The World Today for July 24, 2018

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly



Fireflies and Powder Kegs

Cambodian voters go to the polls on Sunday.

Few believe anyone but Prime Minister Hun Sen will win, however.

Indeed, most observers view the election as a total sham.

Hun Sen, 65, has been in charge of the Southeast Asian country since 1985. He’s the world’s longest serving prime minister. Usually through questionable means, he’s won re-election five times since 1993 – when the United Nations sponsored a ballot in the wake of a peace deal that ended the country’s war with Vietnam.

“The more elections the country has held … the more authoritarian Cambodia has become,” wrote Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, in the Nikkei Asian Review. “The long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen has been losing his electoral appeal, and has increasingly resorted to coercive methods to produce what now amounts to an elected dictatorship.”

Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) derive support from their opposition to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, a regime that massacred around 1.7 million people.

Hun Sen repeatedly reminds his people that he’s kept the Khmer Rouge from returning, according to Reuters. “The CPP has been the only political force that has stayed and shared ups and downs with the people, and has done everything for the interest of the people,” said Hun Sen at his campaign kickoff on July 7.

But he also employs dirty tricks to keep his job, like “fireflies,” or “ampil ampik” in the local Khmer language.

The New York Times reported that Cambodians use the term to describe the small, obscure parties that miraculously pop up in the run-up to their elections. Few voters know them, so Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party winds up looking like a safe pick.

Voters would have recognized the Cambodia National Rescue Party. It almost won the 2013 election, but another Hun Sen tactic took care of them: a court packed with the leader’s allies dissolved the group last year.

Civil-rights groups are already writing off Hun Sen’s almost-certain victory.

Human Rights Watch issued a report in June detailing how the “dirty dozen” generals have committed crimes against humanity to keep the prime minister in power. Some are running as candidates with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his lock on power, Hun Sen remains unpopular. Cambodian activists fear that the country could become a pressure cooker of repression and uprisings if Hun Sen wins power without loosening restrictions on free speech and others rights, Deutsche Welle wrote.

That may be why Chinese hackers are watching the elections closely. Their masters fear instability from the Cambodian powder keg, too.



Staying Cool

Japan is reeling from a record heat wave that has already killed 40 people there and another 10 in nearby South Korea.

Japan recorded a record high temperature Monday of 41.1 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) in Kumagaya, a city about 40 miles northwest of Tokyo, the Associated Press reported. The previous high of 41.0 C was recorded in Ekawasaki on the island of Shikoku on Aug. 12, 2013.

The heat wave raised concerns about the 2020 Summer Olympics, which is slated for Tokyo. Post-war temperatures in the Japanese capital have historically averaged around 31.5 C (88.7 F). But officials are already gearing up to hold the marathon and some other outdoor events early in the morning and taking other steps to keep people cool, the agency said.

So why has 106 degrees Fahrenheit proved deadly in Japan when places in Australia routinely top 118 degrees? In traditionally cooler countries or in times of power failures, air conditioning isn’t available, raising the death toll, Vox reported.


A Reprieve

Italy agreed to continue to accept refugee ships for another five weeks while the European Union negotiates a new policy to deal with asylum seekers flooding into the bloc.

Following talks with his German counterpart, Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said Italy’s ports would remain open until a solution was reached to prevent “all rescued people from landing in one country,” the BBC reported.

The country is the main point of entry for Africans coming to Europe by sea but its new right-wing government has taken a hard line against immigration.

Earlier this month, human rights groups expressed concerns over proposals from several EU countries designed to return asylum seekers to Greece, saying the refugee camps there are already overcrowded. And last week, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini sought Moscow’s help to stem the flow of refugees – by beefing up its presence in Libya – on a visit to the Russian capital, the Globe Post reported.


Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The dream of becoming a millionaire is about to become really easy in Venezuela, where the International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will top 1 million percent by the end of the year.

Faced with an insurmountable budget deficit, President Nicolas Maduro continues to print money. Meanwhile, the situation is spiraling into conditions like those faced by Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s, Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, said as cited by Bloomberg.

Werner predicts Venezuela’s economy will shrink 18 percent in 2018 – the third consecutive year of double-digit contractions – due to continued falls in oil production.

Food and medicine shortages and the prevailing atmosphere of hopelessness has prompted hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to neighboring countries, and Werner warned of “intensifying spillover effects” as the situation grows worse.

What does that kind of inflation look like on the ground? The price of a cup of coffee in Caracas has soared 60,000 percent over the past year, Bloomberg said.


Anything Goes

Scientists recently discovered that the solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter, has 12 more moons, bringing the total to 79 natural satellites circling the fifth planet.

The odd part of this discovery is that one of the newly found moons is on a crash course with others circling the gas giant, the Guardian reported.

Scientists discovered the dozen satellites while searching for a mysterious ninth planet believed to hide beyond Neptune’s orbit, the farthest planet of the solar system.

Interestingly, nine of the newly discovered moons circle in a direction opposite to the planet’s spin – known as a retrograde orbit. Two others circle in the same direction as Jupiter’s spin – prograde – and are located closer to the planet.

The twelfth new moon – and odd one out – circles in a prograde fashion, but its orbit is located near the moons that follow a retrograde movement. A collision is likely, the researchers said.

Named Valetudo, after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, the moon is only less than half a mile wide.

“Valetudo is … driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road,” said Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, who led the effort that discovered the moons.

The British newspaper quipped that the name choice might be ironic, since “vale tudo” – meaning “anything goes” in Portuguese – is a form of mixed martial arts originating in Brazil.

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at [email protected].