The World Today for October 10, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Liberia

Personality Politics

Liberians take to the polls Tuesday in a historic election that marks the first time in 73 years that a democratically elected leader in this West African nation will peacefully relinquish power to another elected president.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the African continent’s first elected female leader, swept to power on a platform of reconstruction and reform in 2005 after 14 years of civil war that devastated the nation’s infrastructure and claimed 250,000 lives.

Sirleaf, a Nobel Prize winner, will step down this year in observance of the nation’s two-mandate limit on presidential power, a move she said signals the “irreversible course that Liberia has embarked upon to sustain its peace and consolidate its young democracy.”

Her poetic waxing notwithstanding, a motley crew of presidential candidates and dire systemic issues in this nation founded by freed American slaves some 200 years ago could present serious detours in that irreversible course.

There are 20 candidates vying for the Liberian presidency – including a soccer superstar, a former Coca-Cola executive, a former warlord once videotaped torturing a former president while drinking a beer, and a super model.

And those are just the frontrunners.

Despite such diverse biographies occupying the political field, many lament that no single candidate has presented concrete reforms for rehabilitating an economy ravaged most recently by 2014’s Ebola crisis and plagued by graft, AllAfrica.com opined.

And no one – from Sirleaf to her predecessor – has moved to implement reconciliation, an action needed for the country to move past its brutal civil war.

That’s led to indecision among Liberians as to where to cast their vote. Many are relying on personalities and platitudes to make their decision, a development ushered along by candidates’ lavish campaign parties that offer cold hard cash as parting gifts for patrons, the New York Times reported.

Still, there is reason to celebrate: When Sirleaf took power 12 years ago, Liberia was a country in ruins with little electricity or transportation infrastructure, kept afloat by international aid, Bloomberg reports.

Despite setbacks during the Ebola crisis, the country has secured $4.6 billion in debt relief and increased government revenue seven-fold over the past decade.

But friction between political candidates means that there’s a chance that the results will be contested, presenting a catalyst for violence. EU observers said they’ve seen “good will” from all parties that they’ll conduct elections according to international standards, but still fear democratic slips, FrontPage Africa Online reports.

That’s not hard to imagine considering that the ex-wife of former-President Charles Taylor, currently serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes, is a vice-presidential candidate who’s said she wants to put her husband’s agenda “back on the table,” the New York Times notes.

With such a cast of characters, Tuesday’s poll will likely amount to a first-round, with a runoff election between the top two candidates to take place in November.

That peaceful transition is a milestone in and of itself, Freedom House opined. But personality politics alone won’t smooth out the trying path ahead.

WANT TO KNOW

ROMANIA

Counter Maneuver

NATO plans to send troops into Romania to counter Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea region.

The 10-nation force will add to a contingent of US troops already stationed in the southeastern European nation best-known to Americans as the home of Transylvania, Newsweek reported.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised Romania, a NATO member since 2004, for meeting the alliance’s required defense spending contribution of 2 percent of its gross domestic product this year. Notably, US President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of NATO members’ failures to meet this target.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the deployment of NATO forces was not intended to increase tensions in the region. But it will certainly not go over well in Moscow – which recently staged massive war games on the borders of the Baltic states in Belarus and Western Russia.

“We are not a threat for Russia. But we need dialogue from a strong position of defense and discouragement,” Iohannis told the NATO Parliamentary Assembly of alliance lawmakers in Bucharest.

IRAN

Zero Sum Game

Expectations are rife that US President Donald Trump may decline to certify Iran’s compliance in the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement this week and instead call for new sanctions against the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, a move Iranians fear will strengthen hardliners in Tehran.

The benefits from the 2015 accord haven’t trickled down to regular Iranians, despite its government signing billion-dollar airplane deals, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, if Trump reneges on US commitments, it will confirm the hardliners’ message that America cannot be trusted.

“I have not seen any benefit from the deal, so what is Trump going to add to nothing?” the AP quoted a 21-year-old architecture student as saying. “Is he going to add zero to zero?”

Iranians have steadily lost confidence in the US honoring its promises.

In September 2015, a poll showed 45 percent of Iranians said they were not confident the U.S. would live up to its obligations. By September 2017, that number had increased to 77 percent.

JAPAN

Campaigning Against Hope

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his election campaign Tuesday with a thinly veiled attack on Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s newly formed Party of Hope.

Last month, Abe called for snap polls, aiming to capitalize on an uptick in his popularity after he’d been battered by a series of scandals. But the popular Koike’s entrance into the fray threatens to upset his calculations Oct. 22, Reuters reported.

Formerly a member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, Koike is now being touted as a possibility to become Japan’s first female premier, after the main opposition Democratic Party imploded last month and many of its candidates joined her fledgling outfit. However, it’s still not clear if she’ll run for parliament herself.

In his first official campaign speech, Abe attacked the opposition for creating new parties and making populist promises. “What creates our future is not a boom or slogan. It is policy that creates our future,” Abe said in Fukushima, northeast Japan.

If she wins, Koike is widely expected to stay the course on Abe’s reforms that granted the Japanese military broader powers last year. But she could face difficulties in China, due to her connections with Taiwan.

DISCOVERIES

Time Capsule

We’ve all been there: A fun night out turns disastrous after the loss of a cellphone or a wallet.

Thirty years ago, that’s exactly what happened to Elizabeth Sarah Dale at a Manchester nightclub. But while most of us never see our lost items again, Dale was recently reunited with her belongings through the persistence of managers from her favorite watering hole when she was a law student.

The managers of the Ritz nightclub in Manchester came across Dale’s brown leather wallet wedged behind a radiator while prepping the 90-year-old club for refurbishment.

Upon further inspection, the club’s managers realized they’d found a time capsule: library and checking cards from the mid-80’s, as well as a black-and-white photo of a bob-haired, teenage Dale and a few pence in change, the Independent reported.

After a bit of digging, the club’s managers tracked down Dale. Now a public prosecutor, she lives in South London – some 200 miles away from the club she frequented as a student on a 10-pound-a-week ($13) budget.

While she doesn’t recall the night that she lost her wallet, her buddies surely do, Dale told the Daily Mail.

“One mate called me and said I owe her £5 from that night so they are all coming out of the woodwork!”

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