The beginning of the end for Angela Merkel. On Sunday, elections were held in central Germany’s Hesse state, where the German chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union party received just 27 percent of the vote – a 10 percent decline since the last election and the first time since 1970 that the CDU earned less than 36 percent of the vote in Hesse. The Social Democratic Party lost ground too, tying the Green Party for second place at roughly 20 percent. The nationalist Alternative for Germany party, having increased its voter share by 9 percent, finished with about 13 percent. Merkel subsequently announced that she would not seek re-election as the head of the CDU, making it all but inevitable that her current term as chancellor, which expires in 2021, will be her last. It is the end of an era, and, in typical fashion, Merkel is hoping to end it on her own terms. It’s unclear whether her announcement will be enough for her opponents to let her do so uncontested. What is clear is that Germany is tired of its political leaders but uncertain of who should replace them. This kind of political uncertainty might not matter in most countries, but in Germany, the beating heart of Europe, it has profound international implications.
A new era in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro is now the president-elect of the world’s eighth-largest economy and fifth-most populous nation. He won a runoff with 55 percent of the vote after winning 46 percent in the election’s first round, roughly 17 percent more than the runner-up. In other words, his margin of victory dropped considerably in the second round, indicating a notable opposition to his candidacy. Bolsonaro, a right-wing nationalist whose campaign slogan was “Brazil Above Everything, God Above Everyone,” will now have to try to manage the fallout from the U.S. trade war, transnational organized crime, rising energy prices and years of political corruption scandals that undermined what legitimacy the previous Brazilian government still has. (The Temer administration’s approval rating topped out, incredibly, at 13 percent.) Unlike in Germany, what happens in Brazil usually stays in Brazil, so pressing are its domestic affairs. This may not comfort any of the people who voted against Bolsonaro, considering he openly pined for the days of military dictatorship. The Brazilian military has steadfastly stuck to staying out of politics as much as possible in recent years. Whether it will continue to do so is now a legitimate question to ask, even if the answer is probably no.
Israel is making moves. On the heels of Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic visit to Oman, Israel’s culture and sports minister visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – the first official visit to the United Arab Emirates by an Israeli minister. Meanwhile, on Sunday Israel pounded targets inside the Gaza Strip, accusing the governments of Syria and Iran of orchestrating the rocket fire against it that began Thursday. Calm descended yesterday after Egypt intervened and negotiated a cease-fire, which Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel are all observing for now. Israel has gone out of its way to accuse Iran of building precision-missile factories in Lebanon and now of instigating rocket fire against it in Gaza. The flurry of diplomatic activity indicates that Israel is publicly aligning itself with Arab states against Iran. Perhaps the visit to Oman, which has a more pragmatic posture toward Iran, was meant to warn the Islamic republic that it is approaching a line Israel doesn’t want crossed. All in all, this is an aggressive posture for Israel.
Not so fast on the great Japan-China reconciliation of 2018. After returning home from China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played host to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two met informally on Sunday, after which Modi told reporters that the Japan-India partnership had transformed into a “special strategic and global partnership.” During a formal summit today, Abe affirmed that the two would boost security and economic cooperation to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” – thinly veiled anti-China rhetoric. At the same time, the government in Beijing dispatched its foreign minister to the Philippines, and media reports suggested that the two countries might at last be closing in on a deal for joint energy exploration in the South China Sea. China also signed a military aid agreement with Nepal. (The size of the deal, worth just $21.3 million, belies its significance, considering how strongly India feels about China’s role in Nepal.) Moreover, a report from The Hindu said a Chinese delegation from the Public Security Ministry will visit New Delhi in late November to boost security cooperation. Beneath all the pageantry and pleasantries, Asia’s main powers are all angling for better positions against each other and in relation to the West.
Another diplomatic summit about Syria. Over the weekend, the leaders of Russia, Turkey, France and Germany met in Istanbul to discuss a resolution to the Syrian civil war. Russian media have been keen to underscore President Vladimir Putin’s role in arranging the talks. In a concluding joint statement, the leaders called for “an inclusive, Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process.” It’s not hard not to see the irony in four outside powers calling for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process at a summit where no Syrians were present.
- Sputnik International – always to be taken with a grain of salt – says China has imminent plans to begin construction on its first airfield in Antarctica.
- Polish President Andrzej Duda told German newspaper Bild that Germany should pay World War II reparations to Poland.
- The Australian state of Victoria signed a Belt and Road Initiative memorandum of understanding with China.
- South Korea’s unification minister said a formal declaration ending the Korean War could be issued by the end of the year despite little progress in denuclearization talks.
- Ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s northern Shan state has driven hundreds to flee their homes.
- Iceland’s prime minister told the EUobserver she thought there wasn’t “any reason” for Iceland to apply for EU membership and that if it were up to her, Iceland would quit NATO.
- Thousands protested the Five Star Movement mayor of Rome over the weekend in Italy.