Tunisia’s Political Crisis

Tunisian President Kais Saied made assurances on Friday that he will not adopt dictatorial powers in the wake of his dismissal of Tunisia’s parliament for 30 days and the sacking of the prime minister last Sunday. In the wake of these actions, Tunisia is experiencing a political crisis that threatens to unravel the gains made in the 2010-11 Tunisian Revolution. Saied’s moves on Sunday have brought on international scrutiny as critics and leaders of major political parties in Tunisia have accused the president of staging a coup. Concerns about the future of Tunisian democracy and the rights of its people increased Friday following the arrest of a parliamentarian and the investigation of leading opposition figures who took part in anti-Saied demonstrations earlier this week. A second member of parliament was arrested later in the day. Saied has removed the immunity of parliament members, making all of them vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment.

Saied’s moves to assume total executive control of the government apparently enjoys wide popular support. Tunisia is a nation which has dealt with corruption, economic stagnation and political deadlock for years. This situation has been worsened by a large surge in COVID-19 cases this year, essentially making a bad situation even worse. Although Tunisia is in the midst of a political crisis there have been no indications of unrest aside from Monday’s protest outside of the now-closed parliament building.

Nevertheless, there is growing concern outside of the country that Saied’s actions are unconstitutional and threaten Tunisia’s democracy. In order to temper these concerns and accusations, Saied needs to follow up his assurances with firm actions that demonstrate he is not crafting a dictatorship in Tunis.

Hungary’s Parliament Gives Orban Absolute Power

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Today in Budapest the National Assembly, which is Hungary’s parliamentary body, approved the government’s request for the power to rule by decree for an indefinite period of time. The new legislation gives extraordinary powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, effectively placing him in sole command of Hungary with absolutely no oversight. The move was made to give the government all of the necessary tools to effectively combat COVID-19. Many nations across Europe and other parts of the world have allowed their governments to assume emergency powers in the pandemic, but none have taken a step as drastic as Hungary has. The National Assembly has essentially handed Orban the keys to the kingdom without any assurances he will give them back when the pandemic comes to an end.

The new legislation extends the present state of emergency now in effect. It lays the foundation for jail terms of up to five years on individuals, and organizations hindering measures to curb the spread of the virus or spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the virus. Human Rights groups, and opposition parties inside Hungary fear Orban will use this to neutralize domestic journalists and media outlets opposing the Orban government.

The legislation also gives Orban the power to bypass parliament when making decisions, eliminating the body’s ability to act as a check on possible abuses of power Orban. The Constitutional Court will retain the power to review government actions, however, the court is filled with justices loyal to Orban, so its ability to provide objective oversight is questionable.

Even though Orban and his allies have promised the emergency measures are temporary and will pose no threat to democracy in Hungary, his opponents inside of the country, and across Europe aren’t so sure. The European Union has not responded to events in Hungary today, and given the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be some time before that happens.

On a final note, what has taken place in Hungary is a textbook example of what was discussed in the previous blog post. Actions taken during the pandemic will certainly produce far reaching consequences once things return to normal, whether leaders, and citizens realize it or not.

Canadian Elections: Trudeau Holds On

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I haven’t talked much about our friends to the north in this blog, but tonight I’d like to make an exception. Canadian news media is now projecting that Justin Trudeau will remain as Canada’s prime minister, and the Liberal Party will remain in power as the results of the Canadian Federal Election come in. Polls taken in the days before the election suggested the elections would be close and Conservatives, with their leader Andrew Sheer, might be able to assume control of the government. As it stands right now, that doesn’t appear likely to happen.

Trudeau is safe, although its not yet clear if Liberals will form a minority or majority government. Again, as it stands right now, a minority government seems more likely. This scenario will leave Trudeau in a far weaker position, and needing the support of other left-leaning political parties to push legislation through. When the election results become more concrete, a better picture of the current political situation in Canada will develop.

However it goes, this election will have little effect on Canada’s geopolitical stature. Truth be told, the Trudeau government’s actions abroad have resulted in a minimal net gain for Canada, except for a handful of good soundbites.

Perhaps later in the week, as it becomes clear what direction the new Canadian government will be going in, I’ll look at the future of Canada’s military, and geopolitical agendas.

Storm Clouds Gathering on the Horizon For Georgia

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With international attention presently centered on Iran and the Persian Gulf it comes as no surprise that recent events in Georgia have been overlooked. Protests broke out in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on 20 June after a Russian MP delivered a speech from the speakers chair in the Georgian parliament. This act was viewed as deeply offensive by the Georgian people, and the political opposition. Thousands of citizens took to the streets to demonstrate and the protests swiftly grew violent. The incident in parliament unleashed a torrent of anti-Russia feelings which had been festering among the people. Georgia’s current government has been viewed as being overly receptive to Russian political and business interests, much to the dismay of the Georgian people.  Clashes erupted between protesters and police, resulting in over 250 people being injured.

It is no secret that anti-Russia sentiment runs deep in Georgian society. The brief 2008 Southern Ossetia conflict, and subsequent loss of Southern Ossetia, and Abkhazia contributed greatly to the feelings. Since 2012, Georgia’s government has been led by the Georgian Dream party. GD has moved to restore economic and political relations with Russia, although many Georgians now view these moves as placing their nation back in the Russian sphere of influence.

Russia’s response to the protests has been eye-raising to say the least. State media issued warnings that Georgia is not safe for Russian tourists, and that there have been some attacks on citizens in recent days. The warnings came on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin placing a temporary ban on flights to Georgia effective 8 July, 2019. On the surface, Russia’s response appears proportionate to the events which took place last week.

Concern materializes with the realization that the present Russian moves are strikingly similar to what took place during the leadup to the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It began with the discovery of a somewhat obscure and veiled threat facing Russian nationals and citizens living in or visiting Crimea. From there events continued on, gaining momentum until one morning there were Russian troops on the ground ostensibly to protect Russian citizens on the peninsula.

There seems to be a possibility that Russia could be planning something similar for Georgia in the near future.

EU Elections: The Center Does Not Hold

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Centrists are poised to emerge as the biggest losers in the EU Elections. The center-right EPP (European People’s Party) and its center-left counterpart the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will remain the two largest parties in the next EU Parliament, however they will no longer hold the majority. Both parties have sustained considerable losses. The EPP will have 173 seats in the new assembly, down from 216. S&D seats will drop from 185 to 147. The level of support historically held by the centrist bloc has diminished as smaller euroskeptic, and pro-EU parties have enjoyed a surge of support across the continent during this election cycle. The voting results, and projections make it clear that the EU Parliament will be even more fragmented over the next five years.

This weekend’s elections were quite different from the EU Parliament elections of the past. Turnout was over 50% and up seven percent from 2014. Supporters of the European Union, and its detractors both regarded this election as critical to the future of Europe. The biggest surprise, however, seems to be the emergence of the Pro-EU liberals and the Greens. Both parties have suddenly become crucial components to any attempts to create a stable majority.

Although the far-right surge did not materialize as many right-leaning politicians were hoping, inroads were made. Whether or not this election was a referendum on the EU is immaterial, no matter how left-leaning media outlets and politicians in Europe and beyond are claiming today. The more profound takeaway from the elections is the collapse of the political mainstream, and rejection of the ruling parties across the continent. The election results are going to bring consequences to the internal political systems of many European nations. The effects are already being felt from England, to Greece. At mid-week we will look closer at the fallout this election is having for individual EU member-states, and the union as a whole.