Op-Ed September, 2020: Ministries of Magic
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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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Magicians often begin card tricks with the instruction: pick a card — any card. Their card tricks are rigged in advance so that they work independently of the actual card picked. So it was last month with political tricks. You could look at many countries and observe the same thing: their political systems are rigged in advance.

Imagine witnessing a card trick in which the magician immediately claims that they know which card you picked and the trick ends there with no further evidence. In Belarus, incumbent Alexander Lukashenko audaciously claimed eighty percent of last month's vote. Sleight-of-hand has to be much more subtle for a card trick to be believable. Yet at least there was, nominally, opposition. Imagine witnessing a card trick in which there is only one card to choose from. In Switzerland, the Schweizerische Volkspartei decided no opposition was necessary in its election of a new party president. Imagine agreeing to take part in a card trick but the magician suddenly says it can only be performed at a later date (to give the magician time to rig it). In Hong Kong, elections were postponed for a year, but the candidacy of pro-democracy leaders was banned. Imagine, after taking part in a card trick, the military suddenly appears on stage and replaces the magician with one of their own. In Mali, waiting for the next election became too inconvenient. The military took over that country without even attempting sleight-of-hand. Imagine a country where someone is allowed to be a magician only for so long. That is the case in Ivory Coast, which has a constitutional two-term limit on the presidency. Their next election takes place at the end of next month. Incumbent Alassane Ouattara intends to run for a third term. Imagine calling out a magician for cheating during a card trick and then being threatened with violence. Thus operates the magician code in Brazil. Imagine a country where someone aspires to become a magician and is then suddenly taken ill with symptoms of poisoning. That is a Russian card trick. Globally, the assault on democracy is now worse than ever.

Imagine witnessing a card trick in which the magician has rigged it by removing certain cards from the deck, claiming that they are not genuine cards. In November there will be the most important national election in a country's history. It will be hailed as a free-and-fair, democratic election but it will be far from that. There will probably be no independent, outside monitoring, but there will be massive voter disenfranchisement and even questions about candidate eligibility based on parents' citizenship. It will likely be claimed that it was a rigged election. This is not the US election: It will take place in Burma (Myanmar). That country's Democracy and Human Rights Party is led by an indigenous Rohingya, Kyaw Min. But he has been excluded, along with other Rohingyas, from running for office. Nor will Rohingyas be allowed to vote in the election.

This month's photo was taken earlier this year in Burma. Although the subjects are indigenous Shan, not Rohingya, some members of the Shan will likely also be disenfranchised as voters. These kind of political tricks in so-called democracies tend to work against indigenous people more than they do against non-indigenous people. This boy's mother probably knows she will never see real democracy in her country. Yet she probably hopes that her baby will one day. Last month we celebrated a hundred years of female suffrage in the US. Yet that country's indigenous population has had the right to vote in all states for only three generations.

Until last month we all thought that the Ministry of Magic existed only in the world of Harry Potter. Then we learned that, in some countries at least, it is very real. When the late Steve Jobs returned to Apple he said: "One of the first [steps] has to be to start at the top." Thereafter, Apple went from a failing company on the brink of bankruptcy to the height of success. Sometimes, starting at the top is the only solution for a failing government.

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