Although in the southern hemisphere we’re still on summer holidays, the rest of the world has been busy. Here’s a rundown on some of what’s been happening so far this year.
The central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan had a revolution last October, touched off (as often happens) by a dodgy election. The result was the resignation of president Sooronbay Jeenbekov and the seizure of power by opposition figure Sadyr Japarov as acting president.
Japarov held, as promised, an early presidential election, on 10 January. But it was a one-sided affair; Japarov was declared elected with 80% of the vote against 16 opponents, none of whom reached double figures. Turnout was a miserable 39.3%.
As well as having links to organised crime, Japarov also represents the pro-Russian element in Kyrgyz politics, and was quickly congratulated on his election by Vladimir Putin. So although Putin’s influence in the region is under some strain, he can chalk this one up as a victory.
The Netherlands goes to the polls on 17 March in its regular parliamentary election (we had a bit of an advance look at it last month). But it will do so without a proper government. Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet resigned last week following a parliamentary report into a scandal concerning profiling of welfare recipients.
The government, which will remain in office on a caretaker basis, is a broad centre-to-centre-right coalition, but the scandal has also claimed the scalp of the centre-left leader, who was the responsible minister when the scheme started. So it’s hard to say just what the voters will make of it all, and whether it will dent the big lead that Rutte’s party currently enjoys in the polls.
It’s all of particular interest to Australians because of the uncanny resemblance to the Robodebt affair – another attempt to be “tough” on welfare beneficiaries that went badly wrong. But although the Morrison government in the latter case agreed to pay compensation, there has been no political responsibility taken nor any expression of remorse from those involved. That’s the difference between a functioning democracy and its Trumpist imitation.
There were no surprises in Uganda’s general election, held last Thursday (see my preview here). Incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, was officially re-elected with 58.6% of the vote. His main challenger, Bobi Wine, was credited with 34.8%; another nine candidates shared the remaining 6.5%.
Wine rejected the results, accusing Museveni of massive fraud. Even if the voting itself was fair, the election as a whole was clearly rigged in the president’s favor, in line with his recent practice. Wine says that he now fears for his safety.
(And yes, I know that the southern end of Uganda is technically in the southern hemisphere.)
Finally to Germany, where prime minister Angela Merkel at last has a new heir presumptive. Her preferred candidate, Armin Laschet, was elected at the weekend to replace her as leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU), beating his more right-wing rival Friedrich Merz at the party conference by 521 votes to 466.
Laschet, currently the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, will not automatically become prime minister even if the CDU wins this year’s election; many in the party want Markus Söder, the leader of its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, to be their standard-bearer. But his victory is important as a vote of confidence in Merkel and the moderate direction that she has given to the party, as well as sending a message to other centre-right parties facing similar questions.
It’s a big year electorally in Germany; in addition to the federal election expected in September, five states will go to the polls. The first is Baden-Württemberg, scheduled for 14 March, where the Greens and the CDU currently govern together – the same partnership that is widely expected to come to power at the federal level.