Thu, Dec 27, 2018 - Page 14 News List

2018: the year of the autocrat

The powerful men who put their own interests first made for 12 months of strange and daunting paradoxes

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian

In Bangkok, an authoritarian ex-general, Prayuth Chan-ocha, prepared to oversee elections - amid fears the polls would be rigged or postponed again.

In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez ‘s incompetent successor, presided over large-scale misery. Millions fled to neighboring countries to escape deepening poverty, terrifying crime rates and political misrule. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, emulating Trump’s America First rhetoric, admitted he had ordered extrajudicial killings.

Abdel Fatah al-Sisi finally extinguished the hopes of the 2011 Arab Spring. He was “re-elected” Egypt’s president with a Mubarak-style 97 percent of the vote after all credible opponents were jailed, harassed or pressured to withdraw. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, setting what he called “an example for the rest of the world,” bullied his way to another presidential term and sweeping extra powers.

In North Korea, the country’s ruthless, ever-grinning dictator, Kim Jong-un, was bolstered by a summit with Trump in Singapore . Trump claimed a breakthrough on nuclear disarmament — but in practice, Kim stuck to his guns.

The year saw the emergence into full public view of another autocratic Trump ally — Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. Salman had presented himself as liberal reformer, graciously allowing women to drive. But then came the murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of a leading critic, US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey and the CIA claimed to have conclusive evidence that Salman ordered the killing.

The claim was furiously denied. But Prince Mohammed’s credibility lay in tatters. Trump worked shamelessly to defend his protege, but his inept White House statement succeeded only in appearing to condone the murder .

The Saudi crown prince symbolized the type of unscrupulous, authoritarian and anti-democratic leader who came to the fore around the world. Their emergence was an augury of an even more dangerous development: a breakdown in international law and the slow collapse of the global order.

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