The World Today for September 01, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

SINGAPORE

Democracy, or Something Like It

The city-state of Singapore is slated to hold presidential elections on Sept. 23 – that is, if more than one candidate is allowed to run.

Per a constitutional change adopted by parliament last year, the presidency is reserved for one of Singapore’s three largest ethnic groups – Indian, Chinese and ethnic Malay – if no one from that group has held the office for five consecutive terms, Reuters reports.

That means this time around, the next president of Singapore must be an ethnic Malay. And if only one candidate fits that bill – a likely possibility – then that candidate will automatically become president without a popular vote.

To some outside observers, the new stipulations may read as a lesson in equity in a thriving, multi-ethnic society. But Singaporeans see things differently.

Democracy isn’t always the goal of political activity in Singapore. As the Economist notes, the country’s late founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s mantra was “illiberal politics in exchange for good government and high living standards.”

That’s proven to be the case in modern Singapore. Low taxes and minimal regulation have made Singapore a dream for foreign investors, contributing to one of the world’s highest standards of living. The government also provides equal opportunity for every ethnic group in sectors like housing and political representation. That’s a rarity for the region, much less the world.

But racial harmony is meticulously forced on Singaporeans through strict quotas and constraints on free speech. The government must approve any work of art critically discussing racial issues. Simply speaking out against the government’s racial balancing act can result in fines and jail time.

Singaporean analysts see the government’s political string-pulling as inherent mistrust in the electorate sold as preserving racial unity. Malays themselves are dissatisfied with all prospective presidential candidates: They’re either too partisan or too detached from the community. One even lacks fluency in the language.

Many would rather see former member of parliament Tan Cheng Bock make another run for the presidency. He narrowly lost the race in 2011 to current president Tony Tan. He is also an outspoken critic of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has unilaterally ruled Singapore since its founding. The PAP is still led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of the nation’s founding father.

But Tan is an ethnic Chinese. And even if he wasn’t, opines Vernon Lee for Yahoo News, there’s no way he’d have won. Every one of the last four presidential elections was won by the establishment’s favored candidate.

In defense of the electoral procedure, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong claimed last month that without such stabilization measures, “our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms.”

Good intentions notwithstanding, the question still arises: Is an orchestrated democracy even a democracy at all?

In Singapore, that question is a non-starter.

[siteshare]Democracy, or Something Like It[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

PAKISTAN

Kangaroo Court

A terrorism court in Pakistan acquitted five suspects accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and declared former President Pervez Musharraf a fugitive in the case.

Bhutto’s party declared the surprise verdict – delivered due to a purported lack of evidence – as “a triumph of Taliban and Al Qaeda,” the New York Times reported, noting that many believe the judges may have feared reprisal following threats from the militant groups.

Bhutto had returned from exile to campaign for a possible third term when she was assassinated by a gun and bomb attack in 2007. General Musharraf – who has denied any involvement from self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi — was indicted in 2013 on charges of murder and conspiracy amid allegations that his government had not provided her with adequate security.

In the same ruling on Thursday, the court sentenced two senior police officers to 17-year prison terms for negligence in the investigation – in which one was accused of hosing down the crime scene on the orders of a senior military officer.

[siteshare]Kangaroo Court[/siteshare]

UNITED KINGDOM

Waxing Nostalgic

It’s only been a little more than a year since British voters opted to exit the European Union, but the man tasked with negotiating the actual withdrawal has already been accused of waxing nostalgic.

In his most scathing criticism yet, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier claimed that Britain’s David Davis’ attempt to pull his country out of the EU without sacrificing any of the benefits of memberships is nostalgic, unrealistic and undermined by a lack of trust, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

“The UK wants to take back control, wants to adopt its own standards and regulations, but it also wants to have these standards recognized automatically in the EU,” Barnier said.

Among the key sticking points, the EU is demanding a so-called “divorce fee” of some 60-100 billion euros ($71-$119 billion), the BBC noted. Barnier doesn’t want even to begin trade talks until “sufficient progress” toward an agreement on the bill – as well as the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK – is made.

[siteshare]Waxing Nostalgic[/siteshare]

IRAN

Coloring Within the Lines

Iran is still honoring the tenets of the nuclear deal it inked with the US and other world powers in 2015, a United Nations watchdog said in its latest report.

The third such assessment since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, the findings once again undermined his repeated claims that Iran is not complying with the terms of the pact, Reuters reported.

Under the deal, Iran is allowed to produce 130 metric tons of heavy water – which is used in reactors that produce plutonium – and keep as much as 202.8 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.

The International Atomic Energy Agency found that the Islamic republic had 111 metric tons of heavy water and 88.4 kg of uranium with an enrichment level of less than 3.67 percent. Weapons-grade uranium is 90 percent pure.

Trump, however, has argued that the IAEA must check other military sites in Iran, not just its declared nuclear installations, to ensure it’s complying with the terms of the deal.

[siteshare]Coloring Within the Lines[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

What’s for Dinner?

Though Venezuela boasts the largest oil reserves in the world, the collapse of its socialist economic model has led to chronic food shortages, malnutrition and civil unrest.

As a result, destitute Venezuelan’s are left to scrounge for food wherever they can find it – even in their local zoo, Reuters reports.

Venezuelan police are currently investigating a string of thefts from a zoo in the western state of Zulia. The missing beasts include two collared peccaries, an animal similar to a boar, and two tapirs, a pig-like jungle animal that’s on the brink of extinction.

Police are working under the assumption that the animals were taken “with the intention of eating them,” Luis Morales, an official for the Zulia division of Venezuela’s National Police, recently told reporters.

Zoo officials dispute that conclusion, however, claiming that the animals were likely lifted by drug dealers hoping to sell the animals for a profit.

While the international community claims Venezuela’s woes are a direct result of the government’s economic gaffes, President Nicolas Maduro contends that food shortages are due to opposition protests that have clogged trade routes.

[siteshare]What’s for Dinner?[/siteshare]

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

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

Kim Wall: A Tragic Reminder

On Aug. 11, Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall was reported missing, one day after she had boarded a submarine in Copenhagen to interview its owner, Peter Madsen. The assignment should have been low risk, compared with events she covered in Sri Lanka, North Korea and Haiti. But 11 days later, police found Wall’s body. Madsen is charged with manslaughter and abuse of a corpse, according to reports. He denies the charges.

Wall’s death is a tragic reminder of the dangers journalists face every day to report the news. It also highlights the threats faced by freelance reporters, and specifically those who are female, which CPJ discussed in the 2016 edition of Attacks on the Press. CPJ has established a fellowship program to more closely examine the environment for female, transgender, and gender non-conforming journalists around the globe.

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