The World Today for April 19, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

PARAGUAY

Bucking the Trend

The next stop on the super-election train running through South America this year is Paraguay, where citizens take to the polls April 22 to elect their next president.

Paraguay has long been a bastion of conservatism and neoliberal policies. Since the nation’s 1989 transition to democracy, the ruling rightwing Colorado Party has dominated politics, except for a short, turbulent stint by a center-left president from 2008 to 2012.

This year, Colorado is expected to win again with its candidate Mario Abdo Benitez, a party stalwart, writes Americas Quarterly.

But in a country with a booming economy where nearly half of the population is under the age of 25, the party may be forced to implement social and structural reforms in order to keep the peace with a discontented electorate.

The 35-year reign of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner’s cult of personality was defined by a redistribution of agricultural land to military and political elites – including Colorado Party members.

Land kickbacks, plus his silencing of dissenters through a campaign of brutality, made Paraguay one of the region’s most unequal, poorest and most troubled nations throughout the 20th century.

Current President Horacio Cartes, elected in 2013, has led the charge in diversifying the economy, keeping spending to a minimum and debt low. It’s helped Paraguay recover from Stroessner’s rule and maintain persistent growth since 2015, despite the recessions of its powerhouse neighbors Brazil and Argentina, according to the International Monetary Fund.

But newfound wealth largely remains in the hands of elites. Ninety percent of arable land belongs to just 5 percent of the population – a startling statistic for the world’s fourth-largest exporter of soybeans, researcher Magdalena Lopez wrote last year for the Conversation.

And even with a growing economy, unemployment and poverty are staggering. Those who have jobs are underworked, and the public sector is so anemic that it exists mainly to hold elections, Lopez added.

Add to that rampant corruption, and it’s no wonder that the nation’s informal economy is often more lucrative for laypeople than more traditional enterprises, the New Internationalist wrote.

But economic growth and a cultural awakening have given young Paraguayans more confidence to speak up. Diverse rights groups have sprouted up in recent years, the media have become more vibrant and independent, and students are taking to the street to demand fairer treatment from agribusiness and an end to corruption, wrote Americas Quarterly.

Protesters even set fire to part of the Congress building last year when President Cartes tried to eliminate term limits so he could stand for re-election.

Across South America, economies are lagging and right-wing governments are taking over the reins of power, writes the Economist. With the Colorado Party still firmly in control, Paraguay will most certainly stay this course, too.

But a young population seeking change may force Colorado to rein in politics-as-usual and provide more social services – or else face bucking the trend.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

Rough Justice

Iraq has sentenced 212 people to death in Mosul and surrounding areas since recapturing the region from Islamic State last summer, mostly on charges of complicity with the terrorist group.

Human rights groups have accused Iraqi and other regional forces of running roughshod over rights to ensure speedy convictions.

Reuters cited Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council as saying Wednesday that criminal courts falling under the Nineveh Federal Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Mosul, had issued death sentences in 212 cases and sentenced another 150 people to life in prison in a total 815 cases adjudicated since the area was recaptured.

Another 341 people were jailed for various terms and 112 were acquitted, according to judiciary spokesman Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar.

In December, Human Rights Watch claimed Iraq was prosecuting people who were forced to join Islamic State, and argued that the authorities used torture to coerce confessions and issued death sentences after summary trials as short as 15 minutes in duration.

TURKEY

Champing at the Bit

Amid strained relations with the US, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday called for fresh elections on June 24, nearly 18 months ahead of schedule.

Erdogan said the situation in Syria and Iraq and the need to guarantee economic stability made the early polls necessary, but he’s also keen to seize the moment to consolidate his power, the New York Times reported.

Despite an ongoing crackdown on dissent related to a failed coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan remains the country’s most popular politician, the paper said. By calling early polls, he has also accelerated a planned transition to a system that grants the president more authority by abolishing the prime minister’s office and reducing the powers of parliament – changes that were approved in a referendum last year.

“Developments in Syria and elsewhere have made it critical to shift to the new executive system, so that we can take steps for our country’s future in a stronger manner,” Al-Jazeera quoted Erdogan as saying in a televised address.

Analysts said the short period before the polls will prevent his rivals from mounting much of a challenge.

INDIA

Want it All

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, faces accusations that he’s trying to consolidate power – albeit with more subtlety.

Picking up a longstanding complaint, Modi is pushing to end a system whereby around six states go to the polls every year in favor of simultaneous elections, a move he says would save money and free up lawmakers to get on with their jobs, Bloomberg reported.

The country’s Law Commission has said the scheme is feasible and recommended simultaneous elections for the lower house of parliament and state assemblies could instead be held in two phases starting in 2019.

But there are concerns that the change would benefit Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the expense of regional parties, as well as sideline important regional issues. And as a result, it will likely prove difficult for Modi to gain the support he needs from a majority of India’s 29 states to put the change in motion.

“This will destroy the federal structure of the country,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

DISCOVERIES

Can’t Stand the Heat

Dry heaving, neck pain and a series of intense, sudden headaches.

It’s what happened when one man ate the Carolina reaper – the hottest pepper in the world, the New York Times reported.

The Carolina reaper – a Frankenstein pepper developed from breeding a ghost pepper with a habanero – clocks in at up to 2 million Scoville heat units, the standard spice measurement for hot peppers. That’s 400 times spicier than a jalapeno.

Since its creation a few years ago, a slew of brave souls have tried their hand at swallowing the reaper on YouTube with painful results.

But after one man from New York consumed the fiery fruit recently during a chili pepper eating contest, he developed what clinicians call a “thunderclap headache.”

Scans of the man’s head and neck showed constriction of arteries in the brain normally associated with some medicines, making this the first documented case of such symptoms associated with eating hot peppers, CNN reported.

But spicy food lovers shouldn’t worry too much. Doctors believe that the patient was particularly sensitive to capsaicin, the chemical substance that produces the heat of peppers. His symptoms abated after a few days.

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