The Soapbox: Brazil’s nose-to-nose election, coup in Burkina Faso, OPEC oil politics

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk analyzing major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

In Brazil, a run-off leads to a left-right showdown

A close vote for Brazil’s president on Oct. 2 has set the stage for a tense run-off later this month. Leftist candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former president, was projected to win, but fell short of the 50% mark needed to secure victory, swaying only 48.4% of voters.

Lula will face off against Jair Bolsonaro, the populist incumbent who garnered 43.2% of the vote — a surprising figure given that he polled at only 36% the day before. Nine other candidates failed to make the cut.

Despite concerns about violence and fraud in the lead-up to the election, voting on Oct. 2 took place without major disruption, and all eyes are now turned to the Oct. 30 run-off between Lula and Bolsonaro. Analysts still believe Lula will win, but with less certainty than before the election. Even if he wins the runoffs, Lula will have a difficult time passing legislation in a hostile congress; Bolsanaro’s conservative coalition won half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a large proportion in the Senate.

Bolsonaro and Lula have faced off in legal battles before. In 2018, after a criminal investigation spanning 11 countries, Lula was found guilty of corruption, fraud and accepting bribes. His conviction was labeled a win for Brazilian anti-corruption efforts, but conversations which leaked in 2019 suggested that the judge, Sérgio Moro — who was close to Bolsonaro — may have colluded with the prosecution to prevent a leftist victory in the 2018 election, from which Lula was barred.

Lula’s conviction was annulled by Brazil’s Supreme Court in April of 2021, clearing him to run in the 2022 election.

The Brazilian election is being watched closely by international audiences — especially in the United States. In the months before voting began, Bolsanaro made claims of potential fraud that echoed those made by former president Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election, and have led to similar fears of democratic deterioration.

Lula’s policies would increase protection of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest, and an important carbon sink, helping to reduce the amount of gaseous carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On the other hand, Bolsonaro’s policies have contributed to deforestation, destroying millions of acres of forest. At a time of global climate panic, the world looks to Brazil to forecast the future.

“It is clear the challenge of development in the Amazon and the perception that Brazil’s decisions matter to the rest of the world has increased interest,” Thomas Shannon, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, told the BBC. “Brazil is a superpower and it hasn’t discovered it yet.”

In Burkina Faso, a second military coup this year underscores instability

Following a coup and mediation, Burkina Faso’s Ibrahim Traore has succeeded President Paul-Henri Damiba, who himself took power in a Jan. 24 military coup. Traore led a group of officers who cited Damiba’s inability to resolve various crises, including mounting terrorism, as the rationale behind their takeover.

During the previous coup in January, Damiba ousted President Roch Kabore, suspended the constitution and dissolved the government following violent unrest in Ouagadougou, the nation’s capital. Kabore, who led for six years, was also accused of failing to address terrorism.

On Sept. 30, Traore’s group announced the ousting of Damiba. Though he initially called for coup leaders to “come to their senses,” Damiba resigned on Oct. 2 under the condition that the new regime would protect his safety and maintain commitments he made to the Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc. Damiba had promised to return Burkina Faso to civilian rule by March 2024, a plan which Traore agreed to uphold.

Traore, formerly a low-ranking officer in an artillery regiment, accused Damiba of repeating the mistakes of his predecessor. Burkina Faso, where 40% of the population lives in poverty, has been struggling to curb terrorism since 2015. Islamist terrorist groups, some with ties to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, have displaced more than 1.85 million people and killed thousands over the past seven years. According to mediator Mahamadou Issoufou, from the West African States bloc, Burkina Faso only controls 60% of the nation’s land due to difficulty in curtailing insurgents and rebel groups.

While the international community has broadly condemned Traore’s coup, Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, commended Traore, calling him a “truly courageous son of the motherland.” Russia has spent the past few years attempting to increase its influence across Africa by offering arms and support to unstable regimes. Analysts see the country’s insecurity as a driving force towards pro-Russian sentiment.

“Part of the public opinion which supported this counter-coup will continue to demand a shift in favor of Russia,” Mathieu Pellerin, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy. “Western partners have everything to lose by being dogmatic, as this favors rapprochement between the authorities and Russia.”

In West Asia, OPEC cuts oil supply, helps Russia

OPEC Plus, the 23-member coalition of oil producers including Russia and Saudi Arabia, has decided to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day, totaling about 2% of global oil production. The move counteracts U.S. and European attempts to punish Russia economically by lowering energy costs, and potentially represents Saudi Arabia’s movement closer to Moscow.

Saudi Arabia and Russia led the OPEC Plus meeting on Oct. 5 — the first to be held in the organization’s Vienna headquarters since 2020. According to Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the production cuts are meant to combat falling oil prices, which have been dropping since a high in June, and present an economic threat to the kingdom.

In July, President Joe Biden met with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss increasing Saudi oil output. Though Biden and the crown prince reached a U.S.-favorable agreement, the Saudis have chosen to pursue their own interests rather than abide by their previous deal to increase supply.

On Oct. 6, after the OPEC Plus meeting, the European Union passed a measure that would implement price caps on Russian crude oil as sanctions for Moscow’s annexation of four Ukrainian territories. The G7 nations adopted a similar measure in September. In response, Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak warned that Russia may further cut oil production, making it more scarce and increasing the difficulty of implementing price caps. Russian protectionary measures may also make it less likely that China and India, which are major oil purchasers, would go along with the price caps, which would decrease their effectiveness at punishing Russia.

To combat price increases at home, the United States will deliver 10 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next month.

“The President is disappointed by the shortsighted decision by OPEC Plus to cut production quotas while the global economy is dealing with the continued negative impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese wrote in a joint statement. “In light of today’s action, the Biden Administration will also consult with Congress on additional tools and authorities to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected]