The World Today for March 14, 2017


Of Victories and Uncertainties

Pollsters and economists were quick to argue that the crackdown on cash Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated last year – also known as radical demonetization – would put a severe dent in both the Indian economy and Modi’s standing among voters.

But this pessimism might be yet another instance of pollsters falling down.

Not only has India’s economy defied naysayers’ predictions to defend its title as the world’s fastest growing major economy, but voters in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, also surprised pundits in elections over the weekend.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, won an “overwhelming victory” in India’s most important state election, giving Modi a mandate to continue pushing through his economic agenda, wrote Bloomberg.

That election was critical for Modi and the BJP’s fortunes, said observers.

Going into the election, the Chicago Tribune called it a referendum not just on demonetization – a chaotic but still largely popular maneuver among Indians – but on Modi himself, given the BJP’s decision to build their campaign for Uttar Pradesh around Modi rather than local leaders.

Others noted that the BJP had faced significant challenges in Uttar Pradesh from strong local parties, while Modi’s BJP has previously lost elections in states where regional parties normally call the shots, argued the Wall Street Journal.

In the end, the BJP won by a landslide, claiming 311 of the 403 seats, enough to form a rare majority government in the state in northern India.

The win could have big implications for Modi and India as a whole.

For one, the BJP predicts more victories in other state elections throughout India this year that will set the party up for bigger success when Modi is up for reelection in two years.

The Financial Times, meanwhile, said the outcome affirms Modi’s status as India’s most powerful politician since Indira Gandhi.

Modi might also see the victory in Uttar Pradesh as an endorsement for his populist makeover, wrote the New York Times.

Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has sidestepped his promise of non-interference in the private sector and embraced a rhetoric that talks of helping the poor and combating corruption.

That rhetoric goes over well in impoverished, populous states like Uttar Pradesh, they added.

But it also means that Modi’s path forward is less certain than before, as he might abandon his erstwhile pro-business agenda in favor of social welfare initiatives to shore up his popularity.

Analysts still predicting an avalanche of pro-business reforms might learn from the pollsters’ mistakes before offering guidance.


Much Ado

In the end, the British parliament passed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit bill without much of a fight.

On Monday, May prevailed on the House of Commons to overturn amendments to the bill that would have guaranteed rights to European Union citizens already living in the UK and granted parliament veto power in future negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU, and the House of Lords voted by 274 votes to 118 not to challenge the lower house again, the BBC reported.

The bill is expected to receive a rubber stamp from the Queen and become law on Tuesday, paving the way for May to invoke Article 50 and trigger negotiations for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But the BBC quoted Downing Street sources as saying she will likely wait until the end of the month to officially notify the EU of Britain’s planned exit and begin what is expected to be a two-year process.


In the lead-up to unveiling his budget proposal on Thursday, US President Donald Trump is reportedly seeking deep cuts to funding for the United Nations.

US State Department officials have been told to seek cuts in excess of 50 percent for various United Nations programs, Foreign Policy reported. Overall, the budget is expected to include cuts of up to 37 percent for spending on the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign assistance programs, including the UN, the magazine said.

The US currently spends about $10 billion a year on the UN.

It’s not clear whether the cuts will all be reflected in the 2018 budget or if they will be phased in over the next three years. UN programs funded through the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, such as peacekeeping, UNICEF and the UN Development Program, are expected to take the biggest hits.

“You are basically talking about the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it,” the magazine quoted an unnamed source as saying.

Back to the Future

An Egyptian court ordered that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak be released from a military hospital in Cairo where he has been held for much of the past six years.

The ruling illustrates how little Egypt has changed since the Arab Spring, when millions of protesters took to the streets to demand genuine democracy – forcing then-President Mubarak to resign in 2011, the New York Times reported.

After leading Egypt for nearly 30 years, Mubarak was charged with a litany of crimes, including corruption and murder. But so far the only conviction against him that has stuck is for embezzling state funds to redecorate his family’s residences. Earlier this month, an appeals court cleared him of responsibility for the killings of 239 protesters by the police. But he still faces charges related to the theft of funds from a state-run newspaper and an ongoing investigation by the country’s Illicit Gains Authority.

His impending release sparked both criticism and support from locals. Some contrasted his fate with those of protesters who are still in prison, while others lauded him for his decision not to flee the country.


Tickle Me Pink

When a lake in the heart of Melbourne took on a hot-pink hue last week, the Internet was abuzz with guesses about what could have caused the color change.

But according to scientists, the unusual color is perfectly natural for this time of year and not necessarily a unique occurrence.

Annually, at the height of summer in the southern hemisphere, the lake in Melbourne’s Westgate Park reaches a salinity level eight to 10 times that of the ocean due to evaporation.

When the salt concentration in the water is that high, the only organism in the lake, a single-cell algae, begins producing a protective pink shell to shield its chlorophyll – the green stuff that lets plants process solar energy – from the sun’s harsh rays. That shell gives the lake its color.

The combination of algae plus high salinity is the recipe for a pink lake and isn’t that unusual around the globe: Multiple lakes in Australia, as well as in Spain, the Crimean Peninsula and Mexico, experience the phenomenon.

But swimming in the pink water is ill-advised, the New York Times reports. The water is so salty it could crystallize on your eyelids.

Correction: An item yesterday on the visit of the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia to the US incorrectly stated the projected value of a planned sale of a 5 percent stake in the state-owned oil company, Aramco. The sale is expected to garner as much as $100 billion.

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