The World Today for April 10, 2024

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The Third Wheel

SOUTH KOREA

Politicians from the ruling People Power Party and the opposition Democratic Party have traditionally held the top offices in South Korea.

Currently, the two parties hold 270 out of 300 seats in the legislature, for example.

However, only 24 percent of South Korean citizens trusted in those parliamentarians two years ago. Scandals and other challenges have dented their reputations since then, analysts say. Now, as voters prepare to go to the polls on April 10 to elect new lawmakers, new political organizations might secure a larger share of the country’s legislature.

“Both (mainstream) parties are grappling with internal struggles and political controversies that are fueling the prospect of new, breakaway parties making gains,” wrote North Greenville University political scientist Jong Eun Lee in the Conversation.

The two traditional parties are losing support as South Korean society changes – the country was impoverished in 1950 but is a world-class economic powerhouse today – as well as “widespread frustration” with domestic politics, explained the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

South Korea used to be split east and west in terms of political affiliations, for example. The east was conservative while the west was progressive. Now, however, age is a bigger determining factor. Older folks are more conservative, while the young are more progressive.

The future agenda of President Yoon Suk Yeol of the People Power Party is on the line, added the Stimson Center, a think tank. He has many challenges facing his administration, including corruption allegations – his wife allegedly accepted an expensive handbag as an inappropriate gift, reported Nikkei Asia – the growing power of large conglomerates in the country, inflation, rising housing prices, and other issues.

A massive doctors’ strike over a government proposal to increase the pool of clinicians, as well as soaring prices for green onions and apples, for instance, have hurt the People Power Party’s standing in the polls, noted the Associated Press.

Yoon also supports a close partnership between South Korea and the US against China. Democratic Party leaders tend to seek a close, less hostile, relationship with their massive neighbor and less closeness with the US.

If the People’s Power Party flops on election day, Yoon will seem like a lame duck, concluded the Diplomat. While he has vast powers under the South Korean system, he will be stuck with exercising his constitutional duties but ignoring the systemic changes that many South Koreans crave.

Lee of the Conversation, meanwhile, believes that if the result of the election is a more diverse, multi-party legislature, that could be transformational for the country’s domestic and international agenda, and banish the gridlock.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Match, Set, Point

EUROPE

One of Europe’s top courts ruled on Tuesday that Switzerland violated its citizens’ human rights by failing to adequately address climate change, a landmark verdict that applies throughout the continent and could create a precedent for climate litigation, CNN reported.

Over 2,000 Swiss women from the age of 64 took their country to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, arguing that by doing too little to prevent the rise of temperatures induced by global warming, the Swiss government was endangering their health and violating their right to life.

The court sided with the KlimaSeniorinnen (Senior Women for Climate Protection) and said the women were entitled to protection from “the serious adverse effects of climate change on lives, health, well-being and quality of life.”

Temperatures in Europe are rising much faster than anywhere else in the world, Axios explained, exposing seniors – and women much more than men – to higher risks of dying from heat-related illnesses.

The ruling is legally binding and no appeal is possible.

As a result, Switzerland may have to speed up its phasing out of fossil fuels, the single most significant cause of human-made climate change, Axios wrote. The Swiss government, meanwhile, said it would study the ruling and decide on a course of action.

Meanwhile, the verdict echoes well beyond the Alpine nation because the court has jurisdiction over 46 countries, from the United Kingdom to Turkey.

“It means that all European countries must urgently revise their targets so that they are science-based and aligned to 1.5 degrees,” said Gerry Liston, a lawyer at Global Legal Action Network told CNN.

Liston’s organization supported plaintiffs in another environmental case that was dismissed on Tuesday, one brought by a group of Portuguese youth, suing over 30 European states for failing to protect them against climate change. The court said it was “inadmissible” because it said the claimants had not tried all legal solutions in Portugal first and that their claims could hardly be extended outside their country.

Black and Blue

HAITI

Leaders in Haiti have reached a deal for a transitional government to end the gang-fuelled chaos that has battered the nation, pending the approval of the outgoing administration, Agence France Presse reported.

The deal, agreed to over the weekend, establishes a nine-member council made up of politicians, the private sector and civil society, with seven voting members and two observers. It aims to hold a presidential election by 2026, 10 years after Haitians last went to the polls. The plan was sent to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) late Sunday.

The transitional council is intended to replace Prime Minister Ariel Henry and have a mandate until Feb. 7, 2026. Henry, who resigned last month amid intensifying gang violence and the threat of civil war, had conditioned his departure on the creation of a transition council.

Internal bickering delayed the agreement, AFP wrote.

The new authority will have to appoint a new prime minister and government to lead Haiti until “democratic, free and credible elections” are possible, a statement read. Council members and interim ministers won’t be allowed to run in the elections.

One of the other priorities of the transitional body will be security, namely addressing the anarchy blighting the country, where armed gangs have taken over large swathes of territory, attacking civilians and police.

These gangs forced the shutdown of the airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, preventing Henry from returning home from Kenya, where he was securing a deal with Nairobi to send an international police mission to Haiti backed by the United Nations.

CARICOM, which has played a significant role in negotiations, is to send the transition council deal to Henry’s government, which must then formally greenlight it.

Into the Folds

GEORGIA

Groups of demonstrators protested in front of Georgia’s parliament this week against a controversial bill that would allow the government to crack down on civil society organizations by labeling them “foreign agents,” a move that threatens to harm the country’s chances of joining the European Union (EU), Politico reported.

The protest followed a decision by the ruling Georgian Dream party to reintroduce a bill it had shelved last year following mass protests and an international outcry. Under the proposed law, an organization receiving 20 percent or more of its funding from abroad would have to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power,” and face strict administrative rules.

Opponents call it the “Russian law” because it mirrors similar legislation passed by Moscow to silence public dissent in recent years.

The bill has become an illustration of the divisions over Georgia’s EU stance: Last year’s protests that forced the government to scrap the law’s first version were symbolized by an image of a woman waving the European flag against water cannons.

In December 2023, the EU granted Georgia EU candidate status, but said certain conditions had to be met before its candidacy could advance. The “foreign agents” law has since strained relations between Tbilisi and Brussels. The bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borell, said it was “incompatible with EU values and standards.”

The bill’s reintroduction could signal a strategy by Georgian Dream to sabotage the country’s EU membership chances, RFE/RL wrote. Georgia has notably shifted towards the Kremlin since the beginning of the Ukraine war, despite its experience with Russia taking over its territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia, where over 1,000 people sit in jail for political reasons, applauded the Georgian government’s move to curb “interference from other countries in domestic policies.”

Georgia’s President Salomé Zourabichvili, a former French diplomat, said she would veto the legislation to delay it, Euractiv reported. However, the government can override her veto.

DISCOVERIES

Speed Racer

Shark skin has captivated both fishermen and scientists in how it enables the marine predators to achieve astonishing speeds underwater.

Packed with small, anvil-shaped structures known as denticles, some species can swim at speeds topping 43 miles per hour – far outpacing Olympic swimmers who might reach a little more than three miles per hour.

While it’s widely believed that these denticles play a crucial role in shark locomotion by reducing drag, understanding their exact function has remained a challenge until now, Discovery Magazine reported.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Mississippi explained that shark skin not only decreases drag but also generates thrust in the direction of motion.

The research team conducted a series of experiments by simulating fluid flow over denticles similar in shape to those found on sharks.

Their simulations reveal that these denticles, arranged in a specific manner, create a secondary surface that alters the flow of fluid. This reverse flow generates thrust in the direction of movement by pushing against pillars that support the small anvil heads.

Termed “reverse pore thrust,” this phenomenon simultaneously aids in keeping the boundary layer attached to the surface, thereby reducing drag – which is crucial for efficient movement through water.

Their findings build on decades of research into the hydrodynamic properties of shark skin. Previous attempts to replicate this behavior have shown some success, with ridges aligned with the flow direction reducing drag by up to 10 percent.

The new study offers promising applications in engineering fields such as developing new designs to reduce drag in submarines and yachts.

Still, challenges remain, particularly in keeping synthetic shark skin free from marine fouling.

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