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CWA # 107, 8 April 2019

The World this Week
Brexit Deadlock, Crises in Sudan & Algeria and the Elections in Maldives

  GP Team

Sourina Bej, Abigail Fernandez, Lakshmir Menon and Harini Madhusudan

 

The Brexit Deadlock

What happened?

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and the leader of the main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn have meet on 5 April for the third consecutive day in an attempt to break the current Brexit deadlock. The talks with Corbyn came after Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement was rejected for the third time, by 344 to 286 votes on 29 March. Post this rejection the House of Commons called for consideration of further options on 1 April.

What is the background?

The talk with Corbyn assumes significance for May to get her deal passes especially when her party members are divided on the methods of ‘Brexiting.’ It is important to understand that to get the deal passed May needs a two third majority in the House of Commons. It has been difficult for Theresa May to get the Brexit withdrawal deal passed in the Parliament even after the referendum clearly reflected the public mandate. The answer lies in how the conservatives have responded to May’s deal. Her party members are reluctant in certain clauses over customs, a soft or hard exit and the situation over Irish border. Last week, even when May had offered to quit if the MPs backed the deal, 34 of the 314 MPs in her Conservative party still rebelled her deal. In addition the party has faced defections over the hard handling of the plan by May. Even though the number has not been huge but in collective voting (majority) it will have a bearing. But in spite of the inner differences within Conservatives and between Labour and Conservative what has been interesting is to note that the numbers against May's deal are falling. From a majority of 230 in January, the number of votes against May has reduced to 149 earlier in March and now 58 in the third round. It could be expected that in the fourth round the numbers would reduce further.

What does it mean?

With a fourth voting in line and May and Corbyn holding talks for the third consecutive day a resolution could be insight for the deal. If not, then May has no choice but to bend her hard stance of a Brexit as ‘no deal’ is not a practical decision for both EU or for Britain’s business houses.

 

Sudan’s Protests and Bashir’s destiny

What happened?

Outside the Sudanese army headquarters in Khartoum, thousands of protestors rallied for a second successive day chanting "Sudan is rising, the army is rising," urging Sudanese military to support their demands for resignation of President Omar al-Bashir. The first day saw crowds massing outside the defense ministry and Bashir’s residence. Security forces, on the second day alone, killed more than five protestors. A nation-wide power blackout also coincided with the protests.

What is the background?

The Bashir government has mishandled the economy, causing regular fuel shortages and soaring food prices. The December decision to triple the price of bread sparked the protest movement. Since then, demands have escalated to end Bashir’s three-decades tenure. A nationwide state of emergency aiming to confine protests to Khartoum and Omdurman was imposed on February 22, after attempts to clamp down on protesters failed. Through the Sudanese security council, Bashar has refused to step down stating that his opponents must seek power through elections.  On April 6, rallies outside the army headquarters marking the 34th anniversary of 1985 uprising which ousted then-President Jaafar Nimeiri commenced. Military had removed Nimeiri and transferred power to the elected government which was later in the 1989 coup toppled by Bashir.  As per HRW, over 50 people have died since the protests erupted. Additionally, the National Intelligence and Security Service have detained and jailed hundreds including journalists, activists and opposition leaders.

What does it mean?

Sudan has seen two successful revolutions, in 1964 and 1985. Both peaceful transitions with minimal state and economic disruptions also devoid of retaliations against former regime followers. The current upsurge is distinctive. A genuinely popular uprising emanating from country-sides, it is not elite-driven and is practically leaderless. Professional organisations raising specific regime change demands are leading civil disobedience campaigns and a series of mass protests to forge consensus. The ongoing wave is highly polarized. Bashar’s regime, unlike predecessors, enjoys a hard-core militant base and an enduring core of staunch Islamist popular support. If the anti-Islamist Sudan (in popular terms) does not find means to win over the largely Islamist military and absorb estranged Islamists, conflict will endure and escalate. Strong anti-Islamist rhetoric may strengthen Islamists’ support to the regime for pure reasons of self-preservation, thus peaking cruelty and fanning flames of protests.

 

Elections in the Maldives

What happened?

The Maldives on the 6th of April, 2019 held its first parliamentary election since former leader Abdulla Yameen was forced to stand down, with former president Mohamed Nasheed expected to make a big comeback in the vote. With nearly 80% voter turnout in the Indian Ocean archipelagos, the Election Commission extended polling time by two hours to accommodate more voters who were in queue. Counting began around 6.30 p.m. The results were released on 7th of April,2019. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) party led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and former President Mohamed Nasheed have won more than 60 seats in the 87-member parliament. This is the first time where a single party has won the majority vote in the Parliament since multi- party democracy was established in 2008. Among the winners are former President Mohamed Nasheed and Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim

This election was monitored by a Commonwealth observer group. After withdrawing from the Commonwealth in 2016, Maldives expressed interest to re-joining the organisation. As part of this process, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih requested a Commonwealth group to observe the national vote. The former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, led the group of eight observers.  On their arrived in Male on the 30th of March, 2019 they were deployed to various atolls to observe pre-poll preparations, voting day and the collection of results.

What is the background?

Solih defeated Abdulla Yameen from the Progressive Party of Maldives in the September 2018 election, giving the country hope that democracy will prevail. During the tenure of Yameen (2013-2018), there was a curtail on Freedom of Speech, a number of opposition were jailed due to their political opinion, Beijing had loaned an estimated of $1.5 billion to the Maldives for the upgrade of the country's main international airport as well as massive housing projects in a new population centre, this debt figure was more than a quarter of the countries annual GDP and a number of other issues including a number of Human Right violations, the jailing of protesters, murders, disappearances, and the theft of at least $79 million in tourism revenues took place. Maldives was on the verge of being imposed with Western-led sanctions before Solih won the presidential election on a pledge to end corruption.

The current 2019 election is said to have gone smoothly, overseen by the Commonwealth Observer group. There number of discrepancies or problems during the election reported were few in number. There was a massive turn out of people who came out to exercise their franchise with the hope of a stable government.

What does it mean?

This election has a number of implications. First, does this mean that it could open out the possibility for phase two of democracy in the Maldives? Secondly, will the Maldives have a revamp of their domestic and foreign affairs that they have been derailing on? Thirdly, how does this victory impact Yameen and his party. The Maldives will most probably see the instillation of democracy back in the country, the MDP have promised that they will ensure a stable and efficient government for the country that would work in a justified manner to ensure that the people have their basic rights and liberty and to ensure that the country prospers, they have also promised to bring down the levels of corruption and to rid of authoritarianism that was prevalent in the country for a period of 5 years.

The comeback of former president Nasheed, who was exiled due to criminal conviction during Yameen’s tenure, is crucial as he is said to have a major role to play in the legislation of Maldives. He has also understood the needs of the people which is that the people of Maldives are very keen to see that democracy survives. With regard their domestic and foreign affairs, the party has gone to promise in their agenda that they would include bills to introduce minimum wage, unemployment benefits, personal income tax, strengthening the assets and reforming the judiciary among others promises of like curbing of religious violence and investigate alleged human rights abuses and corruption under Yameen. The Maldives will definitely see a change in their foreign relations with the new government in power. The MDP is pro- India and they have already showed keen interest in re-establishing ties with India along with countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia for assistance. For Yameen and his party who have secured only four seats in the Parliament, the charges of money laundering and fraud pressed against Yameen will still hold and the trial will be initiated as promised by the newly formed government.

 

The hope in Algeria: Pro-democracy protests

What happened?

‘Neither beard, nor kamis, nor police’. Has become the slogan of the ongoing protests in Algeria. This translates to, ‘Beard’ male Muslims who want to demonstrate how devout they are, ‘kamis’ refers to the costume worn by Muslim females of the same persuasion and the police. This is partly the celebration to the outcome of the six weeks long peaceful demonstrations that forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year-old president with the world’s most spectacular comb-over, resign. The slogan has more meaning- it really refers to what next? The youthful demonstrators are signalling that while they do want to get rid of the whole regime, not just its figurehead, they do not want anything to do with political Islam (beards and kamis).

It has become a necessary reassurance for most Algerians, specially the older ones who are haunted by the last time the regime nearly lost power, at the time, the opposition party was Islamist, and it ended in a ten-year civil war.

What is the background?

Islamism was very popular among opposition groups across the Arab world in the 1980s. When the Algerian regime took the risk of holding an election in late 1991, the Islamist party won. Or rather, it was clearly going to win when ‘le pouvoir’ (The Power), as Algerians call the regime, cancelled the second round of the election and took back control. To this, the Islamists responded by launching an armed rebellion, which turned into a decade-long civil war. Both the Islamist rebels and the ‘le pouvoir’ used terror against the civilians at least 100,000 Algerians died. The regime finally won in 2002, and the population was so scarred by this experience that it has remained submissive – until now.

What does it mean? The current wave of protesters are on a victory high and they look at getting rid of Bouteflika as the first step. What’s really driving this youth-led revolt is desperation: one-third of the country’s under-30 year olds are unemployed. The only way the regime can buy them off has been with cheap public housing and subsidised jobs because oil revenues have fallen steeply.  But in the cases of Egypt, Libya or even Syria, proper elections have not happened, and even if they did, the outcome has been disastrous and mostly violent.

Here too, the interim leader who has to organise a new election in the next 90 days is Senate president Abdelkader Bensalah. He is a regime loyalist and a close associate of Bouteflika. All the generals and powerful businessmen who really control the regime are still hoping that a change of leadership will be enough to send the protesters home. But it does not seem the case…One reason is that most of the young in Algeria really are not Islamists any more. Generational turnover has done its work, and the current youth generation is mostly secular, pro-democracy and animated by non-violent ideals.

 

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