World update: December 8-9 2018



As expected, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s One Step Alliance won a resounding victory in Sunday’s Armenian parliamentary election. One Step reportedly came away with over 70 percent of the vote, albeit with relatively low (around 49 percent) turnout. Election observers have yet to weigh in on any potential irregularities.


Taliban fighters attacked a military checkpoint in Farah province late Saturday, killing at least eight Afghan soldiers. A day earlier, at least three civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Herat province that was probably placed by the Taliban, though no group claimed responsibility.


Six people were wounded in Karachi late Saturday in a bombing targeting the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a secular political party active in the city. No group has taken responsibility and this one offers a number of possibilities, including some kind of internal dispute–Muttahida Qaumi has splintered at least a couple of times, and its various factions don’t get along well with one another.


Indian soldiers engaged in an 18 hour battle with Kashmiri separatists outside of Srinagar that finally ended on Sunday with three militants dead. The battle, as these usually do, brought out a crowd of civilians in support of the separatists and against Indian control, and Indian authorities, as they often do, responded by shutting down telecommunications and internet services in the region in order to tamp down the protests.


Hindu nationalists are urging the Indian government to construct a Hindu temple on the ruins of a mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya that a Hindu mob tore down back in 1992, precipitating months of Hindu-Muslim violence in which 2000 people (mostly Muslim) were killed. Ayodhya is traditionally held to be the birthplace of the Hindu holy figure Rama, possibly on the site of the mosque though even Rama’s historicity is very much open to debate, let alone the precise site of his birth. The Mughals built the Ayodhya mosque probably on the site of a pre-existing religious structure (that was often how Muslim conquerors rolled), but it’s questionable whether this was a Hindu temple at all (it may have been Buddhist), let alone whether it was a temple marking the supposed birthplace of Rama. Nevertheless, ever since 1992 it’s been a popular cause among Hindu nationalists that the government “reclaim” the site for Hinduism.


The Chinese government is urging Canada to release arrested Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou, warning of “a heavy price” if she is extradited to the US on alleged sanctions violation charges. That price would presumably be exacted in terms of trade penalties. Meng’s preliminary hearing adjourned on Friday without a resolution, so it will continue on Monday. She’s seeking bail on health grounds but the Canadian government wants to keep her in custody while the case is pending.


The US-South Korea Special Measures Agreement, the deal that governs the presence of US soldiers in South Korea, expires at the end of this month, and Seoul is balking at a renewal because Donald Trump wants to dramatically increase the amount the South Korean government pays for that privilege. Right now Seoul pays $830 million per year to keep US soldiers in country, but Trump wants to raise that to either $1.2 billion or $1.6 billion depending on which report you read. Why any country would pay the US military anything to do what the US military wants to do anyway is beyond me, but what do I know? Anyway it would be pretty funny if Trump, the negotiations president, were to undermine his own leverage with respect to Kim Jong-un by pulling US forces out of South Korea over money before North Korea had denuclearized.



At least 15 Fulani civilians were reportedly killed on Wednesday when their village in central Mali was attacked by a “rival ethnic group.” It’s unclear which group–possibly Tuaregs or Dogon, but who knows.


The US says it killed four al-Shabab fighters in an airstrike near Basra, just outside of Mogadishu, on Saturday. The strike was a “self-defense” attack against an al-Shabab group that was itself attacking a Somali military unit.


DRC President Joseph Kabila, who has been in office for 17 years and who is so unpopular that his refusal to hold elections to replace him last December led to riots and mass protests, says he might just throw his hat into the ring in the 2023 election. Kabila is barred from running in this month’s election–assuming it actually happens–due to term limits, but they don’t prohibit him from taking a term off and coming back. He will probably be succeeded by his hand-picked heir, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, both because of a divided opposition and because Kabila will make sure of it. Kabila’s approval rating was around 18 percent the last time anybody checked, but maybe people will think of him more fondly after five years out of power.



OPEC and a group of independent oil producing countries led by Russia (or, in other words, Saudi Arabia and Russia) agreed on Friday to cut oil by 1.2 million barrels per day, with about two-thirds of that coming from OPEC nations. Under the agreement, Russia will cut 230,000 bpd while the Saudis will cut 250,000 bpd. The deal should boost global oil prices but may earn all concerned a nasty tweet or two from Donald Trump. The talks between the Saudis and Russia have highlighted the degree to which those two countries have come to dominate the global oil market, with Russia’s voice crowding out even the non-Saudi members of OPEC. That’s undoubtedly part of the reason why Qatar announced earlier this month that it’s bouncing out of OPEC starting next year.


The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration has lost the support of the governments of the United States, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Israel, and assorted other right-wing goons, and now it may have actually brought down the Belgian government. Prime Minister Charles Michel’s governing coalition lost its largest constituent party, the New Flemish Alliance, which opposes the compact and quit the government because it disagreed with the rest of the coalition. Belgium is scheduled to hold its next parliamentary election in May, but now might have to move that up.


Emmanuel Macron will reportedly deliver a national address on Monday as he seeks to quell the “yellow vests” protests that have gripped France in opposition to his planned gas tax hike and the rest of his regressive austerity policies. Saturday’s protests–which involved an estimated 136,000 people nationwide–again turned violent, with demonstrators vandalizing businesses, setting cars on fire, etc., across Paris. Dozens of people were reportedly injured and hundreds arrested. Macron will speak Monday evening after spending his day meeting with union leaders, business leaders, and local elected officials to try to formulate his response.

Whatever concessions Macron offers are likely to be small potatoes, and certainly nothing like the full course correction the protesters seem to be demanding. It’s not in Macron’s nature to admit that he’s wrong, and if he had any actual empathy for what his policies are doing to people he would have displayed it already.


The British parliament will vote on Tuesday on Theresa May’s Brexit plan. If the noises coming from legislators are to be believed, she’s on pace to lose that vote by a huge total, possibly triple digits, in which case it’s hard to see how May’s premiership can survive. She could go back to the European Union and try to get a major renegotiation of the deal, but the EU has no strong incentive to do that. If she has any inkling she’s going to lose that big, May will probably find some way to delay the vote. If May loses the vote by a relatively small number, say 50-ish votes, she could go to the EU asking for a small concession or two, maybe even a concession that would appeal to a couple of dozen Labour MPs. If she wins the vote…well, then you ought to start checking to see if hell has frozen over.



To close this post out as it began, with politics, Peruvian voters also went to the polls on Sunday to vote on a package of anti-corruption measures backed by President Martín Vizcarra. Exit polling suggests that they voted overwhelmingly in favor of three of the reforms, and overwhelmingly against the fourth:

According to an exit poll conducted by Ipsos Peru for private station America Television, 87.1 per cent approved regulating the financing of political parties, while 85.0 percent approved of judicial reform.

A third proposal, to ban the immediate re-election of lawmakers after a five-year term, was backed by 85.2 per cent of voters.

But a fourth, which proposed creating a second chamber in congress, was rejected by 85.1 percent, according to the exit poll, which said it had a 5.5 per cent margin of error.

Vizcarra, I should note, pulled his support for the second legislative chamber prior to the vote.


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