For example, one Alabama man was sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Prison Visitor Fee

America’s ‘sentencing inflation’ began in the 1980s when the Democrats and the Republicans wanted to show how tough they could be on crime. The increased sentences also saw a rise in states like Michigan where the death penalty does not exist, so the increased sentence was an alternative punishment.

However, there have been recent calls to have US-style, lengthy fixed life sentences in the UK. This is being considered after the European court ruled in 2013 that whole-life sentences were breaching the European Court of Human Rights. These proposals would allow the court to give sentences of hundreds of years. But, unlike whole-life sentences, these sentences can be reviewed and reduced (an aspect of sentencing less available in America).

Although many people say this move will “restore Human Rights” by enabling sentences to be reviewed along the way many others still argue that the sentence changes is dangerous and unnecessary, especially as the UK has seen increased sentences being given out year on year for the past decade.

How should a murderer be sentenced? How does it differ in your country? What sentencing proposals do you want to see?

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Prism – Are You Being Watched?

What is Prism?

It is a secret government organisation run by the National Security Agency (NSA). They had access to data held by major internet companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Skype.

What data can it obtain?

Detailed information about online activity, crucially including the contents of emails and live chat. The documents revealed Ed Snowden suggested they had access to chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers and social networking data of individuals. The government also confirmed they had asked for millions of phone records.

When was it set up?

It is believed to have been set up in 2007 under the US surveillance laws passed by George W. Bush and renewed by Obama in 2012.

How has it emerged?

Through a secret NSA presentation to staff which talks of “collection directly from the servers” of internet providers.

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 How have companies responded?

They deny knowledge of the programme despite the detail of the NSA presentation.

How does it other countries?

As the primary sites of all the world’s major internet companies are in the United States, it means every communication by another national can in theory be read by NSA agents.

The BBC said: “User data (such as emails and social media activity) is often not stored in the same country as the users themselves – Facebook for example has a clause in its privacy policy saying that all users must consent to their data being “transferred to and stored in” the US.”

Is it legal?

This is uncertain and many privacy campaigners are investigating whether there are grounds for a legal challenge. Experts say the legislation covering the issue  is sketchy. Many argue that protecting the country from terrorism is more important than individual privacy.

Are you concerned? Or do you agree that security is more important than individual privacy?

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The American Constitution

For our American readers, a lot of this, if not all of this, will probably be something you have known since your childhood. But, I feel that it is necessary that we write a blog on the fascinating constitution: how it was formed, what it involved and how different people view it!

How and why was the Constitution formed?

In 1776, thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence, making them ‘free and independent’ states. Consequently, this lead to the War of Independence between the former colonies and Britain from 1776-1783. The colonies had to pay tax to Britain, even though they had no representation in the British Parliament, so wanted to form their own system of government. In 1781, the newly independent colonies established a confederacy through the Articles of Confederation – a confederal government has a lot of power given to the states but little to the national government. However, this confederacy almost turned their victory in gaining independence into a defeat because it proved to be a disaster as their was little power for the national government, thus they failed to make a nation. In 1787, a group of people (now collectively known as the Founding Fathers) agreed to meet up at the Philadelphia convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. In the end, they scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created a new constitution with a number of compromises as to the allocation of powers.

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What were the compromises?

Three key compromises were the formation of government, state representation and choosing the president. Under British rule there had been a central government (unitary) with a lot of power for the national government, but the Articles of Confederation created a confederal government which gave a lot of power to the states (not the national government). The compromise was a federal government where the states and the national government had equally important powers. Representation for the states varied depending on their size. Large states wanted proportional representation where they would have more representatives compared to small states, but small states wanted equal representation regardless of state size. The compromise was to have a bicameral system (two houses): the House of Representatives would be proportional and the Senate would have equal representation. Finally, some people wanted a directly elected president and others wanted him/her to be appointed. The compromise was to have an indirectly elected Electoral College who would be elected by the people (in the Primaries) who then go on to choose the president (at the national party convention).

How liberals view the constitution

Liberals (such as the Democrats) would argue that the constitution creates a lot of gridlock (difficult to pass laws) and little accountability. Liberals also believe the Bill of Rights (defines citizen’s rights) is very important, but the system allows for the erosion of civil liberties during times of emergency. Finally, to a liberal, the courts have shown themselves slow and unwilling to intervene on a number of issues – especially social issues such as guns, abortion and gay rights.

How conservatives view the constitution

Conservatives (such as the Republicans) believe that the federal government exploits the vagueness of the constitution at the expense of states right and powers. The vagueness of the constitution can be seen through the ‘elastic’ clauses, such as the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, which allows the government to make laws which are ‘necessary and proper’ – conservatives wonder what laws are necessary and proper. They also question the growth of the courts through their power of judicial review, which allows the court to interpret the meaning of the constitution

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From a non-partisan view

The American constitution is the longest serving constitution in the world and the fact that compromises were made from the left and right meant that that there should be a good balance between the federal government and the state governments. Also, the difficulty of amending the constitution means that it requires broad based support for changes to be made to it.

Questions

  • Does the constitution fulfil its main functions?
  • Does the constitution need changing?
  • What are the pros and cons of the constitution?

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Guns In America

Gun policy has been a very contentious issue in recent years, especially in the light of the incidents at Sandy Hook and Aurora. As a result Obama has made some key proposals:

  • Reintroduce an expired ban on “military-style” assault weapons
  • Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
  • Background checks on all gun sales
  • Ban on possession and sale of armour-piercing bullets
  • Harsher penalties for gun-traffickers, especially unlicensed dealers who buy arms for criminals
  • Approve the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

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Here are some statistics on guns in America which sparked Obama’s desire to propose such changes”

  •  9,960 people were killed by a gun in the USA in 2010, a rate of 3.2 per 100,000 people.
  • They have the 26th highest death rate by guns annually in the world
  • Gun ownership is declining – In 1990 46% of households and 29% of individuals said they owned a gun, today this has fallen to 32% and 21

The second amendment of the constitution gives American citizen the right to “bear arms”. As a result, the reforms proposed by Obama has created arguments, feeling that he is becoming ‘imperial’ in manner, taking the law into his own hands and becoming to dominant – something the Founding Fathers wished to prevent through their implementation of a series of checks and balances on the executive.

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Gun Crime

President Barack Obama has stated that he is “determined” to tackle the issue of gun crime and prevent any further violence across America, according to the vice-president Joe Biden. By using his executive orders Obama could amend gun policy which proposes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. This, for many Americans, is highly controversial as he is seen to be taking the constitution into his own hands with little negotiation or consultation.

The calls for greater gun control cam about after the horrific shootings in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Aurora where a number of people died and had been injured. However, despite these shooting, gun control is a very polarising (dividing) issue in America and in Congress, with many believing it would be absurd to change the constitution and the gun lobby even declaring “more guns, less crime”. Yet Biden has told the nation that Obama will force changes and take action independently on the issue if need be, and will be the first thing on the agenda after inauguration day later this month – does this seem democratic to you?

One of the largest outcries, if amendments must be made, is for there to be follow-up checks for people with handgun licences, to make sure they are still qualified to own their weapon, and longer sentences for gun crimes. Furthermore, New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, called on policy-makers to examine the US mental health system and broaden access to drug treatment, as well as to examine the impact of violent video games.

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) continue to stick to their hard-line belief that guns are good and benefit society. In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, the NRA advocated for armed guards at every US school whilst also making it a plausible idea that teachers were armed too.

Should there be amendments to the laws on guns and gun usage?

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