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What The Fuck Is Going On In Politics: The Weekly Rundown

What’s happening in Lebanon and Chile? What’s going on with Brexit? What’s the situation in Syria? Here’s everything you need to know.

By Atiya Chowdhury, Manav Chenganda, and Chloé Meley

National Politics:

What’s happening with Brexit now?

On the 17th of October, Boris Johnson secured a deal with the EU, which was rejected by Parliament two days later, on Saturday 19th of October. The plan he proposed was a revised version of Theresa May’s deal, which had been repeatedly turned down by MPs before she eventually resigned in May. Johnson’s deal solves the issue of a Northern Irish backstop (which would have kept the UK in a close trading relationship with the EU so as to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) by replacing such a clause with a new arrangement that would allow the UK to sign new trade deals with countries outside the EU and would also enforce a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain with checks done electronically away from the border. 

This deal, which had infuriated former allies in the DUP (the unionist Northern Irish party), was not approved by Parliament. Instead, MPs decided to postpone any vote on the deal until legislation to transform a withdrawal agreement into UK law has been drafted. Boris Johnson therefore had to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension of the Brexit deadline to 31st January 2020. Earlier this week, the Government presented Parliament with the legislation, but gave MPs a limited three-day timetable to review the legislation, which they rejected. Brexit is therefore currently in limbo, with the reviewing of legislation currently paused and the EU still considering the extension request. 

A no-deal Brexit could still happen on the 31st of October if the EU rejects the Prime Minister’s extension request, and this could lead to economic disruption along with potential medicine and food shortages. 

Also, Boris Johnson wants a General Election to take place on the 12th of December. Labour said they would agree to it on the provision that no-deal is completely ruled out. 

Is a united Ireland a possibility? 

The possibility of a united Ireland is entrenched in the Good Friday Agreement, which states that Northern Ireland could join the Republic of Ireland if both sides agree via referenda. Until the Brexit vote, no one was really considering it a viable option. But now, with Brexit and its complicated ramifications in mind, the uncertain future of Northern Ireland after the UK’s withdrawal has led some to speculate about the possibility of a united Ireland. After all, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and the idea of a hard border between both Irelands as a consequence of the UK leaving the European bloc was vehemently rejected by those who warned against the economic and political consequences of a physical border. Indeed, not only would it impede trade, but it would also potentially disrupt the hard-won peace gained in 1998 after three decades of conflict. 

There is therefore an economic and a security rationale for a united Ireland, but that does not mean it will happen. Indeed, there are a few things to consider. First of all, it is not guaranteed that both sides would agree to a reunification, as they have developed distinct national identities in the twenty years following the end of the Troubles, which more often than not supplant religious affiliation. Secondly, there is always the possibility of a violent unionist minority emerging in a united Ireland, causing unrest. And finally, the logistics. Integrating two territories with widely different political and economic systems is likely to be difficult. Which healthcare system to adopt across the country? Which policies should be implemented to ensure that an economically-disadvantaged Northern-Ireland is brought up to speed? Which flag should be flown on the island? There are many questions that remain unanswered, and which would have to be carefully considered before a referendum is called. If Irish and Northern Irish officials have been cautious until now, a messy Brexit could trigger a chain reaction that would see both Scottish independence and Irish reunification happen without substantial preparation, and the consequences of that are unpredictable. 

International Politics:

What’s the current situation in Syria? 

For the last eight years, Syria has been a hot topic for numerous political news outlets due to the civil war occurring within the country. The fight between the soldiers who support the president Bashar al-Assad, the rebels resisting Assad’s power, and the group known as an Islamic State, has been ongoing for all these years, but what has been the recent political situation in the country?

The situation has become more and more complex over the years due to numerous countries getting involved. With Iran and Russia being the key supporters of the Assad regime, while the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK have been providing support to the rebels in varying degrees, it has become an increasingly intertwined yarn of global politics. 

After President Trump withdrew the US troops from the Syrian-Turkish border, Turkey launched its Operation Peace Spring on October 9 to drive away the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are made up of a majority of Kurdish fighters. As the fight between the Kurds and Turkey rages on, thousands of civilians have fled their homes or have been killed in northeastern Syria. 

Amnesty International has accused the Turkish forces and the Syrian militia of disregard towards civilian life. An investigation by the UN had been launched regarding accusations that the Turkish forces were using white phosphorus against Syrian children. The Turkish government has already been under severe allegations for the illegal and forced deportation of Syrian refugees, including children. During interviews conducted between July and October 2019, Syrian refugees claimed to have been beaten by the Turkish police into signing documents with the false promise of being granted further refuge in Turkey only to be sent back to the war zone. Amnesty has currently reported 20 cases of forced, illegal deportations. 

What caused the protests happening in Chile?

Currently, the international political scene is one of unrest. From Hong Kong to Lebanon, from Spain to Chile, citizens have been joining hands (and sometimes weapons) to protest against their governments. Chileans from all walks of life and ages have rallied together with the intention of making drastic changes in their country. 

A recent metro fare increase introduced by the Chilean government sparked protests by students in Santiago, the country’s capital. The student-led campaign for social reforms resonated within the country. People from neighbouring towns and cities pooled in to join what has been a long-awaited protest. 

Disapproval of the conservative billionaire, President Sebastian Piñera, his cabinet and the current policies are widespread in the nation. According to the protesters, the rise in metro fares was only the tipping point, as the underlying cause of the protests is prevailing inequality. Deficient public services, low wages and pensions, and rising living costs contribute to a constant economic struggle for middle-class and lower-class families. Many Chileans believe that the corrupt and fraudulent political elite are to blame. 

Surveys conducted by the Chilean government suggest that poverty has been decreasing gradually over the last 10 years, that real wages have increased by 4% over the last 5 years, and that close to half the country earns $550 per month. However, OECD data shows that, as part of 30 of the world’s wealthiest nations, Chile is the most unequal country.

Protests have been mostly peaceful, but there have still been incidents of looting and arson attacks on supermarkets, metro stations, and government buildings. Reportedly, fires have led to 16 deaths, more than 2600 arrests have been made (including minors) and 4 deaths were caused by security forces. 

Piñera’s initial response was to send in armed forces to combat “evil.” However, growing tensions forced the party to meet with the opposition to discuss social reforms. These included raising the minimum wage from $423 to $482, increasing pensions by 20% and higher taxes on the rich. The Chileans seem to think the president’s trying to save face and that these reforms are bogus.

What caused the protests happening in Lebanon? 

Over the past week, Lebanese flags have covered the streets of Beirut. Unity to fight for a common cause has trumped the sectarian norms of the post-civil war era, as people have put their political and religious differences aside to protest the government together. 

The movement was sparked by the government’s introduction of new taxes, the most important one being a $6 monthly fee on Whatsapp calls. Telecom in Lebanon is already some of the most expensive compared to neighbouring countries, despite being state-owned.

However, demonstrators say that it is decades of resentment which have been fuelling the movement. Not only in Beirut, but across the country, people are standing up against the government, who they blame for turning Lebanon into a failing state plagued by corruption, nepotism and rampant inequality. Protestors are demanding a complete overhaul of the political system. 

The most prevalent issues have to do with deteriorating infrastructure, which leads to electricity shortages, undrinkable water, slow internet, and a dysfunctional waste disposal system. As one of the protesters put it, “we are not being treated with dignity”. A working-class mother expressed that she can barely afford to send her son to school and make a decent living. A decaying healthcare system and unemployment are also among the top grievances. 

The government has previously justified a lack of economic reforms by claiming that they did not have sufficient funds for it. But after nearly 1.2 million Lebanese citizens protested in Beirut, the government announced an array of economic reforms, which included no new taxes in the 2020 Budget and a 50% pay-cut for lawmakers and MPs. Demonstrators were not convinced by this announcement, as a similar promise had been made 18 months ago during the Paris Conference. Protesters argued that these are useless and will not help the current conditions of living. 

What does Justin Trudeau’s re-election suggest about Canada’s political unity? 

Canadian elections on the 21st of October have resulted in a narrow victory for incumbent Justin Trudeau, who will be leading a minority government for the next four years. Justin Trudeau’s second term as Canada’s Prime Minister is already off to a rocky start, as past scandals and the unsuccessful pipeline project threatens to divide the country’s political unity. 

Trudeau had failed to win any seats in the Western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan due to his inability to perform on his promise of building a pipeline on the Pacific Coast. Alberta is the world’s third largest oil reserve and this pipeline would benefit the country’s energy sector massively. Despite spending billions on the project, due to environmental opposition and challenges in court, Trudeau has nothing to show for the promises he has made. In the face of criticisms over his environmental record, the Prime Minister implemented a national carbon tax, which has caused further outrage and anger in Western Canada. 

The nation’s political unity has also been put to the test due to the electoral success enjoyed by the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party which wants the French-speaking province of Quebec to be independent. Though their recent campaigns have made no mention of their separatist vision, their success could allude to the further division of the nation. 

Trudeau has also been accused of forcing his female Attorney General to step down after she refused to drop the prosecution of a Canadian engineering and construction company accused of corruption and shady dealings in Libya. In addition to all that, past photos of the Prime Minister in blackface and brownface have emerged. These scandals threaten Trudeau’s image as a liberal, progressive, and well-loved Prime Minister, and will constrain his ability to deliver on political promises. 

Why is Vladimir Putin so keen to strengthen ties with African countries?  

The Sochi summit, hosted by Vladimir Putin, included representatives of all 54 African nations. The summit signalled to the world Russia’s growing influence over the continent. Russia already is Africa’s top arms supplier but is also now in the midst of developing their relationship with the continent in other areas such as security and mining. Paul Stronski of the Carnegie Endowment believes Putin’s foremost objective with the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit is to “rattle the U.S. and Europe, which have taken Russia’s decades-long absence from Africa for granted.” 

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