Africa: Gambia’s president rejects election result and calls for new presidential elections; Ghana’s president defeated in presidential election.
Americas: CIA concludes Russia influenced US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour; Venezuelan government to withdraw country’s largest banknote, giving population just 10 days to swap their notes.
Asia-Pacific: South Korean MPs vote to impeach country’s president on a corruption charge; Australia urged not to water down anti-racism law.
Europe and Central Asia: Romania’s Social Democratic Party wins parliamentary elections; Kyrgyzstan votes in favour of constitutional reforms that will increase powers of prime minister and government at expense of the judiciary and parliament.
Middle East and North Africa: Bomb in Coptic Christian cathedral complex in Egyptian capital kills at least 25 people and injures dozens of others; Islamic State recaptures Palmyra from Syrian government forces.
After initially conceding defeat to opposition candidate Adama Barrow after his success in the Gambian presidential elections, the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, rejected the result on 9 December and annulled the elections. In response to this apparent U-turn, the UN Security Council and the African Union issued statements pressing Jammeh to respect the election result and declaring that the handover of power should happen swiftly. On 10 December, Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), filed a petition with Gambia’s Supreme Court arguing for a re-run of the election due to ‘abnormalities’. There is currently a heavy military presence, particularly in the capital, but the situation in the country remains calm. The court will have to decide on the legality of Jammeh’s claim before any transition takes place. If the court rules against Jammeh, it is possible that he will will refuse to accept the result and will attempt to hold onto power with the support of the country’s armed forces.
Opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo has won Ghana’s presidential election held on 7 December. Akufo-Addo defeated the incumbent president, John Mahama, by 53.8% to 44.4% in his third attempt to secure the presidency. Mahama phoned his opponent and conceded defeat on 10 December. The campaign was heavily dominated by the country’s current economic difficulties, and many of Akufo-Addo’s election promises related to the creation of new jobs and industry in Ghana. Celebrations have broken out in the capital, Accra, following Akufo-Addo’s victory. He will officially take power on 7 January after a month-long transition period. Ghana is considered to be one of Africa’s most stable countries after the transition to multiparty democracy in 1992, and it is expected that the transition from Mahama to Akufo-Addo will run smoothly.
On 9 December, the Washington Post reported the findings of a secret CIA assessment that concludes that Russia intervened in the 2016 US presidential election in order to help Donald Trump secure the presidency. The unprecedented CIA assessment follows the identification of several key individuals connected to the Russian government who reportedly leaked thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks. Trump has rejected the CIA’s assessment, and questioned the credibility of the intelligence community (mocking their notorious false assessment that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in 2002). The Obama administration has remained wary of responding publicly to the allegations, fearing being seen as influencing the conduct of the election. Trump’s opponents see the CIA’s findings as grounds for convincing the Electoral College to vote for an alternative candidate on 19 December; however, it is highly unlikely that the majority of electors will contradict the election result. Once Trump is in the White House, it is highly likely that he will move to end any ongoing investigations into the links between Russian interference and his election victory.
The Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, has announced that the government will withdraw the country’s largest banknote from circulation. The Bs.100 note is currently worth only 2¢ (1.6p) on the black market. Maduro stated that the withdrawal of the note will be followed by the introduction of new higher-value notes ranging from Bs.500 to Bs.20,000. He gave Venezuelans just ten days to swap their Bs.100 notes, claiming that this would undermine the smuggling gangs along Venezuela’s border with Colombia, as they would not have time to exchange their notes. However, data from the Central Bank of Venezuela reveals that there are over six billion BS.100 notes in circulation, making it highly unlikely that ordinary Venezuelans will be able to exchange all their notes in the available timeframe. Moreover, the move is unlikely to contribute to substantially lowering Venezuela’s inflation rates, which are among the most severe in the world. In fact, the International Monetary Fund expects prices in Venezuela to rise by more than 2,000% in 2017.
South Korean MPs have voted to impeach the country’s president, Park Geun-hye, on a corruption charge. The historic bill was passed by 234 votes to 56 – 34 votes higher than that required for the bill to pass. Park is accused of allowing a school friend, Choi Soon-sil, to benefit from their close relationship, including that Choi used that relationship to attract financial investment into organisations that she ran. Parliament has removed Park’s executive powers and asked her prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, to temporarily takeover these responsibilities. The country’s constitutional court – consisting of nine senior judges – now has 180 days to decide if the impeachment is legal and whether due process was followed. If the court rules that the process is valid, Park will be forced to resign and an election will be held within 60 days. Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer and leader of the Democratic Party, is expected to win such an election. In the meantime, Hwang has placed the South Korean military on heightened alert in an attempt to discourage North Korean aggression during the political turmoil.
UN special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, has called on Australia to not water down anti-racism law. Politicians in Canberra are preparing to hold an inquiry focusing on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which outlaws behaviour likely to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ people on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin. The government is considering amending the law after a case was filed against one of Australia’s best-known cartoonists, Bill Leak, who drew a controversial cartoon about indigenous parental neglect. Supporters of the Act call it a fundamental protection, but opponents claim it is a gag on free speech. The law is designed to protect minorities in the country, but is considered by some to be verging on positive discrimination after a racial discrimination case was brought against three students at Queensland University of Technology who were asked to leave a computer lab reserved for indigenous students. The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has warned against any weakening of section 18C. It is unlikely that parliament will remove section 18C, but it will likely amend the Act by adding a clause stipulating that behaviour must be deliberately offensive or intimidating to be unlawful.
Europe and Central Asia
Romania’s Social Democratic Party (PSD) has won the parliamentary elections held on 11 December. After 99% of the ballots have been counted, the PSD has a voter share of 46%, followed by the centre-right Liberal Party with an expected 20% voter share. There was an estimated 40% turnout. It is likely that the PSD will form a coalition government with one of the smaller left-leaning parties, almost certainly ALDE, though it is possible that it will attempt to lead a minority government. The PSD faced corruption investigations in 2012, with the party chairperson, Liviu Dragnea, receiving a two-year suspended sentence for inflating the results in a July 2012 referendum on impeaching the then president, Traian Basescu. With 29 of the 588 MPs elected in 2012 being found guilty of corruption charges, it is likely that the PSD will focus its efforts on tackling corruption, as well as pro-worker policies, such as an increase in the minimum wage and cuts to income tax.
On 11 December, Kyrgyzstan held a national referendum on constitutional reforms put forward by the country’s president, Almazbek Atambayev. Early results indicate that roughly 80% of Kyrgyz voters have voted in favour of the constitutional changes, which will increase the powers of the prime minister and the government and highly likely significantly diminish the powers of the judiciary and parliament. If enacted, the reforms will also ban same sex marriage. In a joint statement, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concerns over the proposed amendments. The referendum’s results are likely to tarnish the Kyrgyz Republic’s image as Central Asia’s ‘island of democracy’, as the strengthening of the executive at the expense of other government branches is likely to impact on human rights and individual freedoms in the long-term. Furthermore, opposition leaders and critics of the current administration fear that Almazbek will use the executive’s newly-acquired powers as a stepping stone to become prime minister at the end of his presidential term in 2017.
Middle East and North Africa
A bomb in the Coptic Christian cathedral complex in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, killed at least 25 people and injured dozens of others. The explosion occurred during the Sunday service on 11 December. The Egyptian president, Adbul Fattah al-Sisi, has declared a three-day mourning period across the country and has called for the perpetrators to be found and punished. No group or individual has claimed responsibly for the attack, but it is likely to be the work of one of the violent Islamist extremist groups operating in the country. The bombing came the day after an attack on the road to the pyramids in Giza in which six police officers were killed at a security checkpoint. The two recent attacks are among the deadliest in recent months, and may prompt further state crackdowns on Islamist groups in the country.
Islamic State (IS) recaptured Palmyra from Syrian government forces on 11 December after more than 4,000 IS fighters converged on the city. Russia responded to the attack with a series of airstrikes that are thought to have killed around 300 IS fighters, but were unable to prevent the group from retaking the city. The news was officially released on Islamic State’s al-Amaq news agency and confirmed on Syrian television by the governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi. Islamic State’s success in Palmyra comes after a string of defeats in Syria and Iraq, with the group losing many of the towns and cities it captured in 2014. The Syrian Army is continuing its attempt to retake Palmyra. Given its recent successes against Islamic State and ongoing Russian air support, it is likely that the Syrian Army will successfully retake the city.