Papuan split causes tensions. Putin declares victory in Ukraine’s east. Glacier tragedy in Italy. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Johnson toppled as MPs withdraw support

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street on Wednesday.
Credit: Reuters / John Sibley

Democracy in action

Britain: Boris Johnson’s chaotic prime ministership lay in tatters this week as more than 50 ministers and aides – including long-time allies – quit to protest against his scandal-ridden leadership.

Johnson initially resisted the mounting pressure to step down, objecting that such a move would lead to instability and a fresh election. He capitulated on Thursday, however, after his freshly appointed chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, joined the calls for his resignation.  

The revolt followed Johnson’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints against a Conservative MP, Chris Pincher, who is accused of drunkenly groping two men at a private club. Johnson, who promoted Pincher in February, initially denied he knew of the allegations before finally admitting that he did.

The scandal caused much of Johnson’s dwindling support in the Conservative party to collapse, especially as his conduct echoed his run of mistruths during the “Partygate” scandal, in which he was repeatedly caught lying or downplaying his attendance at boozy parties that violated Covid-19 lockdown rules.

Johnson faced an open rebellion from his own MPs during the week, with Sajid Javid, who quit as health secretary this week, telling the chamber: “It’s not fair on ministerial colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t stand up and don’t hold up.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed news of Johnson’s decision, saying: “The Conservatives have overseen 12 years of economic stagnation, declining public services and empty promises.”

The 58-year-old prime minister, who oversaw Britain’s exit from the European Union, won a landslide election victory in 2019 but his support collapsed following growing concerns about his trustworthiness. A poll this week found that 56 per cent of Britons believe there should be an early general election if Johnson is replaced as leader.

The neighbourhood 

Indonesia: The Indonesian region of Papua – currently split into Papua and West Papua – is set to be redivided into five provinces after the passage of a controversial law that has been seen as a move to boost the non-Indigenous population and erode the rights of Indigenous West Papuans. 

The government last week created three new provinces – South Papua, Central Papua and Highland Papua – as part of changes that it says will promote development and improve the prospects of Indigenous Papuans. Two further provinces may be created in the future. 

But the move has sparked protests by Indigenous Papuans, who say it will lead to a greater Indonesian military presence and will add to the flow of migrant Indonesian workers from outside Papua as new administrative centres are established. 

Veronica Koman, from Amnesty International Australia, said the creation of the provinces marked a “new chapter of Jakarta’s settler-colonialism project in West Papua”.

“New security bases and posts will be built in each new area, exacerbating conflicts and human rights violations through increased militarization,” she said on Twitter.

The creation of the provinces has been seen as a further attempt to quell the push for self-determination in the region, which was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a widely condemned ballot in which only about 1000 people were allowed to participate. 

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has pledged to improve social services and the economy in the region, saying this will defuse political tensions. But his two terms in office have been marked by increased tensions, regular outbreaks of violence and large-scale operations by the military.

Papuan groups have filed a legal challenge against the creation of the provinces. The case is due to be heard next month by the Constitutional Court in Jakarta.

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Vladimir Putin declared victory in the province of Luhansk in Ukraine’s east this week, as Russia’s offensive shifted to the neighbouring province of Donetsk, whose governor urged all 350,000 residents to flee.

Since abandoning his plan to capture Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government, the Russian president has focused on taking control of Ukraine’s east – a region that could then be connected to Crimea in the south, which Russia seized in 2014. Russia currently controls about half of Donetsk but capturing the remainder may prove difficult as Ukraine holds several main cities and has heavily fortified them.

As Russian forces began massive shelling in Donetsk ahead of their advance, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the province’s governor, sent a tweet on Tuesday showing a market on fire in the city of Sloviansk, with the comment: “I call on everyone: evacuate!”

Kyrylenko told Associated Press the bombing had been “very chaotic” and the evacuation was needed to save lives and to enable Ukrainian troops to thwart the Russian offensive. “The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” he said.

Ukraine’s government this week appealed to the international community to assist with rebuilding the country – a project expected to cost $US750 billion.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, said in a national address on Monday that the recovery should begin immediately and will require “colossal” funds.

On Tuesday, more than 40 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Australia, signed the Lugano Declaration – an agreement to raise funds and support Ukraine through its recovery.

Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, met with Zelensky in Kyiv last weekend and pledged $A100 million in military support, bringing Australia’s total support to almost $390 million.

Addressing Zelensky during a joint press conference at the presidential palace, Albanese said: “Australia stands ready to continue to support [Ukraine] for as long as it takes for Ukraine to emerge victorious.”

Spotlight: Glaciers are disappearing

Last Saturday, as Italy endured a heatwave that has led to record temperatures across the country – including a 41-degree day in Rome, – temperatures at the summit of Marmolada, the tallest mountain in the Italian Dolomites, reached a record 10 degrees.

The run of high temperatures at Marmolada is believed to have destabilised the mountain’s glacier – the largest in the Italian Alps – and caused a large chunk of ice to break off, leading to a tragic avalanche on the mountain last Sunday. The avalanche sent ice, snow and rocks smashing down the mountainside, past a route to the summit that is popular with climbers, killing at least nine people. At least five people were still missing days after the collapse.

Visiting the site on Monday, Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, said the tragedy had “unforeseen elements” but had also been caused by changes to the climate that have been predicted for years.

“This is a drama that … also depends on the deterioration of the environment and the climate situation,” he said. “Now we must take measures so that what happened on [Marmolada] does not happen again.”

The record temperatures on Marmolada, and the lack of snowfall during the winter, are believed to have caused melted water to accumulate at the base of the glacier, leading to its collapse. The recent hot weather follows years of warmer temperatures, which have gradually destroyed the glacier. More than 80 per cent of the glacier has been lost in the past 70 years. A study in 2015 found that the glacier will disappear by 2050, though some scientists believe it will melt sooner.

Glacier experts said global warming is permanently weakening glaciers worldwide, and catastrophic collapses will become more common. Increasingly, mountaineering routes that have been trodden for years are being closed. 

Poul Christoffersen, a glaciologist at Cambridge University, told Reuters: “Climate change means more and more meltwater, which releases heat that warms up the ice if the water refreezes, or even worse: lifting up the glacier from the rock below and causing a sudden unstable collapse.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 9, 2022 as "Johnson toppled as MPs withdraw support".

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