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CWA # 383, 12 December 2020

Conflict Weekly 48
Farmers protest in India, Radicals target idols in Bangladesh, UK reaches out to the EU and Saudi Arabia to mend ties with Qatar

  IPRI Team

IPRI Conflict Weekly, 10 December 2020, Vol.1, No.48

India: Farmers' protests intensify as deadlock persists
In the news
On 9 December, in a bid to meet the demands by the farmers protesting in New Delhi, the Indian government said the minimum support price (MSP) for crops would stay as it draws up a written proposal. 

Since 26 November, farmers mainly from Haryana and Punjab have been protesting against three farm acts - the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. Later, farmers from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh also joined them. 

On 8 December, the protesting farmers have met with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah with no resolution to the deadlock as both sides remained resolute on their demands. The farmers' said, "they would settle for nothing less than the scrapping of the legislations." 

Issues at large
First, the farm laws and indebtedness. The bills were brought to address farmer's entitlements in light of the Swaminathan report that identified freedom from indebtedness which has been the main cause for increasing farmer's suicide in the country. Also, the report highlighted guaranteed remunerative prices that often leads to mounting debts as farmers are forced to sell even at half the MSP (Minimum Support Price) declared by Governments for 24 crops. 

Second, the protests are mainly against the first two acts. The FPTC Act allows farmers to sell their produce outside the erstwhile Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), the government-controlled regulated marketing arrangement called mandis. This provides a wider choice to farmers for selling their produce anywhere to anyone. APMC became infamous for monopoly-cartel fixing low prices for the produce, forcing distress sales on farmers, as well as for market fees and levy by state governments. Farmers are apprehensive of the government's plot to eliminate MSP safety net. Farmers are not convinced about the provision of the Act as it leaves them at the mercy of big corporates increasing their vulnerabilities further. Adhatiyas (commission agents) would lose substantial commissions. State government stands to lose revenue as a sale through APMC would shrink substantially.  

The second Act provides a regulatory framework towards striking a deal between a farmer and an ordained buyer before producing a crop, ensuring predetermined quality at minimum guaranteed prices. Contract farming has been operational in different crops. Potatoes used by beverages and snacks company PepsiCo for Lay's and Uncle Chipps (wafers) for exports. It has assured farmers buyback at pre-agreed prices alongside companies providing seeds/planting material, and another extension supports to farmers to maintain product's standard. Hence, the Act formalizes voluntary contract cultivation for crops not traded in APMC. Sugarcane and milk are also not sold in mandis but through contract. The Act prohibits sponsor firm from acquiring land of farmers through purchase, lease, or mortgage protects them. Act again considered having potentials to kill government procurement process, which procures nearly 85 per cent of paddy and wheat grown in Haryana and Punjab. Farmers also have a trust deficit with corporates. 

The third Act will not affect the farmers rather would serve their interests. It mitigates Centre's powers to impose stock holding limits on foodstuffs, except under 'extraordinary conditions' like war, famine and other natural calamities and annual retail price rise exceeding 100 per cent in horticulture products like onions and potatoes and 50 per cent for non-perishables like cereals, pulses and edible oils. Hoarding has been beneficial to traders and not to farmers. Earlier, despite being a criminal offence, the practice was there. The government argues this would attract private investment and FDI in agriculture, cold storage, warehouses and would facilitate farmers when bumper crops are there. 
Fourth, threatens food security. The opposition parties have castigated all three Acts as anti-democratic as it threatens food security and would destroy farmers through mortgaging agriculture and markets to the caprices of multi-national agri-business corporates and domestic corporates. Hence, they are standing by farmer's demands. 

In perspective
Amid deadlocked negotiations between the government and farmers, the latter firmly demand repeal of all three acts. Negotiation is, however, limited. First, the problem of the farmers confines mainly to the FPTP Act as it weakens APMC mandis. The government could make MSP a legal right. The act proposes disputes to be referred to the offices of SDM (sub-divisional Magistrates) and District Collector, which are not an independent court, hence justice would be a casualty. Proper Dispute Resolution Mechanism for a transaction outside APMC could be negotiated for timely payment and all transactions. State and adhatiyas too are required to be assured of their revenue. Nearly 86 per cent of farmland are smallholder farmers owning less than five acres (two hectares) of land each. Hence, farmers would continue to be vulnerable before the corporate giants, for lack of bargaining power to get fair prices. Both need to listen and understand each other, and neither should hijack the nation's interests. 


Bangladesh: Radicals destroy Mujib's bust, as an Islamist group issues fatwa against idols
In the news 
On 8 December, the High Court in Bangladesh issued a directive to the Awami League government to take appropriate legal and punitive actions against the culprits involved in damaging the sculpture of Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The court has also asked the Director-General of Bangladesh Islamic Foundation and the Khatib of Baitul Mukarram national mosque to take necessary steps to build awareness that monuments, statues, portraits, and murals of Mujibur Rahman are symbols of the country's independence and not contradictory to the religion. 

On 7 December the madrasa students were arrested and remanded in prison for defacing a sculpture of Mujibur Rahman in Kushtia district. They were inspired by the "fatwa" issued by Hefajat-e-Islam, earlier on 5 December, against the construction of idol or sculpture. Hefajat-e-Islam, a coalition of several Islamist groups, said "construction of idol or sculpture of any living being is forbidden in Islam. The government should take responsibility to demolish the idols and sculptures in the country."

Issues at large 
First, the role of Hefajat-e-Islam. The vandalism and the fatwa come in the backdrop of the Awami League's decision to build the sculpture of Mujibur Rahman marking the celebration of 'Mujib Borsho' (100th birthday of the Father of the nation). Several Islamist groups have in the past publicly disgraced any form of idol worship or construction, most notable has been the removal of the Lady Justice idol from the Supreme Court premises in 2017. A domestic debate is underway in Dhaka in favour of or against the construction, while Hefajat-e-Islam has used the confusion to propagate its stance on sculptures. The written statement by 95 muftis and maulanas goes in line with the role that Hefejat has come to play in the country to define the norms and rituals of an Islamic society. 

Second, trends of radicalization and the role of political Islam. Since the killing of blogger Rajib Haider in 2013, Bangladesh has struggled to contain the forces of extreme voices and spate of violence on independent thinkers. The 2016 series of blogger deaths followed by the July 2016 Holey Artisan café attack by neo-JMB, 2017 suicide bombing in Sylhet and the recent protest march by Islami Andolan Bangladesh against President Macron's statement indicate a strong influence of the radical groups on young minds and shrinking public space for religious and cultural tolerance. A small group is owing allegiance to AQIS (Ansar Al Islam) and the Islamic State (neo-JMB) while other Islamist groups have expanded their role politicking the religion. At least one-third of Hefajat leaders have direct links with Islamist political parties that took part in elections alone or under the BNP-Jamaat alliance.

Third, a soft response from the State. The vandalism of idols as an expression of intolerance have continued in the country, and the government have mostly appeased with such several instances. It is only with the current defacing of the Father of the Nation who is also the founder of the ruling party that government has vowed action amid the anti-sculpture campaign. 

In perspective
The vandalism of the sculpture was of a person who sought to symbolize an "imagined community" with precedence to linguistic, cultural and secular norms. However, the fault lines in the society have become increasingly visible amid political-religious extremism and violence. The civil society, on the other hand, has also resisted such religious and cultural chasms with notable protests for freedoms and expression such as the Shahbag, the students' protests in the Dhaka University, or criticizing punitive laws curbing freedom to express. The government's sudden hardening of stance against Hefajat might not hold good if the vandalism was not against Mujib.. 


Brexit: "Large gaps remain" despite Boris Johnson's last-minute dinner in Brussels to save a no-deal
In the news 
On 9 December, Boris Johnson flew to Brussels and met with  European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for to save the deal. According to initial reports, both sides remain "far apart." The WSJ stated that the talks between the both, "ended without breakthrough Wednesday night with both sides saying they would decide on the future of the talks by Sunday." The BBC quoted a Boris Johnson spokesman stating: "Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged."

On 7 December, the UK government announced Boris Johnson visit, amid growing apprehension on both sides that the Brexit trade talks will fail. The announcement came a day after the UK and EU resumed negotiations and stated that the trade talks 'has reached a critical stage.'  On 10 December, the EU leaders are expected to meet in Brussels for a two-day summit where they could sign off a deal if the two sides reach an agreement. 

Also on 7 December, the UK introduced the Internal Market bill that would allow the UK to override elements of its original Brexit treaty with the EU. The bill sought to reinstate controversial parts that the House of Lords have already voted to scrap. However, on 8 December, the UK government declared an "agreement in principle," with the EU to drop the controversial parts of the bill that would be seen as a breach of international law. 

Issues at large
First, the sticking points between the UK and Europe. After ten months of negotiations between the two, significant differences remain regarding the fishing rights in the UK waters and the clauses for a 'level playing field' with terms for market protections. The EU expects the UK to adhere to its rules on workers' rights, environmental regulations, and state aid. Concerning the fishing rights, the EU has warned the fishermen will no longer have special access to the EU market to sell their goods, without the ongoing access to the UK waters for the EU fleets. The EU also insists on a set of shared rules and standards to ensure businesses in one country do not have an unfair advantage over their competitors in others. Additionally, the two sides disagree on how any future trading disputes would be resolved. 

Second, time is running out. In the likelihood of the EU and UK reaching a deal, the proceedings would have to be turned to legal text and translated into all the EU languages which would then be ratified by the EU Parliament, all before 31 December 2020. Within the UK Parliament too, the MPs would have to vote on the legislation implementing the parts of the deal reached. With time running out, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the negotiations has put the two sides in a fix. 

Third, the UK and the EU have hardened their stances over the past months, both sides standing by their positions. The deadline of 15 October, set by Boris Johnson, is long gone and the situation remains tricky because the two sides have been unable to reach a common ground. The UK argues in favour of retaining control over their sovereign decisions, and the EU expects the UK to abide by the common standards of the region. Through the process of the negotiations, the parties have ensured not to step away from their demands. The situation was made tougher after Boris Johnson took charge of the process. 

In perspective 
If both fail to reach an agreement, the trade between them will not change overnight. However, the prices of many goods would increase in the UK, the free movement of labour would be affected, travel rules will change, and the UK will likely apply a points-based immigration system. Businesses trading will involve more paperwork and would make the movement of goods more challenging. On the flip side, the UK will have more freedom to strike deals around the world. The UK, as part of the EU, had trade deals with more than 70 countries. Since leaving in January 2020, it has struck similar deals with at least 50 of them. 

The introduction of the UK internal market bill was untimely and had seen the EU launch legal actions against the UK. The decision by the MPs to vote down the changes to the bill can be seen positively. 


Qatar: Saudi Arabia announces breakthrough in the Gulf diplomatic crisis
In the news
On 5 December, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud announced a breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Gulf diplomatic dispute. He said that all nations involved in the crisis were "on board" for a resolution and added that a final agreement could be expected soon. Prince Faisal said, "we are in full coordination with our partners in this process and the prospects that we see are very positive towards a final agreement," while adding that the envisioned resolution "covers all aspects and is satisfactory to all parties involved."

Issues at large
First, the crisis in brief. On 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, severed all ties with Qatar. The bloc imposed a land, sea and air embargo on Qatar, accusing the state of having ties deemed "too close" with Iran and embracing "various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region". They also put forth a 13-point ultimatum for Qatar, which included curbing ties with Iran and closing of the Al Jazeera Media Network. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia suspended activities with Qatar in its Yemen campaign. In response, Doha rejected all accusations as baseless and expressed readiness for dialogue.

Second, Turkey's role in the strengthening of Qatar against the blockade. Qatar shares a land border with Saudi Arabia in the south. The Persian Gulf surrounds the rest of its territory. Due to Doha's heavy dependence on the Saudi Arabia bloc for food products and multi-sectoral trade, the blockade served a severe blow. However, in less than two weeks, Turkish goods began flowing into Qatar, replacing the products from Saudi Arabia. 

Third, the US push to defuse the tension. Donald Trump's administration along with his adviser Jared Kushner has been pushing for the blockade's end, which would lead to a united Gulf against Iran. The latter would expand Washington's policy of containment of Iran through 'maximum pressure'.

In perspective
First, it would be a limited Doha-Riyadh rapprochement. Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have remained Qatar's most vocal critic since the embargo. They are also unwilling to acknowledge any such breakthrough which could lead to a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In 2019, a similar hope of the crisis' end surfaced but quickly faded. However, Prince Faisal maintains that a broader thaw is being negotiated. 

Second, Qatar's self-reliance. Over the three years of the Gulf crisis, Qatar has emerged more independent with flourishing multi-dimensional businesses and extensive dairy farms capable of providing for its population. 

Third, as Saudi Arabia's rapprochement decision arrives, ground realities require evaluation. With a thaw in sight, Qatar is far less dependent on Riyadh. The 13-point demands by the Saudi Arabia-led bloc have been dismissed by Qatar, and the media network of Al-Jazeera is stronger today than before. Riyadh will be re-establishing ties with a Qatar that is self-reliant, closer to Turkey and has attended the Kuala Lumpur summit. Clearly, the Saudi Arabian-bloc has not seen many victories.


Also, from around the World
Peace and conflict from East Asia and Southeast Asia
New Zealand: Inquiry report on Christchurch attack released
On 8 December, New Zealand released an inquiry report into the Christchurch attack in March 2019. The enquiry revealed that although there were a series of failures ahead of the attack, no single aspect of it could have alerted public sector agencies of an impending terrorist attack. The report concluded that the perpetrator, Brenton Tarrant, was able to accumulate a massive trove of weapons as authorities failed to enforce proper checks on firearms licences. Further, it found that officials were focused more on Islamist terrorism. After the release of the report, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, "I absolutely appreciate the community will want to see accountability in terms of implementation. They will want to see who is responsible for coordinating some of those efforts...and we will be providing that."

US-China: The US imposes sanctions and a travel ban on 14 Chinese officials
On 7 December, the United States imposed financial sanctions and a travel ban on 14 members of China's National People's Congress on the allegations that they played a key role in disqualifying four elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong. Of the 14, the vice-chairpersons of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, are one of the accused. In August, the US imposed similar sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, former police chiefs and other top officials.

Hong Kong: Police arrest eight pro-democracy activists
On 8 December, the Hong Kong police arrested eight activists for their role in mobilizing the 'July protest.' The detained include veteran activist "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, the former chief of Hong Kong's Democratic Party Wu Chi-wai, ex-legislator Eddie Chu and Figo Chan. These arrests come a day after eight people were detained for protesting on a university campus in November and on a suspected violation of the National Security Law. These are the latest in the series of crackdowns in Hong Kong since China imposed the National Security Law.

Australia: Large bushfire breaks out in Fraser Island
On 7 December, about 100 firefighters and more than 25 water-dropping planes battled to control a large bushfire on an Australian holiday island. Residents of Happy Valley were asked to evacuate as the blaze raged east across Fraser Island. The rains have partially doused the fires, but authorities have warned that the danger was not over as they are expecting hot, dry and windy weather conditions on the island over the next two days that could to re-fuel the flames. For the past six weeks, firefighters have worked towards controlling the blazes on the island which was sparked by an illegal campfire mid-October and has since burnt over half of the island.

Thailand: Pro-royalists gather to show loyalty to the King
On 5 December, thousands of supporters greeted King Maha Vajiralongkorn as he led a birthday commemoration for his late father. The supporters were seen holding Thai and yellow royal flags to welcome the King and Queen with some cheering "Long live the King" The crowd also wore yellow shirts, a colour associated with the royal institution. This was the latest in a series of public appearances made by the King in an attempt to rally points for thousands of conservatives who have been outraged amid the anti-monarchy protesters. The protests are aimed at calling for reform to make the powerful and wealthy institutions more transparent and accountable.

Philippines: Few members of Army criticized over alleged war crime 
On 3 December, members of the Philippine Army were accused of committing a war crime for posing with the body of a suspected communist rebel fighter, Jevilyn Campos Cullamat, the daughter of a member of Congress. The photo which was released and then deleted by the state-run Philippine News Agency created an outrage. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that posing with a person's body for photographs was "an outrage against the dignity of the individual" and was prohibited under the laws of war. In response to the criticisms, the military denied the accusations and said they took the photos as "substantial evidence" of a "legitimate encounter."

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Bodoland Territorial Council election begins
On 7 December, voting for the first phase of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) election began in Assam. Elections to the 40 seats of the BTC will be held on 7 and 10 December. The BJP is contesting the BTC polls on its own while the Bodo People's Front (BPF), the Congress and the AIUDF have officially come together. The polls were scheduled to take place in April but had to be postponed because of the pandemic due to which all the four districts under BTC were placed under the Governor's rule. Further, this election marks the start of new political alliances and hostilities before the state elections in 2021.

India: Voting for the fourth phase of the Jammu and Kashmir DDC election begins
On 7 December, the fourth phase of the District Development Council (DDC) elections began for 34 constituencies, 17 in Kashmir division and 17 in Jammu division. There are 138 candidates, including 48 women, in the Kashmir division, while in the Jammu division, 111 candidates, including 34 women, are contesting in the fourth of the eight-phase DDC polls. Further, by-polls for the vacant panch and sarpanch seats in the Union Territory are also being held. 

India: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voices support for the farmers
On 4 December, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau reiterated his support for the rights of farmers in India to hold peaceful protests. He made this statement after the Indian government summoned the country's High Commissioner to express its displeasure at his original remarks saying, "Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protests anywhere around the world. And we are pleased to see moves towards de-escalation and dialogue." Similarly, a group of 36 cross-party Parliamentarians in London have written to the UK Foreign Secretary regarding the impact of the demonstrations on the British Punjabis. 

Afghanistan: Violence continues to surge with attacks in Kabul and Kandahar
On 5 December, four people were killed in security incidents in Kabul. In one of the attacks, an unknown armed group killed a member of the Supreme Court, in Kabul's PD8. Outraged by the killing, the family said that security agencies have "failed" to prevent such incidents in the city. Later, on 7 December a car bomb wounded at least 35 people, including women and children, in Kandahar. No group, including the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast. The attack came as a suicide bomber attempted to target a security forces compound with a Humvee in Zherai was neutralized by security forces before reaching its target.

Afghanistan: MPs oppose the plan to release Taliban prisoners
On 7 December, the Afghan lawmakers opposed a possible plan to release 7,000 additional Taliban prisoners as part of the US-Taliban deal, arguing that it will not be a good decision if executed. The MPs said that the Taliban is not committed to their promises and that over 5,000 prisoners of the group were released but "many returned to the battlefield." They raised concerns that if more prisoners are released, more fighters will resume fighting. This came after the US Chargé d'Affaires Ross Wilson said that the Taliban is expecting the release under their agreement with the US by mid-December.

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia: Russian peacekeeping hotline receives more than 200 calls 
On 6 December, the Russian Ministry of Defence said a hotline maintained by its peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh received more than 214 queries on missing Armenian soldiers, from 30 November to 4 December. The ministry explained that Russian experts had passed on information about 186 missing Armenian troops to search groups operating under the peacekeeping forces. The peacekeepers also received 1,900 requests from Armenians to locate their relatives. 

Israel: At least 30 anti-Netanyahu demonstrators arrested
On 5 December, Israeli police arrested at least 30 anti-Netanyahu protesters after thousands gathered near the Prime Minister's residence ahead of his court hearing which had been scheduled on 6 December. The public has been protesting every week since the last six months demanding Netanyahu's resignation accusing him of bribery, fraud, and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Libya: Presence of 20,000 foreign fighters indicates serious crisis, says UN envoy
On 2 December, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, said there are 20,000 foreign fighters present in Libya. She told the 75-member forum that this is a reflection of "a serious crisis" and "a shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty." The chief emphasized that these fighters are not present in the interest of Libya but are there for their interests. "They are pouring weapons into your country, a country which does not need more weapons," said the head of UNSMIL. The forum is part of the efforts to bring the warring sides to an agreement on forming a transitional government by December 2021. 

Somalia: Trump orders US troop withdrawal 
On 4 December, the Pentagon said that the US President ordered the withdrawal of "nearly all US troops" from Somalia by 15 January. Some troops will be transferred to neighbouring countries to facilitate cross-border operations. Currently, there are around 700 US troops in Somalia, helping the country fight the Al-Shabaab and Islamic State. The order contradicts the decision of the former US Defence Secretary who was fired last month by the US President. 

Mali: Transition Council elects a leader
On 5 December, the National Transition Council, an interim legislature, elected Colonel Malick Diaw as its head. In the 121-member Council, Diaw won 111 votes while seven abstained and three did not vote. Diaw was one of the key players that led the coup against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August. On 4 December, the opposition known as the June 5 Movement said it would boycott the legislature instead of serving as a "stooge for a disguised military regime." Previously, other army officials were elected as interim president and vice president. 

Namibia: Ministry lists 170 wild elephants for sale
On 2 December, the Ministry of Environment Forestry and Tourism said it is listing 170 wild elephants for sale amid increasing elephant population and widespread drought. The two factors have led to increased human-wildlife conflicts. Further, the large mammal is at risk of poaching. The Ministry invited applications from Namibians or foreigners who could meet its criteria including "quarantine facilities and a game-proof fence certificate for the property where the elephants will be kept." Namibia, which has one of the best conservation programmes in the continent, witnessed the elephant population grow from 7,500 in 1995 to 24,000 in 2019. However, drought has forced the country to sell 1,000 wild animals in 2019. 

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
France: Authorities launch checks on 76 mosques
On 3 December, the interior minister of France Gerald Darmanin announced a crackdown on 76 mosques on suspicion of "separatism" and "extremism." In a tweet, the minister said, "In the coming days, checks will be carried out on these places of worship. If ever these doubts are confirmed, I will ask for their closure." Further, Darmanin said that 66 undocumented migrants suspected of "radicalization" had been deported. Further, he announced the dissolving of the high-profile Muslim organization the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which the government accuses of spreading Islamist propaganda. These inspections are to be carried out are part of a response to two gruesome attacks, the beheading of Samuel Paty and the fatal stabbing of three people in a cathedral in Nice.

France: Macron defends sales of arms to Egypt
On 7 December, French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint press conference with President of Egypt Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said "I will not condition matters of defense and economic cooperation on these disagreements [over human rights]," adding "it is more effective to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott which would only reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism." Macron called for greater inclusiveness of civil society in the political decision-making process in Egypt. France has sold a substantial number of weapons to Egypt, including two French-made Mistral-class helicopter carriers, two dozen Rafale advanced fighter jets since 2015 and has been a key partner in the fight against extremism in the region.

Russia: Mass vaccination begins with the rollout of Sputnik V
On 5 December, Russia began mass vaccination with its Sputnik-V COVID-19 vaccine in 70 clinics in Moscow, inoculating workers at high risk of infection. This is Russia's first mass vaccination against the disease. However, Sputnik-V is still under trials for safety checks that have made several Russians apprehensive. The challenges for mass production have also come to wreck the support for vaccination in the country. The mass vaccination comes as Russia reports a record number of COVID-19 cases at 28,782.

EU-Turkey: EU to increase sanctions against Turkey in the East Mediterranean
On 7 December, the EU foreign ministers discussed the possibility of imposing sanctions against Turkey over a gas dispute in the Mediterranean. The leadership is to make a final decision on the matter during a summit on 10 December along with a freeze on weapons exports. President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan said they will not "bow down to threats and blackmail" while reiterating his call for negotiations over the conflicting claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources. Tensions have been high between Greece and Turkey since August, when Ankara sent a survey vessel to map energy-drilling prospects in the Mediterranean waters also claimed by Greece. 

Romania: PM Orban resigns after electoral defeat
On 7 December, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban resigned after the populist opposition Social Democrats (PSD) party won around 30 per cent of votes with roughly 95 per cent of ballots counted. He said, "I'm not clinging to any post," adding that he did intend to participate in upcoming negotiations on a potential coalition government. However, he did not receive any clarification on how his party plans to form a new governing majority. Orban's centrist National Liberal Party (PNL) occupied the second position, with 24 per cent votes. The voters' turnout in the country has been the lowest with only 33 per cent due to the pandemic. 

The US: After two recounts in Georgia, Biden remains the winner
On 7 December, Georgia recertified its results after two recounts confirming President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the state. A press release by the Secretary of State said despite pressure from the Trump campaign to overturn the results, Georgia had counted its votes thrice and the results remained the same. "Continuing to make debunked claims about a stolen election is hurting our state and overturning the result would be equal to "nullifying the will of the people," said the Secretary of State. 

Venezuela: Maduro consolidates majority in Parliament, Opposition calls for citizens' consultation 
On 7 December, Nicolas Maduro emerged as the winner in the legislative elections amid the opposition's boycott. Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela and other allies won 67 per cent of seats. However, only 31 per cent of the 20 million registered voters participated in the polls. The US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido said their boycott indicated "rejection of the dictatorship" and added they would hold a consultation with citizens on 12 December asking whether they want a change in government. In 2018, more than 50 countries recognized Guiado as the interim president and many Western countries believe that Maduro's re-election in 2018 was fraudulent.


About the authors
Dr Alok Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Central University of Jharkhand. Harini Madhusudan, Lakshmi V Menon, Sourina Bej, Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are PhD Scholar, Research Consultant, Project Associate and Research Assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.

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