SOUTH AFRICAN POLITICS
Ruling ANC to hold a special meeting to discuss fate of President Zuma
Update: the ANC has announced it will postpone this meeting until February 17, citing “constructive discussions”.
The National Executive Council of the African National Congress (ANC) will meet today to decide on the future of President Jacob Zuma.
Though Zuma isn’t scheduled to step down until 2019, many in the party want the ANC to begin distancing itself from the president’s myriad scandals ahead of that year’s general election. To that end, Zuma’s internal opponents want Deputy President and newly-minted ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa to take over as early as possible.
While Zuma has held on in the past, his position is deteriorating. His state of the nation address, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been postponed and he has reportedly rejected private entreaties to resign from ANC leaders.
The party executive could recall Zuma, which would likely lead either to his resignation or a parliamentary confidence vote that he would surely lose. Even if the executive opts not to recall, the meeting will still likely see top ANC leaders call for Zuma’s resignation, weakening him ahead of a February 22 confidence vote.
ROMANIA IN EU TROUBLE
EU debates controversial Romanian justice system reforms
EU lawmakers will convene in Strasbourg today to consider how proposed changes to member-country Romania’s justice system threaten the rule of law in the southeast European country.
Today’s discussion comes after Romania’s leftist ruling party introduced a draft bill late last year that would see abuse of office only designated a criminal offence if the sums involved exceed $245,000—a sum 400 times the average monthly income. Also being proposed is the decriminalisation of taking a bribe and restricting the use of wiretaps.
MEPs will today consider potential responses if Bucharest persists with the legislation, which sparked mass protests last month. But the EU’s options are limited; the likeliest course of action to be holding Romania’s hopes of joining the Schengen area hostage unless the government changes course.
A major thorn in those plans will be Romania’s main power broker, leader of the ruling Social Democrats Liviu Dragnea. Dragnea is currently under investigation for abuse of office and, therefore, set to benefit most from the changes. As such, the EU could find itself fighting a losing battle, as it has in Hungary and Poland.
CIVIL AVIATION INDUSTRY
US and UAE begin informal talks on civil aviation arrangement
US representatives will engage in discussions with their Emirati counterparts today aimed at securing greater financial transparency from Etihad Airways and Emirates.
The talks follow an agreement reached between the US and Qatar last week, which will see Qatar Airways release a financial statement within 12 months and be more transparent in its transactions with other Qatari entities. The deal aims to address allegations by US-based airlines that Gulf carriers have benefitted from some $50 billion in subsidies—allowing them to offer cheaper fares.
With Qatar currently engaged in an eight-month long standoff with the UAE and other Gulf countries, there are diplomatic undertones to the discussions. The US has remained largely neutral in the diplomatic crisis, but Rex Tillerson declared Qatar a “strong partner and lifetime friend” and spoke of deepening strategic ties in light of last week’s agreement.
The praise is a tactical diplomatic move that Tillerson hopes incentivises the UAE to reach a similar agreement. Given the UAE is far less isolated than Qatar, however, Washington could find such an outcome less forthcoming.
Delve deeper: Qatar’s Islamist ties targeted by Saudi-led demands
US sponsors controversial discussion to expand internet access in Cuba
Today, government and non-governmental representatives will assemble in Washington, DC for the first public meeting of the Cuba Internet Task Force, a group designed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss strategies to bring Cubans greater internet capabilities and unmonitored press.
More than 40% of Cubans are internet users, over half of whom have connected since Obama and Castro’s 2014 deal. At a limiting hourly cost where the average monthly salary is $20, Cubans can find access at over 500 WiFi zones throughout the island, and the government seeks to offer roaming services this year. The US Task Force’s objective is to further Cubans’ ability to “enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information” untouched by the Castro administration.
Today’s meeting further deteriorates US-Cuba relations following President Trump’s business and travel restrictions enacted last June. The Cuban Foreign Ministry accused the Task Force of being a subversive, manipulative intervention that disregards Cuban sovereignty.
From this initial meeting, the Cuban government may react by tightening censorship on websites based in the US, such as Facebook or YouTube, in addition to its blockade of sites funded by the US government.