The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Mar. 28

The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Mar. 28

The stories that matter before they happen.

DEMOCRATICALLY CHALLENGED: VENEZUELA

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

As the world’s attention shifts to other centres of unrest, the slow-burning crisis in Venezuela has slipped off the radar. 18 members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) want to refocus minds on the country’s political and economic plight and have organised a special meeting be held on Tuesday to do just this.

The summit comes two weeks after OAS Chief Luis Almagro offered Venezuela an ultimatum: reinvigorate your democratic institutions or face suspension from the regional body under its binding Democratic Charter.

To be sure, Venezuela’s democratic governance has been substantially degraded in recent years. In the face of waning popularity amid a deepening economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro has navigated multiple political challenges to cling onto power. In doing so, Maduro has blocked a referendum on his rule, delayed regional elections and rejected the legitimacy of the opposition-dominated legislature.

Regardless of the condition of its democracy, Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS is highly unlikely. It would require support from two-thirds of the organisation’s 34 members, many of which hold Maduro and his predecessor in high esteem for their once-cheap oil. Expect Tuesday’s meeting to put Venezuela back on the map but little else.

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HOW THE MIGHTY FALL: TAIWAN’S FORMER PRESIDENT

Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

Ma Ying-jeou will learn his fate on Tuesday after being tried for leaking classified information in 2013. If convicted, the former president could spend up to three years in jail, but his Kuomintang party’s political prospects could be much worse.

The rapid decline of the Kuomintang’s popularity is directly linked to Ma’s indiscretions and political legacy. Indeed, the charges themselves stem from an accusation that the former leader deliberately leaked conversations with the party’s former legislative leader, Wang Jin-pyng – Mr Ma’s former rival.

After eight years in the top job, President Ma was voted out in January 2016 amid growing reliance on China, pro-business trade policies, and retirement fund reform that left core supporters in the military and civil service out in the cold. Mr Ma’s departure was disastrous for the Kuomintang, which lost both its legislative majority and presidency to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

A guilty verdict on Tuesday would reflect poorly both on Ma Ying-jeou and his party, harming the Kuomintang’s chances of reclaiming the leadership anytime soon.

ON THE WATCH LIST: GABON

Photo: Reuters/Emma Farge

Photo: Reuters/Emma Farge

Tensions have been high ever since elections in Gabon last August narrowly returned President Ali Bongo Ondimba to power. Opposition leader Jean Ping, the former head of the African Union, insists the vote was rigged and accuses the incumbent of suppressing pro-democracy protests.

Indeed, security forces were brought onto the street amid riots after the release of election results on August 31, reportedly storming the headquarters of opposition political parties. The ensuing unrest killed at least five people and resulted in the arrest of thousands before it calmed in early September.

But Jean Ping has been anything but calm. The opposition leader has been tenacious in his calls for international sanctions to be brought against Bongo (to no avail). Even though it has substantial economic interests and a 900-strong military presence in the country, former colonial power France has resisted calls to intervene. So have other foreign powers, which have little desire to expend political capital in Gabon – a secluded West African country of 1.5 million.

President Bongo has invited his counterpart to attend tension-easing talks on Tuesday, which Mr Ping dismissed as a “masquerade”. The unresolved grievances mean Gabon is a country to put on the West African watch list.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

The Scottish parliament will hold the delayed vote on whether to open formal negotiations with the central parliament in Westminster with the aim of holding another independence referendum. The vote is expected to pass narrowly. Our take.

Rex Tillerson will meet with the foreign ministers of the three NATO Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – in Washington. Home to sizeable Russian minorities, these countries are on the front line of any future Russian assertiveness in the region and will be looking for reassurances from the Trump administration.