The Turning of the Sphere

Sudan: Tensions grow between Musa Hilal and Khartoum

The former leader of the Janjaweed (a tribal milita created to fight rebels in Darfur), Musa Hilal, has attacked the current leadership of the Janjaweed, or “Rapid Support Forces” as they are now officially called. Hilal accused the RSF of shoving him aside and seeking to supplant him during a disarmament campaign in Darfur. Musa Hilal originally created the Janjaweed forces and proceeded to wage a brutal scorched earth campaign after being released from jail, where he was serving a sentence for stirring up ethnic killings and the murder of innocents, to fight Darfurian rebels. However, Hilal claims that the RSF now are “mercenaries” and have “nothing to do with the “Rizeigat or Darfur.” Although Musa Hilal was once an ally of Khartoum he has recently taken to launching periodic attacks against Sudanese forces and has sometimes issued statements against the central government and established the “Revolutionary Awakening Council.” The tribal leader is particularly interested in administration the Jebel Amer gold mine in northern Darfur.

Sudan’s Vice-President Hasabo Abdelrahman warned that state forces will control Musa Hilal should he not cooperate with the weapons collection program. The arrest of several tribal leaders of the Rizeigat and Maaliya suspected of leading the recent spates of violence between the two tribes angered Musa Hilal.

Joint declaration from Lima condemns the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela

A gathering of diplomats from many South and North American states held in Lima, Peru denounced the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and stated that they would not recognize any actions taken by the “illegitimate” constituent assembly. The Peruvian government called for this meeting after Nicolas Maduro pressed ahead with plans to establish the constituent assembly despite widespread international opposition to such a move. The centrist president of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, warned that Venezuela was on “its last leg economically” and Ricardo Luna, the foreign minister of Peru, declared, “What we have in Venezuela is a dictatorship.” The foreign minister of Brazil, Aloysio Nunes, affirmed the bloc’s views and said, “We cannot permit a dictatorship among us” and “Nor can we permit this horror in Venezuela. The new constituent assembly recently declared itself superior other government bodies which must it claims must recognize its powers and adhere to its decisions. The constituent assembly has initiated several moves to weaken the independence of the judiciary and of the National Assembly.

Nicolas Maduro begins promised purge of opposition

Two opposition figures in Venezuela, Leopolodo Lopez and former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, were arrested on the orders of the country’s president Nicolas Maduro. The arrests follow Maduro’s promise to place opponents of both his regime and consolidation of power into jail cells. Both Ledezma and Lopez have been detained in the past, but have not ceased their criticisms of Maduro’s method of governance.

Nicolas Maduro holds controversial vote to bolster power

Today Venezuela holds a vote to create a “constituent assembly” that is sought by the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, as a means to downgrade the opposition controlled parliament and to rewrite the country’s 1999 Constitution. The constituent assembly would largely be given the power to govern the country and could reinforce Maduro’s faltering government by sidelining opposition forces.  Ever growing economic shortages and the rapid decrease of support for Maduro has led to large scale protests against his rule. Previous efforts to annul or neutralize the parliament by Maduro have failed to achieve results and the latest plan is far more likely to put Venezuela on a new trajectory that could end in a one party dictatorship depending on how the constituent assembly wields its power. Opinion polls suggest that more than 70% of the electorate oppose the vote to create a constituent assembly. On the ballot one cannot express opposition to the new entity’s creation, but only select a choice as to who should number within its ranks and all of the candidates allies of Maduro. Turnout was lower than in past elections and many of today’s voters express hope that they would receive monetary rewards for casting a ballot.

Opposition forces will not be present among its ranks despite the deep unpopularity of Maduro as they have boycotted this vote. The president has also suggested that he will launch targeted legal campaigns against opposition members of parliament and that a “prison cell” awaits them once the new assembly is operational. Several countries in South and Central America, including Mexico, Colombia, and Panama, have declared the vote illegal and have imposed sanctions on Maduro’s government as has the United States. The Castro government in Cuba is one of Venezuela’s primary allies in the Western Hemisphere.

Venezuela was once among the wealthiest of countries in South America, but the economy has dramatically deteriorated in recent years, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis and rising political discontent. The country suffers from extraordinarily high inflation and shortages of a wide variety of goods. Many basic necessities are purchased by Venezuelans in Colombia when possible. At least 113 people have died in the four months of anti-Maduro protests with almost 2000 wounded.

French legislative election results

The French legislative election has produced a majority for Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party.  Édouard Philippe, appointed by Macron prior to the election, remained the Prime Minister afterwards, although he reconfigured parts of the cabinet.  The second largest party is now the Les Républicains party, which is headed by François Baroin.

The results for the second round of the legislative vote are as follows (note: totals include electorally allied parties such as MoDem and UDI):

LREM (La République En Marche) – 350 seats and 49.11% of the vote

LR (Les Républicains) – 136 seats and 26.95% of the vote

PS (Parti Socialiste) – 45 seats and 7.49% of the vote

FI (La France Insoumise) – 17 seats and 4.86% of the vote

PCF (Parti Communiste Français) – 10 seats and 1.20% of the vote

FN (Front National) – 8 seats and 8.75% of the vote

The UK general election

The UK general election held on June 8 resulted in a hung parliament in which no party possessed a majority of seats in the House of Commons.  The Conservatives, who won the most seats were followed by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, who came in a distant third.  An assortment of smaller parties followed from there.  The results were a striking return to two party predominance as the two largest parties won more than 80% of the vote between them.

The results for the three largest parties were as follows:

Conservative Party: 42.3% of the vote and 317 seats

Labour Party: 40% of the vote and 262 seats

Liberal Democrats: 7.4% of the vote and 12 seats

Regional parties, such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), received seats also.

After the election, Theresa May narrowly retained her position as Prime Minister, although the damage dealt to her political position due to seat losses probably will result in her replacement some time prior to the next election.  Several potential options, scenarios, and names have been circulated since the election.  Nonetheless, the Conservative Party retained its status as the governing party as it reached a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, which is one of the parties of Northern Ireland.  Jeremy Corbyn retained his position as leader of the Labour Party due to the fact that Labour gained votes and seats off its 2015 total, although the party nonetheless failed to win the election and lacked any viable numerical path to forming a government.  Corbyn is currently positioned to retain overall control of the Labour Party into the next election unless new developments alter the current situation substantially.  The possibility of a coalition or confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and the SNP ended when it became apparent that even together the parties could not obtain a majority.

Prior to calling the election, Prime Minister Theresa May seemed to hold a nearly unassailable position and her main challenger, Jeremey Corbyn, faced a daunting gap in the polls (both in terms of party vote and for preferred prime minister).  However, during the campaign the Prime Minister committed a series of campaign errors and the Conservative manifesto included certain changes to how homes were counted as personal capital in adult social care payments.  These changes were labelled by critics as a “dementia tax” and constituted a major turning point in the campaign.  Days after the manifesto launch, Theresa May announced that there would be a maximum cap on the amount one would have to pay towards home based care.  The cap was often claimed to be a “U-turn” and it could only contain the damage the Tories suffered with older voters, who are generally the most likely to turn out.  The controversy over the “dementia tax” proved to be heavily damaging to May and provided a tremendous opening for the Labour Party, which was trailing badly in the polls at that time, to exploit.  The Conservative lead over Labour quickly halved after this maelstrom began and the Tories had difficulty finding their footing after this event.

The Labour Party’s manifesto represented a watered down version of Jeremy Corbyn’s past views, but it still constituted a significant shift towards increased taxation and spending and away from the more market oriented economic strategy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Critics of Corbyn’s campaign promises argued that there was no “magic money tree” to provide for the new spending which they argued could only be paid for by measures that would likely harm the economy.  However, Corbyn’s calls for a major social spending surge resonated within a substantial portion of the Labour electorate and gave him a focused narrative during the campaign despite concerns in many corners over the particulars of implementation.

While much of the campaign focused on household economics, other issues did feature into the campaign.  Jeremy Corbyn has faced significant and wide ranging controversy since he won the Labour Party leadership election of 2015 with the help of highly committed activists against more centrist candidates.  Members of his shadow cabinet, particularly Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, have often been the subject of controversy for their past positions or statements.  The sudden ascendancy of the once relatively obscure John McDonnell within the Labour Party led to fresh examination of his views regarding the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  One particular instance involves remarks that he made in 2003.  At that time John McDonnell argued that, “We are in the last stage of imperialist intervention in Ireland and only armed struggle has stopped it.  It is about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.  It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.  The peace we have now is due to the unilateral action of the IRA.”  This statement sparked immediate controversy and the Labour Party condemned the remarks and prepared to investigate McDonnell and possibly expel him from the party.  McDonnell later apologized for the statement and, in an article he authored, offered what he claimed to be his motivation for making the statements although his explanation has been questioned and challenged.  As with John McDonnell, Diane Abbott’s past statements and views regarding the IRA and the Troubles also resurfaced as she reached a newfound prominence.  One such case involves an interview held in the 1980s during which Diane Abbott declared about the armed conflict in Northern Ireland, “And it is our struggle – every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us.  A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.”  During an interview in the 2017 election, Diane Abbott was pressed on the statement and appeared to suggest that she had later changed her views on that topic.  Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn himself has modified or amended some his more controversial positions or policies he espoused as a backbencher in Parliament, including those regarding NATO and the Falkland Islands.

The Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron faced some campaign stumbles although much of the electorate’s collective attention was focused on the two largest parties rather than the LDs.  The Liberal Democrats maintained their position in favor of remaining within the European Union during the campaign.  The question of how to manage and handle Brexit featured as a staple of the campaign, but other issues began to compete for electoral attention and the positions of the two main parties did not differ dramatically on this issue.

Leo Varadkar to become next Taoiseach of Ireland

Leo Varadkar, who won the leadership contest of the center-right Fine Gael party, is slated to become the next Taoiseach or prime minister of Ireland to replace the outgoing Edna Kenny, who announced his retirement on May 17.  Simon Coveney came in second place in Fine Gael’s leadership selection contest.  Coveney received more votes from the rank and file while Varadkar acquired more support from Fine Gael’s elected members of parliament.  Fine Gael does not have a majority in the Dail or parliament, but other parties are unlikely to block Leo Varadkar’s ascension to the taoiseachship as that would necessitate a new election.