September 30 roundup: Elections, European political mayhem, as well as trade disputes and bilateral tensions

Voting at the ballot box

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Much has happened around the world since July, potentially summarised in six themes. First, elections and long-serving prime ministers (in Israel and Japan); second, European political mayhem in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (where Brexit continues to dominate headlines); third, trade disputes and bilateral tensions (between China and the United States, as well as between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States); fourth, 17 consecutive weeks of protests in Hong Kong; fifth, businesses paying a price for transgressions; and sixth, natural and man-made disasters (including a record number of fires recorded in the Amazon rainforest).

1. Elections and long-serving prime ministers: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is set to be his country’s longest-serving prime minister, and while Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, the results of a second election in five months – after the last failed to produce a governing coalition for the first time in the country’s history – are a setback for Mr. Netanyahu.

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri was soundly crushed in a primary vote. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras lost his re-election bid to a centre-right leader. The party of Ukraine’s new president, a former comedian with no prior political experience, won a commanding majority of seats in the parliament. And in Afghanistan, following the collapse of peace talks between the Taliban and the United States and warnings of violence escalation by the former – less than two weeks before scheduled elections – suicide bombings killed at least 48 people. An earlier suicide blast at a Kabul wedding, the country’s deadliest attack of the year, left at least 63 people dead.

On a brighter note in Sudan, the military agreed to share power with protest leaders for three years through a joint council. A sovereign council of five military members, five civilians, and an 11th member agreed upon by both sides will run the country for the next three years, before elections are held.

2. European political mayhem in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK): Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte initially resigned, leading to the collapse of the country’s government, but the formation of a new coalition government later returned Mr. Conte to power. Spain is set to hold its fourth election in four years. Brexit continues to dominate headlines in the UK. Former London mayor and foreign secretary Boris Johnson became the prime minister. The Queen approved an order to suspend parliament from early September to mid-October, just before the Brexit deadline, but the Supreme Court later unanimously ruled that the prime minister had acted unlawfully. Mr. Johnson, in addition, had been defeated as parliament passed a bill to avoid a no-deal Brexit and his attempt to hold a national election.

3. Trade disputes and bilateral tensions: The trade war between China and the United States continues, and China was labelled a currency manipulator for the first time since 1994 after it weakened its currency in responses to President Donald Trump’s tariff threat. In Asia, amid a bitter trade dispute too, South Korea pulled out of an information-sharing pact with Japan. And in India, Article 35 – which ensures the special status of these disrupted regions – was scrapped in Jammu and Kashmir.

In Africa, tensions between Nigeria and South Africa resulted in mass riots in the latter, where many Nigerian-owned were targeted. In retaliation, South African telecommunications and retail businesses in Nigeria were attacked. And in the Middle East, the world’s largest oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia was attacked, cutting about half of the country’s oil output. Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility, but the United States (US) has blamed Iran directly. This follows a series of provocations as Iran continues to break the nuclear deal which the US has withdrawn from, seizing a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz – the detention order on which was lifted – and arrested 17 of its citizens accused of spying for the US.

4. 17 consecutive weeks of protests in Hong Kong: Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that a controversial extradition bill – which has prompted weeks of protest – was “dead”, but did not formally withdraw it. Protests in later weeks turned violent, as China hinted that it was prepared to use military force to quell violence. After 13 consecutive weeks of protests, the chief executive agreed to one of five demands by withdrawing the extradition bill, but tensions and dissatisfaction remain.

5. Businesses pay a price for transgressions: In the United States, Facebook will pay a historic US$5 (S$6.82) billion civil penalty over privacy breaches, while Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay US$572 (S$794) million for the company’s role in the opioid-addiction crisis in Oklahoma. In Germany, Deutsche Bank cut 18,000 jobs, with a restructuring plan focused on a retreat to its German banking roots.

The Federal Reserve also cut interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis of 2008.

6. And finally, natural and man-made disasters: In Brazil, more than 26,000 fires were recorded inside the Amazon rainforest in August alone. In DR Congo, a global health emergency was declared after the yearlong Ebola outbreak killed more than 1,600 people, leading to the resignation of the health minister. In Myanmar, a landslide and flooding caused by monsoon rains killed at least 51 and displaced at least 105,000. In the Philippines, a national dengue epidemic was declared. And in Zimbabwe, an acute water shortage left millions with running water only once a week.

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