Bye For Now!

Welcome to my final article for this summer. Here is a quick update of the latest events in politics both domestically and internationally, starting with the latest events in UK politics.

The race to become leader of the Conservative Party has culminated in the nomination of the final two candidates; Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. From an initial total of ten candidates who met the necessary level of nominations to enter the contest, the field has rapidly been reduced in a series of secret ballots of Conservative MPs, with all except from the final two being eliminated or dropping out. The final two candidates will subsequently be voted on by Conservative Party members between now and the 22nd of July, with the winner becoming leader of the party and Prime Minister. Boris Johnson, who ultimately accumulated 160 out of 313 Conservative MPs, is regarded as the clear favourite to win due to his popularity amongst much of the party membership due to his colourful personality and staunch support for the UK leaving the European Union, especially in the case of his stated willingness to carry out Brexit on the 31st of October without a formal exit deal. By contrast, Jeremy Hunt, who narrowly beat fellow cabinet member Michael Gove by 77 votes to 75 in the most recent ballot on Thursday, is regarded as a more conventional candidate who is presenting himself as a safer pair of hands to negotiate with the European Union, although he also has stated that he is prepared to leave the EU with no deal if necessary. Despite this, owing to his initial support for remaining in the EU during the 2016 referendum, he is considered to be the underdog compared to Johnson, who was ultimately a de facto leader of the Vote Leave campaign. There is however deep concern amongst many both in the Conservatives, as well as in other parties and the wider country of a Boris Johnson premiership owing to a number of provocative comments in regards to race, gender and other areas, as well his questionable record to deliver on what he promises, and his commitment to a potential no-deal Brexit. In regards to the latter point, opposition to a no-deal Brexit under either of the two potential Prime Ministers is so strong amongst some Conservative MPs, and due to the very small majority that is shared between the Conservatives and Democratic Unionist Party, the Labour Party’s intention to hold a vote of no-confidence in the government, if held, might succeed. In turn, that would likely herald an early election this year and thereby add to the uncertainty facing the UK as it tries to leave the EU. The fluidity of British politics looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

In regards to American and Middle Eastern politics, the on-going tensions between the United States and Iran nearly reached boiling point on Friday, with US President Trump approving military strikes against Iranian targets, only to abort them minutes before they were due to take place. In a Twitter comment on Friday, Trump stated that he approved strikes against three targets and that the US aircraft and ships taking part in the planned action were ready to fire their weapons, but called the attacks off due to concerns over civilian casualties. This near-outbreak of military conflict between the two states comes in the wake of the downing of a US Navy drone on Thursday, which in turn follows a series of attacks against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, which the United States blame on Iran, who has in turn strongly denied the accusations and stated that is prepared to resist any military aggression from the US, as illustrated by the shooting down of the drone. Trump has come under heavy criticism from a number of critics, who consider him responsible for initiating the crisis through his decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 treaty signed by the US, the EU and Iran that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, and for his re-imposing of sanctions, which has been argued by some as having encouraged Iran to increase its nuclear stockpile and behave more assertively in the region. Whilst both nations have stated that they seek to avoid a military conflict, there is widespread concern that a miscalculation from either side could inadvertently lead to one, especially in the wake of the aborted airstrikes and the build-up of military forces in the region preceding that. In light of this, many have called for de-escalation, with the UK dispatching a Foreign Office minister to Iran to engage in talks with the Iranian government, whilst the United Nations has called for the recent attacks in the Gulf to be investigated. For now, the risk of a military conflict in the Middle East continues to haunt the international community, who appreciate how destructive and destabilizing such an event would be, and are thereby seeking to prevent this outcome through any available diplomatic means.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has been rocked by mass protests, mainly held by student demonstrators, against a highly controversial bill that would allow for extradition to mainland China. The Hong Kong Executive, which governs the Special Designated Region of China, attempted to implement the bill, arguing that it was necessary in order to safeguard the security of Hong Kong residents and business interests. This argument has been rejected by many others however, who argue that the Executive, which is comprised of parties supportive of Beijing, is attempting to undermine the liberties and freedoms that residents of Hong Kong have enjoyed since the territory was handed back to China by Britain in 1997, in order to align Hong Kong with the rest of China. The demonstrations are estimated to have been attended by hundreds of thousands of residents, with many surrounding the legislature building, where protesters demanded that the Executive abandon the proposed law and protect Hong Kong’s liberties. Initially the demonstrations were resisted, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, but this failed to end the protests. Eventually, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Saturday that the implementation of the extradition bill would be delayed and the following day apologised for what was described as the flawed introduction of the proposed law. This has not been enough to dissuade demonstrators, as the policy has not been formally abandoned, and instead the protests have continued, with roughly two million people attending a mass gathering last Sunday, not only demanding that the extradition law is scrapped, but also calling for Carrie Lam to resign as Chief Executive. The pressure on the Hong Kong Executive continues, as much of the population attempts to assert their territory’s autonomy.

In regards to Latin American politics, Honduras has experienced violent civil unrest against the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez. For the last few weeks, protests have centred on a proposed restructuring of the nation’s health and education ministries, which have been argued by the government to lead to savings worth $300 million dollars that would be used for the construction of new hospitals and investments in neonatal care and primary education, whilst opponents fear this is the first step towards the privatisation of the nation’s education and health services. Moreover, many of President Hernandez’s opponents fear that his government is becoming increasingly authoritarian, a charge that has been strongly rejected by the government. Initially civic in nature, demonstrations have recently become notably more violent, with widespread looting, as well protesters establishing roadblocks in the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa and exchanging projectiles with riot police. Ultimately, two people have been killed and more have been injured as a result of the unrest so far. This violence adds to the political, economic and social instability that has plagued Honduras in recent years, which has in turn encouraged many Hondurans to attempt to emigrate to the United States in order to seek a better future for themselves and their families. This demonstrates how internal issues within a state can contribute to widespread phenomena that can impact a wider region.

Finally, the West African country of Mauritania has staged what has been regarded as the first democratic hand over of presidential power since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960. Incumbent President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has held office since a military coup in 2008, is stepping down after serving two terms as President to make way for an elected successor. Six candidates are contesting the presidential election, with defence minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani – a close ally of the President – considered to be the front runner, whilst former Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar and anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid are also seeking to be elected by the Mauritanian electorate. It is hoped that this election will be the start of a new, democratic chapter for Mauritania, which has consistently been governed by authoritarian regimes that came to power through military coup d’états.

That is all from me for now. If any of the subjects covered in this article are of interest to you, we would very much welcome further contributions to the blog in regards to what has been discussed or indeed on any other major development in global politics. I hope everyone has a lovely summer holiday, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the latest news in the world of politics and international relations.

Society Plans and Latest Political News

Hello and welcome to the third news article for the PIR Society for 2019-20. In this article, I have provided an update of the latest news in the world of politics, and an initial insight into the programme planned by the committee for this coming year.

Society Plans:

For this coming academic year, the Society has a number of special events planned for members and non-members to enjoy from Fresher’s Week onwards. Beginning on the 4th of September, we will have our stand in the Society Fair on the sports field, where incoming and current students can visit to find out about the PIR Society and our programme for the year. Then on the 5th of September, we will have our Information Session beginning from 17.30, where students will be introduced to this year’s committee and be informed of the values of the society, what issues are of interest to us, the trips we have planned and much more. Following the Information Session, we will hold our Cheese and Wine Evening from 19.00 onwards at the Bobbin bar, where everyone attending can enjoy a variety of complimentary wine and cheese, and have a wonderful start to the academic term. In regards to the trips being planned by the society, there will be a European trip in early January next year, followed by an international trip in early April. The committee will make a decision in regards to the destination of each trip in the next few weeks. I will provide an update on the decisions of the committee in regards to the trips and other upcoming events as soon as they are made. I can also confirm that the charity the society will be sponsoring for this year will be Shelter, in which we will be supporting the campaign against homelessness and poor housing within the UK.

I hope this information has been helpful and interesting. The following is an update on the latest news in politics in the UK and around the world.

Latest Political Developments:

For those that were hoping for a period of political calm in the UK, the 2019 elections for the 73 British Members of the European Parliament will surely disappoint. The elections, which were not originally intended to take place due to the UK’s initial deadline to leave the European Union on the 29th of March, but were ultimately held on the 23rd of May due to the extension of the Article 50 process of the UK’s departure from the bloc, have completely upended the British political party system with humiliating defeats for the established Conservative and Labour parties to insurgent pro and anti-Brexit parties. The Brexit Party, which advocates the UK leaving the EU without a formal deal, emerged as the largest single party by a significant margin, winning nearly 31% of the vote and 29 seats, whilst the Liberal Democrats, who oppose Brexit and advocate a confirmatory referendum on whether voters support the negotiated deal between the UK and the EU or the UK remaining in the EU, came second with 19% of the vote and 16 seats. The remarkable success of these two parties is in stark contrast with the drubbing experienced by the governing Conservatives, who fell from 24% of the vote and 19 seats in 2014 to just 9% and four seats in their worst nationwide election result ever, and also in the case of Labour, whose attempts to reconcile the desires of both its pro-remain and pro-leave voters failed with the party falling from 25% of the vote and 20 seats to 15% and 10 seats. Other anti-Brexit parties such as the Green Party and the Scottish National Party also did well, whilst UKIP and Change UK both polled only 3% of the vote and failed to win any seats. The collapse of support for the Conservatives and Labour is particularly noteworthy, as it demonstrates that voters are increasingly voting in accordance with their views on Brexit rather than on traditional party loyalties, which in turn suggests that Brexit is accelerating the fragmentation of the two-party system that has dominated British politics since the end of the Second World War.

Coinciding with the European elections is the beginning of the contest to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and Prime Minister, after May announced her resignation as party leader on the 24th of May. In an emotional address outside No.10, Mrs May stated that she had tried her hardest to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU and to persuade Parliament to approve it, but had ultimately failed in her objective, and a new leader was required to implement Brexit. A total of 13 serving and former ministers have nominated themselves for the party leadership so far, including Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, James Cleverly, Rory Stewart and others. Boris Johnson is currently the favourite to win the leadership due to his popularity with Conservative grassroots over his charisma, strongly pro-Brexit position and his status as a figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign that successfully persuaded a majority of voters to vote in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. The latter point however is however a double-edged sword for Johnson, as he has been summoned to court to answer questions in regards to his frequent claim that membership of the EU costs the UK £350 million a week, a figure that has been widely discredited by statistical analysis but was nonetheless a decisive factor in persuading undecided voters to back leaving the EU in 2016 as Johnson and Vote Leave argued that this sum could be spent on the NHS instead. The court case, which is the result of a private prosecution case launched by campaigner Marcus Ball, is attempting to determine whether Johnson deliberately misled the electorate in regards to the economic cost of EU membership for the UK, which if proven would render him guilty of committing misconduct in public office, which can carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The court proceedings, currently being held as a preliminary hearing, will be forwarded to the Crown Court where a formal trial will begin. While it will be premature to speculate the verdict of the trial, the very fact that Boris Johnson is under investigation for allegations of such an offence poses a potentially existential risk to his leadership campaign and raises serious questions in regards to his suitability to be UK Prime Minister. The upcoming Conservative leadership contest is likely to be a remarkable one, and not for the right reasons.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump is once again facing calls to be impeached in the wake of the conclusion of the Mueller Report into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a press conference on Wednesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller provided a summary of his long investigation in stating that whilst the report had not definitively proven that the President had obstructed justice during the investigation, Trump could not be declared innocent of the offence either. Moreover, Mueller stated that the President could not be charged with an offence whilst in office even if the investigation had accused Trump of obstructing justice, and that it was not the responsibility of the report do so in any case. The comments made by Mueller has provoked a wide variety of claims from both sides of the political spectrum, with Trump stating that the investigation had cleared him of any offence, and some Republicans stating that the investigation has been motivated by opposition to Trump within the Democratic Party. A number of Democrats meanwhile have taken Mueller’s report and comments as sufficient grounds to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump to remove him from office so he can face justice for any crimes he may have committed both during the 2016 election and his term, as well as removing an administration they regard as detrimental to US interests domestically and internationally. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has cautioned fellow Democrats in regards to impeachment, noting how it is unlikely to succeed due to the Republican majority in the Senate, and advised that defeating Trump in next year’s presidential election would be the best method to remove him from office. Polling has indicated a mixed response of the American public towards the report findings, with a majority stating that they believed Trump had committed an offence, but also being opposed to impeachment proceedings. This demonstrates how the US public remains polarized on the Trump administration, and sets the scene for an extremely bitter presidential election next year, in which the conduct of the Trump administration may be a decisive factor in determining the outcome.

Turning to Indian politics, the governing BJP party is celebrating a historic landslide re-election victory, in which it has become the first party in over 30 years to win back to back majority governments. The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modhi, won over 37% of the national vote and 303 out of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, and the overall National Democratic Alliance bloc of parties, of which the BJP is the leading party, ultimately won a combined 45% of the vote and 353 seats, thus ensuring an even larger parliamentary majority compared to what it won in 2014. In contrast to the jubilant celebrations of the BJP, the opposition Indian National Congress, the party that has traditionally been the party of government in India, barely improved upon its disastrous 2014 election defeat, winning only 18% of the vote and 52 seats, which is less than the 55 seats it needed in order to become the official opposition party, thus leaving India without a formal party of opposition. The triumph for the BJP has been argued by a number of political scientists and journalists as representing a transformation of India from that of a secular state partially underpinned by socialist principles, which has been associated with the Congress Party having regularly formed the government since independence, to that of a state more supportive of free market economics and conservative social values in line with the Hindu nationalism of the BJP. Predominant issues during the election campaign included the state of the economy and recent tensions between India and Pakistan within the disputed region of Kashmir, which has even escalated into military skirmishes between the two nations. While India has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, the opposition attacked Modhi over the perceived failure to implement a number of his economic policies. He was able however to successfully present himself and his government as providing India with the necessary leadership against actors hostile to Indian interests. This demonstrates how economic issues, contrary to what has often been assumed, do not always prove to be decisive in determining the outcome of elections, and voters are increasingly likely to vote along nationalist and social lines.

And in terms of African politics, the most notable development was the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA. This free trade area came into force on the 30th of May, after being signed by 44 out of the 55 nations that are members of the African Union, which in turn brokered the agreement, on the 21st of March last year, and has so far been ratified by 22 states, thereby meeting the minimum number of states for the agreement to come into force. In total, 52 out of 55 African Union states are now party to this agreement, thereby rendering AfCFTA as the largest free-trade area since the creation of the World Trade Organization. The agreement will initially require its members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, and is planned to eventually evolve from its current form as a free trade area to that of a single market, which will in turn be followed by the introduction of free movement of people and the creation of a single currency. This has striking resemblance to that of the European Union, and indicates that whilst some countries such as the UK and the United States have been affected by nationalist movements that are sceptical of globalization, African governments are increasingly regarding economic integration as invaluable for the long-term economic well-being of their nations. This is particularly in the case of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimating that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52% by 2022. Hurdles still remain in the path of the viability of the agreement however, as Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has yet to sign the agreement as President Muhammadu Buhari expressed concerns over the potential negative consequences for local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, whilst trade unions have also expressed concern over the agreement potentially encouraging greater migration within the continent. Nigeria is currently in a process of consultation in regards to potential membership of AfCFTA, with the government hoping to eventually join once outstanding concerns have been addressed. In spite of this, the enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Area demonstrates how globalization and integration between nations is an on-going process that is likely to continue, as most governments regard the benefits as greater compared to the potential disadvantages, despite the protests or concerns of individual countries.

That concludes this latest blog. If you have strong interest any of these subjects, and would like to offer your own analysis, myself and the entire committee would strongly welcome additional contributions to the blog, so we can all engage in an interesting and passionate debate.

Latest Political Developments

Hello and welcome to this second edition of the Politics and IR Society blog for 2019-20. I apologise for the delay in publishing this post; with the exams fully behind us we can look forward to a lovely break from our studies and to enjoy the summer holiday. Here is a summary of the latest political developments in international politics.

In the latest twist in the Brexit saga, the Conservative Party has begun its search for a new leader in the wake of Theresa May’s intention to step down after the upcoming fourth ‘meaningful vote’ on the British government’s EU withdrawal agreement on the 3rd of June. Prime Minister May, during a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, agreed that following the vote, which is expected to be the fourth and decisive rejection of the agreement she has negotiated during her near-three year term in office, she would have exhausted her mandate. This would consequently begin the process through which a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister would be elected by the party either within the summer or by the party conference in October. This also comes amidst opinion polling suggesting that the Conservatives are expected to face their worst ever set of national election results in the European parliamentary elections on the 23rd of May, which in turn has increased pressure on May to resign before the party can suffer further losses to the insurgent Brexit Party. Boris Johnson, long rumoured to have held leadership ambitions and of whom desires a clean break from the EU, has publicly announced that he will run for the leadership once the position becomes available, and a number of cabinet ministers such as Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd and Michael Gove are also tipped to run to succeed May. In response to the Prime Minister’s decision to step aside, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that talks between the government and Labour in regards to reaching a compromise in regards to Brexit have come to an end, arguing that a lack of government stability renders a lasting agreement between the two sides impossible. For Theresa May, this will represent a sorry end to her premiership, as she has failed to achieve her objectives in regards to Brexit and other areas of government policy during her premiership. More importantly however, it has cast the future of Brexit into even greater uncertainty, and has thereby rendered the prospects of a resolution to the political impasse even less likely. The deadlock over Brexit is therefore unlikely to be resolved for the time-being.

Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Iran have dangerously increased in the last few days, with US President Donald Trump dispatching the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, along with bombers and missile systems to the region in order to counter what the US government alleges is a growing threat to US interests in the region by Iran. Notably, all non-emergency staff at the United States’ diplomatic mission in Iraq have been ordered to leave the country in the wake of the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Such developments strongly imply that the Trump administration is increasingly considering the possibility of conflict between the two countries, particularly in the case of certain members of Trump’s administration urging a confrontational stance with Iran. As noted by a number of foreign policy analysts, the brinkmanship between the American and Iranian governments is a situation that is fraught with risk, as a miscalculation by either side could ultimately lead to the outbreak of a prolonged and highly destructive conflict in the Middle East. This has unsurprisingly been met with an urgent attempt on the part of European governments to reiterate the importance of diplomacy as the means to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme, especially in the case of honouring the 2015 agreement signed by the US, the EU and Iran, and to warn of the consequences of potential military action carried out by either the United States or Iran against the other. The tension between the two nations ultimately has the potential to dangerously escalate, and diplomatic restraint is required to resolve this.

In regards to the latest developments in Australian politics, the nation’s federal election appears to have ended in a shock victory for the incumbent centre-right Coalition government, defying opinion polls that had projected a narrow win for the opposition Labor Party. With results still being counted, the Coalition, which is comprised of the Liberal Party and three other conservative parties that share a joint whip in parliament, is expected to either win a small majority or to fall slightly short of one in the House of Representatives, thereby allowing incumbent Prime Minister and Liberal leader Scott Morrison to continue in office. Labor, who had led in most polls during the election campaign, were expected to win a majority government, but instead has suffered a third consecutive electoral defeat since losing office in the 2013 election. The results have been met with extreme dismay amongst supporters of Labor, which regarded a Labor victory as fundamental towards addressing global climate change, and celebration amongst supporters of the Coalition, who had warned of higher taxes under Labor. One major source of disappointment for the Coalition however was the defeat of former Prime Minister Tony Abbot in his Warringah constituency to former Olympic skier Zali Steggall, who ran as an independent candidate. The loss of the former premier’s very safe seat has been attributed to Steggall’s strong campaigning on the issue of climate change, whilst Abbot has largely remained opposed to drastic measures to cut global emissions, and of whom was also considered to be out of step with increasingly progressive values within Australian society such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which was approved by Australian voters in a 2017 referendum. The surprise re-election of the Coalition government and the loss of one of its safest seats and former leader demonstrates how political outcomes can never be taken for granted, regardless of opinion polling or general expectations amongst politicians and the electorate.

And in the case of large-scale protests across Sudan in recent weeks, the military government of the state has temporarily suspended talks with pro-democracy demonstrators over the proposed transition from martial to civilian rule. This development has been attributed by the government to tactics on the part of protesters such as the establishment of road blocks in the capital city Khartoum, whilst representatives of the pro-democracy movement accused authorities of excessive violence against demonstrators, 14 of whom were recently wounded in central Khartoum. The negotiations had previously been regarded as constructive and were expected to reach an agreement in the last few days in regards to the composition of the interim government. Whilst the negotiations have not fully collapsed, this is nonetheless a set-back for the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been on-going since December of last year. These demonstrations emerged out of widespread discontent with cuts to bread and fuel subsidies by the authoritarian regime of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was already widely blamed for the chronic economic stagnation facing Sudan, along with institutionalised corruption and widespread human rights abuses. On the 11th of April, in the wake of the sustained and prolonged protests, al-Bashir was removed from office and imprisoned by the military, which subsequently formed an interim administration that it argued would only last for three years. This was not enough to satisfy protesters, who insisted that the military step aside to allow for the establishment of a civilian administration immediately. The subsequent negotiations between the government and leaders of the opposition movement were established in an attempt to come to an agreed settlement, which is now less likely following the suspension of the talks. Ultimately, it is clear that despite the widespread popular support for the establishing of civilian rule, the military regime is unlikely to relinquish its authority over Sudan in the meantime, demonstrating the uphill struggle of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

That concludes this week’s article. I will shortly update everyone in regards to the upcoming events and programme planned by the society for the coming academic year.

Hello and Welcome!

Hello and welcome to the inaugural blog post of the Politics and International Relations Society Committee for 2019-20. As your Blog Officer, I shall be regularly updating everyone with the latest news in the world of politics and the upcoming events of the society, and I hope to encourage everyone to participate in an interesting and passionate political debate on the blog. This inaugural article is a summary of major events in international politics, starting with this week’s developments on Brexit.

In the wake of continued deadlock in Parliament and in her cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May has finally been forced to seek a further extension to the Article 50 process for the UK’s departure from the European Union beyond the current default exit date of the 12th of April and to enter into negotiations with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This has occurred in the wake of three consecutive defeats for the controversial Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the British government and the European Union in the House of Commons, and the subsequent failure of MPs to agree on an alternative solution in a series of indicative votes, in which a proposed Customs Union, ‘Common Market 2.0’, a second referendum and a cancellation of Brexit in the absence of an approved deal were all rejected. The decision of Theresa May to finally enter into a dialogue with the opposition to arrive at a common agreement has been met with strong anger amongst many of her pro-Brexit MPs, who have derided the Labour leader as unfit for any role in the political decision making of the UK and fear that Brexit will either involve much closer ties to the EU compared to what they have sought. Should this negotiation fail, May has further promised to respect future indicative votes held in Parliament before the UK leaves the EU. This therefore demonstrates the fluidity of British politics, in which nothing can be taken for granted.

Turning to international politics, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expelled two former members of his cabinet from his governing Liberal Party in the wake their whistleblowing of alleged impropriety within the Canadian government. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general, and Jane Philpott, formerly the president of Canada’s treasury board, both resigned from their government posts earlier this year over Wilson-Raybould’s allegation that Trudeau pressured her into abandoning the prosecution of the Quebec-based firm SNC Lavalin, which has been fighting bribery and corruption charges in relation to construction projects it undertook in Libya during the regime of Col. Gaddafi. Trudeau has publically warned against legal action against SNC Lavalin on the basis that the loss of contracts could threaten jobs in Quebec, which is a key state for his party to win in order achieve victory in the federal election this October. The decision of Mr Trudeau to remove the two MPs from the Liberal group in the Canadian parliament came after Wilson Raybould leaked a recorded phone call between herself and senior public servant Michael Wernick in which Wernick pressured her on behalf of the Prime Minister to defer the prosecution of SNC Lavalin; this action was denounced by Trudeau and several MPs as improper. Although Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing, the expulsion of the two MPs may come across as suspicious to the Canadian electorate, who polls suggest are increasingly favouring the opposition Conservatives. The Trudeau government therefore faces an increasingly difficult battle to win re-election this year in the aftermath of the scandal.

Meanwhile, the long-serving President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned in the wake of popular demonstrations against his rule. Bouteflika, 82, has governed Algeria since 1999 and has been credited with re-establishing order in the country after the devastating civil war between 1991 and 2002, and for an era of strong economic growth that has left the Algerian economy as one of the most dynamic African economies. The President was however under increasing pressure to step down in light of his age and increasingly frail health, and a general desire for change amongst the Algerian public. After he announced his intention for a fifth consecutive term in February, his immediate resignation was demanded by tens of thousands who participated in peaceful protests, which were not quelled by his offers to step aside at the end of his term on the 28th of April. Finally, military leaders appear to have forced his hand in taking the side of the demonstrations, hence the resignation of President Bouteflika on Wednesday evening. Despite the departure of the President, the demonstrations have continued as protesters seek to establish a wider overhaul of the political system. Ultimately, Algeria faces an uncertain future in the absence of the leader that has governed the state for 20 years.

And finally, one of the most significant political developments this week is the introduction of the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality and adultery in Brunei. This is the latest stage in the introduction of Sharia law in the Islamic-majority country in 2014 by the government of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. From what has been argued by a number of political commentators, including the founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, Matthew Woolfe, the penal laws are intended to boost the popularity of the Sultan’s government amongst religious conservatives at a time when Brunei’s economy is in decline. These new laws have sparked international outrage, with calls from public figures such as Sir Elton John and George Clooney to boycott establishments with connections to the country, including the Dorchester hotel in London, and multiple governments have urged the Brunei government to reconsider its decision. Moreover the University of Aberdeen is currently reviewing the honorary degree that it awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 1995 and may rescind the reward, demonstrating the international level of opposition against the measures.

That concludes this inaugural article for the blog under the committee for 2019-20. I hope you have enjoyed this article, and I will be back shortly for more coverage on the major political events shaping our world.

Studying a Joint Degree at Aberdeen

Andreas Lainer

Some of you might be in exactly the same position as I and will be well aware of the advantages and disadvantages one faces when deciding to study a joint honours degree. After studying at our university for almost three years I think it is fair to say that I have sufficient experience to share my thoughts on this topic with you. 

First of all, I would like to say that I generally like the university’s concept of getting to choose four different courses in the first year of study. For many students from continental Europe this is quite a new und unfamiliar system. Typically, this kind of freedom would not be allowed at most EU universities and one would only be taking courses which are part of one’s main degree. And while some may prefer the European approach, the system at our university gives its students the chance of exploring other of their interests or hobbies in greater depth. I think it should therefore not come as a surprise that plenty of students either change their whole degree or switch to a joint honours program after first year. I am among those students as I had initially enrolled as a Politics and International Relations student and later changed to Economics and IR. My reasons for this were that I enjoyed my first-year Economics courses, but more importantly that I realised that I would rather pursue a career in the political economy than in party politics and I believe that this joint degree is a better way of preparing me for this path.

I did notice that this decision did not hugely impact my second year at university, as I could have technically taken the exact same courses while continuing to study a single honours degree. One thing that I did notice is that switching to Economics and IR had made my quest for finding a payed internship (in continental Europe) over the summer break significantly easier. On the one hand, some employers certainly value a joint degree more and on the other hand I believe it is easier to find internships as an Economics student than as a Politics student as there are simply more of them available. I have previous heard that employers prefer students with a single honours degree, but cannot confirm that from my own experience.

I certainly did notice the difference between single and joint honours last semester, during my first term of third year. I would have been quite keen on taking either the course ‘IR3018: International Security’ or ‘PI3073: The EU: Contemporary Challenges’ but I was unable to do as I could only take one IR course for this semester and this was the compulsory course ‘PI3069: Researching in the 21st Century’.  While there are no other mandatory Politics and International Relations courses in third and forth year one is naturally still fairly limited in the number of courses that one can pick (one each semester) and one might miss out on other very interesting courses as a consequence. I would also like to add that I am, however, very contempt with studying only one course in Economics per term as this allows me to take those courses with more of a focus on the political economy instead to studying economic concepts and graphs which I will most likely never need for the career that I strive to achieve.

In conclusion, I would say that the decision to switch to a joint degree ultimately comes down to the decision if you are willing to trade off a course from your current degree for the opportunity to pick a course from a different subject and the positive as well as negative consequences this brings with it. I believe this decision highly depends on your own interests and career goals.