June 09, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

MONGOLIA

Steppe Politics

Mongolia’s last presidential election in 2017 was extremely close. Incumbent President Khaltmaa Battulga, a former sumo wrestler, won with 50.6 percent of the vote. He did so using a campaign of fear.

“Battulga used a combination of Sinophobia, nationalism, and fearmongering to win votes,” wrote the Washington Post at the time, referring to his campaign tactic of suggesting his opponent was Chinese rather than Mongolian.

Describing Battulga as a wealthy businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg described the leader as a “Trump of the Steppe” in a headline.

Now observers are concerned that the politics surrounding the next presidential ballot on June 9 could seriously undermine democracy.

Writing in an op-ed in the Diplomat, Mongolian political analyst Bat-Orgil Altankhuyag and University of Nottingham Comparative Politics Professor Fernando Casal Bértoa noted how politicians have been creating new political parties when they think the old ones don’t serve their needs, creating more political factions and, lastly, more polarization as institutionalized parties fragment.

Politics have been contentious under Battulga. While the president is a member of the Democratic Party, the Mongolian People’s Party holds a majority in parliament and elects prime ministers from its ranks. Last year, lawmakers enacted legislation that limits the president to one term in office – a clear move to bring Battulga’s rule to an end.

But Battulga has refused to go quietly.

In January, the prime minister resigned following protests over the government’s treatment of Covid-19 patients. The country’s poor economy and lack of jobs have helped fuel the protests, Reuters reported. But the prime minister at the time, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, also blamed Battulga for fomenting the demonstrations.

Then, in April, Battulga attempted to dissolve the Mongolian People’s Party, saying it was attempting to seize power undemocratically. A court ruled that he had no power to abolish a political party, however, the Economist noted.

Now Ukhnaa is running for the presidency with the Mongolian People’s Party, Sodnomzunduin Erdene is running on the Democratic Party line and a third-party candidate, Enkhbat Davaasuren of the National Labor Party, is challenging the other two to determine who will run the country.

Davaasuren, a computer engineer, has excited many voters who don’t want either major party ruling the country, Bolor Lkhaajav, a book editor at the Indiana University-based Mongolia Society, told the Diplomat.

Mongolian youth are especially concerned about keeping their democracy intact rather than allowing either parliament or the president to assume too much power, an International Republican Institute poll found.

They understandably want better lives, not bombast and gamesmanship.

WANT TO KNOW

PERU

Hollow Victory

Peruvian leftist candidate Pedro Castillo widened his lead against his rightwing rival in the country’s presidential vote after previously trailing in an election that has underscored divisions in Peru and worried investors, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The official count showed Castillo secured more than 50 percent of the vote against his opponent Keiko Fujimori, who received 49.7 percent.

Initially, Fujimori was projected to lead but fell behind following the counting of rural votes. She alleges fraud and said she will not concede.

Analysts said the elections highlighted a division between the capital city of Lima and Peru’s rural population. They added that the current uncertainty could lead to tensions or possible unrest.

Castillo’s surge, meanwhile, has spooked investors and mining firms in Peru, the world’s second-largest copper producer: The outsider candidate has vowed to amend the Andean nation’s constitution to strengthen the role of the state and take a larger portion of profits from mining firms.

However, observers noted that whoever wins will inherit a weakened mandate and face a fragmented Congress with no one party holding a majority, potentially stalling any major reforms.

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

Crime and Punishment

A United Nations court upheld the convictions against former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic for war crimes and other charges during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, Sky News reported Tuesday.

Mladic, known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” appealed his 2017 conviction and life sentence for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The former military chief was found guilty of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which resulted in the death of 8,000 Muslim men and boys – the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War.

Judges dismissed his appeal “in its entirety” and affirmed his life sentence at the UN-backed international criminal tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.

Mladic is the last major figure of the conflict to face justice for his crimes and now joins his former political master, ex-Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, in serving a life sentence.

Victims’ relatives welcomed the verdict. Even so, to some Bosnian Serbs, Mladic remains a war hero that fought to protect his people, according to the Associated Press.

Mladic and Karadzic continue to remain divisive figures in Bosnia and are revered by some members of the foreign far-right for their bloody wartime campaigns against Muslim Bosniaks.

TAIWAN

Green Pastures

China warned the United States to refrain from pursuing any trade agreements with Taiwan after Washington said it planned to start negotiations with the self-ruled island, Agence-France Presse reported Tuesday.

Beijing’s warnings come a day after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that Washington and Taipei will soon engage “in some kind of framework agreement.”

His statement followed a weekend visit by US senators to Taiwan, where they announced that Washington would donate 750,000 coronavirus vaccines to the island.

China criticized both moves, and urged the US to “stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan.” Beijing considers the island part of its territory and discourages any diplomatic attempts to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation.

Although Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of recognizing Beijing as China’s sole official representative, the US remains Taiwan’s top ally and weapons exporter.

The US and Taiwan first signed a trade and investment framework agreement in 1994, which set out the basis for recurring dialogue on trade issues, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The latest effort comes amid ongoing trade disputes between the US and China: The Biden administration is trying to secure supply chains of critical technologies, especially given Beijing’s prominence in manufacturing.

Taiwan is a major source of semiconductors for the US, which imported $7 billion last year in chips and $20 billion in other computer and telecommunications equipment out of $60 billion in total imports, according to the US Census Bureau.

DISCOVERIES

Sea Snot

Global warming is dangerous to life on the planet. That’s been the consensus of scientists.

But it has a gross side, too, as Turks living across the Sea of Marmara have learned, Gizmodo reported.

Warming temperatures have caused the formation of “sea snot,” a sludgy and putrid substance that has been coating the surface of deep Turkish waters since 2007.

Scientists explained that the strange goo is made of dead overgrown phytoplankton, made out of drifting plants, algae, and some bacteria. It forms when nutrient-rich waters remain still during prolonged periods of heat, which causes phytoplankton to grow exponentially.

Phytoplankton is essential in supplying the seas with oxygen but too much of it can be very detrimental to marine and human life.

And then, there is how it looks and smells, and acts…

The snot can harbor pathogens such as viruses and bacteria that are dangerous to both animals and humans. It can block out necessary oxygen for marine life survival.

It also makes it impossible to fish and swim in the waters impacted. That threatens the livelihoods of many Turks who depend on fisheries and tourism.

Studies have shown, however, that the snot forms in areas with overfishing and where wastewater – which can be rich in nutrients – gets dumped into the sea.

So limiting the amount of wastewater and fishing in the Sea of Marmara could potentially save the local ecosystem and economy – and life in the water.

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: 33,391,092 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 29,089,069 (+0.32%)
  3. Brazil: 17,037,129 (+0.31%)
  4. France: 5,781,556 (+0.10%)
  5. Turkey: 5,300,236 (+0.12%)
  6. Russia: 5,086,386 (+0.19%)
  7. UK: 4,544,372 (+0.13%)
  8. Italy: 4,235,592 (+0.04%)
  9. Argentina: 4,008,771 (+0.78%)
  10. Germany: 3,712,595 (+0.06%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours