News

What the Fuck is Going On In Politics: The Weekly Rundown

Impeachment hearings, general elections, protests in Irak and Bolivia: here’s what happened this week in politics.

Writers: Chloé Meley and Julie Ngalle 

National Politics:

General Election Update: 

Once again, we bring you updates on the General Election campaign for this week. Just so it doesn’t become too repetitive, this week’s briefing sums up key moments of the week rather than progression within each party: 

On Tuesday, Conservative and Labour party leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn defended their ideologies and disclosed their promises in an hour-long live debate. The main topics discussed were Brexit, the NHS, the royal family and trust. Regarding Brexit, Boris Johnson did not have much to add to everything he has previously said and done since becoming Prime Minister. Despite being asked several times, Jeremy Corbyn still refused to say whether he was in favour of staying or leaving the EU, explaining it was a decision that concerned British citizens only.

Putting Corbyn’s accusations against Boris Johnson (which he massively denied) that the PM wants to “sell [the UK’s] National Health Service out to the United States and Big Pharma” to the side, both men have stated that the NHS would be one of their top priorities. The Tories criticised Labour’s “crackpot plan for a four-day week,” whilst Corbyn called out Johnson’s plan to build 40 more hospitals, which he claimed was a false promise. Corbyn also mentioned wanting to end privatisation of the NHS whilst Johnson assured his party was not planning on doing so. 

During the debate, party leaders were also questioned on the place trust should have in this election. Boris Johnson’s response was mocked by many following accusations that the Conservative Party misled the public after they renamed one of their official accounts advertising pro-Tory content “Fact Check UK”. 

As for the other parties’ reactions to the debate, LibDem leader Jo Swinson criticised both leaders for their positions on Brexit. She also referred to both as “tired old parties” and explained the country deserved better, and a better future could be obtained once citizens stopped trusting them. The Green Party co-leader Sian Berry was appalled at how little time was spent discussing the climate crisis, when it is one of the country’s most pressing issues. Nigel Farage referred to the current political party system as “broken, rotten and corrupt”. With regards to Brexit, he once again pointed out the Prime Minister’s deal would do no good to the country and called out Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to take a clear positioning on Brexit, saying this was “a failure of leadership”. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon explained the future of Scotland would be in the wrong hands if either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn was elected. With the latter not considering Scotland’s independence a priority and the former ready to “force Scotland out of the EU” with his deal, the party leader asserted: “Only a vote for the SNP in this election can help Scotland escape from Brexit [and] all this chaos.” 

In other news, the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto at the beginning of the week, which you can read here. The party’s focus is on stopping of Brexit, increasing spending and tackling climate change, along with increasing the budget to better finance the NHS.

Later in the week, it was Labour’s turn to release their manifesto. Their top priorities touch on the provision of free fibre broadband for all, holding a second Brexit referendum, raising minimum wage and increasing the budget spent on public services such as education and health. You can find out more about their campaign by clicking here

Just in case you have not had a chance to take care of it yet, here is a friendly reminder that you have three more days to register to vote in the election. You can register at both your home and uni address, how convenient! 

What did the Duke of York reveal about his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein?

Last Saturday, Prince Andrew was interviewed by Emily Maitlis about his well-documented relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his cell back in August. Throughout the interview, the Duke of York demonstrated an absolute lack of concern for victims, and insisted that he did not know about anything that happened in Epstein’s properties. When asked about why he chose to stay at Epstein’s home after the financier had been convicted of sex offences against minors, the Duke of York offered the excuse that he was simply too “honourable”. Rather than expressing shame or regret, Prince Andrew instead argued his relationship with Epstein had been “beneficial” to him. Among the most memorable moments of the night was Prince Andrew’s qualification of Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’, to which Maitlis replied: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender!” Although an absolute PR disaster, it’s unlikely the interview will result in Prince Andrew being held properly accountable and faced with real consequences. 

International Politics: 

Trump Impeachment Hearings Update: 

This week’s public hearings were highly anticipated in the United States: eight witnesses were heard over a period of three days and more substance was brought to the case. Here is a summary of what happened:

Tuesday 19th November:

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman, top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council, was the first witness of the July 25th conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky to testify. He confirmed that the President had indeed demanded (rather than requested) an investigation into a political opponent. Vindman explained that, given the “power disparities” between both countries, it would’ve been basically impossible for Ukraine to refuse without putting its security at risk. Along with Vindman, Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, affirmed that the United States was holding the promise of military aid over Ukraine in exchange for the information demanded by the President. 

Kurt D.Volker, the President’s special envoy for Ukraine, said he was not aware of “any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations.”  Timothy Morrison, former top National Security Council official, accused Mr Sondland, Ambassador to the EU, of incompetence, explaining he was an unreliable colleague in the first place, and would be an even more unreliable witness.

Wednesday 20th November: 

Wednesday was considered one of the key days for these hearings, as Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland’s testimony initially brought new crucial information and incriminating evidence. Not only did he confirm the demands made by President Trump, calling the situation a quid pro quo, he also confirmed that Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo were all very much aware of what was going on, stating that “everyone was in the loop.” However, due to him later altering his statements, struggling to recall some events, and other members of government either criticising his work ethic and reliability or confirming his involvement in the quid pro quo he was now condemning, many have found it difficult to trust his statements. It is now unclear how his testimony can actually be used against Trump. 

Thursday 21st November:

The testimony from Fiona Hill, former National Security Council official specializing in Russian and European affairs, was deemed a scathing indictment of Trump. Much of Hill’s testimony was focused on Russia, and its relationship with the US. She mentioned that Russia and Ukraine are two countries currently at war with each other, and that Ukraine needs the United States’ military support. What this dependency entails is a willingness on the part of Ukraine to do whatever it is the US government asks them to do. 

Mr Holmes, official at the United States Embassy in Kiev, echoed Dr Hill’s argument that Ukraine was prepared to do whatever it took to strengthen its relationship with the US. He asserted that the Ukrainian government very much felt obligated to start these investigations, with $400 million in military aid being withheld until Mr Trump’s demands were executed. Holmes notably recalled a conversation between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland in which Sondland confirmed that President Zelensky “[would] do anything [Mr Trump] asked him to do.”

An investigation into whether the President lied in his written answers to Mueller has also been opened. If it turns out he did, this would be turned into another article of impeachment.  Early this week, Trump said (in a tweet of course) that, although being opposed to the idea in the beginning, he was starting to strongly consider testifying himself. 

What are the protests in Iraq about? 

Protests have been erupting all over the world recently, but those in Iraq have not received the same amount of media attention as the civil unrest still ongoing in Chile or Hong Kong for example. Since early October, Iraq has been experiencing massive protests against corruption, nepotism, poverty, unemployment, ineffective public services, and a lack of access to education. The government has violently retaliated, firing bullets, throwing hot water, and using tear gas against protesters, who are now calling for the administration to be toppled. It is reported that at least 320 people were killed and 15,000 wounded by security forces. The current political system, which was put in place after the 2003 US-led invasion removed Saddam Hussein, is on the verge of being overthrown. The protesters are reclaiming Iraq’s sovereignty and self-determination, free of American interference and Iranian intervention. 

These protests did not appear out of thin air. Since 2011, demonstrations against the regime have occurred quite regularly. As for what triggered the 2019 protests, there are two events we can point to. First, on the 25th of September, just a few days before the start of the demonstrations, a group of university-educated people drew attention to the employment crisis in the country by gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s office in Baghdad. The government violently suppressed this peaceful demonstration, using extreme force against male and female protestors alike, causing uproar across the country. Secondly, on the 27th of September, the government was faced with backlash again when it demoted from the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ICTF) to the Ministry of Defence Lieutenant General Abdel-Wahab Al-Saedi, one of the key players in the liberation of Mosul from ISIS fighters. Al-Saedi himself and the public saw this as a serious offense towards one of the country’s most important military leaders. 

Since those two events, clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces have become a quasi-daily occurrence in Baghdad and across the country, as the civil unrest shows no sign of slowing down. The most recent development took place on Tuesday, when protesters blocked the entrance to the Khor al-Zubair port to disrupt oil trade.

What’s happening in Bolivia?

If you want some more background information on what has been happening in Bolivia, check out this rundown. Last time we explained what was going on , Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president since 2006, had been accused of rigging the election that occured on the 20th of October to ensure victory against his opponent Carlos Mesa. Violent clashes ensued between pro-government supporters and anti-government protestors, who are backed by security forces, resulting in at least 32 deaths. The Organisation of American States (OAS) investigated the election and came out with a report on the 10th of November that found “clear manipulations” of the electoral process by the Morales government. The OAS issued a recommendation that the electoral body be dissolved and new elections be held.

Facing mounting pressure, notably from the chief of the armed forces General Williams Kaliman, Morales declared on the 10th of November he would abide by such recommendations and step down. The day after announcing his resignation, Morales fled to Mexico, where he sought political asylum. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia as well as the leaders of the Senate and the Lower House also resigned. On the 12th of November, right-wing politician and deputy Senate leader Jeanine Nunez declared herself Bolivia’s interim president. This week, she asked Congress to approve new elections in hopes of creating a “national consensus”. However, national unity seems unattainable at the moment, as violent confrontations continue between pro and anti-government groups. On Tuesday, eight people died in a clash in El Alto between security forces and Morales supporters who had been blockading a fuel plant. This resulted in Morales accusing security forces of committing “genocide” against the country’s indigenous population. 

Allegations that what is happening in Bolivia at the moment is the result of a military coup orchestrated by Bolivia’s right-wing political faction and supported by the US have also emerged. Some indeed doubt that Morales, a popular indigenous leader whose socialist policies have been celebrated for years by the majority indigenous population, would commit election fraud. Instead, they argue that his removal from power was illegitimate, and will likely have disastrous consequences for indigenous rights in Bolivia.

Leave a Comment