Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party during a campaign rally ahead of local elections, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 28, 2017 (AP photo by Heng Sinith).

Cambodia will hold local elections Sunday, but the political opposition has already taken a beating in a campaign that is viewed as a precursor to the country’s 2018 general elections. Twelve political parties are technically in the race, with nearly 90,000 candidates competing to represent 1,646 communes, or clusters of villages, across Cambodia. However, the election is mainly a contest between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which Prime Minister Hun Sen has led for three decades, and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s main opposition group. Instead of being an indicator of a thriving democracy, observers say […]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the annual rally on revising Japan's constitution organized by ruling party lawmakers, Tokyo, May 1, 2017 (AP photo by Shizuo Kambayashi).

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe staked his line in the sand on his controversial plans to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution by 2020. The timing of Abe’s announcement, on Japan’s Constitution Day, was no coincidence, as this year marked the 70th anniversary of the country’s charter, which was enacted during the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II. Abe’s push for constitutional change is divisive in Japan since it focuses on a clause in Article 9 that “renounces war” completely as a means to settle international disputes. Specifically, Abe wants to include a reference to Japan’s military, known […]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during an arrival honor at Manila's international airport, Philippines, May 24, 2017 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

This past week, Southeast Asia observers have been buzzing over a leaked transcript of a phone call, made in April, between U.S. President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In the call, the two men spoke of each other warmly, with Trump praising Duterte’s brutal drug war in the Philippines. Trump told Duterte he was “doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem,” and invited him to the White House. Trump also seemed to ask Duterte, hardly a specialist on Northeast Asia, for advice on how to deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his nuclear and […]

Brazilian President Michel Temer during a meeting with businessmen in the Planalto presidential palace, Brasilia, May 25, 2017 (Agencia Estado photo by Dida Sampaio via AP).

Earlier this month, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, gathered his Cabinet to the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia to mark the end of his first year in office. He toasted progress on his reform agenda, while stumping for still more austerity. Federal spending on social programs had been capped for 20 years, and the airline and oil industries opened to more foreign investment, but the real prize awaited. Congress was advancing toward the approval of the top item on Temer’s agenda, the most ambitious pension reform since Brazil’s dictatorship ended in 1985. Given the positive impact that a cut to benefits […]

Members of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division prepare to unload Abrams tanks after arriving at the Gaiziunai railway station, west of the capital, Vilnius, Lithuania, Feb. 10, 2017 (AP photo by Mindaugas Kulbis).

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are no strangers to dealing with authoritarian figures. Bordering Russia, they have invested heavily in building up their defenses against sophisticated techniques from Moscow that seek to undermine their social cohesion and security. But how do you manage relations with your closest ally across the Atlantic when its president is detached from democratic norms? During their first face-to-face encounter with U.S. President Donald Trump in Brussels today, Baltic politicians have to reconcile a hard-nosed assessment of their national interest—the fact that the United States remains the crucial guarantor of the security of […]

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih walks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during the Asia Oil and Gas Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 8, 2017 (AP photo by Daniel Chan).

Oil markets are expecting the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies to extend their supply quotas when they meet in Vienna on Thursday. The current production cuts have failed to drain bloated oil inventories due to a remarkable resurgence in U.S. shale production. Keeping production down will not be easy for the coalition of 24 oil producers, 11 of which are not in OPEC. Even if fully implemented, an extension of the deal will likely just prevent oil prices from falling, while giving more market share to U.S. shale. It seems that OPEC has lost the […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Argentine President Mauricio Macri review an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, May 17, 2017 (Pool photo by Nicolas Asfouri via AP).

Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, was in Beijing last week to attend China’s enormous One Belt, One Road summit and sign several agreements with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Nearly 30 heads of state and senior representatives of at least 20 other countries attended the summit, where Chinese officials presented their vision for building massive infrastructure projects in many parts of the globe. The agreements between Macri and Xi covered more than $30 billion of Chinese investments in Argentina on everything from energy and agriculture to transportation and mining, capped by a Chinese plan to build two nuclear power plants at […]

Dinh La Thang, who was recently dismissed from Vietnam’s Politburo, greets former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Jan. 13, 2017 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

Vietnam’s campaign against corruption notched a significant victory earlier this month with the removal of a top Politburo official for “very serious mistakes and violations” while he was chair of PetroVietnam, the state-owned oil and gas company. But analysts say that there is a more complicated story behind the rare Politburo sacking—just the fourth in Vietnam’s history and the first for corruption—that involves personal and factional maneuverings at the top levels of the ruling Communist Party. Dinh La Thang, once a rising star in Vietnam’s government, was dismissed from the 19-member Politburo, Vietnam’s top decision-making body, on May 7. Three […]

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini addresses the media after a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers, Brussels, May 18, 2017 (AP photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert).

On Thursday, at a meeting of European Union defense ministers in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that Europe’s first joint military command center could be launched in “a couple of days.” EU states already approved the creation of the new military training headquarters in Brussels, known in EU parlance as the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, or MPCC, back in March, but they have been hashing out the final details this week. Though the MPCC will initially only oversee joint EU military training operations in Africa, speculation has persisted that it could lay the groundwork for an […]

French President Emmanuel Macron waves from a military vehicle as he rides on the Champs Elysees avenue toward the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France, May 14, 2017 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

During the campaign for this month’s presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, who was elected on May 7, was labeled an “extreme centrist” for his “neither-left-nor-right” paradigm. Establishing his En Marche party in 2016, he pledged to break from the political establishment, offering a platform to simultaneously boost France’s economy and maintain its social security net while strengthening the European Union. But many were skeptical, pointing to his role as economy minister during Francois Hollande’s unpopular administration, his degrees from elite institutions and, most nefariously, his background in investment banking. So when he announced the members of his Cabinet on Wednesday, many […]

Senegalese soldiers take part in the opening ceremony of Flintlock, an annual military exercise that focuses on counterterrorism training by American and European security forces, Thies, Senegal, Feb. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Jane Hahn).

Islamist extremist groups that were once confined to slivers of territory in the most marginalized areas of West Africa are increasingly expanding their operational footprint in the region. Whether it is Boko Haram, which has rebranded itself as the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s West African affiliate, or the myriad al-Qaida offshoots that occupied northern Mali following a coup in 2012, insurgent operations are no longer confined by these groups’ countries of origin. The Islamic State’s West Africa Province, as Boko Haram now calls itself, has spread beyond its base in northeastern Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which all have […]

North Korean factory workers at the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory, Jan. 10, 2017, Pyongyang, North Korea (AP photo by Wong Maye-E).

The world is currently trying to figure out what China might be doing, saying and thinking about North Korea. Observers looks for signs in Chinese state media that Beijing might finally cut Pyongyang off financially and politically. They scrutinize shipping traffic to parse whether the flow of oil and coal between North Korea and China might be diminishing, with potentially disastrous results for Kim Jong Un’s regime. With a new president in South Korea, debates will continue about how Seoul can convince China to use its leverage on Pyongyang to get it to freeze its nuclear weapons program. There should […]

Amid a cloud of tear gas during clashes with security forces, an anti-government protester covers himself with a shield that reads "Freedom" in Spanish, Caracas, Venezuela, May 10, 2017 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

Since the beginning of April, Venezuela has witnessed sustained protests on a scale not seen since 2014, when 43 people died during anti-government unrest. The latest wave of protests, in which at least 42 people have died, was initially triggered by the Supreme Court’s attempts earlier this year to assume the powers of the opposition-dominated National Assembly. Although the move was revoked days after it was introduced, it served as a catalyst for protests over wider grievances, including shortages of basic goods, triple-figure inflation and increasingly undemocratic practices by the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV. Government attempts […]

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, center, with government officials after Friday prayers at the presidential palace, Abuja, Nigeria, May 5, 2017 (Nigeria State House photo by Sunday Aghaeze via AP).

From Jan. 19 to March 10, Nigeria’s 74-year-old president, Muhammadu Buhari, took an extended medical leave in London. After returning home, he remained weak; sometimes he missed Cabinet meetings and appeared gaunt in photographs. Then, last week, on May 7, he left again for London, framing the trip as a “follow-up” to his earlier leave. Unlike the late Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, whose prolonged incapacitation in 2009 and 2010 caused a constitutional crisis, Buhari has avoided short-term turmoil by formally designating his vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, as acting president during his absences. Whereas Yar’Adua’s inner circle clung to power and […]

Supporters of Jakarta's former governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, display a poster that reads "Free Ahok" during a rally outside the court where his sentencing hearing was held, Jakarta, May 9, 2017 (AP photo by Dita Alangkara).

Last month in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama—the Christian and ethnically Chinese governor of Jakarta popularly known as Ahok—lost his re-election bid. The election was ugly, as Ahok was simultaneously on trial for blasphemy and the target of a perceived smear campaign by hard-line Islamists. Ahok’s defeat in the runoff by Anies Baswedan, a former education minister, was followed last week by the court handing him a two-year jail sentence, which has sparked fears about the growth of religious radicalism in Indonesia. But the blasphemy conviction has also prompted questions about the re-election prospects of Indonesian […]

Sierra Leone's president, Ernest Bai Koroma, arrives for talks with Gambia's then-president, Yahya Jammeh, to urge Jammeh to respect  last year's election result, Banjul, Gambia, Dec. 13, 2016 (AP photo by Sylvain Cherkaoui).

On April 27, in his Independence Day address to the nation, Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, gave the clearest and most public assertion yet of his intention to leave office in March 2018. “My fellow citizens,” he declared, “in just a little over a year, my tenure will come to an end and I will graciously hand over power to my successor in a democratic transition.” Having served two terms as leader, Koroma is constitutionally ineligible to stand for a third. Despite his public remarks to the contrary, there remains a degree of skepticism in Sierra Leone that the […]

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi delivers a speech, Tunis, May 10, 2017 (AP photo by Hassene Dridi).

Echoing the symbolic spark of the 2011 uprising, a Tunisian vendor set himself on fire on Wednesday in the town of Tebourba outside Tunis, after police had instructed him to close his fruit stand. Riots ensued, and a crowd of young men clashed with police as the vendor was hospitalized for treatment. The incident took place at a tense moment in Tunisia’s stumbling democratic transition, which entered its seventh year in January. Protests over economic marginalization have multiplied across the south of the country, and on Tuesday, Chafik Sarsar, the head of the country’s electoral commission, resigned—refusing, he said, to […]

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