Top of the Agenda: South Korea Chooses Next President
South Koreans cast their votes Wednesday in a tight presidential race that has seen the country's highest turnout rates—75.8 percent—in a decade (Yonhap). The race has been in a dead heat between Park Geun-hye of the ruling conservative Saenuri Party and progressive candidate Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party, in a bid to replace the unpopular Lee Myung-bak, who is stepping down after his five-year term. The new leader will face an immediate challenge from a hostile North Korea and a sputtering economy whose annual growth rate has fallen to around 2 percent from an average of 5.5 percent in the past 50 years.
"A Park administration would try to strengthen relations with China while also maintaining a strong relationship with the United States, while a Moon administration will be more inclined to loosen the relationship with the United States to pursue a more harmonious relationship with Beijing. In both cases, the elusive strategic goal of an improved Sino-South Korean relationship is to win Beijing's acquiescence to inter-Korean reconciliation and eventual reunification," writes Scott Snyder for CFR.org.
"The entrance and withdrawal of Ahn Cheol-soo, who initially ran as an independent presidential candidate but pulled out of the race last month, has made voters uncertain about the election. Voters only saw three presidential debates, two of which were heavily swayed by a third party contender, Lee Jung-hee, who dropped her bid to obviously support Moon," writes a Yonhap editorial.
"A Moon election could lead to friction with Washington if new engagement with Pyongyang comes without any of the reciprocal nuclear disarmament progress that Washington demands from the North," write Hyung-Jin Kim and Sam Kim for the Associated Press.
China Replaces Guangdong Leader
China's leadership named Hu Chunhua, a top protégé of President Hu Jintao and the second-youngest member of the new Politburo, as head of the southern province of Guangdong (SCMP), a post long seen a stepping stone for future leaders. Hu replaces Wang Yang, who was promoted.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
More Killed During Polio Drive in Pakistan
The World Health Organization halted a polio drive (Dawn) in Pakistan after two more health workers were killed on Wednesday. The deaths follow the murder of five health workers involved in a vaccination drive in Karachi and Peshawar on Tuesday.
INDIA: Police in the Indian capital of Delhi used water cannons to disperse demonstrators (TimesofIndia) protesting Sunday night's gang rape of a twenty-three-year-old student on a bus.
Benghazi Report Faults State Department
An independent panel found systematic failures (AP) at the State Department and gross security lapses in the deadly September 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. The panel will explain its findings to Congress on Wednesday.
IRAQ: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the country's first Kurdish president, is in stable condition (al-Jazeera) after having suffered a stroke Wednesday morning.
Chad Deploys Troops to CAR
Chad sent troops to the Central African Republic to fight rebels (BBC) who have seized Bria, a key diamond-rich mining town, after CAR President Francois Bozize reportedly asked the neighboring country for aid. The rebels accuse Bozize of failing to comply with the terms of a 2007 peace treaty.
CAMEROON: A Cameroonian appeals court upheld a criminal conviction for homosexuality (HRW), handing a three-year prison sentence to a university student charged with homosexuality.
Greek public sector workers held a twenty-four-hour strike (Reuters) Wednesday to protest austerity measures and layoffs demanded by foreign lenders—the latest in a series of strikes since September against a package of wage cuts and tax hikes demanded by the European Union and IMF lenders for bailout loans.
IRELAND: The International Monetary Fund said Ireland should delay imposing further austerity measures (FT) even if it misses its growth targets next year, amid "significant risks" to the country's economic recovery.
CFR's Robert Kahn discusses the reality of a eurozone banking union in this interview.
Rousseff to Visit Mexico
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff plans to visit Mexico in early 2013 in an attempt to repair deteriorated relations (MercoPress) between the two countries stemming from an earlier spat in which Brazil imposed import quotas on Mexican manufactured vehicles in an attempt to contain the bilateral trade deficit.
CFR's Julia Sweig discusses Mexico's new narrative in this op-ed.
VENEZUELA: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has a respiratory infection (AP) after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, although his government said he was in stable condition.
This CFR interview delves into Venezuela's challenges after the vote that brought Chavez back to power.
Boehner Proposes Fiscal Cliff 'Plan B'
House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a "Plan B" (CBS) Tuesday in case a comprehensive deal on the fiscal cliff is not reached by the end of the year. The plan would prevent tax rates from rising (NYT) on households making less than $1 million annually but would not prevent the budget cuts that are scheduled to occur. A deal on the pending fiscal deadlines is seen as crucial to averting a possible recession, with global repercussions.