Key Global Events to Watch in May

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.

MAY 2: Temporary Waivers on Iranian Oil Expire

After withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year, United States President Donald Trump’s administration renewed harsh sanctions on Iran. At the time, waivers were given to certain countries who imported large amounts of Iranian oil, including China, India, and Turkey. Those waivers expire today. Officials in the US administration have said they expect that countries will abide by the deadline and find other sources for oil, like from Saudi Arabia. If countries continue to take Iranian oil—China, for example, may find it too difficult to switch oil sources—sanctions are to apply to them immediately.

MAY 3: World Press Freedom Day 

World Press Freedom Day, inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, will be celebrated on May 3. The purpose of the day is to celebrate the principles of a free press, assess the state of press freedom, defend the media from attacks, and pay tribute to journalists who have died as a result of their work. The theme this year is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.” Press freedom and journalists are increasingly under attack in many countries, with some 94 journalists being killed in 2018 alone, and journalists being detained all over the world, with the highest numbers in China, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

MAY 4–5: Congressional Assembly, Venezuela

Following nationwide May Day protests called by opposition leader Juan Guaido, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro used a speech given on the same day to call on the people to help him draw a “grand plan of correction” and said congress would hold an assembly to help on May 4 and 5. Maduro was almost certainly referring to the Constitutional Assembly he formed after the most recent elections and not the National Assembly of which Guaido is president. The purpose of the plan is to make any changes in the government the people feel are necessary. News reports, citing unidentified officials, indicate that members of the Venezuelan opposition have held secret talks with Maduro’s inner circle to oust him and put in place an interim government.

MAY 5: Presidential Election, Panama

Panama will hold an election for president on May 5. The country has the fastest-growing economy, which has raised inequality and expectations on candidates to improve the lives of people. Political veteran Laurentio Cortizo, from the moderate left Democratic Revolutionary Party, is the favorite to succeed President Juan Carlos Varela. A survey in mid-April showed Cortizo had the support of over 49 percent of voters. His main challenger is Romulo Roux of the Democratic Change party who was foreign minister in 2012–2013 and has proposed cutting government bureaucracy and making Panama’s social security fund more stable and transparent.

MAY 8: National Parliament Elections, South Africa

South Africans will vote for new members of the national parliament on May 8, choosing from candidates who represent 48 parties. Additional parties are contesting elections in provincial legislatures that will be held on the same day. The African National Congress (ANC) has won a majority of seats in parliament every year since 1994, and they are likely to do so again. President Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure, however, to reverse some of the ANC’s loss in support around the country. The biggest rivals of the ANC this time around are the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

MAY 9: Informal Security Council Meeting on West Bank Settlements

The United Nations Security Council will hold an informal meeting on West Bank settlements on May 9. The last meeting of its kind was held in 2016, under the Arria-Formula mechanism. In December 2016, the Security Council approved resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement activity. This upcoming informal meeting was announced by the Indonesian ambassador, whose country has the Security Council presidency in May. It comes in advance of the anticipated rollout of US President Trump’s peace plan, which is expected as early as June.

MAY 12: Presidential Election, Lithuania

On May 12, Lithuania will hold an election for president. As of April 20, Minister of Parliament Ingrida Simonyte had taken the lead over Gitanas Nauseda in polls, although Nauseda still led in other traditional opinion polls. Another candidate, Saulius Skvernelis, is popular in rural areas of the country, though is unlikely to garner enough votes to win. Whoever does win will inherit strained relations with Russia. In March, a Lithuanian court found a former Soviet defense minister guilty in absentia for war crimes and crimes against humanity for a 1991 crackdown against the Lithuanian pro-independence movement. Russia responded by calling the verdict “extremely unfriendly and essentially provocative.”

MAY 20: World Health Assembly, Switzerland

The World Health Assembly—the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO)—will hold its 72nd session from May 20 to 28 in Geneva, Switzerland. As with last year, calls to invite Taiwan to join the assembly did not result in their being invited, and diplomatic allies continue to push for the country to be allowed to join the WHO.

MAY 21: Elections for President and Parliament, Malawi

On May 21, Malawian citizens will vote for a new president and members of parliament. Polls have been in favor of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of President Arthur Peter Mutharika, but he now faces strong opposition which could reduce his chances of an outright victory. Mutharika officially launched his campaign on April 8, asking citizens for their vote to stay in power (he has been in office since 2014). The opposition frontrunner, Lazarus Chakwera, has the support of ex-president Joyce Banda, who withdrew from the race due to scandals.

MAY 23: European Parliament Elections

Between May 23 and 26, over 400 million people across the European Union will vote for the 751 members of parliament that will represent them. At stake in the eyes of many is the survival of the EU, and the vote is seen as a referendum on whether the EU should be broken up. Another contentious issue is the EU budget—which is only one percent of members’ GDP—along with migration and center-versus-states debates. French President Emmanuel Macron wrote an op-ed to the people of Europe in March, making proposals to strengthen the EU and laying out the challenges that are facing the bloc—including the impending departure of Britain, challenges from Russia and China, and growing differences with the United States.

MAY TBD: Possible Announcement of US-China Trade Deal

The US and China may announce the terms of a trade deal as early as Friday, May 10. A US delegation met with Chinese negotiators in Beijing on May 1 and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will travel to Washington in the next week to iron out remaining details. While a trade agreement has seemed imminent for a few months, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that the US should know “one way or the other in the next couple weeks” about how the trade talks will be resolved.