Tuesday, February 14

Tuesday, February 14

As the leader of Romania’s ruling party faces court, his prime minister faces mounting pressure to resign.

IN A MUDDLE: CAN ROMANIA’S RULING PARTY HANG ON?

 

The leader of Romania’s ruling left-wing party ­– who’s also rumoured to be the country’s de facto prime minister – will face court again on Tuesday. Liviu Dragnea, the centre of the political crisis that has rocked Romania, stands accused of corruption – not an isolated accusation.

Mr Dragnea was convicted of vote rigging in April last year and handed a two-year suspended sentence. This conviction barred him from becoming prime minister after the Social Democrat’s were elected in December; instead, he chose Sorin Grindeanu for the top job. Last month, it appears Grindeanu returned the favour, issuing a decree that decriminalised certain corruption charges, including the one his party boss was convicted of. The move would have cleared the path for Mr Dragnea to assume the prime ministership, if not for the intervention of hundreds of thousands of Romanians.

Despite freezing temperatures mass demonstrations have been incessant over the past two weeks, forcing the leftist government to repeal the controversial decree. But protestors remain unsatisfied – now they want the government gone too.

For his part, PM Grindeanu has refused to stand down. Some of his cadres haven’t been as steadfast – Grindeanu’s trade chief and justice minister have both resigned in the past two weeks. Whether the two-month-old government will survive this harsh political winter remains to be seen.

RACE FOR HONG KONG CHIEF BEGINS

 

Nominations for Hong Kong’s chief executive – the territory’s top political post – open on Tuesday. Candidates need to win the support of 150 of the 1,194 Election Committee members to be in the running, and 601 votes in the Mar. 26 election to clinch the top spot.

Polls conducted last week put former Finance Secretary John Tsang firmly at the top of the pack. His closest competitor, Carrie Lam, trails by almost 15 points.

Lam, Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official, has been touted as Beijing’s choice. Pro-Beijing newspapers and the Friends of Hong Kong Association, a body composed of current and former deputies to the mainland’s key decision-making bodies, have openly declared their support for Ms Lam.

But with widespread suspicion of Beijing’s intentions, such open support from the mainland may drive the final nail into Ms Lam’s political coffin. If she does win, many Hong Kongers are likely to see the victory as engineered by Beijing, possibly causing further turmoil in the territory.

TESTING THE WATERS: SLOVAKIA’S OPPOSITION

 

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is expected to face a confidence vote on Tuesday. Opposition lawmakers say the centre-left leader mismanaged a recent hike in energy prices which saw electricity costs more than double for many Slovakians.

The no-confidence vote is deeply political. Mr Fico has put affordable energy at the very centre of his political platform; the opposition has seized on last month’s rate hike to demonstrate his weak leadership. The prime minister has defended against these claims by pointing to his dismissal of the country’s energy regulator (although critics decry this as unwanted political interference in an independent body).

Tuesday’s leadership challenge is nothing new. Opposition lawmakers held similar votes on Mr Fico’s prime ministership last September and another back in 2014. The ruling Smer Party – which holds more than twice the number of seats of the largest opposition party – easily saw off those challenges and is likely to do so again on Tuesday.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits his staunch ally, the Emir of Qatar, on the final stop in his tour of the Gulf. Turkey and Qatar see eye-to-eye on most regional issues, and both have backed Islamist groups in Egypt and Libya (much to the dismay of the Saudis and Emiratis).

Thailand’s military government will chair reconciliation talks between the country’s deeply divided political class. The junta had said it would hold democratic elections this year but has postponed them until 2018. The military overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014 after months of political turmoil between the ruling “red-shirts”, backed by the country’s rural majority, and the traditionalist “yellow-shirts”.

Work on the 1,700 km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will begin in Pakistan. Construction on the Turkmenistan section of the pipeline began in late 2015. The $10 billion project is slated to be complete by 2019, although security concerns in Pakistan and Afghanistan could blow this timeline out.

NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg will meet Lithuania’s leader ahead of Wednesdays NATO summit. Lithuania and its two Baltic neighbours to the north host thousands of NATO troops.