The World Today for April 10, 2018



Puppet Politics

Following the surprise resignation of President U Htin Kyaw late last month on account of poor health, Myanmar’s parliament overwhelmingly selected former parliamentary speaker U Win Myint to assume the post.

Similar to his predecessor, Win Myint is an ardent loyalist of Myanmar’s civilian leader, Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, signaling a problematic continuation of the political status quo in Myanmar at a crucial juncture for the nation, observers say.

Following the half-century rule of a military junta in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party swept into power in 2015, stoking hopes that the gradual liberalization of the nation’s political system could lead to full-blown democracy, Deutsche Welle reported.

Such hopes, however, are proving to be ill-placed.

Under Myanmar’s junta-drafted constitution, the military maintains 25 percent of all legislative postings. Meanwhile, the constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, a challenge she’s circumnavigated by anointing herself state counselor, a post she’s described as “above the president.”

As the de-facto ruler, Aung San Suu Kyi has maintained her grip on power by appointing a series of loyalists as heads of state.

Even so, her actions are heavily constrained by the military, which has cracked down on dissent in the media and among the nation’s Rohingya ethnic minority, despised by the Buddhist majority and long excluded from civil discourse, the New York Times reported.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to condemn military action against the Rohingya in August – described by international observers as an ethnic cleansing that prompted the flight of some 700,000 to neighboring Bangladesh – only underscored the limited scope of her influence, and her desire to maintain balance between the military and civilian governments at all costs, CNBC reported.

Though known for being an activist, President Win Myint is widely expected to continue that delicate balancing act, providing the sense that “the country is not necessarily moving in a more democratic direction,” Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at John Cabot University, told CNBC.

That’s only highlighted by the fact that the National League for Democracy’s leadership is aging, and has failed to adequately groom pro-democracy successors in favor of keeping on Aung San Suu Kyi loyalists past their prime, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“There’s no comprehensive or clear agenda for the Lady’s successor,” said Elliot Brennan, a nonresident research fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Sweden. “While her president may be replaceable, she’s just not.”

With an ailing economy, staunch identity politics and a military force bent on holding power, puppet politics can only do so much to bring democracy to Myanmar.



Barks and Bites

Washington’s latest round of sanctions against Moscow – a reaction to the British poisoning row, the alleged meddling in the US election and other provocations – took a hefty bite out of Russian stocks on Monday.

As investors dumped Russian stocks and bonds and sold off their rubles, stocks plunged a whopping 8 percent, the ruble dropped 4 percent against the dollar, and the price of government bonds fell, the New York Times reported. It was one of the worst days for Russian markets since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Russia and Putin remain safe as long as oil prices remain high, the paper noted. But the market turmoil could just be beginning, as US President Donald Trump could well use sanctions rather than a military response to make good on his threat of serious consequences for the alleged chemical weapons strike in Syria over the weekend.

Meanwhile, amid rumblings of a trade war with China, Russian retaliation for US sanctions could also hurt US companies, Bloomberg said.


Border Crossing

Israel’s military said it’s investigating a disturbing video that appears to show an Israeli army sniper shooting a motionless Palestinian across the border in Gaza.

The video was circulated widely on social networks, after which Israeli television channels broadcast the clip at the start of their primetime shows, Reuters reported.

The video follows a week of protests by Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel border in which 30 Gazans have been shot dead. But the military cautioned that the footage probably depicted “an event that occurred a number of months ago.”

The army has stationed snipers near the border to stop Palestinian attempts to cross it as part of a protest billed as “The Great March of Return.” The protesters demand that Palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created.

Both Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took fiery positions on the struggle on Monday, making de-escalation unlikely, the Associated Press reported.


Made in China

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is likely to select a Chinese firm to spearhead the rebuilding of Marawi, the country’s only Muslim-majority city, in a deal slated to be finalized by the end of May.

As Duterte has signaled a shift away from the US and toward China, the infrastructure project could further smooth relations, which have sometimes been fraught due to the countries’ dispute over territory in the South China Sea, Bloomberg reported.

Duterte’s government initially chose a group led by China State Construction Engineering Corp. to aid in the 72 billion-peso ($1.4 billion) rebuilding effort. Four out of five companies that submitted unsolicited bids are Chinese, while the other is Malaysian.

CSCEC offered to rebuild roads, schools, public buildings and utilities in the most damaged part of Marawi for 17 billion pesos, promising a one-year interest-free loan for 40 percent of the project cost and vowing to hire local workers for 80 percent of the jobs.

Former residents returned to Marawi for the first time earlier this month to find homes that had been reduced to rubble by fighting between government troops and militants loyal to the Islamic State, the Straits Times reported.


Space Buzz

Though human prospects of colonizing Mars are still far off, NASA hasn’t given up on exploring the Red Planet just yet.

In fact, the agency is looking into creating robotic swarms of bees to better study Mars and find signs of life, CNET reported.

Aptly named “Marsbees,” the critter-like robots are as small as a bumblebee and have the wingspan of a cicada.

They could potentially be launched from a mobile space base acting as a communications and recharging station on the Red Planet, allowing the bees to cover more ground than traditional bots and detect signs of life, such as the presence of methane gas.

It’s not the first time adventurous scientists have drawn inspiration from nature. Researchers are currently developing a “hummingbird micro-air vehicle” and will soon test it in a simulation of Mars’ atmosphere.

NASA also recently announced a round of investments for 25 early early-stage tech projects similar to those mentioned to help speed up exploration.

Current rovers have proved helpful in providing information on our neighboring celestial body, but they can only cover so much ground. One rover, Curiosity, has only traversed about 11 miles since landing on Mars in 2012.

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