The World This Week

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The World This Week
Elections in Finland and Indonesia

  GP Team

The World This Week #253, Vol. 6, No.7
18 February 2024

Padmashree Anandhan and Akhil Ajith


Finland: Presidential elections call for shift in foreign policy
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 11 February, Alexander Stubb, from the centre-right National Coalition Party, emerged as the winner in the presidential elections by a narrow margin of four per cent. He gained 52 per cent of the votes against Pekka Haavisto from the centre-left Green League party which secured 48 per cent. On winning, Stubb said: “We are facing a new era in foreign policy where rules are being challenged, and there is a war next door.”

On 12 February, President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyan said: “With your leadership, experience, and European commitment, our Union has a new, strong asset.”

What is the background?
First, the narrow margin in elections. In the first round of elections held in January, there was a close margin between Stubb from the National Coalition party with 27.2 per cent, Pekka Haavisto from the Green League seconded with 25.8 per cent. While Jussi Halla-aho from the Finns Party and Olli Rehn from the Centre Party of Finland were placed third and fourth with 19 and 15.3 per cent. 

Second, the emphasis on Finland’s foreign policy. The President of Finland will engage in country’s foreign and defence policy, with fewer powers to intrude into domestic affairs. Stubb will be succeeding Sauli Niinistö who is well among the Finns since his time as Finance Minister, diplomacy, and as a strong leader who held the term for 12 straight years. In case of Stubb, the timings are more crucial with the doctrinal shift of Finland stepping away from neutrality policy and becoming a member of the NATO. Although Stubb pledges to forge a strong stance against Russia and assures support to Ukraine, staying away from domestic issues could be a challenge. Especially after the spark of the racism scandal.

Third, the importance of NATO and nuclear deterrence. Accession to NATO was a key moment for Finland. In the wake of the Cold War, Finland was one of the few countries in Europe not to restrain defence capability. Sharing a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia means strengthening of deterrence which means engaging in NATO’s “nuclear sharing.” Since then, Helsinki never held nuclear weapons nor formed a doctrine. Similarly, at the public level, there is less support for Finland’s participation in the nuclear weapon exercise or stationing inside Finland. 

What does it mean?
First, the change ahead in Finland’s foreign policy. Finland’s joining NATO, changing the European security landscape and with block emerging from the US demands for a dynamic foreign policy. The main task of the President will be to seal the latest doctrine with NATO, it has already met the two per cent defence expenditure limit. Finland will have to strengthen its network within the alliance and further its bilateral with the US, the Nordic, and the Baltic to solidify its geopolitical presence. This will be until the relations with Russia is revived. 

Second, a hard task to fill Niinistö’s shoes. From the statements made by Stubb after Donald Trump, the former US President's threat to NATO, Finland is in for a long run to deepen its relations with the transatlantic. Similarly, a dynamic defence boost at the national level can be expected, but to carry out such critical tasks a good diplomat is required. Niinistö demonstrated to be a strong leader well regarded by the public and also at the policy-making level. His leadership at the foreign policy and security front will be a large vacuum to be filled by Stubb.


Indonesia Elections 2024: a new wave in making 
Akhil Ajith

What happened?
On 14 February, Prabowo Subianto won the presidential election after unofficial vote counts showed him with a significant lead over his rival candidates. According to available results, Prabowo won 58 per cent of the votes based on a quick count across the nation. Rivals Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo trailed with 25 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively. Despite the preliminary round being slower, the election commission’s data showed that Prabowo secured 57.7 per cent of the votes in the first phase of the presidential elections. The eldest son of Joko Widodo, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, was the running mate of Prabowo for the vice president post. Indonesia is also the fourth populated country in the world, and the largest Muslim-majority country with 87.02 per cent of its population comprising Muslims. After the count, Prabowo said: “We should not be arrogant. We should not be proud. This victory must be a victory for all Indonesian people.”

What is the background?
First, a brief background to the elections in Indonesia. The outgoing President, Jokowi, won the re-election in 2019 after beating Prabowo for two consecutive elections. Economy, infrastructure, and corruption were the critical issues in the 2019 elections, while religion became a core issue. Jokowi swept the polls as he enjoyed the credibility earned by introducing favorable economic policies for the masses, which changed the country’s landscape, overpowering Prabowo’s traditionalist and nationalist stance.
 
Second, Prabowo’s career. He was a defense minister under Jokowi’s tenure. He belonged to the most influential family of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, under Presidents Sukarno and Suharto. During the military tenure in the Indonesian National Army Special Force (called “Kopassus”) , he conducted operations in East Timor in the 1980s and '90s; he has been accused of engaging in human rights violations. He was sanctioned by the United States for his human rights record and self-imposed exile upon himself to Jordan. Later, he founded the Gerinda Party and supported Jokowi’s policies, especially his economic plans and the capital city’s reallocation. Prabowo wants to project a softer image to resonate with the growing youth population despite his closer ties with hard-line Islamists.

Thirdly, Jokowi’s influence and legacy. Jokowi still commands a significant influence over most of the people. For the 2024 elections, he has not officially declared his support for Prabowo but sent his 36-year-old son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his running mate for the upcoming elections. His legacy includes an impressive economic growth of 5 per cent from 2014 onwards and focused on infrastructure and tackling poverty and inequality. His capital reallocation project, Nusantara, has become a topic of debate in the election. His infrastructure push by inaugurating big-ticket projects such as the Trans-Sumatra toll road, the Pemalang-Batang Toll Road in central Java, the Jatigede Dam in west Java, and the Jakarta Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) helped him to win popularity among the people.

Fourth, the anti-China narrative. Although Prabowo announced that he will continue maintaining friendly ties with China, his past actions have raised concerns inside Beijing on his approach towards China. During his role as the defense minister in 1998, he conducted operations in Jakarta and other parts of the country, which suppressed the ethnic Chinese community. Prabowo’s unpredictability in his diplomatic approach has raised concerns in Beijing about the country’s stance towards China.

What does it mean?
First,  successful elections and its implications for the Indonesian democracy. There was a large voter turnout compared to the previous elections; according to the Indonesian General Elections Commission,  out of 204 million voters around 114 million are below 40.

Second, there will be continuity in Jokowi’s policies. With his son running as Prabowo’s election mate, he is expected to push Prabowo to implement the Nusantara capital city allocation project. Jokowi made economic development as Indonesia’s priority; Prabowo will follow his predecessor’s policies and may focus more on regional security affairs than Jokowi. He might take an assertive position towards China’s maritime actions in the South China Sea and will be vocal on the country’s dispute with China on the Natuna islands. By taking a nationalistic stance, he intends to push Indonesia to play a central role in regional groupings like ASEAN and to seek a more significant role in major global groupings such as G-20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits. He intends to pursue a defense partnership with the US for its military modernization. He would continue to balance the ties with both the US and China.


TWTW Regional Roundups
News from around the World 

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Padmashree Anandhan, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S, Alka Bala, Nuha Aamina, Rajika Kanungo and Gopi Keshav

China This Week
China: Thailand to impose tax on cheap Chinese goods
On 15 February, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin ordered officials to levy VAT on goods priced at less than 1,500 baht (USD 56) routed through tax-free zones to prevent false declarations. He said cheap Chinese goods were also making their way into Southeast Asian countries through e-commerce platforms and smuggling. The move aims to protect local firms that cannot compete against Chinese products on price. Thai Chamber of Commerce chairman Sanan Angubolkul said that the import of cheap Chinese goods has impacted the sales of local small and medium-sized enterprises. According to the Thai Commerce Ministry data, China was Thailand’s largest trade partner in 2023, with a total trade value of USD 105 billion (USD 141 billion) and a USD 36.6 billion trade deficit.

China: “We will not compete with other developing members,” says WTO
On 15 February, Li Chenggang, Beijing’s ambassador to the WTO, said “We will not compete with other developing members while they try to reach a new World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on combating overfishing. The current agreement bans subsidies that contribute to fishing that is illegal, unreported, unregulated, or of overfished stock and recognizes special and differential treatment for developing countries. The WTO’s 164 members hope to conclude a second package on subsidy issues on overfishing and over-capacity at the 13th ministerial conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi. Beijing closely watches the meeting as it is one of the main countries granting fishing subsidies under the status of a developing country. Li further added that despite potential challenges during negotiations, China remains committed to securing the new deal.

China: Declining birth rate threatens the teaching sector
On 13 February, an editorial in South China Morning Post titled, “China population: teachers face uncertain future with falling birth rate set to create 1.9 million surpluses by 2035,” by Mandy Zuo outlined the issue facing the teaching sector in China as the birthrate sees a slump. Zuo informed that once the most sought-after job, teaching was considered the “iron rice bowl” of China. But today with a steady decline in birth rate it is expected that there will be a surplus of teachers and many will lose their jobs. It is expected that the government would recruit fewer teachers owing to financial burdens. China’s Hunan province’s education department came out with a directive urging that resources for education be better allocated based on birth rate, urbanisation and the children enrolled. The surplus would lead to institutions and schools reducing class size which would mean better teacher-student interaction, but threatening for private schools where these ratios are already followed.

China: Galactic Energy to debut its reusable rocket in 2024
On 12 February, according to an editorial in the South China Morning Post titled “Chinese start-up Galactic Energy plans reusable rocket debut this year,” by Ling Xin, Chinese company Galactic Energy is planning to debut its reusable rocket in 2024. The Pallas-1 is going to be the first Chinese rocket to deploy reusable rockets in its orbital missions. According to local news site Hinews.cn, Pallas-1 is set to take off from a spacecraft launch centre on the southern island of Hainan in November 2024. Galactic Energy was founded in 2018 and has established itself as a leader in China’s commercial launch sector. So far, only SpaceX from the US has achieved partial success with its reusable rockets (Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets) for reduced costs and profitable orbital flights.

China: Presence in Mali purely economic, says SCMP
On 11 February, an editorial in South China Morning Post titled, “China tipped to keep Mali ties strictly economic as UN peacekeeping mission wraps up,” by Jevans Nyabiage reported on the Chinese peacekeeping force leaving Mali in December of 2023. They came as part of the US peacekeeping mission, and in 2023 it ended its 10-year peacekeeping mission. With the exit of French troops, Mali’s Junta is warming up to China and Russia. In December, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted Mali’s minister of finance, commerce and foreign affairs. Wang said the programs Mali Digital project and the African Solar Belt is to: “help promote the peace and development process in Mali.” Stimson Centre analysed that the Chinese presence in Mali is limited to economic and security interests and not to diplomatic and political.

Taiwan: Top US lawmakers to visit Taipei
On 16 February, according to a report in the Financial Times, Mike Gallagher, head of the US House China committee, will visit Taipei on 21 February with a group of lawmakers in a show of support for Lai Ching-te ahead of his inauguration as president of Taiwan in May 2024. The visit comes after the elections in Taiwan and the victory of Lai, whom Beijing denounced as a “dangerous separatist”. Gallagher’s delegation is expected to meet Lai in addition to Han Kuo-yu, the newly elected legislative Speaker from the opposition Kuomintang party. Gallagher’s committee focuses on threats from China and voices support for Taiwan amid the growing military threat by Beijing against the island country.

East Asia and the Pacific This Week
North Korea: Kim Yo Jong approves Japanese Prime Fumio Kishida’s visit
On 15 February, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong supported Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s comments in a positive light. She said: “There is no impediment to closer ties with Japan and there may come a day when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visits Pyongyang.” Kishida expressed earlier that he wanted to explore the possibility of meeting the North Koreans and resolving the issue of Japanese civilians abducted in the 1970s and 80s. Kim Yo Jong stated that the statements are positive if Japan plans to advance their relations. She said; “If Japan makes a political decision to open a new path for improving ties based on mutual respect and respectful behaviour, it is my view that the two countries can open a new future.”

Japan: Economic ranking slip behind Germany
On 15 February 2024, according to Business Standard, Japan fell behind Germany to become the world’s 4th largest economy. According to the Cabinet Office data on real GDP, Japan’s economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.4 per cent between October and December 2023. Until 2010, Japan’s economy was the second largest when China overtook it. Japan’s economy currently stands at USD 4.2 trillion compared to Germany’s USD 4.5 trillion in 2023. The fall in the ranking is due to the weak Japanese yen, a decline in its population, and a lag in productivity and competition. India is poised to overtake Japan in the next two years, and the gap between the developed and emerging economies is shrinking. Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said that the forecast for GDP growth would reduce from 1.9 per cent in 2023 to 0.5 per cent in 2024.

Australia: Canberra bats for Julian Assange’s release
On 14 February, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese voted in favour of a motion in the parliament’s lower house to extradite the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to Australia amid the upcoming London High Court hearing. The motion, moved by independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie, was passed with 86 votes in favour and 42 against. The conservative opposition coalition opposed the motion. The US officials are looking to extradite Assange from Britain to the US, where he is wanted on criminal charges over Wikileaks release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. The public hearing will take place on 20-21 February.

Australia: Minister to request China for removal of trade barriers and Wang sentence
On 13 February, the Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said that he would meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao at a World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Abu Dhabi. He told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he would push for the removal of restrictions on imported Australian wine, lobsters, and meat, alongside the discussion about the suspended death sentence given to Australian writer Yang Hengjun. He anticipates that this move will not derail the ties between the two countries. Beijing has removed most of the restrictions on Australian exports, which were imposed since COVID-19 restrictions, and some restrictions remain only for fewer items. In a statement Farrell said: “The Australian Government continues to press for the removal of all remaining trade impediments affecting Australian exports to China.”

Southeast Asia This Week
Thailand: Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on parole
On 17 February, according to Reuters, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is set to be released from hospital detention on 18 February. He went on a self-exile for fifteen years abroad to avoid jail. He was sentenced to eight years by the King after returning but has been serving six months in hospital detention since August. While he will be on parole, public prosecutors could think about charging him for insulting the monarchy in 2015 during an interview.

Thailand: 33 billion worth of public-private investment
On 16 February, according to Reuters, the government plans 1.19 trillion baht worth of public-private partnership investment projects for 2020-2027. This amount is higher than the previously approved 1.17 baht, as it is to invite more private investment in government projects. In a statement, the public-private partnership committee approved an investment worth 18.4 billion at Laem Chabang port. The Ministry of Finance predicts 2.8 per cent growth in 2024 and 1.8 per cent in 2023.

Singapore: Exports rise by 16.8 per cent
On 16 February, Reuters reported that Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports rose to USD 15.5 billion in January 2024, compared to the same month in the previous year, at USD 13.3 billion. This increase has reversed the 1.5 per cent contraction experienced in December.

Indonesia: Plans to purchase second-hand fighter jets from Qatar
On 11 February, Indonesia dropped its plans of purchasing Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets from Qatar for USD 790 million. The Defence Ministry spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak stated that the planned contract has been cancelled and “there is no active contract”., Indonesia’s Defence Minister and frontrunner in the upcoming presidential elections Prabowo Subianto had earlier supported the defence purchase indicating that the jets were in good condition even though they were second-hand. The ministry’s earlier purchase of 12 fighter jets was delayed due to the government’s fiscal constraints.

South Asia This Week
Pakistan: 36 per cent of newcomers for the National Assembly
On 16 February, The Express Tribune reported that the recently concluded elections rendered a grand opportunity for newcomers. Around 96 newly elected lawmakers would take their National Assembly (NA) seats for the first time which is also the highest ever for the country. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has bagged the majority with 52 seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 15 seats, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) have secured 11 each. This is about 36 percent of those elected. Additionally, more than 100 independents have been elected to the national assembly this time which is also the highest ever for the country. Most of the PTI-backed independents hailed from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Besides these parties, six women won in a direct contest.

Pakistan: Stock exchange faces meltdown amid post-election uncertainty
On 12 February, the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) witnessed a significant downturn, with the benchmark KSE 100-share index dropping below 61,000 amid post-election political instability. Analysts attributed the panic selling to uncertainty in the political landscape and the lack of clarity on the circular debt resolution plan. The Head of Research at Arif Habib Ltd, Tahir Abbas, told Dawn that the market needed “clarity on government formation and key portfolios,” as well as the “economic roadmap of the new government.” Another researcher pointed out that the market would “remain under pressure” until it was clear who would form the coalition government. Value hunters engaged in selective buying at attractive levels, but split mandates and uncertainty surrounding the formation of a new coalition government weighed on investor sentiments. Heavy selling pressure was observed in key sectors such as oil and gas, contributing to the index’s decline. Moody’s rating concerns, political protests, and security unrest further exacerbated the bearish sentiment. 

Pakistan: ECC decision on gas tariff hike and other economic matters
On 14 February, in response to proposed gas tariff increases, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) declined a 40-66.67 per cent hike for protected domestic consumers, opting for a slight increase instead. The final approval rests with the federal cabinet. The fertilizer sector will absorb the impact of reduced tariffs for protected consumers. Non-protected domestic consumers face varied increases, with tariffs rising from five per cent to 66.67 per cent. CNG prices are set to increase to PKR 3,750 per MMBTU, Agritech and Fatima fertilizer gas prices have increased to PKR 1,597 per MMBTU while for fuel purposes, and their tariff has been increased to PKR 1,750 per MMBTU. Other ECC decisions include approving sales tax rationalization and additional funding for the Intelligence Bureau. The hike in tariff was done to meet the 15 February deadline set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for hiking the gas prices under a structural benchmark criterion.

Pakistan: Sindh High Court orders ECP to address petitioners’ complaints by 22 February
On 13 February, roughly 50 petitions challenged the provisional results of elections on National Assmebly and provincial assembly seats were disposed of by the Sindh High Court (SHC), which then directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to use speaking orders and decide the petitioners’ complaints by 22 February. On the matter of consolidating results, the ECP was ordered to resolve discrepancies in Form-45 and Form-47 after verifying records with the ECP or given by the petitioners. The two-judge bench of the SHC had partially heard cases of maintaining 45 petitions, majorly filed by PTI-backed independents against the provisional results of 16 NA and 20 PA seats. It was noted by the bench that: “In case of any further grievance, the aggrieved parties will be at liberty to seek their remedy as available to them under the Elections Act, 2017 by approaching the relevant forum, including tribunal, etc. constituted for such purposes in accordance with law.” The PTI contested the victory of 15 MQM-P leaders and three PPP leaders, asking the SHC to declare Form-47 void. JI and PPP members also filed petitions, challenging the provisional results.

Pakistan: PML-N on the verge of solidifying its majority in federal and Punjab assemblies
On 14 February, The Express Tribune reported that the PML-N is on the verge of solidifying its majority in both the federal and Punjab assemblies,thereby furthering its status as a dominant political entity in the country’s political landscape. It is backed by PPP, PML-Q, MQM and other independents. Currently, these parties collectively hold 159 general seats in the National Assembly- the PML-N holds 82 seats, the PPP has 54 seats, the MQM has 17, the PML-Q has 3, and the IPP and BAP have 2 and 1 seats respectively.This also includes seven independents. Efforts to secure reserved seats for women and minorities could potentially boost the coalition’s strength to 202 members which is more than a simple majority of 169 needed in the National Assembly. In Punjab, where government formation requires 186 seats, the PML-N, with 151 seats and potential support from independents, is poised to secure 33 out of 66 reserved seats for women and 4 minority seats, reaching a total of 188 members. With support from the PPP, PML-Q, and IPP, the coalition’s strength in the Punjab Assembly could rise to 214 members.

India: Supreme Court rules electoral bonds as unconstitutional 
On 15 February, the Supreme Court of India declared the electoral bonds scheme, which provides blanket anonymity to political donors, as "unconstitutional and manifestly arbitrary." According to the court, it allows wealthy corporations to make unlimited political donations. The Chief Justice of India stated that the absolute non-disclosure of the source of political finance through electoral bonds encouraged corruption and a culture of quid pro quo with the ruling party to implement policy changes or obtain a license. The court ruled the State Bank of India, the only authority to issue electoral bonds to immediately stop issuing them and directed to publish the details of the political parties that received bonds on its official website by 13 March 2024. In addition, the bank has to refund the purchasing party once the uncashed bonds have been returned.
 
India: Prime minister visits the UAE
On 13 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised India and the UAE as "partners in progress," during his two-day visit to the UAE. He said that the “relationship serves as a model for the world and are writing a new history in the third decade of the twenty-first century.” He added: "In term s of community and culture, the achievements of Bharat and the UAE serve as a model for the world to emulate." On 14 February, he inaugurated Dubai’s largest Hindu temple as a part of his visit. 
 
India: Navy personnel released by Qatar 
On 13 February, eight Indian Navy veterans, who had been in Qatari custody since August 2022, were released in Doha. The men were given the death penalty by a lower court in Qatar on 26 October, 2023. Subsequently, a Court of Appeal in Doha struck down the death penalty on 28 December, 2023. The details of the case in which the men were arrested were not shared with the media by either side while the Indian officials maintained that the case was “sensitive.” The release was followed by the announcement of the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Qatar where he met the Prime Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani to discuss bilateral relations. 
 
India: ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers meeting
On 13 February, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar attended the ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers in Indonesia and discussed various areas of cooperation. He discussed fintech, food security, and maritime security with the leaders. The Ministers discussed the situation in Myanmar, which has been experiencing widespread protests and military airstrikes. Additionally, the Minister met with Foreign Ministers of Brunei, South Korea, and New Zealand and discussed bilateral cooperation and critical and emerging technologies. His visit included discussions on enhancing trade, food security, mobility, and space cooperation. 
 
Nepal: Impact of the Tibet border closure
On 14 February, The Kathmandu Post reported that the Nepal-China border closure in 2020 due to the pandemic (Tiptala Bhanjyang border point) significantly impacted residents living near the border in Nepal's Taplejung district. Families have been separated, with individuals unable to visit their relatives in Tibet for four years. Additionally, the closure has disrupted local trade, as residents rely on Tibet for essential goods and as a market for their products. The lack of phone connectivity near the border further added to the challenges faced by people. Despite efforts by the Nepali side, including the distribution of border identity cards, the border is closed. 
 
Nepal: Foreign Minister attends the Indian Ocean Conference
On 12 February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs NP Saud raised climate and security concerns at the 7th Indian Ocean Conference 2024 in Perth, Australia. He emphasized the Indian Ocean's warming, leading to sea level rise, extreme weather events, and disruptions in the food supply chain. He also highlighted security challenges such as maritime terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal migration, stressing the need for immediate action. He highlighted the importance of the Indian Ocean for global trade and Nepal's dependency on it for reaching international markets. He also highlighted the link between the ocean and the Himalayan region, emphasizing the need to protect both from the impacts of climate change. 
 
Nepal: Increasing poverty levels 
On 12 February, the National Statistics Office released the fourth Nepal Living Standards Survey 2022-23 assessment which states that the country has not come out of poverty. Around 20.27 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. The report underscores concern over Nepal’s failure to restore the standard of living. According to the Kathmandu Post, a chief statistician stated: “We expected to cut down the poverty rate to 15 percent of the population, but it stayed over 20 percent,” The causes of the poverty include political instability, prolonged load-shedding, earthquakes, the introduction of the new federal constitution, the first and second federal elections, and pandemic. There is a huge poverty gap between urban and rural areas. Adding this, they opined the country has no options to overcome the issue. 
 
Bangladesh: Overhaul in economy
On 12 February, while addressing the parliament, Finance Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said that the government is rebuilding its economy as a whole. He said: "Not only is the black money, but the entire economic situation under review. After seeing the initial symptoms, it seems to be that we are heading towards development. I will get a complete picture a few more days later,” addressing questions on the dollar crisis and economic turmoil due to the money laundering issue. He confirmed that the country is recovering at a slower pace which came to light after he met with several delegates from the Asian Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
 
Sri Lanka: Poor air quality
On 11 February, the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) reported that several parts of the country had been facing deteriorating air condition levels. The assessment highlighted the districts including Colombo, Akurana in Kandy, and Jaffna. This threatens health security in the affected regions.
 
Sri Lanka: Application to join RCEP
On 11 February, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe confirmed that Sri Lanka has applied to join the RCEP trade agreement despite India's exit. He emphasized the need for diverse markets for Sri Lanka's growth while recognizing the existing free trade agreement with India. He expects presidential elections in 2024 and parliamentary elections soon after. Regarding India-Maldives tensions, he ruled out Sri Lankan mediation and expressed hope for a bilateral resolution.
 
Central Asia This Week
Azerbaijan: UK minister to visit Azerbaijan
On 17 February, Azer News reported that UK Minister for Energy Security and Zero Emissions Strategy Graham Stuart will visit Azerbaijan next week where he will hold a series of bilateral meetings in Baku. Followed by his visit, on 22 February, the Minister will deliver a lecture at the ADA University, speaking about the UK’s experience in holding COP26 in connection with the upcoming COP29 in Azerbaijan in November 2024. The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) was held in Glasgow in 2021. This year Azerbaijan will host the 29th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - COP29. On 11 December 2023, the decision was made at the plenary meeting of COP28 held in Dubai. Baku will host about 70-80 thousand foreign guests during the two weeks.
 
Armenia: PM Pashinyan congratulates Lithuanian PM
On 16 February, Armenia Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan congratulated Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė on the occasion of the country’s national holiday. Pashinyam said: “On behalf of the Government of the Republic of Armenia and myself, I cordially congratulate you and the friendly people of Lithuania on the occasion of the National Day of the Republic of Lithuania, wishing prosperity, progress and peace.” In a letter sent to Šimonytė, he asserted that high-level political discussions based on democratic principles between both of countries are very important to Armenia. He further extended his gratitude to Lithuania’s prime minster for her unwavering support to Armenia’s ongoing democratic reform process. He concluded by saying: “I sincerely hope that by making joint efforts, we will be able to implement the agreements reached in the framework of your visit to Armenia last October for further expanding the relations between our countries in both bilateral and multilateral formats.”
 
Armenia: Parliament speaker meets Bulgarian President
On 15 February, Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Alen Simonyan and President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev met in Sofia. Radev and Simonyan decided during their meeting that there is great potential for growth in the areas of bilateral economic and investment cooperation between Armenia and Bulgaria, as well as an excellent collaboration and constructive discussion. Throughout their discussions, Radev emphasized the significance of increasing transportation, energy, and digital connectivity in the area as well as Bulgaria's desire to increase commerce and investment in Armenia. The significance of the Armenian-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Economy, which offers extra resources for business cooperation between the two nations, was highlighted by him. The parties also emphasized the longstanding historical and cultural links between Armenians and Bulgarians, which provide a strong basis for expanding student and researcher exchanges and strengthening collaboration in education. President Radev said: “Bulgaria will also continue to work to strengthen the European Union's partnership with Armenia.” The parties also spoke about current concerns about strategies for achieving long-term security, stability, and peace in the South Caucasus region.
 
Kyrgyzstan: President attends regional security dialogue in Bishkek
On 16 February, according to TASS, the Sixth Regional Security Dialogue was attended by security officials from Iran, China, India, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The panelists talked about the new challenges posed by drug smuggling and current developments in Afghanistan. President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Zhaparov has called on the United States to unfreeze the assets of Da Afghanistan Bank, citing drug smuggling, terrorism, and a faltering economy as the country's three main issues. President Japarov reportedly briefed regional security officers on the state of affairs in Afghanistan, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Kabar News. Such talks, in Japarov’s opinion, were beneficial at a time when Afghanistan was going through a trying moment and confronting numerous obstacles. He conveyed his satisfaction with the prompt action, coordination, and collaboration of neighboring nations in averting violence in Afghanistan. He further asserted that Kyrgyzstan would keep sending humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan, particularly to those affected by the earthquake in the western province of Herat.
 
Middle East This Week
Israel: Prime minister asserts possibility of elections
On 17 February, during a press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was questioned regarding the possibility of holding early elections. In response to mounting calls for early elections he stated that the next Knesset vote will occur “in a few years,” according to the Israeli election calendar. He said: “The elections have a date, it’s in a few years. I suggest we don’t concern ourselves with that during the war.” October 2026 is the official date of the upcoming general elections. A new Knesset would further polarize Israelis, according to Netanyahu, who declared that “elections are the last thing we need right now.” According to him, “a political fight is exactly what Hamas would want.”
 
UAE: His Excellency met with prime minister of Kurdistan region
On 15 February, During the World Governments Summit (WGS) 2024, His Excellency Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, met with His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Throughout the discussion, His Excellency Masrour Barzani and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid talked about bilateral ties and how to improve collaboration in a variety of disciplines. The conference also demonstrated the UAE’s dedication to deepening its relations with Kurdistan. Similar thoughts were expressed by His Excellency Barzani, who stated that the World Governments Summit provides a forum for global leaders to talk about how to influence governance in the future. Additionally, he conveyed his gratitude for the UAE’s efforts to advance international cooperation values.
 
Iran: Displays its naval strength by simulating an attack on an Israeli base
On 13 February, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran demonstrated its naval skills by simulating an attack on a significant Israeli airbase. Video footage revealed that the IRGC fired a variety of weapons from submarines and ships. As tensions grow throughout the region and Israel’s conflict in Gaza intensifies, the simulation seems to be sending a clear message. The video demonstrated how the IRGC re-created the Israeli airbase Palmachim by firing missiles from two different sites. The facility serves as a vital hub for operations in the conflict with Gaza. It treats injured Israeli soldiers and houses fighter planes in several hangars. At Palmachim last month, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel will not think twice about attacking Iran.
 
Qatar: Partnership with EAA and OHCCHR
On 14 February, the Education Above All (EAA) Foundation and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCCHR) announced a partnership which aimed at empowering youth and children worldwide through education, the Qatari entity shared in a statement. The collaboration between EAA and OHCHR is designed to protect and advance the right to education in vulnerable communities, with a particular focus on Palestine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Colombia. EAA said: “This collaborative project seeks to empower and build the capacities of young people and youth organisations in a range of countries and regions, especially those facing conflict and situations of vulnerability.”
 
Africa This Week
Annual African Union Summit to begin on 15 February
On 14 February, Al Jazeera reported on the beginning of the 37th annual African Union Summit on 15 February at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. According to AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, regional integration and “maintaining momentum in addressing issues of peace and security” is on the agenda. However, the conflicts and humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray, Oromo and Amhara regions complemented by the tension with Somalia over the port deal with Somaliland is perceived as ironic. In January, Mahamat addressed a presummit session of the AU’s Permanent Representative’s Committee. He stressed the importance of continent-wide solidarity citing conflicts in Sudan and Chad. However, Ethiopia was not mentioned.
 
Nigeria: Economic recession and increasing cost of living
On 13 February, BBC reported on the economic recession and increased cost of living in Nigeria. The cost of rice has increased 70 per cent from that of 2023 and people are forced to rely on the Afafata rice. Afafata rice is normally discarded as not saleable at the end of the sorting and is sold to farmers to feed the fish. Besides, the cancellation of fuel subsidies and devaluation of the Naira has worsened inflation. Protests broke out across the country demanding a reduction of the cost of goods.
 
Liberia: Appoints first female defence minister
On 12 February, Liberian President Joseph Boakai appointed retired Brigadier General Geraldine George as the acting Minister of Defence. Geraldine George is the first female defence minister in the country. She enrolled in the army in 2006 and then joined the elite forces. She served six years as deputy chief of staff. The development came after the protests carried out by soldiers' wives demanding the resignation of the former Minister of Defence Prince Charles Johnson III for low wages in the military barracks.
 
South Africa: Deploys troops to assist DRC
On 13 February, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the deployment of 2,900 soldiers as part of the Southern African mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) to assist conflict-torn DRC. The deployment accounts for ZAR two billion and is said to last until December. SAMIDRC was initiated in May 2023 after DRC left the East African bloc citing its ineffectiveness. In addition to South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania are extending their support.
 
Senegal: ECOWAS chair meets President Sall
On 12 February, ECOWAS chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu met Senegal’s President Macky Sall at the Senegalese capital Dakar in the wake of the postponement of the presidential election. The visit is expected to lead to consensual solutions and create favourable conditions for holding open, credible, inclusive, and transparent presidential elections. The development came after the bloc held emergency-level talks the previous week, discussing the political crisis in Senegal and the withdrawal of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso from the bloc.

Europe and Americas This Week 
Greece: Bill on same-sex marriage and adoption of children gets Parliament approval
On 16 February, the Greece parliament voted in favour of the bill on same-sex marriage becoming the first orthodox Christian country to legalise the civil marriage of same-sex couples. The bill was approved with a cross-party majority vote of 176-124. Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis remarked on the bill's approval as “a milestone for human rights.” The bill also guaranteed the adoption rights for same-sex couples. However, the law does not allow for surrogacy parenthood for male couples, for allows it for women who cannot have children due to health issues. The bill received cross-party support from the centre-right New Democracy party, four left-wing parties, including the opposition party Syriza. However, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, condemned the law as a “new reality that seeks only to corrupt the homeland's social cohesion.”
 
The UK: Economy in recession, data shows slowdown in all major sectors
On 15 February, the BBC reported the UK economy falling into recession as data from 2023, indicated an economic slump over the last two quarters with a decline of 0.3 per cent between October and December. In the previous quarter between July to September, the economy shrank by 0.1 per cent. Overall growth for the UK economy in 2023 was only 0.1 per cent. According to the Office for National Statistics, major sectors were affected, such as retail, healthcare, education, manufacturing and construction. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, is exploring means to reduce public spending to allow for tax cuts in the Budget for 06 March. However, Ruth Gregory, Deputy chief economist at Capital Economics remarked that "this recession is as mild as they come." This sets as a drawback to the pledges made by UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak who assured for growth, cutting down small boats and National Health Service (NHS) waiting list.
 
Germany: Foreign Minister Baerbock visits Israel to push for a ceasefire
On 14 February, The Times of Israel reported the arrival of German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock in Israel, for her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's President, Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Israel Katz. Her fifth visit to Israel since 07 October comes with the agenda to push for a ceasefire, as Israel plans to continue with its operations in Rafah. Earlier on X, Baerbock wrote about the 1.3 million people in Rafah seeking protection and stated that an Israeli offensive “on Rafah would be a humanitarian catastrophe.” She indicated the need for a pause in fighting and would talk about the hostage release and humanitarian situation in Gaza with the Israeli counterparts. 
 
Serbia and UAE: Sign MoU on development and cooperation of AI
On 14 February, BalkanInsight reported the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Serbia and UAE by Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic and Serbian Minister of Information and Telecommunications, Mihailo Jovanovic and Secretary General of the UAE’s Advanced Technology Research Council, Faisal Al Bannai at the World Government Summit held in Dubai. The MoU will focus on “closer cooperation between Serbia and the UAE in the field of development and application of AI,” as stated by Brnabic. The language model developed by UAE is equivalent to US-based ChatGPT, and under the MoU, Serbian institutes would be able to use UAE’s model. Earlier, Serbia had signed MoUs with G42 Cloud, UAE-based AI and cloud computing company, and China’s BGI Genomics. 
 
Americas This Week
Brazil: Troika formed with UAE and Azerbaijan to advocate for CO2 cutting pledges
On 13 February, the UAE’s Conference of the Parties (COP28) presidency said a “troika” would be formed with the UAE, Azerbaijan, and Brazil, former and upcoming hosts of UN climate summits This would be with the intention of advocating for an international agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with more ambitious carbon dioxide-cutting pledges ahead of the 2023 COP30 summit. The Emirati president of last year’s negotiations, Sultan Al Jaber, emphasized: “We cannot afford to lose momentum, we must do everything we can to keep 1.5 C within reach.” Although nearly 200 governments signed the Paris climate agreement in 2015 to phase out fossil fuels and cap global warming at 1.5C, the aim is nowhere close to being reached. The final agreement signed at COP28 added that the Troika partnership should “significantly enhance international cooperation and the international enabling environment to stimulate ambition in the next round of nationally determined contributions.”
 
Peru: Reshuffling of key cabinet positions
On 13 February, Peruvian President Dina Boluarte nominated replacements for four key members of her cabinet, including a new economy chief and a new energy and mining minister, who will be tasked with managing a weak economy that fell into recession in 2023. Economist Jose Arista, a former budget director who briefly served as economy minister under former President Manuel Merino, was appointed to succeed Alex Contreras. Boluarte appointed Romulo Mucho, a mining engineer and the ministry's former vice minister, as the country's energy and mining minister, succeeding Oscar Vera. Additionally, Walter Astudillo was appointed as the new defence minister, and Juan Carlos Castro as the environment chief.
 
The US: House of Representatives votes to impeach homeland security secretary amid rise in illegal migrants
On 13 February, the House of Representatives narrowly voted to impeach the US Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, after holding him responsible for the unprecedented influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border. The chamber, dominated by Republicans, voted 214 to 213 to carry out the first impeachment against a cabinet member in almost 150 years. This issue will be discussed in the Senate, but is unlikely to pass as the Senate is dominated by Republicans. US President Joe Biden described the “political stunt” as a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship,” while Mayorkas’ opponents accused him of not living up to his oath to “well and faithfully discharge the duties” of his office, considering the rise in migrants. With more than 6.3 million migrants known to have entered the US illegally since 2021, the issue has become a significant part of the upcoming elections, and this impeachment may be used by Donald Trump in his campaign to defeat Biden.

The US: Top officials criticise Trump’s remarks about NATO
On 12 February, US President Joe Biden blasted the “dangerous” comments made by Donald Trump with regard to NATO, saying that the stakes to increase funding to Ukraine “have risen” as a result of the “un-American” signal sent by Trump. Earlier on 10 February, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia to do “whatever they hell they want” to “delinquent” countries that did not pay to support NATO. Biden said that no president had” ever bowed down to a Russian dictator,” emphasizing that he himself “never will.” The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, asserted that a “suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines” the security of NATO members, and puts “American and European soldiers at increased risk.” He assured that any aggression toward NATO would be dealt with a “united and forceful response.” The Polish Defence Minister, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, also commented on Trump’s statements, arguing that “undermining the credibility of allied countries means weakening the entire NATO.” Additionally, the European Council president criticised Trump’s “reckless statements.”
 
Argentina: Javier Milei regards Pope as “most important Argentine person” following a meeting
On 12 February, the President of Argentina, Javier Milei, met Pope Francis at the Vatican. Milei, who had once called the pope an “imbecile” and a “filthy leftist,” said in an interview after his meeting that he “realised recently is that the Pope is the most important Argentine person in the whole of Argentina, he’s the leader of Catholics in the world.” The pope brushed off Milei’s earlier remarks as campaign rhetoric, and the Vatican confirmed that the two held “cordial discussions.”
 
Argentina: Discussions held between Javier Milei and Italian officials
On 12 February, the President of Argentina, Javier Milei, met his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella in Rome as part of his first multistep foreign tour. Both leaders agreed on initiating a “new stage in the bilateral relationship and to give a sign of confidence for investments.”  Milei also met the Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, with the similar aim of developing ties between Argentina and Italy.


Newsmakers
ALEXEI NAVALNY
Putin’s fiercest critic

Rosemary Kurian

On 16 February, Russia’s prison service announced the death of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest domestic opponent. A lawyer, opposition leader, and the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). The cause of death was deemed to be loss of consciousness after going for a walk, according to the prison service. Born on 04 June 1976 in Obninsk, Navalny was the son of an army officer, who obtained a law degree and spent some time in the US on a fellowship at Yale. This was the reason the Kremlin tagged Navalny as a foreign agent to charge him and dismiss his opposition. Navalny rose to prominence in 2011 through his anti-corruption investigations against Russian state corporations and allegations against senior Russian officials, the elites, whom he referred to as autocrats who caused the disastrous war with Ukraine. During the 2018 presidential elections, he was banned from contesting in the elections, being regarded as the only candidate capable of defeating Putin. In the years that followed, he was detained multiple times. There have been several suspected attempts on his life, the one confirmed being the Novichok poisoning in August 2020. Navalny collapsed on board a flight over Siberia, later being rushed to a hospital in Omsk. He was later airlifted to Berlin after persuasion by a Germany-based charity, where they found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group,” which he survived. The Kremlin denied all accusations over its involvement in the repeated attempts to kill Navalny, and instead stated that he was a CIA stooge intending to topple the Russian government. Navalny later found that Russian security agents were responsible for putting poison in his underpants, leading to his label for Putin as “Putin, the Underwear Poisoner.” 

Several criminal cases were charged against him, and he was serving a 11.5 years term in prison, when he was given an extra 19 years in August 2023, which Navalny stated was Russia’s tactic to force Russians into political submission. After his imprisonment, Navalny continued his criticism of Putin and the Russian elite using his YouTube channel while the remainder of his FBK branches tried to fight Russian corruption. After the extended prison sentence in 2023, Navalny was moved to a maximum-security penal colony, widely regarded as reserved for Russia’s most dangerous criminals, where he died.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS
Impeached by a narrowed vote in the US Congress

Navinan GV

On 13 February, Homeland Security Secretary of US State Department Alejandro Mayorkas was impeached successfully by the House of Republicans in its second attempt by a single vote. The chamber dominated by Republicans voted 214 to 213 and Democratic led senate has not voted to convict him. This is the first time in about 150 years that a cabinet secretary has been impeached. Mayorkas was impeached after the Republican politicians blamed him for unexpected arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the US as a political refugee with his family, has spent more than two decades serving America with integrity in law enforcement and public service. He has a distinguished career in law enforcement and has served as the Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2016 and as the Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2009 to 2013. He has been involved in various initiatives, including the development and implementation of DACA, cybersecurity agreements, and human trafficking programs. As Secretary of Homeland Security, Mayorkas has implemented policies related to counterterrorism, cybersecurity, aviation security, border security, port security, maritime security, administration and enforcement of immigration laws, protection of national leaders, protection of critical infrastructure, detection of and protection against chemical, biological and nuclear threats to the homeland, and response to disasters. Mayorkas has been accused of a “breach of the public trust” and “willfully refusing” to execute border laws. Republicans have accused the Biden administration of neglecting Trump’s border security strategies, which they say deterred migrants. They also note that the Biden administration’s initiatives have attracted migrants. Almost 6.3 million migrants have entered the US illegally in which the Trump sees it as a trump card against Joe Biden. In the United States, migrant crossings have moved geographically from Texas to Arizona and California, with state officials crediting unilateral border security initiatives.


About the Authors
Padmashree Anandhan is a Project Associate at NIAS, Bengaluru. Anu Maria, Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith are Research Assistants at NIAS, Bengaluru. Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD scholars at NIAS, Bengaluru. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S and Gopi Keshav are post graduate scholars at University of Madras, Alka Bala, Rosemary Kurian, and Nuha Aamina are undergraduate scholars at St. Joseph University. 

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