Yang Hengjun: Australian writer given suspended death sentence in China

Yang Hengjun
Image caption,Yang Hengjun has been detained in China since 2019

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court, five years after he was arrested and accused of spying.

The sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment after two years, according to Australian officials.

Dr Yang – a scholar and novelist who blogged about Chinese state affairs – denies the charges, which have not been made public.

The Australian government says it is “appalled” by the outcome.

It comes after a landmark visit to China by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese late last year, which was aimed at improving relations that had been deteriorating in recent years.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has summoned China’s Ambassador to Australia for an explanation, and on Monday said the government would be “communicating” its response to Beijing in “the strongest terms”.

“We have consistently called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment for Dr Yang, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations,” she said in a statement.

“All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family. We will not relent in our advocacy.”

Australian officials have previously raised concerns about his treatment, but China’s foreign ministry has warned them not to interfere in the case, and to respect the nation’s “judicial sovereignty”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters that Dr Yang’s case had been “rigorously handled” in accordance with the law and that his litigation and consular rights had been respected.

Dr Yang’s supporters have described his detention as “political persecution”.

“He is punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” his friend, Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, told the BBC.

Dr Yang, who previously worked for China’s Ministry of State Security, was nicknamed the “democracy peddler” but his writings often avoided direct criticisms of the government.

He was living in New York but travelled to Guangzhou in January 2019 with his wife and her child – both Chinese citizens – on a visa run when he was intercepted at the airport.

The 58-year-old’s case has mostly unfolded behind closed doors since then, including a secret trial in 2021.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Elaine Pearson said his case has raised a “myriad” of due process concerns and the outcome is “outrageous”.

“He has had delayed and limited access to legal representation, a closed door trial – and Yang himself has alleged torture and forced confessions during his interrogations,” she told the BBC.

Dr Yang still has avenues of appeal available, Ms Wong said, but his Australian-based sons have previously said his health is failing and that he is not receiving medical treatment.

Ahead of Mr Albanese’s trip to Beijing last November, Dr Yang’s sons wrote to the prime minister to ask for his help in securing their father’s release, citing his declining health.

His detention – and that of Australian journalist Cheng Lei in 2020 – contributed to souring ties between Beijing and Canberra, but those relations have been stabilising since a change of government in Australia in 2022.

However, Lowy Institute senior fellow Richard McGregor told the Sydney Morning Herald Dr Yang’s new sentence would likely have a “severe impact on bilateral relations” between the two countries.

“It displays on a wide screen the opacity of the Chinese legal system, its imperviousness to reasonable requests by foreign governments on behalf of their citizens, and its vindictiveness to people who challenge it,” he said.

“This sentence is at the most extreme end of the spectrum in terms of what could have been expected. The inescapable conclusion is that he will die in prison.” https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Bad economy, nosy relatives: Young Chinese put off by Lunar New Year

Travellers wait for their trains at Shanghai Hongqiao railway station, during the Spring Festival travel rush
Image caption,China’s Spring Festival travel rush is the world’s largest mass migration every year

“If I had the choice, I definitely wouldn’t go back home,” says Yuwen, a 33-year-old who has been unemployed for more than six months, days ahead of the Chinese New Year.

Many of China’s nearly 380 million internal migrants only go home once a year – and the Lunar New Year, the most important festival for family reunion, is usually the time to do it. That is why the Spring Festival travel rush, known as “chunyun”, is the world’s largest annual mass migration. Authorities are expecting a record nine billion trips this time for the Year of the Dragon.

But Yuwen dreads the homecoming trip because he says he will be grilled by relatives over every aspect of his life, particularly his work situation including salaries and benefits. His parents know he has lost his job and have been understanding about it. They have agreed with Yuwen that the best course of action is to lie to relatives that he still has his old job.

Yuwen will also spend just three days with his relatives – usually it would be more than a week. “It will be over soon,” he says.

Hundreds of young people have taken to popular social media platforms such as Xiaohongshu and Weibo to say that they will not go home for the festival. Like Yuwen, some of them are recently unemployed.

Official data released in June 2023 revealed more than one in five city-dwellers aged between 16 and 24 in China were unemployed. China then suspended the release of youth unemployment data until last month. The figure now stands at 14.9% – but the data excludes students.

After decades of breakneck growth, the Chinese economy is losing steam and the anticipated post-Covid recovery has not materialised. Its real estate market has crashed, and local government debts are mounting.

But the confidence crisis is perhaps the thorniest issue – investors are worried that the Chinese leadership will prioritise party control over economic development. Under China’s leader Xi Jinping, there have been crackdowns on private enterprises from tech to private tutoring. Relations with the West have also deteriorated over the last few years.

Yuwen looks out of the window during a journey on public transport
Image caption,Yuwen is cutting short his homecoming trip

Yuwen is a victim of the clampdowns on private enterprises.

In 2014, he decided to pursue a graduate degree in Chinese language education in Beijing, about 185 miles (300km) away from his hometown in Hebei province. It was to “ride the wave of a national policy” – because Mr Xi had launched the Belt and Road Initiative a year before to spread greater influence overseas.

After he graduated, he quickly found a job at a private tutoring company and was tasked with managing and training foreign tutors for Chinese students. But in July 2021, the Chinese government banned private, for-profit tutoring in the name of easing the burden on students. This was a death knell for the $120bn (£95bn) tutoring industry.

Yuwen was forced to change careers. He got a job at a big tech company in January 2023. He was responsible for formulating live-streaming rules for its overseas platforms and supervising the work of prominent influencers. But it only lasted five months.

A regulatory crackdown on big tech since late 2020 had already wiped off more than $1 trillion in its value, according to Reuters. Then the US threatened sanctions against Chinese tech companies over concerns with Beijing’s national security legislation. That proved to be the last straw for Yuwen’s company, which decided to move its overseas operations outside China.

Yuwen says he has sent out his CV over 1,000 times in the last six months alone. He has not received any job offers even though he has already lowered his salary expectations. “At the beginning, I felt quite calm but then I became increasingly anxious. I didn’t expect it to be this difficult,” he says.

Qingfeng stands in front of a lit-up Hong Kong skyline
Image caption,Qingfeng moved to Shenzhen to be closer to his girlfriend, who is studying in Hong Kong

In the southern city of Shenzhen, fitness trainer Qingfeng has decided to go travelling by himself for the Chinese New Year.

He will lie to his parents, telling them he cannot buy the tickets to come home. “Who doesn’t want to go home to celebrate the new year? But I just feel embarrassed.”

After leaving the military in 2019, Qingfeng started working as a fitness instructor and says he was able to make about 20,000 yuan ($2,800; £2,200) per month in Shanghai. Last year, he moved to Shenzhen to be closer to his girlfriend who is studying in neighbouring Hong Kong.

The 28-year-old found a job with a foreign trading company as he wanted more job stability. But the pay was only 4,500 yuan a month. This was unsustainable as monthly rent in Shenzhen is at least 1,500 yuan.

Qingfeng left his job after two months and has now got a position at a new gym that will open after the holidays. But he does not want to see his family, because he says he lost almost all his savings last year. He does not want to divulge details, but he says: “You can say that I have failed in the stock market.”

In early February, Chinese stocks plunged into a five-year low. The Weibo account of the US embassy became an outlet for the frustrations of Chinese investors, with some even calling on the Americans to help. Some criticised the current leadership. All such posts have since been taken down.

People walk by a dragon lantern in a shopping centre in Beijing, China
Image caption,Not everyone is looking forward to the Year of the Dragon

Qingfeng is not sure he will be able to build a customer base at the new gym due to the economic downturn. “Many large gyms have shut down lately because of their high debts.”

But is is not just the economy that has prevented some young Chinese from wanting to go home for the festival.

Some single women – like Xiaoba – say they do not want to be pressurised by their families to get married and settle down.

“I have been working across the country. Whenever I go to a city, my mother will find a man out of the blue and tell me to go on a blind date. It’s outrageous,” says the 35-year-old project manager.

Its low birth rate has caused fears that the country will lose young workers, who are a key force in propelling its economy. Young people are increasingly reluctant to get married and have children, and the number of registered marriages has been declining for nine consecutive years, according to official data.

In October, Mr Xi said women played a “unique role” in promoting traditional virtues and there was a need to cultivate a “new marriage and childbearing culture” to tackle the ageing population. But the government’s efforts to boost marriage and birth rate so far have been ineffective.

Xiaoba no longer panics about getting married and is enjoying her life. She is planning to spend the Lunar New Year with her cat and watch the huge CCTV New Year’s Gala – which is aired every Spring Festival Eve – at her rented flat in Shenzhen.

Yuwen, for his part, hopes that the next Lunar New Year will be better. “I believe I will make it because I am determined. I have never considered giving up.”

But there are things out of his control. “I am not too optimistic about the economy in 2024.” https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Gaza residents surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles

Children with water canisters in Jabalia
Image caption,Pipes which carry water for Gaza’s 2.3m population have been damaged or destroyed

People living in the isolated north of Gaza have told the BBC that children are going without food for days, as aid convoys are increasingly denied permits to enter. Some residents have resorted to grinding animal feed into flour to survive, but even stocks of those grains are now dwindling, they say.

People have also described digging down into the soil to access water pipes, for drinking and washing.

The UN has warned that acute malnutrition among young children in the north has risen sharply, and is now above the critical threshold of 15%.

The UN’s humanitarian coordination agency, Ocha, says more than half the aid missions to the north of Gaza were denied access last month, and that there is increasing interference from Israeli forces in how and where aid is delivered.

It says 300,000 people estimated to be living in northern areas are largely cut off from assistance, and face a growing risk of famine.

A spokesman for the Israeli military agency tasked with coordinating aid access in Gaza said in a briefing last month that there was “no starvation in Gaza. Period.” The agency, Cogat, has repeatedly said it does not limit the amount of humanitarian aid sent to Gaza.

The BBC spoke to three people living in Gaza City and Beit Lahia, and viewed footage and interviews filmed by local journalists in Jabalia.

Mahmoud Shalabi, a local medical aid worker in Beit Lahia, said people had been grinding grains used for animal feed into flour, but that even that was now running out.

“People are not finding it in the market,” he said. “It’s unavailable nowadays in the north of Gaza, and Gaza City.”

He also said stocks of tinned food were disappearing.

“What we had was actually from the six or seven days of truce [in November], and whatever aid was allowed into the north of Gaza has actually been consumed by now. What people are eating right now is basically rice, and only rice.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) told the BBC this week that four out of the last five aid convoys into the north had been stopped by Israeli forces, meaning a gap of two weeks between deliveries to Gaza City.

‘Serious risk of famine’

“We know there is a very serious risk of famine in Gaza if we don’t provide very significant volumes of food assistance on a regular basis,” said the WFP regional chief, Matt Hollingworth.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said there had been a sharp increase in the number of aid missions denied access to northern Gaza: with 56% of deliveries denied access in January, up from 14% in October to December.

It also said the Israeli military “at times required justifications” for quantities of fuel destined for health facilities, and “imposed reductions on the volume of assistance, such as the quantity of food”.

The BBC asked Israel’s army for a response. They directed us to Cogat, which told us to address our questions to the army.

Duha al-Khalidi, a mother of four in Beit Lahia, told the BBC two weeks ago that she walked six miles (9.5km) to her sister’s house in Gaza City, in a desperate search for food, after her children had not eaten for three days.

“I don’t have any money, and even if I did, there’s nothing in the town’s main market,” she said. “[My sister] and her family are also suffering. She shared with me the last amount of pasta in her house.”

“We feel that death has become inevitable,” her sister, Waad, said. “We lost the top floor of our house, but we are still living here despite the fear of collapse. For two weeks, we can’t find anything in the market; and if some products are available, they are 10 times their normal price.”

A famine risk assessment, carried out by several UN agencies, estimated that almost a third of residents in northern areas could now be facing a “catastrophic” lack of food, though restrictions on accessing the area make real-time measurements very difficult.

Families in northern areas are also struggling to find reliable water supplies.

“Many of us are now drinking unpotable water. There are no pipes; we have to dig for water,” explained Mahmoud Salah in Beit Lahia.

Digging for water pipes in Jabalia
Image caption,People in Gaza are digging for water by hand

Video filmed in the Jabalia neighbourhood north of Gaza City shows residents sitting among the rubble of bombed out streets, digging down into the earth to tap large underground water pipes.

“We get water here once every 15 days,” Yusuf al-Ayoti said. “The water is dirty. Our children are inflamed and their teeth are eroded from the dirty water. There is sand in it, and it’s very salty.”

After four months of war, the makeshift solutions for bridging the hunger gaps are wearing thin. And there are few ways to restock Gaza’s larder.

The territory was reliant on food aid before the war; now much of its agricultural industry has been ruined or abandoned.

‘The destruction is vast’

New figures from the UN suggest that more than half the agricultural land in the central region of Deir al-Balah has been damaged. This includes an olive press and farmland belonging to Bassem Younis Abu Zayed.

“It looks like the aftermath of an earthquake,” he said. “The destruction is vast, covering neighbouring buildings and farm animals. Even if we manage to restore the mill, 80-90% of the olives have gone. It’s not just a loss for this year, it’s a loss for the next several years.”

Further south, in the border town of Rafah, more than a million people displaced by the fighting elsewhere now jostle for space with the town’s 300,000 residents.

A BBC map of Gaza showing areas of Israeli ground operations, evacuation zones, refugee camps and the al-Mawasi "humanitarian area"

Israel’s army regularly publishes what it says is recent footage of busy markets and restaurants in Gaza’s southern centres. A majority of the 114 aid missions to southern areas of Gaza managed to get through last month, but residents and aid agencies say many people are still going hungry, and a public health crisis is looming with a lack of shelter, sanitation and medical care.

Aid can be blocked by fighting, bureaucracy or rubble. Earlier this week, a food convoy waiting to head north in Gaza was hit by naval gunfire.

On Saturday the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees accused Israel of using financial restrictions to block a month’s worth of food for more than a million Gazans. UNRWA said more than 1,000 shipping containers from Turkey were being held up in a port, telling the AP news agency that a local contractor was ordered by customs authorities not to process any UNRWA goods.

Israel has not responded but on Thursday, far-right finance minister Belazel Smotrich ordered the cancellation of customs and other tax relief for UNRWA, saying Israel “will not give tax benefits to terrorist aides”. Israel has accused UNRWA staff of participating in the 7 October attacks.

But deliveries are also complicated by the growing desperation of Gaza’s people, says Matt Hollingworth.

“We need the law and order issue resolved, so that we’re not having to negotiate our way through crowds of desperately hungry people, to get to other people that we’ve yet to reach,” he said.

“It’s probably the level of helplessness that worries me. People have lost hope.”

A deal between Israel and Hamas is seen by many as the only way to get more aid into Gaza, and get Israeli hostages out.

As Israel bombs Rafah, ahead of a widely expected ground offensive there, leaders on both sides are under pressure to end the suffering of people trapped in Gaza – their enemy’s, and their own. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Gaza residents surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles

Children with water canisters in Jabalia
Image caption,Pipes which carry water for Gaza’s 2.3m population have been damaged or destroyed

People living in the isolated north of Gaza have told the BBC that children are going without food for days, as aid convoys are increasingly denied permits to enter. Some residents have resorted to grinding animal feed into flour to survive, but even stocks of those grains are now dwindling, they say.

People have also described digging down into the soil to access water pipes, for drinking and washing.

The UN has warned that acute malnutrition among young children in the north has risen sharply, and is now above the critical threshold of 15%.

The UN’s humanitarian coordination agency, Ocha, says more than half the aid missions to the north of Gaza were denied access last month, and that there is increasing interference from Israeli forces in how and where aid is delivered.

It says 300,000 people estimated to be living in northern areas are largely cut off from assistance, and face a growing risk of famine.

A spokesman for the Israeli military agency tasked with coordinating aid access in Gaza said in a briefing last month that there was “no starvation in Gaza. Period.” The agency, Cogat, has repeatedly said it does not limit the amount of humanitarian aid sent to Gaza.

The BBC spoke to three people living in Gaza City and Beit Lahia, and viewed footage and interviews filmed by local journalists in Jabalia.

Mahmoud Shalabi, a local medical aid worker in Beit Lahia, said people had been grinding grains used for animal feed into flour, but that even that was now running out.

“People are not finding it in the market,” he said. “It’s unavailable nowadays in the north of Gaza, and Gaza City.”

He also said stocks of tinned food were disappearing.

“What we had was actually from the six or seven days of truce [in November], and whatever aid was allowed into the north of Gaza has actually been consumed by now. What people are eating right now is basically rice, and only rice.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) told the BBC this week that four out of the last five aid convoys into the north had been stopped by Israeli forces, meaning a gap of two weeks between deliveries to Gaza City.

‘Serious risk of famine’

“We know there is a very serious risk of famine in Gaza if we don’t provide very significant volumes of food assistance on a regular basis,” said the WFP regional chief, Matt Hollingworth.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said there had been a sharp increase in the number of aid missions denied access to northern Gaza: with 56% of deliveries denied access in January, up from 14% in October to December.

It also said the Israeli military “at times required justifications” for quantities of fuel destined for health facilities, and “imposed reductions on the volume of assistance, such as the quantity of food”.

The BBC asked Israel’s army for a response. They directed us to Cogat, which told us to address our questions to the army.

Duha al-Khalidi, a mother of four in Beit Lahia, told the BBC two weeks ago that she walked six miles (9.5km) to her sister’s house in Gaza City, in a desperate search for food, after her children had not eaten for three days.

“I don’t have any money, and even if I did, there’s nothing in the town’s main market,” she said. “[My sister] and her family are also suffering. She shared with me the last amount of pasta in her house.”

“We feel that death has become inevitable,” her sister, Waad, said. “We lost the top floor of our house, but we are still living here despite the fear of collapse. For two weeks, we can’t find anything in the market; and if some products are available, they are 10 times their normal price.”

A famine risk assessment, carried out by several UN agencies, estimated that almost a third of residents in northern areas could now be facing a “catastrophic” lack of food, though restrictions on accessing the area make real-time measurements very difficult.

Families in northern areas are also struggling to find reliable water supplies.

“Many of us are now drinking unpotable water. There are no pipes; we have to dig for water,” explained Mahmoud Salah in Beit Lahia.

Digging for water pipes in Jabalia
Image caption,People in Gaza are digging for water by hand

Video filmed in the Jabalia neighbourhood north of Gaza City shows residents sitting among the rubble of bombed out streets, digging down into the earth to tap large underground water pipes.

“We get water here once every 15 days,” Yusuf al-Ayoti said. “The water is dirty. Our children are inflamed and their teeth are eroded from the dirty water. There is sand in it, and it’s very salty.”

After four months of war, the makeshift solutions for bridging the hunger gaps are wearing thin. And there are few ways to restock Gaza’s larder.

The territory was reliant on food aid before the war; now much of its agricultural industry has been ruined or abandoned.

‘The destruction is vast’

New figures from the UN suggest that more than half the agricultural land in the central region of Deir al-Balah has been damaged. This includes an olive press and farmland belonging to Bassem Younis Abu Zayed.

“It looks like the aftermath of an earthquake,” he said. “The destruction is vast, covering neighbouring buildings and farm animals. Even if we manage to restore the mill, 80-90% of the olives have gone. It’s not just a loss for this year, it’s a loss for the next several years.”

Further south, in the border town of Rafah, more than a million people displaced by the fighting elsewhere now jostle for space with the town’s 300,000 residents.

A BBC map of Gaza showing areas of Israeli ground operations, evacuation zones, refugee camps and the al-Mawasi "humanitarian area"

Israel’s army regularly publishes what it says is recent footage of busy markets and restaurants in Gaza’s southern centres. A majority of the 114 aid missions to southern areas of Gaza managed to get through last month, but residents and aid agencies say many people are still going hungry, and a public health crisis is looming with a lack of shelter, sanitation and medical care.

Aid can be blocked by fighting, bureaucracy or rubble. Earlier this week, a food convoy waiting to head north in Gaza was hit by naval gunfire.

But deliveries are also complicated by the growing desperation of Gaza’s people, says Matt Hollingworth.

“We need the law and order issue resolved, so that we’re not having to negotiate our way through crowds of desperately hungry people, to get to other people that we’ve yet to reach,” he said.

“It’s probably the level of helplessness that worries me. People have lost hope.”

A deal between Israel and Hamas is seen by many as the only way to get more aid into Gaza, and get Israeli hostages out.

As Israel bombs Rafah, ahead of a widely expected ground offensive there, leaders on both sides are under pressure to end the suffering of people trapped in Gaza – their enemy’s, and their own. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Jokowi and Subianto: Why Indonesia’s leader went from scorn to selfies

Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto pose for a selfie
Image caption,The pair have gone from unforgiving exchanges to posing for selfies

The election which saw Indonesia’s social media-savvy and heavy metal-loving president Joko Widodo re-elected also saw bitter accusations of fraud from his long-time rival for the job. Just months later, that rival has joined government and the pair are posing for selfies. What does this mean?

When Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) won Indonesia’s presidential election earlier this year, supporters of his rival, former army general Prabowo Subianto, took to the streets and the ensuing violence left several dead.

Five bitter months since the vote

The election campaign had been angry, peppered with accusations of fraud, and it was only in the summer, in June, that Indonesia’s constitutional court finally ended the political uncertainty to uphold Mr Widodo’s win.

Protesters in Bandung
Image caption,Student protests erupted all around Indonesia

But just months after that, student protests hit the streets of Indonesia, prompted by a controversial and draconian criminal code being considered by parliament. They morphed into something bigger, an expression of anger and despair with the government. Protesters also rejected the passing of a new anti-corruption law which they thought undermined the country’s beloved anti-corruption agency.

Those protests also left several dead and, although the vote on the code was postponed, the bitterness is still evident.

Everybody watched to see how Mr Widodo would respond and what that might tell us about the state of democracy in Indonesia for the next few years.

In some ways, the answer came this week with the appointment of Mr Subianto as defence minister. Quite apart from being his rival in Indonesia’s two most recent presidential elections, he is a controversial figure with a tainted record on human rights.

Jokowi, as the president is known, was seen as a self-made “man of the people” when he first came to power in 2014 – mild-mannered, jocular and with a well-documented love of heavy metal music and taking selfies.

Mr Widodo poses for a selfie with a member of parliament in August
Image caption,Mr Widodo, seen here with a member of parliament in August, is known for his penchant for selfies

But the years have shown him willing to make harsh political compromises and, despite serious challenges to Indonesia’s stated values of religious tolerance and social cohesion in recent years, his priorities remain infrastructure, economic reform and political stability. This appointment can be seen as prioritising such goals as he eyes a tangible legacy at the end of his second and final term.

“You don’t see a lot of real reform-minded figures in the cabinet, the type of figures that would really give a sign to any liberals in Indonesia that the government is paying attention to issues of democracy and human rights,” says researcher Alexander Raymond Arifianto of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“The government is just going to pave the way for status quo while they’re promoting all these higher priority projects in economy and infrastructure development.”

Who is the rival-turned-ally?

Prabowo Subianto, 68, was born into a family steeped in Indonesian political privilege, the son of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, an economic whiz who held ministerial posts from the 1950s to the 1970s.

His father went into exile for a decade from 1957 because of his alleged involvement with a separatist group in the region of Sumatra. Mr Subianto followed as his family fled to a number of European cities, including Zurich and London.

Mr Subianto eventually married the second daughter of the late authoritarian president Suharto – a move some in the military have argued helped his swift rise.

But by that time, allegations were already swirling of his involvement in bloody military operations in East Timor.

Suharto on board of his private plane during his trip in Java, Indonesia on February 3rd, 1978
Image caption,Indonesia’s last dictator, Suharto, still casts a shadow over Indonesia’s political culture

He was eventually dismissed from the army for his role in the abduction and murder of student activists in 1998. His human rights record did not go unnoticed by the West, with the United States denying him visa in mid-2000s and 2014. Australia also once put him on a blacklist.

But Mr Subianto nevertheless made an extraordinary political comeback – although his four attempts to be leader ended in failure.

And Mr Widodo’s decision to add him to his cabinet, just months after his latest defeat, has dismayed many of the president’s supporters.

“[Jokowi’s] rival in the presidential election, who lost because the people rejected intolerance, anti-democratic [values], and human rights violations, is instead placed on an honourable position in the cabinet. We understand that there is a deep disappointment among Jokowi volunteers,” says Handoko, general secretary of Projo, a Jokowi supporters group.

So why did he do it?

“Prabowo is an intelligent individual who speaks multiple languages and will certainly be helpful when it comes to defence diplomacy,” says Aaron Connelly, research fellow on Southeast Asian politics at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“But the biggest risk is that tension between Jokowi and Prabowo will not subside, but only get greater as the relationship is not built on mutual trust and respect.”

Yet the hope is that he will bring political stability to the president’s last term after five years of relentless attacks from his rivals, says Mr Arifianto.

Mr Widodo has made it clear that his priority is going to be infrastructure and economic reform, signalling his goal to be the country’s next “Father of Development”, a title once held by Suharto, Indonesia’s last dictator and his new colleague’s father-in-law. So such stability will be prized.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo waves to the crowd while on his journey to the Presidential Palace by carriage during the ceremonial parade on 20 October 2014 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Image caption,Joko Widodo – a man of the people no more?

He also picked the co-founder of homegrown ride-hailing firm Gojek to head the education ministry and a media tycoon for a state-owned enterprises post.

But this is cold comfort for those worried about Indonesia’s direction when it comes to human rights and social inequality.

“Prabowo’s appointment sends a worrying signal that our leaders have forgotten the darkest days and the worst violations committed in the Suharto era. When Prabowo was at the helm of our special forces, activists disappeared and there were numerous allegations of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director.

Mr Subianto has consistently said that he only followed orders from his chiefs and that he was scapegoated by the military, including by former army general-turned-politician Wiranto, who also happened to be Mr Widodo’s first-term security affairs minister

Mr Widodo’s strategy appears to favour compromise over confrontation – and that has resulted in a broad cabinet that involves several top generals whose potential bickering might create an enormous distraction to the president, Mr Connelly said.

Jokowi And Subianto meet at a subway station in July - first time since the bitter election
Image caption,The leaders met in July this year where smiles on display hinted at a thaw in relations

But the choice of Subianto could pave the way for the politicisation of the armed forces and police, a feature of Suharto’s 32-year rule. As an example of this, there are regional leader posts currently held by active police officers, according to Titi Anggraini, director of Jakarta-based Association for Election and Democracy.

Military encroachment into civil spaces was among the features rejected by the student movement of 1998 – the student-led demonstrations that led to the fall of Suharto.

Mr Subianto did nothing to quell the violent protest to reject the elections result that erupted in his name.

The fear remains that his approach to resolve any tensions that might arise with the president could be just as unorthodox – despite the smiles for selfies. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Divya Deshmukh: India chess player’s Instagram post sparks sexism discussion

Women in chess
Image caption,Divya Deshmukh’s Instagram post has sparked a discussion on sexism in chess

An 18-year-old Indian chess player has sparked a conversation on attitudes towards women in the sport with an Instagram post about her experiences.

Divya Deshmukh, who is an International Master (the second-highest title in chess), said that her chess videos often received online comments that focused on her appearance rather than her games.

“It’s a sad truth that when women play chess, [people] often overlook how good they actually are… and every irrelevant thing is focused on,” she wrote, adding that she had wanted to address the issue “for a while”.

Deshmukh shared the post at the end of the recent Tata Steel Chess tournament held in the Netherlands as she said that the behaviour of the audience had irked her throughout the competition. The organisers of the tournament later issued a statement supporting her and said that they “remain committed to promoting women in chess and ensuring a safe and equal sporting environment”.

Sexism is still an under-discussed topic in chess, which is one of the few mainstream sports where men and women often compete against each other. Deshmukh’s post, experts say, has ignited a crucial conversation on the behaviour of fans and even male players towards women in chess – even grandmaster Susan Polgar joined in.

Deshmukh told the BBC that she has been receiving hateful comments related to the way she dresses, looks or speaks since she was 14 years old. “It makes me sad that people don’t pay the same kind of attention to my chess skills,” she said.

Thousands of people have liked her post, and many have left supportive comments. One Reddit user noted how even seemingly innocuous jokes and comments were often “laced with sexist attitudes” while another said that it was common for people to leave sexually suggestive remarks under videos featuring women players.

“With an increase in online tournaments and with games being livestreamed, women players have become disproportionately vulnerable to receiving misogynistic comments from the predominantly male audience online,” says sports writer Susan Ninan, who has written extensively about chess.

She adds that such trolling deepens sexist attitudes about chess and can impact the confidence of young women players.

As a sport, chess already has a poor gender balance. According to the International Chess Federation or FIDE, women make up just 10% of licenced players globally, and the gap only gets wider at the top. For example, only three of India’s 84 grandmasters are women.

Chess experts and women players have ascribed this imbalance to the lack of access, opportunity and support for women and girls due to stereotypes surrounding the sport.

“There’s this common misconception that men are ‘wired differently’ and are hence, inherently better at chess,” says Ms Ninan, adding that such beliefs are amplified online, feeding into existing socio-cultural biases people have about women and their intellectual abilities.

Women in chess
Image caption,Koneru Humpy is one of India’s top chess players

In a study conducted by researchers at New York University for which around 300 parents and mentors – 90% of these were men – were interviewed, it was found that a majority of the respondents believed that girls have a lower potential in the sport than boys and that they were more likely to stop playing chess due to a lack of ability than their male counterparts.

Nandhini Saripalli, a chess player and coach, says she has experienced first-hand the consequences of such biases. She says that her chess career took a hit because she didn’t get enough support compared with her male counterparts.

And now, she says that her career as a coach is being hampered because society doesn’t have much confidence in a woman’s chess-playing ability. “Parents want their children to be mentored by a male coach because they feel that male players are more talented,” she says.

Observers also say that online trolling feeds into the culture of women players and tournaments not being taken seriously.

Saripalli says that online, she has had men telling her that her male opponent can “trash” her easily, while offline, she has encountered male players who’ve said that they don’t feel the need to practise if their opponent is a woman because they don’t consider female players to be “real competition”.

“Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, and even then you can’t escape sexist judgements,” she says, adding that like many of her female chess-playing friends, she too “dresses down” to escape unwanted attention from male players and the audience.

Women in chess
Image caption,Nandhini Saripalli says she feels she was held back as a player because of her gender

Interestingly, this is something Polgar – who is widely regarded to be among the best chess players in the world – says she experienced decades ago when she was a young chess player.

Polgar responded to Ms Deshmukh’s post by sharing her own experience on X (formerly Twitter). “I did not even touch make-up until I was in my 20s… It is because I was tired of being sexually harassed/assaulted and hit on constantly by male chess players,” she wrote.

Ms Ninan says that chess offers a “fertile space for predatory behaviour” because of its one-on-one setting and the fact that players are just a chess board away from their opponent.

But Koneru Humpy, one of India’s top chess players who started her career in the 1990s when there were few women in chess, and stunned the world by becoming the then-youngest female Grandmaster at the age of 15 (this record was broken later), says that there is more equality now compared with when she began playing.

Humpy recalls being the only female player to compete in open tournaments – she says these are much tougher to win than women’s-only tournaments because the players are more skilled on average.

“Men wouldn’t like losing to me because I’m a woman,” she says and adds that today’s crop of male players are different as they regularly train and play against their female peers.

But it will take more time for women players to wield the same amount of influence on and off the chess board as their male counterparts. One way to alter this power imbalance is to remove socio-cultural barriers that prevent women’s participation in chess at the entry level.

“Once there are more female players, there will be more of them in the top levels of the sport,” says Humpy, adding that this will change prevailing perceptions.

The other way to encourage more women to play chess is by increasing the number of women-only tournaments.

“The more women play chess, the more claim they have over the sport,” she adds. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Sri Lanka: What’s killing so many of the country’s iconic elephants?

Elephants play at an Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe National Park on August 23, 2023
Image caption,Sri Lanka’s endangered elephants are dying at an unprecedented rate

Sumitra Malkandi breaks down as she recounts the fateful evening in March last year when her husband was trampled to death.

She was busy in the kitchen – the couple lived in a farming village in central Sri Lanka – and her husband, Thilak Kumara, was just outside feeding their cows. Then she heard an elephant’s trumpeting roar.

She said she was about to alert him, but “within minutes, the worst happened”. The elephant ran away after hearing the appalled cries of villagers.

Ms Malkandi, a 45-year-old mother of three young daughters, said her family is yet to recover from the shock. She worries it could happen again.

Surrounded by coconut, mango and banana trees, which elephants love to feast on, her house is nestled in a farm that is just a few hundred metres from a dense forest. Her village, Thalgaswewa in Kurunegala district, now finds itself on the frontlines of a worsening conflict between humans and elephants.

Local officials say three people and 10 elephants have been killed in Thalgaswewa and nearby villages alone in the past two years. Villagers now fear venturing out of their homes after sunset.

But the problem spreads itself far wider than just this one small area.

Mr Kumara is one of 176 people who died in encounters with elephants in Sri Lanka last year. During the same period, 470 elephants died – half of them at the hands of humans, while the rest were killed by illness or in accidents. On average, that means, more than one elephant died each day of the year, while a human was killed every two days.

Sumitra Malkandi
Image caption,Ms Malkandi is still reeling from the elephant attack that killed her husband last year

As farming expands, it is encroaching elephant habitats, disrupting their food and water sources and putting people’s lives in danger. “All the food crops we cultivate are very attractive to them,” explains Prithiviraj Fernando, Sri Lanka’s foremost elephant expert.

But it is also making future of Sri Lanka’s iconic elephants look precarious, with the latest figures showing a record number of deaths in 2023.

Conservationists are seeking urgent action from the government because both casualty counts are the deadliest on record – and a stark reminder of the fatal consequences when humans cross paths with these majestic animals.

“After the civil war ended [in 2009] the government started releasing [more] land to the public. These were no-go areas during the war,” said Chandima Fernando, an ecologist at the Sri Lanka Conservation Society. He says this has opened up more land for farming and settlements, bringing people into greater contact with elephants.

Killing elephants, which are endangered, is punishable by law in Sri Lanka where they hold religious and economic value. Domesticated elephants are often part of religious processions and a tourist attraction.

That hasn’t stopped farmers from taking lethal precautions to protect their crops and themselves.

While Sri Lanka allows electric fences to keep the animals away, the charge is just strong enough to stun them without causing serious injury. The country has some 5,000km (3,100 miles) of electric fencing, including around the homes in Thalgaswewa, and plans to expand it.

But activists say farmers have also illegally set up fences with higher voltage that can kill elephants. They also use poison, explosive baits called “jaw bombs” and sometimes shoot at the animals to drive them away.

Experts like Chandima Fernando recommend simpler and kinder methods, such as “cultivating citrus fruits or other crops that will not draw elephants”.

A graphic showing elephants killed by by jaw bombs

An estimated 5,800 elephants roam across Sri Lanka’s protected habitats – wetlands, grasslands, highlands and shrubland – although some experts fear the actual number could be far less.

An elephant typically roams up to 48km a day, and stays close to fresh water. They do not walk long distances unless they run out of food.

But when that happens – due to drought, for instance, in protected areas – they are drawn to nearby farms.

The government itself has warned people about pushing elephants that wander out of protected areas back in, because shrinking forests cannot support too many elephants.

Prithviraj Fernando was the head of an official committee set up in 2020 to draft a National Action Plan to lessen the impact of human-elephant conflict. The plan remained dormant the past few years as Sri Lanka went through an unprecedented economic crisis, but the sharp rise in elephant deaths has infused a sense of urgency.

The country’s elephant population has fallen almost 65% since the turn of the 19th Century, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

A decade ago, Sri Lanka lost around 250 elephants a year. But the numbers have increased sharply in recent years with the deaths now exceeding 400 for the second year in a row. If elephant deaths continue to rise at the current rate, up to 70% of Sri Lanka’s elephants would be gone, Prithviraj Fernando said.

A herd of elephants in Sri Lanka
Image caption,Apart from encounters with humans, shrinking habits and drought are also a risk for the animals

What is also worrying experts is the large number of male elephants that are dying, putting the survival of the species at risk. The tuskers often wander into rural communities alone, which makes them more vulnerable.

Parts of central Sri Lanka have not reported a single male elephant sighting in recent years, said Chandima Fernando. Before the pandemic, sightings were common.

Researchers say that while elephant deaths outside protected areas are accounted for, they don’t know enough about what is happening inside forests, where illness, infighting or drought could be causes.

Back in Thalgaswewa, Ms Malkandi says the chances of another encounter with an elephant terrify her.

“More and more elephants keep coming to the farm,” she says. “We are scared to live here.” https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Yandex: Owner of ‘Russia’s Google’ pulls out of home country

Yandex logo on smartphone.

The owner of Yandex, often referred to as “Russia’s Google”, has said it will pull out of its country of origin.

Its Dutch-based parent company sold the operation in Russia for 475 billion roubles ($5.2bn; £4.2bn), much lower than its estimated market value.

The sale to a consortium of investors means Yandex’s Russian business is now a fully Russian-owned entity.

The firm has previously been accused of hiding information about the war in Ukraine from the Russian public.

Moscow has welcomed the latest deal which the company said was “the product of an extensive period of planning and negotiation over more than 18 months”.

“This is exactly what we wanted to achieve a few years ago when Yandex was under threat of being taken over by Western IT giants,” said Anton Gorelkin, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on information policy.

“Yandex is more than a company, it is an asset of the entire Russian society,” he added.

Set up in the dotcom boom in the late 1990s, Yandex developed its own search engine, mapping and advertising businesses. Other services include taxis and food delivery.

The $5.2bn deal is believed to be significantly lower than Yandex’s market value, which was worth around $30bn in 2021.

Despite its nickname of ‘Russia’s Google’, Yandex has no ties to the US search engine giant or its parent company Alphabet.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many foreign-owned businesses have exited the country, often selling assets on unfavourable terms.

Russian president Vladimir Putin also ordered the seizure of others, such as assets belonging to Western brands Danone and Carlsberg.

Yandex’s co-founder, Arkady Volozh, is one of very few top Russia-linked businessmen to have publicly spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left the firm in 2022.

Mr Volozh has been hit with sanctions by the European Union, which in 2022 said Yandex is “responsible for promoting [Russian] state media and narratives in its search results, and deranking and removing content critical of the Kremlin, such as content related to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”.

He is seeking a European Union court to remove sanctions as he says he was never close to the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

To comply with the Russian government’s demands over its content, Yandex sold some of its online resources to state-controlled rival VK in late 2022.

Even though Yandex presents itself as independent of the authorities, experiments by BBC Monitoring in 2022 showed that its search results failed to report Russian atrocities in Ukrainian city of Bucha. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Xiang Yang Hong 3: Chinese ship’s port call in Maldives fans India tensions

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Xiang Yang Hong 3 in Honolulu, Hawaii
Image caption,The Chinese vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 in Honolulu, Hawaii

The expected arrival of a Chinese research ship in the Maldives this week has escalated tensions between Beijing, Delhi and Male.

Officially, the vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 is there to “make a port call, for rotation of personnel and replenishment”. In short, an entirely innocuous stop.

But that is not how it is being seen in Delhi. Instead, the ship’s presence is at the very least a diplomatic snub. At worst, some fear, it could be a mission to collect data which could – at a later date – be used by the Chinese military in submarine operations.

China experts, however, have shrugged off their concerns.

“The Chinese ships carry out scientific research work in the Indian ocean. Its activities on the high sea are entirely legitimate,” Zhou Bo, a former People’s Liberation Army Senior Colonel, told the BBC.

“Sometimes the ships need replenishment – like fuel, food and water. So, they berth in a third country port, which is normal. So, the Indian government shouldn’t make any fuss about it. Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean,” asserted Mr Zhou, who is now with the Tsinghua university in Beijing.

But this is not the first time that China – which competes for influence with Delhi in the Indian Ocean amid a long-standing dispute over their Himalayan border – has sent one of its ships sailing close to Indian waters.

Minister Narendra Modi, China's President Xi Jinping during the 10th BRICS summit on July 26, 2018
Image caption,China and India compete for influence in the Indian Ocean amid a long-standing dispute over their Himalayan border

Two Chinese naval submarines made a port call to Colombo in 2014 and two Chinese research vessels visited Sri Lanka, close to the tip of southern India, in the past two years, much to the displeasure of India.

The arrivals came as China, which has loaned billions of dollars to Colombo, made significant inroads into Sri Lanka.

The research ship, Xiang Yang Hong 3, had in fact originally planned to visit Colombo for replenishment before proceeding to the Maldives. But that has been shelved for now, according to Tharaka Balasuriya, the junior foreign minister of Sri Lanka.

“During this one year we want to develop our technology and expertise so that we can join in these research activities on an equal basis,” he told the BBC.

However, Colombo’s decision to stop the research vessels is being seen as a response to India’s strong objections to such visits by Chinese vessels.

India’s objections however, have made little difference in the Maldives.

The Maldives, which consists of about 1,200 coral islands and atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has long been under India’s sphere of influence. But Mohamed Muizzu, who took over as president in November and is regarded as pro-China, wants to change that.

He campaigned on an ‘India Out’ platform, asking Delhi to withdraw about 80 Indian military personnel based on the island. India says the troops are in the island nation to maintain and operate three reconnaissance and rescue aircraft, donated by Delhi years ago.

The Maldivian government has set an ultimatum to Delhi to withdraw its troops by 15 March, two days before the country’s parliamentary polls.

Following talks in Delhi last week, the Maldivian foreign ministry said India had agreed “to replace the military personnel” and that the first batch will leave by 10 March and the rest by the second week of May.

Chinese research vessel's route

In December, Mr Muizzu’s administration also announced that it would not renew a hydrographic survey agreement with India that was signed by the previous government to map the seabed in the Maldivian territorial waters.

Relations have in fact deteriorated so much that none of the senior leaders of the Maldivian government attended a recent event organised by the Indian High Commission in Male to mark India’s 75th Republic Day.

China, meanwhile, rolled out the red carpet to Mr Muizzu when he went on a five-day state visit to Beijing last month. Since that trip, high-level Chinese officials have visited the Maldives. Mr Muizzu has also announced several Chinese-funded infrastructure projects.

The sudden shift in Male’s position towards China has raised concerns in Delhi, which attaches strategic significance to the island nation.

China, with its rapidly expanding naval forces, would likely also want access to such a strategically important location – something India wants to prevent.

“Of course, the Maldives is very important; it is the southern Oceanic flank of India,” Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary, told the BBC.

“Just like we had serious reservations about what was happening in Sri Lanka, we will have serious reservations about that may happen in the Maldives,” Mr Saran said.

Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 proceeds to deck at a port in Colombo on October 25, 2023
Image caption,India had earlier raised strong objections to visits by Chinese research vessels to Sri Lanka

But it is not just Delhi worried about the relationship with Male.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and others have been urging Mr Muizzu’s government for a course correction, saying it’s not in the country’s interests to antagonise a giant neighbour like India. Last week the MDP said it was even contemplating moving impeachment proceedings against Mr Muizzu.

As a small island nation, the Maldives depends on India for most of its food, infrastructure building, and technological advancement. Many Maldivians go to India for medical treatment.

“Most people here think that government has taken the hostility against India a bit too far and that it is totally unnecessary,” Aik Ahmed Easa, a lawyer in Male affiliated with the opposition MDP, told the BBC.

“The Maldives is a small country. But this is going into a dangerous phase where we are getting into the middle of the Asian superpower rivalry,” he said.

The Maldivian President’s office and the foreign minister did not respond to requests for comment.

China has greater strategic ambitions and it’s likely to send more ships to the Indian Ocean region for oceanographic research or to protect its commercial interests, experts say. For India, the challenge will be how to counter Beijing’s growing assertive influence in an area that Delhi perceives as its backyard.

Mr Zhou says Chinese aircraft carriers and their support vessels will eventually reach the Indian Ocean. If India disrupts restocking supplies for these ships in a third country – like Sri Lanka – then Beijing will be “furious”, he says. https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/

Pakistan election 2024: Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan reverse roles

tickers badges, to be used for campaigns of political parties, on display for sale at a shop ahead of general elections in Karachi, Pakistan January 18, 2024.

Pakistan is in unprecedented times. Anger, disappointment, and hope are all intertwined.

This Muslim-majority country of 241 million is about to vote in a civilian parliament for the third time in a row. It is a first for a state where no prime minister has ever finished their term and, with a long history of military rule and dictatorship, it should be a moment to celebrate.

But the 8 February vote is still taking place in the shadows of alleged military interference.

No election in the country’s history has been without its controversies, but this one seems to be racking up more than most – not least the fact one former prime minister sits behind bars, unable to stand, while another re-emerges from self-imposed exile, his criminal convictions swept away.

Here is what you need to know about the poll in Pakistan.

Why is this election important?

Pakistan is an arch-rival to India, shares volatile borders with Iran and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, has a love-hate relationship with the USA and is a close friend of China – whoever comes to power in this nuclear-armed state matters.

For the last few years, the country’s politicians have been busy wrangling over who gets that power. They ousted Imran Khan, the last elected prime minister, in 2022 and replaced his administration with a coalition government.

That coalition was replaced by an unelected caretaker government last August, which should have held elections by November. After delays officials said were caused by the census, the vote is now going ahead.

What many think is needed now is stable government – not only to deal with things like the recent tit-for-tat missile strikes with Iran, which many feared might boil over into something worse, but also to continue to secure the financial aid and investment the government is so reliant on.

However, a quick look at the front runners suggests anything but stability.

This three-time prime minister did not stand in the 2018 election, for the simple fact he was in prison and was banned from running for office after a corruption scandal involving multimillion pound London apartments.

Six years later – following a period in exile in a luxury London flat – Sharif is back.

His PML-N party, under his brother’s leadership, took control after Khan’s ousting in 2022.

Meanwhile, in the last two months – just in time for the 2024 election – he has been cleared of all charges, the lifetime ban deemed unconstitutional.

Many speculate that the support he garnered from the military establishment and the judiciary, after a fallout with Khan, has paved the way for his potential fourth term as prime minister.

But Sharif knows well that the army can turn. His strained relations with them during his third stint in office, which began in 2013, were followed by his ousting. His second term was cut short by a military coup in 1999.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, 71, will not be on this year’s ballot, because this time he’s the one behind bars during an election, serving a sentence he and his supporters decry as “politically motivated” and “a conspiracy”.

His rise to power – and fall from grace – have both been attributed to the army, despite denials by both parties. His opponents in 2018 accused him of being their proxy, while his supporters allege the army chief is behind his jailing.

Back in 2018, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was portrayed as a change candidate, promising to end dynastic politics, ensure accountability of corrupt politicians, reform the judiciary and create jobs for young people as part of a revamped economy.

But under his rule, the economy collapsed, the cost of living soared, many of his political opponents were jailed, media freedoms were curbed and human rights violations and attacks against journalists increased.

Khan was also widely criticised for giving a nod to signing a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban that backfired, and for supporting Taliban rule in Afghanistan – not to mention controversial remarks justifying the violence against women in Pakistan and denial of education to girls in Afghanistan.

Some political analysts argue his support has dipped so much in recent years that he would have been defeated if an election had been held (as he called for) in 2023 – prison or no prison.

And yet, a Gallup poll – released in January 2024 – found he was still the most popular politician nationally, though Mr Sharif had closed the gap considerably in the last six months.

There are real concerns the PTI is not being given a fair chance to campaign. Many of its leaders are behind bars or have defected, its candidates are having to stand as independents and others are on the run. The party was also stripped of its cricket bat symbol, essential to help millions of illiterate voters choose where to mark their ballots.

Meanwhile, with just a week to go until the vote, Pakistan’s courts handed down two more sentences to Khan, who was already serving three years.

At just 35, Bhutto-Zardari is the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which came third at the last election.

But then that should come as little surprise in a country where dynastic politicians are the norm, rather than the exception.

The Oxford-educated son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto – assassinated in 2007 – and former president Asif Ali Zardari, he served as foreign minister during the coalition government which followed Imran Khan’s ousting.

Now, he and his party have produced a manifesto making a series of expensive pledges, like doubling wages, claiming the budget could be found through government cuts and subsidies for the wealthy.

It is unlikely the party will win the chance to enact these policies. But political pundits have suggested it could end up a kingmaker in a governing alliance.

However, speaking to the BBC, he said he felt that a decision between the PMLN and PTI put him “between the devil and the deep blue sea”.

What will the winner be facing?

To those looking at the 2024 election, it may appear not much has changed from six years before. Scores of candidates disqualified, jailed or coerced away from standing, journalists harassed and targeted, media on its knees and only social platforms active against a judicial-military nexus apparently supporting a chosen leader.

But in many ways, things are worse. The public is seeking relief from the chaotic politics, increasing inflation, collapsing economy and worsening security situation.

For the electorate, fights between the political elite matter little in comparison to actually reducing inflation, creating jobs for young people and securing investment for Pakistan’s long term future.

Whoever takes control in February will be facing a long to-do list.

Additional reporting by Caroline Davies in Islamabad https://beritaberitaterbaru.com/