What Triggers Global Protests?

Massive demonstrations have hit several countries across the globe in recent months. The prolonged protest against the controversial extradition bill (which was later annulled) in Hong Kong may have inspired the global discontent on governments. Global protests can as a result of several triggers. Below are some of the root causes:

Problematic bills

Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading economic hubs, has been plagued by a series of protests against the controversial extradition bill since June 9. The much-debated draft would allow the extradition of prisoners to some countries, including China.

Pro-democracy activists fear that Beijing will abuse the bill if enacted into a law-to silence its opponents. China had backed the extradition draft, aimed at ensuring Hong Kong will no longer be a criminals’ haven.

The idea of having an extradition bill in the former British colony started when a Hong Kong citizen named Chan Tong-kai admitted that he had killed his pregnant girlfriend whilst visiting Taiwan. As Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have an extradition treaty, Chan could not face trial in Taiwan. He was then sent to jail in Hong Kong, charged with money laundering instead of murder.

Hong Kong has enjoyed more freedom of expression than the mainland. Under the repatriation treaty with Britain, Hong Kong will retain its social and judicial system for the next 50 years.

Last month, Hong Kong Executive Leader Carrie Lam officially withdrew the bill. However, Lam’s decision did not satisfy demonstrators, who considered it too late. Hundreds of protesters and police officers were injured during the demonstrations.

Similar protests also took place in Indonesia mid-September. University students across the archipelago protested against the controversial bill on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) which potentially curtails the power of the anti-corruption commission.

Students and activists also opposed the bill on criminal law (RUUKUHP) which contains articles that can threaten freedom of expression and grant a lighter sentence to graft convicts. Two students in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi were killed in the demonstrations.

A few days after the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, university students took to the street again, demanding the incumbent leader issues a regulation in place of law (Perppu) to retract the already-passed KPK law.

Economy and Inequality Problems

Mass rallies erupted in Iraq in early October, raising the oil-rich country’s main problems ranging from high unemployment to poor public services.

The death toll hit almost 100 on the fifth day of protest (October 6), triggering condemnation from the United Nations (UN) and the country’s rights commission. In the first few days of October, around 157 were killed, as shown by recent government data.

“We deeply regret the number, the large number of people that have been killed in these circumstances,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. 

Despite being the OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer, poverty is still the country’s main problem. The World Bank data showed that one of five Iraqis lives in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 per cent.

Corruption is still rampant in Iraq. The Transparency International said that Iraq ranked the 12th world’s most corrupt nation.

Chile has seen the largest rally since the end of the military rule under General Augusto Pinochet in 1990. The country’s massive rally was triggered by a price rise in subway fare.

As of October 24, around 200 had been injured, 15 had died and hundreds had been imprisoned. Despite being the world’s largest copper producer (the peak was 2000-2014 before the growth was stagnant), inequality remains high. According to the OECD, the country’s income gap stood at 65 per cent of the organization’s average figure.

President Sebastian Pinera finally suspended the subway fare hike and reshuffled the cabinet. He also promised to raise pension funds and slash the prices of medicine for the poor.

Ecuadoreans from all walks of life (from students, workers, and indigenous groups) took to the street to protest the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed austerity program which cut the four-decade-long fuel subsidy. Demonstrations paralyzed schools and Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had to relocate the center of the government from Quito to Guayaquil.

Moreno later cancelled the subsidy cuts, meaning the price of fuel would return to normal. The financial crisis also forced the Lebanese government to impose a tax on chat applications such as Whatsapp and Skype. The policy triggered nationwide opposition. The government later rolled back the tax plan on communication applications. After two weeks of protests, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri resigned from his post-Tuesday (October 29).

Lebanon is suffering from the crisis as its debt reaches $ 86 billion, more than150 per cent of its GDP, the country’s ministry of finance revealed

Climate issue

Greta Thunberg a 16-year-old Swedish student has inspired students to take part in the protest against global warming since she sat in front of the Swedish parliament building a year ago. The girl also gained worldwide attention for her “How dare you?” speech at the UN General Assembly last August, expressing her anger at the world’s leaders.

Students around the globe took part ahead of the high-level debate on climate change at the UNGA. World leaders showed mixed reactions. Some praise youth movement but others criticize those students from skipping classes to voice issues they do not understand. The Australian police arrested more than 40 protesters outside the international mining conference in Melbourne. They blocked the conference’s delegates from entering the venue.

Green activists accused the mining industry of chasing the profit by evicting indigenous communities. Around 700 delegates from 100 countries attended the conference to discuss challenges faced by the mining industry.


The independence of the Spanish autonomous region Catalonia has become a live issue again since the global financial crisis in 2008 following the week-long protest in Barcelona.

Protests erupted on October 14 following the imprisonment of nine separatist leaders for their role in the independence bid. Last Saturday (October 26), the pro-independence rally turned violent when demonstrators threw bottles, stones, and balls to anti-riot police officers.

Police then retaliated by firing rubber bullets. At least six were injured during the clash, Reuters reported. Pro-independence activists held an illegal referendum in October 2017. Madrid tried to block it then send separatist leaders to jail.

Those demonstrations forced the classic match between Barcelona and their archrival Real Madrid to be postponed to December.

Catalonia has its different language and culture and is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions. The region contributed 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP in 2016.

Election results

 Riots broke out in Bolivia after the government postponed the vote counting of the election held on Sunday (October 20). The preliminary result showed that the incumbent socialist leader Evo Morales won 47.08 per cent of the vote while his contender Carlos Mesa earned 35.51 per cent.

Opposition groups accused the Morales regime of rigging the election. They are demanding re-election.

Political deadlock

 The United Kingdom (UK) is facing a political crisis following the uncertainty over the departure of Britain from the European Union (EU), known as Brexit. Last weekend, tens of thousands of Britons gathered in London to raise their concern over Brexit. The UK  is scheduled to leave the 28-country bloc on October 31. However, the plan could be delayed to avoid Brexit without an agreement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated that the UK would leave the EU on scheduled whatever happens. However, he is required to propose an extension as the Parliament failed to reach an agreement on Brexit.