And Chavez is back…

That didn’t take long.

After returning late Friday to Venezuela following three weeks of treatments for the relapse of his cancer, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is back at the center of Venezuelan politics.

He danced for supporters over the weekend and vowed to win the October presidential election, notwithstanding his most recent medical visit to Cuba.  Although Chávez has conceded the return of his cancer, he has not detailed the seriousness or nature of the disease or even much about its treatment.

On Monday, however, Chávez, in bizarre fashion, outlined an assassination plot against his chief rival, Henrique Capriles.  Chávez, in discussing the alleged plot, did not provide many details, but denied that the plot came from within the government.  The president offered protection to Capriles, although it’s debatable how much protection is truly on offer from Chávez, given that the announcement itself seemed a veiled threat against Capriles.

The latest “threat” comes just after shots were fired at a Capriles rally last week in a Caracas slum and Chávez stronghold. Continue reading And Chavez is back…

Final Tang-Leung faceoff before Sunday vote

The three candidates for Hong Kong chief executive faced off in a final debate Monday, ostensibly to discuss property in Hong Kong.

The two top candidates, Henry Tang (above middle) and Leung Chun-ying (above left), traded barbs, and Tang even accused Leung of defamation, a somewhat puzzling development in the topsy-turvy race.

The race, once Tang’s to lose, is now a toss-up — the 1200-member Elections Committee makes its decision Sunday.  Although Hong Kong’s business elite have long preferred Tang, leaders in the People’s Republic of China have indicated some ambivalence about Tang as he’s become more embroiled in scandals.  Some observers believe remarks last week from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao show an unmistakable tilt toward Leung, who is by far the most popular choice among the Hong Kong populace.

An instant poll following the debate showed that viewers thought Tang performed the worst, behind Leung and pro-democracy candidate Albert Ho (above right).

Senegal turns to runoff vote

With less than one week to go until Senegal’s presidential runoff, the campaign’s narrative since the end of the first round has consistently been one of the opposition mobilizing behind the candidacy of former prime minister Macky Sall and against current president Abdoulaye Wade.

Wade won the first round of the election on February 26 with 34.8% of the vote to Sall’s 26.6%.

In the meanwhile, all 12 of the defeated candidates have endorsed Sall, including former prime minister Moustapha Niasse, who finished in third place, Parti Socialiste candidate Ousamne Tanor Dieng, who finished in fourth place and Idrissa Seck, also a former prime minister, who finished in fifth place. Sall, together with the 12 former candidates, joined for a rally last Sunday in Obelisk Square in Dakar, the site of several violent anti-Wade protests in advance of the first round vote.  Sall and the former candidates have formed the makeshift Alliance of Forces for Change in advance of Sunday’s runoff.

Prominent — and popular — Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour, who was refused a spot on the ballot in advance of the first round, has endorsed Sall as well.  And so has the M23 movement, by and large — the loose coalition that came together to oppose Wade’s arguably unconstitutional run for a third term.  Although the M23 movement did not endorse any first-round candidate, it has mobilized behind Sall as the anti-Wade candidate.

The tense and sometimes violent protests leading up the the first round have now largely replaced by a triumphant opposition confident of victory.  Sall is popular in both Dakar and the countryside, and, with so much of the opposition to Wade lining up behind Sall, it seems more likely than not that Sall will win the runoff.  Continue reading Senegal turns to runoff vote