This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
August 7 to 12, 2017
Africans went to the polls this week, in a mixture of presidential, legislative, and constitutional elections, yet in each instance there were doubts over either its validity or its outcome. Kenyans went to the polls to vote across the branches of government, yet fears over possible violence – especially following the torture and murder of a senior election official in the lead-up – and perhaps despite the pending outcome of the election, linger. Mauritanians abolished their Senate at the ballot box, yet there were claims of rigged votes and further worries over the 53.7 per cent turnout rate. Rwandans voted overwhelmingly to grant President Paul Kagame a third seven-year term, yet supposed irregularities and the absence of a credible opposition have concerned observers. And finally, South African President Jacob Zuma survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence, yet he remains a deeply unpopular figure.
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- Kenyans went to the polls, picking a president, governors, members of parliament, and senators. Incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to fend off a unified opposition led by Raila Odinga. There are also fears of violence of the sort which left 1,400 people dead after the 2007 election, though with persistent worries over succession and corruption “even a peaceful election is unlikely to bring much relief in the long run“. Last week, a senior election official was found tortured and murdered.
- A South African tourist – part of a trio abducted in 2011 by the North African branch of al-Qaeda, in Mali – was freed, though for a ransom of S$5.65 million. The payment was negotiated through a foundation and transferred by a French undercover agent.
- With a turnout rate of 53.7 per cent, 85 per cent of voters in Mauritania voted “to abolish their Senate and alter their national flag by referendum“, in a victory for President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The opposition had instead coalesced around a boycott movement, with claims of potentially rigged votes and the view that the president is laying the groundwork for a third term in power.
- Rwandans headed to the polls, to decide whether to grant President Paul Kagame a third seven-year term. This was made possible after a 2015 referendum, in which voters agreed to amend the constitution to allow for three presidency terms of seven years – an increase from the limit of two – and then two more terms of five years each. Mr. Kagame could remain in office until 2034.
With 98.6 per cent of the vote, Mr. Kagame easily won the third term. The turnout rate was 90 per cent.
- South African President Jacob Zuma “survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence“, after the motion secured 177 of the 400 votes in parliament, short of the 201 needed. Sullied by corruption scandals, this was not the first vote of no confidence against Mr. Zuma, though this was the first time that the ballot was held in secret.
- At least nine people were killed in China, after a magnitude-6.6 earthquake.
Following the resignation of former Defence Minister Tomomi Inada and the fall in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan, Mr. Abe’s approval rating has gone up six percentage points to 42 per cent, after a cabinet reshuffle.
- Suspected insurgents in Myanmar killed “at least six members of a Buddhist ethnic minority“, contributing to rising tensions.
- New sanctions against North Korea were passed by the United Nations Security Council. China, the country’s main ally, voted yes.
Floods in Vietnam killed at least 26 people.
- French President Emmanuel Macron won the presidency, and later swept seats in the parliamentary elections. Yet just three months later, a series of unpopular domestic moves – including a dispute with the military and the subsequent resignation of the chief of the armed forces General Pierre de Villiers – has caused his popularity to decline.
- An outbreak of contaminated eggs originated in the Netherlands, and as a consequence “millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves in several European countries“. The use of an insecticide, fipronil, has been blamed.
The Middle East
President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is cutting food and fuel subsidies, as gambles to kick-start a stalled economy.
- There are plans, in Israel, “to revoke the media credentials of Al Jazeera TV journalists” and to close its Jerusalem bureau. Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the broadcaster was inciting violence in Jerusalem, and state-funded Al Jazeera itself has said that Israel was aligning with the five Arab states which have severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar.
- Off the coast of Yemen, smugglers “forced more than 120 Somali and Ethiopian migrants into rough seas“. 29 were left dead.
- Following his publication of an internal memo “that ascribed gender inequality in the technology industry to biological differences“, which later went viral, the Google engineer James Damore was fired by the company.
- A mosque in Minnesota was hit by an improvised explosive device. No one was killed or injured.
- Special counsel Robert Mueller – appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017 to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election – “has impaneled a grand jury … a step towards possible criminal indictments“. A bipartisan bill was also introduced by senators, to protect Mr. Mueller from being removed without a good cause.
- The FBI raided the home of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager.
- With the total number of homicides climbing quickly, 2017 is set to be “the deadliest yet” in Mexico, as a result of the drug war and the criminal justice system. In 2016, it was the second-deadliest country in the world.
- Rank-and-file military officers in Venezuela are taking up arms against President Nicolás Maduro, in a country torn by economic and political strife, and after a controversial election on a new “constituent assembly” last week.
- Two weeks after sanctions were announced against Mr. Maduro and his government officials, new sanctions were imposed by the United States, this time against members of the newly-installed “constituent assembly”.