SHORT CUTS: Bibi and Boris in Trouble, Africa's Big Deal, Kiwihack!, and More…

SHORT CUTS: Bibi and Boris in Trouble, Africa's Big Deal, Kiwihack!, and More…

Today, we step away from the usual roundup of what we're watching and ignoring in order to cast a wider net over a busy week in international politics. Here are short cuts on several of the most important stories.

Bibi's in big trouble

Even after winning elections in April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also known as Bibi, was unable to form a government before Wednesday's deadline, a first in Israeli history. Now new elections must be held on September 17.

Opposition leader, and former Defense Minister, Benny Gantz appears set to again lead his Blue and White coalition against Netanyahu. The stakes are high for Bibi – he is facing corruption charges, and wants to be in a position to pass laws that grant him immunity from prosecution while he is in office.

One twist: this week, Gantz publicly floated the idea of a unity government between Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud party—as long as Netanyahu is not prime minister. Could that happen? Likud may well come out in front in September, but Netanyahu's unprecedented failure to form a government means that his fellow Likudniks might start to see him as expendable after the vote.


New Zealand Hack Attack Reveals a Dangerous Global Trend

In New Zealand this week, the opposition National Party leaked details of the government's budget plan two days before it was to be publicly unveiled, and the country's Treasury claims the info came from hacking government computers. The National Party denies it hacked anything, and the Treasury won't say who it believes was behind the attack.

The resulting controversy echoes questions over Donald Trump's presidential campaign, in which information about his opponent Hillary Clinton was stolen by the Russian government, but it poses a question that will surely be asked in countries around the world in coming years: As hacking makes it easier than ever to access sensitive data, what should a political party do when it's offered illegally obtained but politically valuable information by an outside actor? In some cases, an actor based in another country?

The Mueller Effect

President Trump responded to the public statement from Robert Mueller earlier this week, in which the Special Counsel made clear that his report does not exonerate the president on obstruction of his investigation but that he chooses not to add more than is already in his report. The president's response? Mueller, he said, was just "highly conflicted" by anger at Trump for not naming him FBI director and a past disagreement over an unspecified business deal.

Did Mueller's statement light the fuse of impeachment or leave all sides disappointed? Click here for our take(s) on one of the biggest stories of the week.

Boris Goes to Court

Boris Johnson may be the odds-on favorite to succeed Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister of the UK, but a judge ruled this week that he must appear in court to face charges that he lied and misled the public during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. Under British law, a public official can be charged with misconduct if he or she knowingly misleads the public on a matter of important public interest. At issue: Johnson's false claim before the Brexit vote that the UK's membership in the EU was costing British taxpayers £350m ($440 million) a week.

Britain's prosecuting authority can shut this case down if it chooses, but Johnson can't be pleased to see so much scrutiny of his credibility on the eve of his best-ever chance to become prime minister.

Africa's Kind of (a) Big Deal

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which would create a single market of more than 1.2 billion people if all African countries eventually sign up, went into effect this week. At the moment, much of Africa's trade is with countries outside the continent but the deal could boost continental commerce more than 50%, says the UN, spurring economic growth and creating jobs for Africa's soaring youth population.

Still, the deal, which would allow "free movement of business persons and investment" among member states, remains a work very much in progress. First, the countries that have already signed up have until July to decide how the agreement will actually work. Second, just 24 of Africa's 54 countries ratified the deal so far.

Greece turns the political page

An underreported story from European Parliament elections: Syriza, Greece's governing party, performed badly enough in the bloc-wide vote that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced early elections, probably in July. Economic conditions are unlikely to improve much before the original election date in October.

The main opposition New Democracy party has promised for years that its investor-friendly approach to economic policy will help Greece recover from its deep economic crisis more quickly than Syriza can. We're likely to find out if they're right: the party stands an excellent chance of winning a majority in parliament. On the other hand, a Syriza freed of responsibility from governing might become a serious obstacle to better Greek relations with the country's European creditors.

Venezuela's Road to Nowhere

Not surprisingly, talks held in Oslo between representatives of Venezuela's government and opposition have ended without much progress. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized as Venezuela's legitimate president by dozens of other governments, has called on his supporters to return to the streets to protest. The stalemate continues because the leadership of Venezuela's military, and most other parts of the government, remains loyal to President Nicolás Maduro.

For now, Venezuela's economy continues to spiral, and 3.7 million Venezuelans have fled their country, according to the UN. No matter where Maduro's men meet Guaido's, there is little reason to believe the two sides can find common ground until the military becomes convinced that it's more dangerous to keep Maduro than to put him on a plane.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

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