Trump loses control of House following mid-term elections

Donald Trump faced the first major test of his presidency in early November as the mid-term elections got underway in the United States. Amid a brutal campaign, the Republican Party where Trump came from still managed to maintain control of the Senate while the House of Representatives slipped to the Democrats. Although such results are not surprising, a Democrat-controlled House could mean more trouble for Trump as they can now initiate investigation against the administration, including the power to subpoena the president. The split Congress also meant that the Republican Senate will continue to approve Trump’s cabinet nominees and appoint conservative judges to US courtrooms. While Trump hailed the results and downplayed the effects of the so-called “Blue Wave”, the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi begged to differ and said the results will restore the “check and balance” in the government. Results that came in later in the week also revealed far more positive picture for the Democrats in the House. Going forward, it is likely to be tougher for President Trump to have his agenda such as abolishing the Affordable Care Act and cutting regulations and taxes being passed. More importantly, a hostile House also increases the likelihood of a government shutdown.

Sri Lanka plunges into political crisis amid shocking termination of PM

The South Asia island nation of Sri Lanka plunged into political crisis when the country’s president, Maithripila Sirisena suddenly dismissed the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe amid widening rift over a slew of issues. An alliance that was formed to oust then strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 election, the relationship between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe has been deteriorating recently as both of them differed sharply on the economic reforms by the latter. In a televised address to announce the dissolution of parliament, Sirisena even accused one of the cabinet ministers of plotting to assassinate him. While Sirisena has installed once-archrival Rajapaksa as the new prime minister, Wickremesinghe said he will not budge and claimed that the president’s move was unconstitutional.

Protests also erupted in Colombo and other major cities in response to the dismissal. In another turn of event, the Supreme Court also suspended the dissolution of the parliament while Rajapaksa also failed to secure enough support from lawmakers a day later. The latest developments are likely to exacerbate the ongoing crisis as both sides continued their tussle to form a government. The stakes are high though as Sirisena did not rule the use of force to remove Wickremesinghe from his residence, potentially leading to bloodshed and violence.

Diplomatic tension between Russia and Ukraine on the rise again following naval incident near Crimea

The fragile Russia-Ukraine relationship was once again put in the spotlight following a sea clash in the Kerch Strait, off the coast of Crimea in November. It happened as Russian coastguard vessels fired at two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug before detaining the crew members. In the days that followed, both sides accused each other of provocative behaviours, sparking fears of another armed conflict in the region. Violence also erupted in Kyiv with the Russian embassy in the city being targeted by angry Ukrainian mobs. In a move that is likely to heighten the delicate situation, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also announced a 30-day martial law in ten regions aimed at preventing a Russian invasion. While the move was largely symbolic, the Kremlin has criticized the move, claiming that it will only escalate the matter. Besides the two countries, the diplomatic impasse also caught the attention of the United States and its European allies that have always been critical of Russia’s move to annex Crimea in 2014. Sanctions have been considered by the European Union (EU) while US President Donald Trump said he will cancel a scheduled meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit.

“Yellow Vests” protests hit streets of France amid rising fuel prices

France was gripped by nationwide protests following the government’s decision to raise fuel prices in November. The protest movement dubbed “Yellow Vests” initially started as a response to the government’s plan to introduce annual increases to diesel and carbon taxes, before it became into a broader movement against French President Emmanuel Macron as well as rising cost of living. Protests were held across major cities including Paris since mid-November while highways were blocked, leaving many vehicles stranded. Violence also broke out in many smaller towns and two people have been killed so far in separate accidents related to the protests. The protests also spread as far as the French overseas department of Réunion where troops were deployed to quell violence.

The Macron government insisted that the plan will go ahead and had offered concessions to the protest movement, but his opponents said that the president has been out of touch with everyday people and ruled the country like a king. At least 66 per cent of respondents in a survey also expressed support to the movement. The latest development continued to demonstrate that the division between the urban elites and rural communities is worsening and the French government that is being perceived as “business-friendly” will need to implement more measures to cushion the impacts of rising prices on the working class. Already faced with one of the highest tax bills in the world, most of the supporters of the movement also demanded that the government’s tax cuts for the rich be reversed though it remains unclear if Macron will entertain such idea.

D.R. Congo Ebola outbreak declared “worst” in history

The outbreak of Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo was declared the worst in the country’s history as well as the second largest in the world in November. The declaration was made by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the death toll reached 245 people with more than 425 confirmed and probable cases. The latest outbreak centered in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu where efforts to contain the outbreak continued to be hampered by various factors. Although 37,000 people have received Ebola vaccinations so far, health authorities and international aid organizations said presence of rebel groups in the so-called red zones are complicating their efforts, making it virtually impossible to reach the most vulnerable. There have been calls that such security concerns be addressed but very little progress has been made. In addition to that, there have also been fears that the spread of the disease will be accelerated as the movement of internal displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. As the election season approaches, the window for progress in the ongoing fight against Ebola could also be reduced as it became overshadowed by political rivalries in the country.