The World Today for June 25, 2018

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The Milkman, the DJ, and the Accountant

Months of political strife on Madagascar have seemingly come to a close after a court-mandated unity government reflecting the results of the nation’s 2013 elections was installed earlier this month.

But while Madagascar has managed to avoid all-out crisis for now, overlapping political and economic challenges mean that the instability is far from over.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and one of the world’s poorest nations, has been mired in turmoil – especially over the last decade.

In 2009, the nation experienced a military coup and violent protests in which more than 100 people were killed. Investors fled, despite the nation’s vast deposits of cobalt, gold, uranium and nickel, and traditional benefactors like the European Union and the United States shut the valve on international aid.

The nation’s budget shrank by 70 percent virtually overnight. As a result, some 80 percent of its people today live on less than $1.90 a day, wrote the Financial Times.

New hope came with the election of President Hery Rajaonarimampianina in 2013. Rajaonarimampianina, known as “the accountant” for his previous post as finance minister, began rapprochement with the Western world that prevented the nation from falling deeper into an economic abyss.

But as is the case with many leaders on the African continent, Rajaonarimampianina sought to hold on to power. A new electoral law with a provision that would have barred two opposition candidates from running in this fall’s elections sparked protests and a brutal crackdown that killed at least two people and injured dozens.

The controversial provision was scrapped last month after the nation’s top court ruled it was invalid. But that didn’t stop the opposition from asking the court to start impeachment proceedings against Rajaonarimampianina.

The court hasn’t acted on that request, but it did order the president to create a new government in which all parties were proportionately represented. Rajaonarimampianina acquiesced and named Christian Ntsay, a former UN official, as a “consensus prime minister.”

Rajaonarimampianina told the Financial Times that the “cycles of crises have come back so often that our politicians think in the short term,” and that he hopes for prolonged stability this time around.

That may be difficult in practice, seeing as how he must now lead a diverse government that includes allies of two of his predecessors: Andry Rajoelina, who seized power after 2009’s coup, and the man he ousted, Marc Ravalomanana. The two are known to the public respectively as “the DJ” and “the milkman,” due to their previous jobs.

The cast of characters hasn’t stoked optimism in the electorate or in parliament.

“The government has given birth to a seven-headed monster and must be buried unconditionally,” Honore Tsabotokay, an independent MP, recently told opposition supporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

But even for all the chaos, there are still only two options for the electorate, Malik Ibrahim wrote for Geopolitical Monitor: “Put their faith back in the discredited old guard – or persevere instead with an incumbent who appears to be slowly, but surely, pulling the country out of its quagmire.”

Given the records of the DJ, the accountant and the milkman, however, “no one in Madagascar can afford to let themselves succumb to political amnesia,” he added.



Snap Decision

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory Sunday after an unofficial tally showed him topping the 50-percent mark needed to avoid a run-off in an election that marks the final step in the country’s transition to a presidential system.

With nearly all the votes counted, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Erdogan had won nearly 53 percent of the vote, noted the BBC. His closest challenger, Muharrem Ince, managed some 31 percent, and conceded the race on Monday morning.

By avoiding a run-off, Erdogan may have staved off the greatest challenge to his leadership since he first came to power 16 years ago, NBC News noted. Though he’d declared early elections in attempt to solidify his power, a normally fractured opposition comprising secularists, nationalists, Islamists and Kurds cooperated more than usual to campaign against him, making the race tighter than he anticipated.

Unofficial results also showed his Justice and Development party, or AKP, lost its majority in the parliamentary elections, which were held simultaneously.


Me Talk Pretty One Day

Indonesia is moving to compel expatriates to take language classes while at the same time cutting red tape to issue work permits, catching the foreign business community off guard with new language requirements that are unique in Southeast Asia, the New York Times reported.

The language requirement “sends a negative message that foreigners are somehow unwelcome,” said A. Lin Neumann, managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, which represents nearly 300 American companies operating in the country. “This hurts the investment climate.”

The government has not explained why it wants the new rules, but observers say President Joko Widodo may be trying to quiet criticism of his efforts to streamline the work permit process in the lead-up to elections next year.

While the percentage of foreign workers in Indonesia is low compared to neighboring Singapore and Malaysia, locals are distressed by an influx of Chinese manual laborers employed by Chinese-funded infrastructure projects.


Strange Bedfellows

An American ally and one of its longtime foes have joined forces in Iraq in a bid to cobble together a government following the country’s recent elections – but it’s unclear whether that will come to fruition.

US-friendly Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced they’d joined forces Saturday, the New York Times reported. The alliance surprised some observers, because Sadr, the top vote-getter, had already announced an alliance with a pro-Iranian Shiite leader, Hadi al-Ameri, who came second.

Notably, Abadi and Sadr emphasized that their alliance did not mean the end of Sadr’s alliance with Ameri – who, like Abadi, was once a bitter rival.

Political analysts said the new alliance could help bring Iraq’s disparate Shiite groups together, but it also increased uncertainty about who would emerge as leader. “Two or three days ago we thought the candidate for prime minister would be Hadi al-Ameri, but now there is talk about nominating Haider al-Abadi again,” said Wathiq al-Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Strategic Studies Group, a think tank in Baghdad.


Earth-Shattering Win

When Germany lost against Mexico during the first round of the World Cup, German fans weren’t the only ones shaken by their team’s upsetting loss.

After Mexico’s Hirving Lozano scored the game-winning goal, fans of Mexico were so overjoyed that their celebrations caused an “artificial earthquake,” CNN reported.

According to a tweet by the Institute of Geological and Atmospheric Investigations, a nongovernmental agency in Mexico City, sensors registered “micro-records” of seismic activity in Mexico City at the moment the goal was scored.

Neither the US Geological Survey nor Mexico’s National Seismological Service recorded any readings during that time.

Nevertheless, the institute stated in a blog post that it was possible the quiver was caused by the “massive jumps” of fans, and that only “sensitive seismographic equipment (and generally nearby) can detect the effects of crowds.”

Similarly, back in 2011, Seattle Seahawks fans erupted in celebrations that prompted a nearby seismograph to measure what was called the “Beast Quake.”

Seahawks fans went at it again in 2013, when the device recorded five separate seismic events during a win against the New Orleans Saints.

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