The World Today for October 12, 2017



They’re Back

Austria’s presidential election last year was a knock-down, drag-out fight between former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer, a rightwing nationalist with alleged Nazi sympathies.

Van der Bellen’s victory was ballyhooed as a defeat of the xenophobes and far-right forces that support pulling Britain out of the European Union and draw inspiration from illiberal regimes like Hungary and Poland, where leaders are widely viewed as undercutting democracy as they chalk up alleged human rights abuses.

But recent developments in Austria suggest the leftists’ celebrations might have been premature.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats are now expected to lose an Oct. 15 parliamentary election, giving the conservative People’s Party the chance to form a coalition with Hofer’s Freedom Party, the Sunday Times of London wrote.

Kern isn’t losing a great ideological battle. Rather, echoing developments in the United States, a political scandal involving Facebook has ruined his image.

Social Democratic campaign consultant Tal Silberstein allegedly spread anti-Semitic fake news via Facebook pages that smeared People’s Party standard bearer Sebastian Kurz. The alleged fake news items included false claims that Kurz embraces immigration and receives money from George Soros – a favorite target of far-right ire, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

The Social Democrats had already let Silberstein go after revelations that he was implicated in a money laundering scandal in Israel.

But Kern’s poll numbers have plummeted in the wake of the revelations.

“We made major mistakes with the choice of (some) people,” he told the Associated Press. “I acknowledge this mistake and I am responsible for it.”

The plot thickens.

The People’s Party is now suing one of Silberstein’s employees who alleges that the conservatives offered to pay him $116,980 to switch sides, Politico reported. “It’s enough. We’re suing,” said People’s Party leader Elisabeth Koestinger.

In response, the Social Democrats are also suing the conservatives to discover whether or not the employee’s allegations are true.

All in all, Austria was already leaning right on immigration.

Provincial governments have reduced benefits for refugees who have fled from war in Syria and elsewhere, Reuters reported. Some have gone to Vienna, where they will still receive their benefits. Such moves likely further polarize Austrian voters in the countryside and the cosmopolitan capital.

Austria has also banned wearing full-face veils in public, the BBC wrote, a mostly symbolic move as it is rare to see the burqa or niqab on Austrian streets.

It’s a small country. But if Austria is a bellwether of European politics, the rightwing is still strong on the continent.



Drawing a Line

India’s Supreme Court ruled that a husband who has sex with his child bride is committing rape, setting up a possible showdown with the conservative Hindu nationalist government over marital rape, which it has refused to outlaw.

The court’s ruling Wednesday classified sex between a husband and wife between the ages of 15 and 18 as rape, regardless of whether or not the act is consensual. It’s likely a decision that will affect millions of child brides, Reuters reported. Previously, the law had made an exception for married girls between those ages, even though the legal age of consent in India is 18.

Amid a wholesale reform of laws to fight violence against women, the government has refused to make marital rape illegal, saying it would destabilize marriages and lead to false accusations for the purpose of gaining leverage in divorce cases and other disputes. The court said it did not address this issue because it did not form the subject matter of the case at hand.

Notably, child marriage is itself illegal in India, but it remains common among some communities. The 2011 census showed that some 5 million girls were married before turning 18.


Passing the Torch

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will not lay a memorial wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, a possible hint that she plans to abdicate the throne four years from now when she turns 95.

The Queen has asked Prince Charles to lay the memorial wreath during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony on Nov. 12, a holiday that honors those who served Britain and the Commonwealth in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. It’s the first time the Queen will be present at the ceremony without laying the memorial wreath, the Guardian reported.

The Queen has been gradually reducing her public duties – allowing Prince Charles to represent her on foreign tours, for instance – as her age advances. But Clarence House, Charles’ official residence, has strongly denied claims of a plan to accelerate the Prince’s involvement in state activities as he approaches his 70th birthday next year, the Telegraph noted.

Though her political role is limited, her eventual passing of the torch will nevertheless be a momentous occasion for Britain. The country’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II was coronated in 1953.


Buying In

Best known for its efforts to restrict the internet, China is now seeking greater stock ownership and influence over rapidly-growing internet and technology companies.

Beijing is pushing some of China’s largest tech companies—including Tencent, Weibo and a unit of Alibaba—to sell stakes to the government and give the state a direct role in corporate decisions, the Wall Street Journal reported. So far, the government is talking about a 1 percent stake in these firms, the Journal cited sources close to the companies as saying.

The news comes a week ahead of the 19th National Communist Party Congress, a high-profile summit held twice a decade. This year, pundits project it will be “almost like a coronation” for President Xi Jinping – who has been steadily consolidating his power.

The government has already bought stakes of less than 2% in mobile news platform Yidian Zixun and Beijing Tiexue Tech, which operates a “patriotic news site.” The government stake reportedly entitles a government official to a board seat.

The news had no immediate impact on share prices, Barron’s noted.


Life-saving Selfie

The pop-culture trend of the selfie has transcended social media to help doctors save lives in the developing world.

In Banjul, the Gambia, the SOS Mother and Child Clinic is helping thousands of women in preventing cervical cancer through “cervical selfies.”

Doctors and nurses equip smartphones with the groundbreaking Enhanced Visual Assessment (EVA) system, an optical device that utilizes a phone’s camera to investigate abnormalities in the cervix.

The device requires little training to operate and helps medical officials isolate and treat pre-cancerous cells before they metastasize – all for less than $30.

“You just touch your mobile phone and take pictures, and now you show her the photos of the cervix and then discuss the result with the woman,” one of the clinic’s nurses, Adama, told the BBC.

The device is currently being used in 26 countries to make cervical screenings more commonplace and familiarize women in the developing world with their bodies.

Researchers hope that with a large enough database of “cervical selfies,” doctors and nurses will be able to better identify common abnormalities and save lives.

Click here to see the device in action at a clinic in The Gambia.

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