Foreign Affairs Newsletter #1
Welcome to the first Foreign Affairs Newsletter of the 2018/19 academic year, edited and written by the members of IDSA Budapest and IDSA Szeged! This newsletter is a weekly recap of events from different parts of the world, mainly revolving around the topics of international politics, diplomacy and economy.
Mboweni’s controversial appointment to be the finance minister of South Africa
In the beginning of October, former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene resigned as he was accused collaborating with the Gupta family, which is in scandal, as South African police assume that they were in a corrupt partnership with the former president, Jacob Zuma.
President Cyril Ramaphosa decided to call back an ’old friend’, as he announced, that the empty position was going to be offered to Tito Mboweni, the former labour minister and governor of SARB (South African Reserve Bank). Several media pointed out a tweet from February, where Mboweni clearly stated that South Africa needs younger leaders and his generation should only give advices to the youth.
Although he lastly accepted it on a recent conference in Johannesburg he admitted that he had been apprehensive to say ’yes’ to the job. He added that he also listed a few names to Ramaphosa for further consideration, but “he was not asked to give advice but to take up the job” -recalling what the president replied.
Mboweni’s appointment was welcomed by Basa (Banking Association of South Africa), as the association highlighted that Mboweni has the skills and experience to govern the financial sector and find solutions in such challenging times. Others like SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) seek a change in fiscal policy and hope that Mboweni will not follow his predecessors.
However, according to some experts, the working class is triggered by the assumption that the pro-rich and neo-liberal governance of Mboweni can be disastrous for working people. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) accused him of empowering a small capitalist white minority of the economy while previously leading the SARB.
As the new finance minister prepares himself for negotiations about the mid-term budget statement, Mboweni said his main aims are firstly to broaden the access of South African people to the finance sector and secondly to encourage and subsidise small and medium-sized enterprises which he called ’hidden champions’ of the economy.
Afghans pay the price of democracy with their lives
Amidst all the threats of violence and scores of incidents across the country, Afghans are risking their lives to save democracy. The parliamentary elections in Afghanistan took place on 20th October 2018. Nearly 9 Million people have registered to vote but due to continuous threats from the Taliban and other sources, the turnout was low. Ten candidates were killed in the region. The defence ministry has deployed 54,000 members of the security forces to try to ensure the elections pass off peacefully. But nearly a third of all polling stations were closed because of security concerns and bomb fears.
This Election is important for Afghanistan from a strategic point of view. They have been fighting wars for ever since Soviet Union intervention in 1979 and US declaring “war on terror” in 2001, that have almost ruined the core values of the youth in the country. The foreign partners are sceptical about investing in the future of Afghanistan. They need a return for their billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost. Although the parliament plays an integral part, the real power lies with the presidency and this election is important to test ahead of the much anticipated presidential elections due in April 2019.
-Lipsa Rani Panda
Iran: political breakdown in the country
When, in 2015, the Obama administration lifted some sanctions as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranians had great expectations of economic prosperity and the majority of them had voted President Hassan Rouhani into power to help negotiate the deal. However, the economic growth caused by the lifting of the sanctions did not trickle down. The political and military elite were the only beneficiaries of it. As a result, public anger accumulated over time and eventually led to a wave of protests in the county. In addition, the situation got worse. The US withdrawal from the JCPOA is taking its toll on the economy, Iran is facing growing domestic pressure as Iranians are blaming their leaders.
According to experts, the main problem is that in spite of keeping up the illusion of a democratic choice, Iranian reformists have not been able to bring any tangible positive change for the past two decades. Their mission was to ensure the Islamic Republic through minor modifications, but the recent wave of protest indicates they have reached the end of their existence, as the citizens now view them as no different than the hardliner and repressive Iranian leadership.
This demonstration of the Iranian public is easy to capture in the protest slogan chanted by the insurgents: "Hardliners! Reformists! The game is over!"
These protests seeks to become a pattern for the reconstruction of the opposition, whose prominent figures and leaders have been systematically assassinated over the last four decades. According to the second article, the opposition is about to form a real and functional coalition of all the country’s forces (from socialists to liberals and all the factions in between).
What the increasing Iranian tensions suggest us, the rest is that the political reality of Iran is by no means fixed - rather it is fluid and capable of giving birth to demonstrations. Nevertheless, the fact that the Reformist movement no longer has legitimacy as a viable democratic alternative.
Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force and US Marines hold joint drill on Tanegashima.
Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force and the US Marine Corps held a joint combat drill on Tanegashima Island in southwestern Japan. This is the first joint exercise of its kind to take place outside an SDF training camp.
The drill, involving some 220 Self-Defense Force personnel and about 10 US Marines, was open to the public on Sunday. It was based on the scenario of Japanese and US personnel retaking an occupied remote island.
The participants used helicopters to land on the island and moved toward their targets while carrying weapons.
A leader of the Japanese amphibious rapid deployment brigade, Keisuke Komatsu, said the exercise was a great opportunity to improve the joint response capability of the Japanese and US forces. Colonel Mark Clingan of the 3rd Marine Division told reporters it was a great training opportunity because, for the first time, the US Marine Corps have been able to do a bilateral exercise with an amphibious rapid deployment brigade in Japan. He said the drill helped to improve the cooperation between the US Marines and the GSDF and enhanced their skills.
A civil group held a rally on Saturday to protest the joint exercise with about 80 people taking part. A woman said: she felt afraid because local residents were not given sufficient notice of the drill. She said she is worried that combat exercises could be regularly held outside training camps in the future.
The island is located in Kagosima perfecture. It was not the first time the locals protested against the US military On June 19, 2016 anti-U.S. base protesters, went with signs that read “Get out U.S. Marines”.
Missing journalist – Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist Jamal Khasoggi suddenly disappeared after going to Saudi Arabian consulate for getting a permission to marry his fiancée in Istanbul.
It is a strong probability that he was killed inside Saudi Consulate, who deny these claims, saying that the journalist left the building and disappeared afterwards.
Jamal Khasoggi was an exiled Saudi journalist due to his style of journalism in his homeland. He did not refrain himself from criticizing incumbent Saudi government officials, most notably Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He wrote in his articles that the reforms which he tries to implement are not effective, because they don’t have a comprehensive and valid structure. The journalist also wrote about the capture of dozens of detainees due to their opposition views. Gradually, Jamal was forced to leave his country and he moved to Istanbul. It is likely that Saudi Government played some role in his arrest and death, but this is only an assumption which lacks a proper and substantiating evidence.
Moreover, Jamal Khasoggi has strong links with Islamist groups. In the past, he had bonds with Al-Qaida leader Osaman bin Laden and he took two interviews from the chief of one of the most feared criminals. During the Arab Spring, he supported Islamist groups.
Western leaders certainly expressed their criticism to Saudi Arabia with some leaders of companies and state authorities simply refusing to come a business summit organised in Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan claimed that Turkey will do everything in their disposals to find the killers of Jamal Khasoggi. After his speech, Turkish officials started an investigation in the Saudi Consulate.
Of course, we should not forget that President Erdogan usually plays dual politics, sometimes he just makes controversial speech and arguments which contradict each other.Additionally, US president Donald Trump stated that despite this terrible event, he would not opt for losing a trade partner like Saudi Arabia.
- Tofiq Bayramov
AUSTRALIA AND OCEANIA
Australia plans to move Israeli embassy to Jerusalem
On the 16th of October, 2018, current Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that the Commonwealth of Australia is considering moving their current embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
This move is seen to copy a current trend of a couple of nations that have decided to move their embassies to Jerusalem, which the State of Israel considers to be their official capital.
The United States of America and Guatemala have already moved their embassies earlier this year, with other countries weighing the pros before making a decision. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised this idea on Twitter saying that he was “very thankful” Australia was officially considering this move. However, this proposal has been met by both national and international outrage, with many critics saying that Prime Minister Morrison and his party are only contemplating this decision due to wanting to maintain their Liberal majority in the Australian House of Representatives due to Sydney’s seat of Wentworth, which has a large Jewish population, being up for re-election this week. Some also cite that his decision is based on his Evangelical beliefs, something he has vehemently denied.
This proposal has been met with great hostility by the Palestinian delegation to Australia as well as the Republic of Indonesia, which contains a very high Muslim population, who have even threatened to reconsider their economic ties with Australia if they continue with this plan. Prime Minister Morrison has continuously stated that his decision will not be based on foreign pressure, but instead on what is best for Australia; he also stated that he is still committed to finding a “two-state solution” between Israel and Palestine.
La Diada – Catalonia’s innocent national day or a threat to Spanish unity?
La Diada Nacional de Catalunya (the Catalan National Day) is held every year on September 11th – and 2018 was no exception. Reflecting the recent attempts of Catalonia to become independent, this year it turned into a political occasion. Hundreds of thousands marched on the streets of Catalonia and protested against the Spanish government.
On October 1st- the first anniversary of the independence referendum – separatists once again flooded the streets in Barcelona, blocking roads, motorways and train lines in the city. An estimated 180,000 people took part in the protest and an extra 600 police officers were deployed to keep order in the area. Separatists acted in other Catalan cities as well, in Girona the protesters tore down the Spanish flag of a government office and replaced it with the notorious pro-independence starred banner.
It is no surprise that recent happenings have placed the issue in the public eye again and made it appear more intensely in political discourse. However, negotiations are not likely to begin until the situation of the nine Catalan independence leaders - who last year had played important roles in the push for secession - is unclear.
Quim Torra – Catalonia’s regional president – spoke out about the issue: he firmly encouraged the protests, which has led him getting a public reprimand from Josep Borrell -. Spain’s foreign minister.
Romania’s Referendum fails due to low turnout
On the 6th and 7th of October, a National Referendum regarding the change of the Romanian Constitution was held in Romania. Although held for two days, according to the Romanian Central Electoral Bureau - the turnout hit 20.96 %, below the required 30 % threshold.
The Referendum, which approximately cost 40 million Euros, concerned the change of the Article 48 and sought to define marriage as a union of man and woman. Although same-sex marriages are not recognized in Romania, the main goal was ultimately to prevent gay couples from obtaining the right to same-sex marriages in the future.
The Referendum was initiated by a civil initiative of the”Coaliția pentru Familie” (the Coalition for Family) in late 2015, which gathered the required 3 million signatures during 2016. The Romanian Orthodox Church and other conservative-religious organizations under the Coalition for Family’s umbrella backed the initiative. In addition, several political parties such as the ruling ”Social Democratic Party” and some leaders of the opposition parties, such as ex-President Traian Băsescu backed the movement.
On the other part of the barricade, the opposition parties ” Save Romania Union” and ”Romania Together Movement” advocated to boycott the referendum. Civil society and human rights organizations called for boycott as well, in order to minimize the chance to pass the threshold. Furthermore, the opposition parties insisted that the referendum was merely a shift of attention of the public and of the European Union from the criticism of the existent judicial derogations and corruption accusations to the leading party.
Political leaders such as Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the ruling ”Social Democratic Party”, Viorica Dăncilă, the Romanian Prime Minister tried to use a nationalistic rhetoric, in order to attract voters. Although a representative of opposition forces, the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis voted as well. As a member of an ethnic and religious minority, he advised for tolerance and openness towards others who are different, while rejecting religious fanaticism and ultimatums. In addition, the opposition party ”Save Romania Union” sent 12 000 observers and monitored several cases of violation of electoral rules such as ”traveling voters”.
After the preliminary results were announced, both sides commentated the results. The representatives of the Romanian Orthodox and of the Coalition for Family called for a unity of religious forces, arguing that the voters' opinion’ needs to be respected and analyzed after ”an unsuccessful success”. On the other side, the leader of the ”Save Romania Union”, Dan Barna called for the resignation of the government due to the misuse of financial resources for the failed referendum. In addition, Barna stated that through boycott, Romanians proved their adherence to the European values of tolerance and acceptance. “Romania is a European nation. Romania is a tolerant and modern nation that refused in these last two days to take steps back.”
Legalization of Cannabis in Canada
On October 17th recreational use of cannabis was finally legalized. According to the new legislative act, everyone 19 years of age or older can now buy, consume and grow recreational marijuana in Ontario. In Quebec, consumption is legal for eighteen-year-olds. As per the possession of weed, Canadians will be allowed to carry and share with other adults up to 30 grams of marijuana. That’s enough to roll roughly 60 normal-size joints.
While buying edibles remains illegal for another year, Canadians can make marijuana food and drinks at home, but residents are limited to growing a maximum of four plants per household at any given time.
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, will have privately run stores starting on April 1. Government employees of the stores, called Cannabis councilors, will advise on which marijuana strains induce relaxation or euphoria, as well as possible harmful effects. Until April, legal purchasing of cannabis will be limited to buying online, from a government-run site.
The legislation loosens regulations established by the previous liberal government, allowing Ontario residents to smoke recreational cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is permitted. Under the new law, smoking and vaping cannabis is allowed at the private residences, many outdoor public places, designated guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns, residential vehicles and boats, scientific research and testing facilities, controlled areas in long-term care homes, certain retirement homes, residential hospices, provincially-funded supportive housing, designated psychiatric facilities or veterans facilities.
Smoking marijuana in workplaces continues to be illegal and the punishment for driving while high is severe. Prohibitors will have to pay a fine of at least 1,000 Canadian dollars. Penalties can also include up to five years in prison for cases that do not result in injury or death, or life for cases causing death.