For the first time in years, the Venezuelan opposition united to choose a single candidate to run against President Hugo Chavez in elections scheduled in October. After some initial disagreements, the opposition succeeded in destroying the lists of who had voted in order to assure confidentiality and safeguard the voters against possible reprisals.
In Ecuador, a court sentenced a columnist and three executives of the El Universo newspaper to three years of prison and $40 million dollars in damages for libeling President Rafael Correa.
Meanwhile, there was growing political turmoil in Panama, with violent clashes reportedly stemming from President Ricardo Martinelli’s growing authoritarianism. Indigenous people in the highlands of western Panama have been protesting government plans for huge new copper mines and hydroelectric dams.
In Zimbabwe, riot police brutally assaulted members of a leading advocacy group and detained one of its members as she was leaving a meeting of the committee that is supposed to be monitoring a 2008 power sharing agreement. Zimbabwe also suspended 29 NGOs in what could be the first sign of a crackdown before scheduled elections. Under the 2008 deal, the next presidential election will take place only in 2013, once a new constitution has been approved.
In a particularly fair election, a ruling party candidate in Nigeria was elected governor in the oil-producing state of Bayelsa, ending months of political uncertainty.
Meanwhile, deadly clashes and demonstrations continued in Senegal ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for the end of the month. (The photo above shows a Senegalese policeman firing tear gas at demonstrators.)
In Malawi, an outspoken critic of President Bingu wa Mutharika was arrested and placed in a maximum security prison.
A Tibetan nun died on Saturday after setting herself on fire to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. She was reportedly the sixth Tibetan to die from self-immolation in a week. The Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do, under house arrest in Vietnam, sent a message of solidarity to the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. Interestingly, one Tibetan-majority area, Gartse, is relatively calm at the moment. Unlike other areas, local authorities have allowed the monks there to protest in peace.
The chief peace negotiator in Burma (Myanmar) said he expected to reach ceasefire deals with all of the country’s ethnic minority rebel armies within three months. In another hopeful sign, the national election commission announced that it was lifting restrictions on campaigning in the upcoming parliamentary by-election shortly after a public complaint by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Rival factions in the Maldives appeared to have reached an Indian-brokered agreement to hold early elections in an effort to resolve the political crisis. In India, meanwhile there have been growing fears that the freedom of expression is under attack.
There was little surprise in the presidential election in Turkmenistan, where President Berdymukhamedov was re-elected with 97 percent of the votes.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo overwhelmingly rejected rule by Pristina in a referendum. The government in neighboring Serbia fears that the result could complicate its bid to join the EU.
In Morocco, a young student was sentenced to three years in prison for criticizing the king in a YouTube video.
Libyans celebrated the one-year anniversary of the start of their uprising, and political parties started getting organized for elections in June. Commentators did not fail, however, to point out the many difficult challenges ahead: militias roaming with impunity, a judiciary in tatters, and tensions between the eastern and western regions of the country. A human rights group found evidence of human rights abuses, including widespread torture in militia-run detention centers, and urged the interim government to rein them in. There were reports of violence between tribes in the far southeast of the country. In Niger, one of Qaddafi’s sons, Saadi Qaddafi, warned of a coming uprising in a TV interview before authorities confiscated his communications equipment.
In Egypt, there was continued uncertainty amid wrangling between SCAF and the parliament over the country’s vague transitional roadmap and the timing of the presidential elections and the drafting of a new constitution. There was a very low turnout for the second round of elections to the Shura Council, the parliament’s upper house, which has little power but will oversee the selection of a committee to write the new constitution.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution demanding that Syria end its bloody crackdown and endorsing the Arab League plan for a political transition. Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe voted against. A "Friends of Syria Group" is scheduled for Feb. 24. President Bashar al Assad announced that a referendum on a new constitution would be held on Feb. 26. Meanwhile, violent attacks continued around the country. Reports from the ground supported the view that is still little central leadership within Syria’s armed opposition.
Bahraini activists and security forces clashed on the anniversary of the first demonstrations last year. The opposition reiterated its demands for fundamental change and called for direct talks with the king.
In Yemen, security was being tightened around election committee offices in advance of next week’s election. On Tuesday a suicide bomber blew himself up near one of the offices.
In Iran, silent demonstrations were reported in Tehran and other big cities. The government deployed large security forces to suppress them.
And finally, this week’s ecommended reads:
A report analyzes the effects of poor community policing in Indonesia (International Crisis Group) and a commentary argues for the importance of supporting police reform in Egypt and Tunisia (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).
A commentator explores the impact of economic growth on the survival of new democracies (Dart-Throwing Chimp).
A management expert contends that 2011 was a turning point in the fight against corruption (Foreign Affairs).
Two journalists present five lessons to be drawn from the rise of the BRICs (The Atlantic.com).
An online symposium produces a range of views on possible action to be taken against Syria by the international community (The New Republic). And a leading website on the Middle East offers a new Syria page (Jadaliyya).
— by Chloé de Préneuf