The World Today for October 23, 2017




Socialists rose to power in Latin America in the 1990s and 2000s as the region’s economy took off. The phenomenon was called the “pink tide.”

Now, that tide might be ebbing. Growth has sputtered throughout Latin America. That’s put pressure on socialist leaders and movements as they’ve tried to remain in power – a spate of big elections in the next year could jumble the political landscape of the region.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil will all hold important elections before October 2018 – beginning with Argentina’s mid-term legislative vote this weekend, the Americas Quarterly noted. All could give socialism a lift, or reverse the socialist agenda that many have been pursuing for years.

In Argentina, the question for voters was whether to endorse the agenda of President Mauricio Macri – the kind of politician who receives a hearty endorsement from the Economist – or put more rightwing socialist Peronists in the National Congress.

Macri’s conservative Cambiemos coalition made gains in both legislative houses, winning about 40 percent of the vote compared with 30 percent for the Front for Victory coalition, led by former president Cristina Fernandez, Telesur reported.

November’s elections in Chile are also viewed as a test for the pink tide. Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is running a strong campaign against incumbent Michelle Bachelet, a socialist. The Financial Times described Piñera as a billionaire who owns an airline, television station and Chile’s top soccer team.

At stake is the future of democracy, the Miami Herald wrote, because the elections occur in a “climate of disenchantment with democracy” and “growing anger” over mainstream politicians’ failure to reduce crime and corruption. The fear is that voters might scrap democracy altogether if elected politicians – socialists or not – can’t improve their lives.

The Oct. 16 local elections in Venezuela showed why voting matters. Embattled Socialist President Nicolás Maduro claimed victory for his supporters in the vote, declaring it a win for “Chavismo,” an allusion to Hugo Chávez, the leftwing ex-president who founded the party.

But the BBC reported that opposition parties claimed Maduro had committed voter fraud. The United States called the vote neither “free nor fair.”

Failing to anticipate plummeting oil prices, Maduro plunged the Venezuelan economy into chaos as his bloated government payroll became too expensive to maintain. Store shelves have gone empty, hunger is rampant and human rights groups have charged Maduro and members of his regime of committing civil and human rights abuses to maintain their grip on power.

Logic has been among their victims.

“It sounds like a joke, but Maduro claims to have won 80 percent of the governorships in a clean election, despite the fact that virtually all polls show that 80 percent of Venezuelans want him to leave office,” wrote the Miami Herald.



Gambling Man

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a landslide victory in parliamentary polls Sunday, though counting was delayed by a typhoon.

Proving that a gamble on snap polls was a wise one, Abe won a two-thirds majority in the lower house, facilitating his bid to revise the country’s pacifist constitution, the New York Times reported.

On Sunday evening, Abe reiterated his earlier calls for the constitution to be amended to remove any doubt about the military’s legitimacy. Such a move requires a two-thirds majority in both houses. While Abe had those numbers before the snap polls, his other political woes had prevented him from taking the plunge. He must now also persuade ordinary voters, as a constitutional change also requires the approval of a majority of the electorate.

Experts say voters are split on that question, and that Abe’s victory has more to do with a weak opposition than a vote of confidence – despite the initial enthusiasm that once surrounded the new political party founded by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.


Taking a Time-out

Spain insisted that its plan to dismiss the Catalan government and curtail some of the freedoms of its parliament does not amount to a coup – as the speaker of the Catalan parliament had claimed – and won’t be accompanied by any arrests.

“If anyone has attempted a coup, it is the Catalan regional government,” the BBC quoted Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis as saying.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced a plan to dismiss the Catalan parliament as early as this week on Saturday, following Catalonia’s refusal to halt its drive for independence that was backed by a popular referendum earlier this month.

The central authorities will also seek to take control of Catalonia’s local police force and its public broadcaster, TV3, according to local reports.

Dastis declined to clarify whether Spain would send in the national police or troops to restore order to the region, saying “everything will be fine, there will be law and order, peaceful life and normal coexistence which is what we’re after.”


Serving Spin

The World Health Organization revoked Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s appointment as “goodwill ambassador” for fighting diseases such as cancer and diabetes in Africa following a global outcry.

WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus, known as Tedros, said in a statement Sunday morning that he had “listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns” before making his decision, the Washington Post reported.

Tedros had announced Mugabe’s appointment earlier this week at a Uruguay conference on noncommunicable diseases, prompting an immediate global response from activists and politicians critical of his long record of human rights abuses, including violent crackdowns on political dissent.

Tedros had lauded Zimbabwe for placing “universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies” and said Mugabe could influence other leaders around the region. The Noncommunicable Diseases Alliance, which represented many other people at the conference, immediately condemned the move.

Serving spin on the controversy, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Mzembi told state media the WHO gaffe brought unprecedented world attention to noncommunicable diseases.


Flying High

Dubai – where firefighters routinely use water-powered jetpacks and a robotic cop is about to join the police force – is once again solidifying its moniker as “City of the Future.”

At the 37th-annual Gitex Technology Week, the Dubai Police Force announced that officers will soon use drone-inspired hoverbikes to fly high above traffic jams, NBC News reported.

The battery powered “Hoversurf Scorpion” can fly well above 10 feet in the air with a maximum speed of 43.5 miles per hour. It can even carry up to 661 pounds of weight.

The hoverbike can also be utilized as an observation tool without a passenger, even though it only has a range of about 4 miles, Dubai police officials told regional newspaper Gulf News.

It’s now a prototype. But Russian manufacturer Hoversurf and the Dubai police are already aiming to mass produce the bikes.

That means the future could be closer than we think – and that outrunning the police may become a bit trickier.

Click here to check out the hoverbike in action.

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