news·5 min read

Daily Skimm: Afghanistan's Election Results, Several Sentenced in Jamal Khashoggi's Death, and A Really Bad Gift

Ashraf Ghani
Getty Images
Dec 23, 2019



The Story

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani is headed toward a second five-year term.

What do you mean headed?

The election happened in September, but results have been delayed after a recount. Preliminary results now show that Ghani won the majority necessary to avoid a second round of voting. He celebrated the win and vowed to "connect and unite all Afghans." But his opponent Abdullah Abdullah is challenging the results.


He says hundreds of thousands of ballots aren't legit (think: accusations of ballot manipulation). Worth noting: this is the second time Ghani and Abdullah have gone head-to-head for the position of president. Back in 2014, then-Sec of State John Kerry stepped in and convinced the two to agree to a recount. That led to a unity gov with Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive. Now, the two rivals are back at it.

And how does the US feel about this?

It's busy trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban...talks Afghanistan's gov haven't historically been invited to. That's because the Taliban have refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan gov, dismissing it as "illegitimate." Ghani's been hoping re-election would give him the authority to have more of a role in peace talks. But with low turnout, and uproar from Abdullah's supporters, it's unclear he's made the case he was hoping for.


The final results are still being disputed and could take weeks. Now, the uncertainty of this election could further weaken the Afghan gov at a time when it's already been sidelined from negotiations with the Taliban.


The Story

Cuba got its first prime minister in over 40 years.

Did you just say 40 years?

A little over. In 1976, Fidel Castro – who had absolute power in the country before his death a few years ago – switched his official job title from PM to president of the State Council. He ended up scrapping the PM position altogether...but kept the power. Now the PM role's making a comeback.

Why now?

It's not exactly clear. But back in February, Cuban voters approved a new constitution to limit presidential terms. Now, the gov says adding a PM into the mix will help divide up power. But critics say it's all just for show. And that the real power lies with Fidel's brother Raúl Castro, the leader of Cuba's Communist Party – aka the only party allowed in the country. So things like limiting presidential terms, adding a PM into the mix: some aren't buying that it makes a difference.

Got it. Well, might as well learn about this new PM, shall we?

Sure, why not. Meet Manuel Marrero Cruz – he's been the tourism minister for 16 years. Now (hold on to your LinkedIns) he's upgraded his job title to PM. He was appointed to the position this weekend by the president (ahem, who was in turn handpicked by Castro). Reportedly, his job is to address urgent things like economic reform. But again, critics say it's for show.

Speaking of tourism...where does the US stand on Cuba?

You can still travel to Cuba if you jump through all the hoops. Reminder: back in 2014, the Obama admin eased restrictions on Cuban travel to try to build up a relationship. But the Trump admin has been rolling that approach back, saying it's time to "end the glamorization of socialism and communism." The change in approach has taken a hit on Cuba's economy.


In most places, a PM has more power than a president. But Cuba isn't like most places – and all signs continue to show that the real power still lies with the Castro family.


What's giving updates…

Saudi Arabia. Today, the kingdom's public prosecutor said five people had been sentenced to death for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And that three others were sentenced to jail terms totaling 24 years. Khashoggi – who was critical of the kingdom's crown prince and government – was killed in Istanbul last year. His body was reportedly dismembered by Saudi agents and his remains have not been found. Khashoggi's death caused a global uproar with many looking to the kingdom for answers. Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said he took "full responsibility" for Khashoggi's death, but he denied that he was involved.

What people are watching…

India. Over the weekend, at least nine people reportedly died in protests against the country's new citizenship law, raising the nationwide death toll to 23. Reminder: The law, passed earlier this month, makes it easier to grant citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious minorities who immigrated to India illegally. But it excludes Muslims. Opponents want the law revoked for various reasons (think: discrimination and job competition). But India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said it's about helping those who have been persecuted. Authorities across the country have reportedly scrambled to contain the protests, by banning public gatherings and blocking internet access.

  • Next up: India's Supreme Court has apparently agreed to examine the law's legality after activists, lawyers, and politicians filed dozens of petitions. It's scheduled to hear the case next month.

  • And yet, more alarm bells: Gov officials have said they plan to introduce a citizen registry for the 1.3 billion people currently living in India. It would reportedly require everyone to provide detailed documentation on how long they've lived in India – paperwork many (especially in poor neighborhoods) don't have. Some see this as another attempt to marginalize Muslims.

What's got the White House in a frenzy...

These documents. Over the weekend, new documents came out about the July 25 phone call that ultimately led to President Trump's impeachment. Reminder: On that call, Trump appeared to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate his political rival. Now, these documents show that 90 minutes after said call, White House officials ordered the Pentagon to suspend military aid to Ukraine – something the Trump admin had denied was related to the investigations.

...Oh and speaking of impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) still hasn't announced when she plans to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. So keep your cals open for a TBD trial.

When there's a Santa shortage...

Resort to gifting bananas.

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