Sunday, October 15

Sunday, October 15

AUSTRIA SHIFTS RIGHT Conservatives expected to form government, but will need far-right Today’s parliamentary elections will likely see 31-year-old Sebastien Kurz

AUSTRIA SHIFTS RIGHT

Conservatives expected to form government, but will need far-right

Sebastian Kurz is expected to lead Austria after Sunday’s election

Photo: Dado Dilas

Today’s parliamentary elections will likely see 31-year-old Sebastien Kurz lead his conservative People’s Party to the lion’s share of the vote; however, polls show he will need the far-right Freedom Party to form a government.

Mr Kurz triggered the snap election in May by leading his party out of a grand coalition with centre-left chancellor Christian Kern. After months of policy stalemate, both men would rather a coalition with the far-right then return to the partnership. Kurz has courted the far-right vote, taking a tough stance on immigration and pledging to cut welfare benefits.

In coalition with the Freedom Party—which has relinquished its demands for an EU exit—Kurz is likely to push Brussels to cut costs and strengthen its external borders. At home, Mr Kurz—who’s set to become the youngest world leader in modern history—wants to boost economic activity, cut red tape and reduce taxes to the tune of $14 billion a year.

Results are expected on Monday, with coalition talks beginning shortly thereafter.

CLOSE WRESTLE ON STEPPES

Second round runoff expected in Kyrgyzstan election

Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election

Photo: AFP

Central Asia’s only real democracy will vote in presidential elections today, but none of the two leading candidates is likely to clinch a majority.

The two frontrunners in the 13-candidate field are both former prime ministers. Technocrat Sooronbay Jeenbekov is a proxy of outgoing socialist president, Almazbek Atambayev. The best hope for the opposition is Omurbek Babanov, a young industrialist.

A peaceful political transition—a first for Kyrgyzstan in the post-Soviet era—will improve investor confidence in the landlocked country.

While Russia’s historic influence is palpable, the impoverished country’s future is more closely tied to neighbouring China. Since 2005, Chinese trade has quadrupled from $45 million to over $1 billion; Beijing’s $1 trillion Belt Road initiative is set to strengthen these ties.

Both candidates are pro-Russian, but Mr Babanov’s business background suggests he may be better placed to take advantage of Chinese investment. On the other hand, the status quo candidate, Sooronbay, is likely to make the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union a first priority for the country.

THE HARD ROAD

Venezuelans to vote in questionable local elections

Venezuelans vote in local elections on Sunday

Photo: iStock

Today, Venezuelans will vote for regional governors in elections across the country’s 23 states, knowing the Maduro government is unlikely to play fairly. If the opposition wins a majority in what have traditionally been pro-government strongholds, it would be a symbolic blow to the low-polling president’s legitimacy.

Fearing a repeat of the controversial July election that tightened Maduro’s grip on power, opposition parties desperately need a large turnout to win the elections. After months of government crackdowns and attempts to reduce participation by relocating polling booths, the ongoing hunger crisis may motivate citizens to vote.

Despite boycotting July’s elections, opposition leaders, including Juan Manuel Olivares, see no option other than campaigning  to prevent a total government victory. However, the Democratic Unity Roundtable’s campaign chief, Gerardo Blyde, says appointed opposition governors would not swear before the pro-Maduro National Constituent Assembly, which could provoke further government repression.

Delve deeper: Venezuela: on the path to authoritarian rule under Maduro

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

Kirkuk on edge, mega rally in Kenya, Raqqa almost liberated

Iraqi security forces have amassed south of Kirkuk as tensions with Kurds heighten

Photo: EPA-EFE

Turkey’s PM will be in Baghdad for talks with his Iraqi counterpart, which are likely to focus on Iraqi Kurdistan; both countries strongly condemned last month’s independence vote. On Thursday, Iraqi security forces began massing south of the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, where some 10,000 Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers are stationed. Baghdad insisted the moves were designed to “inspect and secure” the city of Hawija—recently retaken from ISIS—and denied any plans to attack Kurdish forces. Nonetheless, Kurdish intelligence says it is aware of plans to seize some neighbourhoods in Kirkuk, possibly under the direction of Iranian officers. The neighbourhoods are inhabited by Shi’ite populations, which have strong links to both Baghdad and Tehran. Late yesterday, Baghdad demanded Peshmerga forces pull back by 0200 local time amid reports of small-scale clashes.

A ‘mega rally’ is being planned by the opposition in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. Local elders have condemned the plans, fearing bloodshed. Tensions are high in Kenya following opposition leader Raila Odinga’s decision to withdraw from an October 26 re-run of an annulled presidential election.

Syria’s Kurdish militants say ISIS fighters will be cleared from the city of Raqqa—once the group’s declared capital. Once Raqqa is retaken, ISIS has one remaining stronghold in Syria: the eastern province of Deir al-Zor.

Emmanuel Macron will conduct a live interview on French TV—the first of his presidency. Mr Macron’s approval ratings have plunged since taking office in May; many voters feel his policies and reform efforts favour the rich.