Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 22 November 2016: Trump announces controversial appointments, Saudi-led coalition continues airstrikes in Yemen, controversial power-sharing agreement comes into effect in DR Congo

The weekly briefing, 22 November 2016: Trump announces controversial appointments, Saudi-led coalition continues airstrikes in Yemen, controversial power-sharing agreement comes into effect in DR Congo

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Controversial power-sharing agreement extending presidents term until 2018 comes into effect in DR Congo; Mali elects local councillors in first elections since 2013 despite threat of violence.

Americas: Donald Trump assembles transition team and announces controversial appointments and nominations to key posts; fears of US protectionism under Donald Trump prompt Peru to strengthen economic and trade relations with China.

Asia-Pacific: 500,000 protesters in Seoul call for South Korean president to resign; New Zealand prime minister outlines cosmetic changes to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to encourage Trump to ratify agreement.

Europe and Central Asia: Former prime minister Francois Fillon wins French Republicans primary election and set to win run-off to face Marine Le Pen in 2017; Armenia’s parliament votes to extend non-proliferation accord with United States.

Middle East and North Africa: Head of Egypt’s journalists’ union sentenced to two years in prison for ‘harbouring fugitives’; Airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition forces continue in Yemen despite 48-hour ceasefire.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On 17 November, a controversial power-sharing deal that was agreed in October came into effect in DR Congo, making opposition politician Samy Badibanga the country’s prime minister. The deal has effectively extended the term of the current president, Joseph Kabila, and delayed the presidential election scheduled for this month until 2018 due to a lack of money and logistical challenges. Kabila is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office. Badibanga had taken part in the talks despite the fact that his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), had avoided them. While the DR Congo government is hailing the agreement as a way of alleviating political tension in the country, it is likely that the converse will prove true.

Mali

Mali went to the polls to elect local councillors on 20 November in the first elections held in the country since 2013. The elections are the first since the government and rebel groups in the north signed a peace agreement in 2015, and had been previously been delayed four times. The elections were held despite the threat from violent Islamist militants, which has put the country into a state of emergency. Indeed, the elections were cancelled in some areas due to security concerns. Five soldiers transporting ballot boxes were reportedly killed, and there have been reports of ballot boxes being seized and burned. The vote has been heavily criticised by the opposition, who argued that the ongoing security threat must be addressed first.

Americas

United States

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, has assembled his transition team and confirmed that former General Michael Flynn will be his national security adviser. Flynn is notorious for his Islamophobic statements, and his appointment as national security adviser avoids the Congressional confirmation battle that would have come with his nomination as defence secretary. His appointment, and the likely nomination of other controversial figures to key cabinet positions, such as Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, the former house speaker Newt Gingrich and the chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, is causing outcry within the United States and concerns internationally. More widely, Trumps isolationism and protectionism will likely lead the United States away from multilateral diplomacy in favour of bilateral arrangements. The president-elect’s praise of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his criticism of NATO are a source of concern for Baltic countries, who are increasingly wary of Russian aggression. International perceptions of reduced US leadership are likely to result in regional powers, such as Russia and China, feeling less constrained and to pursue their own security agendas more aggressively. However, Trump gas assured South Korea and Japan of the United States’ continued commitment to their security.

Peru

Peru hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on 17-20 November. During the summit, Peru moved to strengthen economic and trade relations with China, fearing the rise of protectionism under the US administration of Donald Trump. Trump has promised to dismantle or renegotiate various trade agreements, including leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has declared that he would welcome a new Pacific trade deal that includes both China and Russia if the United States withdraws from the TPP. During the summit, Peru’s trade minister, Eduardo Ferreyros, also indicated that Lima is considering joining the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which represents a competing free-trade arrangement to the TPP. Many Latin American leaders are now waiting to see if Trump follows through with his promise to leave the TPP. If and when the United States drops out of the TPP, it is likely that these leaders will increasingly look towards China to fill the international trade vacuum.

Asia-Pacific

South Korea

More than 500,000 people have protested in Seoul calling for the country’s president, Park Geun-ye, to step down after she revealed that she had been receiving advice from a school friend, Choi Soon-sil. Soon-sil is facing criminal charges for allegedly using her influence over the president to extort large sums of money from South Korean companies and channelling it into a non-profit organisation she runs. Geun-ye is offering to form a new cabinet incorporating more opposition members, but it is possible that she will be forced to resign as president. At the same time, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is likely to try and capitalise on the political instability in the South, with North Korean defectors warning of a propaganda barrage.

New Zealand

The New Zealand prime minister, John Key, has outlined a series of cosmetic changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that could be made to encourage Donald Trump to ratify the agreement when he becomes US president in 2017 (including the tongue-in-cheek suggestion to rename the agreement the ‘Trump-Pacific Partnership’). The incumbent US president, Barack Obama, believes the agreement would help reduce trade barriers, allowing the United States to tap into the high-growth Asian markets; however, Trump has described the deal as a death blow to US manufacturing, and has promised to leave the TPP on his first day in office. If the TPP does fail, then much of Asia would likely turn to China’s less-competitive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Such a move would demonstrate a waning of US influence in the region and a further rise of Chinese power.

Europe and Central Asia

France

On 20 November, the Republicans held the first part of a two-stage process to select its candidate for the French presidential election in April and May 2017. Former prime ministers Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe came first and second respectively, while former president Nicholas Sarkozy came third and has endorsed Fillon. The runoff stage between Fillon and Juppe will be held on 27 November, with Fillon expected to win. Fillon is a centre-right constitutionalist, who has promised deep market reforms. The current president, François Hollande, is deeply unpopular, and it unlikely that he will secure the Socialist Party’s nomination. The result is that the primary candidates in the presidential election in May are very likely to be the centre-right Anglophile Fillon and the neo-fascist leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen.

Armenia

Armenia’s parliament has voted to extend a non-proliferation accord with the United States dating from 2000. Under the agreement, the United States assists Armenia with the necessary technology and know-how to prevent the development and spread of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors. The extension of the agreement was supported by 104 of the 132 members of parliament. It coincided with the ‘NATO week’ taking place in the country’s capital, Yerevan, on 14-18 November. During his stay in Armenia, NATO deputy assistant secretary-general Jamie Shea praised NATO-Armenia cooperation in the field of military training. Both events, though unrelated, are likely to be interpreted by Russia as Western posturing, given that Armenia is part of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Given latent regional security issues in Georgia’s pro-Russia separatist regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – as well as the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the South Caucasus region is likely to prove important in the evolution of NATO-Russia relations and possible future confrontation.

Middle East

Egypt

On 21 November, the head of the journalists’ union in Egypt and two of his colleagues were sentenced to two years in prison for ‘harbouring fugitives’. Yehia Qallash, Gamal Abdel Rahim and Khaled al-Balshy were arrested following a police raid on the Journalists Syndicate headquarters in May in which two opposition journalists were arrested for allegedly inciting protests against the decision by the Egyptian president, Abdul al-Sisi, to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. The crackdown on the union is the latest in a series of arrests and detentions of journalists covering the protests over Sisi’s decision. Given Sisi’s record of suppressing dissent, it is likely that journalists will continue to be targeted.

Yemen

Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition have continued in Yemen despite its 48-hour ceasefire that began at midday on 19 November. The Saudi government maintains that the airstrikes do not violate its ceasefire, as they claim that they were in response to Houthi violations. The ceasefire was brokered in order to allow the delivery of aid to rebel-held areas in the southwest of the country. The Saudi ceasefire came just days after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, visited neighbouring Oman to push for a ceasefire and political negotiations. Kerry announced that this ceasefire would begin on 16 November, but the deal was rejected by the Yemeni government led by the exiled president, Abdrabbuh Hadi. While the truce announced by Kerry held in some parts of the country, other areas continued to be targeted, with over 20 civilians killed on 18 November in Taiz. Despite suggestions that the truce could be extended, reports from Saudi suggest that this will not be the case.

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