The World Today for November 06, 2020

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The Freedoms of Choice

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi cast her ballot in advance of Myanmar’s Nov. 8 parliamentary elections, the Associated Press reported. The Chinese news service Xinhua had photos of the voting process including the special measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus

Suu Kyi’s vote was in a sense a triumph.

The Southeast Asian country’s military junta still wields enormous power, appointing some members of parliament and backing the Union Solidarity and Development Party that runs candidates for elected office.

But their power is not as absolute as it once was. Suu Kyi had been placed under house arrest for 15 years until she was released in 2010. Now her political organization, the National League for Democracy, has since risen to become Myanmar’s governing party.

Still, many international organizations are still raising flags about the undemocratic nature of the election.

“While the elections represent an important milestone in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the civic space is still marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in a press release.

The rights of minority voters are especially under threat, according to Human Rights Watch. Authorities have canceled in-person voting in large swaths of the country in order to prevent the Covid-19 infections. These regions incidentally contain around 1.5 million people who are part of ethnic minority groups.

Around 600,000 members of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya community already can’t vote because they are technically not citizens. As the BBC explained, the Rohingya are a stateless people claimed by no country.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya – mostly Muslim in a Buddhist-majority nation – fled western Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 after Myanmar’s military cracked down on the ethnic group following the launching of attacks by Rohingya rebels against local security forces.

After Suu Kyi’s ascendance to power in 2010, many hoped Myanmar would improve its human rights track record as well as its democratic governance. That has not happened under the National League for Democracy.

“Pluralism, freedom of expression, ethnic equality and peace have all taken a back step,” wrote Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based think tank, in East Asia Forum. “The NLD has shown its true colors over its five-year term and it’s not a pretty sight.”

Democracy can get ugly. But some examples are uglier than others.



A Hero, a Criminal, a President

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci, a former guerilla leader during the country’s fight for independence against Serbia, resigned Thursday to faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at a special international court in the Netherlands, the New York Times reported.

Thaci, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was originally indicted in June on 10 counts of war crimes committed during the 1999 Kosovo war. He has denied the allegations and said that his decision to resign was to protect the office of the presidency.

Along with Thaci, former veterans-turned-lawmakers also said they will travel to The Hague to face similar charges.

Thaci was prime minister before becoming president in 2016. His supporters have hailed him as a war hero but critics accuse his administration of corruption and manipulation of the judiciary.

More than 13,000 died during the war, mainly Kosovar Albanians killed by Serbian military forces. But the death toll also includes about 2,000 Serbs, Roma and Kosovar Albanians killed by NATO bombing or KLA fighters.


We Want In

Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming a US state this week, the sixth time the island has held a nonbinding referendum on statehood, the Hill reported Thursday.

Results showed that 52 percent of voters approved of US statehood even as the referendum was marked by a low turnout: Only 23 percent voted in the referendum after pro-independence and pro-territory groups boycotted the vote for not having more options.

Analysts said the results could provide more leverage to the pro-statehood movement and push the US Congress to incorporate the territory as a state. Puerto Rico’s statehood movement has long been dismissed by Congressional Republicans as a scheme to add Democratic senators and representatives.

Tuesday’s referendum took place simultaneously with the gubernatorial elections which pitted pro-statehood candidate Pedro Pierluisi against pro-status quo candidate Carlos Delgado. Preliminary results show Pierluisi in the lead but final results are due in the next few days.


A Welcome Mat

The Canadian government is planning to persuade foreigners in the country to stay to mitigate the economic damage caused by a major drop in immigration, Bloomberg reported.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this month he will facilitate the path of permanent residency – and subsequently citizenship – for more than one million temporary students, workers and asylum seekers currently living in Canada.

There has been a major decline this year in both temporary and permanent residents, government data showed.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the plan was a key step in halting the decline of foreigners moving to Canada during the pandemic.

The Canadian economy has heavily relied on immigrants to drive labor force growth and demand, particularly in major cities. Immigrants make up a large part of the workforce in the so-called essential services such as in the health care sector, where labor is becoming increasingly scarce due to the pandemic.

Declining immigration has been a big blow to the economy. The decline also impacts the country’s total population, which only grew 0.1 percent from April to June, the second-lowest quarterly gain since 1946.


Moving Mountains

For years, researchers have suspected that rain and climate play a role in the evolution of mountains but have had a hard time proving it. Recently, though, scientists discovered that precipitation and erosion rates can move mountains, United Press International reported.

In a new paper, researcher Byron Adams and his team used a new dating technique to precisely determine how rainfall and climate altered the mountains of the central and eastern Himalayas in Bhutan and Nepal.

The new method measured the amount of Beryllium-10, a very rare element found in quartz, to measure how long quartz sands have been exposed to the skies in any given place on mountainsides and in river valleys.

The team’s analysis allowed them to isolate the influence of rainfall on erosion rates in a breakthrough that could help improve the accuracy of simulations for mountain tectonics.

“We found that if we used our new understanding of how the rivers are responding to rainfall, we could more accurately constrain the geometry and velocity of the active faults in Bhutan,” said Adams.

Nevertheless, he remained cautious about how big the rain’s role is in moving mountains and said more research is needed to understand the true scope of this phenomenon.

“The question that remains is: Is this a big enough change to drive crustal flow?” he said.

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: 9,609,862 (+1.29%)
  2. India: 8,411,724 (+0.57%)
  3. Brazil: 5,590,025 (+0.00%)**
  4. Russia: 1,720,063 (+1.20%)
  5. France: 1,648,989 (+3.63%)
  6. Spain: 1,306,316 (+1.71%)
  7. Argentina: 1,217,028 (+0.92%)
  8. UK: 1,126,469 (+2.19%)
  9. Colombia: 1,117,977 (+0.89%)
  10. Mexico: 949,197 (+0.59%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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