ForesightNews world briefing: upcoming events 27 February – 4 March

A weekly round up of world events from Monday, 27 February to Sunday, 4 March from Foresight News

By Nicole Hunt

This week’s roundup includes no fewer than eight elections at all levels of government, beginning with a leadership ballot for Australia’s Labor Party on Monday. Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the snap ballot on Thursday after the sudden resignation of Foreign Minister (and former PM) Kevin Rudd amid allegations of infighting and leadership coups. Gillard has said she expects the support of her party, but will retreat to backbench politics if she loses the ballot.

If you feel like there’s a US Republican primary every week, you’re probably not far off. On Tuesday, Arizona and Michigan take their turns at choosing who they want to lead the party into battle against Barack Obama. So far, Mitt Romney is leading the pack with a delegate count of 91 to Newt Gingrich’s 32, Ron Paul’s nine and Rick Santorum’s four, but as the winner needs 1,144 delegate votes to win, everyone still has a long way to go.

The Pakistani Supreme Court is going through what one might call a bit of a busy period at the moment, handling two high profile, national interest cases. The first, which has seen Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani charged with contempt of court over his decision not to investigate corruption among politicians (including President Asif Ali Zardari) after passing a controversial amnesty law in 2007, is back in court on Tuesday, with Gilani’s defence lawyer’s expected to make representations.

The second case is in court on Wednesday, and addresses allegations that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, better known as the ISI, distributed $6.5 million to opponents of the Pakistan Peoples Party in what amounts to vote-rigging in the 1990 election. The much-feared ISI is also facing a separate case involving 11 men it allegedly abducted from Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail in May 2010; the spy agency is being asked to explain the mysterious deaths of four of the detainees over the past six months.

Two psychiatrists asked to assess the mental health of Anders Behring Breivik, who admitted to carrying out the deadly 22 July attacks in Oslo and Utoya, are due to begin their four-week psychiatric evaluation on Wednesday. The experts have been asked to report back on Breivik’s mental state by 10 April, just days before he is due to stand trial. A November evaluation declared Breivik insane and unfit to stand trial.

On a day that only comes once every four years, the European Central Bank offers up something unusual, too – a 36-month longer-term refinancing operation (LTRO), one of three announced in December as part of emergency measures to support bank lending and market activities.

The success (or otherwise) of the LTRO will feed into what’s sure to be the now-customary high-pitched frenzy ahead of Thursday’s European Council meeting, at which the participating member states (that is, everyone besides the UK and the Czech Republic) are planning to sign the new fiscal responsibility treaty. The Council is also carrying out a review of the European Financial Stability Facility’s €500bn lending capacity.

Villagers in Wukan, China, hold a democratic election to choose their new village committee, unusual in China even at this level of politics. The villagers, who held unprecedented protests in December last year after a man negotiating a land dispute with authorities died in custody, had a practice run in February when they voted for the committee that would oversee Thursday’s polls.

Back to Pakistan on Friday, where the country elects 54 of the 104 members of the Senate for six year terms. The remaining 50 members are safe in their seats for another three years, when the other half of the Senate is up for grabs. Four new seats, which are reserved for minorities, have been added for this round of votes, which some hope will be followed quickly by parliamentary polls.

Iranians also go to the polls on Friday, to elect the 290 members of the Majlis for four-year terms. The election is the first national poll since controversial 2009 presidential elections, which saw the emergence of the opposition Green Movement, a subsequent crackdown on dissent, and disputed results. Reformist candidates will be hoping to beat the 51 seats won in the 2008 elections, especially as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to appear before Parliament for questioning over alleged mismanagement of the economy sometime soon.

France’s Constitutional Council is due to rule by Friday on a challenge lodged by two groups of MPs and Senators against a law criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide. The law was passed by the Senate on 23 January, but on 31 January was referred to the Council for a ruling on its validity. The Council is due to rule within one month.

Prince Harry begins a Caribbean tour as part of the Royal Family’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. I think most people would envy him this business trip, which kicks off in Belize, and takes in the Bahamas and Jamaica before wrapping up in Brazil on 9 March.

On Saturday, a Cairo court is due to rule on charges against Free Egyptians Party founder and telecoms mogul Naguib Sawiris, who is accused of defamation and contempt of Islam over a picture he posted last summer depicting Mickey and Minnie Mouse in traditional Muslim garb.

The last of five local elections scheduled in India this quarter takes place in Goa three days before the results for all five are due to be announced. Elections have already taken place in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, and Uttarakhand; elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are expected later this year. The local elections are being closely watched as an early barometer of party support ahead of 2014 general elections.

The last election of the week is also the biggest, as Russia gears up to elect its next President on Sunday. While the election of former President/current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is basically a foregone conclusion, the recent spate of anti-government protests and anti-Putin rhetoric means that Putin might find his vote percentage closer to the 52 per cent he received in his first election in 2000 than the 71% he managed in 2004.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Barack Obama is scheduled to address the annual American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) policy conference. At last yea
r’s meeting, Obama famously and controversially referred to a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, borders which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later called ‘indefensible’.