Weekly Report: 1 June 2018 — CANVAS

Photo: Nicaraguan mothers protest the killings of their children at demonstrations over past months. The Guardian.

Maldives

In a primary election labeled illegal by the ruling government, members of the country’s largest opposition, the Main Democratic Party (MDP), voted resoundingly in favor of Mohamed Nasheed as their candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. Police attempted to halt all “illegal” voting this week, seizing many of the party’s ballot boxes, but their attempts were largely unsuccessful. Creative MDP supporters used an assortment of bins, plastic containers, and cement mixing tubs to make sure people were able to vote. Thanks to these efforts, reports show that Nasheed was able to secure approximately 44,000 votes, or about 85% of the MDP’s support (99.8% among those who voted). Nevertheless, there remain immense obstacles to his candidacy.

The Maldivian government has not only condemned this election as illegal, but has pointed out that Nasheed is an invalid candidate for the presidency. After he was ousted from leadership in 2012, the implemented government followed up his case with a politically-motivated terrorism charge. Nasheed is currently still serving the resulting 13-year sentence, and as a convicted criminal, he is ineligible to be president as per the Maldivian Constitution. The MDP has vowed to fight for the reversal or otherwise elimination of this obstacle, but the future of the election remains to be seen.

Cambodia

Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken up the garment workers’ ongoing dispute with their employer over severance wages and back pay. He has agreed to have the government pay the workers and encouraged the Labour Ministry to amend legislation to ensure that workers are protected from similar situations in the future.

The National Election Committee has randomly assigned numbers for the 20 political parties registered to appear on the ballot. The ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party, was given number 20 and will appear last. In past elections, the parties have used their number and location while campaigning to help voters recognize them. Hun Sen said on his Facebook page that the CPP’s number 20, at the very bottom of the ballot, would be easy to identify. The election will take place on July 29, 2018, following a three-week campaign period that begins on July 7.

Venezuela

Henri Falcon, who ran against Maduro in the presidential race, is calling for a new election. His entire bid for the presidency went against the main opposition, who thought that his participation would only create a pretense of legitimacy for Maduro’s bid for power. Falcon and his supporters are taking the case to the country’s Supreme Court of Justice, claiming that the electoral process was invalid and that the result must be declared “null and void.” His calls draw attention to the support Maduro’s campaign had received from state media and the alleged bribery that took place when the ruling party set up stands near polling stations to give “bonuses” to poor residents. The Supreme Court is not considered independent, and it is unlikely it will rule in Falcon’s favor.

The EU is preparing sanctions, and has also called for a new election. The bloc clarified that its sanctions will be both targeted and reversible, to limit the impact on the general Venezuelan public, and are expected to be formally adopted at a June 25 meeting in Luxembourg.  

The Organization of American States hired a panel of experts to investigate Venezuela’s situation: the group accused the state of crimes against humanity and opened the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court. In their report, the panel described a “massive assault on the rule of law” in the country, accompanied by attacks on the judiciary that have resulted in a complete inability of the state to investigate its own crimes. The report outlined many of the crimes allegedly committed by the regime, including multiple murders, at least 12,000 cases of imprisonment and arbitrary detention, torture, rape, political persecution, and enforced disappearances. Following the report, which will be sent to the ICC for follow-up, the OAS secretary-general says he expects tougher sanctions on the country.

On Wednesday May 30, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew into Caracas for the first time since becoming president in April, to discuss how to strengthen relations. He congratulated Maduro on his re-election and admonished the international community for not supporting the results of the election. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also congratulated Maduro on his win and Venezuela on its “successful, peaceful and sound” elections.

Joshua Holt, the American who was imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly two years, has returned to the US.

North & South Korea

On May 30th, a top-secret meeting was held between a top aide to Kim Jong Un and a top US official in Singapore. This meeting is one of three between North Korea and the United States to reinstate the summit between Kim and Trump, which was called off last week. Despite the lack of information available to reporters, this meeting is deemed to have been about the logistics for the June 12th summit.

Cho Myoung-gyon, the South Korean Unification Minister, recognizes that there are still significant differences between Pyongyang and Washington but remains hopeful. This comes amidst continued South Korean efforts to reconcile the tension between Pyongyang and Washington while navigating between peace and political alliance. For example, North and South Korea agreed to establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea as soon as possible and to hold a meeting later this month to discuss the reunion of separated families. Despite the United States and China’s continued involvement on the issue concerning North and South Korea, the progress made so far is a testament to the divided peninsula’s potential for self-determination and leadership in ensuring global peace.

Colombia

On May 27, Colombia held its first presidential election since the landmark peace deal with FARC that ended a 50-year-long guerilla war. Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque earned 39% of the vote, while leftist, former guerilla Gustavo Petro won 25% and Sergio Fajardo won 24% — none gained the 50% majority needed to win in just one round. Consequently, the country is moving into runoff elections that will pit Duque and Petro against each other. Fajardo supporters will likely be the decisive bloc in this next vote. Fajardo himself has not yet declared which candidate he supports, although his supports seem to be leaning toward Petro. Both Petro and Duque are courting Fajardo, along with the country’s major parties and coalitions.

The Sunday elections had one of the highest turnouts in the country’s recent history, at 53.37 percent, although marred by irregularities. Petro himself decried the pre-marked ballots filled out by his opposition in the political elite. More than 1,239 complaints over electoral offences were registered during the voting day, and all must be addressed by the June 17 runoff election.

Myanmar

On Wednesday, prosecutors submitted a request for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene in the deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The document was signed by 400 Rohingya women and girls’ fingerprints. Since Myanmar is not a signatory of the Court, prosecutors are considering using Bangladesh, which is a member of the ICC and a country that has been receiving a huge influx of Rohingya refugees, as the actor through which this request will come to fruition. This has two implications: first, it casts the ICC as one of the few means to hold Myanmar accountable for the atrocities committed; second, this ruling could set the precedent for the Court’s extending its jurisdiction over Syria (which is a not a member ICC) through Jordan.

The United Nations expects 25,000 babies to be born in May and June in Bangladeshi refugee camps housing Rohingya refugees, which is a testament to the large-scale rape and sexual abuse committed against Rohingya women last year in the Rakhine State. Currently, the camps lack the healthcare infrastructure and funding necessary to ensure adequate and sanitary conditions for the refugees and their newborn babies.

The conditions at Bangladeshi refugee camps continue to be threatened by the coming monsoon season. Myanmar’s government claims that it is ready for the refugees to return, but three factors indicate that their return may not be “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable.” Firstly, the Rohingya people that remain in Myanmar continue to be internally-displaced in internment camps. Secondly, military acquisition of Rohingya land and property may make the return to original homes impossible. Thirdly, many Rohingya people argue that the National Verification Cards frame them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which relegates them to second-class citizenship and does not recognize their family histories in Myanmar.

Hearings on the charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo continue. A defense lawyer claims that evidence collected from the two reporters’ mobile phones raises suspicions because some messages were sent from unverifiable sources or were sent after the phones were confiscated. This comes after defense lawyers’ arguing that the documents obtained from their phones were collected without a warrant. Overall, this raises questions regarding the possible involvement of the Myanmar Police in the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

USA

Border control has had a prominent presence in US headlines this week. This was sparked by a push from President Donald Trump to change existing immigration laws. He wants to make it easier for border control agents to jail and quickly deport children crossing the border, and to toughen the process to pursue asylum. The fact that these aspects of immigration are not already in accordance with the president’s wishes is due to what he calls “loopholes” left in the legislation by Congress. “These are not loopholes,” retorted democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “They are laws that Congress passed to address the documented injustices facing children in our immigration system.”

In other dangerous developments inspired by the president’s “America First” policy, Trump announced this week that he would be imposing new tariffs on metal imported from the EU, Canada, and Mexico – three among the US’s closest allies. All diplomatic partners have condemned the action and announced retaliatory measures that are targeted to most strongly affect Trump’s bases of support.

Financial irresponsibility did not stop in the international realm this week. The US also announced a softening of the Volcker Rule, which in 2010 had been implemented to prevent another major financial crisis by reining in risky or dangerous trading. Although these reforms are intended to streamline, rather than undermine the legislation, concerns are rampant that this process will not be carried out in the best interests of the general population, but rather in those of the banking elites. “What is critical is that simplification not undermine the core principle at stake — that taxpayer-supported banking groups, of any size, not participate in proprietary trading at odds with the basic public and customers’ interests,” read Paul Volcker himself, the former Fed chairman behind the original legislation.

Zimbabwe

After much anticipation, the date of the Zimbabwean election has been announced for July 30. “I am delighted to proclaim July 30 as the date for the 2018 harmonised elections. These elections will be free, fair and transparent, and the voice of the people will be heard,” read the announcement from President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, who took over leadership of the country after the ousting of Robert Mugabe six months ago, has thereby finally delivered on his promise that new elections would be held sometime this year. Mugabe meanwhile finds himself absent from the ballot for the first time since the commencement of his 37-year autocratic rule.

In other news concerning the former leader, he failed for the second time this week to show up to a parliamentary hearing concerning the country’s alleged $15 loss in diamond revenue. Mugabe had initially presented this problem in 2016, blaming corruption and foreign involvement for the nation’s losses. Consequently, this parliamentary hearing had been called for lawmakers to hear Mugabe’s evidence. The assembly this week had been organized after Mugabe was absent from first meeting, on May 23. After this second refusal to attend, he has raised a huge red flag about the nature of the scandal. Mugabe is being given one more chance to attend a hearing, now scheduled for June 11, or else he will be charged with contempt and possibly face jail time.

Bolivia

A US judge has absolved the former Bolivian president and his defense minister of any responsibility in the 2003 massacre, in which the military was used on protesters, overturning a previous verdict by a jury in 2017. 67 were killed and at least 400 injured when soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd. Thomas Becker, the U.S. lawyer that filed the lawsuit, said he plans to appeal to the decision.

Last week, a student was killed during a demonstration that called for increased funding for the public university El Alto. The government claims that the death was caused by another demonstrator, but the university denies this and blames the police. Following the death, thousands took to the streets in protest on May 28, where some clashed with police. Economy Minister Mario Guillen has called for talks with the administrations of Bolivia’s 15 public universities, where an estimated 440,000 students study, to resolve the funding issue.

Syria

In an interview with Russia Today, President Bashar al-Assad called on the United States to withdraw from the region given its support of the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria. He reinforced his demand with the threat of using military force if the United States does not withdraw soon. Kino Gabriel, an SDF spokesperson, cautioned Assad when he claimed that Syria’s militaristic response to US intervention would “lead to more losses and destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people.” Furthermore, the US Department of State responded by stating that its intentions are to defend the US and its partners against ISIS and that it does not plan on using force against Syria or Iran. These statements come after inconsistent signals from Washington regarding the US’s plans in Syria.

Commenting on Trump’s calling him an “animal” in April, Assad stated, “what you say is what you are” and declined to offer a nickname for Trump in response. In the same interview, Assad commended Russia’s leadership in its intervention over the proxy battles between Israel and Iran. Moreover, he stated that in response to Israeli air strikes, Syria has been working on strengthening its air defenses with help from Russia.

Russia, on the other hand, has been striking a delicate diplomatic balance between relations with Israel, communication with the United States, and partnership with Iran in supporting the Assad regime. It is not surprising, then, that Israel has been working on developing good relations with Russia in hopes that interest convergence will convince Russia to help Israel contain Iran’s expanding military presence in Syria.

The new Law No. 10 has been established in Syria. Although this law would purportedly allow the government to seize all unclaimed properties and develop them, it functionally prevents those who oppose the regime from regaining their property that was lost during the Civil War and leaves Syrian refugees permanently displaced from their homes. It is also seen as a means of ethnic cleansing, since the regime will dispossess Sunni Muslim opponents while allowing Shia Muslim supporters to live in the newly developed areas.

Nicaragua

A Mother’s Day protest against Ortega and his government took place this Wednesday, led by the mothers of 83 victims killed in previous protests. It had been planned as a peaceful demonstration, but devolved into violence when pro-government forces opened fire. Eleven were killed and 79 wounded. Senior members of Nicaragua’s Catholic church had begun mediating peace talks between Ortega and the student-led opposition in mid-May, but called off negotiations after this latest deadly protest. Calls for Ortega’s resignation continue.

Thailand

On May 23rd, the Constitutional Court declared that the controversial organic bill was constitutional. Following this verdict, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Kreangam, has announced that the next election will happen 11 months from now, perhaps even earlier.

Thailand will be the first country in which China and Japan implement their economic platform to develop the regional economy. Thailand expects this foreign investment to generate $43 billion USD by 2023. China seeks to use Thailand to further its aims under the One Belt One Road Initiative while Japan plans to invest in the ten targeted industries and Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) infrastructure projects. Thailand’s EEC initiative aims to attract high-technology investment and shift Thailand away from a labor-intensive economy.

After China’s banning imports of electronic waste due to the chronic health problems in the recycling industry, Thailand has faced a huge influx of global e-waste. It is suspected that this waste has been illegally imported by companies. In response to concerns that this could harm the environment and people’s health, the Department of Industrial Works is considering banning certain types of e-waste and strengthening its enforcement of existing laws.

Other news:

Cuba – Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raul, has announced the government’s plan to legalize gay marriage in the country by eliminating a stipulation in the constitution that specifies marriage as between a man and a woman. – ABC News

Spain – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office by a parliamentary no-confidence vote. He will be replaced by socialist leader Pedro Sánchez. – BBC

Hungary – In the latest of the government’s series of “Stop Soros” bills, Orbán has decided to target those who distribute food, informational leaflets, or legal advice to asylum-seekers. Offenders could face prison sentences and heavy fines. – Al Jazeera

Ukraine – Dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was believed to have been assassinated earlier this week, revealed that his staged killing was actually part of an elaborate operation by the Ukrainian secret services. The hoax concerns many international observers, however, who worry now that future Russian killings may be dismissed as illegitimate as well. – NYTimes

Ireland – The nation has voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing abortion. 66% of voters chose ‘yes’ to repealing the constitutional amendment that banned abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances. – The Guardian

Laos – Laos and China have reinforced their partnership in a range of issues, including traffic infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping cited the importance of the China-Laos partnership in furthering the Belt and Road Initiative, environmental protection, and cooperation in international affairs. – XinhuaNet


CANVAS News

What you need to know about Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections

On Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the country is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on July 30th. In less than two months, Zimbabwean citizens will have the opportunity to vote, in the first elections since the ousting of Robert Mugabe in November last year. What do you need to know about the upcoming elections?