The World Today for November 11, 2019

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Rearview Mirror Politics

Has Romania finally achieved a semblance of stability?

Protests over political corruption have wracked Romania for the past two years. Most recently, for example, the BBC reported on activists who took to the streets to call for a crackdown on illegal logging in the country’s vast woodlands, the last virgin forests in Europe.

The demonstrators’ main bone of contention, however, relates to the Social Democrats who have run the East European country in recent years. In 2016, a court convicted party leader Liviu Dragnea of trying to fix a referendum and blocked him from becoming prime minister. He ran the government from the behind the scenes, explained Bloomberg, until he was imprisoned in May.

Ex-Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, a Social Democrat, appeared to be healing the damage Dragnea had inflicted on the party. But a dispute with a junior party in the ruling coalition broke up her government last month.

Into the breach stepped Ludovic Orban, the current prime minister and leader of the center-right National Liberal Party who survived a recent vote of no confidence, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Orban is now pledging to cut government bureaucracy, invest in infrastructure, reform economic development policies and improve the fairness of the judicial system.

Perhaps Orban’s most important job, however, is ensuring free and fair elections. Voters went to the polls on Sunday in the first round of elections to pick a new president, with a runoff scheduled on Nov. 24. Local and parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.

“Mr. Orban’s administration will be closely watched to see whether it can overcome the political turmoil of recent years,” wrote the Financial Times.

Romania’s president has a mix of powers that Americans might consider peculiar. The office is largely symbolic, but the president can dissolve parliament and appoint prime ministers after a no confidence vote, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and exerts significant, but not total, influence over foreign affairs.

Most importantly, the president, as Romania’s head of state, is a symbol of the nation. The vote is therefore a chance for ordinary folks to signal the direction they want their country to take.

President Klaus Iohannis, who like Orban hails from the National Liberal Party, is expected to win a second five-year term, the Guardian reported. On Sunday, exit polls showed Iohannis garnering almost 40 percent of the first-round vote, Reuters reported. Dancila trailed with about 23 percent of the vote followed by Dan Barna, leader of the Save Romania Union party.

It appears voters want to move on from the corruption of the Social Democrats. Barring a surprise, Orban and Iohannis are likely to receive a mandate to satisfy their desires.



The Unraveling

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Sunday he will call for new elections after facing weeks of protests over the results of last month’s presidential elections, a vote he won, the New York Times reported.

Morales said he would replace the Electoral Tribunal before the new vote, but did not give a date for new elections.

The announcement follows a further loosening of his grip on power over the weekend when police forces in most cities mutinied and the army declared its neutrality in the political crisis.

Also, the Organization of American States released a report saying that the Oct. 20 vote results should be annulled because of widespread irregularities.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the announcement will calm unrest in the country – protesters have demanded that Morales resign by Monday.

The country’s first indigenous president, Morales remains popular in the countryside among poor farmers. However, the opposition accuses him of changing the constitution so he could run for an unprecedented fourth term, and says the October vote was rigged.


Fateful Ruling

India’s Supreme Court ruled Saturday in favor of handing over a centuries-old religious site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims to a Hindu group, a verdict many worry will further inflame tensions between the two communities, Reuters reported.

The ruling paves way for the construction of a Hindu temple in the northern town of Ayodhya and is a considered a political victory for Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won a second term this year.

Hindu groups have been pushing to build a temple on the site for more than seven decades, claiming the site was holy for Hindus long before Muslim Mughal rulers built the Babri mosque there in 1528.

The mosque was destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992, an event that ignited religious riots in which about 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

The site has been heavily protected since the 1992 riots and security was tightened ahead of the ruling, with police monitoring social media and cutting off the internet in some areas.

Hindu and Muslim groups, meanwhile, have been appealing for calm to prevent flare ups of violence.


A Biting Message

Jordan said Sunday it would reclaim two parcels of land leased by Israel under the 1994 peace agreement, a move that underscored deteriorating relations between both countries even as they marked the 25th anniversary of the accord.

“I announce the end of the annex of the two areas, Ghumar and Al-Baqoura, in the peace treaty and impose our full sovereignty on every inch of them,” said King Abdullah II, according to the Associated Press.

Israel previously controlled the land for more than 70 years and was allowed to lease the areas under a landmark agreement reached between Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin and the late King Hussein of Jordan.

It was assumed that the lease would be extended once again, but the recent decision marks a blow to Israeli-Jordanian relations that have already steadily deteriorated in recent years.

In particular, tensions have risen over Israeli policies in east Jerusalem, where Jordan has custodial rights over Muslim holy sites.


A Horse, A Lance, A Revival

Jousting remains quite popular in the United Kingdom, and now Australians taking up the challenge, creating an international revival of sorts for the medieval martial game.

Two weeks ago, “knights” from both countries met in Australia’s Victoria state for a jousting match, taking their historical sporting rivalry to another century, Agence France-Presse reported.

Competitors, clad in medieval style armor, rode horses and carried wooden lances and shields to face off with their opponents. They would charge at one another on opposite sides of a barrier and score points if they could break their lances against the opponent’s torso.

Despite England’s long tradition with the sport, Australia won the tournament with 89 points to 75 for England.

The event was dubbed the “Ashes” of jousting, in reference of the historic cricket test matches between the two countries, and both sides hope to make the content an annual event.

Despite the cricket references, Australia’s captain Phil Leitch feels jousting is more exciting than a game of cricket – which can last up to five days.

“Seeing men on horses each traveling at about 40 km an hour, hearing the crack of the lance, seeing pieces of wood go flying in the air … that’s much more exciting for me than cricket,” he said.

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