The World Today for May 21, 2018



A Shimmering Light

Just days before Malaysians took to the polls to elect a new parliament this month, political analysts were fairly certain that Prime Minister Najib Razak, a member of an influential Malaysian political dynasty who’d been in power since 2008, would lead his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to its 14th consecutive victory since Malaysian independence in 1957.

But oh how political tables do turn.

In a surprise turn of events, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, jumped ship to the opposition to lead a multiethnic coalition hellbent on ousting Najib to victory on May 9. His newly minted and aptly named Hope Pact banded together with other political forces to win 122 of 222 seats up for grabs, the Washington Post reported.

It’s a display of how ready Malaysians are to move away from corruption and authoritarianism, the New York Review of Books wrote.

Najib stands accused of siphoning billions of dollars from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, which he led under the auspices of bolstering foreign investment, the New York Times wrote in a telling profile.

His wife’s lavish shopping trips abroad to shore up her $10-million Hermes Birkin handbag collection, the family’s parties fit for royalty and the many gifts of fine art to American movie stars, however, certainly suggested otherwise.

Meanwhile, Malaysians languished under rising costs of living, an average salary of just $255 a month and a regime that silenced and jailed political dissenters under antiquated, British-era rules.

With Najib now deposed, one such detainee, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, twice imprisoned on allegations of sodomy and banned from public office – once by a scorned Mahathir during his tenure, and again by Najib years later – looks poised to become Malaysia’s next leader.

Just days after the election, he’s been released from jail and officially pardoned by the Malaysian king. And Mahathir has already promised he’ll step aside in due time to allow Anwar to become prime minister.

The events of the past week certainly show that Malaysia is trying to buck the trend of corruption and tyranny that’s plagued the nation since its independence from the British, Nurul Izzah Anwar, Anwar Ibrahim’s son, opined in the Guardian.

But the real work now begins.

Ethnic polarization still exists in Malaysia, where the Chinese are often excluded from opportunities and radical Islamism and nationalism are spreading, political consultant Derwin Pereira wrote in the South China Morning post. It remains to be seen whether the pan-ethnic coalition that Mahathir led to victory has staying power.

Also, questions remain about Mahathir’s good intentions, Jeevan Vasagar wrote in the Guardian.

Much of the strongman tactics employed by Najib during his tenure were learned from Mahathir himself. Despite his promises to usher in democratic, social and economic reforms for Malaysians in his old age, he’s been known to renege on his word in the past, Vasagar noted.

Even though the path ahead for Malaysia remains foggy, the ouster of a strongman too long in power is a shimmering light of a renewed democracy in the distance.



Plight of the Weary

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro won a second term Sunday in a vote boycotted by the opposition, and one condemned by the international community as heavily rigged as a worsening political, economic and humanitarian crisis grips the country.

Turnout was anemic – less than half of all eligible voters went to the polls – delivering Maduro a win with 68 percent of the vote. In the past two presidential elections, turnout topped 80 percent.

President Maduro was quick to celebrate the win, but the vote symbolized just how jaded Venezuelans have become with political change in their country, the New York Times reported.

In the five years since Maduro took office, inflation in one of the world’s most resource-rich nations has ballooned to 13,000 percent and a small portion of meat now costs a monthly salary. Hunger is widespread, and medicine and other necessities are scarce.

The United States and other countries have already indicated they won’t recognize the results of the elections because Venezuelan electoral authorities had barred the nation’s largest opposition party from competing, jailed activists and politicians and moved up the campaign season by seven months to ensure that other candidates had little time to prepare.


Gag Order

Only weeks before Saudi Arabia plans to lift a ban on female drivers, authorities detained a group of prominent activists who had pushed for the move, NPR reported.

Loujain al-Hathloul, recently named the third most powerful woman in the Arab world for her activism, as well as three other women and four male supporters, were arrested last week, authorities said. The group sought to “destabilize the kingdom and breach its social structure and mar the national consistency,” Saudi news agency SPA reported, according to CNN.

The lifting of the driving ban, scheduled for June 24, is viewed as a positive development for women’s rights in the country. Last year, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud began implementing other social reforms as well, such as the opening of movie theaters and allowing women to attend sporting events.

International human rights organizations said over the weekend that the arrests undermine the prince’s promises for greater social cohesion. Those detained had been pushing for more widespread change, including an end to male guardianship of women in the country.


Ignored Warnings

The Mexican plane company involved in the worst Cuban air disaster in 30 years over the weekend had received prior safety complaints for poor maintenance of its machines, two ex-pilots told the BBC.

The Mexican company Damojh leased both the crew and the Boeing 737 that crashed on Friday about 12 miles south of Havana to Cuba’s state-run airliner, Cubana. Over the weekend, however, it emerged that the leased plane was nearly 40 years old and was barred from being used in Guyana’s airspace due to crews overloading the cabin with luggage, the BBC reported.

Pilots who had previously worked for Damojh also complained about a lack of proper maintenance, and some crewmembers refused to fly with the company out of safety concerns.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s transportation minister announced Saturday that five children, as well as 10 evangelical priests and their spouses, were among the victims of the crash, bringing the official total to 110.

Cuban authorities are still combing through the wreckage, but they announced that one of the plane’s “black boxes” that recorded flight data was salvaged in good condition.


Don’t Sweat It

When sweat starts to drop, most are inclined to quickly wipe it away without a second thought.

But there’s more to sweat that meets the nose – in fact, there’s enough data in skin perspiration to identify someone, the Verge reported.

As opposed to blood or other genetic material that’s expensive and difficult to collect, sweat is abundant and contains different hormones, proteins and ions that can be valuable to chemists.

In a study published recently in the journal Analytical Chemistry, a team of forensic chemists were able to discern real human sweat samples from manufactured ones by looking at the concentration of three core chemicals: urea, glutamate and lactate.

The researchers discovered that the chemical make-up of sweat is different in each human, with “almost no chance of any two people having the same sweat profile,” the Verge wrote.

Sweat may not provide iron-clad identification evidence like DNA, but it can help determine specific individual character traits, such as age, gender and food habits.

It could even help improve smartphone security technology by replacing fingerprint scanners – which can be easily faked – as well as health monitoring devices.

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