The World Today for January 03, 2018



Left, Right and Center

It’s tempting to see the victory of conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera in Chile’s recent presidential elections as a sign the country is veering to the right — and launching Europe’s penchant for oligarchy in South America.

One of the richest politicians in the world, Pinera takes office in March, after his conservative Let’s Go Chile coalition trounced center-left candidate Alejandro Guillier, of the ruling New Majority coalition, capturing 54.6 percent of the vote in the final round of the country’s presidential election on Dec. 17, the Associated Press reported.

During Pinera’s acceptance speech, supporters could be heard singing, “Chile has been saved.”

But pundits are divided over whether the results signal a drift to the right like that of Argentina and Brazil. Though Pinera is more conservative than his center-left opponent and won on a pro-business platform, the Economist argued that the outcome represented “a vote for continuity [rather] than radical change.”

And political scientists Jennifer Pribble and Juan Pablo Luna opined in the Washington Post that the vote “does not signal a right turn,” due to the strong performance of the left-wing Broad Front, which increased its seats from three to 20 in the lower house.

Pinera’s campaign promises hint that may be correct. On one hand, he courted right-wing voters by comparing his center-left opposition’s policies to the failed government of Venezuela. He also promised to double growth from the 1.8 percent a year managed under the departing Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, whose administration reformed Chile’s tax and education systems and loosened the country’s strict abortion laws. But on the other, he proposed increasing public spending by $14 billion over four years, or 1.4 percent of GDP per year, for pensions, health, infrastructure and education. He also promised to retain Bachelet’s free university tuition for the poorest 60 percent of students.

No doubt he learned from his first term as president, from 2010 to 2014, which was marred by large protests against inequality and demands for education reform, noted the Associated Press.

He’ll benefit from a rebound in prices for copper — the mainstay of the country’s economy. But he’s likely to struggle to push through needed reforms to the pension system or deliver on his promises to reform tax and education policies, Pribble and Luna argue, as the coalition controls only 73 of the 155 seats in the lower house.

Political gridlock could further alienate voters who were already disillusioned by corruption allegations against Bachelet and the perception that Chile is “stuck.” And Pinera, too, has faced criticism for his offshore holdings and use of tax havens, as well as breaching securities law and manipulating employment and poverty figures.

His best bet, therefore, may be to stay the course, says the Economist, arguing that Chileans aspire to a “pro-market and socially aware” political system. Pinera’s victory message echoed that point, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Chile needs agreements rather than confrontations,” he said. “It needs dialogue, collaboration, because that is how countries progress.”



Drifting Toward Détente?

South Korea proposed border talks with Pyongyang in the wake of an overture from North Korea’s supreme leader, even as experts said the North may be preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test.

South Korea’s Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon proposed that the two governments meet next Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village straddling the border north of Seoul, the New York Times reported.

Kim had suggested Monday that the countries open dialogue on easing military tensions and discuss the possibility of the North’s participating in the Winter Olympics, which begin in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

However, neither President Donald Trump nor Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, expressed much optimism, and US officials said another ICBM test could come in a matter of days, noted Newsweek.

“We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Haley said at the UN Tuesday.


Limits of Free Speech

German police are investigating whether a tweet from a right-wing lawmaker violated the country’s hate speech laws, after Twitter temporarily suspended her account on Monday.

Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, had posted a tweet on Sunday accusing the Cologne police of appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men” after they tweeted a new-year message in Arabic, the BBC reported.

Another AfD leader, Alice Weidel, is also under investigation, after she wrote on Facebook that authorities were submitting to “imported, marauding, groping, abusive, knife-stabbing migrant mobs.”

Both social media firms have deleted the posts.

A sign of the rising tide of far-right populism in Europe, AfD made big gains in national elections in September, placing third, the New York Times noted.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, hundreds of men groped, assaulted, harassed or robbed women in Cologne. The anti-immigration AfD made much of the fact that many of the men were asylum-seekers or other immigrants.


Bully Pulpit

The head of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo blasted the government for “barbarism” following a crackdown on demonstrators that left at least seven people dead.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo accused security forces of opening fire on peaceful protesters and desecrating places of worship on Sunday, Reuters reported. The protests against President Joseph Kabila for refusing to step down had been organized by Catholic activists.

“We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatize the actions of the supposedly valiant men in uniform, which are, unfortunately, nothing more, nothing less than barbarism,” Monsengwo said.

Kabila is already serving beyond his allotted term under an agreement brokered by the church. And a decision by the electoral commission to delay elections that were promised for 2017 until the end of this year has revived fears he won’t step down after all.

Dozens have died in related protests over the past two years and militia violence across the country has also increased, Reuters noted.


Going Aphrodite

The decade-old Greek debt crisis has taken a toll on the nation’s economy and its people. But some have found a way to fight back – beauty treatments.

Reuters reported that a surge of nonsurgical cosmetic treatments suggests Greece is going through a “lipstick effect,” where people are seeking solace by looking good in a time of financial difficulty.

“It’s like giving themselves a present,” said Lia Papadavid, a dermatologist.

According to data from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nonsurgical procedures in Greece almost quadrupled over the past six years. In 2016, 220,000 people had work done compared to around 61,000 in 2010.

The country ranks 14th out of the top 24 countries worldwide for beauty treatments – behind Italy and Germany but above Belgium.

With prices ranging between $95 and $180, the procedures are a costly treat for most Greeks. The average net monthly income in the country is $930.

“No one has money to spare,” Eleni, 43, told Reuters. “Everyone is being pressured right now with the crisis, some less, some more. I think it needs a bit of planning, and to love yourself.”

Click here to see Greeks boosting their confidence.


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