Watchlist: Another European Populist
Week of February 20th
Dutch Politician Geert Wilders.
Nigerian President’s Absence Raises Concern
After leaving for vacation in London, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has vanished from the public eye for nearly a month. The absence has citizens anxious about the state of their nation’s leadership. President Buhari delegated his responsibilities to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. With no definite return date given, the country waits anxiously for news of their President and his whereabouts. Conspiracy theories and hypotheses about Buhari have become commonplace anywhere from his declining health to his imminent death. His aides provided general information about, “routine medical check-ups” in London and a need to “complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors.” The President held his first official phone call with President Trump, revealing that he is still involved in his role with foreign affairs. Nigerians await further updates on the status of Buhari’s medical condition, as well as his estimated return date to a country that continues to struggle with domestic terrorism and falling global oil prices. In the meantime, watch for acting-President Osinbajo as he navigates his new role with real implications and international pressure.
EU-Canada Trade Deal Announced Amid Protests
The trade deal between the European Union and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, was approved this past week in Strasbourg, France after being delayed for a few weeks. The deal will eliminate 98.6% of tariffs on exported goods. This makes it the most comprehensive trade deal between the European Union and another country currently on the books. The deal is targeted at industries that Canada and the EU share and work together on, such as shipping companies, telecommunications, and finances. The deal took 7 years of negotiation between officials and advisors from Canada and the EU. Anti-globalization protestors were present at the announcement of the deal’s approval by the EU, and one vocal public figure who disapproves is Marine Le Pen, a member of the European Parliament and the right-wing presidential candidate in France. ANDREW MITCHEL
Ahok wins the first round in tightly contested Jakarta governor position
Jakarta’s incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known locally as Ahok), won 43% of the vote, clearing his way for the next round of voting. His win comes amidst the controversy of his supposed misquoting of the Quran in Muslim-majority Indonesia, inflaming many of the capital’s residents and leading to mass protests supposedly organized by religious hardliners. Many in the capital have called for the Christian and Chinese-descended governor to step down, believing his misquoting of the Quran amounts to serious blasphemy (to which he has denied). Ahok now faces a challenging second round, as many Muslim voters who supported his two other opponents (both Muslim) in the initial round are expected to consolidate their vote behind a single opponent during the next round. Indonesia is known as a country that practices a moderate form of Islam. Many experts, however, point to recent events such as the protests against Ahok as concerning examples of rising levels of extremist ideology in the Southeast Asian region.
Populist Netherlands Politician Launches Election Campaign
Dutch politician Geert Wilders launched his election campaign on Saturday—by calling Moroccan immigrants “scum” and urging his constituents to support the nationalist and far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Wilders, who is widely considered one of the most prominent figures of Europe’s nascent extreme right, has pledged to ban the Quran, close all Dutch mosques, and completely halt Muslim immigration into the Netherlands. He has also stated his support for a so-called “Nexit”, a Dutch exit from the European Union. In spite of Wilder’s controversial proposals, the PVV is polling well among the Dutch public, indicating that the far-right party may win a plurality in the upcoming general election, scheduled for March 15. A good performance by the PVV in the elections would signal to the rest of Europe that nationalistic and xenophobic sentiment is gaining force across the Continent, as already seen in referendum results in the UK and Italy, as well as in the rise of Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France. As the campaign season in the Netherlands heats up, watch the popularity of the PVV as an important barometer for rising right-wing sentiment in Europe as a whole.
Iraqi Forces Intensify Efforts To Retake Western Mosul from the Islamic State
On early Sunday morning, Iraqi security forces launched a ground offensive to recapture the western side of Mosul from the Islamic State, according to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. This revitalization of Iraq security force’s offense comes after a weeklong stall in the battle for Iraq’s second largest city. Several hours before the assault began, Iraqi air forces dropped leaflets, urging citizens to flee before the operation. Mr. Abadi appeared on Iraqi state television Sunday morning, declaring that “A new dawn has emerged, the dawn of the big victory.” Mosul is the Islamic State’s final major stronghold in the country, and a victory by Iraqi security forces is a strategic move in the elimination of the Salafist group. Intriguingly, Mosul is split by the Tigris river, in which all five bridges spanning the river were destroyed during fighting in previous months. The Iraqi military and US-trained Iraqi special forces, with the help of US-led coalition air support, expect an immense military challenge on the western side of the city. The narrow streets of Old Mosul make urban style guerilla warfare likely. This will pose a challenge to Iraqi security forces, many of which are insufficiently trained in guerilla warfare. Intensified efforts by the Iraqi security forces and its allies are expected, in what could be the battle for Mosul’s most imperative week.
JALAL H. TALEB