The World Today for February 25, 2020

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Time’s Up, Maybe

Is time up for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? His opponents sure think so.

“Netanyahu has ended his historic role from a political standpoint,” said Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz in Politico. “The Likud with Bibi cannot form a government, and without Bibi there’s unity.”

Bibi is Netanyahu’s nickname. Likud is his conservative political party.

“The Netanyahu era is over,” said Avigdor Lieberman, founder of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which pulled out of Netanyahu’s coalition government in 2018.

The politicians were discussing the March 2 legislative elections. The vote will be the third ballot in a year following inconclusive elections that failed to give anyone sufficient seats to kick Netanyahu out of the prime minister’s office and form a new government.

Those votes reflect a system that is potentially overly democratic, argued the Interpreter, a publication of the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank. The Israeli system of proportional representation gives any party receiving more than 3.25 percent of the vote a seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

What results is a chaotic system of horse-trading that has especially harmed female candidates in the past year, as party mergers pushed women party honchos a few rungs down the management ladders of their respective groups, wrote Foreign Policy magazine. Add tensions with the Palestinians – Bibi recently threatened war in retaliation for rockets fired from the Gaza Strip – and the situation becomes more unstable.

Meanwhile, Bibi fatigue has set into the electorate. In office since 2009 – after having served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 as well – Netanyahu is now facing an indictment on corruption charges. His Likud Party is expected to lose a few seats on March 2 to Gantz’s center-left Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) alliance, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

It’s not clear whom Gantz might ask to form a coalition. He and Lieberman might team up, though Gantz has said their ideologies are at odds. He has ruled out forming a government with Likud if Netanyahu is leading the party. He has also pledged not to govern with the Arab Joint List, wrote Ynet News. The Joint List, an alliance of parties within Israel’s sizeable Arab minority, is expected to be the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. The left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, in contrast, hasn’t ruled out working with the Joint List, the Times of Israel reported.

One would think Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israel to annex the controversial Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be a big issue in the campaign. But the plan didn’t change the minds of anyone who was already supportive or opposed to the idea, explained the Financial Times.

It’s a matter of who will edge out the king of the mountain, and when.



Broken Promises

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned Monday, following weekend talks over the future of the ruling coalition that came to power less than two years ago, Australia’s ABC reported.

Mahathir’s move broke the coalition between him and his old rival Anwar Ibrahim. Several other politicians also quit Anwar’s party.

The upheaval began over the weekend, when the ruling coalition met with opposition groups to discuss the formation of a new government that would exclude Anwar. The prime minister reportedly resigned in response to claims that he was planning to ally with the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) of former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Previously, as part of the alliance the two leaders formed to oust Razak’s graft-tainted government in the May 2018 election, Mahathir had promised he would one day cede power to Anwar.

However, the relationship between the two has been unstable, with Mahathir not setting a date to step down.

It remains unclear if King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah will pick a faction that has majority support in Parliament or call a snap election. But for now he has asked Mahathir to remain the interim prime minister.

Analysts said that the recent turmoil could result in a new government with ties to Malay Islamic supremacy, threatening the country’s multi-ethnic society.


No Foul

Togo’s electoral commission declared Monday that President Faure Gnassingbe won re-election in a poll that the opposition has claimed to be marred by widespread fraud, the BBC reported.

Preliminary results revealed that Gnassingbe received 72 percent of the vote. The final results are expected to be announced by the Supreme Court early this week.

Opposition leader Agbeyome Kodjo accused the authorities of rigging Saturday’s presidential elections through setting up fake polling stations, stuffing ballot boxes and having people place multiple votes in favor of Gnassingbe.

The president’s office denied the accusations.

Gnassingbe has ruled the small West African nation since the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in 2005. He, in turn, had ruled the country for 38 years.

Gnassingbe could potentially stay in office until 2030 due to constitutional changes last year that allowed him to seek re-election – an issue that sparked large protests between 2017 and 2018.


(Can’t) Protect and Serve

Police and soldiers exchanged gunfire outside Haiti’s presidential palace earlier this week, following police protests over poor working conditions and demands to unionize, the Guardian reported Monday.

The violence led to the death of at least one soldier and prompted the government to cancel the country’s annual Carnival celebration.

Police dressed in plainclothes and wearing masks gathered in front of the presidential palace to demonstrate against several challenges, including inadequate pay and lack of benefits, Reuters reported.

“No money for police officers but enough money for Carnival,” protesters shouted.

The recent clash comes as the Caribbean country is going through a long-running political crisis. A corruption scandal and the opposition’s refusal to accept the result of the 2017 election have led to mass protests against the government of President Jovenel Moise.

Haiti has also seen a resurgence in crime since the beginning of the year, with a spike in kidnappings and fighting between rival gangs.



Keeping traditions alive is not an easy commitment, but Edson Suemitsu, a Brazilian with Japanese heritage, has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to maintaining the craft of his forefathers, Reuters reported.

In a country known for its beaches, soccer and flamboyant carnivals, the 61-year-old is Brazil’s only full-time katana swordsmith.

Dubbed the country’s “last samurai,” Suemitsu has been making a living by forging katanas, a type of curved sword used by the noble samurai in ancient Japan.

He became interested in the craft after seeing his Japanese-born grandfather creating blades as tools to fight venomous snakes at their frontier farm in southern Brazil.

He later picked up the art of making katanas through extensive trial and error, and the laborious method proved fruitful.

In four decades Suemitsu has forged around 1,000 swords ranging in price from about $1,400 to $4,500, and has clients from all over the world.

But the process it not easy: He works alone for long days and weekends to produce three swords a month.

Despite the challenges, the master swordsmith has no plans to retire or find someone to pass the torch to.

“I don’t know if I’ll have successors because the work is very complex,” he said. “It can’t be for the money, it has to be for the heart.”

Click here to see his craft.

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