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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

Weekly News Blast | Feb. 26 - Mar. 5

A summary of key developments from this past week.


UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to Britain to begin discussions over the Irish trade dispute (Number 10, Flickr).


The UK and EU Broker a Deal to Resolve the Irish Trade Dispute


Since the UK left the European Union (EU) in 2020, Northern Ireland (which remains part of the UK but shares a land border with the independent Republic of Ireland) has remained a controversial topic. To prevent the formation of a hard border between the two Irelands, the UK and EU adopted the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2020, which loosened customs checks along the Irish border and effectively absorbed Northern Ireland into the EU’s single market. However, this blocked trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, angering the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Last year, the DUP announced a boycott of the Northern Irish regional assembly until a deal was brokered.


Finally, on February 27, 2022, United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced such a deal had been made. Dubbed the “Windsor Framework,” the deal would significantly reduce the bureaucratic obstacles that burdened businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland. It would also give the British Parliament a greater say over the EU rules implemented in Ireland.


If successful, this deal could smooth Britain’s relations with the EU and prevent a trade war. However, the DUP has yet to fully support the framework; many feel that a complete overhaul of the current system is necessary rather than the simple reforms of the Windsor Agreement. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, told the House of Commons that “significant progress” had been made, but many “key issues of concern” were not addressed. Further, many Brexit supporters in Sunak’s own party have expressed their reservations. Still, Sunak remains optimistic about the deal. “The United Kingdom and the European Union may have had our differences in the past, but we are allies, trading partners, and friends,” he said at a press conference with von der Leyen, “this is the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship.”


Incumbent Chicago Mayor Loses Reelection Campaign


On February 28, incumbent Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot conceded the mayoral primary election, opening the way for candidates Paul Vallas, the CEO of public schools, and Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner, to advance to the April runoff. Four years ago, Lightfoot became the first Black woman and openly gay person to be elected mayor of Chicago. However, years of fights with teachers’ unions, a slow recovery from the COVID-19 lockdowns, and a spike in violent crimes during her administration weakened her support.


Lightfoot’s loss reflects a growing movement across the country of Democrats favoring tough-on-crime policies. Since Lightfoot took office in 2019, violence in Chicago has spiked significantly. While murderers decreased, other crimes like theft, car-jacking, and burglaries have increased. In 2021 alone, Chicago recorded the most killings in a quarter-century and more than 3,500 shootings—1,400 more than in 2019. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who won elections two years ago in part because of his campaign focused on public safety, called the Chicago election a “warning sign for the country.” “I think, if anything, it is really stating that this is what I have been talking about. America, we have to be safe,” Adams said.


Following the primary, Vallas emerged as the front-runner in the Chicago mayoral race. With an endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police, Vallas has run a tough-on-crime campaign. “We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America,” Vallas told his supporters. However, while candidates are not tied to political parties, many question whether Vallas’ more conservative positions will be able to win in a city where nearly 83 percent voted blue in the 2020 presidential race. Johnson, a former educator endorsed by the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, remains a formidable opponent. While much farther left than Lightfoot, Johnson may fare better with the Democratic voters of Chicago than Vallas. The only thing for sure is that law enforcement and public safety are becoming increasingly important topics for voters, especially Democrats, nationwide.


Losing Candidates Allege Voter Fraud in South African Presidential Election


On March 1, the South African Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the ruling All Progressives Congress party’s candidate, Bola Tinubu, had won the South African presidential election. With 8.8 million votes (about 36.6 percent), Tinubu beat former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and a third candidate, Peter Obi, a representative of the smaller Labour Party.


However, almost immediately, candidates began claiming the election was rigged. Abubakar, who came in second place with 6.9 million votes, said the election “was grossly flawed in every material particular and, as such, must be challenged by all of us.” Peter Obi, who placed third, also strongly objected to the results, claiming the election “did not meet the minimum standard expected of a free, transparent, credible and fair election.” “It will go down as one of the most controversial elections ever conducted in Nigeria. The good and hardworking people of Nigeria have been robbed by our supposed leaders whom they trusted,” Obi said in his first public address since the results came out.


While neither Abubakar nor Obi has presented specific evidence, most of their objections center around the new technology introduced by the INEC. Even some third-party observers have indicated skepticism over the election. “The election fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations,” said a joint observer from the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI). “INEC lacked efficient planning and transparency during critical stages of the electoral process,” added Barry Andrews, the head of an observer team from the European Union. Still, Tinubu has maintained that the election was a “free election, no matter what anybody says.”


 


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