The World Today for October 18, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

Meteoric Fizzle

When Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike brought her Party of Hope to the national stage in opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party last month, many saw her as the candidate to dethrone the nationalist, conservative prime minister in the nation’s Oct. 22 snap election.

Koike is no stranger to the national spotlight, having previously served as both Japan’s environment and defense minister on separate occasions. She even held the latter posting under Abe’s first tenure as prime minister.

But it was regional elections in Tokyo Governate in July that sparked her current meteoric rise: Her nascent Party of Hope placed almost every candidate it fielded in the local legislature, far outpacing Abe’s Liberal Democrats.

That’s not going to happen this time around on the national stage. Although she’ll remain the party’s ideological compass, Koike herself will not compete for a spot in the Japanese parliament, the Diet, in effect forfeiting the opportunity to be named prime minister, the Washington Post reported.

Still, she encouraged her party’s supporters to turn out in droves Oct. 22 to end Japan’s “Abe-dominant politics.”

That likely won’t happen, either.

Five separate Japanese polls all forecast that Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party will easily secure over half of the 465 seats in the Diet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Together with the party’s smaller coalition forces, Abe may even come to control the two-thirds of the chamber needed to pass constitutional revisions, such as his proposal to revive Japan’s military after seven decades of constitutionally imposed pacifism.

It’s a response to Abe’s rise in popularity in light of recent North Korean aggression. His long-sought-after constitutional amendment would ease fears of Japan being caught off guard by a nuclear strike from the North, the Toronto Star opines.

Koike’s Party of Hope is still poised to become the second-largest party in Japanese politics. But with its ideological similarity to Abe’s Liberal Democrats, and Koike’s forfeiture of a national posting, it “appears to be less a second major party and more a vehicle for a Koike vendetta against Abe,” Tobias Harris, an analyst at consultancy Teneo Intelligence, told the Washington Post.

In pursuing her vendetta, she’s effectively cleared the way for Abe’s reelection to become Japan’s longest-serving premier, the Financial Times reported. Plagued with inner-party dissent, the opposition, left-leaning Democratic Party has disbanded on her behalf.

In essence, voters now only have the choice between one of two conservative parties, or the Japanese Communist Party, Quartz reported.

Koike’s meteor might have already fizzled before it could burn its brightest.

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

Weighing Strategies

The US has reclaimed the Islamic State’s one-time capital of Raqqa along with the joint Arab-Kurdish troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. But the victory raises questions about the strategy Washington will pursue over the coming weeks.

The Syrian government and its Iranian-backed and Russian allies are advancing rapidly to take the last remaining Islamic State strongholds in the province of Deir al-Zour, and the US has said it will be up to the SDF whether or not they want to join the race, the Washington Post reported. Moreover, the Trump administration has yet to confirm whether US troops will remain in northeastern Syria to support the “fledgling ministate” being forged by its Kurdish allies, the newspaper said.

Following the Iraqi army’s move to take the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces in Iraq, the Syrian government may be inspired to undertake a similar maneuver as part of an effort to take back territory lost to the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

PHILIPPINES

The Final Stretch

President Rodrigo Duterte declared victory in his country’s fight against Islamist militants in the southern city of Marawi on Tuesday, saying it was “liberated from terrorist influence.”

The announcement comes five months after militants attacked the town, killing dozens and forcing thousands more to flee their homes, the New York Times reported. A day before Duterte’s visit, the authorities had announced that government forces had killed the leaders of the insurgency in a gun battle.

However, around 30 militants, including some foreign fighters, remained holed up with as many as 20 civilian hostages.

Philippine authorities said those survivors are led by Mahmud bin Ahmad, a Malaysian terrorist who has helped fund the fighting in the Philippines’ restive south. Ahmad was a close associate of Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group linked to the Islamic State. Hapilon was killed in Monday’s fighting, along with Omarkhayam Maute, another top leader.

Martial law is set to remain as the government begins the difficult task of rebuilding the city and helping more than 200,000 residents living in refugee camps return home.

UNITED KINGDOM

Thinking the Unthinkable

A split has opened in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet over whether the United Kingdom could complete its withdrawal from the European Union without a deal in place for future trade relations and other sticky issues.

Home secretary Amber Rudd said Tuesday such a move was “unthinkable,” but Brexit secretary David Davis insisted it can’t be ruled out, the Guardian reported. It’s the official government position that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

The wrangling comes amid an apparent stalemate in negotiations following May’s last minute attempt to convince European leaders to open talks on a transition period in Brussels on Monday. Davis suggested that it’s necessary for Britain to be prepared to exit without a deal to avoid extortion from the EU – given the proximity of “exit day” in March 2019.

“They are using time pressure to get more money out of us,” he said. “It’s obvious to anybody.”

DISCOVERIES

A Useful Pungency

Though entirely foreign to the Western palate, the durian fruit, a violently pungent staple of Southeast Asian cuisine that smells like rotten eggs, is known as the “king of all fruits” for its distinct taste and spiky appearance.

Now, scientists in Singapore have finally uncovered why this spiny monster smells so bad. They reported their findings in a study published recently in the journal Nature Genetics.

Last week, scientists mapped the genome of the fruit and pinpointed the group of genes called volatile sulfur compounds responsible for the fruit’s off-putting fragrance. The genes become especially activated when the fruit ripens, amplifying the smell, Reuters reported.

But unlike other smelly plants that usually have only two copies of the gene compound, the durian has four. Scientists speculate that the fruit’s turbocharged pungency is used for self-preservation and reproduction: It attracts animals to eat the fruit and spread its seeds.

The durian disgusts those unaccustomed to its violent scent. But tracing back the fruit’s evolution, scientists uncovered an ancient connection to the cacao tree, whose seeds produce chocolate, one of the most beloved morsels across the globe.

Even among flora, family members can have radically different characteristics.

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