Research & Analysis

The World This Week: Crisis in Bolivia, BRICS Summit, and renewed violence in Israel & Hong Kong

Bolivia: Political crisis over elections

What happened?
This week, clashes between the security forces and pro-Evo Morales protesters have resulted in several dead and injured. These clashes started after President Morales, was forced to step down over allegations of rigging the October 2019 elections. There was also pressure from the military, police and public protesters demanding the same.
Now, the supporters of Morales, who refute the rigging allegation have taken to the streets to demand his re-installation.
Currently, an interim administration has been formed with a mandate to call fresh elections. Morales has left for Mexico to avoid charges against him.

What is the background?
Morales has been in power for 14 years and is also credited with several developments in Bolivia. From a humble background, he fought his way to become the first-ever indigenous leader. However, there was a transition in him; corruption and greed become evident in his policies. He also abused the State apparatus to boost his support and personal gains.
In 2016, Bolivia’s constitutional court allowed Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term, despite narrowly losing a referendum held during that year. This was not surprising as members of the court are elected from candidates nominated by the government-controlled assembly.
During the 20 October election, the vote count was interrupted and resumed only after 24 hours. When Morales’s victory was declared, it was evident that he won by a narrow ten per cent over his closest rival. This alarmed the Organization of American States (OAS), whose audit found evidence of manipulation. However, even this evidence was questioned by the critique of OAS. Critiques also claimed that it was a desperate attempt by OAS to stop Morales coming to power, as this win in 2019 would have secure his tenure till 2025.

What does it mean?
First, the Bolivian protest is an example that even the most popular and celebrated leader could be removed from his position by the same people who have brought him to power. In this era of rising populism, this could be the antithesis.
Second, the protests have included Bolivia into a long list in Latin America, where there are street protests.  In the region, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay have already plunged into political turmoil.
Third, in Bolivia, the unrest will continue unless a new government is installed and impact its economic growth. In recent years Bolivia has witnessed a sharp economic growth in entire Latin America.

Brazil: Leaders meet for the 11th BRICS Summit

What happened?
During 14- 15 November, the 11th BRICS summit was held in Brasilia, Brazil. The five countries focussed on ‘economic growth for an innovative future’, which included talks on innovation, trade, technology and culture. The BRICS declaration made references to economic cooperation between the five countries, regional situations on a pan-global level and stressed upon intra-BRICS cooperation. Additionally, the member countries have expressed their support for hosting the 12th BRICS summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
PM Modi pushed for foreign investments by terming India as ‘investment-friendly’. On the side-lines, he held bilateral meets with the Brazilian President Bolsonaro, Putin and Xi to discuss issue-specific concerns.

What is the background?
While the international community has shared mixed opinions of the grouping, consecutive summit outcomes have improved. This year witnessed a slew of programs and joint engagements by nations in sectors such as health, water resources, infrastructure and trade. This is the second meeting in Brazil since the group’s formation. The five nations host more than a third of the world’s population, accounting for more than 20% of the world’s GDP.
For India, the meeting comes on an opportune moment, after its recent exit from the RCEP deal.

What does it mean?
First, the meeting upholds the spirit of collective negotiations at a time when multilateralism and regional groupings have weakened. The document also highlights particulars regarding the Dispute Settlement Mechanism in WTO, the grave situation in the middle east and UNSC reforms, among others. The summit pushed for reforming organisational structures at the UN and IMF. This signals at the comprehensive approach of BRICS in shaping rational international structures.
Second, bilateral talks between India, Russia, China and Brazil signifies the need for repairing ties and strengthening existing ones. Modi and Putin shared views on bilateral trade, including core sectors like oil and natural gas. Surprisingly, Putin called for India’s participation in the Arctic, highlighting its natural gas potential. While Modi and Xi discussed trade and investment, the two leaders also stressed upon strengthening diplomatic ties and made mentions to boundaries and borders.
Third, the summit has ventured deep into areas such as innovation, digital economy and transnational crime. The declaration document endorsed energy cooperation and combating desertification. It also mentioned the setting up of Regional Offices for New Development Bank in BRICS countries. India is set to host the BRICS Digital Health Initiative, mainly to enhance health connectivity and services. This points at several bandwidth expansion by the grouping since its inception and setting new areas for joint cooperation.

Israel: An assassination, followed by an escalation in violence

What happened?
Israel defence forces (IDF) assassinated Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander of Islamic Jihad (IJ) in an airstrike on Tuesday during this week, leading to an escalation between the militant group and the security forces in Gaza and Israel. 34 Palestinians have been during the week. Investigations are being carried out into one of Israel’s strikes that killed eight members of a family, including children.
Though a ceasefire brokered by Egypt ended the flare-up, two rockets were fired into Israel reportedly by rebel factions in Hamas on Saturday.

What is the background?
Iran backed, Islamic Jihad’s BahaAbu al-Ata, “a ticking bomb”, had launched several attacks against Israel in recent months. Along with his wife, the commander was killed in a precision strike by Israel. The Islamic Jihad has termed it as a ‘declaration of war’ and launched several rockets into Israel; most of them were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome system. The Israeli Defence Force further carried out strikes against the group’s military assets and members.
Hamas, the militant faction that administers the Gaza strip has condemned Israel for the attack but mostly stayed out from escalating the situation further despite its relationship with Islamic Jihad. For months Hamas and Israel have been working on a long-term agreement to end armed hostilities and lift the economic blockade on Gaza. Several attempts were made by the dead commander to derail the talks.
On Saturday, rebel factions within the Hamas have fired rockets, and in retaliation, Israel retaliated on the Hamas targets, ending ceasefire brokered by Egypt into uncertainty.

What does it mean?
The assassination of the Baha Abu al-Ata did remove an obstacle in Israel-Hamas’ attempts to reach an agreement. However, the escalation that resulted in civilian casualties is likely to draw Hamas into a conflict with Israel again. Unless there is a consensus within militant factions in Gaza, any agreement with Israel would be shaky.
Sukanya Bali is a Research Associate with the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS.

Hong Kong: Violence reaches a new high

What happened?
Stockpiled with petrol bombs and bows and arrows, the situation in Hong Kong has turned into a nightmare. The protesters are seen targeting the police.

Tolo highway was closed by the activists but was partially unblocked and then blocked again during the rush hour on Friday this week.  The highway has been the key blockade of the protesters as it is a prominent location in the city.

There are also splits among the protesters getting visible.

The President of Hong Kong’s Chinese University threatened the non-students to leave, highlighting that he would call for ‘assistance’ if needed. The campus became the scene of violent clashes, where protesters were seen hurling petrol bombs at police and on a highway that links the rural territories.

Beijing has made a statement saying Britain is responsible for fuelling the protests after masked demonstrators jostled a Hong Kong minister in London. A group of people who are supporters of the government marched in Hong Kong.

What is the background?
The protests began as a major challenge to the political influence of Beijing on the autonomous region. They are no longer what was initially imagined to be. The leadership within mainland China has worked tirelessly to curb such protests in the past. “The violence has far exceeded the call for democracy and the demonstrators are now the people’s enemy,” Hong Kong chief executive Lam stated in her television address.

Protests in Hong Kong have almost been every day in the past weeks, however firing tear gases during the working hours in central was rare. Confrontations and shootings between the protesters and the police have been ongoing since late September and multiple videos show that the measures undertaken are that of retaliation; the police are breaking protocols and the protesters call the police and everyone that is ‘well-paid,’ as brutal.

What does it mean?
The image of Hong Kong protesters being rational and neat in their approach is waning. The choice of going leaderless has proven to be faulty in the sixth month. Actions from the side of the university administrations might benefit the government to reduce participation. Splits among the groups have grown stronger.

The international support to the protesters has significantly seen a fall. Within Hong Kong, although many continue to sympathise with the cause, the participation has reduced. The citizens are scared because no one knows where the protests are headed; deep divisions are visible within the groups. Many concerns are being raised in terms of the weakening economy, the extent of damage and the consequences of the violent turn of events.

 

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