World in Review: January - February 2020

USA


February started well for US President Donald Trump, as his three week impeachment trial drew to a close. Trump’s impeachment is only the third in presidential history and began in August 2019, after an anonymous whistle-blower alleged that he pressured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate potentially damaging information regarding former vice president, turned Democrat candidate Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. Trump was accused of abusing his power, allegedly threatening to withhold $400m of military aid, and dangling the bait of a Whitehouse meeting in exchange for Zelensky's cooperation. The second article; obstruction of congress, was levied in response to continued noncompliance with subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives, which sought to obtain documents and testimony considered vital to their case. In the event, it was no surprise that the republican controlled senate, which called no witnesses, concluded that Trump was not guilty of any wrongdoing. Trump's celebratory mood was likely buoyed by the chaos in his rival’s camp during the Iowa caucuses, the first in a series of votes in which the Democrats will narrow down their candidates ahead of November’s election. Bernie Sanders entered last week’s South Carolina primary as the frontrunner, yet it was here that Joe Biden mounted a stunning comeback, with a convincing win bringing his campaign back to life. As this article went to print for London Suisse Luxe, votes were being counted after the ‘Super Tuesday’ polls. Sanders is expected to land the biggest prize of the evening with a victory in California, however Biden’s momentum looks to have continued, winning nine of the fourteen voting states, including a surprise victory in Texas.


China

In China, a novel coronavirus outbreak continues to cause major disruption. Beijing moved swiftly to contain the virus, constructing purpose-built hospitals in a matter of days, and the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the centre of the outbreak. These efforts have not prevented over 80,000 infections across China, with 2,891 deaths, exceeding the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic. The outbreak has had a significant effect on the local economy, with China’s workforce, production and commodities markets all severely disrupted. Several international businesses, including retailers, hotel chains and international airlines also suspended their Chinese operations. Despite China’s slowing rate of infection, the virus continues to spread globally, with over 3,500 cases now confirmed across 40 countries. Recent outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy have renewed fears of a global pandemic; something the World Health Organisation insists is not yet the case. With no end in sight, the implications of this outbreak are sure to be felt for months to come.

UK


The UK formally left the EU on the 31st January, three and a half years since its referendum. Britain now enters a transition period with considerable loose ends to tie up, including the small matter of negotiating a trade deal. Westminster must also legislate and implement a wide range of policies before the 31st December, after which Britain truly parts ways with the bloc. However, with some of the biggest questions as yet unanswered, 2020 looks likely to be another year of uncertainty in British politics. 


Republic of Ireland


Eight days later, voters across the Irish Sea took to the polls in the Republic of Ireland’s general election. The results sent shockwaves through the country’s political landscape, challenging the dominance of centre-right rivals Fine Gael & Fianna Fáil. In a sensational surge, left-wing Sinn Féin made huge gains, winning a quarter of all first preference votes. Previously a pariah, Sinn Féin’s support is largely the result of anger over the previous administrations failures to address faltering public services and rising living costs. Whilst no single party gained enough seats to win an overall majority, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald termed the result “a revolution in the ballot box” and expressed her preference in forming a government with smaller parties. Both mainstream parties had previously ruled out working with Sinn Féin, owing to policy disagreements and historic associations with the IRA. Current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar maintains this position, insisting a coalition with Sinn Féin was “not an option”. Fianna Fáil became the largest party by one seat, and its leader Micháel Martin has not completely closed the door on Sinn Féin. Negotiations continue and are likely to be lengthy, meaning it may be some time before we know what the 33rd Dáil looks like. It is clear, however, that Irish politics, for so long a two-horse race, has a third runner. 


Syria

The civil war that has torn Syria apart for almost 9 years continues to rage. President Bashar al-Assad maintains his grip on power, with his forces regaining control of most of the country with the assistance of Iranian backed militias and Russian air support, save the last rebel-held province of Idlib in the countries north-west. The regime launched a major offensive in December, which the UN says has uprooted over 900,000 civilians. This has prompted several aid agencies to call for an immediate ceasefire to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, with thousands of internally displaced people fleeing the violence. The offensive heightens the risk of clashes between Syrian & Turkish forces, which subsequently threatens to disrupt the fragile cooperation between Moscow and Ankara, both of which back opposing sides in this conflict. After the deaths of as many as 59 Turkish military personnel in the past few months, Turkey's President Erdogan continued to threaten to drive Syrian forces back should they not halt their offensive, sending reinforcements to bolster the 12 Turkish observation posts set up under a 2017 agreement with Iran and Russia. Moscow previously sent a delegation to Ankara to discuss the tensions but could not reach a consensus, and Erdogan has since announced the commencement of a full military operation against the Assad regime, which has included the downing of three Syrian fighter jets. The Turkish and Russian leaders will meet in Moscow this week in a renewed attempt to negotiate a ceasefire, with as yet little being done to discourage Assad's regime, which vows to continue its onslaught.


Botswana


Opinions were divided after a controversial auction offered the chance to purchase hunting rights for 60 elephants in Botswana’s capital Gaborone. Permits were sold as six individual packages of 10 elephants, fetching a total of 25.7m Botswanan pula (£1.3m) at auction. The government insist the initiative is necessary to reduce human-elephant conflict, amidst claims that elephants have destroyed crops and infrastructure in some communities through trampling. The move comes less than a year after President Masisi scrapped a 2014 blanket ban on hunting elephants implemented by his predecessor. Conservationists question the effectiveness of hunting as a means of population management and expressed concerns over hunting driving demand for elephant products, thus stimulating a market for illegal poaching. Botswana is home to roughly 130,000 elephants, a third of Africa’s entire population, and some are concerned that accommodating hunting may damage the high-end wildlife tourism industry, should visitors opt to avoid Botswana in protest. Despite the outcry, the hunting season is expected to begin in April this year, with an approved kill quota of 272 elephants.

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