March 2, 2018
Photo: Protesters in Thailand hold up Pinocchio masks and call their former-military Prime Minister of a liar after he pushed back elections yet again (Reuters)
On Thursday, the presidential elections originally slated for April 22nd were pushed back a month to May 20. The deadline to register a candidate was extended to the afternoon of Friday, March 2. Despite the revised date, the main opposition coalition uphold to its decision to boycott the election, and have not submitted any candidates to the race, declaring the delay a “farce to legitimise a dictatorship.” Other minor opposition parties have decided to nevertheless participate, and several have put forward candidates. Henri Falcon on Tuesday announced his decision to run for president in defiance of the opposition, saying that he “operates independently of the opposition coalition,” who accuse him of trying to claim the spotlight.
The Venezuelan government has also said that it will allow international observers to oversee the election, however experts have said that “four to six months [are] needed to allow for international observers to do their work.” The United States and many of Venezuela’s neighbors have rejected the vote, and Peru has withdrawn Maduro’s invitation to the Lima group’s summit in mid April. A one-month delay in the elections does little to balance the heavy repression, hundreds of political prisoners, media censorship, and death. Instead, some suspect the move is a ploy to deceive observers into thinking that Maduro is complying with international pressures, with the actual goals of lightening sanctions and fracturing the opposition.
The May election will include only the presidential slate. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has rejected Maduro’s call for a “mega-election,” which would have held legislative, state, and municipal elections at the same time as the presidential election. The CNE President Tibisay Lucena stated that the country would be unable to prepare a range of elections in such a short time frame, but signaled that the parliamentary elections could be moved up and that the CNE will evaluate the dates. The parliamentary elections are planned for 2020.
The Maldives is still under a State of Emergency. The country has stated that it will lift the emergency only when “threats posed to national security are nullified.” This comment was made in response to the European Union request that it be lifted at once. The nation is currently detaining not only protestors, but also international lawyers that have been sent to study the emergency on the ground. Amnesty International released a statement this week regarding the conditions in the country. “The Maldivian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all people who have been arbitrarily detained under the state of emergency solely for exercising their human rights and halt attacks on peaceful protesters.” Opposition officials are seeking UN mediation in an attempt to bring about the end of this crisis, however at this time, the future remains fairly uncertain.
During a visit by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, civil rights groups in Honduras decried the consolidation of power by President Hernandez and violence against protesters. Hernandez was reelected in November 2017, which was only made possible by a controversial 2015 Supreme Court ruling that modified a constitutional provision from the early 80’s, at the end of military rule. The Coalition Against Impunity in Honduras and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) explain the ruling as a result of Hernandez’s, and the ruling National Party’s, rising control over key institutions like national courts. This election was also shrouded in accusations of fraud, slow and biased counting of votes, and general opacity of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which “manipulated the system,” according to former Opposition Alliance candidate Nasralla. His supporters took to the streets and the situation rapidly deteriorated as protestors took up arms, stones, and homemade mortars, and the government met them with police, riot shields, tear gar, and some reported instances of firing live bullets.
Not easily quelled, the protests have run throughout the country over the last two months. This weekend, a “caravan of insurrection” took place in the east of capital Tegucigalpa; a procession of hundreds of vehicles assembled to oppose electoral fraud and demand that Hernandez step down. “This is a protest against the murders, the abuses and the electoral fraud,” said former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, coordinator for the Opposition Alliance.
Civic groups and the UN have condemned the treatment of the protestors, citing CEJIL in its claims that over 190 demonstrations were repressed and 1,257 people detained. They report 38 deaths, 76 victims of torture, 393 wounded in protests, 105 displaced due to violence, 15 journalists attacked, and 73 people victims of threats because of the militarized response, and on Monday the Opposition Alliance accused the US and the Organization of American States of “becoming ‘a real present threat to the Honduran people’ for enabling the government to ‘kill’ and ‘persecute’.”
Rights advocates within Honduras have expressed dismay at the international community’s response to the country’s behaviour, calling the UN’s reaction tepid and criticizing the US decision to support Hernandez. Opposition supporters returned to the streets on Tuesday, protesting the US decision during Haley’s visit to the county. At least six people were wounded in clashes with the police. The demonstrations included the burning of tires and the carrying of coffins and crosses to represent the 38 people who died in the December and January protests. The police used tear gas to scatter the protestors.
In other news, Former First Lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo has been arrested on charges of graft, allegedly siphoning public funds for programs for the poor for her family’s personal use.
A visit by President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House has been cancelled after a “heated phone exchange with US President Donald Trump.” This is the second time a meeting between the two has been cancelled. Both cancellations resulted from comments by Trump about the border wall he hopes to construct between the countries.
The United States ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, has said she will resign from her post in May, stating further that it was a very difficult decision and “all the more difficult because of [her] profound belief in the importance of the US-Mexico relationship.”
Presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya has been accused by opposition parties of corruption and money laundering. After his own party called for an investigation into the accusations, they also demanded he be barred from the race.
The battle over gun control in the United States raged on this week. Teachers and students continue to protest across the country for tougher regulations against obtaining firearms, while proponents of gun ownership and the NRA continue to defend the easy access to ownership for Americans. There has been progress, with some states moving toward higher age limits, tougher background checks, and the introduction of a national bill to ban bump stocks. The private sector has also taken action, with US companies raising age limits and setting additional regulations on purchasers.
Jared Kushner, the President’s son in law, has had his personal security clearance downgraded this week. Until this development, he had been working with an interim security clearance while the FBI conducted a full background check. Now that this is completed, the portfolio and range of tasks taken on by Kushner is expected to shrink drastically; he will now be privileged to much less information. Serious concerns have also arisen over Kushner’s leveraging of his position. Reports this week came out detailing how Kushner’s private business received almost $200 million in loans after meeting with financial executives at the White house.
In other notable news, a top intelligence official revealed this week that the US Government has not ordered the National Security Agency to counter Russian influence in US elections. This is of serious concern in an international system where Russian meddling seems a pervasive and credible threat. Additionally, US Communications Director Hope Hicks has resigned after admitting that she has told lies in official capacities for President Trump. This resignation came the day after a nine-hour interrogation by the Special Counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Three Nobel Peace Prize laureates have demanded that Aung San Suu Kyi condemn the violence against Rohingya, or else face prosecution for genocide. Suu Kyi is “directly responsible for the crimes perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslims,” according to Ebadi, one of these three lauriates. The trio had visited Rohingya refugee camps in Southern Bangladesh as part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a mission to “witness the plight of Rohingya women in the squalid refugee camps.”
Myanmar has deployed troops to the border with Bangladesh in an “anti-terrorist operation.” Both the UN and Bangladesh have responded negatively, the UN concerned about the “military build-up” and Bangladesh summoning the Myanmar ambassador and insisting the military pull back their forces immediately.
The House of Representatives passed a new piece of legislation this week, allowing MPs to press charges against those who “undermine its honour or that of its members.” Media members and civil rights advocates worry this law will limit freedom of the press and expose journalists to litigation for simply doing their job, moreover reducing the accountability of politicians in Indonesia. This legislation was passed with little fanfare while the country was distracted by relatively controversial changes to the penal code. These changes will outlaw “extramarital and homosexual sex,” alarming the local LGBT population. Arsul Sani, a politician with the conservative Islamic United Development Party, said that these updates will bring the code “in line with the rest of the country’s “religious values’.”
The Philippines’ top diplomat urged the United Nations not to “weaponize” human rights, encouraging it to send an impartial investigator to the country: just not Agnes Callamard, the special UN rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or summary executions. The administration feels that Callamard has prejudged both the country as a whole and also its war on drugs, which is thought to have killed thousands in its first year, as she has in the past condemned the drug crackdown.
President Duterte has announced plans to step down from the presidency two years before the deadline at which his term would have otherwise expired.
Last weekend, the Philippines commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the People Power revolution that ousted dictator Marcos.
The ruling party has claimed all 58 seats in the country’s senate, which is of little surprise since the opposition party was dissolved last fall. The sweeping win illuminates the “faltering political health” of Cambodia and fortifies the power of the Cambodian People’s Party. The senate is elected not by the body politic directly, but rather by local level councilors. The senate will become a “rubber-stamp chamber” with very little of its own power, predicts Southeast Asia researcher Jonathan Sutton.
This concerns the international community; the US has announced cutbacks on aid programs and the EU is considering the withdrawal of trade preference from the country.
After intense and overwhelming pressure from innumerable foreign sources, Russia has finally agreed to a ceasefire in Ghouta, where fighting has killed more than 600 people in the past two weeks. This was intended to bring about an opportunity for humanitarian intervention, but by all accounts, it is completely inadequate. The violence has not sufficiently de-escalated and officials believe that the daily five-hour pauses in violence are not adequate time to administer much-needed aid and to allow civilians to escape the besieged area.
EDSA Commemoration Reminds the Country and President of the Strength of the People – The Philippines commemorated the anniversary of the People Power Revolution of 1986. But it was not just celebration: many activists used the weekend to raise their voices against the actions of President Duterte. They called for the end of drug-war killings, martial law, and proposed changes to the constitution.
Colombia – Colombia’s ELN rebels will hold a four-day ceasefire during the elections this month, the group announced on Monday. This is out of respect for the voters, not a concession to the “corrupted electoral process,” the group clarified. The presidential candidate of Colombia’s demobilised FARC has been taken to hospital with chest pain. – teleSur | BBC
China – President Xi Jinping has moved to abolish Presidential term limits, in a move that has shocked and concerned many in China and across the globe. The country also made a curious move to suppress information by banning the letter ‘N’ online, in an attempt to quash dissent in the wake of the term limit announcement. – The Economist
Cuba – Protests this week by Cuban nationals around the world demanded the return of Guantánamo to Cuba. A Cuban diplomat tweeted: “#Guantánamo Is Ours: According to the Cuban Constitution, the Republic of #Cuba repudiates and considers illegal and null treaties, pacts or concessions concluded in conditions of inequality that ignore or diminish its sovereignty and territorial integrity … #USOutofGuantanamo.” – Mundo Obrero
Russia – In an annual address to his nation ahead of the approaching March 18 election, President Vladimir Putin promised to stoke the economy, vowed to halve the poverty rate, and boasted of new ICBMs that were impervious to US defenses. His reelection is, in any case, practically guaranteed. – Radio Free Europe
Italy – National elections are to be held Sunday, and many are deeply concerned about the widespread misinformation that has spread over social media in the runup. Most possible election outcomes give victory to a government that is more pro-Russian than many of its other, especially Western European, contemporaries. – NYTimes
Thailand – Although currently under military rule, the country is on track to hold elections next year. This was announced by the Prime Minister, who has although moved the predicted elections from November 2018 to Spring 2019. There is presently a ban on political campaigning, which had been instated after a former army chief seized power in 2014. This is expected to be lifted by August 2018 so that political parties can form and candidates can step forward. Lifting the ban, however, and holding the elections, have been pushed back multiple times. This delay has inspired around 300 activists to protest at Thammasat University, wearing Pinocchio masks and calling the military leader a liar. – Bloomberg | Reuters