The World Today for November 24, 2017



A Dam, A Vote, A Future

Until 2006, the Nepal government was mired in a decade-long war against Maoist rebels that killed more than 16,000 people.

Over the past nine years, the country has created a constitution – in 2015. But it also has seen nine separate governments ripped apart at the seams due to internal squabbling and lack of regional focus, Al Jazeera reported.

More recently, Nepal has grappled with crippling poverty as well as devastating earthquakes that killed thousands and left tens of thousands more homeless and jobless in 2015.

Now, observers say, Nepal is at a crossroads. On Nov. 26, the country is holding a federal election that will force it to make a choice that could drive the country in a new geopolitical direction – toward China.

At the heart of this choice is a dam, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a development strategy that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

In June, during the administration of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Nepalese Maoist Centre party, the government signed a $2.5 billion deal with Chinese state company China Gezhouba Group to build the Budhi Gandaki plant in Nepal, the biggest dam in the country. 

Last week, the Nepalese government – under an interim administration led by the pro-India Congress Party ahead of elections – indicated it would abandon the deal.

The zigzag over the dam underscores the instability and division in the country.

For example, the federal government was unable to coordinate the distribution of some $4.1 billion in international aid after two earthquakes due to a lack of local authorities on the ground. There hasn’t been effective local governance in Nepal for 16 years, writes Thanesh Bhusal for the London School of Economics’ Southeast Asia blog.

Over the summer, Nepal held local elections that resulted in huge gains for the nation’s two communist parties, the Diplomat reported. Both had campaigned on developmental and infrastructural issues in a challenge to the ruling centrist Nepali Congress, Al Jazeera reported.

Still, the question over the dam is really about Nepal’s divisions over how close the country should be to China, which has emerged as an alternative to its traditional ally India.

Nepal continues to get much of its imports from India. But it has grown closer to China in recent years. China provided the nation with free oil during India’s blockade of the country in 2015, for instance, the Conversation reported.

Now, if the communist alliance were to take over the country, that relationship would likely grow even closer, possibly stoking regional tensions, writes the Eurasia Review. The communist alliance would also likely greenlight the dam project.

Voters are tired of instability, poverty and conflict. And while some warn that Nepal shouldn’t make the mistake of “jumping into a fire,” others say China offers a powerful lure.

“What we want is houses, road networks, health and education facilities, and employment,” Nanda Devi Bhual, 60, told The Diplomat. “We do not care about political ideologies.”



Not Done Yet

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered her worst election in decades this fall, and over the weekend the collapse of coalition talks suggested her 12-year reign as the de facto queen of Europe might be coming to an end. But “Mutti” (or Mommy) is not done yet.

She lacks a majority in the Bundestag. But the Christian Democrats’ (CDU) Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) have rallied behind her, noted Deutsche Welle. That means the pressure is now on the Social Democrats to agree to a reboot of the so-called “Grand Coalition” that formed the government in Merkel’s first and third terms, Reuters said.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is now working to restart coalition talks with various parties, and met with Social Democrat chief Martin Schulz Thursday to push him to reconsider his rejection of another grand coalition. Schulz rejected the move as weakening his party in the long run – a position he reiterated after the collapse of Merkel’s coalition talks with other parties on Sunday.

Merkel has said that she would prefer fresh elections over a minority government.


Loose Lips

A diplomatic gaffe by Britain’s foreign secretary has added to the woes of a British citizen arrested in Iran.

In a trial slated for Dec. 10 in Tehran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, will now face charges of creating propaganda against the state in a new case that could double her five-year sentence, after top diplomat Boris Johnson mistakenly suggested that she had been training journalists in Tehran when she was arrested for being a spy last April, The Times reported.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual citizen who works as a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation – a charitable arm of the Reuters news agency that funds reporting on human rights and similar issues and trains journalists in countries like Egypt, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

She was arrested in Iran in March 2016 while visiting her family with her 22-month-old daughter. In Sept. 2016 she was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of plotting to topple the Iranian regime.


Nothing to See Here

Australia confirmed it had evicted the last holdouts who were refusing to leave the shuttered detention center for asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, ending a three-week standoff.

Some 300 men were transported away from the center in buses on Friday, after an altercation with Papua New Guinea police in which some detainees claimed they were beaten with batons, the BBC reported.

Earlier, PNG police commissioner Gari Baki said that removals on Thursday had been conducted “peacefully and without the use of force.” Australia has said it was not involved in the operation.

Under a controversial policy that categorically rejects asylum seekers who try to enter Australia by boat, the country has detained such arrivals offshore.

Some 600 detainees initially refused to leave the center, because they feared violence from local residents. On Friday, they were transferred to transit centers on the island that Australia insists are ready to accommodate them, though the UN’s refugee agency has said they don’t offer adequate security measures and lack “the most basic services.”


Golden Cow

Modern income inequality has an interesting root cause – cows.

This was the conclusion scientists reached when they applied the modern Gini Coefficient, which denotes income inequality within a group or society, to ancient societies.

The researchers determined how wealth was distributed based on the variations in dwelling size among 62 North American and Eurasian societies that existed from 8000 BCE to 1750 CE.

They found that as societies evolved from hunter-gatherer to agrarian systems, societies with domesticated livestock grew markedly more unequal than those where labor performed solely by humans, Science Magazine reported.

It has to do with wealth inheritance, the researchers wrote in a study published recently in the journal Nature.

As families invested in livestock to increase their yield, they began accumulating wealth, which they used to purchase more land and security over generations.

“Think about how people get rich in modern societies,” said Tim Kohler of Washington State University in Pullman, who led the study. “They find clever ways to tie their current wealth into their future income.”

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