THAI DEMOCRACY DELAYED
Democracy activist’s challenge delayed elections
The National Council for Peace and Order military junta has, for the seventh time since its ascent in 2014, rescheduled general elections for a return to democracy. Nearly five years since Thailand’s last civilian government, this delay coincides with the junta’s enacting increasingly harsh measures to curb popular dissent.
Pro-democracy activists have been arrested for challenging this decision as the junta cracks down on other civil liberties, including freedom of assembly and speech criticising the regime in public or the media. Additionally, the junta has begun charging activists who organised protests in 2014 and 2017 for acts of sedition in an attempt to quell further unrest. While any protests in the coming months are not expected to rival the size of the 2010 anti-corruption protests that roiled the country, they will likely challenge the stability of one of Southeast Asia’s strongest economies.
Despite repeated assurances of elections, expect the government to continue combatting the large-scale organised domestic opposition and once again diminish hope of return to civilian government.
SRI LANKA ELECTIONS
Massive local elections amid staggering debt
Today, Sri Lankans will head to the polls to elect representatives into all 341 of its local government offices.
Nearly ten years ago, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa tripled the country’s debt by undertaking costly infrastructure projects and footing the bill through foreign loans, primarily from China. The largest initiative was the construction of the multibillion-dollar city Hambantota, since regarded as a failure due to its rural location.
Inheriting a mountain of debt, current President Maithripala Sirisena has struggled to keep the economy afloat. Last year, the island owed approximately $65 billion and was forced to hand Hambantota’s port to China on a 99-year lease.
Sri Lanka is a victim of China’s debt-trap diplomacy, which tempts developing countries with large unmanageable loans that leave them vulnerable to Chinese influence. It is unclear who will come out on top in today’s election. More so than change in actual policy, it is more likely the results will provide a representation of the country’s shifting political landscape and what is in store for the next presidential election in 2020.
PM Modi travels to Palestine to strengthen diplomatic ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make history today by becoming the first Indian premier to visit Palestine.
The subcontinent has long expressed solidarity with the territory’s cause and has invested millions in West Bank infrastructure. However, India has also pursued friendly relations with Israel, engaging in a massive arms trade worth $1 billion a year and accounting for nearly half of Israel’s weapons exports.
For this reason, many have accused India of hypocrisy for heavily supporting Israel while falsely claiming to back Palestinian statehood. Modi is also close to securing a $500 million missile deal with Israel, an agreement which would further tie India’s interests to the region’s.
Due to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last year, the US will likely no longer be regarded as a capable mediator. Instead, expect Mr Modi to present India as a neutral actor in the conflict ready to replace the US in peace talks. If successful, the country’s influence in West Asia would increase, enabling for further promotion of Indian interests in the conflict-prone region.