Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leader of the Movement for National Regeneration Party, has won Mexico’s July 1stpresidential elections with a landslide victory after securing 53% of the vote. The 64 year old better known by his nickname ‘Amlo’ will take office from December 1st2018 until 2023. This is not Amlo’s first attempt at gaining the presidency, after narrowly losing the race in both 2006 and 2012.His election success is likely to signify a change to the geo-security landscape of Mexico and is highly likely to have an impact on areas such as corruption, the war on drugs and cartel violence, and relationships with Mexico’s neighbours.
Much of Amlo’s campaign leading up to the elections on July 1stfocused on the issue of widespread corruption in the Latin American nation.According to a 2017 report by anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International, 51% of Mexicans surveyed said they have had to in the past pay a bribe to access public services, with this being the highest rate recorded in Latin America. One of Amlo’s key slogans throughout his campaign was ‘There can be no rich government for poor people’ and has regularly blamed the previous regime in the country for the overwhelming issue of corruption, particularly within the country’s government. Amlo was quoted during his campaign as saying “Corruption is not a cultural phenomenon, it’s the result of a regime in decline”. He also said that no-one who was guilty of corruption would be spared, “even brothers-in-arms”. Analysis into corruption in the country has found that many politicians in the recent past have had their campaigns funded by drug traffickers, meaning often these criminals are granted protection by those in power in exchange for the campaign funding they have received. Despite taking a firm position on his desire to deal with government level corruption within the country, he has given little information or inclination on exactly howhe plans on addressing the issue aside from saying he will be leading by example. One of the few proposals he has put forward on the matter is to revise any oil contracts that has been awarded by the previous administration to companies in order to check them for signs of corruption. He went on to say that any contracts that are found to show signs of anomalies will be addressed by Congress in due course. If Amlo is able to follow through on his promises made during his election campaign, there could be a significant reduction in the amount of government level corruption within the country.
The War On Drugs & Cartel Violence
The War on Drugs began in December 2006 by former President Felipe Calderon against the cartels and drug-related violence in the country. There are a number of reports that suggest Amlo is considering a radical new approach of amnesty in regards to the War on Drugs, and has suggested he will push for a law allowing non-violent criminals who have been involved in drug related incidents to walk free. This approach, which is being coined as the ‘pacification strategy’ would aim to reintegrate low level criminals who have been/ are employed by drug cartels. The number of individuals who would fall into this category is estimated to be around 600,000. Mexico currently has a deficit of 200,000 police officers. Amlo has suggested that he wishes to increase their pay in order to entice people to sign up, allowing for the removal of the military from the streets. This approach however has faced a lot of criticism, with some suggesting this will make the situation with drug cartels worse by creating a power vacuum in these areas. If this vacuum does occur, it is likely that levels of cartel violence will rise, the polar opposite of what Amlo is trying to achieve. Amlo has also stressed the need to dismantle organised crime rather than just arresting the drug kingpins if the situation in Mexico is to ever improve. Under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, high-profile cartel bosses were arrested but the vacuum left by these arrests seemed to inflame turf wars and cause even greater levels of cartel violence. Mexico experienced its most violent year in record in 2017, with three quarters of these incidents being related to organised crime. As of January 2018, 230,000 people have been murdered and more than 28,000 reported as disappeared, alongside hundreds of thousands of people being displaced due to the violence. Neither the National Action Party (PAN) nor the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who have both been in power for the duration of the War on Drugs, have been able to get Cartel violence under control. In his victory speech, Amlo blamed corruption for the violence in Mexico. However, except for his plan to meet daily at 06:00 with his public security cabinet, he has given little detail about how he aims to tackle the endemic violence in Mexico.
Almo having won the election may results in a change in Mexico’s relationship’s with its neighbours, in particular the United States. Throughout the election campaign, Amlo had been the most critical candidate of US President Donald Trump citing that if he was to gain the Presidency he would make Trump ‘see reason’ and ‘put him in his place’. Since being elected however, Amlo has struck a much more conciliatory note, saying he would pursue a relationship of friendship and cooperation with the US. Given the US involvement on the War on Drugs, the US appears to be wary of the potential softening of Mexico’s security policies that are being considered by Amlo. If the radical new approach of amnesty is adopted by Amlo, it is possible this will exacerbate already somewhat tense relations between Mexico and the US given Trumps current ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on immigration amongst other incidents. Not only are US law enforcement agencies in close cooperation with Mexican forces to combat crime and drugs trafficking, but they are also a key trading partner for Mexico. Relationships regarding trade have the possibility of becoming strained given both Trump and Amlo have openly expressed they are sceptical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Given that the US is Mexico’s second-most-important market for soybeans, corn, wheat and rice exports, this scepticism by both countries leaders could mean bad news for US farmers who grow these crops in particular. However, given that 81% of Mexican exports headed to the US in 2017, it appears it is in both countries interests to make their relationship work from at least a trade standpoint.
It is not only Mexico’s relationship with its Northern neighbour that has the potential to change under the new President, but relations with its neighbours to the South. Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center Mexico Institute in Washington D.C. has said Amlo must turn south to its Guatemalan neighbour to strengthen its bond with them in light of the potential difficulties the Trump-Amlo relationship may face. By doing so, it will lead to a reduction in Mexico’s dependency on the US should issues in their relationship transpire. There are also suggestions that Amlo will and should strengthen Mexico’s ties with South American economic blocs such as MERCOSUR once again so Mexico is less reliant on the US. MERCOSUR’s full members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Should Amlo begin to turn to his southern neighbours and begin the process of strengthening ties, this may suggest that Amlo plans to reduce the Mexican dependency on the US in pursuit of bettering Mexico’s ties to the south.
The Middle East has been in an election atmosphere for the past two months with Lebanon starting first followed by Iraq and Turkey. The election results however seem to have caused tensions and concern across the countries and analysts trying to interpret the results and their meanings regarding the future.
While last month’s elections in Lebanon were peaceful, the election results were a victory for Hezbollah which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah now represents 14 seats in the cabinet and as analysts have stated, it now forms a resistance government, further presenting its militias and becoming more appealing to the public. Nevertheless, weeks later a cabinet is yet to be formed as recent efforts exerted by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have failed to make a breakthrough in the government formation process. The delay in the cabinet formation process is mainly due to the representation of Christians amid conflicting demands by the LF from one side and the FPM and President Aoun from another side. The LF wants the seat of the deputy Prime Minister, whereas the president says it is his right to appoint him and some other ministers in order to monitor the cabinet’s work. Also, Bassil, who is Aoun’s son-in-law, wants the FPM to retain the strongest Christian representation in the new cabinet by strongly rejecting demands by the LF to be represented by more than three ministerial portfolios. Aoun last week toughened his position on the LF’s demand for key ministerial posts in the new government, by declaring it is his constitutional right to choose the deputy prime minister and some other ministers in order to monitor the Cabinet’s performance. The statement was also perceived to be a message to Hariri, who supposedly supported the LF’s push for wide representation in Cabinet.Cabinet formation efforts are likely to be delayed further with the absence of Hariri, who is set to leave Beirut on a vacation with his family this week. The political uncertainty in Lebanon is another challenge the country has to face along the Syrian war and its economic crisis which seems to keep exacerbating despite the international support.
On the other hand, Iraq had its elections in a tense atmosphere over security reasons as clashes and multiple suicide bombings took place in different ballot boxes across the country with another attack only yesterday in Kirkuk- wounding 19 people. The election results indicate deep divisions within Iraqi politics. The results delivered a victory to the “Saʾirun” (“on the march”) pre-election alliance. This grouping represents an alignment between the “Sadrist Movement,” led by Shiʿi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the “al-Nasr” party (the “Victory Alliance”), spearheaded by incumbent Prime Minister and Western ally, Haydar al-ʿAbadi. Yet, the Sadr camp is also known for its anti-American stance. Sadr and his militia, originally known as the Mahdi Army, battled U.S. army forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. However, in recent weeks, reports of electoral fraud, unprecedented in post 2003 Iraq, have cast a shadow over the results. Due to the change from manual to digital vote counting in this year’s election, there are suspicions of fraud throughout the country. The newly appointed panel of judges in charge of the election commission announced it would only manually recount votes in the areas where there were fraud allegations. Ballot boxes from these areas will be transferred to Baghdad, and the recount will be held under United Nations supervision at a time and place that has yet to be determined. The scope of the recount is still unclear and the specific areas that will have their ballots recounted have not been named. The outgoing parliament, whose term constitutionally expired at the end of June, but no new leadership has been confirmed. Yesterday it was announced that the manual recount of the national election votes is to begin today, Tuesday. Only suspect ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports on fraud will be recounted, a spokesman for the panel of judges conducting the recount said. The manual recount will be conducted in the presence of representatives from the United Nations, foreign embassies and political parties; as well as local and international observers, members of the media, and the Ministries of Defense and the Interior. The uncertainty surrounding the final results has leaft Iraq in a state of limbo whilst lapses in security in disputed areas could lead to a swift fall should an attack occur according to officials.
In Turkey, the elections that took place last week and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won re-election with an outright majority in the first round, on 52.55% of the vote with 99% of ballots opened. His biggest challenger, Muharrem İnce, came second with 30.67% of the vote – an impressive challenge but not enough to force a second-round run-off. While deadly clashes took place during the election tour, the result of the election have widely been accepted and Erdoğan is to have his inauguration next Monday, as it was announced yesterday. There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but the elections took place in what Amnesty International described as a “climate of fear”. The country is still under a state of emergency in place since a coup attempt in July 2016, one of the presidential candidates is in prison and his party, the HDP, has been widely persecuted with hundreds of cadres and officials arrested in the last two years. The vast majority of the media are owned by allies of the president, transforming most news outlets into a loyalist press, and those who do criticise the government, like the oldest newspaper in the country, Cumhuriyet, are prosecuted on baseless allegations of abetting terrorism. Mr. Erdoğan is expected to receive more power in the decisions in the Parliament due to the constitutional changes approved last year- his opponents say the constitution means Mr Erdogan no longer presides over a government, but a regime. At the same time local media has reported that the state of emergency, first enacted in 2016, will not be extended next month. Nevertheless, it seems like the political and economic uncertainties looming over the Turkish markets for some time, have started clearing away. In fact, yesterday it was reported that the Turkish lira decoupled from its peers following the June 24 elections, appreciating nearly 2 percent against the U.S. dollar last week.
Analysts are expecting to say more and new changes in the Middle East especially in Turkey as the President has more power in the country than ever. At the same time, a cloud of uncertainty has surrounded the region, as Iraq and Lebanon are still battling for stability.
Three outbreaks of Avian influenza, better known as the “Bird Flu” have been detected in Bulgaria this spring and early summer with a total seven reported cases since October 2017. Bird flu can be divided into two main groups: highly pathogenic (HPAI) and low pathogenic (LPAI). HPAI spreads rapidly causing serious disease with high mortality (up to 100% within 48 hours) in most poultry species (except domestic waterfowl). LPAI is much milder and may easily go undetected. The virulence of HPAI has prompted countries such as Saudi Arabia to bar poultry imports from Bulgaria.
On 5 March an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu virus was reported on a farm in the town of General Toshevo, located near the border with Romania, in the northeastern district of Dobrich. A three-kilometer protection zone and a 10-km observation area around the livestock area were set up and a ban on the trade and movement of domestic, wild and other birds and trade in eggs, had been imposed.The national food safety agency reported that the outbreak would lead to the death of 140,000 birds.
On 27 May another outbreak was reported on a duck farm in the northeastern village of Stefanovo. It was unclear which strain of bird flu it was. Again, the national food safety agency established a three-kilometer protection zone around the farm and the movement of domestic, wild and other birds and has been banned within it, as has the sale of eggs and poultry. It was the second outbreak at this farm, with the last outbreak taking place in October 2017 and resulted in the culling of more than 10,000 ducks.
On 13 June another outbreak was reported on a farm in the village of Donchevo, in northeastern Bulgaria. A three-kilometer protection zone was established and the national food safety agency reported that all contaminated birds would be culled.
On 15 June the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rumen Porozhanov held working meetings with the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency and the directors of the regional food safety directorates in order to discuss how to properly respond, and prepare to the recent and future outbreaks of the bird flu and African swine fever, which has been detected 160 km away from the Bulgarian border with Romania.
In 2018 HPAI outbreaks of subtype H5N8 have been detected in poultry in Bulgaria and Italy. HPAI H5N6 has been confirmed in poultry in the Netherlands and Germany and in captive birds in Sweden. In wild birds only the subtype HPAI H5N6 has been identified in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, the Slovak Republic and several wild bird cases throughout the southern part of the United Kingdom.
Although typically difficult to transmit to humans, it is possible for the bird flu to jump across species and does occur occasionally. The most widely known form of bird flu to do this was the H5N1 strain which had a mortality rate of about 60% among the human cases. It has also been reported on 15 June that another deadly form of the virus, H7N9, has been detected in China and has reportedly already killed 623 of the 1,625 peopleinfected.
Presidential elections were held in Venezuela on 20thMay 2018 resulting in incumbent Nicolas Mauro, of the United Socialist Party (PSUV), being re-elected for his second six year term having won 67.8% of the votes. With the original election date being scheduled for December 2018, many analysts have called the election a ‘show’ election, with it having the lowest turnout in the country’s democratic history.
Concerns over the elections were openly voiced in the run up to the vote, with concerns over irregularities and changes to the election date being cited by many as well asinternational condemnation and allegations of vote buying and electoral fraud. A number of Venezuelan NGO’s including the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory expressed concerns over the legitimacy of the proposed election. The Human Rights Watch was also quoted in early May as saying the elections in Venezuela had ‘no credibility’. This statement was in part brought about due to Maduro disqualifying the majority of popular leaders of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and other members of opposition groups from being able to take part in the elections. Back in December 2017, Maduro disqualified a number of opposition groups including Justice First, Popular Will and Democratic Action from running in the elections due to accusations of boycotting the Mayoral elections. There were legitimate allegations raised regarding the elections, such Maduro offering recipients of state benefits a “prize” if they came out to vote. The prize meant struggling individuals would receive much-needed food and supplies, with the desired outcome being an increasingly reluctant public being compelled to vote for him in order to obtain this prize.
The results of the election have been rejected by a number of groups including the United Nations, the European Union, Lima Group and the Organization of American States. A number of countries have also followed suit, with Canada releasing a statement saying it does not recognise the legitimacy of Venezuela’s presidential election and has since recalled their ambassadors from Caracas in protest. Canada also imposed targeted sanctions on 14 Venezuelan officials in response to what they were calling “illegitimate and anti-democratic presidential elections”.
The fallout from Venezuela’s suspect elections continued, with the EU imposing sanctions on the country in response to the elections.The EU is reportedly preparing to impose more targeted sanctions against officials in the South American country and has made calls for there to be fresh Presidential elections. Reports suggest that the sanctions are expected to be formally adopted at a meeting on June 25 in Luxembourg.This is not the first time of late that the EU has imposed sanctions on the Latin American country. In January 2018, the EU introduced a travel ban and an asset freeze to seven Venezuelan individuals and in November 2017, it also imposed an arms embargo upon the country.
Further adding to Venezuela’s woes, the U.S. imposed further economic sanctions on the country in the week preceding the election. In the lead up to the elections, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announced that “the world would support the armed forces in Venezuela if they decide to protect the people and restore democracy by removing a dictator” whilst Trump noted that “we have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option”.In response, Maduro expelled the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela and his deputy for allegedly conspiring against the socialist government and trying to sabotage the presidential election.
The Venezuelan Government did invited the UN to observe the process, however they refused the offer stating that by going it would ‘give a veneer of legality to a process that lacks it’. With calls continuing by the Opposition for fresh elections, the negative fallout from the elections looks likely to continue.
Almost certainly everyone has seen the National Geographic’s picture of a stork trapped in plastic or have heard the news about the whale that died off the coast of Thailand and the fact that more than 80 plastic bags were swallowed by the mammal.
According to the report of the Association of Plastic Manufacturers, 335 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally a year, which means nearly 1 million ton a day. That is an incredible amount. Half of that amount is produced in Asia. Almost one-third of the global amount is produced in China alone, 4% of it in Japan and 17% is produced by the rest of the Asian countries. Unfortunately, only a fraction of this amount is recycled, the rest is usually dumped in the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is floating between Hawaii and California, is estimated to be as big as 1.6 million km², which is nearly the size of Indonesia. Plastic pollution is one of the most recent and most deadly threats mankind is facing as it has huge impacts on the life of people and causes problems in nature as well. Currently, countries are trying to tackle the issue on a national level with some multinational initiatives.
In Hong Kong, the food delivery service Deliveroo and Ocean Park have committed to reduce their use of plastic. By the end of the year this partnership aims to make non-plastic packaging options available to all their restaurants worldwide. While Ocean Park teamed-up with more than 800 local restaurants to draw attention to plastic use through schemes like No Straw Friday.
The Indonesian government declared a cooperation with clerics from the country’s two biggest Muslim groups, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, to change consumer behaviour pertaining the use of plastic shopping bags. Jakarta is desperately trying to end its dependency on plastic bags and pledged to reduce its waste volume by 30% by 2025.
In China, a company is providing green canvas bags to people they see walking around carrying a lot of plastic bags to use these instead. Beijing banned supermarkets and retailers from offering free plastic bags a decade ago. Production of bags thinner than 0.025mm is also prohibited. The nationwide campaign cut the number of plastic bags by two thirds according to the National Development and Reform Commission. According to the State Post Bureau, at least 50% of all packing materials used in the courier industry should be degradable and two-thirds of the plastic woven sacks should be replaced with reusable cloth bags by 2020.
One can see that there are countless examples of good initiatives Asia-wide to tackle the issue of plastic waste pollution. The ones mentioned above are just a few examples of how nations try to use the best practices to reduce the production and use of plastic. Yet, it does not provide a solution to the plastic that has already flooded the oceans or dumps. One solution might be the practice already tried in the United Kingdom. In England, plastic is used for roads, which are either entirely or partially made from plastic or composites of plastic with other materials. In Carlisle, a recycled plastic material was involved in the resurfacing of the A7. The plastic used was equivalent to off-setting 500,000 plastic bottles and more than 800,000 single-use plastic carrier bags. According to experiences, roads with plastic are more durable than the traditional roads.
Just imagine of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disappearing from the ocean and resurfacing as part of the road system in Asia.