The World Today for July 28, 2017



No Humdrum Affair

As the only West African country never to have suffered a military coup, Senegal is widely viewed as one of the region’s most successful democracies.

But that doesn’t mean the democratic process in the largely French-speaking West African nation is a humdrum affair.

As Senegalese voters head to the polls for legislative elections Sunday, they’re preparing for the climax of an unusual campaign season marked by outsized personalities.

A record number of candidates are running to weaken President Macky Sall and his Alliance for the Republic political party, wrote Agence France-Presse.

Sall and his party are the dominant forces behind Senegal’s ruling coalition United in Hope, which has held a majority in the country’s parliament since Sall first took office in 2012.

His opponents are hopeful that they can force Sall and his party into a coalition government that would serve as a precursor to presidential elections in 2019, added the French newswire.

Among the parties fielding candidates for parliament are the Socialists, who are led by the beleaguered mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall.

But it’s still questionable how much of an impact Mayor Sall – of no relation to President Sall – will have in the race. That’s because the leader of the Senegalese capital has been in jail since March on suspicion of embezzling nearly $2.9 million from Dakar’s coffers, wrote the BBC.

The country’s Supreme Court has rejected the popular mayor’s requests for bail, effectively preventing him from campaigning on behalf of his candidates.

Supporters of Mayor Sall claim the timing of his arrest is a ploy to weaken his challenge to President Sall.

But the mayor of Dakar isn’t the only obstacle President Sall faces in these elections, either.

Senegal’s 91-year-old former President Abdoulaye Wade recently returned to Senegal after spending years in exile in France to spearhead the list of candidates for his opposition Senegalese Democratic Party, wrote the Associated Press.

Wade has criticized Sall’s handling of the election process, prompting violent riots, Voice of America reported Thursday.

Wade left the country after his bid to win a third term in office failed in 2012 in the face of mounting criticism and protests that he was ceding an increasing amount of power to his son, Karim.

Critics maintain that Wade’s involvement in the election is a pretext to have the Democratic Party grant amnesty to his son, who served a six-year prison sentence on corruption charges before moving to Qatar. Karim might also run for president in 2019, added the AP.

Still, Wade’s return is widely considered to be crucial to the Democrats and the country’s numerous other opposition parties’ efforts to stymy President Sall, said AFP.

Still, most voters say elections are important for change.

Senegal is a poor country where fishing dominates the economy, followed by tourism and the agricultural sector.  Many locals are hoping a new government will develop the major oil and gas finds off the coast to lift citizens’ economic prospects – the majority here live below the poverty line – and relieve the high unemployment rate, especially among youths.

Regardless of the outcome, be it colourful or messy, Senegal’s elections show a maturing democracy, and that’s something, wrote one former resident of the country.

“One of the key signs of a maturing democratic nation is the peaceful transition of federal power from the governing party to an opposition that has emerged victorious in free and fair elections,” wrote a former resident of Senegal in an opinion piece in Malaysia’s The Star news site.

“That may not seem like much but on each occasion, the ruling party has handed over power legally and graciously, thus strengthening the people’s faith in the meaning of their democracy.”

[siteshare]No Humdrum Affair[/siteshare]



Shock and Awe

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Friday to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from office over allegations that he and his three children had failed to disclose the ownership of a string of expensive residential properties in London.

The accusations, which first came to light with last year’s Panama Papers scandal, had cast shadows over Sharif’s premiership, which was slated to end in mid-2018 with a new round elections.

The verdict marks the end of a year of political tumult and speculation into the Sharif family’s finances. Upon inquiries into the family’s lavish living situation in the British capital, investigators deemed that family members were “living beyond their means,” the New York Times reports.

Sharif’s ouster secures the footing of his chief political adversary, opposition politician Imran Khan, who has gunned for the prime minister’s resignation since he took office in 2013.

Without their prime candidate – who has dominated Pakistani politics for the better part of three decades, most recently during a period of relative stability – Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League will now attempt to shore up its campaign going into next year’s election, a move which will likely test the wherewithal of the country’s democratic system.

[siteshare]Shock and Awe[/siteshare]


Turn Out the Lights

Copy editors in Caracas this week might be inclined to paraphrase a headline writer from late 1960s Detroit: “Last one out of Venezuela, please turn out the lights.”

In the lead-up to a controversial vote slated for Sunday that could empower a new government body to rewrite the constitution, the US State Department on Thursday ordered family members of American government employees working at the United States Embassy in Caracas to leave the country, the New York Times reported.

It offered employees the option to join family members in the mass exodus, citing “social unrest, violent crime and pervasive food and medicine shortages” as reason enough to abandon ship.

President Nicolas Maduro has so far stood firm in pushing the vote on the constitutional changes forward, despite US sanctions issued on Wednesday against 13 Venezuelans connected to him, and a threat of “strong and swift economic actions” that could include a crippling ban on US purchases of Venezuelan oil.

[siteshare] Turn Out the Lights [/siteshare]


Strange Bedfellows

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s future looks even more secure following the surprise collapse of an important regional alliance this week.

Once considered a secular alternative to the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, opposition leader Nitish Kumar broke with another powerful regional leader and resigned as chief minister of the state of Bihar late Wednesday. He then agreed to form a new government with the support of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday, Bloomberg reported.

Kumar had split with the BJP in 2013 and was part of an alliance that stood against Modi in the 2014 national elections. His departure was widely believed to stem from a personal conflict based on ideological differences with Modi himself, meaning his return marks a major coup for the ever more powerful prime minister ahead of national elections set for 2019.

The alliance between Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) party and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal had resulted in a rare and devastating defeat for Modi’s BJP at the polls in Bihar in 2015.

Perennial rivals themselves, Kumar and Lalu split over corruption allegations surrounding Lalu’s son, who was installed as deputy chief minister as a condition for the alliance.

[siteshare] Strange Bedfellows [/siteshare]


Tour of Duty

On a fateful day in 1969, a small, white bag filled with moonrocks made its way back to Earth in the possession of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

But the historical artifact traded hands many times over the decades before it was eventually sold at a recent Sotheby’s auction for $1.8 million, the New York Times reported.

NASA first loaned the moon souvenir to the Cosmosphere, a modest space museum in Kansas.

But when the museum’s operator resigned in 2002, the bag disappeared with him, only to be found in the disgraced employee’s garage one year later.

Although the bag should have been returned to NASA, the government sold it to an Illinois-based lawyer for a mere $955, only to renege on the sale after discovering the calamity of their mistake.

A lawsuit ensued, resulting in a win for the buyer and a big payout once she sold the American treasure at auction. And it wasn’t to NASA.

Instead, Sotheby held a special space-themed auction last week, with the bag selling for $1.8 million to an unnamed buyer. Many hope this buyer will now do the right thing, and return Armstrong’s bag to a museum.

[siteshare]Tour of Duty[/siteshare]

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