Top of the Agenda: Pakistan's Khan Edges Ahead in Polls
Pakistani politician and former cricket star Imran Khan enjoyed a surge of support (Reuters) on Friday after official campaigning for the Saturday vote ended and candidates held final rallies. However, Khan's popularity and the failure of the major parties to capture a commanding lead raises the prospect of a fragmented parliament that could lead to weeks of political bargaining to form a coalition government. The landmark election will mark the country's first successful transition between civilian governments in its sixty-six-year history. Violence has marred the run-up to the election, claiming more than one hundred lives (BBC).
"After decades of political Ping-Pong between the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, Khan and his Movement for Justice is seen as a game changer. Nothing fuels election fever like an unpredictable outcome, and there's never been such an uncertain contest here," writes Lyse Doucet for the New York Times.
"[While] there may 342 seats in total up for grabs in Islamabad on Saturday, with federal ministries, house subcommittees and all manner of national policies to be formulated, what makes a successful politician in Pakistan is not national rhetoric: it's a connection to local problems and dynamics," writes Asad Hashin for al-Jazeera.
"[Nawaz] Sharif might actually try to end or curtail the scope of the drone program. Less likely, but still conceivably, he could offer a trade: his endorsement of a limited number of drone strikes in exchange for greater Pakistani control over targeting decisions. In any event, Washington should be prepared for the possibility that Sharif will seek to renegotiate the terms of Pakistan's counterterror cooperation," writes CFR's Daniel Markey in this Expert Brief.
China Dismisses Japanese Diplomatic Protest
China dismissed a diplomatic protest by Japan over a commentary in a state-run daily that challenged Tokyo's ownership of Okinawa. The complaint could further strain relations between Asia's two largest economies, which are involved in an ongoing standoff over the East China Sea (SCMP).
JAPAN: Japan, which has adopted an aggressive monetary easing policy, denied Friday that it is engaging in currency manipulation (KyodoNews). The U.S. dollar topped 100 yen for the first time in four years.
This CFR Backgrounder delves into Abenomics and its three-pronged approach to jolting the Japanese economy out of decades of stagnation.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Bangladeshi War Criminal Sentenced
A Bangladesh tribunal sentenced assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to death for war crimes (al-Jazeera) that occurred during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The ruling raised fears of clashes between the police and supporters of the Islamist leader.
Hezbollah Backs Syria Defense
The leader of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah suggested that the Syrian government would respond to Israel's recent air strikes (NYT) near Damascus by providing Hezbollah fighters with the same weapons that Israel wants to keep out of the conflict.
GOLAN HEIGHTS: The Philippines said it could withdraw from a UN peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights (AFP) due to of security concerns after the abduction of four Filipino troops.
Tunisian Held Over Canadian Bomb Plot
A Tunisian man who allegedly met a man suspected of plotting to bomb a Canadian train was charged with visa fraud in New York (BBC). Prosecutors say he came to the United States in March and kept contact with an undercover FBI agent before his April 22 arrest.
KENYA: Kenyan deputy president William Ruto, who, along with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, was indicted last year by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, dismissed an application (CapitalFM) by Kenya's liaison to the UN seeking to halt both their cases at the ICC. Ruto's lawyer said the application did not represent the deputy president's personal wishes and that he would continue to cooperate with the court.
Greek Youth Unemployment Hits High
Greek youth unemployment shot to a record 64 percent in February, new figures show (Reuters), underscoring the dire state of the recession-hit economy. Austerity under international bailouts have almost tripled Greece's jobless rate since its debt crisis began in 2009.
UNITED KINGDOM: British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to discuss the Syrian conflict (RFE/RL). The UK supports lifting the EU arms embargo on Syria.
The real question is whether the Kremlin is willing to withdraw support for the Assad regime, says CFR's Stephen Sestanovich in this interview.
Peru, Chile Presidents to Visit Washington
The White House announced that Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and Chile's president Sebastian Piñera will meet with U.S. president Barack Obama in June. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will visit Brazil and Colombia, with a stop in Trinidad and Tobago, next week (MercoPress).
MEXICO: The Mexican government, led by President Enrique Peña Nieto, proposed a bank reform package aimed at spurring lending and promoting economic growth (LAHT).
CFR's Shannon O'Neil discusses Mexico's social mobility in this blog post.