The World this Week

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The World this Week
Afghan Elections, UNGA Meetings, Climate Change Summit, Impeachment inquiry against Trump, US-Japan Trade agreement and the Brexit troubles in UK Parliament

  GP Team

The World This Week looks at the just concluded elections in Afghanistan, ongoing UNGA meetings, UN Climate Action summit, inquiry against Trump at the US Congress, US-Japan trade agreement, and the troubles facing Boris Johnson in the UK Parliament

Nidhi Dalal, Harini Madhusudhan, Rashmi Ramesh, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Lakshman Chakravarthy and Sourina Bej

 

Afghanistan: A successful election, despite a low turnout

What happened?

On 28 September, Afghanistan completed the electoral process for selecting the President for the fourth time in a row. Based on the pre-election violence across Afghanistan, there was an expectation that the polling would be highly dangerous. When the polling ended on Saturday, the day was not that violence.

However, the polling was not in full swing. Many of the polling booths were closed due to fear of violence. While it would take time to inform the exact numbers that had turned up for polling, it is believed that it was a low turnout.

On the other hand, there were also polling booths across Afghanistan that had witnessed long queues of people waiting to cast their democratic right.  

The results are expected to be announced by the end of October.

What is the background?

This has been the fourth election since 2001 since the overthrow of the Taliban. 

The election had seen registration of over 9 million voters. The threat of violence has been one of the primary focus before the elections. The dangerous environment had already delayed the election dates twice due to threats from the Taliban. There were multiple attacks by the Taliban on hospitals, rallies and the election offices. 

The elections saw the number of polling stations reduced due to security concerns. Only 5,373 out of 7,366 polling stations were operational owing to threats by the Taliban and attempted attacks on the stations. 

While the Ministry of Interior claims the decrease a result of security issues, opposition parties claim the action an intent of suppressing votes. In a country where fraudulent polls are a norm, technologies such as biometric scanners have been deployed to reduce discrepancies. 

The election also took place in the background of a collapsed dialogue between the US and the Taliban. 

What does it mean?

The September elections are significant.

It comes in the backdrop of Taliban’ threat to undermine the electoral process. While the turnout was low, it also shows what an ordinary Afghan wants. Had there been a level playing field, the turnout could have been more.

The polling also took place in a turbulent political environment - after the collapse of US-Taliban peace talks which could have ensured peace and stability in the region. The polling tells that the Afghans have not been totally dismayed with the failure of the dialogue with the Taliban. 

The elections should underline the democratic expectations of ordinary Afghans despite the threat of violence.

 

United Nations: The General Assembly meets again, but no big breakthroughs

What happened?

This week saw the first few rounds of speeches of the leaders at the UNGA. Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsanaro, was the first one to address the general debate amidst the heavy criticism over his economic and environmental policies as fires continue to burn in the Amazon. Mr Bolsonaro insisted that the Amazon is not being “consumed by fire”, and he urged world leaders to come to see for themselves. Boris Johnson had to cut his trip short after the Supreme Court ruling in the UK. However, Johnson met European Council President Donald Tusk but with no luck. 

Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu and Nicolas Maduro were missing at the UNGA. 

So far, the leaders have not made many significant statements in the general debate. 

However, on the sidelines of the general debate at UNGA, multiple meetings were held, which were more significant than the general debate. Expectations remain that the assembly would take strong positions on North Korea, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar and the Kashmir- India-Pakistan stand-off. 

What is the background?

The theme of the 74th Session of the UNGA meeting is on “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion.” The broader focus of this years’ UNGA circles around Iran-US Crisis, Fire in the Saudi Oil fields, Climate and the forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia. 

On 23 September, the UN Secretary-General convened the Climate Summit. Following the convening of the general debate, a UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), took place on the afternoon of 24 September and all day on 25 September. 

On 26 September, the UNGA held a high-level dialogue on financing for development (FfD), as well as a high-level meeting on the elimination of nuclear weapons. 

On 27 September, the UNGA held a high-level meeting to review the progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing States. (SIDS) This was assessed through the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway. 

What does it mean? 

Mid-way through the UNGA, the world has not seen any significant outcomes from the debates. 

The meetings on the sidelines, however, have been somewhat useful; for example, the trade deal between Japan and the US. The widespread attention given to the proceedings of the UNGA by the international media is minuscule. 

The fact that the leaders of China and Russia did not make it to the debates does speak volumes about the broader attitude to the General Assembly. With the world caught among multiple conflicts and disputes, does the world take the UN General Assembly seriously anymore? 

 

The UN Climate Action Summit: No Action Plan yet

What happened?

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the world leaders to deliberate upon the concerns of climate change and to spell out their concrete plans for reducing carbon emissions by 45 per cent over the next ten years. The primary focus was to enhance nationally determined contributions of the Paris Agreement to achieve a more sustainable world. The summit brought together, governments, non-state actors including NGOs, international organizations and business houses. The Secretary-General identified key areas which have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a large extent- energy transition, nature-based solutions, industry transition, cities and local action, climate finance and carbon pricing and resilience. 

The summit witnessed a plethora of speeches and announcements by heads of various countries who resolved to intensify their actions to fight the consequences of climate change. Five countries- the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and Saudi Arabia were not allowed to express their views, due to their commitment to harnessing fossil fuel. There was also a youth summit where young climate activists were given a platform to express their perspectives on climate change and provide solutions. 

What is the background?

Climate change is indiscriminate and omnipresent. In recent years the world is seeing a higher number of climate-related disasters occurring across the world. The wildfires in Siberia, Brazilian Amazon, Indonesia; the disastrous cyclones/hurricanes in Bahamas, east coast of the United States, Arabian Sea; the polar vortex in the US are said to be necessary due to changes in the climatic conditions of the planet. 

There are numerous international conventions and agreements that have looked into this cause. Amongst them, the UN defines Paris Agreement to be a more realistic, visionary and viable document that if implemented, can bring about transformative changes. Moreover, the summit aimed at meeting the targets of the agreement through enhanced nationally determined contributions. 

What does it mean?

The UN Secretary-General said that he wished to hear action-oriented announcements from all the stakeholders. Undoubtedly this is ambitious and far-fetched because mitigation efforts also imply a transformation of the economies. The governments are then expected not to create differences in terms of opportunities, be fair enough to solve economic inequalities and ensure that there are haves and have nots or winners or losers. As noble, the idea seems, it is not very easy for governments to achieve this feat. This is particularly apt in cases of developing countries where there is a juggle between economic growth and climate concerns. 

Also, few countries would not be willing to transform their economies due to the plausible loss of revenue and the difficulty in finding alternatives. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is not very keen on giving up its status of being one of the largest crude oil producers of the world. Russia and the United States also fall in this category where they desire to exploit fossil fuels and export it. 

The summit again observed the difference of approach between smaller states and big powers. Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the Nordic countries, Germany, France and the United Kingdom pronounced stronger measures, while the big economies did not seem to make a mark at the summit. Civil society, through climate protests, ensured that it is heard well. However, these protests and sloganeering were limited to a few countries, mostly the developed world. Therefore, there is another concern about how people in different strata of countries perceive climate change. 

There was no uniformity in the views of the participants of the Climate Action Summit, very similar to all other climate-related summits. Nevertheless, it brought together all those states that had clear, viable, concrete plans to find solutions for this global problem. 

 

US: Trump faces impeachment inquiry over whistleblower complaint 

What happened?

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi has announced that an inquiry would take place as a part of impeachment proceedings in the coming week. The impeachment proceeding against Donald Trump was launched by the democrats after an alleged phone call that the President had made with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July this year. 

A whistleblower complaint following this conversation further revealed that the US President was heard asking favours to Zelensky in the upcoming 2020 American Presidential elections. 

What is the background?

Congress, especially the Democrats, have repeatedly been trying to act against Trump. However, the recently concluded Mueller report which investigated into the possible Russian interference during Trump’s 2016 elections did not fulfil expectations.

On 12 August 2019, a nine-page document was submitted by an unnamed national security official to the intelligence which soon triggered the simmered clash between the Congress and White House. According to reports, Trump had asked Zelensky to launch a corruption scandal against Joe Biden, the 2020 presidential candidate from the Democratic party and his son Hunter Biden who holds business interests in the Ukrainian region. Trump had held the prospects of a possible military aid for Ukraine. The scandal, if triggered, would have boosted the potential of Trump being re-elected in the upcoming Presidential elections. 

What does it mean?

First, the latest push for the Presidential impeachment by the Democrats shows the increasing divide between the Congress and White House. Trump’s increasingly personalized policies with no account for the institution has largely pushed domestic politics into disarray. 

Second, given the upcoming election scenario, it is also important to note that the present legal push is undermining America’s political issues as getting rid of Trump might not be a solution to the larger political phenomenon he represents. USA’s withdrawal from many crucial multilateral forums and agreements in recent times has increasingly made the US into a Foreign policy disaster and projected mainly as the world hegemon’s departure from significant power politics. While, on the other hand, strained and personalized policy interventions by Trump has mostly put countries such as Russia and Ukraine in a good position to use the scenario to pursue their own national interests with the US.

 

US and Japan: A limited trade agreement

What happened?

On Wednesday, 25 September, the United States and Japan agreed on a bilateral trade deal that relaxed tariffs on a limited set of products traded between the two nations. 

Dubbed as a ‘mini deal’, it involves tariff cuts by Japan on agricultural products like beef and pork from the US, in exchange for similar cuts by the US on Japanese industrial products such as steam turbines and machine tools. 

Japan received reassurances from the US that Japanese cars will be excluded from previously threatened THE US tariffs, although not mentioned as part of the current deal. The US President, Donald Trump, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, have signed the deal on the sidelines on the ongoing United Nations General Assembly meeting.   

What is the background?

The US decision to quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 necessitated a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Japan, talks for which started a year ago. Given a trade deficit of US$ 67 billion with Japan, the US has sought to impose import duties on Japanese cars and auto-parts earlier this year, citing the US carmakers’ limited access to the Japanese market. The deal was finally signed after a compromise by the US whereby Japan received last-minute assurances to relax the proposed tariffs on Japanese cars and auto-parts.

The ongoing US-China trade dispute led to crippling tariffs on US agricultural products by China, forcing THE US to establish a deal around its agricultural exports as a way to ease its farm producers.

What does it mean?

The success of a limited trade deal may pave the way for a more comprehensive deal between the US and Japan, after proposed talks scheduled next April. Such ‘mini-deal’ option is being sought by the US to ease its trade tensions with China possibly. 

The failure of a similar option with India this week and the US businesses’ demand for fundamental structural changes in Chinese business policy may prove such watered-down deals to be inept.  

The current deal with Japan, which has a huge market for imported agricultural products, eases out the farmers and ranchers in the US, who form a key electoral base for Trump’s re-election next year. Although a minor step compared to comprehensive trade agreements, Trump is likely to hail this deal as a success with his superlative rhetoric in the upcoming campaign.

A limited deal disturbs global order as the World Trade Organization requires the inclusion of a majority of the two nations’ trade to be covered under a bilateral agreement. Given the fact that the world’s largest and third-largest economies choose to bend the international trade rules, it paves the way for other countries to follow the same.

This deal affects the signatories of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), especially countries like Australia and New Zealand, whose exports to Japan have risen since the enforcement of the CPTPP agreement. Despite having their exports taking a hit, these countries have to witness THE US gaining the same market access but without making any of the same trade-offs incurred by being members of the CPTPP agreement. Such ‘illegal’ trade deals will only discourage other countries from joining or even remaining as a part of CPTPP.

 

UK: Parliament uproar over Boris Johnson’s language

What happened? 

As the Westminster resumes the session from 25 September over the Brexit deal, a bitter row has broken out about the former Labour Party MP, Jo Cox, who was murdered in the act of political violence in 2016. One of Cox’s colleagues has called on the harsh and threatening language of the Prime Minister saying that many MPs are subject to death threats every day which often come with the parroted words of the Prime Minister. Johnson has defended his parliamentary language by calling the assertion ‘humbug’. He further responded that “the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox is to get the Brexit done.”

The leaders of UK opposition parties have further met on 26 September to discuss a plan to stop Boris Johnson from taking the country out of the European Union without a deal. A bill called the Benn Bill has been introduced to stop a no-deal, and the Labour party proposed to hold an election as soon as the no-deal is blocked. The uproar in the Parliament occurred during the debate over the nature of the Benn bill which Johnson has termed as the ‘surrender bill.’ 

What is the background?

The Parliament has resumed its session after the Supreme Court called Johnson’s decision to prorogue as unconstitutional. The court has held that it was impossible to conclude there had been any reason “let alone a good reason - to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks.” 

This has given the scope to the opposition group of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democratic leader Jo Swinson, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Anna Soubry from the Independent Group for Change, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Liz Saville Roberts from Plaid Cymru to formulate a bill to stop a hard Brexit. 

What does it mean? 

The present uproar in the Parliament reveals several fault lines in the leadership as well as in the mannerisms among the Parliamentarians. 

First, as the Labour MP Jess Phillips has pointed out, the debate on the Brexit has steeped deep in the public psyche where the opposition has been subjected to frequent threats and name calls such as “a fascist.” The expression of outrage has become the common parlance with a hard-line language reflecting the frustration of the larger audience over the Brexit. As the leader of the ruling government when Boris Johnson refused to apologize to the lawmakers for his language, Jeremy Corbyn has said, the political rhetoric is bordering on use of destructive language giving expression to an already polarised British society. He was reflecting on Cox’s murder by a far-right activist shouting, “Britain first! This is for Britain.”  

Second, the Brexit has long brought the divisions among the major party, but this was the first time these divisions in the parliament have got nasty and personal. The two main parties and their leaders embody the polar opposites of each other’s values. The animosity is now targeted on personal humiliation. British politics has never been more divided, and it’s easy to see the temptation of leaning into this disdain during the parliamentary debates. The use of abusive language and trolling on social media crosses the political spectrum and often escalates and reflects in the debate inside the Westminster. 

Third, under the debate on the code of conduct by the parliamentarians, the fate of the Brexit also hangs in the balance after the Benn bill was introduced. However, the proponents of a new Bill to prevent No Deal could be difficult to pass that hinges on the Queen’s consent. The bill has entered a clause to impose a requirement that the Prime Minister either agrees to 31 January 2020 or agrees on any new exit date suggested by the European Union. As the procedural rules dictate, the House of Commons requires formal approval for the Bill by the Queen. Hence a strong argument has to be in place to formally receive the Queen’s consent beyond the negotiations by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  

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