The World This Week: Impeachment in US, Brexit Vote in UK, Islamic Summit in Malaysia and Death Sentence in Pakistan

The House of Representatives votes in favour to impeach Trump in the US

What happened?

On 18 December, the House of Representatives voted in favour of impeaching in President Trump with a 230-197. The House charged the President on abuse of power and obstruction of justice. It comes in the aftermath of the Trump-Ukraine scandal, creating an uproar among Democrats who have been at the forefront of anti-Trump campaigns.

What is the background?

This comes after the US Judiciary House Committee voted 23-17 pushing for a full vote in the House of Representatives; this comes after the Speaker’s announcement for formal inquiry in September.

Trump is the third president to be impeached after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Efforts to impeach Trump have been an ongoing affair since 2017 when two democrats attempted to introduce resolutions. However, the Republican control over both the houses yielded little progress.

His impeachment comes in the aftermath of Trump-Zelensky controversy. Trump is alleged to have persuaded his Ukraine counterpart to probe the Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son. On the other hand, Trump is said to have blocked a military aid that was congressionally mandated. While Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani has called for Biden’s investigation since early 2019, reports suggest the President pushed for Guiliani’s involvement in assisting Zelensky. Also, the transcripts also suggest his attempts to influence his Ukranian counterpart in changing the narrative on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

What does it mean?

On the national side, Trump’s impeachment has no legal implications unless the Senate votes him out, impacting his popular support. On a broader note, it could cause a divide in the Republican voter base, but a strong assertion of the same could be an overstatement. However, the 53-45 Republican majority in the Senate seems unlikely to unseat Trump leaving ample space for political speculation.

Second, his policy decisions have caused large scale divisions. However, it may prove wrong to discredit his domestic policies, essentially pushing for a distinction between administrative reflections on Trump and that of people. The media must take a note on these reflections and tread rationally.

Third, the Democrat’s urgency to hamper Republican leadership could be counter-productive, tarnishing the legitimacy of non-Trump supporters. While the Ukraine controversy is a silver baton with the Democrats, their attempts to unseat Trump has not boded well, a trend that has widely been visible.

Fourth, as Trump’s impeachment is set to reach the Senate, Pelosi has not been quick in this transition threatening a slowdown. An interesting peek is the increasing Republican majority in the Senate from 2017 as contrary to the other House.

 

Boris Johnson gets a Brexit mandate in the UK; set to leave the EU by 31 January

What happened? 

The United Kingdom has moved one step closer towards leaving the European Union after the House of Commons supported overwhelmingly the withdrawal bill of the newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After comfortably passing its second reading by 358 votes to 234 the withdrawal agreement is on track to complete its passage through both the House to allow Brexit to happen at the end of January. If the ratification by the Westminster occurs as planned, the European Parliament is expected to ratify the withdrawal agreement on 29 January paving the way for the UK to leave the bloc two days later, thereby comfortably banning the extension of the transition period.

What is the background? 

“Getting Brexit done” has no doubt turned out to be a useful slogan that not only helped Boris Johnson win the election but clear the three-year deadlock in the Parliament over the Brexit Withdrawal Bill. The bill has been expected to pass easily after the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in the general election on 12 December. Calling for a snap election after the bill failed to get the Parliament consensus, let Boris Johnson test the public mandate on the Brexit, and with a comfortable win thereafter, the passage of the bill is the first hurdle in Britain’s Brexit journey.

What does it mean? 

What remains to be understood is what happens after the Brexit bill is passed.

Firstly, the bill will now commence a new path towards a free trade agreement between the EU and UK. The President of the European Council has welcomed the voting as an important step in the article 50 ratification process, but sent a caution when he added that a level playing field remains a must for any future relationship. The EU has demanded a fair competition in exchange for a free trade agreement with zero tariffs and quotas. This has put the business lobby in jitters who would now be faced with competition in the home country as well strive for fair play in the European market.

Secondly, the voting on the bill has shown the fault lines within the Labour party. The party though continues to oppose the government’s deal has also exposed the disagreements among the party members on Labour party’s standing on the Brexit despite losing the election mandate. Six Labour MPs defied the party whip and voted with the government and around 20 more deliberately abstained including the shadow house secretary during the voting for the bill.

 

Mahathir holds an Islamic Summit in Malaysia, minus Saudi Arabia and its allies

What happened?

Mahathir Mohammad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, went ahead and held an Islamic Summit at Kuala Lumpur last week to address issues faced by Muslims community and to lay down a strategy to improve lives of Muslims across the world. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar took part in the summit. Along with them, around 400 Muslim scholars and 150 Malaysian delegates also attended the meet. Saudi Arabia and its closest allies, including Pakistan, did not attend the summit.

According to leaders, the summit also aimed to look into, the international community’s perception of Islam, the rise of Islamophobia, decline of Islamic civilization and reforms in governance needed in Muslim countries.

What is the background?

A few weeks earlier, Mahathir, Erdogan and Imran Khan announced to hold an Islamic commit with Malaysia, Turkey and Pakistan taking the lead. Perhaps, the objective was to have a non-Middle East led Islamic leadership. In terms of size, the majority of Muslims live outside the Middle East. However, the general perception is that Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting for the leadership role for the Ummah, with Riyadh having a more substantial say.

Second, there was also a firm conviction that the internal divisions within the Ummah are making the community weak. Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed leader of the Muslim world, is at war with Yemen, had imposed blockade on Qatar, is in tacit approval of the state of Israel and has poor relations with Iran. It is a staunch ally of the US.

Third, there was also a strong belief that global Muslim problems are not finding enough voice. The OIC’s response to Israel’s intention of annexing West Bank, in September, was unsatisfactory to many countries. The meeting was also set to talk about the plight of Uighur and Rohingya Muslims. Pakistan’s concerns over Kashmir also did not receive due attention due to Saudi Arabia and its allies relationship with India. Others, for example, the UAE called India’s policy towards Kashmir as an internal matter of concern.

All the members of Saudi-based Organisation Islamic Countries were invited for the summit to discuss issues about the Muslim community.

Pakistan had to pull out of the summit seemingly under pressure from Saudi Arabia.

What does it mean?

Firstly, Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the Muslim world is receding. King Salman had expressed its unhappiness over Malaysia’s attempt to host a summit of Islamic countries away from OIC. This meeting will also question the potential status of OIC, which began with 57 Muslim majority countries in 1969, across the Muslim world.

Secondly, Kuala Lampur Islamic summit away from the OIC banner shows that individual members of OIC have an independent relationship with other countries. There is no collective framework guiding the members’ relationship with other countries.

Thirdly, Pakistan’s absence in the summit shows how dependent it is on Saudi Arabia over the foreign policy decision making.

 

Judiciary awards death sentence for Musharraf in Pakistan

What happened?

Under Article 6 of Pakistan’s constitution, a special court found General Pervez Musharraf, a former ruler, guilty of high treason for suspending the constitution during the state of emergency in November 2007, imposed by him. Article 6 states, a person who “abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance,” the constitution, shall be guilty of high treason. Musharraf can appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.

What is the background?

Musharraf was booked for high treason in court in December 2013. Nawaz Sharif had shown his strong intent to bring these charges against Musharraf in June 2013 when he came to power. Musharraf had been Sharif’s chief of army staff. In October 1999, Musharraf dissolved the Parliament and ousted Sharif in a coup. After years of fluctuating stability, in 2007, his fall from power began when he clashed with the judiciary. Musharraf began by sacking the chief justice that led to lawyers’ protests. After this, on 3 November 2007, imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan, suspended the constitution simultaneously placed senior judges under house arrest.

The Supreme Court ruled the decision of imposing an emergency as illegal. Between 2013 and 2019, Musharraf failed to appear in court for the trial dozens of times, the hearing dates were postponed due to his illnesses, multiple prosecution heads quit or were fired by the government and the special court was reconstructed over six times. He had been placed on a no-fly list but on medical grounds received one-time permission to go abroad, but has not returned to Pakistan ever since.

What does it mean?

Musharraf currently lives in Dubai. Even if the appeal to the Supreme Court is upheld, it is unlikely that the sentence would be carried out. The verdict, however, stands symbolic as an unpredicted ruling against a former army chief of Pakistan. There is a perception that the judiciary in Pakistan is asserting itself and playing its constitutional role, against another institution considered to be the power centre.

Second, the military has reacted against the verdict in its initial statements, stating that it stands by Musharraf and is in ‘pain and anguish,’ over the verdict. The military feels that a person who served the country for over 40 years could never be a traitor and has called the trial as being concluded in haste. Clearly, the military is not giving up on Musharraf. More importantly, the statements suggest that it would like to retain its supreme position.

Third, is the response of the government. What remains surprising is that Imran Khan’s government tried to delay the verdict, and is seen standing by the position taken by the military. Statements by him and his ministers show that they are not in favour of the verdict. Clearly, it shows, where the government and Imran Khan stand – siding with one institution against the other.

 

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Parikshith Pradeep, Sourina Bej, Sukanya Bali and Harini Madhusudan