Category: Regional (page 1 of 5)

Indonesia’s Half-hearted Response to COVID-19: The Role of Politics and Historical Legacies

This is a guest post from Alexander R Arifianto (Twitter: @DrAlexArifianto), a Research Fellow with S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research focuses on contemporary domestic politics and political Islam in Indonesia.

Nearly six months after the first case of coronavirus was first diagnosed in Indonesia, the country is in the midst of its largest public health crisis in history. As of August 3rd, about 113,000 Indonesians are confirmed to be infected and 5,300 have died from the illness. Indonesia is currently ranked the 23rd country with the most COVID-19 cases worldwide. A model developed by Sulfikar Amir, a sociologist based at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, predicts COVID-19 cases in Indonesia will reach 200,000 cases over the next two months.

Source: Sulfikar Amir

Indonesia’s 270 million population marks it as is the fourth largest country in the world measured by population size. It is also the largest Muslim-majority country and the world’s third largest democracy. Lastly, it is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and is widely considered as a rising middle power in Asia. In a region where most countries have managed to mitigate the pandemic – with varying success rates – Indonesia’s failure to effectively contain the virus is puzzling to international observers.

In this post, I argue that Indonesia’s lackadaisical and half-hearted pandemic response has its roots in its pre-existing historical legacy that affects how Indonesian policymakers formulate their COVID-19 mitigation policy. These include an incompetent yet insulated bureaucracy that does not value policy advice from external experts and a power-sharing arrangement among members of its political elite that emphasizes short-term political calculations over taking coherent, coordinated, and decisive actions.

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Love, Loathing, and Loss: America’s COVID-19 Response and the View from Canada

This is a guest post from Jennifer Mustapha and Eric Van Rythoven. Mustapha is an Assistant Professor at Huron University College in London, Ontario and studies the politics of the War on Terror, globalization and development, and Southeast Asian regional relations. Rythoven teaches International Relations and Foreign Policy at Carleton University, Canada.  His work has been published in Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, and Journal of Global Security Studies, among others. 

For many observers America’s catastrophic response to COVID-19 is a far-off spectacle rendered all the more inscrutable by the country’s power and position. For Canadians however, the experience is more akin to watching a close friend spiral into a crisis of shockingly irresponsible behaviour.  Not only is their tragic circumstance a threat to the safety of others, but we face the added grief of knowing that someone we care about has chosen such a destructive path.  

We write this because America occupies an invaluable place in the Canadian political imaginary. It is the ubiquitous ‘other’ that haunts almost every thought and conversation in Canadian politics – and it is failing in a way that has stunned the Canadian public and policymakers. But America is also our kin – a bigger “sibling state” that we live in perpetually close proximity to –and Canadians are struggling to reconcile our familial relations with its increasingly rapid descent into darkness. In this blog post we offer some preliminary thoughts on what this failure looks like from a Canadian perspective. We organize our discussion around three sentiments – love, loathing, and loss – that summarise the conflicting, and often contradictory, feelings Canadians are experiencing from this side of the border.

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Hagia Sophia and the Multi-Level Politics of Heritage

This is a guest post from Elif Kalaycioglu, who is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama. Her research is on international relations, world order and global governance with a focus on UNESCO’s world heritage regime, global cultural politics and the impact of cultural diversity on the international order and its institutions.

On Friday, June 10th 2020, the highest administrative court in Turkey annulled the 1934 cabinet decree that transformed Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum. UNESCO’s press release, lamented the decision concerning the world heritage site and urged Turkey to protect its universal value as an architectural masterpiece and the symbol of interaction between Europe and Asia. Speaking shortly after the court decision, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that as a mosque, Hagia Sophia will remain the common heritage of humanity in “a much more sincere way.”

This is not the first status change for Hagia Sophia. It began its life as a cathedral in the Byzantine imperium. It was converted into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453. Following the founding of the Turkish Republic, a 1934 cabinet decree transformed it from a mosque to a museum.

This post analyzes the two most recent status changes of Hagia Sophia guided by the key insight of heritage studies that heritage is adjudicated from a present political vision, draws selectively upon the past, and projects this vision into the future. Both status changes entail particular conjunctions of domestic and international political presents. Specifically, Friday’s decision demonstrates and reproduces a long-standing domestic turn away from the Republic’s earlier orientations towards secularization, modernization and the West. Taken in a context of economic woes and policy disillusionment, it reminds Erdogan’s constituency that the country is still on the path to this desirable future. Internationally, it takes place at a time when the universalist visions of the post-WWII order, including that of UNESCO’s world heritage, are under increased strain.

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Forced Marriage: Three Facts to Help Explain This Global Conflict Dynamic

This is a guest post from Phoebe Donnelly (@PhoebsG86), a Visiting Fellow at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University and a Women and Public Policy Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.

The UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) passed without much recognition on June 19. However, CRSV has not disappeared during the global pandemic and victims of different forms of CRSV face additional hurdles to accessing services and support. Certain survivors in particular, those in forced marriages with members of rebel groups, may face even more challenges in escaping cycles of violence because of the ways in which forced marriage binds them to their partners and rebel groups. Due to the increased challenges for survivors of CRSV, it is a useful time to understand one common and less visible form of CRSV: forced marriage. 

My own research on forced marriage finds that rebel groups perpetrate this form of CRSV to help them build their strength and promote their belief systems. Understanding forced marriage is not only essential for understanding CRSV, but also for studying rebel groups strategy, hierarchy, division of labor, and propaganda. Additionally, there is a spectrum of coercion within forced marriages that accounts for the different experiences of wives in rebel groups globally.

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Modi’s ‘Aggressive’ India has Already Started Making Compromises to China

This is a guest post from Aniruddha Saha, a PhD student at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. His research examines India’s nuclear policy using a constructivist approach and is currently being funded by a King’s International Postgraduate Research Scholarship. He has also recently published with Strategic Analysis, OpenDemocracy, Eurasia Review and The Quint.

With the killing of 20 Indian soldiers by the Chinese army along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 16, several dimensions of the violent border skirmishes between India and China have come to light. Research has shown that the brewing Sino-Indian crisis since early May remains unprecedented ― since at least a decade. More recently, Clary and Narang have argued in ‘War on the Rocks’ that in the backdrop of the current COVID-19 crisis, the response options of the Modi-led Indian government to the Chinese threat “range from bad, to worse, to truly ugly.”

However, the current responses taken by the Indian administration to the crisis seems to contradict the direct confrontational actions that it has recently taken in response to other threats, notably from Pakistan. Therefore, the more pertinent question to ask is: Whether this high degree of apprehension of the Modi government (and the moral compromise of its own retaliatory standards) to deal with the Chinese translates to ‘defeat’ in the absence of a full-blown conventional war?

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COVID-19 Policy Response in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico: Three Different National-Subnational Approaches

This is a guest post from Julie VanDusky-Allen, Olga Shvestova, and Andrei Zhirnov. Julie VanDusky-Allen is an assistant professor at Boise State University. Her research focuses on both formal and informal institutions, legislative organization, political parties, political participation, and support for and satisfaction with democracy. Olga Shvestova is Professor of Political Science and Economics at Binghamton University (SUNY). Professor Shvetsova’s research focuses on determinants of political strategy in the political process. Broadly stated, these include political institutions that define the “rule of the game” and societal characteristics that shape goals and opportunities of the participant players. Andrei Zhirnov is Associate Lecturer in Quantitative Methods in Social Science at the University of Exeter. He received his PhD in Political Science in 2019 from Binghamton University and studies political institutions and electoral systems.

As Latin America has become one of the hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 cases, political leaders are being scrutinized for their responses to the pandemic. While the federal government of Argentina has been praised for its quick and comprehensive response, the Brazilian federal government and the Mexican federal government have been criticized for their lackluster responses.

Yet, to fully understand the COVID-19 policy responses in these countries, we need to look at responses not just at the national level, but also at state level, as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are all federal systems.

To compare the governments’ responses to COVID-19 at the national and subnational levels, we use data from the Global COVID-19 Protective Policy Index (PPI) project at Binghamton University, State University of New York. The PPI measures public health government responses to COVID-19 at all levels of government throughout the world.

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How Unpopular is Bolsonaro? Polling Amid Chaos in Brazil

This is a guest post by Ryan Lloyd, a Visiting Assistant Professor of International Studies at Centre College. His research focuses on comparative political behavior and vote buying, particularly in Brazil. He can be reached at lloydr418@gmail.com, and on Twitter at @Lloyder2323.

Public health and political crises

The numbers were disastrous. After months of denialism, Brazil had just passed Italy into third place for official deaths related to COVID, and was hot on the UK’s tail, with 35,930–more than 1,000 were dying per day. And despite massive undercounting of cases, it was already in second place with 672,846.

So on June 7, President Jair Bolsonaro took drastic action. He told his health ministry to stop counting.

Since then, the Supreme Court has ordered the federal government to release coronavirus data again, and a consortium of media outlets has banded together to release their own figures, collected directly from state health agencies. Brazil has now passed 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths with no end in sight, two health ministers sacked.

The true number, however, is far worse, with the number of cases being underestimated at least sevenfold, and 2.6% of the population having COVID antibodies, with the percentage in some Northern and Northeastern cities reaching 15%-25%, according to a nationwide study conducted by the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. A military officer is the interim health minister, and he has attributed the North and Northeast’s coronavirus woes to the Northern hemisphere’s winter (they are unequivocally not, not least because the North and Northeast are in the Southern hemisphere and the Northern hemisphere is not in winter).

Meanwhile, a political crisis is adding to the country’s woes. After months of brinkmanship with Congress and the Supreme Court, tensions within Bolsonaro’s own cabinet came to a head with the resignation of his popular Minister of Justice, Sérgio Moro. Moro accused Bolsonaro of meddling in an investigation into his family in Rio de Janeiro, which led to investigations by the Supreme Court and the public release of the videotape of a foul-mouthed meeting in which Bolsonaro threatened to replace him if he did not interfere in the investigation.

This has led to protests and counter-protests despite the pandemic, both against Bolsonaro and against the Supreme Court. In the past week, tensions have risen even further, with Fabrício Queiroz, a family friend who has been implicated in a corruption scheme involving Bolsonaro’s son and criminal militias in Rio de Janeiro, being arrested in a dramatic police raid on Bolsonaro’s lawyer’s home.

Bolsonaro’s Popularity

Amid all the excitement, as a president with weak democratic commitments encourages confrontations with the other branches of government, one question rises to the forefront: how much support does Bolsonaro have?

One might imagine that the mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and the economy would have hurt him, much less the political conflicts. But if so, how badly? This is an especially important question given the collision course between Bolsonaro and his rivals: if Bolsonaro disobeys a ruling from the Supreme Court, for instance, will he find support in the streets?

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The United States: Not a Failed State, but a Failing Society

Note: This post began life as an op-ed; I have amended it slightly from the version shared on Facebook to add more social scientific perspective.

The United States set new single-day record for new COVID cases on June 24th through 26th, surpassing what had been hoped would the highest point of the curve on April 24. The United States is now in a two-horse race with Brazil to be the epicenter of the COVID pandemic. The economic and social sacrifices made to attempt to flatten the curve—sacrifices that include the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression and school closures that will have lifelong consequences for student outcomes—from March to May have essentially been rendered completely moot.

This has many observers saying the United States is a failed state. George Packer argued this in the Atlantic. Chinese state media has leveled similar claims. 

The United States is not a failed state. It is something much more disturbing: it is a society that has the means but has decided not to try.

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Domination As a Vocation: Leadership and Covid-19 in India

This is a guest post by Manali Kumar, incoming Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). Her research focuses on prudence in statecraft, and India’s national identities and interests as a rising power. She can be found on Twitter @manalikumar.

Despite one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns in the world, which lasted for 68 days before the government started easing restrictions on 8 June, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spread in India. Although the country’s international borders remain closed, domestic travel has resumed and shopping malls, restaurants, and places of worship have re-opened. Yet, the number of infections has continued to increase and India now has the fourth-largest number of confirmed cases in the world.

Three major cities – Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai – are the worst affected and together account for more than half of all cases in the country. None of these cities is believed to have reached its peak yet. Meanwhile, stories of people being denied treatment are becoming more common, even as doctors have been warning that the country is on the brink of running out of hospital beds. The central government has devised a policy of patchwork quarantine zones to contain particular outbreak clusters, but many of India’s political leaders have come out strongly in favor of opening up the economy.

Covid Cases in India through July 3, 2020
Source: NDTV

How did India’s situation flip from an initial sense of hope due to quick and decisive action early at the start of the outbreak to one of an impending sense of doom as the pandemic seems all but out of control? As we evaluate outcomes so far and consider how things may evolve in the coming weeks, leadership looms large as an important variable. Here, I draw on Weber’s ‘Politics as a Vocation’ lecture, delivered a hundred years ago, to explore Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership of the coronavirus pandemic in India.

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Decentralization and Pakistan’s response to COVID-19

This is a guest post from Hina Khalid and Ashley Fox. Hina Khalid, PhD, MPP is an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Information Technology University, Lahore, Pakistan. Her work focusses on health policy with a special interest in health system performance and health inequities. She can be found on Twitter @HinaaaKh. Ashley Fox, PhD, MA, is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, SUNY, who researches the politics of health policy and population health.  She can be found on Twitter @ashfoxly.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic soars to 4.1 million cases, the search to identify the ingredients of a “successful” national response has already begun in earnest. This yearning to categorize and make predictions forces us to assess our priors about what characteristics of states might be likely to produce better or worse than anticipated outcomes. This includes revisiting classical debates around whether more centralized “command and control” states may be better at epidemic control versus more decentralized, flexible forms of governance.

So far, the countries with the seemingly most “successful” responses that have kept the virus contained appear to be more centralized regimes including a number of East Asian countries, Iceland and New Zealand. Certainly, in the case of the US, the decentralized federal structure does not appear to be acting as an asset in this pandemic.  The differential timing of lockdowns and re-opening of the economy will undoubtedly allow the virus to continue to spread even when it has been contained in one locale, especially with the failure to bring testing to scale.  Rather than acting as a unified force, states are being made to compete against each other for emergency resources.

Finding appropriate responses, given resource constraints, is especially important in low- and middle-income countries like Pakistan, which are often described as weak or lacking capacity. Pakistan instituted devolution in 2011, including devolving health policy formation, coordination, and implementation to the country’s four provinces. In this post we examine Pakistan’s response to COVID-19 to date, placing it in the perspective of past infectious disease responses and use this to re-examine the question of whether decentralization strengthens or weakens states’ ability to respond to infectious disease threats.

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Dear Civ-Mil Community: The (Retired) Generals Are Speaking & We Should Listen

This is a guest post by Carrie A. Lee, an Assistant Professor at the US Air War College. The opinions and recommendations offered in this piece are those of the author do not represent the official policy or positions of the U.S. Government, U.S. Air Force, or Air War College.

On the first evening of June 2020, President Donald Trump used National Guard military police units to fire tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators in front of St. John’s Episcopal church in Washington, DC. The move, which was largely perceived to be an intentional and excessive show of force to clear the way for a photo-op, sparked outcry amongst observers from across the political spectrum, including those of us who study civil-military relations and remain concerned about the increasing use of the military for partisan political purposes.

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Democracy (still) on the Edge: An Analysis of Brazil’s Political Response to the Covid-19 Crisis

This is a guest post from Matthew B. Flynn, André Pereira Neto, and Letícia Barbosa.

Matthew B. Flynn is an Associate Professor of International Studies and Sociology at Georgia Southern University. His work focuses on pharmaceutical policies in Brazil, the immigration detention complex throughout the world, and the intersections between globalization and global health.

André Pereira Neto is a full professor at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil, where he coordinates the Internet, Health and Society Laboratory (LaISS) and teaches at the graduate program in Information and Communication in Health. Most recently, he co-edited an anthology Internet and Health in Brazil: Trends and Challenges with Matthew B. Flynn.

Letícia Barbosa is a PhD candidate at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. Her thesis aims to identify how health information circulates among breast cancer patients in online and offline settings. She also has experience researching the emergence of the expert patient, online health information and patient empowerment and virtual ethnography in online health communities.

Brazil’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic ranks as the worst of all the countries around the world. This is surprising, especially given its past experiences in fighting infectious disease and in light of the existence of a national public health system, known as the Unified Public Health System, or SUS in Portuguese, that provides public and free health services from preventive care to medical assistance. Why has Brazil fallen so far behind in confronting the novel coronavirus?

Any discussion about Brazil’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic must start with the country’s far-right populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, including his worldview and rise to power amidst increasing political polarization.

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Coronavirus, Communal Violence, and the Politics of Rivalry in India and Pakistan

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Radziszewski, Assistant Professor at Rider University and author of forthcoming book Private Militaries and Security Industry in Civil Wars: Competition and Market Accountability (Oxford University Press) and Jonathan M. DiCicco, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Middle Tennessee State University and a Senior Fellow with the TransResearch Consortium.

While the world has been coping with the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, India and Pakistan have experienced the worst cross-border fighting in two years. Unfortunately, this fight is not against the virus. Instead, it is a continuation of the two enemies’ rivalry over Kashmir, a disputed territory each claims as its own.

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Will Covid-19 reshape government-NGO relations? Observations from India

This is a guest post from Suparna Chaudhry, incoming Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Lewis & Clark College. Her research focuses on human rights, international law, and political violence, with a focus on state persecution of NGOs. She can be found on Twitter @SuparnaChaudhry.

On March 24, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week national lockdown on India’s 1.3 billion people. Domestic and international air travel, passenger trains, interstate buses and metro services were all suspended. State borders were sealed and states had to ensure, “no movement of people across cities or on highways.” The lockdown has since been extended twice, most recently on May 1, when the government announced its continuation until at least May 17.

While the latest announcement relaxed movement restrictions in districts relatively unscathed by Covid-19, a large part of the population, including all major cities, remain in the severely-hit red zones under complete lockdown. What have been the effects of the lockdown? What role have non-state actors played, in particular non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in Covid-19 containment and relief efforts? What challenges do these groups face from the state and how might the pandemic influence state-NGO dynamics?

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Why are Egypt&Turkey sending medical equipment to the US? International Status and lazy explanations in IR

Like so much else in international relations, the answer to this question seems “obvious.” But, like so much else, it gets trickier when we really investigate the situation, and it reveals nuances to international relations that many scholars and policy analysts overlook.

About a week ago, Egypt sent medical equipment to the United States to help in the fight against Covid-19. The packages were printed with “From the Egyptian People to the American People.” This prompted many dark jokes, as Egypt is currently suffering a major Covid-19 outbreak it is struggling to contain. Then Turkey followed suit. Turkey sent a plane with medical equipment to the United States, despite also suffering a Covid-19 outbreak.

The “obvious” explanation is economic: Egypt depends on US aid, so they want to keep us happy. Turkey doesn’t, but its economy is struggling so maybe they want to ensure the United States will help them if needed.

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Responses to COVID-19 in South Africa: The centrality of food security

This is a guest post from Kurt Ackermann, a civil society leader in South Africa who works through urban social agriculture to strengthen community resilience in cities. He is executive manager and co-founder of The SA Urban Food & Farming Trust and an associate at the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town.

COVID-19 in South Africa has followed a trajectory atypical of any other nation. For speculated but still uncertain reasons the country managed to flatten its curve dramatically, with one of the world’s strictest lockdowns likely to have played a major role. This included no freedom of movement for exercise, no sales of alcohol, cigarettes or hot prepared food, a ban on travel for funerals, a requirement for all businesses to register and be approved for a permit to operate as an essential service, police roadblocks checking for permits and the illicit transport of unauthorised goods, and more. The disease continues to spread, but slowly and without throwing the nation’s health care system into crisis.

However, the slowed course of the pandemic and severity of the lockdown have amplified pre-existing stresses arising primarily from the staggering level of inequality that has, in fact, worsened since the end of apartheid 26 years ago. Most prominent among these stresses has been a crisis of hunger.

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“Déjà vu All Over Again: The EU, Coronavirus, and the Eurozone Crisis”

This is a guest post from Sean D. Ehrlich, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University who researches international and comparative political economy, trade policy, and democratic institutions. His first book, Access Points, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and  his second book, The Politics of Fair Trade, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. He can be found on Twitter @SeanDEhrlich.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the European Union, the EU itself has been relatively inactive, leaving it up to the member states to address the medical crisis and its economic and social consequences. Largely, this is by design, as public health issues were intentionally left to national discretion.

Where the EU has taken action, it has been limited and technocratic such as pooling money for joint ventilator purchases and funding vaccine research cross-nationally. The one exception has been the European Central Bank, which has taken major steps by injecting over €750 billion into the economy through quantitative easing to support the region’s economies.

Otherwise, what the EU has not done is offer any European-wide fiscal stimulus or aid for countries that implement their own policies. While the EU does not have ready mechanisms to do much of this, they do have tools like the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) to lend money to countries that have increasing debt which was developed to address the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that started in 2008. However, though negotiations are ongoing and a preliminary deal has been struck, the members of the EU have yet to agree on a final plan to use the ESM.

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The Militarization of COVID-19 Enforcement: Observations from the Philippines

This is a guest post from Andrew Yeo, who is an Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC and a Fulbright Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His most recent books include Asia’s Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century and North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks (with Danielle Chubb).

As a US scholar on research leave in Manila, I’ve been following the COVID-19 response in both the Philippines and the United States closely. I was bemused last weekend reading headlines about anti-quarantine protestors in several US state capitals, and the outrage geared at (what I presume to be) mostly Trump supporters in risking the further spread of the coronavirus.

Having experienced a different reality here, I’ve pondered the pros and cons of stricter quarantine enforcement as we have seen in the Philippines. Would either country envisage the imposition of martial law, a growing concern among some in Manila as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) boost their presence?

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Cooking up a Constitution

In an attempt to distract myself from the thought that today my small university town will be overrun by 900 frat boys who went to Northern Italy on a skiing vacation despite the Dutch government’s warning, let’s discuss something that might have gone under the radar – future changes to the Russian Constitution. 

Amid a global pandemic what could be better than voting in a Referendum? Only voting for a President, amirite? But let’s start from the beginning. Mid-January Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly announced that the Russian Constitution might need some freshening up. Needless to say, the announcement came as unexpected as Putin’s previous hints that he will leave his post after his current term. 

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Opening the Envelope of Oman’s Succession

The following is a guest post by Andrew Leber, a PhD candidate in Government at Harvard University.

The death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, and the succession of Haitham bin Tariq as the country’s new ruler, was yet one more high-profile news item this year amid the back-and-forth attacks and tragic consequences of events further up the Gulf.

Yet for the world of political science, this transition calls to mind important questions for comparativists about authoritarian successions in particular and authoritarian institutions more general.

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