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March 15, 2017

Daily News Brief

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Dutch Vote Tests European Populism

Dutch voters head to the polls Wednesday in an election seen as a test of strength for resurgent populism across Europe ahead of upcoming elections in France, Germany, and possibly Italy. The vote pits Prime Minister Mark Rutte against populist Geert Wilders, who has said he will pull the Netherlands out of the European Union (Bloomberg). Polls on Tuesday showed an advantage (Guardian) for Rutte's center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy over Wilders's Freedom Party, which has proposed banning the Quran (FT) and closing mosques in the Netherlands. Additionally, the GreenLeft party, which criticized Rutte's handling of the refugee crisis as an "excuse to look the other way," is expected to see its best electoral performance.


"As many as five different parties (an all-time high) may need to join up to form a majority government. Straight-up proportional representation will deliver what a skeptic might expect: a customized political movement for practically every voter, with seats for a senior citizen party (50 Plus), a green party (GreenLeft), an animal rights party (PvdD), a Turkish nationalist party (DENK), and a pro-Russia party (Forum for Democracy). But the complicated bargaining process that will eventually produce a workable majority is unlikely to trigger radical policies, test democratic institutions, or lead to the continued unraveling of the European Union," Stan A. Veuger writes for Foreign Affairs.

"After the 9/11 attacks, a politician named Pim Fortuyn went against the consensus and began criticizing immigration. He was shot and killed in the run up to elections in 2002. It was the first political murder in the Netherlands in some three hundred years. At that time, Geert Wilders was with the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and he criticized Fortuyn for going too far. But after Fortuyn’s death, Wilders radicalized to the point that he left the VVD and created his own party, the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV). In the past five years, he has become increasingly radical," Pieter Cleppe said in a CFR interview.

"Mr. Wilders is close ideologically to Marine Le Pen of France, the far-right National Front leader who is set to make it to a runoff in presidential elections this spring. He was also close to Mr. Trump’s campaign, and is sometimes even called the 'Dutch Trump,' though he has a far longer political history and as many differences as similarities," Alissa J. Rubin writes for the New York Times.


Chinese Premier Conciliatory Toward U.S.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that China and the United States "share extensive common interests" (NYT) ahead of an expected meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald J. Trump at Mar-a-Lago next month. Li cited Trump's affirmation of the United States’ One China policy (FT) as proof the two countries could work together.

SOUTH KOREA: The acting president announced snap presidential elections for May 9 (WSJ) following the Constitutional Court’s decision to uphold the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.

CFR's Scott A. Snyder discusses what comes after Park's impeachment


Britain Hosts Afghan, Pakistani Ministers

The British and Afghan national security advisors met with the Pakistani foreign policy advisor for a trilateral meeting (VOA) to discuss rising tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The meeting follows a string of attacks in Pakistan, which it alleges originated in Afghanistan.

INDIA: Some lawmakers raised concerns that a proposed revision to an "enemy property" law unfairly targets Muslims (Reuters). The 1968 law gave the state the ability to seize property from people who had fled India to China or Pakistan during wars with those countries; the revised law would prohibit heirs of "enemies," even those who are Indian citizens, from claiming property. 


Trump, Saudi Prince Meet at White House

An advisor to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud said in a statement that yesterday's lunch meeting (NYT) between U.S. President Trump and the Saudi royal "put things on the right track" (Bloomberg) after "relations had undergone a period of difference."

CFR's Steven A. Cook argues that the United States is stuck with its alliance with Saudi Arabia.

SYRIA: The Syrian military carried out strikes that cut off water to 5.5 million people (NYT) in Damascus starting last December, according to a new UN report. The report contradicts the government's claim that opposition forces were behind the water shortages and categorizes the attack as a war crime (Al Jazeera).


Cameroon Claims Five Thousand Freed From Boko Haram

Cameroon announced that a series of raids since January by Cameroonian and Nigerian troops in the Mandara Mountains has left sixty suspected Boko Haram militants dead (VOA) and freed five thousand people from captivity.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker looks at Boko Haram in Nigeria.

KENYA: Doctors ended a one hundred-day strike (BBC) that affected 2,500 public health facilities in Kenya after reaching a deal with the government to receive increased wages. Negotiations are ongoing for other demands, including improved conditions and the hiring of more doctors.


France's Fillon Under Formal Investigation

Presidential candidate Francois Fillon was placed under formal investigation on charges he misused public funds (France 24) to pay his wife and children for work they did not do. French media have reported that Fillon's wife received nearly $1 million to work as his parliamentary assistant.


Colombia's Santos Apologizes for Illegal Campaign Payments

President Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement he is "deeply sorry" after the attorney general charged that Santos's successful 2010 and 2014 election campaigns received illicit funds from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht (Reuters). Santos, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said he did not know (Colombia Reports) about the payments when they were made.

BRAZIL: A prosecutor asked Brazil’s supreme court to open eighty-three new investigations (BBC) into politicians based on plea bargain statements from Odebrecht executives; the cases would be part of the ongoing "Operation Car Wash" anti-corruption probe. Under Brazilian law, sitting politicians can only be investigated by the Supreme Court.

CFR's Matthew Taylor discusses the accountability wave making its way across Latin America.