2019 world news preview: Elections and asteroids could dominate headlines

EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (R) welcomes Roumanian Prime minister Klaus Werner Iohannis (L) before their meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Picture:AFP/Getty Images)
EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker (R) welcomes Roumanian Prime minister Klaus Werner Iohannis (L) before their meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Picture:AFP/Getty Images)
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With a year of ­global political turmoil behind us, it is not easy to look ahead and hope for anything much more upbeat in world news during the coming 12 months.

Citizens of many countries across the globe are set to take to the polls to elect – or re-elect – a government or president. While some of these elections will pass without controversy, others may see a shake up of national politics, with international effects.

However, beginning on a positive note, celebrations will this year be held across Europe to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism. The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, allowing thousands of east Germans freedom to visit the West.

Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania all ­followed suit and moved from Communist regimes, with the latter the only country to ­violently overthrow its government, led by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed on Christmas Day the same year.

Returning to present day politics, a number of presidential and parliamentary elections are also due to take place across Europe this year, which could offer a flavour of the way that the political tide is turning on the continent.

The first round of the Croatian presidential election is due to take place in December next year, while Lithuania and Latvia will also elect new presidents.

In Slovakia, where president Andrej Kiska has already announced that he will not run again, eight candidates have already been named for the election, which is due to take place before March. More are expected.

In Ukraine, both parliamentary and presidential elections are due to take place, although due to the annexation of Crimea by ­Russia in 2014 and the occupation of parts of Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast by separatists, only 423 of 450 seats in Verkhovna Rada can currently be elected under election laws, while roughly 12 per cent of Ukrainian voters cannot ­participate.

Once of interest to UK voters, but likely to be an irrelevance from March, the next elections to the European Parliament are set to be held in May. After Brexit, the numbers of seats allocated to each country will be altered, with 27 of the UK’s seats going to other nations.

Jean-Claude Juncker is to stand down as president, while his European People’s Party is set to hold a majority, as it has for the past 20 years – however, polls have claimed that right-wing parties may gain ground. A poll carried out earlier in 2018 for the European Commission found that immigration is the number one concern for 22 of the 27 EU countries due to vote, for the fourth year in a row.

Romania, which has struggled with anti-corruption reform in recent years, took over the rotating presidency of the EU for the first time on 1 January– just months after it ­celebrated its 100th birthday as a country.

Prime minister ­Viorica ­Dancila has said that priorities during the presidency include reducing the gap between poorer and richer members, security and promoting ­European values. However, the role has already sparked some controversy, with president Klaus Iohannis being accused of treason after he questioned Romania’s readiness for the position.

A general election will also take place in India, sparking a revolution in Facebook political advertising. The social media platform has said it will ensure that advertisers in India who want to run political ads on Facebook are able to confirm their identity and location to prevent abuse of the system. The move is aimed at countering any possible ­foreign interference in the polls. State elections held last month saw the Congress party win two states from the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP.

In June, a referendum will be held to determine whether a completely new country will be formed. Bougainville Island, which is currently part of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and has a population of around 230,000, agreed the referendum as part of a peace deal with PNG in 2001. Former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern was appointed to chair the Bougainville Referendum Commission, which is responsible for preparing the vote.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito of Japan is to abdicate from his position on 30 April – the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in almost two ­centuries. He will be succeeded by his heir, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito. The emperor, who has no political power, has spent much of his 30 years on the throne attempting to deal with the legacy of the Second World War in his country, which was fought in the name of his father, Hirohito.

Refugee agency UNHCR recently predicted that as many as 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to their homeland in 2019 despite massive hurdles facing them.

An uneasy peace has ­settled in Syria, however, around 5.6 million Syrian refugees still remain in neighbouring countries, namely ­Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq – as well as across Europe. About 37,000 refugees returned to the country in 2018, the agency said.

However, many families who return to Syria will have nowhere to live due to the destruction of their homes, while other problems include the presence of landmines which will take a long time and be very expensive to clear. The war in Syria began in 2011, with around 500,000 people believed to have died in the conflict.

The refugee crisis is set to continue in Europe, where people fleeing their homelands from the Middle East and Africa are still arriving on European shores.

­Refugees remain trapped in countries where surrounding borders have closed, such as Serbia, while others have been housed in camps in Austria and ­Germany for years. Migration numbers have fallen since the 2015 peak, but western countries are still struggling to deal with the influx of refugees.

In Afghanistan, less than a third of citizens are going into 2019 with any optimism that the country is moving in the right direction, according to a recent poll – despite support for the government of ­president Ashraf Ghani ­having risen to 59.6 per cent from 56.2 percent in 2017. Mr Ghani, who is expected to seek a second term in April elections, earlier this year offered to hold peace talks with the Taliban, but they have so far agreed only to negotiate with US officials.

Across the Atlantic, in the US state of California, “house of horrors” parents David and Louise Turpin are set to appear before a jury on 3 September.

Accused of torturing and imprisoning their 13 children, who were freed from the ­family home in the town of Perris last year after one of the youngsters escaped and raised the alarm, the pair could face around 100 years in prison if convicted. The case shocked the nation and the international community after the 17-year-old girl, who appeared to be emaciated and looked much younger than her age, claimed that she and her siblings had been chained to beds and neglected for years.

Italy will be aiming to complete the rebuilding of the Genoa bridge – where 43 ­people were killed after the original structure collapsed in August last year – by the end of 2019. Demolition of the bridge, which was the site of the worst tragedy to hit modern Italy, began just a few weeks ago. Genoa mayor Marco Bucci pledged in December that a new bridge would be in place by Christmas.

Another new bridge – ­Montreal’s new Champlain Bridge, the original of which is Canada’s busiest, with more than 50 million vehicles using it annually – is set to open after three years under construction. The Canadian structure is just 100 metres downstream on the St Laurence River from the original bridge, which will be demolished once the new crossing is complete.

On 1 February, a large asteroid is scheduled to pass the Earth. While many doommongers have predicted that it could actually veer too close and collide with our planet, spelling the end of civilisation as we know it, others have taken a more measured approach.

They claim that while it may come fairly close in space terms, the 2002 NT7 asteroid will actually still miss us by a good 61 million kilometres. Phew.

Also in the world of space exploration, the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS), a planned European space telescope for the study of the formation of extrasolar planets – those located outside of our solar system – is set to be launched at the end of this year.

The aim of the telescope is to measure the radii of the exoplanets for which ground-based spectroscopic surveys have already provided mass estimates. Knowing both the mass and the size of the exoplanets will allow scientists to determine the planets’ density and whether they are gaseous or rocky.

Staying with technology – albeit at a more earthly level – laptops which can hook up to 5G are set to be released for the first time this year, while in a spot of good news for gamers, experts believe that a PlayStation 5 is due to be launched by Sony late in the year.

In Egypt, the world’s largest solar park, the Benban Solar Park, aims to reach between 1.6-2.0GW of solar power by the middle of the year. The eastern region of the Sahara where the giant array is located has some of the best solar power resources on the planet.

With continued climate change predicted not only for this year but for many years to come, Egypt’s environmentally friendly energy generation project is to be welcomed.