The World Today for August 08, 2016


Winter is Coming

To paraphrase Game of Thrones, winter may be coming for the country that sparked the Arab Spring.

At first glance, the ouster of Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid at the end of July seemed like a routine bit of parliamentary politics. But a closer look at the context for his removal suggests something more serious may be afoot.

The no-confidence motion was passed by 118 votes on July 30, easily crossing the 109-vote threshold for Essid’s removal. Only three of the 191 MPs present supported him, according to the Guardian, which called Essid’s removal “a mark of the instability which has bedeviled the north African country.”

Unlike other Arab countries where the popular uprisings have ended with military takeovers or civil war – Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya – Tunisia has managed to keep its parliamentary democracy running since the toppling of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. And in the respect that Essid’s ouster was achieved through an ordinary no confidence motion – a standard tool the parliamentary system – that record is still intact.

Political analyst Youssef Cherif characterized the orderly transition as a positive development.

“This is the first time in Tunisia that such an event happened; first time a government goes to parliament and a vote of no confidence is recorded,” he told Al Jazeera.

However, the changing of the guard comes effectively at the behest of President Beji Caid Essebsi amid efforts to amend the 2014 constitution to increase his own powers, argues the Middle East Monitor.

Two major terrorist attacks last year in Tunisia killed around 60 people, while the country is also struggling with high inflation, a 15 percent unemployment rate and a slump in tourism due to security issues.

Senior advisers to Essebsi have blamed institutional deadlock for the country’s inability to act effectively against those problems, and had been pushing for amendments to the constitution that would grant the president more powers. But critics say it takes two to tango. And the speed with which Essebsi called for a national unity government in May – just 18 months after the 2014 legislative and presidential elections – suggests a power grab.

“Is it possible that after less than two years the prime minister and his cabinet can be declared failures for not reaching the five-year goals of the legislature?” Tunisian political scientist Mohamed Limam asks in a question that contains its own answer.

Adding to that concern, under Tunisia’s present rules, it was Essebsi who hand-picked Essid’s replacement. Moreover, the man he has nominated for the job, Youssef Chahed, is reportedly the nephew of his son-in-law, writes the Christian Science Monitor.

Essid said Thursday that Chahed “is not a member of my family” and characterized such claims as a “well-orchestrated campaign” against him, the Associated Press reported. But there is no denying he’s the 90-year-old president’s man, even if he must be approved by parliament – where Essebsi’s coalition enjoys a comfortable majority.

That may well make it easier for Essebsi and Chahed to push through “important projects to fight terrorism, corruption, black market and tax evasion,” as the president suggested in the same speech would be on the new PM’s agenda.

But the maneuver potentially represents “a significant erosion of the separation of powers,” and conjures up bad memories of past strongmen, Liman argues.


Taking Action

Belgian authorities are launching a terror probe after Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a machete attack on two police officers, one of whom suffered serious injuries to her face and neck, in the city of Charleroi on Saturday.

Police identified the attacker, who was fatally shot by police during the attack, as K.B., a 33-year-old Algerian man who had been living illegally in Belgium since 2012. While he was known to Belgian authorities because of his illegal residential status, he was not known to have any terror links, said police.

IS’s news agency Amaq said one of its “soldiers” carried out the attack in response to U.S.-led air strikes against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said prosecutors were opening a probe into the “attempted terrorist murders” and assigned an investigative judge who specializes in cases dealing with terrorism.

Belgium has faced a series of terror attacks in recent years, including the March terror attacks at the Brussels airport and a subway station that killed 32 people.

Breaking With Tradition?

In a rare televised address to the nation, Japan’s Emperor Akihito hinted that he wanted to abdicate due to concerns over his health and ability to continue in his role as emperor.

“When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being,” said the 82-year-old monarch in his pre-recorded, 10-minute speech.

Akihito, who has been treated for prostate cancer and undergone heart surgery in recent months, according to Japanese media, added that he wanted an “orderly imperial family succession.”

Were Emperor Akihito to step down, it would be an unprecedented event in modern Japan requiring legal changes to the country’s constitution, which defines the emperor as a symbol of the “unity of the people.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would take Akihito’s remarks into consideration. Abe’s conservative base has previously opposed the idea of the emperor stepping down.

Seeking Stability

The people of Thailand on Sunday voted in favor of a military-backed constitution that paves the way for future general elections – and for a democratically elected government to assume power in Thailand as early as late 2017.

With 61 percent of votes cast in its favor in the referendum, it’s a convincing win for Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s junta, reports Reuters. Full results are expected Wednesday.

Observers say the move reflects the Thai people’s desire for greater stability. The country has been beset with political turmoil for over a decade and seen two military takeovers, recurring rounds of sometimes violent street protests and stunted economic growth.

Thailand’s major political parties criticized the draft constitution in the run-up to the referendum, however, claiming that it would constrict democracy thanks to provisions reserving seats in an appointed Senate for military leaders.

But these concerns that democratic rights would be undermined were outweighed by the perceived risks of ongoing political and economic instability in voters’ minds, said analysts.


Ichiro 3,000

Japanese imports are better known for clocking up gaudy numbers on the odometer than on the baseball field. But 42-year-old Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has been racking up hits like a Subaru station wagon since crossing the ocean to join Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners way back in 2001.

This week, he joined the elite club of 30 players who have recorded 3,000 hits with a nifty opposite-field triple on Sunday.

The mark puts him alongside all-American greats like Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, and it sets a new milestone for players coming to the MLB from Japan – a total of just 54 of whom have played in at least one MLB game since the Nankai Hawks’ Masanori Murakami pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964.

Apart from Murakami, all of the Japanese players have crossed the pond after 1995.

With 10 appearances in the All-Star Game, a Rookie of the Year Award and a Most Valuable Player title, Ichiro, almost without question, is the best of the bunch – especially when longevity and consistency are considered. But he brought something even better to “America’s game” during one of its darker periods, the Steroid Era, Robert O’Connell observes in the Atlantic.

Hitting for percentage when everybody else was muscling up to hit it over the wall, “he is something of a man out of time, his presence next to the rest of baseball’s modern star class as incongruous as a horse and rider on the interstate,” O’Connell writes.

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