Monday 17 July, 2017 Update: The Venezuelan Powder Keg

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The opposition movement in Venezuela has been energized by the results of Sunday’s unofficial referendum and are hoping it marks a turning point in its struggle against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Over 7.2 million Venezuelans cast votes, with the overwhelming majority were against Maduro’s plan to push forward with his plan to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. On 30 July voters will elect delegates for a constitutional assembly. The assembly will be given the power to rewrite laws and many observers view it as nothing less than a power grab on the part of Maduro.

Venezuela continues to descend deeper into economic, and political chaos. Maduro is desperately clinging to the plan for a constitutional rewrite as his cure-all. Three months of unrest, and daily clashes between protesters, and security forces have taken a toll. A new constitution that neuters the power of his opponents in the legislature will pave the way for him to contend with the opponents on the streets once and for all. In spite of the growing turmoil, anti-government feeling, and the results of the referendum yesterday, Maduro’s position is relatively stable for the time being. There are no imminent threats to his rule. Despite the efforts of anti-Maduro lawmakers and their supporters, the current president appears likely to remain in power at least through the end of the summer.

A primary reason for this has been the opposition’s disorganization and lack of unity. The opposition is comprised of people from every facet of Venezuelan society. Unfortunately, there is no fabric to mesh together. No individual leader, or leadership council to coordinate the various groups. In the absence of a cohesion, the opposition’s efforts have been restricted mainly to street protests. In their own right, the protests are powerful, but without a political element to guide and lead them, the throngs of people taking to the streets are little more than an unruly mob. Maduro’s bands of thugs have intimidated the political opposition to a large degree. Pro-government thugs regularly assault opposition lawmakers, and on one occasion Maduro even sent a group of them to the National Assembly where they entered and beat a number of lawmakers bloody.

The political chaos might end up being overshadowed by even more economic despair soon enough. Venezuela’s foreign reserves are now down to less than $10 billion. In short, the country is on the verge of going broke. If that happens, all bets are off as to what happens next.

Monday 17 April, 2017 Update: Turkey Votes ‘Yes’ On Constitutional Referendum

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On Sunday as the Christian world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Turks across the world were voting on a historical constitutional referendum which, if passed, would grant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a host of new powers. By late last night it became clear the ‘Yes’ vote would carry the day, propelling Erdoğan to a close, yet potentially decisive victory. If the referendum is implemented entirely, Turkey’s government will shift from a parliamentary democracy to one that is dominated by a strong executive president. The president will no longer be held accountable by Turkey’s parliament, control the judiciary, have broad budgetary power, and the ability to shape the executive branch of government as he sees fit. This morning, many are wondering just what the results of the vote will mean for Turkey’s future.

Before that question is considered, the results of the referendum have to be certified and digested. The vote count was close with the ‘Yes’ camp receiving 51%. Opposition leaders are calling for large number of potentially problematic ballots to be reviewed, and there are widespread reports of voter intimidation and voting irregularities across Turkey to be investigated. It is unlikely an investigation will happen though. Turkey’s electoral body has ruled the vote valid.

That act will do nothing to change the fact that the referendum results could usher in a new period of political instability for Turkey. In the nation’s largest population centers, the majority of citizens voted ‘No.’  Protests have already broken out in Istanbul and other cities and there have been clashes between Turks opposed to Erdoğan and his supporters.

Outside of Turkey, there is uneasiness about the new role of Erdoğan and the chance that the secular Turkey of the past will forever vanish. European politicians are spending a great deal of time this morning debating what the referendum results will mean for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and how it will affect the migration crisis. Concerns about Erdoğan directing Turkey away from Europe and toward a closer relationship with Russia need to be addressed. That particular possibility, should it come to reality, has the potential to disrupt the balance of power in Europe and the Middle East.

With the Easter Holiday coming to a close, and North Korea quite possibly calming down for a short period, the opportunity will be taken this week to discuss Turkey at length.

Monday 5 December, 2016 Update: In The Referendum’s Aftermath

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As he promised, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will step down following the defeat of his constitution reform plan. On Sunday, Italian voters rejected the constitutional referendum, opening the door to Italy’s future. The question is: now what? Analysts have been having a field day trying to figure out an answer for the last two weeks or so. As the referendum drew closer, the question was asked more frequently. With the vote now complete and the results tallied, Italy has to take a long hard look at itself and choose the path that will bring it political stability and economic growth, something that has eluded the nation for quite some time.

Short term, there will likely be a period of domestic political instability. With Renzi resigning, a new government needs to be formed. It will be up to Italian president Sergio Mattarella to piece together that government and determine the best way to do so. The leading political parties in Italy will be brought together to try and reach an agreement on a new government. It will be in the best interests of the major parties to do this without having to rely on elections. The 5 Star Movement (M5S) and Northern League will likely push for them because of the effects which will come from the Italicum law, a major change to Italy’s electoral laws engineered by Renzi when he came to power. The change stipulates that the winner of the next election will automatically take a majority of seats in parliament. With M5S and the Northern League riding high after the referendum vote, it’s apparent why both parties prefer to put the decision in the hands of voters. With that in mind, the populist M5S will likely not assume control of the government now or anytime soon.

Economically, the referendum results do not change the myriad of problems facing Italy’s banking system. Worries about the banks, as well as low economic growth could potentially fuel the Eurosceptic mood that is growing in the nation and across Europe. There has also been concern that the referendum results will potentially place Italy on a path to leave the euro. M5S has blamed many of the nation’s economic woes on the single currency system.

Speaking of the euro, there is the reaction of the EU establishment to consider. So far, there has been a mixture of brave faces, unenthusiastic declarations, and heads buried in the sand. Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister called for calm, stating emphatically that there is ‘no reason to talk of a euro crisis.’ He fails to mention or acknowledge the truth that there is already euro crisis in full swing. This weekend’s referendum results are a clear indicator of it. The EU is either unable or unwilling to face the fact that Brexit, anti-immigration sentiment and the populist-fueled political movements are indicators that a growing number of European voters are dissatisfied with the European Union and politicians closely aligned with EU doctrine and policies.

 

Thursday 1 December, 2016 Update: Italy’s “Trump Moment”?

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On Sunday, Italians will go to the polls on a constitutional referendum. An event which, some observers speculate, could set the stage for Act Three of the populist revolt against the political establishment/ The very same revote that made Brexit a reality in the UK and brought Donald Trump to power here in the United States. The Trump victory has galvanized right-leaning populist movements across Europe. Since early November, political analysts have been looking around and wondering what nation will be next. The smart money is been on France, and with a presidential election coming in 2017 it is a good a good bet.

With that in mind, it would be irresponsible to dismiss what is happening in Italy at the moment. Sunday’s vote will determine whether or not the Italian constitution is amended to reform the Italian parliament, and the way which governments are formed. The referendum is not cut-and-dried the way Brexit was. The opposite holds true, in fact. It is a complex package of reforms that will change how democracy functions in Italy if successful. The core of the referendum is a proposed reformation of the legislative process which is famously chaotic and debilitated. It takes power away from the regions and Senate, thus making it far easier to pass government reforms. Supporters point to this as their most powerful argument. Detractors, on the other hand, point to the referendum as a slippery slope towards authoritarianism and the death knell for representative democracy.

The results of Sunday’s vote will be especially consequential, in that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s political future will be determined by it. His position will be strengthened if the Senate is stripped of most of its power. Renzi has gone all in, even making it known that he will resign if the “no” vote wins. Beyond Italy’s borders, world financial markets are watching events closely. A negative vote makes it more problematic for Italian banks to recapitalize, and the state of those financial institutions is fragile enough already. Then there is the European Union. The EU has taken a keen interest in the referendum, naturally. To be precise, the EU’s main focus is Renzi. The prime minister is viewed as the EU’s best weapon to counter the rising wave of populism. A “yes” vote will put Renzi in a position where he can emerge as a new, powerful leader for Europe in the future. A leader with political beliefs more in line with EU values and in direct contradiction to the type of politicians being backed by populist groups both in Italy and across Europe.

A ‘no’ victory on Sunday will not cause a collapse of the euro and the EU. However, with the Brexit wounds still fresh and anti-establishment sentiment still surging, it will make life more difficult for the embattled supranational union.