DOWN TO THE WIRE
Minor parties hold the balance in New Zealand general election
After what has been the most the competitive general election campaign in years, the polls will open for New Zealanders today. The incumbent conservative National Party, led by Bill English, has struggled to counter a resurgent Labour, headed by the youthful and energetic Jacinda Ardern.
Polling on Wednesday puts the National Party ahead by nine points, but a fourth consecutive term in government is far from certain; it will require a coalition forged with minor parties. If today’s election sees a strong youth turnout, and if Labour garners the support of traditionally more left-leaning parties, the balance may well be tipped in the reinvigorated party’s favour.
Neither side proposes dramatic changes to New Zealand’s foreign policy, but the makeup of these coalitions will determine its flavour. Expect a Labour coalition to include the left-leaning Greens, who will push for deeper engagement on climate change, development aid and human rights.
In contrast, expect the National Party to partner with the right-leaning New Zealand First. Critics of free trade agreements and advocates for curtailing immigration by 85%, any bargain struck would see New Zealand take a more protectionist line on foreign investment in the renegotiation of free trade agreements currently underway with South Korea and China.
A STELLAR CAMPAIGN
Italy’s populists select their candidate for prime minister
The Five Star Movement (M5S) will announce the results of its leadership ballot today. Luigi Di Maio, deputy speaker of parliament’s lower house, is expected to get the nod ahead of a general election due by May 2018.
Founded in 2009 by acerbic comedian Beppe Grillo, M5S follows an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform, determining its policies via online membership polls. Though the upstart party has made big gains—winning Rome and Turin’s mayoralties in 2016—its momentum has since stalled, and its corruption-fighting image has been tarnished by scandals engulfing Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi.
Members will hope Di Maio’s fresh perspective can rejuvenate their prospects. Yet, Grillo—barred from office due to a manslaughter conviction—will continue to exert his influence over the party, especially if M5S enters government.
While likely to lead his party, Di Maio is an underdog to lead his country. M5S tops most polls, but forging a coalition with establishment parties would be anathema to the populists, and the party’s forecasted result of some 28% is nowhere near a majority. However, given Italy’s history of volatile politics and a possible alliance with right-wingers, one shouldn’t rule out the 31-year old becoming the country’s youngest-ever PM just yet.
Anti-corruption rally to be held in Azerbaijan
Amid extensive corruption allegations made against Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, activists gather will in Baku today.
Azerbaijan’s government is alleged to be behind a $2.9 billion operation between 2012 and 2014, which channelled money out of the country to garner influence in Europe. Numerous Europeans have also been implicated in the allegations; the most prominent, Italian Luca Volante, rejected a report criticising Azerbaijan’s human rights record in 2013. Volante allegedly received $2.4 million through the operation.
In response to the allegations, the European Parliament last week called for an investigation into Azerbaijan’s attempts to influence European decision-makers. In its resolution, the parliament deemed corruption to be “one of the most neglected causes of human rights violations”.
Despite this, the resolution failed to detail any concrete proposals for investigating the allegations. As such, it is questionable whether any investigation will occur. Considering European officials have been implicated in the allegations, a failure to properly investigate the charges could be damaging to the credibility of European decision-making bodies.
A new round of NAFTA negotiations in Ottawa
The third round of NAFTA renegotiations will begin in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Canada, Mexico and the US all agree on the need to modernise the $1 trillion trade deal, although just how this will be done is a matter of some dispute. In particular, the Trump administration’s America First stance is conflicting with Canadian and Mexican desires to ease the movement of labour between the three countries. However, other sections of a report published by the US trade representative bear striking resemblances to provisions of the for-now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership—particularly the clauses on intellectual property protections, environment and labour standards. While negotiations on an updated NAFTA deal are expected to take at least another nine months, they could well provide insight into how a resurrected TPP (talks are currently ongoing among the 11 remaining Pacific Rime signatories) may one day function.