The World Today for October 31, 2017
NEED TO KNOW
No Pipe Dream
A year ago, the Southern Caucasus country of Georgia held what was likely its freest and fairest election, a culmination of a trajectory to democratic maturity that began in 1991 after independence from the Soviet Union and the 2003 Rose Revolution.
This month, though, Georgia took a step backward, observers say.
On Oct. 20, Georgian legislators with the governing Georgian Dream party pushed through a slate of constitutional amendments designed to keep it in power indefinitely, Reuters reported.
Under the changes, the president will no longer be directly elected, and parliamentary representation will be purely proportional.
Both the president, Giorgi Margvelashvili – an independent whose veto of the amendments was overridden by Georgian Dream’s super majority in parliament, according to Reuters – and opposition lawmakers in parliament, were vehemently against the proposed changes.
In the end, Margvelashvili reluctantly signed the amendments into law for the sake of stability.
“It has been obvious since the very first day (of the constitutional reform process) that the ruling party aimed to adopt a one-party constitution,” Margvelashvili said.
And even before the ink was dry on the new law, Georgian Dream was aggressively pursuing its indefinite mandate, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported.
In the run-up to the nation’s municipal elections Oct. 21 – a major domestic political event in which the capital city of Tbilisi elected a new mayor – Georgian Dream tried to influence the vote in ways that diminish the achievements of the country.
According to Transparency International, kindergarten teachers had their students announce if their parents were voting for Georgian Dream, and local party officials forced Muslims to swear on the Koran that they’d cast their vote for Georgian Dream.
Georgian Dream won by a landslide.
Some analysts believe that such heavy-handedness will backfire on the party in upcoming presidential elections next year. After all, that’s what happened to Georgian Dream’s predecessor, the once-entrenched United National Movement. It seems Georgian Dream has not learned the lessons of history, writes Eurasianet.org.
In fact, some believe this term is likely the party’s last.
Even so, Georgia needs domestic stability now to deal with its external threats, not a ruling party whose only focus is its own power. That’s because meddling from foreign powers remains a threat to stability, a Georgian daily, the Financial, reports.
Russia has de facto annexed Georgia’s two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is steadily encroaching on more Georgian territory, all the while bolstering its military presence in the region, the newspaper said.
More Russian control of the autonomous regions destabilizes not only Tbilisi’s political standing, but also its economic one, the Economist reports. That’s as the country opens up even further to the world.
On Monday, Azerbaijan kicked off a long-delayed railway through the Caucasus region in what is a new transport corridor for goods and people between Asia and Europe, Bloomberg reported.
And this new Silk Road will go right through Tbilisi. Imagine the possibilities, officials say.
Georgia has made great strides in the past two decades, creating a strong relationship with the West, fighting corruption and developing a strong civil society. It has slipped a bit in its transparency and its commitment to plurality. Now many hope it can buckle down and take steps – forward.
WANT TO KNOW
Coming to Terms
China and South Korea agreed to put aside a spat over Seoul’s deployment of a US-built missile shield and normalize bilateral relations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping now plans to meet South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam next month, Reuters reported.
Moon initially opposed the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad, but his government went ahead with the missile shield as North Korea accelerated its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs over the past year. The decision had prompted Beijing to suspend sales of package tours and resulted in difficulties for South Korean companies in China.
The normalization of relations buoyed the won and regional stocks, shortly before US President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next week.
Despite the agreement, China reiterated its concern that the missile shield may break the “strategic equilibrium in the region,” perhaps kindling an arms race.
Saudi Arabia announced plans to extract its own uranium in a bid to make its nuclear power program self-sufficient, raising concerns that the kingdom might also seek to enrich and reprocess uranium for nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia said it wants to employ nuclear power only to diversify its energy supply and said it will award a construction contract for its first two nuclear reactors by the end of 2018, Reuters reported.
Such reactors require uranium enriched to around 5 percent purity. But the same technology can quickly be converted to develop weapons-grade nuclear material – the concern that prompted the US and other global powers to form the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Newsweek cited Harrison Akins, a researcher at the Howard Baker Center, as saying the Saudi decision could put further strain on the Iran deal, especially if Washington comes out strongly in favor of the Saudi nuclear power program.
Exile on Mainstream
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has fled to Belgium after Spain announced it would seek to prosecute Catalonia’s separatists for rebellion.
Puigdemont had disappeared from the public eye on Monday, as Madrid moved to take over direct administration of Catalonia. Late in the day, a Flemish lawyer announced that Puigdemont had retained him to “to protect his interests in the future in Belgium,” the New York Times reported.
The lawyer, Paul Bekaert, has more than 30 years’ experience with extradition and political asylum cases, including some that involved Basques who were fighting extradition to Spain to face trial on terrorism charges.
Belgium is one of the few European nations that has remained “even remotely sympathetic” to Puigdemont’s pleas for mediation, the Times noted. But the European Union, headquartered in Brussels, must avoid upsetting Spain and attempt to stave off similar movements around the bloc.
Meanwhile, Madrid may struggle to maintain control over Catalonia for an extended period, said separatist Catalan lawmaker Germà Bel.
In pop-culture, robots range from unconventional heroes to genocidal overlords. However, fiction rarely explores the legality and rights of non-humanoids.
This philosophical dilemma came to light last week when Saudi Arabia became the first country to grant a robot citizenship.
Sophia, a robot created by Hanson Robotics, was reintroduced to the masses last week at the Future Investment Initiative Conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Business Insider reported.
“This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship,” Sophia eloquently told a panel at the conference.
Sophia answered questions concerning robots’ future role in human society, stating her altruistic intentions in helping humanity – while making light of Elon Musk’s rants about an artificial intelligence doomsday scenario, according to Business Insider.
It’s a far cry from Sophia’s statements after her unveiling a year ago – when she mistakenly claimed that she would “destroy all humans” when posed the question.
That being said, Sophia’s citizenship didn’t come without controversy.
People lambasted the Saudi monarchy’s decision on social media, pointing out that the female-looking robot now has more rights than Saudi women, the Independent wrote.
Click here to see Sophia in action.