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.