In this series of articles, our foreign affairs editor Colin McGinness provides a concise roundup of the biggest geopolitical events from the past month.
Protests in Thailand have continued in spite of the central government’s announcement of a “severe” state of emergency. Protesters are seeking the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who came to power in a military coup in 2014, as well as constitutional and monarchical reform. Thailand has a long history of protests and political activism, but one of the key differences in this current unrest is the call for changes to the monarchy and how it exercises power in the country. Nominally a constitutional monarchy, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has taken steps at increasing the crown’s power often with tacit support from the military. The monarchy has long been a revered institution in Thailand, so demands at reform may reflect changing opinions on the ground.
The President of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, has resigned following protests of the recent parliamentary elections. Allegations of vote-buying and coercive election tactics led to opposition leaders questioning the validity of the process, culminating in protests throughout the capital city Bishkek. Within central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has been a bastion of (relative) democracy as many of its neighbours are still led by post-Soviet strongmen or their chosen successors. The last two leaders of the country transitioned peacefully in and out of power, regardless of the sometimes shady electioneering. With Jeenbekovs resignation, however, the situation is far from settled.
A recent ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Court has essentially criminalised abortion in all cases except for those of rape, incest or to protect the mother’s life. This has led to protests in cities across the country, particularly among younger voters who view the conservative government of pushing its agenda through the judiciary. The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has been accused of packing the courts and instituting laws that hobble the independence of the judicial system. This has led to fines and sanctions from the European Union in the past, but it is now clear as to why the PiS has continued the process regardless.
Confirmed covid-19 cases are surging in Europe again, as countries across the continent are bracing for a fourth wave that appears to be cresting. Partial lockdowns are being reintroduced in an attempt to stem the rising case numbers, reversing the easing of lockdowns that had been occurring since August. With the distribution of a vaccine still far in the future, it is unclear if this pattern of opening and shutting down swiftly thereafter is a portent of the ‘new normal’.
Middle East and North Africa
The government of Sudan has announced that it will officially recognise the state of Israel, and relations will now be normalised. This follows a similar declaration from the UAE and Bahrain earlier this year. The Trump administration has lauded the decision, which it helped negotiate, and also speculated that further announcements from other Arab states would follow. Some pundits believe that Saudi Arabia is eager to follow suit, and cement its coalition in the region against Iran and its allies.
A ceasefire in Libya has come into effect, after tense negotiations between the UN backed government in Tripoli and the Egyptian backed General Khalifa Haftar. Both sides have agreed to ceasefire deals in the past but there is hope that this new deal will stick. Both sides have sustained heavy human and financial losses in a country that has been the sight of devastating conflict since the toppling of Muammar Ghadafi’s regime in 2011.
Anti-police brutality protests have erupted in Nigeria. The ‘End Sars’ movement was focused on the eponymous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), then started advocating for the reform of the Nigerian police force . The Sars unit has been known within the country for its particular brand of corruption, alleged torture and purported extrajudicial killings. In a response to the protest, the Nigerian government has since disbanded the squad, and pledged to reform the police. However in a country long plagued by political gridlock, protesters will be watching any developments carefully.
In a landslide vote, the Chilean people have opted to change the country’s constitution following a national referendum. The constitution was written with the former dictator Augusto Pinochet, and has been a point of contention in recent years. The referendum was spurred by the nationwide protests that rocked the country last year, and is seen as a potential reckoning with the Pinochet years that left lasting scars on the country. The new constitution will be written by an elected body determined by the popular vote.
The left-wing MAS party in Bolivia has won the first parliamentary elections since its former leader, President Evo Morales, was ousted from office in what he and his party have since decried as a right-wing coup. Morales’ successor, Luis Arces, won handily and will form a government with a strong mandate. Many see this as a repudiation of the right-wing reaction to Morales’ decision to seek unconstitutional reelection in 2019, for which he was subsequently removed from office.
The American presidential election has reached its final stage, with the vote scheduled for November 3rd. Polling data has put Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead in the race, but some remain skeptical of polling accuracy following Donald Trump’s upset victory in 2016. Democrats are hoping to win big in the legislative elections held on the same day. The Republican-controlled senate looks like it could be up for grabs. It is unlikely that the Democrats would hold a majority unless they also win the presidency and the senate tie-breaking vote that comes with it.
In the background of the US election, the country’s Senate has confirmed that Amy Coney Barrett has been appointed to the Supreme Court. The decision represents a victory for Donald Trump, who has secured a 6-3 conservative majority on the court just a week out from election day. Judge Barrett replaces Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was originally appointed to the court by Bill Clinton in 1993. Responding to the decision, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden said the move was “rushed and unprecedented”.
Colin McGinness is The International’s foreign affairs editor