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.
Venezuela is not the only Latin American country dealing with concurrent economic and political crises. Nicaragua has been in the midst of its gravest national crisis since the country’s civil war. Unfortunately, Nicaragua’s issues have been greatly overshadowed by the drama taking place in Venezuela. Now, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is taking steps he hopes will help his cause. On Thursday Ortega announced his government is working to resume negotiations with opposition leaders sometime next week. He made the announcement at a ceremony commemorating the death of guerrilla leader Augusto Sandino 85 years ago.
Ortega’s motivation for moving to ease the crisis has more to do with economic realities than it does healing the national rift. The government is facing a $315 million deficit at the moment. The funding, and loans from multilateral organizations which Nicaragua needs to contend with the deficit, and deficit-related issues is no longer available. Protests that broke out last April, and May following Ortega’s aborted pension reform turned deadly when the government launched a major crackdown. Over 300 Nicaraguans lost their lives and hundreds more were arrested on vague ‘terrorism’ charges. Shortly thereafter the multilateral money, which has been like mother’s milk for Nicaragua, dried up.
If negotiations begin, the opposition is almost guaranteed to want Ortega’s resignation, and new elections to be held as its main demands. The Nicaraguan leader is accused by his opponents of establishing, along with his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo, a corrupt dictatorship since 2007. The opposition negotiators will include representatives of university students, businessmen, and politicians, a cross-section of Nicaraguan society.
At this point there are no official preconditions for the two sides to engage in dialogue. However, a handful of reliable sources have indicated the opposition will likely demand the release of political prisoners before talks get underway. There has been no official word on this by the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (the official name of the Nicaraguan opposition) and it is not very likely Ortega would agree to such a move before talks have even started. On the other hand, Ortega needs these negotiations to produce results, and help jump start funding for the economy. Nicaragua’s president could be more flexible than he’s been in the past if it means achieving his goals.
It has long been widely accepted across Europe, and the world for that matter, that the stability of the German government is guaranteed. In the past two days this presumption has evaporated. Contrary to the beliefs of millions in the EU and beyond, Germany’s government is not invulnerable to disorganized change. Although Angela Merkel and her party emerged as the winners in Germany’s latest round of federal elections, the victory was a pyrrhic one. Gains made by her Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) were not enough to form a majority government. Merkel’s subsequent efforts to form a coalition have failed. Ruling as the minority party is not a viable option because of the instability it could bring. Therefore, new elections will probably be in the cards for Germany, and not until February at the earliest. Between now and the new elections, Germany’s current government will assume a caretaker status. The beacon of stability that Germany has been in times of political unrest could quite possibly be coming to an end.
The spectacle of Angela Merkel having to reach out to political parties of very different ideologies in order to form a coalition speaks volumes of the new political realities encroaching upon the Federal Republic of Germany. Merkel’s handling of the European Migrant Crisis, the liberal immigration policies she put into place for Germany, and the consequences of both have played a major role in creating the wave of populism that has swept across Europe. Most of Germany’s neighbors in Central Europe are now leaning right politically. The European Union has looked to Berlin for inspiration and leadership as the continent becomes increasingly polarized. More specifically, the EU has relied on Merkel for inspiration and leadership. But now, with Merkel weakened politically, and her days as chancellor perhaps numbered, Germany will not be playing an active role in the supranational body. The end result could very well be a paralyzed EU.
Since taking power in 2005 Angela Merkel has been Germany and vice versa. As Germany goes, so does Europe. They now face a future where this is no longer the case. Supporters of the EU must be horrified at the idea of losing the leader they considered to be their bulwark of democratic stability, and firewall against populism. In Germany, the realization is no less frightening. For a nation where in ordnung is a way of life, the notion of political chaos is nothing short of a nightmare.
Authors note: I was planning to look at the Saudi Arabia and Iran confrontation in-depth over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. However, I am going to shelve that for the moment and instead post a detailed entry about the German political crisis and what it means for Europe.
Whether they realize it or not, Catalonia’s separatist politicians have an image problem. Carles Puigdemont and company are emerging as the rapscallions of the Catalan crisis instead of the Spanish government. This is contrary to how Puigdemont and his associates intended the situation to play out. By this point, Madrid was expected to have seen the light and sat down with Catalan’s government officials to negotiate a phased, eventual separation of Catalonia from Spain. To the surprise of Puigdemont, the Spanish government’s response was strikingly different from what was expected. Madrid has stood up to the challenge, and has every intention of fighting tooth and nail to keep Catalonia from breaking off and becoming an independent state. Since the Catalan independence referendum on 1 October, nationalism has taken root across the country. Even in Catalonia, support for independence is not overwhelmingly high, contrary to what the separatists in the Catalan government want people, and the media to believe. In Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia, many residents are critical of their region’s government, accusing the separatist politicians of touching off this crisis purely to achieve their own ends.
Remarks made today by Catalan Vice President Orio Junqueras seem to support the suspicions about separatist politicians. In light of Madrid’s intent to impose direct rule, Junqueras sees a quick declaration of Catalonia’s independence as the region’s next logical step. Speaking on behalf of his Republican Left party’s members, he said the party is committed to “work toward building a republic, because we understand that there is a democratic mandate to establish such a republic.” Whether or not such a mandate exists depends on whom you speak to. Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled against the 1 October referendum making the results invalid. Junqueras, Puigdemont, and Catalan separatists point to those same results as proof that a mandate exists regardless of the Constiutional Court’s ruling.
Catalonia’s political elite has still not come to terms with the severity of the situation before them. Madrid plans to fire all of them and assume control of the region until new elections can be held. Catalan leadership has yet to put together an effective plan to delay, or block Article 155’s from being implemented. Time is running out and a declaration of independence at this point will do nothing but speed up the Spanish government’s plans to impose direct rule in Catalonia and put an end to the subversion once and for all.
In South Korea, the impeachment of Park Geun-hye was made official by the Constitutional Court on Friday. The body ruled unanimously to uphold the removal of the embattled South Korean President, who had been impeached by a parliamentary vote in December, 2016. Park’s fall from power stems from her involvement in the corruption scandal that has dominated South Korea for the better part of a year. Park was impeached on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from South Korean businesses and abusing her powers in an elaborate scheme with her longtime friend and unofficial adviser Choi Soon-sil. The political scandal was the largest in South Korean history and marked the first time a democratically elected South Korean president has been removed from office. Park is now open to possible prosecution, something she was immune to during her time in office.
As the dust settles from this scandal, South Korea looks ahead to an uncertain political future. New presidential elections must be held within the next 60 days. 9 May, 2017 is the expected date for the elections to begin. Until then, former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will continue performing in the role of Acting President. Park’s shameful exit from the national political stage presents the possibility of a shift in South Korea’s political balance to the opposition. Conservatives are in disarray following her removal and the consensus is that Moon Jae-in, a liberal who lost to Park in 2012, stands the best chance of emerging as South Korea’s next leader.
If Moon, or another opposition candidate takes power it could bring a major change to South Korea’s dealings with North Korea, and the nation’s relations with the United States. The opposition parties in Seoul favor more engagement and less confrontation with the North. Moon was a member of President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration in the 2000s. Roh was the creator of the Sunshine Policy, a rapprochement effort that involved trade and cultural exchanges with North Korea. The policy was ended by conservatives after it became apparent that North Korea was expanding its nuclear and missile programs in the same time period. Politicians like Moon are also wary of what they view as an increased US military footprint in the region.
Timing, as always, is everything. This political crisis and the aftermath comes at a delicate time in the region. The United States has begun the deployment of THAAD missile batteries to South Korea in response to continued North Korean missile tests. The deployment has brought harsh criticism from China, along with warnings of a possible East Asian arms race in the near future. North Korea, along with its missile firings, is embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with Malaysia which arose from the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur last month. South Korea’s turmoil is adding additional ambivalence and tension to a region in desperate need of cohesion at the moment.