The World Today for December 05, 2017



Making up for Lost Time

Thais have spent the past year mourning the death of their beloved King Bhumibol, who died in 2016 after a 70-year rule.

Thais are known for the pomp and circumstance of their royal funeral processions, and this time was no different, the Economist reported. Until November, they dressed in black, draped monochrome bunting over most office buildings and shopping malls, and bent the knee before the king’s body.

Now that the mourning period is over, it’s a new beginning for Thailand, some say, and not just because there is a new monarch.

King Bhumibol’s seven-decade rule was marked by prolonged political turmoil that saw 12 military coups, the last of which took place in 2014, Bloomberg QuickTakes writes.

Since the last overthrow, Thailand has been governed by a military junta, which has banned political party organizations to restore southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to a steady clip.

With resentments dying down, and the economy on the up again, there’s indication of a new democracy movement afoot, Bloomberg reports.

The nation’s politicians have said that Thailand is still on track to hold elections in November 2018. They insist bans on political gatherings will be lifted in due time.

“Democracy or democratization is the next step for Thailand,” said Suvit Maesincee, the minister in charge of the premier’s office. “They’re still working on supporting election laws, but I think everything is on track for November.”

Some are even starting to eye the prime minister’s office as an end to the nation’s longest military rule since the 1970s comes into view, Reuters reports.

But democracy has never come easy for Thailand – and a post-coup society doesn’t guarantee harmony.

Thailand is polarized between rural farmers in the country’s north and wealthy political and military elites in Bangkok and the south. The elites have often sought to manipulate democracy to keep power in their hands.

Many fear that unless differences can be worked out, the military, known for its no-nonsense culture, will either prolong its rule or quickly intervene again once the going gets tough.

A way forward could be to strike a balance between the military, the new monarch, and all political factions for the common goal of moving Thailand into the 21st century. But that’s no easy task for a system starkly split between ideological, social and economic imperatives, writes Today Online.

Even so, with tensions rising among the electorate to make up for lost time, many are calling for the military to uphold its promise.

“I want the junta to show some sincerity about the election by lifting the ban,” Sunisa Lertpakawat, a member of removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party, told Reuters.

“We haven’t got much time.”



The Big Picture

The Houthi rebels fighting for control of Yemen killed the country’s longtime former dictator on Monday after he turned against the rebel group and denounced them as a “coup militia.”

The death of erstwhile strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh by his most recent allies – who disseminated a video of his lifeless body being dumped from the back of a truck – marks a turning point in the deadly-but-largely-ignored war, the New York Times reported.

The shattering of the alliance between Saleh loyalists and the rebels will likely make it harder to negotiate an end to the conflict and worsen a humanitarian crisis that has left 7 million citizens in danger of starvation.

Throughout his career, which included 33 years as president, Saleh expertly played the country’s many tribes off one another in order to retain power until he agreed to resign in 2012, only to return to rally his followers and ally with the Houthis two years later.

It’s not just a humanitarian crisis, notes the Economist. The world cannot afford another failed state that becomes a breeding ground for terrorism, and Yemen dominates a sea passage crucial to traffic through the Suez Canal.


Deal or No Deal

An agreement to solve a dispute over the Irish border that’s vital to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit scheme unraveled at the last minute on Monday, making it even less likely that she’ll manage to strike a deal before the end of the year.

May was sitting down to lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to finalize the deal in Brussels when she received a phone call from Arlene Foster — the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party – scuttling the plan, Bloomberg reported.

The DUP is against any proposal that applies to Northern Ireland and not the rest of the UK.

Making matters more difficult, Dublin had already agreed to May’s proposal, so any further change to it will look like a concession to Northern Ireland.

For his part, Junker said he’s still confident the two sides can reach an agreement by mid-December, which is important because only after “significant progress” can negotiations begin for future business relations between Britain and the EU.


The Crypto President

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro won’t hold fresh elections until the US lifts its “vulgar sanctions” against him and his allies. In the meantime, he’s creating a cryptocurrency in hopes of providing some relief.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Monday that any deal with the opposition will depend on “the lifting of the vulgar sanctions the Venezuelan right wing’s leadership requested of Donald Trump’s Treasury Department as well as Spanish, Canadian and other authorities,” Bloomberg reported.

Under its constitution, Venezuela must hold a presidential vote every six years. But electoral authorities have yet to establish a date for 2018 elections, despite opposition demands and widespread public protests. To exert added pressure, the US and the European Union have levied a series of sanctions against top Venezuelan officials and on certain financial transactions.

On Sunday, however, Maduro said the country would create an oil-backed cryptocurrency called the petro that would allow it “to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade,” Public Radio International reported. The country’s national currency, the bolivar, is in freefall.


Girl Power

A new archaeological find is giving new meaning to “girl power.”

That’s because a recent analysis of female bones from 5,300 BC to 100 AD revealed that most ancient women possessed 30 percent more upper-body strength than today’s non-athletic females, the Guardian reported.

And that’s all thanks to some good old-fashioned manual labor, researchers posit.

“We think a lot of what we are seeing is the bone’s response to women grinding grain, which is pretty much seated but using your arms really repetitively many hours a day,” said Alison Macintosh, the study’s co-author.

As time passed, researchers observed a slight reduction in strength, mostly due to technological developments in farming. Nevertheless, until the Middle Ages, female upper-body strength still surpassed that of modern athletes.

The study is changing perceptions of women’s role in ancient societies.

“It’s highlighting those hours of work that women have been doing that have been hidden in the archaeological record until now,” Macintosh said.

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