Cambodia had its nation-wide commune elections on Sunday which resulted in significant gains for the opposition CNRP party, despite a general victory for the ruling CPP. CNRP received 46 percent of the vote, an increase from 30 percent in the last local elections in 2012; CPP received 51 percent, down from 62 percent in 2012.
The election had its fair share of problems, though they pale in comparison to the 2013 national elections which featured a riot in Phnom Penh, voters being chased from polling stations, widespread voter list problems, registration rates exceeding 125 percent in some provinces, and a yearlong opposition boycott of parliament over the results. This year, a handful of CNRP voters were temporarily detained, 12 election observers were illegally booted from their polling stations, and soldiers were seemingly stationed in communes with tight races in order to swat the vote in the ruling party’s favor. Still, the election proceedings earned praise from the UN for being successful.
On Friday the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for an international investigation into widespread human rights violations and abuses committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region. At least 42 mass graves have been found in the area, which since last August has been facing increased violence between militia and government forces, and the UN fears that the actual number of graves may be higher. Violence in the DRC has risen nationally since President Joseph Kabila decided to stay in power beyond the end of his mandate, which ended in December 2016.
In a political litmus test for Mexico’s upcoming 2018 national elections, a gubernatorial election for Mexico’s most populous state ended in victory for the ruling party. According to the preliminary results are being reported, the ruling PRI candidate won with 33.7 percent, and the left-wing MORENA candidate received 30.8 percent. MORENA leader and favorite candidate for 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has already said that he would demand an examination of ballots, suggesting that PRI had engaged in fraud to win the election.
Another journalist has been shot this week, and is currently at an Acapulco hospital in serious condition. Marcela de Jesus Natalia is a journalist who hosts a program on an indigenous radio station in the state of Guerrero. She hadn’t previously had any known threats.
On Wednesday US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces entered the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, beginning what could potentially be a months-long campaign to reclaim ISIS’s largest stronghold in Syria. If successful, the operation, led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and backed by US airpower, would strip ISIS of its second largest city; a simultaneous campaign to retake the largest city is already underway in Mosul, Iraq.
The campaign to retake the city, where tens of thousands are thought to still be residing, has not been without controversy. Images and witness reports from Raqqa suggest that the US-led coalition may have used munitions loaded with white phosphorous, the use of which international law prohibits in populated areas. International law does not prohibit militaries from possessing and using white phosphorous outright, and many Western militaries utilize it to create smoke screens and conceal troop movements. However, it can also be used as an incendiary weapon, and is therefore banned in civilian areas. The spokesman for the taskforce would not discuss the use of specific munitions as a matter of policy, and the use of the substance in populated areas has yet to be confirmed.
On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a highly anticipated congressional hearing. In his more than two hours of public testimony, Comey calmly leveled severe accusations and sharp criticisms at President Donald Trump. Under oath, Comey accused the president of firing him in an attempt to undermine the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, Comey stated that he believed that Trump directed him to drop an FBI probe into his former national security advisor Michael Flynn that was taking place as a part of the broader Russia investigation. Comey, who was fired by Trump on May 9, went on to state “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.” Critics of Donald Trump say that any such efforts by the president to hinder an FBI investigation could amount to obstruction of justice.
Trump, in response, branded Comey a “leaker” and a “liar,” but stated that he believed that the testimony afforded him “total and complete vindication.” Asked if he would be willing to say that under oath and give his version of events, Trump replied “100%.”
In the latest regional outcry regarding Venezuela’s ongoing crisis, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has called for international arbitration in Venezuela, but only after political prisoners are released. He said that no dialogue could be possible unless they were let out. He suggested that after this demand was met, then three friendly nations could join three more critical countries to provide international arbitration for the crisis.
Meanwhile, President Maduro has said that he will be writing to the Pope asking him to mediate the political conflict because he alleges that the opposition parties have been “training children for terrorist groups” because so many teenagers are participating in the protests. He has referred to the protesters as terrorist groups often in the past. This is seemingly a response to the death of a 17-year-old last week during protests in Caracas. Witnesses said he died after being hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by police, but the administration is claiming he died from a “homemade explosive.” The Venezuelan chief prosecutor’s office has ordered an investigation into the matter. The death toll since the start of the protests in April has now surpassed 80.
President Robert Mugabe went on a speaking tour across Zimbabwe last week in an early campaign push for the 2018 elections, which came right after his week-long trip to Cancún for a conference on disaster risk reduction. Promptly after, in a move that raised many eyebrows, he left for New York for yet another summit, the UN summit on oceans. Being that Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, this trip seems to be less relevant than the one before. The 93-year-old president has received a great deal of criticism for his frequent overseas trips while his country continues to buckle under a cash shortage. Still, he and his ruling party are pushing ahead for the 2018 elections.
First Lady Grace Mugabe has meanwhile blasted NGOs working in Zimbabwe: “We are having a bumper harvest this year so there is no need for NGOs anymore. We don’t need them anymore because they always want to come here and disturb our politics.” President Mugabe has made these accusations to NGOs prior to all previous general elections. The organizations in question again denied the allegations of political meddling, noting that they work to provide aid to the country because of “the government’s incompetence and failure to feed [its] starving communities.”