The World Today for February 19, 2024

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Failing Grade

SENEGAL

Senegal is traditionally a “haven of stability and democracy” in West Africa, Agence France-Presse recently wrote. But President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the West African country’s presidential election that had been slated for Feb. 25 changed all that.

Demonstrations, often violent, have become common. Protesting youths, meanwhile, have been a mainstay of the demonstrations. Many have high standards for their country. Police recently shot and killed 16-year-old Landing Camara, also called Diedhiou – the same name as a famous Senegalese professional soccer player – in clashes in the town of Ziguinchor in the Casamance region, a stronghold of jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

“There were several seriously wounded people during the protests and one died,” Abdou Sane, leader of Sonko’s African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity political party in Ziguinchor. “He was hit in the head by a bullet.”

The postponement was necessary, Sall claimed, because lawmakers and judges on the country’s Constitutional Council, which adjudicates constitutional questions and oversees elections separately from the Senegalese Supreme Court, could not agree on barring some candidates who might foment unrest – like the violence that occurred in Senegal in 2021 and 2023. As Al Jazeera explained, those riots erupted when Sonko was found guilty and jailed for two years on charges of corrupting the country’s youth, charges that his supporters maintain are trumped up to keep him out of the race.

Sall ended the dispute when he deployed troops to the National Assembly building and detained opposition legislators who opposed the postponement, while the legislature approved a measure to schedule a new election for December. Sall will now likely remain in office after his term ends in April through the rest of the year. Meanwhile, the opposition called the move an “institutional coup.”

Still, what comes next is a big question after the Constitutional Council late last week ruled the National Assembly and Sall’s move to postpone the election unconstitutional, France 24 wrote.

The Constitutional Council, meanwhile, banned Sonko from running for president due to his legal record, reported Reuters. The leader of the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party, Abdoulaye Wade, who is also the son of Sall’s successor in the presidency, was also disqualified because he held a French passport – even though he has since renounced his French nationality.

Some say Sall is meddling because he’s afraid, wrote Foreign Policy magazine. His handpicked replacement, Prime Minister Amadou Ba, was faring poorly in the polls and lacked support in his ruling coalition. Sall couldn’t allow his enemies to defeat Ba and assume the reins of power.

Pundits wondered if Sall might seek to grant Sonko a pardon in exchange for the latter politician’s call for calm, bringing an end to the riots and violence, noted the Journal of Africa.

He needs to do something, contended the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The president’s moves have sparked a constitutional crisis that is putting Senegal’s democracy to the test.

The irony, say analysts is that Sall himself came to power when his mentor attempted to seek a third – and illegal – term in office, World Politics Review wrote. Now, it’s looking as if he is also trying to do the same vicariously.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Muted, Not Mute

RUSSIA

Authorities in Russia detained more than 400 people who participated in memorial gatherings across the country over the weekend, following the death of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in prison, the New York Times reported.

Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure and critic of President Vladimir Putin, died Friday while he was serving a prison sentence at an Arctic penal colony. Prison officials said he felt suddenly unwell during a walk and collapsed, and that the cause was “being determined.”

A lawyer for Navalny said more on cause of death is expected to be released next week.

Following Navalny’s death, hundreds of Russians across the country gathered at makeshift memorials, laying flowers and also protest signs condemning the government.

In Moscow, mourners laid bouquets at the Wall of Grief, a monument for the victims of political persecution during the iron-fisted rule of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who was responsible for millions of deaths.

The memorials took place under heavy police presence, with some mourners risking jail time to participate. Authorities arrested one Orthodox priest in St. Petersburg after he announced he would hold a memorial service for Navalny, the Financial Times wrote.

Meanwhile, videos circulating on social media showed masked men removing flowers from the memorials.

Observers said the vigils – and detentions – are an example of muted protests against Putin’s regime, while underscoring the latter’s effectiveness in curbing dissent.

Anti-government protests have been effectively banned in Russia after authorities launched a crackdown on dissent following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Even so, demonstrations and vigils took place outside Russia’s borders, across Europe and also in neighboring Georgia where many Russians fled following the start of the war. Western leaders also condemned his death, with US President Joe Biden accusing “Putin and his thugs” of being responsible for Navalny’s death.

Tatian Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center told the Financial Times that Navalny’s impact and influence will not disappear with his death, and that “this is going to be a problem for the authorities.”

Navalny’s death comes as Russia prepares for elections next month – a vote analysts say will end in another extension of Putin’s 24-year rule, according to the Associated Press.

A Step Too Far

MALAYSIA

The top court of majority-Muslim Malaysia this month invalidated Islamic criminal laws enacted in a state run by the opposition for offenses including sodomy and incest, arguing that they overstepped the central government’s authority – a verdict decried by Islamists, the Associated Press reported.

The court voted 8-1 in favor of quashing a set of 16 laws introduced by the government of the northeastern state of Kelantan, which provided for sanctions drawn from Islam’s Shariah law for people found guilty of offenses that also included sexual harassment, cross-dressing, and destroying places of worship.

Shariah laws are based on the Quran, Islam’s central text, and hadith scriptures. They coexist in Malaysia alongside government laws, which are based on common law practices left from the United Kingdom’s colonization of the archipelago, in a dual-track system that covers private matters for Muslims, specifically.

Even so, the Federal Court said Kelantan’s laws could not replace federal legislation on the matters they were addressing.

The panel ruled in favor of the plaintiffs – lawyer Nik Elin Nik Abdul Rashid and her daughter, two Kelantan Muslim women – who said the decision upheld the supremacy of the Malaysian Constitution.

Despite Malaysia’s ethnic and religious diversity, with significant Chinese and Indian minorities, Islam is a political matter in the country. Two-thirds of its 33 million population are Malays, who are all considered Muslim by law.

Kelantan, a rural state that has a 97-percent Muslim population, has been led for 34 years by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). The single largest party in the federal parliament, PAS is part of the opposition to the government, while it governs four of Malaysia’s 13 states. It advocates for the rigorous implementation of Islamic law. A previous initiative to enact a criminal code called “hudud,” which would have allowed amputations for theft and stoning for adultery, was also struck down by federal authorities.

PAS chief Takiyuddin Hassan said the court’s verdict was “a black Friday for Islamic Shariah laws” and a precedent for such laws to be invalidated elsewhere in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the government denied the claims and said it did not intend to crack down on Shariah courts but rather to empower them. Amid criticism from Islamists, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the ruling merely came down to a matter of state jurisdiction and should not be subject to politicization.

Anwar has struggled to win over the Malays since he took office in 2022.

Sketchy Figures

CROATIA

Thousands of Croatians took to the streets of the capital Zagreb over the weekend to protest alleged government corruption and demand immediate elections, ahead of polls later this year, Agence France-Presse reported.

Saturday’s protests ignited after the recent and controversial appointment of Judge Ivan Turudic as the country’s new state attorney general. Turudic – backed by the ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union – has been accused of having links with individuals suspected of corruption.

The demonstrations were organized by 11 left-wing opposition parties, which have also lodged a formal demand to dissolve Croatia’s legislature.

The Balkan country is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, as well as those for the European Parliament in June, the Associated Press added. However, the dates for the domestic votes have not yet been determined.

Turudic has denied the allegations, while Prime Minister Andrej Plenković defended his appointment.

But the opposition has accused Plenković and his party of curbing democratic freedoms in Croatia. They urged the public to turn out in force at the polling stations.

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, following an era of wars and crises in the Balkan region. Last year, it joined the EU’s Schengen visa-free travel zone and the single currency market known as the eurozone.

Still, the EU nation continues to grapple with economic challenges and a significant brain drain, as young people seek better opportunities in richer countries in the bloc.

DISCOVERIES

Outliving the Giants

Scientists recently analyzed data from nearly 590,000 dogs in the United Kingdom to determine what sort of factors determine a pooch’s lifespan, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The sample included purebreds and crossbreeds, including more than 280,000 deceased canines. Researchers wrote that the study targeted size, face shape, as well as genetics and lifestyle.

The researchers realized that the secret to determining a dog’s longevity lies in their size and the shape of their nose, according to the resulting study.

The median lifespan for all pooches was 12.5 years, but smaller and long-nosed canines lived longer than larger and flat-nosed dogs.

For example, dachshunds – both small and long-nosed – had a median lifespan of 14 years. But French bulldogs, which are medium-sized with flat noses, had a median of 9.8 years.

Meanwhile, the findings also showed that purebreds had lived longer than crossbreeds, with the former having a median lifespan of 12.7 years and the latter around 12 years.

The purebred Lancashire heeler took the top spot with 15.4 years, while the bear-hunting Caucasian shepherd – a crossbreed – had the shortest lifespan with about 5.4 years.

And similar to humans, female dogs lived longer than males.

Some researchers said the study challenges the long-held belief that crossbreeds had longer lives because of more variation in their genes.

However, the research does come with some caveats because it only focuses on dogs in the UK and does not explore why these factors contribute to shorter lifespans.

The authors hope that the findings can encourage scientists worldwide to conduct similar studies, as well as help pet owners and breeders to make more informed decisions about the health and welfare of their dogs.

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