Morning Brief

Ireland’s Sinn Fein Hopes to Form a Government

The Irish nationalist party declares a political “revolution” after a historic surge in Saturday’s elections.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after being elected on Feb. 9 in Dublin, Ireland.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald celebrates with her supporters after being elected on Feb. 9 in Dublin, Ireland. Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ireland’s nationalist Sinn Fein party sees a historic surge in weekend elections, Thailand reels from a mass shooting, the death toll of the new coronavirus surpasses the SARS outbreak in China, and what to watch in the world this week.

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What Happened in Ireland’s Elections?

Ireland’s left-wing nationalist Sinn Fein party has demanded to be part of the next government after initial vote counts showed it winning 24.5 percent of first-preference votes in Saturday’s elections—more than any other party, including the dominant centrist parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. On Sunday, Sinn Fein party leader Mary Lou McDonald called the results a “revolution” and pledged to seek a coalition government. “This is no longer a two-party system,” she said.

Vote counts are still underway, but Saturday’s elections have thrown Ireland into political turmoil, with no party winning anything close to a majority. Long held back by its past links to the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA), Sinn Fein is now poised to be a key part of negotiations to form a coalition. Exit polls show that Sinn Fein had a surge in support among younger voters concerned about lagging public services, housing, and infrastructure.

What happens now? Sinn Fein ran far fewer candidates than the other parties in Saturday’s election, and the ruling Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are expected to each win more seats in parliament. That means it’s not yet clear which parties would be able to form a coalition, though Sinn Fein has floated the idea of forming a left-wing government without the two major parties. If the negotiations end in deadlock, another election could be called.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar repeated on Sunday that a coalition between his Fine Gael party and Sinn Fein is “not an option.” Meanwhile, the leader of Fianna Fail did not rule out a coalition with the nationalist party.

What does this mean for Irish unity? If Sinn Fein does join a coalition, it would put the party in the governments of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for the first time in history. Brexit has already reopened the debate over Irish reunification, and the unity question will be paramount during the government formation process. Sinn Fein has called for a unity referendum within the lifetime of the next government, FP’s Dan Haverty explains.


What We’re Following Today

Thailand reels from mass shooting. Thailand was shaken by its worst-ever mass shooting over the weekend, after a Thai soldier killed at least 29 people—most in a shopping mall—in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in the country’s northeast. Nearly 60 people were wounded in the rampage, and an overnight siege in the mall ended only when the attacker was killed by police. While Thailand has a relatively high level of gun ownership, mass killings are rare. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on that the attack stemmed from a “personal conflict” over real estate.

Turkey sends reinforcements to Idlib. Turkey has dispatched additional troops to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where Syrian government forces are waging an offensive against the country’s last remaining rebel enclaves. In recent days, President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army has already recaptured dozens of towns and villages—more than 230 square miles of territory. Concerned about hundreds of thousands of Syrians crossing its border, Turkey has urged Syria to back down from its offensive and an official said Sunday that Ankara is prepared to “take action.” While Turkish intervention can slow Assad’s forces down, it can’t stop the ongoing crisis in Idlib, Kareem Shaheen writes in FP.

Coronavirus tops SARS death toll. The official number of people who have died in China from the new coronavirus outbreak reached 910 on Monday, surpassing the death toll of the SARS epidemic in 2002-3. Chinese officials have confirmed more than 40,000 cases of the virus. People across China are returning to work after the extended Lunar New Year holiday, though many schools and offices remain closed, with employees working from home. A team of experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) experts arrives in Beijing today to assist with the response to the outbreak, potentially including some scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The coronavirus outbreak continues to put neighboring countries on edge, particularly Thailand—which sees millions of Chinese visitors annually. The Thai government is trying to balance disease control with its relations with China, Tyler Roney reports for FP from Bangkok.


The World This Week

U.S. President Donald Trump’s official budget proposal will be released today, with the White House expected to propose a $4.8 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1. The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would see a 21 percent cut in U.S. foreign aid. It also includes a request for a significant increase in funding for immigration and border protection agencies, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks before the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, hoping to build opposition against Trump’s Middle East peace plan. Some countries are already feeling the pressure from Washington: Last Thursday, Tunisia abruptly fired its ambassador to the United Nations after he led negotiations on a Palestinian draft resolution declaring the peace plan in breach of international law, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report.

U.S. election season continues as a second state votes to select a Democratic Party nominee. New Hampshire goes to the polls on Tuesday, just over a week after the chaotic Iowa caucuses. The New Hampshire race could be a showdown between the top two Democratic candidates in Iowa, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg—though they don’t appear to be competing for the same types of voters in New Hampshire, the Washington Post reports. Polls close at 8 p.m. EST.

The U.S.-China phase one trade deal is set to take effect on Friday, with China announcing last week that it will cut tariffs imposed last year on $75 billion of U.S. goods—and that it remains committed to the eventual removal of all tariffs on both sides. The announcement came amid concerns that China would delay some of its commitments under the deal as it grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

The two-day Munich Security Conference begins on Friday, with both U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to attend alongside dozens of other world and defense leaders. The conference kicks off a week-long trip for Pompeo, including his first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa.


Keep an Eye On

Australia’s economy. Australia has gone 28 years without a recession, but its economy could be tested after the devastating bushfires of the past two months, the Wall Street Journal reports. While the Australian central bank predicts a quick recovery, economists aren’t so sure. Before the fire season began, Australia’s economy was showing signs of slowing down amid global trade uncertainty and declining domestic consumption.

Strikes in Kashmir. The separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) called for general strikes on Sunday and again on Tuesday in Indian-administered Kashmir. The strikes coincide with anniversaries of the deaths of a Kashmiri separatist who attacked the Indian parliament in 2001 and the JKLF’s founder. India’s government banned the JKLF last year amid its crackdown on the disputed region last year. Communications in Kashmir remain restricted.

Myanmar nationalists. Around 1,000 Myanmar nationalists marched in Yangon on Sunday, accusing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government of not sticking up for the country’s Buddhist majority and in protest of proposed constitutional reforms that would reduce the military’s power. Tensions between Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and the military are rising ahead of nationwide elections expected later this year.


Odds and Ends

The South Korean film Parasite won Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday, becoming the first foreign-language film to take the academy’s top prize. (It was also the first-ever movie from South Korea to be nominated for the award.) Parasite won four Oscars in total—more than any other film on Sunday—including International Feature and Best Director for filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, who previously called the Academy Awards a “very local” ceremony.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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