The World Today for November 04, 2020

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Use It or Lose It

In the US, political parties spend millions to get out the vote. Around the world, political rivals accuse each other of attempting to suppress or rig the vote. Authoritarian democracies make voting a non-choice for citizens. Non-democracies don’t allow citizens to vote at all. Sadly, voters in many other democratic countries choose not to cast ballots when they have the chance.

The idea, therefore, of compelling voters to go to the polls to exercise the franchise – whether they want to or not – might seem like a peculiar idea that goes against the grain of our collective political psyche.

But it’s an idea that has helped voter turnout in Australia hit 90 percent, wrote political thinkers Miles Rapoport and E.J. Dionne Jr. in Dissent magazine. They noted that more than 24 countries, including Argentina, Belgium, Greece and Uruguay, have the so-called “civic duty voting.” Campaigns in these countries are more likely to appeal to every part of the electorate and reflect the full scope of the electorate’s political interests, Rapaport and Dionne say.

In a separate piece for the Brookings Institution where he is a senior fellow, Dionne wrote that voter turnout in American presidential elections is high at 60 percent while 40 percent is common for midterm Congressional elections. He called for local and state governments to try mandatory voting to create models for the federal government.

Another columnist, Danielle Allen, wrote in the Washington Post that voting should be treated like jury duty and celebrated like the holiday it once was in the US. “(Universal suffrage) is the necessary foundation for a free society of free and equal self-governing citizens,” she said. “The entire point of constitutional democracy is that the whole people should craft their own substantive policy agenda. More importantly, the policy has built up a culture of expectation that all vote. We shouldn’t have to fight over the design of our electoral system. Universal suffrage should be one of our core principles.”

As the Guardian reported, Australian politics is as rough and tumble as any: The country has had six prime ministers in the last eight years. Trust in Australian leaders is low. But Australians don’t fall prey to disillusionment. They still vote. What’s more, voting is not only required. it’s fun. Australia holds Election Day on a Saturday, allows a festival-like atmosphere and surrounds polls with bake sales and raffles, and the grilling of “democracy sausages.” The fine for not voting is around $60, the New York Times added.

Voting in Singapore is compulsory but authorities ordered anyone in quarantine due to Covid-19 to remain at home during the South Asian city-state’s summer elections, wrote the Strategist, a publication of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The country also set up new rules for people with stay-at-home orders who might have been exposed to the virus, letting them cast ballots during a one-hour window. One has to wonder if that discipline would be possible in a country where voting is optional.

Regardless, democracy comes in many flavors, including the option to opt-out.



When Students Are Targets

The Afghan government called for a national day of mourning Tuesday, a day after gunmen stormed Kabul University killing dozens of students in an hours-long siege, Al Jazeera reported.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 35 people – the second on an educational institution in more than a week, according to Reuters.

The Taliban, who are currently negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government in Qatar, quickly denounced the attack and denied involvement.

Despite the claims, many government officials, including President Ashraf Ghani, accused the Taliban of involvement in the assault and vowed to retaliate.

On Tuesday, around 100 people rallied outside the university to protest the US-brokered talks between the Taliban and the government to end Afghanistan’s nearly 20-year-old war. However, the talks have yet to make any real progress, prompting some Afghans to demand that the US president sort out the peace process.

“The United States took the lead on the matter of Afghan peace and now they can’t just leave us behind, they have to finish what they started,” Najib Wardak, a security official, told Al Jazeera. “They cannot just cut and run, no matter what they promised during the campaigns.”


Brace, Brace

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara won a controversial third term Tuesday, following an election that was boycotted by the opposition and sparked fears of violence in the world’s top cocoa producer, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The country’s electoral commission said that Ouattara secured 94 percent of the vote in Saturday’s presidential elections, a victory that the opposition considers illegal.

Opposition parties said that Outtara violated the constitutional two-term limit for the presidency and declared they would form their own transitional government.

Earlier this year, Ouattara had initially said he would not run for a third term but changed his stance following the sudden death of his hand-picked successor. He claimed that the new 2016 constitution reset his term limits.

The standoff, coupled with calls for protests, has pushed more than 3,000 Ivorians to flee to neighboring countries to avoid a potential violent unrest, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The country previously descended into civil war after the 2010 presidential elections, when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his loss to Ouattara: Fighting erupted between the supporters of both camps and about 3,000 died in the conflict.


Getting the Message

Poland’s rightwing government decided to delay the implementation of a controversial court ruling that would ban almost all abortions in the country, following massive protests over the past week, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Last month, the constitutional court found that abortions in the case of fetal birth defects were unconstitutional, a decision that further tightened Poland’s abortion laws, already one of the strictest in Europe.

The ban affects almost all terminations performed legally in the country.

Analysts called the government’s delay “a political decision.”

The court’s decision pushed thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets across Poland in the largest protests since the Solidarity movement in the 1980s that led to the fall of communism.

Women and men denounced the ruling and the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which they accuse of eroding the country’s democratic norms since it took power in 2015.

The outrage took the government by surprise, prompting PiS-aligned President Andrzej Duda to suggest a new proposal that would allow for abortions in cases of life-threatening birth defects but not for conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

Duda’s proposal, however, is expected to be criticized by both protesters and the extreme right in the ruling coalition.


Canine Cues

Dogs are sensitive creatures and react quickly when hit with olfactory or auditory stimuli but when viewing humans or other dogs, they don’t seem to care much.

In fact, scientists reported in a new study that dogs don’t show any sign of brain activity when they’re shown a face, according to Smithsonian magazine.

A research team scanned the brains of 20 pet dogs while they were watching a series of two-second videos that showed either the front or back of a human or a dog.

For comparison, the team also showed 30 people the same videos.

The results showed that the visual center in the human brain activated when shown a face but that was not the case with the pooches: Their brains showed no increase in activity when showed a human or dog.

Co-author Atilla Andics suggested that despite the lack of brain activity, our canine friends were still able to distinguish between humans and dogs.

“It’s amazing dogs do so well when it comes to reading emotions…despite the fact that they seem not to have a brain designed for having a focus on [them],” he told the Guardian.

Neuroscientists Sophie Scott, who was not involved in the study, suspects that dogs mainly rely on their other senses, such as smell, sound and body language to tell “who their friends are and how they are doing.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 9,384,554 (+0.99%)
  2. India: 8,313,876 (+0.56%)
  3. Brazil: 5,566,049 (+0.21%)
  4. Russia: 1,680,579 (+1.17%)
  5. France: 1,461,391 (+0.04%)
  6. Spain: 1,259,366 (+1.50%)
  7. Argentina: 1,195,276 (+1.03%)
  8. Colombia: 1,099,392 (+9.47%)**
  9. UK: 1,077,099 (+1.90%)
  10. Mexico: 938,405 (+0.56%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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