World update: October 27-28 2018



Sunday’s Georgian presidential election looks likely to prove indecisive, which means that the top two finishers, Salome Zurabishvili and Grigol Vashadze, will meet in a runoff sometime next month. Zurabishvili is supported by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the wealthiest man in Georgia and the man generally believed to be running the country behind the scenes. She’s an interesting candidate in that she was born in France and has been criticized for her difficulties in speaking Georgian, which is the kind of thing that might be a problem in a head to head runoff. Georgia’s presidency is a largely ceremonial office but the election does nevertheless have symbolic importance.


A suicide bomber killed at least five people on Saturday in Wardak province. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Voters in Kandahar held their portion of the Afghan parliamentary election on Saturday, which had been delayed for a week due to security concerns. There were no major violent incidents reported.


Maoist Naxalite rebels in India’s Chhattisgarh state killed at least four Indian paramilitaries on Saturday with a land mine.


A bodyguard for former oil minister Arjuna Ranatunga shot and killed at least one protester in Colombo on Sunday, the first casualty in the political crisis caused when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday and replaced him with former president/strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. With Wickremesinghe refusing to leave office, Sirisena suspended parliament on Saturday, in order to give Rajapaska time to cobble together a majority, and thereby lifted the controversy into a full blown meltdown. Ranatunga was attempting to enter his office on Saturday, in defiance of Sirisena’s order, when he was confronted by a group loyal to the president.

On Sunday, Sirisena revealed that he sacked Wickremesinghe because a member of the cabinet–he didn’t say which one–had been implicated in a plot to assassinate him. A police informant later told reporters that Wickremesinghe himself was involved in the plot. Police in Sri Lanka have apparently been investigating rumors of a plot against Sirisena for weeks, but it’s still debatable whether Sirisena really has the power to can a PM who still has majority support in parliament absent harder evidence. Wickremesinghe’s supporters have been rallying outside his residence.

Al Jazeera reports that Rajapaksa’s return to Sri Lankan politics is raising major red flags with the country’s Tamil minority:

Mahinda Rajapaksa was feared by political opponents, his critics and the Tamil-speaking people on the island during his ten-year reign between 2005-2015. Under his rule, activists, journalists and politicians with opposing views were harassed, intimidated, abducted and even murdered. Now that he is back, activists fear they will once again become open targets for their country’s government.

Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya, is also expected to return to the political frontline as result of Friday’s shakeup. Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as Defence Secretary during his brother’s tenure as president and oversaw the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils in 2009, at the final phases of the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed movement fighting for Tamil self-determination. Tamil activists are fearful that if he returns to a position of authority, he can once again encourage violent repression of dissident voices.

The Rajapaksa brothers have been plotting for a political comeback since their downfall in 2015. Tamil activists, who say they always knew Rajapaksas would one day return, are now revisiting their safety protocols, switching to secure messaging apps and sharing emergency contact details.



Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika‘s corpse is going to run for reelection next year, according to National Liberation Front party leader Djamel Ould Abbes. Apparently “his candidacy his has been demanded by all the FLN cadres and activists across the country,” and really who knew he was this popular? I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you right now that he will win, because a) battered Algerian voters will likely vote for stability over the risk of change, and b) the Algerian government will make sure he does.


Attackers killed two United Nations peacekeepers on Saturday when they struck a UN camp in the town of Ber, just east of Timbuktu. Al-Qaeda linked groups are very active in northern Mali so it was likely one of them, though no group has claimed responsibility.



The Russian government says it is preparing answers to a list of questions submitted by the United States regarding its compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The Trump administration has already announced its intention to withdraw from the INF treaty, mostly because John Bolton just want to watch the world burn, but hasn’t formally done so yet. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in Prague on Sunday that the administration is in talks with its European allies over the INF treaty, with Mattis having asked for suggestions as to how to bring Russia into compliance with it, but so far that hasn’t amounted to anything. Russia’s noncompliance is the public reason why the administration is quitting the accord, but the fact that it never applied to China to begin with is a bigger concern and that whole John Bolton/world burning thing is pretty important as well.


Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, both suffered big setbacks in the Hesse state election on Sunday:

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) came home first in the election in the western state of Hesse, but polled just 27.2 percent of the vote, projections for broadcaster ZDF based on preliminary results showed.

That marked a huge drop from the 38.3 percent the CDU won at the last Hesse election, in 2013.

The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) fared even worse, winning just 19.6 percent of the vote, down from 30.7 percent and its worst result in the western state since 1946. The party was on a par with the Greens, also on 19.6 percent.

CDU’s state coalition government with the Greens will likely survive, albeit with a thinner majority. Alternative for Germany did well enough to win seats in the state legislature, giving the fascists a presence in every state legislature for the first time. The SPD, which is rapidly taking pretty much everywhere these days, may be pulling the plug on its grand national coalition with Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance. SPD leader Andrea Nahles plans to gauge how many of the SPD’s policy wishes have been met when the parties meet next year to assess their coalition at its mid-term point.


Irish voters re-elected President Michael D. Higgins on Saturday with 56 percent of the vote. The post is largely ceremonial but there is some concern over a late surge in support for far right candidate Peter Casey, who wound up coming in second with 23 percent of the vote after running a racially-charged campaign. In a referendum, voters also opted to remove the offense of “blasphemy” from the Irish constitution.



As expected, overtly fascist frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday’s runoff election relatively easily, taking in just shy of 56 percent of the vote in a runoff against Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. The vote was marked by a stunningly high number of blank or fouled ballots:

Voting is mandatory in Brazil so those blank ballots are the Brazilian version of principled non-voters. And that’s really a staggering number, reflecting the fact that this was not a particularly well-loved pair of candidates.

Regardless, the fascist won and things already look like they’re heading in a bad direction:


A new group of around 300 Salvadoran migrants has reportedly formed and begun moving north on the long journey toward the US-Mexico border. “Dozens” of them reportedly crossed into Guatemala on Sunday afternoon.


Speaking of things that are heading in a bad direction, Mattis told reporters in Prague that he’s already started moving military equipment to the Mexican border in preparation for deploying active duty soldiers there to meet the large migrant caravan currently working its way through southern Mexico. There is an extremely thin line between deploying these soldiers to the border and Trump giving them an order to fire on the migrants if/when they get there, is all I’m saying.


Finally, I would like to say how sad and enraged I am over Saturday’s disgusting domestic terrorist attack in which 11 people lost their lives at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Although my focus here is on US foreign affairs, the forces of xenophobia, antisemitism, and depraved ultranationalism that radicalized the man who perpetrated that attack are global and they are surging right now. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and went to college mere blocks away from Tree of Life, so this attack hits a little harder personally for me than, say, this past week’s spate of attempted mail bombings–though those were motivated by many of the same forces that motivated the synagogue shooter. My thoughts are with the families of the victims and with everybody, everywhere, who is being victimized by hatred. I believe we can overcome this. I believe we will overcome it.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help victims as well as repairing damages to the synagogue itself. If you have a little something to offer, please give what you can.


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