The World Today for March 08, 2024

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Stinky Politics


In November, investigators searched the official residence of Portugal’s Socialist Prime Minister António Costa, as well as the environment and infrastructure ministries, looking for evidence of corruption, explained the Guardian.

The prime minister then stepped down.

Now, these corruption scandals might tip the vote in snap parliamentary elections on March 10 to give a far-right populist party outsized power in shaping the country’s next government.

The prime minister’s resignation was arguably the biggest political crisis in the West European country in the last 20 years, noted World Politics Review. A darling among European socialist political leaders, Costa was a frontrunner to become president of the European Council, an important policymaking body in the European Union, noted Euractiv.

Costa, who had won a third consecutive term in January 2022, has not been charged with any crimes. But the allegations of corruption, influence peddling and other crimes have hurt his left-of-center Socialist Party.

Now the conservative Social Democratic party will likely slightly surpass the Socialists in the polls. But they aren’t expected to win a large enough share of the vote to form a government because they, too, face corruption allegations. A court in the capital of Lisbon recently ruled that former Socialist prime minister Jose Socrates would need to face corruption charges in court. He allegedly pilfered almost $37 million while in power through fraud, money laundering and graft, reported the Associated Press.

That means the Social Democratic party’s standard bearer Luis Montenegro might need to form a coalition with the xenophobic, populist Chega party – or “Enough” in Portuguese – to become the country’s next prime minister. “Portugal needs cleaning out” is a typical Chega slogan. Chega leader Andre Ventura is already being described as a kingmaker. His party won only 1.3 percent of votes in 2019 but its share increased to 7.3 percent in 2022.

Described in the Financial Times as a “former trainee priest and football pundit,” Ventura has allied himself with European politicians like far-right, anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who are skeptical of European Union institutions and staunchly against migration from North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Ventura has suggested that immigration was “diluting” Europe. He has also appeared with suspected police-affiliated extremist groups.

The new leader of the Socialists, Pedro Nuno Santos, is working hard to prevent the rightward tide, Politico reported. On the campaign trail, he’s running against the Social Democrats and Chega.

“The only way the center-right can govern is with Chega,” Santos said. “And having a government that depends on the far right in any way will pose a threat to democracy in Portugal.”

That said, the far-right politicians believe they can do better, say analysts, especially as they are free, so far, of the stink of corruption scandals.


Push, Pull


Thousands of Colombians took to the streets of major cities this week to protest against President Gustavo Petro’s proposed reforms and ongoing security challenges in the South American country, Reuters reported.

In the capital Bogota, demonstrators brandished banners reading “No more Petro!” and “Out, Petro!” as they voiced discontent with his policies. Demonstrations also took place in other cities, with police estimating that around 52,000 people participated.

Petro – Colombia’s first leftist leader – is facing opposition to his ambitious reform agenda targeting the health care, pension, labor and education systems.

Critics of the reforms warned they would harm the country’s economy, adding that the changes would leave too much of Colombians’ hard-earned savings in the hands of a public service with a long history of corruption.

The president has defended the reforms as beneficial for the country’s most vulnerable people, adding that he wants to curb reliance on private funds, Agence France-Presse noted.

Even so, he lacks a majority in Congress to pass the reforms following the collapse of a fragile coalition government last April.

Meanwhile, protesters also expressed disillusionment with Petro’s handling of Colombia’s security situation, including his efforts to end the country’s decades-long civil conflict with rebel groups that has killed more than 450,000 people.

His attempts to negotiate “total peace” with armed groups have faced challenges, with frequent ceasefire violations and ongoing violence affecting civilians, particularly in rural areas.

A Case Study in Entropy


Senegal set March 24 as the new date for its presidential election Wednesday – a month after its president delayed the vote, triggering chaos throughout the country which until last year had been held up as a bastion of stability in the region, the Associated Press reported.

On Feb. 3, President Macky Sall postponed the election initially scheduled for Feb. 25, for 10 months. Opposition leaders accused Sall, who is unable to run due to term limits, of refusing to relinquish power.

Meanwhile, Sall promised to step down on April 2, regardless of whether the election occurred before or after that date.

The announcement to postpone the vote immediately triggered demonstrations and violent clashes. Amid the chaos, the Constitutional Council, the highest body in Senegal’s judiciary, quashed Sall’s move and requested that the election be held as soon as possible.

After a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, government spokesperson Abdou Karim Fofana said the president decided to organize the first round of the presidential election on March 24. He added that a new executive branch of government would be appointed.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Amadou Ba was “released” from his position to run in the election, being succeeded by Interior Minister Sidiki Kaba. Ba is Sall’s handpicked successor.

Later that day, the Constitutional Council set March 31 as election day, creating confusion and prolonging the uncertainty caused by the president’s postponement of the ballot, Le Monde reported.

The Constitutional Council had said that holding the election after the end of Sall’s mandate was unconstitutional. It rejected a petition from civil society and the opposition to organize the vote for June 2.

The top court eventually aligned with the government on Thursday.

The decision also comes after lawmakers passed an amnesty bill for political crimes committed between 2021 and 2024. The bill caused controversy as the opposition pointed out that it would benefit people convicted of murder and torture, France’s Libération reported. Nonetheless, it could also be good news for leading opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, who is currently in jail and barred from running in the presidential election.

Election authorities are now scrambling to organize the vote, which will take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when most Senegalese will be fasting, France 24 noted.

Fury For the Lost


Protesters smashed the door of Mexico’s presidential palace this week, demanding answers for the 43 college students who went missing a decade ago, a mass disappearance that remains one of the country’s most infamous human rights cases, NPR reported.

On Wednesday, demonstrators used a pickup truck to break down the door of the National Palace, the residence of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Security forces were able to stop protesters from reaching the hall where the president was at the time holding a news conference.

López Obrador criticized the protest as unnecessarily violent, saying the protesters were using sledgehammers and blowtorches, according to the Associated Press.

However, he downplayed the unrest, adding that officials would meet with the demonstrators to address their issues.

The incident was the latest demonstration by victims’ families and students at government rural teachers’ colleges protesting the 2014 disappearance of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in the southern city of Iguala.

At the time, a group of students were attacked by municipal police, who then handed them over to a local drug gang. The gang allegedly killed and burned their bodies, with only three sets of remains identified.

Last year, a government truth commission determined that local, state, and federal authorities cooperated with the gang in the murder of the students, labeling it a “state crime.”

López Obrador had pledged a thorough investigation into the case, but recently acknowledged that it would not be concluded before his term ends this year. At the same, he has openly doubted whether the total number of disappeared in Mexico, more than 100,000 people, is really that high.

As the Washington Post reported, he dispatched public workers last year to conduct a census to affirm whether people reported as missing had come back home or not. Families of the missing claimed the president was seeking to play down their suffering before a presidential election in 2024.


A Different Type of Attraction

Scientists recently identified a new form of magnetism present in everyday materials that could have major technological applications, New Atlas reported.

Known as “altermagnetism,” this new form exhibits a unique combination of properties that differ from the more familiar ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism.

In ferromagnetism, electron spins align uniformly, while in antiferromagnetism, the spins alternate their direction.

But in altermagnetism, electrons within the material spin in alternating directions – akin to antiferromagnets – which doesn’t produce magnetization, the researchers explained in their study.

The team added that altermagnetic materials are different from other known forms because they demonstrate alternating spin states among their energy bands.

The existence of altermagnetism was initially theorized in 2019, and recent experiments at the Swiss Light Source synchrotron confirmed its presence in manganese telluride.

While other sub-forms of magnetism have been identified in recent years, the researchers noted that altermagnetism stands out due to its potential applications, particularly in superconductivity and spintronics – where data is encoded using electron spins instead of charges.

In spintronics, ferromagnets are often preferred because of their favorable properties, but their magnetic fields can interfere with neighboring electrons. Meanwhile, antiferromagnets – which lack net magnetism – have weaker spin effects for data encoding.

However, altermagnetic materials offer a promising compromise: They feature strong spin effects without net magnetism – a combination that was long assumed impossible.

Lead author Tomáš Jungwirth, the principal investigator of the study, emphasized that altermagnetism is a fundamental yet overlooked phenomenon existing in various crystals that have been readily available.

“In that sense, now that we have brought it to light, many people around the world will be able to work on it, giving the potential for a broad impact,” he said.

Correction: In Thursday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ item that Peruvian law provides that one cabinet minister’s departure triggers the resignation of the entire 18-member cabinet. In fact, the whole cabinet steps down only if the prime minister – formally known as President of the Council of Ministers – resigns. We apologize for the error.

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