The World Today for January 29, 2019

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Waiting to be Heard

Algerians are among tens of millions of Africans electing leaders this year. But they are also among many Africans who don’t know if their votes will count.

“Ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is not loosening his grip on the levers of power in Algiers just yet,” said the Africa Report.

At least 20 nations on the continent, including Nigeria, Tunisia and Cameroon, are holding elections for presidents, lawmakers and local government in 2019, explained Quartz.

In Algeria, the frail Bouteflika’s term is coming to an end. Signs suggest he should consider stepping down. He never fully recovered from a 2013 stroke. Now 81, he’s been in office since 1999, having rebuilt the country after the “décennie noire,” (black decade) of the North African, majority Muslim country’s civil war. Few rivals can challenge him, however.

“If Bouteflika’s health allows him to run for a fifth term, he will undoubtedly win,” wrote the conservative Jamestown Foundation.

So far, the president, who appears in public rarely, hasn’t officially said if he’ll stand for re-election, despite calls from members of his Front de Libération Nationale political party to jump into the race.

Regardless, Bouteflika’s regime has been harsh.

He prosecuted a blogger for speaking with the spokesman of the Israeli foreign ministry, wrote Agence France-Presse. Algeria doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Israel. The blogger received a sentence of 10 years in jail. That was commuted to seven. Another judge then threw the case out. He’s now in jail pending a new trial.

Amnesty International recently called for the release of a journalist jailed simply for covering a peaceful public demonstration in support of a jailed singer.

The Arab Spring never seriously rocked Algeria, an oil producer and OPEC member, wrote Reuters. But protests and strikes have occurred. Unemployment is high. Youth unemployment is astronomical. Many Algerians want change.

But since ballots were allowed in 1989, elections in Algeria have rarely been fair. Bouteflika won 82 percent of the vote in 2014 without campaigning, the Economist reported. There’s little doubt that the elites are devoting some thought to who might succeed him.

Election rigging concerns are hardly exclusive to Algeria.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari recently sacked the country’s chief justice, Al Jazeera reported, raising concerns about whether he was seeking to influence the judiciary ahead of his Feb. 16 re-election bid.

Cameroonian voters are expected to elect local government officials who might play a big role in defusing tensions between English and French-speaking regions of the country, the Journal du Cameroun wrote. But in last year’s presidential election, many English speakers, who complain of mistreatment under the country’s French-speaking leaders, boycotted the ballot in protest.

And in countries like the Republic of Guinea, it’s hard to know if elections will even be held as scheduled.

For democracy to count, so must voting.



Shifting Stance

Reversing the tough stance he took last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to normalize relations with Pyongyang and raised the possibility of a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a policy speech to the legislature on Monday.

“(We) should break the shell of mutual mistrust in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile issue, and the most important issue of abduction,” he said, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency. “The goal is to settle the unfortunate history with North Korea and normalize diplomatic relations.”

The issue of abduction refers to Japanese citizens who North Korea kidnapped decades ago to help train its spies.

Abe promised to “directly face Chairman Kim Jong-un” to resolve those disputes, Al Jazeera reported, though he didn’t provide any time frame for such a meeting. Describing these overtures as “conciliatory,” the news agency said the speech contrasted starkly with Abe’s parliamentary address a year ago, when he pledged to “compel North Korea to change its policies.”

Meanwhile, Abe this year downplayed Tokyo’s ties with Seoul amid tensions over South Korean demands for compensation for wartime forced labor and other issues, the Japan Times noted.


Caught Between

The White House has warned leaders of the European Union that its member countries could face stiff US fines and other penalties if it follows through on plans to set up an alternative payment system that would allow Iran to work around US sanctions, but Europe is poised to ignore those threats.

“This has always been our goal and we will implement it,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday, according to the Associated Press.

In an effort to keep alive the Iran nuclear deal following the US withdrawal from the pact, Europe has already taken measures to stop EU-based companies from complying with the re-introduced US sanctions. But the alternative payment system has prompted US worries that it could eventually supplant the SWIFT system and that other nations under sanctions might use it to evade their own restrictions.

Separately, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander issued a boilerplate threat to destroy Israel if it strikes Iran directly following an Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria last week.


The Right to Honor

In corruption-plagued Honduras, the trial of opposition lawmaker Maria Luisa Borjas on charges of defamation began Monday, highlighting concerns that a constitutional guarantee of “the right to honor” is being used to silence criticism of the abuse of power.

The charges relate to a 2017 news conference where Borjas, formerly a high-ranking officer in the country’s national police force, named the “intellectual authors” of a high-profile murder while reading from government investigative reports about three such killings, the Associated Press reported.

If convicted, she could face a possible fine and the loss of her seat in Congress.

“It’s a political persecution and they want to set a precedent so that nobody dares to denounce absolutely anything here,” Borjas said.

Camilo Atala, president of Ficohsa bank, accused her of defamation for disclosing him as one of 16 people suspected of plotting the killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres in 2016, saying the accusation hurt his business relationships as well as his “honor, prestige and dignity.”

However, since 2003, the Honduras-based Committee for Freedom of Expression has counted 41 criminal cases related to crimes against honor, including 13 targeting journalists, AP noted.


Generosity and Rationalism

Scientists have discovered that humans aren’t very generous.

A team of anthropologists and psychologists concluded that chimpanzees and younger children are more rational that older children, Inverse reported.

In an experiment, scientists at Max Planck Institute and Yale University analyzed how the concept of social comparison played out in three groups: chimpanzees, children aged five to six, and children nine to ten.

Each subject had to decide between a tray with three treats or a tray with nine. The catch was that if the subject picked the three-treat tray, they could take two and leave one for a peer.

However, if they chose the bigger tray, they would receive three and the remaining six would go to their peer.

Most chimps and children under six would pick the nine-treat tray. The older children, however, went after the three-treat tray.

The team determined that the latter group was more concerned about a sense of fairness based on social comparisons than getting more treats. The older children would rather get fewer treats than see their peers get more.

The researchers argued that chimpanzees did not engage in such social comparisons.

Scientists concluded that as humans age they become competitive, regardless of whether the species evolved to thrive in groups.

For humanists, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

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