Spain opts for more of the same. Fears that elections in Spain would shepherd in a nationalist government that might curb Spanish regional autonomy and fundamentally transform Spanish politics appear to have been exaggerated. The much-maligned Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, or PSOE, actually increased its share of the vote from 23 percent in 2016 to 29 percent in Sunday’s elections, securing almost double the number of parliamentary seats of any other political party. But not all the news is good for the PSOE. Even if it forms a coalition with the left-wing Podemos party, it will still be 11 seats short of a majority, which means re-elected Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will need support from another opposition party with whom he has very little common ground. The big loser of the election is the Popular Party, whose number of seats fell by more than half, as voters flocked to alternatives like Vox and Ciudadanos. The Socialists are the most united of Spain’s disparate political factions, but even with the splintering of the opposition, the PSOE won the support of less than a third of Spanish voters. Spain’s underlying irrationalities and challenges are still very much present, even if they have been swept under the rug for now.
A Loya Jirga for the ages. On Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani officially convened a Loya Jirga, a four-day assembly in which more than 2,000 Afghan politicians, tribal leaders, clerics and other notable figures will discuss developing a unified approach to potential peace talks with the Taliban. A number of high-profile Afghan government officials opted not to attend the meeting because they were not consulted on its agenda in advance. The Taliban, which has been unwilling to negotiate directly with the Afghan government thus far, lambasted the assembly before it even started, calling its attendees “enemies of true peace” and claiming it wasn’t a “true Jirga” because it had been instigated by “foreigners.” U.S., Chinese and Russian representatives did release a statement in late April expressing support for “an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process,” so it’s not hard to see why the Taliban sees things that way. Considering recent Taliban success on the ground, it’s also not hard to see why the group continues to play hardball by refusing to deal directly with an Afghan government that will likely continue to be divided after the Jirga.
Another diplomatic spat in the Middle East. Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite Iraqi cleric who called for jihad against the United States after the second Iraq war, has made some controversial statements that have embroiled Iraq in a minor diplomatic spat with Bahrain. On Saturday, al-Sadr released a statement calling for the leaders of Yemen, Bahrain and Syria to step down immediately. Bahrain, a majority Shiite country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, was quick to summon Iraq’s deputy charge d’affaires to express its disapproval of “blatant and unacceptable [Iraqi] interference” in its affairs. Saudi Arabia weighed in on Monday by criticizing al-Sadr’s statement while insisting that Bahrain and Iraq should not let the incident affect “strong relations between the sisterly countries.” That’s likely where this incident will end, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
Protests in Hong Kong. According to police estimates, over 22,000 protesters demonstrated at Hong Kong’s Parliament on Sunday against a proposed extradition rule that would allow defendants to be sent to mainland China for trial. The number of protesters greatly outnumbered those who showed up to another march on the same issue two weeks ago. For its part, the Hong Kong government insists the new laws are a legal necessity and that no one facing political charges could be sent to mainland China under the proposed measures, but such arguments aren’t very persuasive and have activated a broad range of displeasure in Hong Kong. Hong Kong goes through bouts of this kind of anti-China dissent occasionally, most notably the Occupy protests in 2014, but the sporadic nature of this kind of unrest doesn’t diminish China’s concern with it.
Uzbekistan and China sign a military cooperation plan. As most of the world obsessed last week over the Belt and Road Forum – and all its meaningless meetings and statements – China’s defense minister traveled to Uzbekistan to sign a bilateral military cooperation plan. The deal itself is nothing much to write home about; it’s a generally pleasant agreement that deepens defense and military education and is accompanied by official Uzbek statements on China’s reliability as a “time-tested strategic partner.” But the general prospect of stronger Chinese ties with Central Asia’s most populous and politically dynamic state is a significant development, much more so than the ties forged by a similar agreement just one day later between China and Kyrgyzstan.
The Russia-Ukraine passport row. On Saturday, we noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would consider fast-tracking Russian citizenship for all Ukrainians. It’s a more serious threat than it may at first seem. Many in Eastern Ukraine identify as ethnically and culturally Russian, so offering them easy Russian citizenship could give Russia the justification it would need to expand its military presence in that part of Ukraine. The new Ukrainian president wasted no time in condemning Putin’s comments, turning the tables by offering Ukrainian citizenship to any person who fights authoritarian and corrupt regimes – and naming Russia as such a regime. The Kremlin seemed to backtrack on Putin’s comments earlier today when Putin’s spokesman said it was “too early” to discuss the suggested citizenship fast-tracking measures, but speaking on news channel Rossiya 24, Putin seemed unready to let the matter rest, insisting that common Russian and Ukrainian citizenship would be of great benefit. This issue cuts directly to the future of Russia-Ukraine relations.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that his government would combat “economic terrorism,” on Sunday; meanwhile, Turkish private banks are planning to boost interest rates on customer deposits this week.
- Sudanese military officials and political opposition leaders have reached an agreement-in-principle to form a joint civil-military council to shepherd the country through its political transition following former President Omar al-Bashir’s ouster.
- Two U.S. destroyers sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday.
- Israel released two Syrian prisoners over the weekend as a “goodwill gesture.”
- A visit by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Latvia has been indefinitely postponed. No reason was provided.
- Indonesia’s president has decided to move the country’s capital out of Jakarta.
- A U.S. official told Reuters that the U.S. would reassess information sharing with any country using Huawei equipment in 5G networks, whether that equipment is used in critical components or not. The U.K.’s National Security Council reportedly decided last week to grant Huawei restricted access to “non-core” parts of its network.
- A summit, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, is taking place in Berlin to try to restart talks between Kosovo and Serbia.