This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
December 5 to 10, 2016
There are still three weeks left in 2016, and both local and global politics continue to be marked by uncertainty and destruction. In Europe, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his resignation, after losing a referendum with reforms to reduce the power of the Senate and to fix institutional paralysis, while in Iceland, the anti-establishment Pirate Party has been invited to form the government, after both the left- and right-wing parties failed to do so. In the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria – epicentres of the refugee crisis and of multi-party conflicts – war continues, and international aid has not been forthcoming. And in the United States, the transition phase of President-elect Donald Trump continues to be marked by perceived missteps, conflicts of interest, and even greater ambiguity.
Perhaps the only consolation this week: the defeat of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Described as one of the most repressive leaders in his region, he had previously vowed to stay in power for a billion years. Guess not.
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- One of the most repressive leaders in the West African region, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, was defeated in his bid for re-election. His defeat “is a rare turn for the crop of longtime African leaders who have amassed so much power – and often, wealth – through decades of incumbency that they sometimes manage to stay in office until death“.
- Five candidates will face off in a debate in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the race to be the chief of the African Union.
- At least 97 people were killed, after a 6.5-magnitude quake in Aceh, Indonesia.
- “Foreign Policy” is characterising the ongoing assault on Myanmar’s Rohingya as “a genocide in the making“, with systematic dehumanisation, isolation inside camps and barricaded ghettos, and violent attacks involving security forces. The challenge for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, however – whose National League of Democracy won a landslide victory last year – is that criticism of actions in the Rakhine State would be interpreted as a sign of sympathy for the Rohingya, causing her to lose support.
- “Ten years at the top is a long time … A lot of leaders stay at the top too long“: What New Zealand Prime Minister John Key – who has been in power since 2008 – said, when he announced his resignation.
- 47 people on board a Pakistan International Airlines flight were killed, when the airplane crashed.
- Following the death of Uzbekistan’s first and only president, Islam Karimov, in September this year, former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won 88.6 per cent of the vote to be the next president. While “he intends to ape [Mr.] Karimov’s blueprint for governing, which was characterised by endemic corruption and brutal human rights abuses“, there is also the possibility of reform in Central Asia’s most populous country.
- Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer lost Austria’s presidential election, and although the position is ceremonial in the country, “the poll had been seen as a sign of how well populist candidates might do elsewhere in Europe“.
- After announcing that she would seek a fourth term in the federal elections next year, and after losses of her party in local elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel “called for a ban on full-face veils in the country“.
- No party in Iceland won a majority in the general election in October, and after both the left and right-wing parties failed to form a government, the country’s president is inviting the anti-establishment Pirate Party to form a government.
- After losing a referendum – which many saw coming, given opinion polls consistent with the result – in which Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi proposed reforms to reduce the power of the Senate and to fix institutional paralysis, he announced his resignation, plunging the country “into a new phase of political uncertainty and possible economic turmoil“. The vote would likely to be interpreted as another victory for populist forces too.
The Middle East
- As the United Nations prepares for a potential mass exodus of up to 700,000 Iraqi civilians, mainly Sunni, funding is not keeping up. Its refugee agency has only secured 57 per cent of the money it needs.
- Government forces took control of a large stretch of territory in Aleppo, Syria, and the apathy of the international population has been a concerned. Russia and the Syrian government are guilty of transgressions, and “the threat of Russia’s veto power has [also] been enough to paralyse the [United Nations] Security Council“.
- President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen – the first between an American president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations were cut in 1979 – which could cause a major rift with China. Former Senator Bob Dole had worked behind the scenes as a lobbyist to establish “high-level contact between Taiwanese officials and [Mr.] Trump’s staff“.
- In return for keeping jobs in Indiana, the United States, air-conditioner and furnace maker Carrier will receive almost S$10 million in tax breaks. Carrier’s decision to close a plant became a national issue during the presidential elections, “after a video of a manager announcing the layoffs went viral“, and Mr. Trump seized the moment to rally supporters.
- In a victory to the thousands of protestors near the Dakota Access Pipeline, the government said it would not approve permits for its construction, and will consider alternative routes. Protestors say the proposed site sits near sacred burial sites and could damage drinking water, but given the imminent presidency of Mr. Trump – who has taken a different view – there is a great deal of uncertainty.
- A North Carolina man, “motivated by the storm of fake online news about a suspected child trafficking ring allegedly running out of [a popular Washington pizzeria] and led by [former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton“, was armed to help rescue children, and was later charged with four counts.
- The death of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, together with his mixed legacy and the victory of President-elect Donald Trump, many are worried that “the nascent rapprochement with the United States may be reversed“.
- With prices projected to surpass 2,000 per cent, Venezuela is introducing six new notes and three new coins to alleviate the problem of inflation and therefore of doing business. Right now, “paying a restaurant or supermarket bill without a debit or credit card can often require a backpack full of cash“.