The World Today for November 07, 2023

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Pick Your King


Malaysia has a unique form of constitutional monarchy. Every five years, nine sultans convene at the Conference of Rulers – each sultan is also the sovereign of a state in the Southeast Asian country – to elect a new king called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or simply the Agong, from their numbers. Under a system that was developed after Malaysia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, winners assume the role according to an established order, but they still must ceremonially receive a majority of votes in a secret ballot, wrote the Star, a local English-language newspaper.

Late last month, the council elected Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, 64, as their new king. He replaced Al-Sultan Abdullah ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah.

In the past, Sultan Ibrahim might have expected an easy term on the throne. Now, however, he might find his role challenging. The Agong has intervened repeatedly in Malaysian politics in recent years to help defuse crises.

In 2020, when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned unexpectedly, Al-Sultan Abdullah had to appoint his successor, reported Time magazine. When that successor left office 17 months later after losing the support of lawmakers, the king again had to pick a leader. Last year, Al-Sultan Abdullah appointed Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim amid a rare hung parliament. A previous king pardoned Anwar in 2018 after he had been jailed three years earlier for a five-year sentence on sodomy charges.

Homosexual sexual activity is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, noted the Guardian. As France 24 explained, Malaysian law heavily favors Muslims, who comprise 70 percent of the population. That discrimination hurts ethnic and religious minority groups like Malaysians of Chinese or Indian descent. The Malaysian government has also been supportive of the Palestinian cause since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 – despite American efforts to pressure it to change its policy, the Diplomat added.

The son of a sultan and a British mother who met while the sultan was studying abroad, the new monarch is wealthy beyond most folks’ imaginations. “Sultan Ibrahim has an extensive collection of luxurious cars and motorcycles,” the Associated Press wrote. “He also owns a private army and is involved in many business ventures.”

One of those business ventures, unfortunately, is a $100 billion smart city that is now on hold because the venture’s partner, Chinese property developer Country Garden, is facing financial collapse.

That experience might serve him well. Malaysia’s economy is also on shaky ground amid global inflation and geopolitical risks in Asia and Europe, reported the South China Morning Post. The value of its currency has been plummeting.

The Agong might find his presence necessary if things become tough again.

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Killing the Messengers


An unknown gunman shot and killed a radio host in the southern Philippines this week, an attack described as a “brazen killing” in a country considered one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists, Al Jazeera reported.

Juan Jumalon, known professionally as “DJ Johnny Walker,” was streaming his morning show live on Facebook when he was murdered.

Police said that the gunman introduced himself as a listener, shot him, and then snatched Jumalon’s gold necklace before escaping with an accomplice waiting outside on a motorbike.

They added that the attacker could not be seen on the Facebook footage, but are analyzing CCTV film from neighborhood security cameras.

Authorities said they were not aware of threats against the journalist’s life prior to his death, explaining that Jumalon was “not known to have criticized anyone in his broadcasts.” Jumalon is the fourth journalist to be killed since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became president in June 2022.

The president pledged action: “Attacks on journalists will not be tolerated in our democracy, and those who threaten the freedom of the press will face the full consequences of their actions,” he said.

According to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, Jumalon was the 199th journalist killed since democracy was restored in 1986 with the toppling of Marcos’ father, who had led an authoritarian regime in the country, noted Philippine news outlet Rappler.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is ranked as the eighth worst country when it comes to prosecuting the murderers of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists 2023 Global Impunity Index.

Journalists there face a number of threats, including the presence of armed clans in rural areas. In 2009, around 32 media workers were killed by members of a powerful political clan and their allies in southern Maguindanao province.

Broken Rights, Bendy Rules


El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled this week that President Nayib Bukele can run for reelection in next year’s presidential race, even though the country’s constitution prohibits it, the Associated Press reported.

The court said Bukele and his running mate, Vice President Félix Ulloa, meet the legal requirements to run in the February 2024 vote.

The decision comes a week after Bukele registered to run as the candidate of his New Ideas party. That move prompted questions among legal scholars, who said the Central American nation’s constitution strictly prohibits a president from being reelected.

But in 2021, the country’s Supreme Court of Justice issued an interpretation of a specific article, allowing Bukele to seek another mandate for office. In its decision, the top court concluded that the matter of presidential reelection should be decided by Salvadorans through the electoral process.

Recent polls show Bukele is the frontrunner in the election.

The young president has become hugely popular because of his tough crackdown on powerful criminal gangs: It has led to crime rates dropping significantly in the Central American country.

Even so, critics said the downward trend can be attributed to an extended state of emergency in the nation, which has suspended many constitutional rights.

The Bones of Shame


Germany’s president expressed shame for the killings of tens of thousands of Tanzanians under its colonial rule more than a century ago, and pledged to try and return the remains of victims taken to Germany for research and display at museums and private collections, the BBC reported.

On a three-day visit to the country, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with the descendants of a leader of the Maji Maji revolt against German rule, Chief Songea Mbano, who was executed by the Germans in 1906, and is a national hero in the country.

More than 300,000 people were killed in the uprising, which was triggered by a German policy designed to force the indigenous population to grow cotton for export.

Steinmeier told the family the German authorities would try to find his remains, which may be among the thousands of bones and skulls that were taken to Germany from East Africa as “trophies” or “racist research” – these ended up in museums and anthropological collections, largely forgotten after the end of the colonial era and two world wars.

“I bow to the victims of German colonial rule,” he said, speaking at a museum in Songea, where the uprising took place. “And as German president, I would like to apologize for what Germans did to your ancestors here. What happened here is our shared history, the history of your ancestors and the history of our ancestors in Germany.”

German East Africa – currently Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi – existed from 1885 until Germany’s defeat at the end of World War I, when it lost its colonies under the Treaty of Versailles.

In response to the apology, Tanzania historian Mohamed Said told the BBC it did not go far enough. “They decided to set farms on fire so people would run out of food and be unable to fight,” he said. “This is unacceptable, in today’s world they would be taken to court.”

In 2017, Tanzania’s then-government said it was considering legal action to seek compensation from Germany for the people who allegedly were starved, tortured and killed by German forces.

In 2021, Germany agreed to recognize colonial-era massacres of tens of thousands of people in Namibia as genocide, and provide funding worth about $1.3 billion to help the communities affected – but stopped short of formal reparations, the Associated Press reported.


The Missing Snakes

A new study on a 2,300-year-old medical document suggests that ancient Egypt had more venomous snakes than today, Newsweek reported.

Scientists recently analyzed the contents of the Brooklyn Papyrus, an ancient scroll dating from 660-330 BCE.

Kept in New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, the medical treatise is one of the oldest preserved writings about medicine, and the study of snakes – known as ophiology.

A research team explained that the scroll lists in great detail a variety of snakes, how venomous they were, and how to treat their bites. Still, there are some species that remain unknown, partly because they no longer slither around modern-day Egypt.

Their study focused on 10 unidentified reptiles, including a highly venomous snake that was associated with the ancient Egyptian god Apophis, who took the form of a serpent.

The researchers used a statistical model called “climate niche modeling” to explore how the territories of different African and eastern Mediterranean snakes changed over time. Their findings showed that early ancient Egypt’s climate could have supported nine of the 10 species, adding that the region’s inhabitants dealt with a larger variety of venomous snakes.

This included the “great snake of Apophis,” which had four fangs and a venom that could “make the victim bleed from every orifice,” the team wrote in the Conversation.

They explained that the legendary snake could have been a boomslang that currently resides in the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. It also sports four fangs and packs a venom that causes fatal hemorrhages.

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