Daily Memo: Australian Election Results, Armenian Judicial Reform, Chinese Preparedness

All the news worth knowing today.


An electoral upset in Australia. Incumbent Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition defied expectations to win elections on Saturday. Exit polls had indicated a win for the Labor Party, but it appears now that not only did the Coalition achieve an unexpected victory but perhaps also a Parliamentary majority. The final tally isn’t in yet, but according to the Australian Election Commission, the Coalition is in the lead to win 78 seats, while the Australian Broadcasting Corporation says it’s 77 – both of which would be enough for a majority. It is a stunning reversal, but then, so was Brexit and the elections of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Besides further underscoring the crisis in political polling, Morrison’s victory means there will be no change in Australia’s posture toward China, which the opposition party had at least hinted it wanted to soften. The opposition’s calls for aggressive government measures to combat climate change and intervene in the economy were ultimately unconvincing to the Australian electorate.

Phase two of the Armenian revolution. Around this time last year, mass protests in Armenia drove former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan from office and subsequent elections brought protest ringleader and current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power. Now, Pashinyan is calling for the “second and most important phase of the Armenian revolution.” On Sunday, he called on protesters to block all entrances to Armenian courts to express support for what he described on Monday as a “surgical intervention” to cure the corruption that plagues the country’s judicial system. According to Pashinyan, Armenian judges should be vetted to determine their fitness for duty – which requires constitutional amendments. Armenia’s 2018 revolution did not appreciably change power dynamics in the region, but past performance does not always predict future results, and the “international partners” whose support Pashinyan wants to help reform Armenia’s judiciary system will be wary.

Just how prepared is China? Google is suspending all business with Chinese tech firm Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services, Reuters reported on Sunday. A Google spokeswoman said in a statement that Google was responding to the U.S. Commerce Department’s addition of Huawei and over 70 affiliates to its Entity List, which effectively means the company will be treated as a national security threat. Chinese media has tried to downplay any negative effects the move might have, claiming that Huawei was prepared for the news. (Other companies like Qualcomm and Intel have also said they will not supply Huawei.) With the U.S. and China still at loggerheads in trade negotiations, it appears we’re going to find out just how prepared China really is.

Ukraine’s funny new president. Ukrainian comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelenskiy made his inaugural address on Monday. The speech is worth reading in full; Zelenskiy’s call for unity in the face of an ongoing Russian violation of Ukrainian sovereignty was rather eloquently done. But the speech was not just full of inspirational lines about solidarity; it also called for the dismissal of Ukraine’s defense minister, prosecutor general and Security Services chief, and announced the dissolution of parliament and snap parliamentary elections. Zelenskiy must overcome a number of obstacles before he can realize his optimistic vision for Ukraine, but if his words are any indication, he at least means to try.

Another Syrian cease-fire. Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced a unilateral cease-fire by Syrian forces in northwestern Idlib province. The recent Assad offensive, aimed at eliminating the last major rebel stronghold, was drawing international attention because of the humanitarian toll it was taking and was irking Turkey, which thought a deal was already in place for Turkey to disarm and remove jihadist fighters in Idlib. But Ankara has nonetheless refrained from taking a hard line with Russia publicly. In fact, on Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was going ahead with its purchase of Russia-made S-400 missiles – despite U.S. warnings against the deal – and that Turkey and Russia would begin joint production of S-500 missiles next. In the meantime, the Syrian government and Russia appear to be taking a break from an offensive that likely won’t end until Bashar Assad is firmly in control of Idlib.

Honorable Mentions

  • At least 29 inmates and three guards were killed in a high-security Tajikistan prison for religious extremists after a riot by Islamic State militants.
  • Iran’s central bank has ordered petrochemical exporters to repatriate foreign currency earnings in Iran or face financial penalties.
  • Radio Free Asia reported that despite a North Korean crackdown on Falun Gong believers, the religion is spreading quickly in Pyongyang.
  • Poland’s gross domestic product grew 4.6 percent year-over-year in the first quarter, exceeding projections of 4.4 percent growth.
  • India’s elections ended Sunday, and exit polls looked promising for incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, but exit polls are often unreliable in India; official results will be out on May 23 and we’ll address them then.
  • The former head of China’s Securities Regulatory Commission turned himself in to the National Supervisory Commission for violating party discipline rules.
  • Turkish and Greek defense officials are meeting May 20-25 to discuss issues in the Aegean Sea.