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    Barbados Elects Its First Head of State, Replacing Queen Elizabeth

    The country’s Parliament chose Sandra Mason, the governor general, to assume the symbolic title, a decisive move to distance itself from Barbados’s colonial past.The island nation of Barbados has elected a female former jurist to become its next head of state, a symbolic position held since the 1950s by Queen Elizabeth II, as the country takes another step toward casting off its colonial past.Sandra Mason, 72, the governor general of Barbados, became the country’s first president-elect on Wednesday when she received the necessary two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament’s House of Assembly and Senate. She will be sworn in on Nov. 30, making Barbados a republic on the 55th anniversary of its independence from Britain.“We believe that the time has come for us to claim our full destiny,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in a speech after the vote.“It is a woman of the soil to whom this honor is being given,” she added.Barbados, a parliamentary democracy of about 300,000 people that is the easternmost island in the Caribbean, announced in September that it would remove Elizabeth as its head of state. At the ceremony, Ms. Mason read from a speech prepared by Ms. Mottley that was explicit in its rejection of imperialism.The speech highlighted the urgency of self-governance, quoting a warning by Errol Walton Barrow, the first prime minister of Barbados, against “loitering on colonial premises.”“The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” Ms. Mason said. “Barbadians want a Barbadian head of state.”Barbados has since become the latest Caribbean island to shed the symbolic role of the queen and pursue the formation of a republic. Guyana led earlier republican movements in the Caribbean, cutting ties to the queen in 1970, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, and then Dominica.Ms. Mason, who has been the governor general, a position appointed by the queen, since 2018, had been nominated to take on the position of president, subject to the parliamentary vote, the prime minister announced in August. Ms. Mottley said other steps in the island’s transition included work on a new constitution, which would begin in January.“Barbados shall move forward on the first of December as the newest republic in the global community of nations,” Ms. Mottley said on Wednesday.People in Barbados and its government were “conscious that we are going not without concern on the part of some, but with absolute determination that at 55, we must know who we are, we must live who we are, we must be who we are,” she said.Dame Sandra Prunella Mason was born on Jan. 17, 1949, in St. Philip, Barbados. She was educated on the island at Queen’s College, attended the University of the West Indies and was the first woman from Barbados to graduate from the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago.In the early 1990s, Ms. Mason served as an ambassador to Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. In 2008, she became the first woman to serve as a judge on the Barbados Court of Appeal.Ambassador Noel Lynch, whose own appointment as Barbados’s representative in Washington, D.C., had to be endorsed by the queen, said in an interview that Ms. Mason’s judicial experience made her “well versed” for the work that needs to be done as the nation transitions to a republic.Ms. Mason’s election is also notable because both the prime minister and the head of state will soon be Barbadian women. “Even if it is mostly ceremonial,” Mr. Lynch said in an interview, “you have got to have confidence if the president and the prime minister have got confidence in each other.”After she is sworn in, Ms. Mason will become the ceremonial leader of an island that is facing labor shortages, the effects of climate change and economic difficulties due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its tourism sector, the prime minister said.In her speech after the parliamentary vote, Ms. Mottley said the real work would begin the day after the island becomes a full republic.“We look forward, therefore, to Dec. 1, 2021,” she said. “But we do so confident that we have just elected from among us a woman who is uniquely and passionately Barbadian.” More

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    India's Farmer Protesters Are Confronting Modi Head-On

    LAKHIMPUR KHERI, India — The jeep plowed into the protesters, sending bodies tumbling, the windshield cracking against bone. The son of a prominent politician was then accused of murder. Rifle-toting security personnel flooded the area. Tempers flared so hotly that local officials shut down the internet.With that series of events, a yearlong protest by farmers against the Indian government escalated into a dangerous new phase.Frustrated at what they see as intransigence by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, over a series of new agricultural laws, the farmers have taken a more confrontational approach with the country’s top leaders. They are now shadowing top officials of Mr. Modi’s government as they travel and campaign, ensuring their grievances will be difficult to ignore.The farmers blame government supporters for the jeep incident in early October, which left four of their number dead and killed four others, including a local journalist. But the incident shows that farmers who have camped outside the Indian capital of New Delhi for months are increasingly prepared to take their protest directly to government officials’ doorsteps.Jagdeep Singh talking about his late father, Nachhattar Singh, in Namdar Purva.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesOne of the two vehicles set ablaze after a convoy rammed into protesters.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times“This is now a fight for those who died,” Jagdeep Singh, whose 62-year-old father was among those run over by the jeep, said from the family farm. “And those who are living, this is now a fight for all of us until we die.”Elsewhere, under the harsh light of an LED lamp in an unfinished brick farmhouse, Ramandeep Kaur wept over the loss of her cousin, Lovepreet Singh, a 19-year-old who was studying English in hopes of getting an education and living in Australia.“Until they take back those laws,” she said, “the farmers’ agitation will continue.”The deadly incident took place in a remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and a prize in elections to be held early next year. The protesters were shadowing top members of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., as they began to campaign.The farmers’ goal is not necessarily to defeat the B.J.P., whom polls suggest will cruise to an easy victory. The party’s top elected leader, Yogi Adityanath, is a Hindu monk and protégé of Mr. Modi who is popular with the party’s Hindu base, and the opposition is fragmented. Instead, the farmers aim to draw more national and international attention to their plight.The protesting farmers think that Mr. Modi’s market-friendly overhaul last year of the nation’s agricultural laws will put them out of business. India’s Supreme Court has suspended implementation, and the government has proposed a series of amendments. The farmers balked, saying they would settle for nothing less than their full repeal.Further action could take years, given the court’s full docket, but the farmers fear the suspension will be lifted if they let up.No one disputes that the current system, which incentivizes farmers to grow a huge surplus of grains, needs to be fixed. The protesters fear the speed — the laws were passed in mere weeks — and the breadth of the changes will send the price of crops plunging. Mr. Modi’s government argues that introducing market forces will help fix the system.Lovepreet Singh’s family, including his mother, Satwinder Kaur, and father, Satnam Singh, mourning his death.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesLovepreet Singh’s father displaying his son’s photograph.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times“The composition of farming has to somewhat change,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a B.J.P. spokesman on economic issues. “The farm sector needs heavy investment, and that can come from the private sector.”Mr. Modi has responded to the protesters by waiting them out, a strategy apparently driven by the calculation that their movement does not represent a coherent political threat. Many of the protesters come from India’s minority Sikh community, while the B.J.P. draws its political power from rallying the country’s Hindu majority.“‘Farmers’ is not a category that the B.J.P. uses,” said Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University. “They talk about the poor and they speak the language of caste and obviously the language of religion.”Farmers have sought to get not only the B.J.P.’s attention, but the attention of the nation. A series of confrontations with B.J.P. leaders since September may not sway the election in Uttar Pradesh, but it could revive support across India and even globally for a protest movement that appeared to have been running out of steam, Mr. Verniers said.Though the protests have been largely peaceful, they have spurred occasional bouts of violence. In January protesters and the police clashed after some farmers drove their tractors into New Delhi. Protest leaders have distanced themselves from a shocking incident earlier this month at the farmer protest camp outside New Delhi, in which a group from a Sikh warrior sect killed and cut off the hand of a lower-caste Sikh, a Dalit, who they accused of desecrating a holy book.The B.J.P. needs the campaign in Uttar Pradesh to go without a hitch, despite the party’s lead in the polls. The party is trying to bounce back from the coronavirus’s second wave, which hit after Mr. Modi declared victory over the pandemic and showed the country’s lack of preparedness. Uttar Pradesh was hit particularly hard, with bodies of suspected victims washing up on the banks of India’s sacred Ganges River.Police officers standing guard outside the house of Raman Kashyap, a journalist who was killed in the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesRam Dulare Kashyap, right, father of Raman Kashyap, speaking with reporters about the death of his son.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesWhile Mr. Modi, normally voluble, has said little about the farmers, other leaders in his party have embraced a language of force to rally supporters against them.In Haryana, a state neighboring Uttar Pradesh that is also governed by the B.J.P., a local official was captured on video ordering the police to use violence to break up one gathering. Farmers responded by breaking through police barricades outside a government office. The tensions eased only after the government agreed to investigate the official’s conduct.A week later, in Uttar Pradesh, Rakesh Tikait, a 59-year-old farm union leader, rallied tens of thousands of farmers, declaring an all-out campaign against the B.J.P.Earlier this month, farmers gathered again in Haryana and surrounded the site of a planned visit by the state’s top elected official, forcing him to cancel.Days before the incident in Uttar Pradesh, Ajay Mishra, Mr. Modi’s junior minister of home affairs, warned farmers in a speech to “behave, or we will teach you how to behave. It will take just two minutes.”Outraged, a group of farmers stood on a one-lane road in the village of Tikunia, carrying black flags they planned to wave at Mr. Mishra, who was visiting his constituency with his son, Ashish Mishra, and other party members.Farmers protested by driving their tractors toward New Delhi in January.Dinesh Joshi/Associated PressRakesh Tikait, a leader of the protesting farmers and spokesman for the Bhartiya Kisan Union, met with supporters in February to discuss the farm reforms proposed by India’s government.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesThe farmers received word that Mr. Mishra’s plans had changed and started to disperse when Ashish Mishra’s convoy came hurtling at them from behind, according to video footage and police officials. After the jeep rammed into the crowd, the farmers attacked the convoy with bamboo sticks and set two of the vehicles ablaze. By the end of the day, eight people were dead, including three people in the convoy.The farmers claim that they saw Ashish Mishra, known to villagers as Monu, in the convoy and blamed him for the incident. The minister has denied his family’s involvement. The police arrested Ashish Mishra, saying he failed to cooperate with the investigation, along with nine others in the murder case.The victims’ families said they have little hope of justice. “Long live Monu,” village walls proclaimed in graffiti next to a brightly painted lotus flower, the B.J.P. symbol. The Mishra family home, a sprawling compound hidden behind high walls and flowering bougainvillea, hovers over shanties.Opposition leaders have tried to capitalize on the moment, but many were prevented or delayed from reaching the victims’ families. Some, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of the Congress party, were detained.“All I can say is if, as a nation, we have a conscience,” she said, “then we cannot forget this.”The remains of burnt wood from the cremation of Lovepreet Singh in the field outside his house.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times More

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    In Hungary’s Heartland, Orban Faces a Unified Challenge to His Rule

    The country’s normally fractious opposition has rallied around a conservative mayor who just might be able to oust the authoritarian prime minister after more than a decade.HODMEZOVASARHELY, Hungary — A devout Catholic, he abhors abortion as “murder” and once voted for Viktor Orban, Hungary’s pugnacious populist leader, impressed by his promises to root out corruption and end the disarray left by years of leftist rule.On Sunday, however, Peter Marki-Zay, the mayor of this town in Hungary’s conservative rural heartland, became the most potent threat yet to the decade-long stranglehold on the country by Mr. Orban and his combative brand of far-right nationalism.Mr. Marki-Zay, 49, victorious in a primary election that brought together six previously squabbling opposition parties, is now the standard-bearer for a rickety political alliance that will challenge and, according to opinion polls, perhaps defeat Mr. Orban and his political machine, Fidesz, in legislative elections next year.Previous challengers hoping to unseat Mr. Orban, who has been prime minister since 2010, mostly channeled the frustrations and anger of a liberal elite in Budapest. This time, the mayor is fighting Fidesz on its own terms and home turf — small towns and villages where many voters, Mr. Marki-Zay included, once found comfort in Mr. Orban’s conservative message but grew disenchanted with what they see as his corruption, hypocrisy and authoritarian tendencies.“Orban’s only real ideology now is corruption,” Mr. Marki-Zay, the mayor of Hodmezovasarhely, (pronounced HOD-may-zur-vash-ar-hay), in southern Hungary, said in an interview in Budapest.Opposition supporters in Mr. Marki-Zay’s hometown, Hodmezovasarhely, casting ballots on Sunday in a primary to choose a single candidate to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban in elections next year.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesMany voters, particularly in Budapest, he added, do not share his own conservative views, “but they know I don’t steal and can beat Orban. I’m not corrupt.”Janos Csanyi, a 78-year-old former porcelain factory worker who used to vote for Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party, scoffed at Mr. Orban’s oft-repeated claim that, by demonizing migrants, many of whom are Muslim, and confronting the European Union over media freedom, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and other issues, Hungary is defending Europe’s traditional, Christian values.“I don’t understand what he is talking about,” Mr. Csanyi said, resting in the sun on a park bench in Hodmezovasarhely’s main square, adding that he had other priorities. “There are Ten Commandments and a very important one of these is: ‘Don’t Steal.’”An anti-corruption stance resonates loudly in Hodmezovasarhely. A former Fidesz mayor and a close associate of Mr. Orban, Janos Lazar, is part owner of a vast hunting lodge on a landed estate outside town, and a contract for an E.U.-funded street lighting project when it was controlled by Fidesz went to a company controlled by Mr. Orban’s son-in-law, upsetting many.Mr. Orban’s party had previously been Hodmezovasarhely’s only serious political force.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesThe European Union’s anti-graft agency investigated the lighting project and in 2018 reported “serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” in the awarding of contracts. Fidesz-appointed prosecutors declined to take up the case.“The lights don’t even work. When the sun goes down you can’t see anything,” said Norbert Forrai, a local resident who, despairing at Hungary’s direction under Mr. Orban, moved to England but recently returned home “to be part of the change that I hope is finally coming.”Fidesz still has many ways to block that change. It has a firm grip on most media outlets, and controls an extensive patronage network rooted in jobs in the state sector and in companies controlled by Mr. Orban’s associates.This gives the governing party far more levers to influence voters than the region’s other populist strongmen, one of whom, Andrej Babis, the Czech Republic’s billionaire prime minister, this month suffered an electoral defeat at the hands of a center-right coalition.Trained to savage Mr. Orban’s opponents as traitorous liberals serving the Hungarian-born financier George Soros, pro-Fidesz media outlets have struggled to find a new line of attack against an unexpected conservative opponent. A news portal close to Fidesz gave up trying over the weekend and claimed that Mr. Marki-Zay was also an agent of Mr. Soros.Mr. Marki-Zay with supporters at a campaign event in Budapest last week.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesFidesz has been so wrong-footed by the primaries that, at its local headquarters in Hodmezovasarhely last week, it was still collecting signatures for a petition denouncing a candidate who had already lost — the liberal mayor of Budapest.The Budapest mayor, Gergely Karacsony, withdrew from the primaries after the first round last month and urged his liberal base to rally behind Mr. Marki-Zay, a former marketing manager with seven children, who lived for five years in Canada and the United States.“We have to accept political reality. It is not liberals or greens who can beat right-wing populists,” Mr. Karacsony said in an interview. A future government led by a churchgoing provincial mayor, he added, “will obviously have different strategies than those I would pursue,” but “the important thing is to pick a candidate who can win against Orban.”And, he said, “Nationalist populism is most successful in small towns and rural areas where people are afraid.” He added, “Marki-Zay is a mayor in one of these places and understands the fears and problems of these people.”“We have to accept political reality. It is not liberals or greens who can beat right-wing populists,” Mayor Gergely Karacsony of Budapest said.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesThe populist wave that swept across Eastern and Central Europe and other parts of the world over the past decade was, he said, in the process of “passing” following the defeat of President Donald J. Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and Mr. Babis in the Czech Republic.“Now it is up to Hungary and Poland,” Mr. Karacsony said, referring to his own country’s election next year and elections in 2023 that will decide whether Poland’s nationalist governing party, Law and Justice, hangs on to power.While describing himself as “first and foremost a Catholic,” Mr. Marki-Zay insists he respects the separation of church and state in Hungary and that his personal views on things like abortion will not shape his policies should he become prime minister. Mr. Orban, he added, was never really a conservative, “just an opportunist.”“He openly betrays Europe, the United States, NATO and Christian values,” he said, referring to Mr. Orban’s warm relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and China’s Communist Party leadership. “He is a crook.”Counting votes in Budapest on Sunday. The primary election brought together six previously squabbling opposition parties.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesHe expressed dismay that right-wing pundits and politicians in the United States like Tucker Carlson, who visited Hungary in August and lavished praise on Mr. Orban, view the country as a bastion of conservative values and a lodestar for those who value liberty. “Tucker Carlson forgot to mention where Orban stands on China and Putin,” Mr. Marki-Zay said.Mr. Marki-Zay shocked Fidesz in 2018 when he easily won a by-election in his hometown after the death of the incumbent, a supporter of Mr. Orban. A year later, he won a regular mayoral election with an even bigger margin.The end of Fidesz’s previous near-monopoly over local affairs rattled the party faithful.“It came as a big surprise for us all,” said Tomas Cseri, a Fidesz member of the municipal council.“If this could happen in a place like this it can happen anywhere,” Mr. Cseri added. “The longer you are in power the more and more people think it is time for a change.”“Fear is what keeps the whole system together,” said Imre Kendi, an architect who runs a construction business in Hodmezovasarhely, referring to Mr. Orban’s political machine.Akos Stiller for The New York TimesHe acknowledged that Mr. Marki-Zay is a more threatening opponent to the party than the losing left-wing candidate in the final round of the opposition primary, but, echoing a line promoted by Fidesz’s propaganda apparatus, dismissed him as a Trojan horse for leftists in the six-party coalition and denounced corruption allegations against Fidesz as a lie.“If we had stolen so much I would not be still riding that,” he said, pointing to an old bicycle parked against a lamppost.Still, anger against what many local residents, including former fans of Mr. Orban, see as theft and bullying by Fidesz is widespread.Imre Kendi, an architect who runs a construction business, used to vote for the governing party and once served as an adviser to Mr. Lazar when Fidesz still controlled the town. But he fell out with the former mayor, and soon found himself not being paid for money he was owed for a government contract, which he said forced him to declare bankruptcy.“Fear is what keeps the whole system together,” he said.But, he predicted, “change started here in this small town and now it is going to continue around the nation.”Portraits of Mr. Marki-Zay at a campaign event in Budapest.Akos Stiller for The New York Times More

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    After Iraqi Election, a Shiite Leader Emerges as an Unlikely U.S. Ally

    The U.S. once threatened to kill Muqtada al-Sadr as his militia battled occupying forces. Now, the powerful cleric is helping Washington by keeping Iran at bay.BAGHDAD — Standing at a podium with an Iraqi flag by his side, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr looked the part of a statesman as he read a postelection address.In the 18 years since he formed the Mahdi Army militia to battle occupying U.S. forces, the onetime firebrand has refined his delivery. His formal Arabic is more proficient, and his voice more assured. Looking up to address the camera, he raised a finger in emphasis in remarks carefully crafted to send messages to both the United States and Iran after his party picked up seats in last week’s parliamentary election.In 2004, as Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters took on U.S. forces with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Baghdad and across the southern provinces, the United States pledged to kill or capture the Shiite cleric.Next to Al Qaeda, he posed the biggest threat to the American occupation in Iraq, miring U.S. troops in fighting in the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities as the military fought both Sunni and Shiite-based insurgencies.A member of Mr. al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army,  firing a rocket-propelled grenade toward American tanks in Sadr City in 2004.Joao Silva for The New York TimesAlthough still unpredictable, the cleric is consistently an Iraqi nationalist and now seems to be emerging as an arm’s-length American ally, helping the United States by preventing Iraq from tilting further into Iran’s axis.“All embassies are welcome, as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs and government formation,” Mr. al-Sadr said in a reference aimed at the United States, whose embassy was stormed two years ago by what were believed to be members of Kitaib Hezbollah, one of the biggest Iranian-backed Iraqi militias. “Iraq is for Iraqis only.”In preliminary results from last Sunday’s elections, the Sadrist Movement gained roughly 20 seats, giving it up to 73 seats in the 329-member parliament. That leaves Mr. al-Sadr with the biggest single bloc in Parliament and a decisive voice in choosing the next Iraqi prime minister.In his remarks, the cleric made a pointed reference to Iranian-backed militias, some of which have grown more powerful than Iraq’s official security forces and pose a threat to the United States in Iraq.“From now on, arms must be restricted in the hands of the state,” he said in the address, broadcast on Iraqi state television. “The use of weapons shall be prevented outside of the state’s framework.” Even for those claiming to be the “resistance” to the U.S. presence, he said, “it is time for the people to live in peace, without occupation, terrorism, militias, kidnapping and fear.”The self-styled resistance groups are the same Iranian-backed militias that launched drone and rocket attacks on the American Embassy and U.S. military bases after the U.S. killing of a leading Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official in Baghdad last year.An aide to the Shiite cleric said disarming groups that are not under government control would also apply to Mr. al-Sadr’s own militia forces.“No country wants forces that are stronger than its army,” said Dhia al-Assadi, a former top official in the cleric’s political movement. He said Mr. al-Sadr would leave it to the incoming government to decide whether U.S. forces should remain in Iraq.The United States has agreed to withdraw all combat troops from the country by Dec. 31, although Washington does not consider its troops there currently to be on a combat mission. Under that agreement, the number of U.S. forces — about 2,000 in Iraq at Baghdad’s invitation — is expected to remain the same.American troops fought the Mahdi Army in Najaf in 2004 on a mission to capture or kill the cleric. Then U.S. officials changed their minds. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times“That is labeling or classifying the troops as trainers and not fighters,” said Mr. al-Assadi, who served as the head of Mr. al-Sadr’s former Ahrar political bloc. “The decision should be revisited again and decided by Parliament and the government.”Mr. al-Assadi said he does not foresee any change in an existing ban on senior officials of the Sadrist Movement from meeting with U.S. or British officials.Once a fierce sectarian defender of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Mr. al-Sadr has expanded his reach in recent years, reaching out to Sunnis, Christians and other minorities. After telling his followers to protect Christians, young men from Mr. Sadr’s stronghold in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad’s Sadr City began wearing large crosses around their necks in a sign of solidarity. In a previous election, the Sadrists formed an alliance with the Communist Party, which is officially atheist.Externally, he has fostered relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at a time when those countries’ Sunni Arab rulers were hostile to Iraq’s Shiite-led government. Domestically, one of his main demands is to clean up Iraq’s dysfunctional and deeply corrupt political system, which appoints people to senior government posts on the basis of party loyalty rather than competence.“He has grown and evolved,” said Nabeel Khoury, a former U.S. State Department official who served in Iraq in 2003. “But I think to some extent we underestimated him in the very beginning.”Mr. Khoury said that he was approached in 2003 by Mr. al-Sadr’s aides as Iraq’s first governing council was being decided.“We had coffee, we talked and they said Sadr was interested in playing a political role,” said Mr. Khoury, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. But Iraqi political figures who had returned from exile did not want Mr. al-Sadr involved, Mr. Khoury said, and the United States followed their counsel.A few months later, the cleric formed his Mahdi Army militia to fight occupying troops.When U.S. forces had an opportunity to kill Mr. al-Sadr during a battle in Najaf, Washington told them to stand down, also on the advice of the Iraqi expatriate politicians, said Mr. Khoury, adding: “They knew if Sadr was killed it would become a big problem for them.”Mr. al-Sadr, 47, is the youngest son of a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein in 1999 after demanding religious freedom for Iraq’s Shiites. The Sadr family commands the loyalty of millions, many of them poor and disposed, most of whom believe his election win was ordained by God.Mr. al-Sadr at the podium. Once a firebrand enemy of the U.S., he has adopted a more conciliatory stance, emerging as an arm’s-length ally of Washington and one of the country’s major political players.Alaa Al-Marjani/ReutersIn Sadr City, the Sadrist organization provides food, support for orphans and widows and many other services the Iraqi government fails to deliver.“He would like to achieve certain objectives, and the main objective is social justice,” said Mr. al-Assadi of the cleric’s aims. He likened Mr. al-Sadr’s goals to those of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi.But unlike the Black civil rights leader or India’s pacifist icon, Mr. al-Sadr has overseen an armed militia that has waxed and waned but never entirely gone away.The Mahdi Army has been blamed for fueling Iraq’s past sectarian violence. As it battled with Sunni fighters of Al Qaeda for supremacy in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, Mr. al-Sadr’s fighters were accused of running death squads and conducting sectarian cleansings of Baghdad neighborhoods.Mr. al-Sadr has said that not all the fighters were under his control.In 2008, after losing a fight with Iraqi government forces for control of Basra, Mr. al-Sadr — who lacks the religious credentials of his father — abruptly left for Iran to pursue his theological studies.Yet he has long had an uneasy relationship with Tehran, and while he cannot afford to antagonize its leaders, he advocates an Iraq free of both Iranian and American influence.“I think he has his own space in which he walks, and his base is not dictated by any country, especially not the Iranians,” said Elie Abouaoun, a director at the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S. government-funded think tank. “I think that he is much less sectarian than many, many others because he has a nationalist vision of Iraq.” More

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    U.S. Regains Seat at U.N. Human Rights Council, 3 Years After Quitting

    The Trump administration called the 47-nation council hypocritical and said it was vilifying Israel. The Biden administration says the U.S. can be more effective as a member.The United States on Thursday regained a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 because of what it called the body’s hypocrisy and anti-Israel prejudice.In seeking to rejoin the 47-member council, the Biden administration, which has taken a far more supportive stance toward the United Nations than its predecessor, argued that American interests would be better served if the United States were a member seeking change from within.The United States won a three-year term for one of 18 open seats on the council, starting in January, in a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.Based in Geneva, the council is regarded as the world’s most important human rights body. While it has no criminal enforcement or sanctioning powers, the council can undertake investigations that help shape the global image of countries. It can also exert influence on their behavior if they are deemed to have poor rights records.But the council has a wide array of critics who argue that many of its elected members are human-rights abusers themselves, pointing to examples like China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. The presence of such countries on the council, critics say, undercuts the legitimacy of its work.Many also object to a permanent item on the council’s agenda concerning rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, which has become the basis for its numerous resolutions condemning Israel.The Biden administration’s success at rejoining the council may now bring about a test of its stated goal of strengthening America’s human-rights advocacy around the world. Many conservative Republicans opposed rejoining, and there is no guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from the council again, should a Republican win the White House back in 2024.“The Council provides a forum where we can have open discussions about ways we and our partners can improve,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who announced the intent to rejoin the council in February, said Thursday after the election results.“At the same time, it also suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention on Israel and the membership of several states with egregious human rights records,” he said. “Together, we must push back against attempts to subvert the ideals upon which the Human Rights Council was founded.”Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke by video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year.United Nations, via Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAs if to underscore the challenges cited by Mr. Blinken, several countries with poor or questionable human-rights records also won seats on the council on Thursday, among them Cameroon, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates and Honduras.With its return to the Human Rights Council, the Biden administration further reversed its predecessor’s moves toward American isolationism.President Biden has revived U.S. membership in the World Health Organization, re-entered the Paris climate accord and restored funding to U.N. agencies that had been cut. Those agencies include the United Nations Population Fund, a leading supplier of maternal health and family planning services, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians classified as refugees.Despite the revived U.S. engagement, diplomats and rights groups in Geneva did not foresee an easy return to the kind of influence wielded by the United States at the Human Rights Council during President Barack Obama’s tenure.The United States faces a more assertive China that is pushing back aggressively at criticism of its repression in the Xinjiang region and is pressuring economically vulnerable countries into supporting initiatives that shift attention away from civil and political rights.The United States, by contrast, is short of diplomatic staff in Geneva to promote its human rights agenda. President Biden’s chosen ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva is still awaiting congressional confirmation, and he has yet to nominate an ambassador to the Human Rights Council.Under the voting system for open seats in the Human Rights Council, slates of candidates are divided into five geographic regions, and any member of the General Assembly is eligible to run except those completing two consecutive terms on the council. Voting is by secret ballot. A simple majority of 97 votes is needed to win. In cases where the number of candidates exceeds the number of open seats, the biggest vote-getter wins.This year, however, the number of candidates from each region equaled the number of that region’s open seats, meaning none of the seats were contested. Rights groups outside the United Nations called that part of the problem.“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election,’” Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement ahead of the vote. “Electing serious rights abusers like Cameroon, Eritrea and the U.A.E. sends a terrible signal that U.N. member states aren’t serious about the council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”The other newly elected or re-elected members included Gambia, Benin and Somalia from the African group; Qatar, Kazakhstan, India and Malaysia from the Asian group; Argentina and Paraguay from the Latin America and Caribbean group; Luxembourg and Finland from the Western group; and Lithuania and Montenegro from the Eastern Europe group.Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva, and Lara Jakes from Washington. More

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    Czechs Defeat a Populist, Offering a Road Map for Toppling Strongmen

    A wide range of parties in the Czech Republic banded together despite their differences to oppose Andrej Babis, the country’s populist prime minister. Opposition parties in Hungary are hoping to duplicate the feat.ROZDROJOVICE, Czech Republic — Marie Malenova, a Czech pensioner in a tidy, prosperous village in South Moravia, had not voted since 1989, the year her country held its first free elections after more than four decades of communist rule.Last Friday, however, she decided to cast a vote again, an event so unusual that her disbelieving family recorded her change of heart, taking photographs of her slipping her ballot into a big white box at the village hall.She said she did not much like the people she voted for, a coalition of previously divided center-right parties, describing them as “a smaller evil among all our many thieves.” But they at least had a simple and clear message: We can beat Andrej Babis, the Czech Republic’s populist, billionaire prime minister.“I wanted a change,” Ms. Malenova said, “and I wanted something that could beat Babis.”For the past decade, populists like Mr. Babis have often seemed politically invincible, rising to power across Central and Eastern Europe as part of a global trend of strongman leaders disdainful of democratic norms. But on Saturday, the seemingly unbeatable Mr. Babis was defeated because opposition parties put ideological differences aside and joined together to drive out a leader they fear has eroded the country’s democracy.Petr Fiala, center, a former political scientist and university rector who led one of two opposition coalitions, at a news conference on Saturday in Prague.EPA, via ShutterstockTheir success could have major repercussions in the region and beyond. In Hungary and in Poland, where nationalist leaders have damaged democratic institutions and sought to undermine the European Union, opposition leaders are mobilizing, trying to forge unified fronts and oust populist leaders in upcoming elections.“Populism is beatable,” said Otto Eibl, the head of the political science department at Masaryk University in Brno, the South Moravian capital. “The first step in beating a populist leader is to suppress individual egos and to compromise in the interest of bringing a change.”The biggest showdown could come in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promoted himself as Europe’s standard-bearer for “illiberal democracy,” while his Fidesz party has steadily stripped away democratic checks, squeezing independent media and the judiciary. Mr. Orban has staked out right-wing political positions — including hostility to immigration, the European Union and L.G.B.T.Q. rights (if also proving adept at adopting left-wing welfare policies) — that have been emulated by his allies in Poland, the governing Law and Justice party.In recent years, champions of liberal democracy have been confounded in their efforts to battle their way back into power against nationalist leaders skilled at stoking fear and presenting themselves as saviors. Faced with well-oiled and well-financed political machines, like Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party or Mr. Babis’s party, Ano, opposition forces have been notoriously divided — until now.Prime Minister Andrej Babis after the election results were announced on Saturday in Prague.Petr David Josek/Associated PressThis weekend, six Hungarian parties will complete a weekslong opposition primary race, the first of its kind, to whittle down the list of potential contenders in every electoral district to oppose Mr. Orban’s party. The coalition includes groups ranging from nationalist conservatives to leftists, who disagree on most things but share a fervent desire to dispatch Mr. Orban.In Poland, Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and European Council president, returned to Poland this summer to rally the main opposition party and people who often do not vote, and lure support from a plethora of other opposition groups.The appeals for opposition unity have also been evident in Russia, where parliamentary elections held last month were neither free nor fair. Allies of the jailed opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny had been trying to persuade voters to rally behind a single opposition candidate in each constituency, whether they liked the candidate or not, in the name of trying to win a single seat and breaking President Vladimir V. Putin’s complete stranglehold on power.It did not work — partly because most real opposition candidates were kept off the ballot, but also because Mr. Putin’s government pressured companies to remove a “smart voting” app that the opposition was using to coordinate its campaign.Mr. Babis, right, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary last month in Prague.David W. Cerny/ReutersLike Mr. Putin, Europe’s populist leaders claim to be defending traditional Christian values against decadent liberals, but unlike Mr. Putin, they have to hold real elections. Until recently, they were helped by the fact that opposition parties splintered the vote, meaning that few of those parties had much chance of beating highly organized governing parties.Those governing parties have also gained significant control over media in their countries. In the Czech Republic, Mr. Babis owns a media holding company with newspapers, internet portals and other news outlets. In Hungary, Mr. Orban has placed state television and much of private media under the control of loyal allies or business cronies.Peter Kreko, the director of Political Capital, a research group in Budapest, described Hungary as “the most captured state with the most centralized media environment” in Europe. Yet he said the new mobilization by Hungary’s opposition parties could change the political dynamic there.“They have a good message: If you fight against populists, things can be different,” Mr. Kreko said.In the Czech elections, that was largely the theme. While Mr. Babis is seen as less extreme than Mr. Orban, he has alienated many people in the Czech Republic. They see him as a bully whose wealth and corporate ties have given him an inordinate amount of power.The Russian opposition politicians Aleksei A. Navalny, right, Lyubov Sobol and Ivan Zhdanov in February 2020 at a rally in Moscow.Shamil Zhumatov/ReutersMarie Jilkova, a successful anti-Babis candidate in South Moravia from one of the two coalitions of parties that came together to oppose the prime minister, said that banding together to confront Mr. Babis and his party machine “was, for us, the only way to survive — there was no alternative.”Her own party, the Christian Democrats, differs on issues like abortion and gay marriage from the more centrist parties in her coalition, so, she said, “we agreed that we would not talk about these things during the campaign.”Faced with a united bloc of center-right opponents, Mr. Babis and his Ano party veered to the right, railing against immigration and the European Union. He invited Mr. Orban to campaign with him.Since he first entered politics nearly a decade ago, Mr. Babis has been inundated with questions about his financial affairs and those of his conglomerate, Agrofert. A week before the election, documents surfaced as part of the Pandora Papers project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showing how he shuffled more than $20 million through offshore shell companies in 2009 to buy property in France.Experts disagree on whether the disclosure had a significant effect on the race, but the revelations clearly rattled Mr. Babis.“He was desperate to find issues that would scare people and convince them that only he could save them,” Ms. Jilkova said in an interview in Brno. “Fortunately, it didn’t work.”Nationally, the opposition coalitions won 108 of 200 seats in the Parliament, a clear majority.In Rozdrojovice, where Ms. Malenova cast her first vote since 1989, Ms. Jilkova’s coalition benefited from a high turnout and won 37.3 percent of the vote, a big jump on what its component parties got when they ran separately four years ago.Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, on Sunday in Warsaw. He has been trying to rally opposition support.Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta Via ReutersPetr Jerousek, who runs a wine business and owns a pub in Rozdrojovice, said his customers did not usually talk much about politics, but, faced with a choice between Mr. Babis and his foes, “they sometimes got very excited in their discussion.”Mr. Jerousek was ecstatic about the final results late Saturday. “People finally opened their eyes,” he said. “They have had enough.”Petr Stransky, a former police officer who now drives a municipal bus, was despondent. “I don’t like disorder and like things to be clear in society,” he said, bemoaning Mr. Babis’s defeat at the hands of what he said was unfair ganging up by opposition parties.“When we were fighting as kids in the schoolyard it was always one against one. Five kids fighting against one was cowardly. It was clear who would win,” he said. “This election was the same. It was not fair.”The mayor of the village, Daniel Strasky, said that while he wanted to see Mr. Babis go, he did not vote because he objected to an alliance between his own party, which represents mayors and other local dignitaries, and the Pirates, a rambunctious group popular with young voters.But, he added, the loveless electoral marriage was probably worthwhile because it helped defeat Mr. Babis, whose handouts to pensioners, young rail travelers and other budget-busting measures offended the mayor’s belief in financial discipline.Mr. Strasky was also distressed by the prime minister’s anti-immigration tirades, especially because a family from Vietnam runs the village’s only food store.“I and everyone else in the village are so glad they are here,” the mayor said. “Nobody else would ever run that shop.”A demonstration on Sunday in Warsaw in support of the European Union. Poland’s governing party has long been at odds with the bloc over rule-of-law issues.Wojtek Radwanski/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBenjamin Novak More

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    How Éric Zemmour Is Turning French Politics Upside Down

    Éric Zemmour, an anti-immigrant writer and TV commentator, is surging in opinion polls before presidential elections next year — and he is not yet a candidate.PARIS — He is the anti-immigration son of parents from Algeria. He styles himself as the great defender of France’s Christian civilization, though he himself is Jewish. He channels Donald J. Trump in an anti-establishment campaign. And he is now scrambling the battle lines before France’s presidential election in April.The meteoric rise of Éric Zemmour, a far-right author and TV pundit, has turned France’spolitics upside down.Until a few weeks ago, most had expected France’s next presidential elections to be a predictable rematch between President Emmanuel Macron and the far-right Marine Le Pen that, polls showed, left voters who wanted alternatives deeply dissatisfied.Though still not a declared candidate, Mr. Zemmour, 63, shot to No. 2 in a poll of likely voters last week, disrupting campaign strategies across the board, even beyond those of Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen.“The French want to upset a political order that hasn’t won them over, and Éric Zemmour appears to be the bowling ball that’s going to knock down all the pins,” said Pascal Perrineau, a political scientist at Sciences Po University specializing in elections and the right.Mr. Perrineau warned that voters were not seriously focused yet on the elections and that polls could be volatile.Yet candidates are not taking any chances.Mr. Macron’s campaign has focused on winning support on the right and forcing a showdown with Ms. Le Pen, in the belief that the French would reject her party in the second round of voting, as they have for decades.Now it is far less clear whom he would meet in a runoff: A strong showing in the first round could propel Mr. Zemmour into the second one, or it could split the far-right electorate to allow a center-right candidate to qualify for the finals.After weeks of ignoring Mr. Zemmour, Mr. Macron is now criticizing him, though not by name, while government ministers and other Macron allies have unleashed a barrage of attacks.Mr. Zemmour is the author of several books, and a star on the right-wing CNews network. Nicolas Tucat/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMr. Zemmour’s rise has been most unsettling for Ms. Le Pen, who is plummeting in the polls — so much so that her own father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party founder, said that he would support Mr. Zemmour if the writer were in a stronger position.Ms. Le Pen has for years tried to broaden her base with a so-called un-demonizing strategy of moving her nationalist, anti-immigrant party from the most extreme xenophobic positions that it was known for under her father. Now she finds herself in the unusual position of being outflanked on the right.Mr. Zemmour became one of France’s best-selling authors in the past decade by writing books on the nation’s decline — fueled, he said, by the loss of traditional French and Christian values, the immigration of Muslim Africans bent on a reverse colonization of France, the rise of feminism and the loss of virility, and a “great replacement” of white people, a conspiracy theory that has been cited by gunmen in multiple mass shootings.As the child of Algerians who settled in metropolitan France, he has presented himself as the embodiment of France’s successful system of assimilation. He has said that the failure to integrate recent generations of Muslim immigrants lies with the new arrivals, who hate France, and not with a system that others say has not kept up with the times.Mr. Zemmour’s influence rose to an entirely new level in the past two years after he became the star of CNews, a new Fox-style news network that gave him a platform to expound on his views every evening.His supporters include voters most deeply shaken by the social forces that have roiled French society more recently and that they now lump into “wokisme” — a #MeToo movement that has led to the fall of powerful men; a racial awakening challenging France’s image of itself as a colorblind society; the emergence of a new generation questioning the principles of the French Republic; and the perceived growing threat of an American-inspired vision of society.“In its history, France has always had a strong cultural identity, but now there’s deep anxiety about that identity,” Mr. Perrineau said. “People feel that their culture, their way of life and their political system, all is being changed. It’s enough.”Mr. Zemmour at a book promotion event in Nice last month.Valery Hache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“Éric Zemmour plays on that very well, on this nostalgia for the past, and this fear of no longer being a great power, of dissolving in a conglomerate that we don’t understand, whether it’s Europe or globalization or the Americanization of culture,” he added.In the 2017 election, Mr. Macron was the new face who overturned the existing political order. But during his presidency, “the new world of Emmanuel Macron has come to look a lot like the old world,” disillusioning voters, Mr. Perrineau said.Philippe Olivier, a close aide to Ms. Le Pen and a member of the European Parliament, said that French voters seek a larger-than-life figure in their president.“In the United States, a president could be a movie actor like Reagan or a carnival performer like Trump,” said Mr. Olivier, who is also Ms. Le Pen’s brother-in-law. “In France, we elect the king.”But the two-round system compels much of the electorate to vote in the runoffs against candidates — and not for someone of their liking.“In the second round, the point is who is more repulsive,” Mr. Olivier said. “I believe Macron would be more rejected than Marine, but Zemmour would be much more rejected than Macron.”As France has grown more conservative in recent years, Mr. Macron has tacked right on many issues to try to grab a bigger electoral slice, especially among voters in the traditional center-right Republicans party.The Republicans, who have yet to select their presidential candidate, are now facing a new threat themselves, because Mr. Zemmour draws support from them as well as from the far right.In their own bid to attract far-right voters, many leaders on the traditional right have flirted with Mr. Zemmour in recent years, excusing or overlooking the fact that the writer has been sanctioned for inciting racial hatred.“The traditional right made a serious mistake that is now exploding in their face,” said Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatory of Radical Politics. “Because it’s long been in competition against the far right on issues like national identity, immigration and sovereignty, it kept winking at Zemmour.”A fan taking a photo with Mr. Zemmour at a book signing in Toulon last month.Eric Gaillard/ReutersNow the traditional right is looking for ways to distance itself from the TV star without alienating his supporters.Patrick Stefanini, a Republican who ran President Jacques Chirac’s successful 1995 campaign, said Mr. Zemmour was benefiting from divisions within the traditional right on issues like immigration.“Mr. Zemmour has turned immigration into the single key to understanding the difficulties facing French society,” said Mr. Stefanini, who is now leading the presidential bid of Valérie Pécresse, the head of the Paris region. “The Republicans are having a little trouble positioning themselves because the tendencies aren’t the same within the Republicans.”Mr. Stefanini attributed Mr. Zemmour’s rise partly to the traditional right’s failure to quickly decide on a candidate, and said he felt confident that the TV star’s ratings would peter out.But for now, many voters appear to be taking a look at Mr. Zemmour, who has been attracting huge crowds at campaign-like events across France as he promotes his latest book, “France Has Not Said Its Last Word Yet.”Last week, three residents of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a wealthy suburb of Paris, came together to attend an event with Mr. Zemmour in the capital.Françoise Torneberg, who said she was in her 70s, said she liked Mr. Zemmour because “he gives a kick in the anthill,” she said.Her friend Andrée Chalmandrier, 69, said, “We love France but not the France of today.”“We’re not at home,” Ms. Chalmandrier said, adding that often when she shops in her suburb, “I’m the only French representative. There are four or five veiled women around me, who furthermore are extremely arrogant.”“And yet it’s a good neighborhood,” Ms. Torneberg said. “It’s not at all a working-class neighborhood.”Léontine Gallois contributed reporting. More

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    As Lev Parnas' Trial Begins, Trump’s Shadow Looms

    Though Mr. Parnas played a key role in the events that led to the former president’s impeachment, the charges he faces involve accusations of campaign finance violations.For Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian American businessman living in Florida, 2018 was a busy year.Sometime around March, he began showing up at Republican fund-raisers. Then, in late April, he dined on cheeseburgers and wedge salads with President Donald J. Trump.By May, a fledgling energy company that Mr. Parnas started with a partner, Igor Fruman, was listed as giving $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. Soon, Mr. Parnas was assisting President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, as he oversaw a shadow diplomacy campaign to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a leading Democratic presidential candidate.Within a year, Mr. Parnas was under investigation, and in late 2019 he was arrested with Mr. Fruman at Dulles International Airport, where both held one-way tickets on a Lufthansa Airlines flight to Frankfurt.Now, Mr. Parnas is facing a trial on campaign finance charges that include contributions to the super PAC and a state candidate in Nevada, where he wanted to operate a cannabis business. And though the case has little to do with his dealings with the former president — who was not accused of wrongdoing in the matter — Mr. Trump’s shadow hangs over Mr. Parnas’s trial, which begins Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.The trial is expected to fill in gaps in the story of Mr. Parnas’s improbable ascent and downfall, from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to playing a key role in a sequence of events connected to the impeachment of Mr. Trump over accusations that he had asked Ukraine to investigate unfounded allegations about Mr. Biden and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, had meddled in the 2016 election.“Parnas is an interesting figure because in many respects he was in the underbelly of the Ukraine story,” said Daniel S. Goldman, the House Intelligence Committee lawyer who led the Ukraine inquiry. “We understood that Parnas in particular was Giuliani’s liaison to a lot of the significant officials in Ukraine.”According to an indictment unsealed after the airport arrests, Mr. Parnas, along with Mr. Fruman and two other co-defendants, conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence “by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office.”Mr. Fruman pleaded guilty last month to soliciting a campaign contribution from a foreign national. Another co-defendant, David Correia, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.Igor Fruman, center, pleaded guilty in September to soliciting a campaign contribution from a foreign national.Go Nakamura/ReutersWhen jury selection begins on Tuesday, Mr. Parnas’s only remaining co-defendant will be a man named Andrey Kukushkin. He is described in court papers as a partner in the planned cannabis business and a participant in a conspiracy to make political donations using money from a rich Russian businessman, Andrey Muraviev.A prosecutor, Hagan Cordell Scotten, suggested during a recent court hearing that Mr. Parnas could be viewed as “something of a genius serial fraudster.”One man who lost money by investing in a company led by Mr. Parnas remembered him wearing diamonds and driving a Rolls-Royce. But behind the trappings of affluence was a history of debts and aborted businesses.As he entered the world of political donors, Mr. Parnas seemed to see it in purely transactional terms, using money to gain access to Republican influencers, then apparently hoping to use those connections to further various moneymaking efforts.While working with Mr. Giuliani in late 2018 and 2019, Mr. Parnas traveled to Kyiv to press officials there to investigate Mr. Biden’s son Hunter, who had served as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company.Records released by Mr. Parnas show that he maintained regular communication with Yuriy Lutsenko, then Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who was urging the removal of the United States ambassador in Kyiv and promising to help obtain information about both Bidens.Mr. Parnas also exchanged text messages with a Trump ally, Robert F. Hyde, that appeared to include references to people conducting surveillance on the ambassador, who Mr. Trump eventually recalled from her post. Mr. Giuliani later said in an interview with The New Yorker that he wanted that ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, “out of the way” because he feared she would complicate his attempts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.After Mr. Parnas’s arrest, Mr. Trump denied knowing him. Before long, Mr. Parnas reversed his loyalties, saying he regretted trusting Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump and providing documents, including some related to Ms. Yovanovitch, to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its impeachment inquiry.Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Giuliani’s pre-election activities in Ukraine. He has denied wrongdoing.The schemes that prosecutors are planning to outline during the upcoming trial seem more brash than sophisticated.The $325,000 donation to the super PAC, America First Action, was made using money that an indictment said Mr. Fruman and others obtained through a private loan, prosecutors have said. Court papers said that the donation was falsely listed in the name of Global Energy Producers, the company Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were starting, because they were eager to “make it appear that GEP was a successful business.”Mr. Parnas is also accused of making a maximum contribution of $2,700 to the re-election campaign of Pete Sessions, a Republican congressman from Texas and a critic of Ms. Yovanovitch, using a credit card registered to an account belonging to Mr. Fruman and another person.And, according to an indictment, Mr. Parnas was part of a conspiracy to make political contributions by a foreign national. As part of that, the indictment said, a businessman — identified by prosecutors in a separate document as Mr. Muraviev — sent $1 million to a bank account controlled by Mr. Fruman “for purposes of making political donations and contributions.”Among candidates who prosecutors said Mr. Parnas promised to support was Adam Laxalt, who in 2018 was running for governor of Nevada and after the presidential election spoke at a news conference announcing a lawsuit by the Trump campaign seeking to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. (That suit was dismissed by a state court judge for lack of evidence.)Prosecutors said in a recent court filing that Mr. Laxalt became suspicious about the origins of a $10,000 donation to his campaign identified as being from Mr. Fruman, and sent a check for that amount to the U.S. Treasury “in order to avoid continued possession of the illegal donation without returning it to a potential wrongdoer.”In court filings and during a recent hearing, prosecutors and defense lawyers offered some indications of what arguments they might advance and what evidence they could introduce during the trial.Prosecutors wrote that they intended to offer out-of-court statements made by both defendants, as well as Mr. Correia, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Muraviev. Most of those, they added, “were made in electronic communications, such as emails, text messages, and chats using WhatsApp.”Likely witnesses, they wrote, included Deanna Van Rensburg, who served as Mr. Parnas’s personal assistant from about April 2018 until his arrest, and Mr. Laxalt, now vying for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat.Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, suggested during the hearing, on Oct. 5, that he might portray his client as someone with a “relative lack of education” in the area of election law.And a lawyer for Mr. Kukushkin signaled that he planned to portray his client as a victim of Mr. Parnas rather than as his co-conspirator.The lawyer, Gerald B. Lefcourt, described Mr. Parnas in a recent court filing as the perpetrator of a “con” who, along with Mr. Fruman and Mr. Correia, used a “dog and pony show” to dupe Mr. Kukushkin and many others.“They portrayed themselves as well-connected, powerful political power brokers, who could speak directly to the president of the United States, his children, his inner circle,” Mr. Lefcourt wrote. “Of course, it was all a ruse, one big fraud or Ponzi scheme.” More