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The Venal Roots of Political Turmoil

One corruption scandal after another has upended politics and toppled national leaders across a wide range of countries. In our age of populism, corruption is about far more than cash-stuffed envelopes and back-room deals – and the sooner we recognize it for the systemic problem it is, the sooner we’ll understand today’s politics.

WASHINGTON, DC – In 2017, corruption became a byword for politics on almost every continent, framing government action in countries as different as China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Corruption and its attendant scandals toppled presidents and prime ministers, cut down political opposition leaders, and fueled “populist” revolts worldwide. Without accounting for systemic official misconduct, our current era of political turbulence simply doesn’t make sense.

In Brazil, investigations have been ongoing into what one judge has described as a “scheme of systemic corruption” between public officials and the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras. As a result of the investigations, President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office in August 2016, and former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva was convicted and sentenced to prison in July of this year.

Similarly, in South Korea, a corruption scandal led to President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and removal from office in March, and to the imprisonment of Lee Jae-yong, the heir apparent at Samsung, in August.

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