On Sunday, the Central African Republic holds a referendum on its new constitution, which (surprise!) removes presidential term limits. With violence all but assured, the vote will be protected by the army ... and a bunch of foreign mercenaries from a group that's become a household name.
Fresh off its failed mutiny in Russia, the notorious Wagner Group will act as President Faustin-Archange Touaderá's praetorian guard to ensure the plebiscite goes off without a hitch in CAR, a resource-rich yet dirt-poor and chronically unstable nation. Wagner fighters have been deployed in CAR since 2018, and they helped Touaderá get reelected two years ago by scaring off rebels (he showed his gratitude by building a statue honoring "Russian" soldiers in Bangui, the capital).
Still, with its boss Yevgeny Prigozhin now out of favor with Vladimir Putin, Wagner's future in CAR is uncertain. Although the president needs the mercs to keep the rebels in check and Bangui safe, the Kremlin — which has de facto wrested control of Wagner away from Prigozhin — might decide to send its forces to Ukraine or wherever else Moscow needs boots on the ground.Either way, whatever happens in CAR will be closely monitored in Burkina Faso and Mali, two African countries run by military juntas where Wagner has contracts — and Putin has interests.
Qin gone! But where? And more importantly, why?
Days after China abruptly canned its foreign minister, replacing him with the previous dude, Qin Gang is still missing. We don't know whether he's been locked up in a secret prison, just been told to lay low for a while, or is simply working on his tan on a Hainan beach.
The brief statement announcing Qin’s removal has done anything but end speculation over what caused his fall from Xi Jinping's grace. Chinese netizens are obsessing about the sparks flying in an interview with Fu Xiaotian (recently pulled from YouTube), a US-based TV correspondent with whom Qin was reportedly having a fling. If you go further down the conspiracy gossip rabbit hole, the journalist might have been a former spook — perhaps even a double agent to fund her lavish lifestyle — or First Lady Peng Liyuan ordered the purge because she's close to Qin's wife.
Regardless, the ruling Communist Party hates when its internal affairs get so much public attention. (Remember when Xi cracked down on the CCP rumor mill ahead of the 20th Party Congress.) On cue, the Foreign Ministry has scrubbed Qin from its website and pushed back against all "malicious hype."
We probably will never know what actually happened with Qin Gang, but please let China watchers have some fun with the most exciting CCP drama since the Bo Xilai scandals almost a decade ago.
It's been a big week for US immigration politics.
First, the Department of Justice late Monday followed through on its threat to sue Texas if Gov. Greg Abbot refused to remove a controversial floating barrier along the Rio Grande. Then, on Tuesday, a federal judge in California struck down the Biden administration's new rules for asylum-seekers (yet also issued a stay and gave the government 14 days to appeal, so the policy remains in place until then).
If you're a Republican — particularly an immigration hawk — you probably think that President Joe Biden is weaponizing the DOJ to stop Texas from keeping undocumented migrants out and that a liberal California judge wants to toss a policy that has helped curb illegal border crossings. But if you're a Democrat, Abbott's wrecking ball-sized buoys are an inhumane gimmick that violates federal laws. And if you're a progressive Dem, Biden making it so hard for people to seek asylum in America is illegal and not the only reason arrivals have plummeted.The battle lines are drawn ahead of the 2024 election. Although arrivals dropped with the demise of Title 42, expect this to be a major campaign issue since Americans still give the president a very low 32% approval rating on immigration. With Congress gridlocked and the Republican-led House targeting Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden hopes to escape a border crisis with his signature sticks-and-carrots approach to immigration: deter migrants from entering illegally but offer them a legal pathway for asylum.
Early on Thursday, rebel soldiers announced that they had taken over in a coup in Niger. President Mohamed Bazoum was reportedly detained by members of the presidential guard, but it's not clear whether the rest of the military is on board, so the situation in the Sahel country remains too messy to know for sure who is really in charge. (Bazoum already survived a botched coup after winning reelection in March 2021.)
Successful or not, this is the first — known — coup of the year (notwithstanding Yevgeny Prigozhin's failed mutiny/freak show in Russia). And rather interestingly, it took place in Niger, the West African country we assessed was most at risk of the next power grab in early 2022.
Despite a recent brief resurgence on the continent, coup attempts around the globe have become both less common and less successful. That's partly because the end of the Cold War diminished the superpowers' interest in backing military takeovers against governments they didn't like. Here's a look at the historical record.
In Singapore, domestic politics are famously boring. The tiny yet ultra-prosperous nation, which has been ruled by the People’s Action Party since independence in 1965, is not just a physical island but also an island of political stability surrounded by volatile neighbors.
PAP officials are themselves notorious for being competent, honest … and such wholesome squares that, well, no one really talks about them. Not anymore.
Singapore has been rocked this month by three political scandals that have shown that not all its politicians are as squeaky clean as their reputation.
On Tuesday, the government of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong invoked a draconian fake news law to mandate that Lee's estranged brother "correct" a Facebook post in which he claimed that the state had paid for renovations in two high-end bungalows rented by senior cabinet officials. Lee Hsien Yang insists that what he wrote is true and has yet to comply with the order.
But wait, there's more! Last week, two PAP officials — the speaker of parliament and an MP — stepped down for having an "inappropriate relationship" in defiance of PM Lee's orders to end the romance. And in early July, a senior minister was arrested along with a prominent tycoon in Singapore's most serious corruption probe in decades.
Okay, the corruption stuff is a big deal — especially in the fifth least corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. But the Lee family feud and the parliamentary fling would barely have raised eyebrows anywhere else. So, why all the fuss?
Singapore has long pitched an image of a clean, graft-free government to lure foreign investors. It has paid off: The city-state of only 5.5 million people is now considered Asia's top financial hub, especially after China's crackdown in Hong Kong.
The PAP has always justified its benevolent dictatorship by holding its members to extremely high standards. But that moral high ground is now being tested ahead of a much-awaited power transition away from the Lee dynasty. (Singapore was founded by Lee Kuan Yew, father of the current PM, and regarded as one of Asia's most influential statesmen until his death in 2015.)
The junior Lee's handpicked successor is his deputy Lawrence Wong, the PAP's idea of a “personable” leader: He grew up in public housing, didn’t attend elite private schools, plays guitar, shows (some) emotion on Instagram, and is divorced without kids in a socially conservative nation. Otherwise, he's another PAP goody two-shoes.
The PM isn't required to call an election and doesn’t plan to hand over power to Wong until 2025. Although that'll be the first time no member of the Lee family will be running for office, the ruling party probably won't get voted out of power because the opposition is weak and bankrupt — thanks in part to public defamation lawsuits that government lawyers always win.Still, the recent scandals have demonstrated that the PAP is not infallible and that its members are capable of sin. With the genie now out of the bottle, don't be surprised if more Singaporeans eventually feel the urge to do something unthinkable: vote for someone else.
A full month after he vanished from public view, China confirmed the exit of Qin Gang as foreign minister. Qin will be replaced by Wang Yi, who had the job for almost a decade before Qin and is currently the country's most senior diplomat. (Wang also runs foreign policy for the ruling Communist Party, which puts him higher in the CCP pecking order than Qin).
Qin was a rising star who was fast-tracked to the post by Xi Jinping despite a bitter rivalry with Wang. But then he abruptly disappeared, initially for health reasons, as rumors swirled that he was cheating on his wife with a journalist. The Chinese government did not give any reason for his departure.
While the shakeup probably won't have much of an impact on China's foreign policy, which like everything is stage-managed by Xi himself, it might have two spillover effects.
First, with Wang again in charge, Chinese diplomats could feel emboldened to return to aggressive "wolf warrior" rhetoric — right when Beijing is trying to restore dialogue with the US and cool things down with Europe. That said, Wang, 69, will likely only take over the job for one or two years until a suitable replacement is found.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Qin's departure is (potentially) bad news for his mentor. While state media will quietly sweep the scandal under the rug, the messiness of it all does show that political infighting is still bubbling under the surface even under Xi's tight control of the party. And it highlights one of the main dangers of "Maximum Xi," Eurasia Group's No. 2 top geopolitical risk for 2023: "With few checks and balances left to constrain him and no dissenting voices to challenge his views, Xi's ability to make big mistakes is also unrivaled."
On the one hand, Qin's exit — although probably driven by personal reasons over policy — sure looks like an unforced error by China's leader. On the other, as we've seen with ending zero COVID, Xi also has an uncanny ability to move past screwups very quickly and then act like they never happened.
Spain's snap election on Sunday yielded another hung parliament, which means no party or coalition has a majority of seats to form a government. So, what might happen next?
Here are four scenarios, ordered from most to least likely.
#1 — Election redo. In the coming days, King Felipe VI will ask the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament to try to form a government. That would be Alberto Núñez Feijóo from the center-right People's Party, which came in first with 132 out of 350 MPs.
Unfortunately for Feijóo, the PP and the far-right Vox Party together failed to win an outright majority. The same goes for PM Pedro Sánchez from the left-wing PSOE party, who also doesn't have enough votes along with the far-left Sumar (Add) coalition backed by two Catalan and Basque progressive separatist forces.
If no candidate gets an absolute majority in the first round, the second round only requires a simple majority (more yes than no votes). And if no government is formed two months after the first vote, Spain's constitution mandates going to the polls again, as the country has done twice following similar parliamentary messes in 2015-2016 and 2019.
#2 — Left-wing coalition government. The current left-wing coalition government (PSOE + Podemos, or We Can, now rebranded as Sumar) could stay in power if Junts (Together), a right-of-center Catalan secessionist party, votes for Sánchez in the first round or abstains in the second round. But negotiating with Junts top honcho Carles Puigdemont might prove toxic for the PM.
In case his name doesn’t ring a bell, the shaggy-haired former Catalan president is a fugitive of Spanish justice since Oct. 2017, when he fled to Belgium after unilaterally declaring independence following a sham referendum. You can bet that in exchange for his seven votes, Puigdemont will demand that Sánchez allow the restive region to hold a (legal) plebiscite — a political death sentence for any Spanish prime minister.
Still, the self-proclaimed martyr for Catalan independence might settle for a return home if all charges against him are dropped. This would have been unthinkable for anyone but Sánchez, who already pardoned the Catalan politicians who tried to secede with Puigdemont, and watered down the crime itself.
#3 — Center-right minority government. This one is a bit of a stretch, but the numbers do add up. Feijóo could try to cobble together a razor-thin majority of votes by wooing the moderate Basque Nationalist Party, or PNV, a traditional post-election kingmaker for both the PP and the PSOE.
To do so, though, the PNV will probably ask for the PP to govern alone. In other words, without Vox, a hard-right party that wants to strip not just the Basque Country but all Spanish regions of their autonomy and recentralize power in the national government. It'll also be a tough pill to swallow for Vox, whose voters might prefer to take their chances in an election redo over backing Feijóo pretty much for free.
#4 — Grand coalition. Imagine the PP and the PSOE taking one for Team Spain by setting aside their many differences to form a coalition government that would represent almost two-thirds of Spaniards who voted for either party. It's been done many times in Israel and most recently in Germany.
But alas, not in Spain, where Feijóo and Sánchez would rather keep voting over and over again than work together. As the popular Spanish saying goes, Es lo que hay (It is what is).
Two months ago, when Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez responded to a crushing regional election defeat by calling a snap national election, we gave him slim odds of keeping his job. But we did point out that Sánchez had the survival skills of a political cockroach.
His gamble paid off.
On Sunday night, Sánchez did it again: When the right seemed on the cusp of returning to power after five years, the ruling left-wing PSOE party outperformed its best expectations by improving its 2019 result and coming in a close second to the right-wing People's Party. Meanwhile, the far-right Vox Party lost 19 seats, and the conservative bloc fell just short of the outright majority most polls had predicted.
But the PSOE — along with the Sumar (Add) coalition of far-left forces — also didn’t win enough seats to repeat the so-called "Frankenstein" left-wing coalition government backed by some Catalan and Basque pro-independence parties that the PP and Vox had vowed to replace.
So, what happens next? Good question.
For the PM to get the votes he needs to stay in power, he'd have to negotiate with Junts (Together), a hardcore Catalan secessionist party that will demand an independence referendum in exchange. PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo could also try to win support from the moderate Basque Nationalist Party, which has backed them in the past but would require Vox be out of the government. Don’t count on either happening.If the hung parliament fails to deliver a government two months after the first vote, Spaniards will have to do it all over again — for the third time since 2015.