The World Today for October 13, 2017



The Outlier

The political climate in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan is little known to even the most well-informed outside the region.

But this former-Soviet, predominately Muslim nation of 6 million, far removed from traditional democracies like the United States and those in Europe, is an island of popular sovereignty in a region dominated by authoritarian states.

When Kyrgyz voters take to the polls Oct. 15, presidential powers will be transferred from one freely elected chief executive to another – a first in Central Asia’s post-Soviet history.

But the promise of a thriving new democracy still has its pitfalls, especially in a country known for its contentious and rowdy politics.

About a dozen candidates are vying for the nation’s top job, although only two stand any chance of winning, EurasiaNet reports.

The frontrunner is former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, an established political elite and the natural successor of sitting President Almazbek Atambayev, who is stepping down after a single six-year term, as per the Kyrgyz constitution.

Jeenbekov is challenged by multimillionaire businessman Omurbek Babanov, who has dynamically capitalized on his regional appeal to young people in Kyrgyzstan’s urban north to present a serious bid for the presidency.

While they differ personally, both candidates have similar campaign policy platforms: promote democracy, continue staunching corruption, build upon economic progress, and foster a tourism industry eager to bloom into a regional gem.

But Kyrgyz voters don’t care for the particulars, comments political analyst Marat Kazakpayev – this election is more about the mudslinging.

“The candidates’ manifestos are weak – they have either been copied from elsewhere, or they don’t have one at all. And nobody reads these things anyway. That’s how we do things,” he said.

That’s a problematic path in such a young democracy.

Anecdotes have surfaced, for instance, that Jeenbekov’s supporters have used their political reach to blackmail and coerce civil servants and university students to vote for Jeenbekov, a purported response to Babanov’s well-funded campaign, Radio Free Europe reports.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyz police arrested opposition lawmaker and Babanov supporter Kanatbek Isayev on suspicion he planned to incite a “violent seizure of power” after the Oct. 15 poll should his candidate lose.

The back and forth had the public – known for ousting corrupt presidents twice before vis-à-vis popular protests – taking to the streets to call for fair elections last month. Threats of violence and public outrage have gotten so severe that President Atambayev canceled a diplomatic trip to Russia to stay home and ease tensions, Reuters reports.

All sides know there’s a lot riding on preserving a peaceful election: The European Union has said it will negotiate a new political deal with Kyrgyzstan after the elections if things go smoothly.

Moreover, this democratic nation, for all its struggles, serves as an example for others across the region, President Atambayev recently told Time Magazine.

“If we don’t build democracy in Kyrgyzstan, and democracy doesn’t spread across the region and the world, the world has a bleak future,” he said.



Bridging the Divide

The two rival factions vying for control of the Palestinian territories inked a reconciliation deal that could result in a united front in negotiations with Israel.

After a decade of hostility, representatives of Fatah and Hamas agreed to a series of measures that will sideline Hamas from the day-to-day administration of Gaza – which has been ruled separately from the Palestinian territories in the West Bank since 2007, the New York Times reported.

The factions didn’t disclose plans for solving several thorny issues, such as the fate of the main Hamas militia or the network of tunnels under Gaza used by fighters and weapons smugglers.

But it should swiftly improve the quality of life in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to lift sanctions it imposed to pressure Hamas into talks, and Hamas will cede control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – facilitating the easing of cargo restrictions and enabling Gazans to travel abroad.

Israel rejected any deal that does not include recognizing its sovereignty and disarming Hamas.


For the Win

There was more unity on display in Mexico, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto joined hands to support the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a potential “win-win-win” deal.

The show of support follows US demands Thursday that the revised deal include a so-called “sunset clause” that would force negotiations of the $1 trillion pact every five years, Reuters reported. The US also wants to boost the amount of North American parts autos must contain to qualify for tax-free status and modify dispute settlement mechanisms.

“We will not be walking away from the table based on the proposals put forward,” Trudeau said in answer to a question about whether the sunset clause would kill the talks altogether.

For his part, Pena held out hope for bilateral negotiations if the NAFTA talks fail.

Earlier Thursday, Mexico’s finance minister said Mexico was analyzing possible tariffs and import substitution plans if the deal fails to go through. That would mean higher prices in the US, says Quartz.


A Second Look

A judge in Pretoria overturned a previous ruling classifying the death of an anti-apartheid activist as a suicide, and accused the police who held him in custody of murder, raising the possibility of new inquiries into other cases in which detainees died in police custody during apartheid.

Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol was killed after a fall from a 10th floor window at a Johannesburg police station in October 1971. A 1972 inquest had found that he jumped from the window to commit suicide. But Judge Billy Mothle ruled Thursday that he was pushed from the window or thrown off the roof – an act that amounted to murder, NPR reported.

72 other political detainees died in custody between 1963 and 1990, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling offers closure of a sort for Timol’s family. Though most of the main perpetrators have already died, the judge recommended Joao Rodrigues, a police officer involved in interrogating Timol, be investigated and prosecuted.


Skin Deep

A nasty scar runs deeper than what shows on the surface – especially if the wound is associated with indelible memories from war-induced trauma.

But tattoo artists from Israel, Europe and the United States have banded together in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum to help Israeli veterans reclaim the stories of their battle wounds with free tattoos.

The Healing Ink project tatted 11 individuals who have been both mentally and physically scarred by Israeli conflicts.

“It makes me feel like I got something that I chose to put on myself, unlike my injury, which I didn’t choose to get,” Ben Baker Morag, severely injured while serving in the Israeli army, told Reuters, as a lion tattoo began to take shape over a wound on his left shoulder.

For the artists, helping the veterans – many of whom went under the needle with emotional family members by their sides – is payment enough for their work.

“I am not a doctor, I cannot heal people,” said Wassim Razzouk, a Palestinian tattoo artist from Jerusalem’s Old City. “But with my ink and with my art if that could help heal people, for me that is something so great.”

Click here to see photos of the veterans getting inked.

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