The World Today for February 17, 2017


Legacy, Ideology and Votes

The first round of Ecuador’s presidential election on Sunday isn’t really about the candidates running for office.

It’s about the legacy of current President Rafael Correa. A leftwing economist, Correa decided not to run for reelection after three terms in office even though the Ecuadoran Congress abolished term limits in 2015 so he could throw his hat in the ring again.

A critic of the United States and an admirer of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Correa oversaw the “Citizens’ Revolution” – a vigorous program of spending and social democracy that has stirred controversy, the Miami Herald reported.

Correa invested in roads, school and hospitals, reducing extreme poverty by half and poverty by 38 percent, the Nation wrote.

But he also hiked the country’s debt, compromised civil liberties and allowed corruption to thrive.

Government spending as a percentage of GDP more than doubled to 43 percent under Correa, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Human Rights Watch claimed Correa exercised “sweeping” powers to punish critics.

With Correa out of the race, his former Vice President Lenin Moreno, who is running with the president’s PAIS Alliance, is leading in the polls. But he has baggage.

Moreno sought an annual $1.6 million budget when he was a United Nations envoy for disability – he uses a wheelchair – and $3.9 million in travel expenses when he was vice president, according to the Economist. That shocked many in the poor country.

Former hydrocarbons minister and chief of the state-owned oil company Petroecuador, Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, has also accused Moreno’s running mate, incumbent Vice President Jorge Glas, of turning a blind eye to corruption, the Hill noted.

But, in a twist that weakens Glas’s critics and highlights the corruption under Correa, Yannuzzelli fled the country in September to avoid prosecution for allegedly accepting $1 million in bribes.

Moreno’s main rival, conservative Guillermo Lasso, a banker, wants to cut public spending by nearly 20 percent and lower taxes to attract foreign investment and boost domestic consumption, according to Euronews.

A third candidate, Cynthia Viteri of the conservative Social Christian Party, has pledged to overhaul the country’s democratic institutions.

To win on Sunday, candidates need either win more than 50 percent of the vote or win 40 percent and record 10 percent more votes than their closest rival. Otherwise a runoff between the two top candidates occurs in April.

Moreno could win a majority, the Miami Herald says. If he doesn’t, he faces a tough fight against a unified conservative opposition.

The vote comes as the left remains a powerful force even as it faces pressure in South America. Venezuela’s economy is in tatters, Brazil’s leftwing Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year, and Argentina gave up its battle against American hedge funds last year, too. In that context, Ecuador’s election will be a much-watched battle in a larger ideological war.


An Impeachment Unfolds

The ongoing impeachment proceedings against South Korea’s president continue to dog one of the country’s largest corporations.

A South Korean court ordered the arrest of Samsung chief Jay Y. Lee on Friday on suspicion of bribery and other charges related to the impeachment case against President Park Geun-hye, Reuters reported.

Samsung is accused of giving donations to non-profit foundations operated by Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president, in exchange for government favors. Lee and the company have denied any wrongdoing but with Lee’s arrest, the prosecution now has court authority to conduct 20 days of further investigation before filing formal charges.

Though experts said the arrest would not effect the day-to-day operations of the giant conglomerate, it puts three other top executives in the spotlight as likely to fill the void: Samsung Electronics Vice-chairman Choi Gee-sung; Samsung Electronics CEO Kwon Oh-hyun; and Lee Boo-jin, one of Lee’s two sisters and CEO of Hotel Shilla Co.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday that the Constitutional Court plans to wrap up hearings related to Park’s impeachment on Feb. 24.

No Official Presence

A suicide bomber killed at least 70 people and wounded more than 250 others during a dance ceremony at a Sufi shrine on Thursday in southern Pakistan.

The Islamic State, a Sunni militant group that considers other branches of Islam to be heretical sects, claimed responsibility for the attack, the New York Times reported. Sufism, which embraces music and other forms of expression that are prohibited by the Sunni extremists, is one such sect.

The attack, one of the deadliest in recent months, came amid a wave of militant assaults around the country, even though officials express skepticism that Islamic State has any formal presence in Pakistan. In response, Pakistan’s army closed the border with Afghanistan, where Pakistani officials claim that many such attacks are coordinated and plotted.

Earlier this week, seven people were killed in separate suicide bombings in northwestern Pakistan and at least 13 people were killed in the eastern city of Lahore when militants targeted a protest. The violence also follows Islamabad’s decision to place Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, under house arrest.

No Peace Here

Russia’s grim intervention in Syria changed the tide of the war and compelled rebels seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table. But getting the warring parties to agree on a peace deal is proving no easier for Moscow than it was for former US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The latest round of Russia-sponsored peace talks ended on Thursday with no joint communique, usually the minimum outcome of any diplomatic negotiation, Reuters reported.

Instead, the opposing factions exchanged angry tirades after the rebels deliberated whether to attend at all and finally sent a small delegation that arrived to the talks a day late. Turkey, too, reduced the size of its delegation, possibly signaling a lack of faith in the process.

The goal of the talks was supposed to be relatively modest: The establishment of a lasting ceasefire. But Reuters quoted officials familiar with the internal wrangling as saying that Moscow alienated the participants by attempting to discuss broader political solutions to the Syrian crisis, and Russia’s negotiator told reporters that Moscow had offered the Syrians a draft of a new constitution.


Austria’s Kind of Charge

Any freelancer hoping to charge their laptop during a long afternoon of work at the Terrassencafé in Vienna’s landmark Hundertwasserhaus might be in for an extra shock when they finally get the bill.

That’s because café owner Galina Pokorny tags on an extra 1 euro (roughly $1.06) to the bill for every device customers charge in the café “for too long,” or more than an hour, according to Reuters.

Pokorny said she instituted the fee after she got tired of seeing tourist after tourist recharge their phones and laptops at her café for hours on end.

“Tourists – always electricity, electricity, electricity. Sorry but who is going to pay me for it?” Pokorny told Reuters. “I run a cafe, not an Internet café.”

It’s the only such fee of its kind in Austria, she said. But it anchors the Terrassencafé firmly in the storied Austrian tradition of the unfriendly Viennese waiter.

Still, customers can relax provided they leave their chargers at home. The café’s Wi-Fi is free, after all.

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A Literal Silence

Silencing of the media took a literal turn in Peru last week, when assailants tried to cut out the tongue of a broadcast journalist. The attack on Marco Bonifacio Sánchez, in the northern Peruvian town of Cajamarca on Feb. 3, was an unusual attempt to censor a journalist compared to methods usually employed by militias, drug cartels, and corrupt political officials.

Bonifacio is known for his confrontational style and criticism of local authorities and institutions. He has been threatened before, which is why the attack is likely connected to his reporting, a friend of the journalist said.

While the attack is particularly brutal, attempts to silence the press are not uncommon worldwide. In 2016, CPJ recorded 259 journalists jailed and 48 killed in relation to their work. Next week, CPJ releases a report, “The Best Defense: Threats to journalists’ safety demand fresh approach,” that addresses ways to improve journalist safety at this time of unprecedented threats.

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