Research & Analysis

The World This Week: Joe Biden as the new American President, Pan-European measures against Islamic Extremism, and a Civil-Military divide over Myanmar elections

The US: Joe Biden will be the new American President. And Kamala Harris the Vice-President.

What happened?
After four days of tensed vote counting, Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate has won the 2020 Presidential election against Donald Trump. The counting got delayed, because of the heavy postal ballots. 

Joe Biden, in his first speech as the President-Elect, addressed the need first to unite the US within. He made an explicit point that there are no Blue and Red States, only the United States. Besides addressing the political red and blue divide in terms of the Democrats and the Republicans, he also mentioned the need to restore to the soul of America, heal the country and push the harsh rhetoric away. There was no gloating in his speech against Donald Trump. Though he did not talk about the global issues, in his first speech, he did mention about making the US respected again internationally.

Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, emphasized on the need to protect the democracy, and build a better future together. She referred to the sorrows, sacrifice and the pain of people during the last few months (referring to the COVID). Kamala Harris also underlined the role of women in the elections and their role in taking the US into the future. She referred to her ethnic background, talked about her mother, who came to the US at the age of 19 and referred to the Black, Asian, Latino and Native American women as the backbone of the democracy. “Tonight, I reflect their struggle. I stand on their shoulders.” She also stated, “I may be the first woman in this office. But, I’ll not be the last”. In a nutshell, Kamala Harris referred to the need to bring everyone, who have made the US their home.

There has been no response from the Trump campaign so far. A few tweets earlier by Trump has not given any indication, that he would accept the verdict gracefully, and leave the White House. (Not until, this Alert goes online on Sunday morning, Indian time)

What is the background?
First, the 2020 US Presidential election was a tough one. A record number of Americans turned out to vote in person, and also through postal ballots. The counting delayed, primarily due to the second factor. The voting pattern also ensured that there was no swing in favour of either Biden or against Trump, during the first three days. It meant every single vote needs to be counted until the end to declare the winner. 

Second, Biden may have got enough votes to become the next President, but the Democrats have not swept either the Senate or the House. In the 100 seats Senate, as on Sunday morning, the Democrats and Senate are tied with 48 seats each. In the House, the Democrats have secured 215 seats so far, while the Republicans have 196. The Democrats would need three more in the Senate and four more in the House to have a majority. For the new President, a Democrat majority in the US Congress would be important, if he has to take the US forward – internally, and also with the rest of the world.

Third, a confrontational approach by Donald Trump so far. Until Saturday, Trump has been talking of “stealing the vote” and fraud, especially in the postal ballots. His campaign has also filed a few cases to stop the counting, citing fraud though without any clear evidence. The primary question, as the counting comes to an end is: will Trump leave the White House gracefully?

What does it mean?
First, Biden will have to address the domestic expectations from him, and also address the internal divide. While the final vote may have pushed Biden to be the next President, there was no “wave” against Donald Trump. A substantial percentage has voted for Trump; this would mean, they believe in what Trump has been selling them in terms of making America great again. Today, the US stands polarised within, than it has been ever before. Restoring the soul of the US, and “making America the beacon of the world” as Biden commented is not going to be an easy task. 

Second, Trump’s legacy at the international level. Biden’s statement made – that he would make the US respected again at the global level, is also not going to be an easy task for the new President. Trump has derailed many global commitments that the US has made earlier – from climate change to trade. Trump’s policy towards China, the Middle East (especially Iran) and Russia – will pose tough questions to the new President. Also, Trump’s handling of the American allies – especially Canada and Europe, means Biden will have to rebuild relations not only with adversaries but also with the allies.

Tough task. But not insurmountable.


Europe: Austria and France seek pan-European measures against Islamic Extremists 

What happened?
On 5 November, Austrian and French officials said that they are planning a joint campaign to push for European Union-wide measures against Islamic extremism. This comes in the wake of terrorist attacks during recent weeks in both countries. 

At the forthcoming EU summit on 19 November, the Austrian Chancellor and the French President are expected to propose discussions with senior EU officials regarding issues/measures that include a better screening of asylum seekers, tougher penalties for citizens sympathetic to the Islamic State (or other terror groups) and supporters who have participated with extremist groups abroad. With three horrific attacks in the past six weeks, Europe faces a law and order issue along with an ideological challenge. 

What is the background?
First, the attacks in Paris and Vienna. On 25 September, a knife attack in Paris injured two, near the former offices of Charlie Hebdo at the beginning of the trials of the 2015 massacre. On 16 October, another attack in Paris, witnessed the beheading of a teacher after he showed the controversial cartoons of Charlie Hebdo to his students. On 3 November, in Vienna, four people died, and 22 people were injured after attacks by a gunman in six locations, including the city’s main Synagogue, who went on a nine-minute rampage before he was shot down. 

Second, Europe’s struggle with Islamic extremism. With three major terrorist attacks in West Europe, within the span of a month, it has become difficult to identify whether the perpetrators were self-radicalized or are part of a larger network(s) of extremists. There remains a popular narrative within Europe, which refers to a paradox of Europe’s battle; on the one hand with the rise in the numbers of first and second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries. And on the other hand, the rise of Islamic extremism within Europe. Tracing such individuals or groups is difficult because they use simple tools such as knives, do not claim political or organizational allegiance, and extensively employ social media with privacy modes. 

What does it mean?
There has been a strong response to the attacks in Europe and the rest of the world. There has also been a debate about Europe being overwhelmed by the rising number of immigrants.

The current move by Austria and France brings the dichotomy of Europe’s passion for multiculturalism against their decades-long resistance to assimilating the immigrants into their society. Since the immigrant crisis in Europe has now become a popular election ploy, public opinion has been highly divided. 

The law and order agencies in both the countries, seem to have failed to foresee the attacks or even have a profile of the perpetrators. A joint initiative by Europe with uniform measures of verification makes it the only timely response that could help reduce such attacks in the future.


Myanmar: General elections marred by a civil-military tussle

What happened?
On 2 November, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services issued a statement critical of the Union Election Commission’s (UEC) handling of the general elections. Calling the UEC incompetent, the statement also laid the responsibility of its failure with the National League for Democracy (NLD) led government.  On 3 November, the military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubts about the elections being free and fair. On the same day, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi responded in a Facebook post, indirectly referring to the military, that they are “intentionally inciting the public’s righteous anger” and asked people not to get “trapped” by it.

On 4 November, the President’s office also responded to the military’s statement and the military chief’s comments. The government spokesperson said that the military’s statement was unhelpful and based on groundless allegations. He reminded that the UEC was a constitutional body and was not accountable to the government. He also criticized the military for not complying with the “essence of the Constitution and the law”. 

On 5 November, the military rejected the President office’s statement. It said that the President could constitutionally appoint (and impeach) the members of the UEC. It warned that if president U Win Myint failed to uphold constitutional values, he could be impeached. This marked escalation of the military-NLD dispute. General elections are scheduled to happen on 8 November against this backdrop. 
 
What is the background?
First, the democratic transition in Myanmar. This is the third election since 2010. The NLD boycotted the 2010 election that was characterized as unfair; the election resulted in the victory of Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a party believed to be the military’s proxy. The 2015 elections were a significant milestone and brought NLD to power. The 2020 election is the first ever to be conducted by a democratically elected government. 

Second, voting amidst the pandemic. Reported COVID-19 cases have witnessed a spike in the last two months, and this has made election campaigning very challenging, especially in the hotspots where the UEC banned physical campaigning. As internet penetration remains low in the hinterland, reaching out to voters has been difficult for political parties. Among the steps UEC is taking to address health concerns, one was to have early phase voting for those above 60 years. 

Third, issues of irregularities and criticism- both domestic and international. The opposition parties have criticized the irregularities in the early voting phase as well as the government’s turning down of their demand to postpone elections.  On 16 and 27 October, the UEC announced suspending elections in many constituencies, primarily in the ethnic minority areas, leading to the disenfranchisement of about 1.5 million people. On 28 October, the Human Rights Watch questioned the transparency of the process adopted by UEC in choosing these excluded areas. However, to be fair to the NLD, democracy is still taking root and institutions are still taking shape in Myanmar, and it will take years, if not decades before the election process matures. 

Fourth, the deteriorating civil-military relationship. The ongoing military-NLD tussle amid the general elections is the culmination of a deteriorating relationship that has soured since 2015 landslide victory of NLD. The issues of contention have been handling the economy, progress of peace process, COVID-19 management, and the course and pace of democratization. This election has only sharpened the fault-lines. 

What does it mean?
Even as Suu Kyi remains very popular in Myanmar and would cement her position after her party’s expected win in the general elections, the path ahead would not be an easy one. The military still is in control of the key ministries, including home, border and defence, and also appoints one-fourth members in both houses of parliament. 

Decades of military rule also means that its influence in Myanmar runs deep at the State and Society levels. In such a scenario, the democracy project of NLD cannot succeed without the active cooperation of the military, irrespective of the outcome of this election. The possibility of military seizing back power cannot be discounted at this stage either.
 


Also in the news…
by Akriti Sharma and Lokendra Sharma
 
East Asia and Southeast Asia This Week 

North Korea: New submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles being built
On 3 November, Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker, said that North Korea is building two new submarines, including one that could carry a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). As of now, North Korea is known to have only one experimental submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. This development is a move towards strengthening the strategic triad and comes about a month after North Korea paraded a new heavier inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

China: CPC releases the roadmap for the next 15 years
On 3 November, the Chinese Communist Party made public a roadmap for development in China for the next fifteen years. On 29 October, the fifth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee adopted the committee’s proposals for the formulation of the “14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035.” The proposal sets a blueprint for China’s economic growth and social development in the coming years and has a central focus on technological self-sufficiency.
 
Hong Kong: Hotline to report breaches of national security law
On 5 November, a new hotline became operational in Hong Kong; now, anyone could anonymously report to the police regarding breaches of the new national security law. Various pieces of information, including texts, photos and videos, could be sent through this hotline. On its first day, the police received about 2500 tip-offs. Critics warn about increased surveillance and targeting of pro-democracy activists and dissenters. 
 
Thailand: Protestors urged to join the reconciliation panel 
On 6 November, political leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Member of Parliament Nikorn Chamnong, urged the protestors to participate in the proposed reconciliation panel so that the conflict could be resolved. This comes after the Ratsadon group, and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) from the protestors’ camp turned down the request made by President Chuan Leekpai earlier this week.
 
Indonesia: Independent team to address issues relating to the Job Creation Law 
On 5 November, Mahfud MD, the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, said in a statement that the government would establish an independent team comprising academics and public figures. The team would look into the issues relating to the Job Creation Law. This move comes amid the labour unions deciding to approach the constitutional court on Monday over the law which they feel is anti-labour. They also plan to hold protests on Monday and Tuesday.
 
South Asia This Week

India: Foreign Secretary’s visit to Germany
On 2 November, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in Germany as part of a three-nation European tour. He met the German Foreign Minister of State, and held discussions over shared priorities, strengthening of the multilateral structures and rapidly growing cooperation between the two countries. While addressing the German diplomats and think tanks, Shringla mentioned the evolution and importance of the Indo-Pacific region in the twenty-first century, India’s interest in becoming the net security provider, and the significance of the establishment of partnerships with European nations.  

India: The first India-Nordic-Baltic Conclave held virtually
On 5 November,  the Ministry of External Affairs and Confederation of Indian Industry jointly hosted first India- Nordic-Baltic Conclave under the theme “An Innovation-driven Partnership for Growth in a New World.” It’s primary focus was on artificial intelligence, clean technologies, renewable energies, supply chain logistics and blockchain led transformation. The conclave was attended by the foreign ministers from Latvia, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, and Estonia. 
 
India: Phase one of the Malabar Naval Exercise comes to an end
On 6 November, the first phase of the Malabar Naval Exercise ended. India, along with the USA, Japan, and Australia, conducted the exercise off the coast of Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal with a focus on anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations. It is being seen as four nations with a mutual interest in the Indo-Pacific coming together to counter the Chinese influence. The second phase of the exercise will begin on 17 November in the Arabian Sea.
 
India and China: Eighth Corps Commander level meet held at LAC
On 6 November, the XIV Corps Commander Lt General PG K Menon met with Chinese counterpart Major General Liu Lin for the eighth round of discussion on the ongoing standoff between India and China at the Line of Actual Control. The meeting was held at the Indian side of the Chushul-Moldo Border Personnel Meeting point. Like the last two meetings, this meeting was also attended by the diplomats from both sides. However, there was no official announcement on the outcome of the meeting; it is expected that both sides will extend the deployment of additional troops in the region.
 
India: Bilateral Summit with Italy
On 6 November, PM Narendra Modi virtually met his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte to discuss the bilateral ties. Both the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen cooperation on global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifteen bilateral agreements were signed during the summit in the sectors of fisheries, energy, shipbuilding and design. On the international and regional issues, both leaders agreed to coordinate on the multilateral forums, especially, the G-20. They also discussed cooperation in the economic, political, technological, space, and defence spheres. 
 
Sri Lanka: French Ambassador meets PM Rajapaksa
On 3 November, the French Ambassador to Sri Lanka Eric Lavertu met with the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at his official residence. The ambassador expressed French willingness to be a part of the development of the Hambantota Port. He also discussed increasing the trade relations with Sri Lanka and strengthening people-to-people contacts through scholarship and exchange programs.
 
Pakistan: EU-Pakistan fifth bilateral strategic dialogue concluded
On 4 November, Pakistan and the European Union concluded the fifth strategic dialogue meeting. It was headed by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the European Union’s High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy Josep Borrell. Both the sides agreed to hold the ‘new’ EU-Pakistan Security Dialogue from 2021 and also reaffirmed support for the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
 
Pakistan: Russian forces arrive to join military exercises
On 5 November, Russian Federation Special Forces contingent arrived in Pakistan for two weeks long joint exercise, DRUZHBA 5. The exercise will be conducted till 21 November and is aimed at strengthening military cooperation between the two nations. Pakistan is hosting the drills for the third time. About seventy troops will take part in the exercise from each side.
 
Afghanistan: ANA receives military vehicles from the USA 
On 5 November, Afghanistan National Army received 429 military vehicles from the USA and NATO as a part of their support to the army for maintaining peace and stability in the nation. The Deputy Defense Minister, Shah Mahmoud Miakhil, said that the military equipment and the vehicles would be used to ensure the safety of the people. 215  Humvees were received in Kabul, and 214 were handed to the Ministry of Defence in Kandahar. Afghanistan will receive more equipment worth $102 million in the future.
 
Nepal: Indian Army Chief concludes Nepal visit
On 6 November, Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane concluded his three-day visit to Nepal. He was conferred the title of honorary General of Nepal by the President Bidya Devi Bhandari as a part of the traditional exchange between the two nations. In the backdrop of the ongoing border dispute, PM KP Sharma Oli conveyed to Gen. Naravane that the existing issues can be resolved through dialogue. Gen. Naravane also reaffirmed that he would work to strengthen defence cooperation. However, the visit remained more ceremonial and symbolic than substantive.

Bangladesh: Anti-France protests
On 2 November, Bangladesh witnessed a major protest against French President Macron’s comments on ‘Islam is in crisis’ and his defence of the offensive caricature of the Prophet. The protest had about 50,000 people that originated from Dhaka’s biggest mosque. The protestors also called for banning of French products and closure of the French embassy in Bangladesh. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina refrained from commenting on the cartoon controversy. Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia also witnessed protests over the same issue.

Central Asia, West Asia and Africa This Week

Syria: Assad blames Lebanese banking crisis for Syrian economic woes
On 4 November, the Syrian president Bashar Assad blamed the ongoing financial crisis in Lebanon for Syrian economic woes. He said that about $20-42 billion of Syrian businesspeople is parked in the Lebanese banks. Restrictions have been imposed on the financial transactions and money withdrawals, and this has impaired Syria’s access to billions of dollars. This economic distress for Syria comes at a time when the war-torn country is already dealing with a pandemic and acute food shortages.
 
Lebanon and Syria: US sanctions Gebran Bassil in Lebanon; EU sanctions eight Syrian ministers
On 6 November, the US sanctioned Gebran Bassil, a former foreign minister, head of Free Patriotic Movement party and a Hezbollah ally, over alleged corruption charges. These sanctions mark the highest-profile sanction in Lebanon against an ally of Iran backed Hezbollah. On the same day, the European Union also imposed sanctions on eight ministers of the newly formed Syrian government in August. The sanctions were imposed for their support and role in violent repression of Syrian civilians by President Bashar Assad.
 
Iran: Zarif’s three-nation Latin America tour
On 6 November, the foreign minister of Iran met his counterpart in Havana to strengthen mutual support in the face of sanctions imposed by the United States. This visit is part of a three-nation tour of Latin America by Zarif. Two days back Zarif met president Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, another country recipient of US sanctions. He would conclude his tour with a visit to Bolivia, where is scheduled to attend Bolivia’s president-elect Luis Arce’s inaugural ceremony on 8 November.  
 
Egypt and France: Joint Naval Exercise in the Mediterranean Sea
On 3 November, an Egyptian army spokesman said in a statement that Egypt and France had carried out a joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. Taba frigate from Egypt and Jean Bart frigate from France participated in the exercise. This exercise comes in the backdrop of rising tensions of both Egypt and France with Turkey over the latter’s ambitious gas exploration plans in the Meditarinain.  
 
MENA region: UN Report warns of hunger and famine in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Burkina Faso
On 5 November, the “Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots” report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that millions of people who are already facing hunger are on the verge of famine due to the disruptions made by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hotspots in four countries — Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Burkina Faso — have been identified as risk zones where famines could occur in the next three-four months.
 
Ethiopia: Airstrikes in the Tigray region
On 7 November, the Ethiopian Parliament voted to dissolve the government of Tigray and approved the formation of an interim government. On 6 November, the PM Abiy Ahmed said that his government had carried out airstrikes in the Tigray region and destroyed rockets and weapons of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, making any retaliatory attack impossible. He also warned that the people should restrict their movement as the region is already in the state of emergency for six-months. The UN Secretary-General, US Secretary of State and the African Union called for de-escalation and disengagement.
 
Ivory Coast: Opposition leader arrested for creating a rival Government 
On 6 November, the Ivorian opposition leader and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan was placed under arrest for creating a rival government after President Alassane Ouattara’s election victory for the third time. The Ivorian constitution limits a president to two terms, but Ouattara said that the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed continuing with a third term. Earlier this week, on 3 November, security forces broke into a press conference being conducted by the opposition and killed 30 people in the firing.

Europe and the Americas This Week

Belarus: EU imposes sanctions on president Alexander Lukashenko
On 6 November, the European Union imposed sanctions on the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and 14 other officials, including the president’s son and national security advisor, Viktor Lukashenko. Sanctions have been imposed over their roles in the security crackdown that ensued following protests over the contested August presidential elections. Sanctions entail a ban on their travel within the EU region and freeze of their assets. 
 
Canada and France: Trudeau and Macron speak
On 5 November, Canadian prime minister Trudeau and French president Macron discussed the recent terror attacks in France. This call comes after Trudeau’s remarks last week on the limits of freedom of expression caused uproar both in Canada and France. To control the damage, Trudeau expressed “solidarity” with French people and both leaders “agreed on the importance of defending the freedom of expression and human rights and on their shared commitment to fighting terrorism and violent extremism”, according to a readout of their conversation released by the PM’s office. 

 

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