The World Today for February 14, 2024

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Warm and Fuzzy Politics

INDONESIA

Gen. Prabowo Subianto, 72, who is Indonesia’s defense minister, has pioneered the use of generative AI in his presidential campaign. The “doe-eyed cartoon” avatar of himself that he has disseminated on TikTok and other social media platforms has been key to his strategy of reaching voters younger than 40 – who comprise half of his massive country’s electorate of 205 million people, one of the largest electorates in the world, according to the Guardian.

Prabowo’s campaign catchphrase for Indonesia’s general election on Feb. 14 is “gemoy,” Indonesian slang for “cute and cuddly,” wrote Reuters, branding himself as a warm, fuzzy grandpa. Other campaigns in Prabowo’s Gerindra Party, meanwhile, have raffled off tickets to the South Korean girl group BLACKPINK, too, the Associated Press added.

As World Politics Review explained, Prabowo’s running mate is Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the 36-year-old eldest son of current Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who cannot run for reelection due to term limits. Raka’s presence on the ticket suggests that Widodo wants to uphold his political dynasty, keep his political machine in power, and maintain his domestic and international policy stances.

Running against Prabowo and Raka’s formidable campaign effort – they are far ahead in the polls – are Ganjar Pranowo, the former governor of Central Java, and Anies Baswedan, the former governor of Jakarta, the capital city. They have made inroads among voters in part because Prabowo allegedly directed the forced disappearances and murders of student activists in the late 1990s, and oversaw Indonesian troops who committed human rights abuses in East Timor before that region achieved independence in 2002.

Prabowo has never been charged in court – but American officials barred him from entering the US for years, the New York Times wrote. Still, most voters in this election are too young to remember those days.

Pranowo has stumbled, too. He snubbed Israeli soccer players, for example, to curry favor with the public – Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and firmly pro-Palestinian. But the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) moved a tournament to Argentina in response, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, disappointing Indonesian football fans and cutting into his support.

Hailing from a family of Muslim activists but educated in America, Baswedan has many contradictions, the Economist noted. He holds some progressive views and is credited with building up his region’s infrastructure and effectively managing local government during the coronavirus pandemic. But he has also allied himself with Islamic parties. He faces an uphill battle convincing moderates in Indonesia’s urban areas to cast ballots for him.

Still, the magazine believes the general will win. And it warns that it doesn’t think his leadership of Indonesia will be so warm and fuzzy.

Pointing to his record of falsely claiming the vote had been stolen after losing the past two presidential elections, and statements about Indonesia needing an authoritarian leader, the magazine wrote that, “This raises a more worrying question about Indonesia’s future under a probable Prabowo presidency. Will the world’s third-largest democracy continue the broadly successful rise of the post-Suharto period, or return to authoritarianism?”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Future Imperfect

PAKISTAN

Thousands of protesters have blocked highways and gone on strike this week as part of demonstrations against the results of last week’s general election in Pakistan, Al Jazeera reported.

The results of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections released this week showed that allies of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan won most seats standing as independents, a victory that surprised political observers and prompted questions about whether the winners would be able to govern, Vox reported.

Results of the Feb. 8 polls showed that politicians affiliated with Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won more than 90 seats in the lower house, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which secured 75 seats.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came in third with 54 seats.

Analysts said the victory of PTI’s allies caught everyone by surprise because many had expected the military-backed PML-N to win most seats. They added that the electorate’s shift towards PTI-affiliated politicians reflected a broader rejection of the entrenched political establishment and the military itself.

But despite securing a significant number of seats, PTI cannot form a government independently after it was in effect prohibited from running candidates because of a Supreme Court ruling that barred the party from using its electoral symbol – prompting many PTI politicians to run as independents.

Khan has also been banned from politics for 10 years due to criminal convictions, causing speculation over who exactly will lead the country.

Following the election’s outcome, analysts predicted that the new government will consist of a PML-N and PPP coalition with Sharif – who previously served three times as Pakistan’s prime minister but never completed a full term – set to secure another term in office.

However, that coalition is in question after the PPP announced Tuesday that while it would support a government under Sharif, it would not form a coalition with his party, Reuters added.

At the same time, independent candidates affiliated with the PTI cannot form a government on their own because they ran as individuals and not as a party. They have also ruled out forming a coalition with the two parties.

Analysts said the uncertainty over the country’s leadership couldn’t have come at a worse time: Pakistan continues to face economic and security challenges, including record inflation and rising militant violence.

Plugging Leaks

AUSTRALIA

Australia is planning to criminalize doxxing after a recent incident where pro-Palestinian activists published the personal details of hundreds of Australian Jews, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Doxxing – also known as “dropping dox” or documents – is described as the unauthorized release of personal information, posing significant risks to victims’ privacy and safety.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus announced that the Labor government will introduce legislation empowering the authorities to issue take-down notices to social media platforms hosting such doxxed content and impose fines on perpetrators.

He added that the proposed law would strengthen rules against hate speech, but did not elaborate on how the legislation would work.

The bill’s proposal follows a report in local media that pro-Palestinian activists leaked the personal information, including the names, images, professions, and social media accounts, of Jewish individuals in academia and creative fields.

The leaked information came from a nearly 900-page transcript from a private WhatsApp group formed by Jewish professionals, along with a spreadsheet containing the personal details of almost 600 purported members.

The doxxing incident comes amid an increase in reports of antisemitism in Australia since Israel’s war with Hamas began in October.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which represents Australia’s Jewish community, welcomed the attorney general’s announcement.

However, some analysts expressed concerns about the practical enforcement of the new legislation, especially the ability of law enforcement to police online platforms effectively.

To the Source

MADAGASCAR

Madagascar plans to castrate child rapists after parliament passed a law this month that was welcomed by victims’ groups but denounced by human rights advocates, Sky News reported.

The country’s upper legislative house voted in favor of a law that will allow chemical and – in certain cases – surgical castration for individuals convicted of raping a minor.

Under the legislation, those convicted of raping children under the age of 10 will undergo surgical castration – the permanent procedure of removing a person’s genitals to halt the production of sex hormones.

People found guilty of raping children aged 10 to 13 may face surgical or chemical castration, while those raping children aged 14 to 17 may face chemical castration. The latter does not sterilize the individual but inhibits hormone production.

Offenders will also face harsher sentences, including life imprisonment, along with castration.

The law is expected to be approved by President Andry Rajoelina, who first raised the issue in December, leading to the proposal of the new law.

The government said the law was necessary to curb an increase in the number of rapes of children. Justice Minister Landy Randriamanantenasoa said that there were 600 cases of rape against minors last year.

In January, officials recorded more than 130 cases, she added.

Victim’s rights associations hailed the new law as “progress,” saying it will help fight against the “rape culture” in Madagascar.

Even so, international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, denounced it as “inhuman and degrading” as well as not in line with the country’s constitution.

Amnesty International also questioned if Madagascar’s justice system will mete out proper judgments, citing its “opacity and corruption.”

DISCOVERIES

Genius Behind Sound

Johann Sebastian Bach is held as one of the greatest composers of Western classical music that ever lived. Now, scientists say they know why, New Scientist reported.

That conclusion came about after researcher Suman Kulkarni and her colleagues wanted to understand how the ability to recall or anticipate a musical piece relates to its structure.

For their study, they used information theory to analyze Bach’s extensive repertoire, including religious hymns and fast-paced toccatas.

They transformed each musical piece into an information network, where notes became nodes and transitions between them formed edges. By quantifying the information in each composition, researchers discovered that Bach’s lively toccatas – designed for entertainment – contained more complexity than the meditative chorales crafted for religious settings.

The team then used the data to explore how listeners perceive Bach’s music. They started with a computer model based on experiments with images, measuring how surprising elements were. They then adapted this model to music, with links representing how likely listeners thought two notes would play in sequence.

They found that the network didn’t perfectly match listeners’ presumed note changes, suggesting human perception isn’t flawless. Despite this, the mismatch was low, indicating Bach’s music effectively conveys information.

Kulkarni aims to refine this model further by incorporating real brain scans to bridge the gap between musical complexity and neural responses.

Yet, challenges persist. Factors like listening duration and musical training must be considered, and information theory hasn’t yet unveiled whether Bach’s style is truly exceptional compared with other genres.

“I would love to perform the same analysis for different composers and non-Western music,” said Kulkarni.

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