The World Today for July 18, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

The Tomato Affair

Allegations of election irregularities, vote buying, violence and voter intimidation have mired Papua New Guinea’s month-long election slated to conclude on July 24.

Recently, the three members of an independent polling observatory commission resigned, saying they weren’t given sufficient access to carry out their task.

Yet Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato has found time to file a court order against a blogger who dared compare him to a “tomato” on social media, the BBC reported.

“He made some defamatory statements and also called my surname ‘tomato’,” Gamato told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I don’t look like a tomato, I’m a human being.”

Blogger Martyn Namarong has responded by tweeting daily a photo of himself gagged and blindfolded. He’s likely to appeal, he said, if he could find a lawyer.

The tomato affair illustrates how Papua New Guinea’s general election has come to symbolize the South Pacific country’s myriad challenges.

Polls opened on June 24. Atrocious roads, unpaid election workers and other obstacles have prevented the process from going more quickly.

Papua New Guinea ranks alongside Zimbabwe at 154th out of 188 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index, the Australian noted. Life expectancy is around 63 years, almost 20 years less than nearby Australia’s. It is 136th out of the 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index.

Every year, villagers kill hundreds of men and women accused of sorcery, the Economist wrote. Voters pick candidates according to “wantok,” or clans united by common languages, the British magazine explained in another article.

Papua New Guinea’s 7.6 million people speak 850 languages.

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill won a fourth term in parliament. His party appears to be leading, too, reported Radio New Zealand. But it is not yet certain he will remain at the top of government, wrote Reuters.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders charge O’Neill with diverting millions of public dollars to an allied law firm. In 2014, anti-corruption officials sought to arrest O’Neill in connection with the allegations, but he resisted and stripped the agency of its budget.

Still, if O’Neill wins, his victory would probably reflect the will of the electorate, international election monitor Anand Satyanand told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Of course, there are things that could have been done in a better or a different way,” he said. “But as I said at the outset, delivering a completely satisfying election in a country like this is a work in progress.”

[siteshare]The Tomato Affair[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

The Norming President

In a sign of the growing normalization of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist ideology, India selected its first president to have risen through the ranks of a powerful, cadre-based, nativist organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

With nearly 99 percent of 4,895 legislators across the country casting their ballots, Ram Nath Kovind was set to win at least 70 percent of the vote on Monday, India’s NDTV reported. The formal results will be announced July 20.

The president holds limited power. But previous occupants of the ceremonial position have “tried to act as conscience-keepers, using their constitutional authority as the head of state to defend India’s founding principles as a secular, diverse democracy,” Reuters noted.

Kovind hails from one of the Dalit castes once known as “untouchables,” which Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been courting despite their historical oppression by the Hindu faith. His selection comes as India is mulling a national ban on cow slaughter and battling a wave of lynchings of Dalit and Muslim citizens accused of eating beef or transporting cows for slaughter.

[siteshare]The Norming President[/siteshare]

UKRAINE

Slow Wheels

Relatives and friends of the people killed in a Malaysian Airlines jet shot down over Ukraine marked the three-year anniversary of the tragedy Monday at a new memorial near the Amsterdam airport from which the plane departed. But justice for the victims may well prove elusive.

An international criminal probe has concluded that the surface-to-air missile that downed Malaysian Airlines flight 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew, originated from a mobile launcher trucked into Ukraine from Russia, CBS News reported.

A joint investigation team set up by the Netherlands – whose citizens accounted for 196 of the victims – has claimed to have identified about 100 people who could be linked to the downing of the plane, or the transport of the responsible launcher. And on July 5, the Dutch government announced the prosecution and sentencing of any eventual people charged in connection with the incident would take place in the Netherlands.

But Russia has denied any involvement and three years after the crash, not a single suspect has been named, raising questions as to whether a trial will ever take place, Al-Jazeera noted.

[siteshare]Slow Wheels[/siteshare]

IRAN

The Art of the Deal

US President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed late Monday to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal inked by his predecessor, after arguing with his top national security advisers for hours.

In announcing the renewal of the certification, administration officials said they intend to toughen enforcement of the deal, apply new sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and other destabilizing activities, and negotiate with European partners to craft a broader strategy to increase pressure on Tehran, the New York Times reported.

The paper also cited Trump aides as saying the president has warned he would not keep certifying Iran’s compliance indefinitely. During his election campaign, he frequently criticized the agreement and has threatened to scrap it altogether. Meanwhile, he has aligned the United States more closely with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, which are vying with Iran for dominance in the Middle East.

By pressuring US businesses not to engage with Iran even though the nuclear sanctions have been lifted, Trump may be trying to push Tehran into backing out of the agreement – which would get him what he wants without causing friction with his European allies.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with National Interest that Tehran is not happy with the Trump administration, and might give him what he wants – Tehran has other options available, he said, including withdrawing from the deal.

[siteshare] The Art of the Deal [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Touch the Sky

Fire ants are nature’s skilled engineers.

How skilled? Enough to put Mr. Eiffel to shame, as evidenced by a new study published this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

When floods tear through a fire ant colony, these tiny innovators are known to band together in formations to optimize life preservation, such as a raft or tower.

Fire ants forming the latter don’t have an exact blueprint for their construction, but they do follow a biologically imprinted pattern, the Washington Post reported – one that emulates a certain architect named Eiffel.

They start out with a wide base to support the ants above climbing to safety. The ants then wander aimlessly up the vertical structure, staying in constant motion until they find a cohort to latch on to.

Eventually, different stories of the structure are formed “until they’ve built something that’s 20 stories tall,” David Hu, co-author of the study, told the New York Times.

While the engineering prowess of ants may seem inconsequential, identifying their building patterns could help scientists create micro-robots that could fashion human structures in a similar manner.

[siteshare]Touch the Sky[/siteshare]

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