A week in geopolitics: Fascism, elections, and leaks.

A snap election held in Italy last week resulted in a probable win by the centre-right coalition, led by Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing party ‘Brothers of Italy’. The coalition includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, and won 44% of the vote in total. The win has not yet been officially confirmed but Giorgia Meloni will likely become the first female prime minister of Italy and lead the country’s first far-right government, its most right-wing government since the days of Mussolini’s fascist regime. The ‘Brothers of Italy’ party can track its beginnings back to Mussolini and the neofascist ‘Italian Social Movement’ founded by his allies in 1946. The movement mutated and was absorbed by various right-wing parties until a breakaway group formed ‘Brothers of Italy’ in 2012. The party is anti-immigrant, anti-gay marriage, with euro-skeptic Meloni promoting herself as a “woman, mother, Christian” who disapproves of abortion. However, the past year has seen the party cast itself as a more mainstream conservative party, promising not to ban abortion or gay civil partnerships. Regardless, this win follows the trend of far-right gains across France, Spain and Sweden, which will bring identity politics to the forefront of the European debate.

Brazil appear to be heading in the opposite direction as their presidential election campaign reaches its final stretch. The Workers’ party candidate and former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, won 48% of the vote over President Jair Bolsonaro’s 43% on Sunday, but as neither of them received 50% of the vote it will progress to a second round. Silva, affectionately known as ‘Lula’, was president from 2003 to 2010 and is expected to pick up the most votes from the minor candidates who will now drop out, making him the favourite to win in the second round on October 30th. Being firmly on the left-of-centre, his presidency is fondly remembered for promoting economic growth and decreasing inequality in Brazil. This time round, he is championing peace and unity, mirroring Joe Biden in the 2019 U.S. election. Meanwhile, since becoming president in 2019, the far-right populist, Bolsonaro, has presided over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, caused large increases in poverty, and is to blame for the deaths of nearly 700,000 Brazilians during the pandemic. Following in the footsteps of his hero and his biggest supporter, Donald Trump, he has attempted to discredit the Brazilian electoral system, threatening to deny its results due to its use of computers to record votes as opposed to his preferred method of printed ballots.

Last week saw four Russian-occupied provinces of southern and eastern Ukraine overwhelmingly agree to their regions joining Russia, following referendums that have been widely discredited as shams. All four of the regions displayed support of over 85% for their annexation, but the voters are believed to have been coerced by Russian soldiers who went house to house, threatening residents to take part. The formal annexation of the four provinces could happen as soon as this week, assuming the swift approval of their incorporation into the Russian federation by the the country’s lower House of Parliament. However, none of the four regions are fully controlled by Moscow yet and President Zelenskyy has vowed that Ukraine will continue its counteroffensives to take the regions back. President Putin responded with threats of nuclear weapons and by calling up 300,000 reservists in the first wartime mobilisation since the Second World War, leading to protests across Russia and thousands of military aged men fleeing the country.

Three separate ruptures were discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea last week. Pressure from water entering the ruptured pipelines has now stopped the leaks according to Nord Stream AG, in charge of managing the pipelines. Originally built to deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany, the two lines are believed by NATO to have been sabotaged by Russia in retaliation against Europe for their support of Ukraine in the current war. An investigation into the cause of the leaks begins this week once the pipelines are empty. The impact on shipping and the environment are currently unknown but, while the pipelines weren’t actively transporting gas at the time, the lines contained a large amount of methane, a major cause of global warming, that now been released into the atmosphere.

Protests broke out in Lebanon between parliamentary guard troops and Lebanese army retirees who saw their monthly pay decimated due to the country’s economic crash. The elderly retirees were eventually deterred by teargas and continued their protests for higher pay in a nearby street. The 2022 budget was passed by Parliament some hours later, fulfilling one of the demands by the International Monetary Fund in order for the country to access a $3 billion aid package. With three-quarters of the population in poverty and the lira losing 95% of its value, the country has seen a rise in bank heists, causing the Association of Banks to go on strike and only seeing customers upon appointment. Although protests by public sector workers and retired soldiers for better wages and pensions are common, the number of struggles with active officers has increased out of desperation.

The state funeral for assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took place in Japan last Tuesday, dividing public opinion due to its $11.5 million cost. A poll by the Mainichi newspaper showed that 62% of respondents disapproved of a state funeral for Abe as it was funded by the state at a time of economic hardship for the country. He had long been a divisive figure due to his legacy of controversial policies. His party’s support of the Unification Church has also been widely reported following his death, as the church was suspected to be a cult that had been forcibly extracting large donations from its followers. Japanese opposition parties boycotted the event, believing that Abe did not deserve the honour. When he resigned in 2020 he was mired in scandals, including the misuse of political funds, claims of cronyism, mishandling of the pandemic, and his promotion of nationalistic rhetoric.

Last week saw public unrest spread across Iran and the Islamic world following the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Imini. She was detained by the the country’s morality police in Tehran on 13th September for allegedly violating the law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf, dying in hospital just three days later. Most significantly, the protests have featured large numbers of schoolgirls removing their state-mandated hijabs, chanting “death to the dictator”, and sticking their middle fingers up to pictures of the Ayotollah. Iran’s security forces have attempted to disrupt the larger public demonstrations using tear gas, metal pellets, and live fire. The official death toll is 41 but the Sweden-based group, Iran Human Rights, has put the death toll at 92. In an attempt to quell the protests, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ceded that the Islamic Republic had “weaknesses and shortcomings” but called for national unity and claimed that the protests were a plot by Iran’s enemies. Echoing the sentiments of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he blamed the United States and Israel for inciting the unrest. The two countries have often been used as “bogeymen” for Iran’s domestic issues since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Meanwhile, their neighbours in Iraq have been experiencing their own disquiet after hundreds of Iraqi protestors stormed the parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The protestors, largely supporters of the Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, opposed the nomination of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani for prime minister by the pro-Iran Coordination Framework due to accusations of corruption against him. Al-Sadr’s political bloc, the Sadrist Movement, won the parliamentary election in October 2021, defeating his Iran-backed Shia rivals who have consequently rejected the results. But talks to form a new government have since stalled and a new prime minister is yet to be appointed. The process has been prolonged by the recent withdrawal from parliament of al-Sadr and his bloc, with the leader wanting to avoid involvement with “corrupt” politicians. The withdrawal of Sadrist politicians will result in their seat in parliament being filled by the runners-up, an Iran-backed Shia coalition called the Coordination Framework Alliance (CFA) who are largely comprised of Shia militia. Consequently, Iranian-backed groups will hold the majority in Iraq’s parliament, sowing more division and friction in the country.

These protests are taking place at the same time as tens of thousands of Iraqi demonstrators mark the third anniversary of the “Teshreen” revolution, mass anti-government demonstrations that took place in 2019. The protestors continue to make a number of demands, including the removal of the corrupt politicians, for all weapons to be in the hands of the state, and for a new constitution to be drafted that secures their basic rights. These protests, one of many in recent years, take place within the wider context of the population’s desire to overhaul their political system. The current political turmoil is preventing the creation of a budget for 2022, resulting in delays on infrastructure projects and economic reform. Furthermore, the country is suffering a food crisis due to severe droughts and the war in Ukraine. With an infrastructure in disrepair and inadequate healthcare, education, and electricity services, the country is looking to its elected representatives to diverge from the status quo and bring stability to Iraq.

A number of peaceful protests began in Colombia on September 26th in response to record-breaking taxation reforms proposed by President Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of Bogotá, merely 50 days since he took office. As the country’s first leftist president, he campaigned on a promise to halt oil exploration, wean the country off coal, and forge peace agreements with rebel groups, including the National Liberation Army (a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group). He also pledged to slash poverty and reduce inequality, a pledge he is fulfilling via a redistributive tax hike, his supposed solution to Colombia’s macroeconomic issues in post-pandemic times. In an attempt to raise $5.6 billion in 2023, his reforms will tax high-income households and reduce tax on low-income households. However, political spectators suggest he will have trouble getting the bill through Congress as many of the traditional parties in his coalition are unlikely to cooperate with this reform, so he will need to compromise while standing firm on the areas of the bill that he is unwilling to negotiate. The protests, containing signs saying “no to the tax reform”, were the first of many that have been scheduled by the national protests organising committee, ‘No Mas Petro’, with the second round of marches planned for October 24th. Colombia experienced over 4000 instances of political violence and protests last year, resulting in 1,230 fatalities, and Petro’s proposals are an attempt to stabilise the country but some marchers have compared his governance thus far to authoritarianism.

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti, is experiencing a “low-intensity civil war”, as described by the president of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Violent protests broke out last week in response to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s announcements that fuel subsidies would be eliminated, prompting prices to double. The country has been politically unstable since the assassination of Haiti’s former president Jovenel Moise in 2021, which remains unsolved. Inflation rising to 30 percent has only exacerbated the instability. While gangs have always been prominent in Port-au-Prince, they are now running riot and control roughly 40% of the Haitian capital, according to the U.N. The country’s most powerful gang, the 400 Mawozo gang, dug trenches on September 12th to block access to Haiti’s largest fuel terminal and pledged that they would not move until Henry resigns and prices for fuel and basic goods are reduced. As a result, hospitals have had to cut back critical services due to a lack of fuel, and banks and grocery stores are struggling to remain open, while workers are unable to commute to work. Henry, a suspect in the murder of the president who selected him as prime minister, is viewed as benefiting from the chaos as it allows him to hold on to power and to delay the organisation of new elections.

In an escalation of tensions in West Africa, on September 27th Niger stopped delivering oil to neighbouring Mali. Although the termination of deliveries is temporary, it is another milestone in the tempestuous relationship between the two countries, exacerbated when military officers seized power in Mali in 2020 and began working with Russian mercenaries to fight Islamist militants. Niger have specified that the only oil deliveries to Mali will be for the peacekeeping mission run by the United Nations which is attempting to quell the insurgency. Niger reduced their fuel exports by 75% in May to protect their stocks during the global rise in fuel prices but proceeded to ban exports entirely when its stocks, meant for domestic use, were being sold by petrol stations on the international market. It claims that it has temporarily stopped deliveries of oil to Mali for security reasons, as many deliveries were being hijacked by the same jihadist groups that have been terrorising both countries for years. Mali is unlikely to be affected as they import the majority of their oil from the Ivory Coast and Senegal, but it is provocative, nonetheless.

In more positive news, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have predicted that Guyana’s economic growth could reach 57.8% this year. The GDP growth in the South American nation is due to a surge in oil production which is expected to double this year. The discovery of oil by Exxon Mobil off the coast of Guyana in 2015 has turned the small country into an energy oil power, producing roughly 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil thus far. Europe is the country’s largest customer and, as the bloc attempts to lower its reliance on fuel from Russia, Guyana are expected to profit to the tune of $1.25 billion this year. While real GDP growth is positive for the small nation, the IMF has urged caution as its economy will be at risk from volatile oil prices and could face difficulties managing the resource. It has recommended that Guyana pursue prudent policies and moderately increase public investment while ensuring their non-oil fiscal balance does not exceed its expected oil transfers.

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