The World Today for May 29, 2024

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A Long Way to Fall


Since the racist apartheid regime in South Africa ended 30 years ago, the African National Congress party, whose crusaders brought down white minority rule, has won every election, with support in the high double digits. That track record of success is predicted to end, however, when South Africans go to the polls on May 29, wrote CNN, arguably making this election the most pivotal in post-apartheid history.

The reason for this shift is simple – many voters believe the ANC has failed them. Violent crime is rampant. Unemployment is high. Electricity blackouts, shortages of water, corruption scandals, and other issues have led to unprecedented levels of frustration among the populace.

“It’s very sad,” said Tumelo Georgy, 39, who holds a degree in political science but recently failed to secure even a job at a Johannesburg solid waste management firm, during an interview with Agence France-Presse. “That’s why we are having criminals, because people have studied and are hungry.”

Already, the election has been marked by “an epidemic of assassinations,” – 40 recorded since the start of last year, mainly targeting local officials, politicians and activists, wrote the Washington Post. This is fueling voter anger at the ANC even as the party itself has grown concerned about the hijacking of local administrations by violent criminal networks.

At the same time, these developments have made inequality a major issue, added the BBC. The wealthiest 20 percent of South Africans hold about 70 percent of the nation’s income, making it the most unequal country in the world. Meanwhile, the poorest South Africans, who comprise around 40 percent of the country’s population, receive only 7 percent of the income. More than half the country’s 62 million citizens are under 35, too, with 44 percent of these young people “not in employment, education or training.”

Qunu, the hometown of the freedom fighter and South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Mandela, has lacked running water since 2016, for example, noted Reuters. As a result, jobless youths “while away their days drinking beer.”

As a result, young people are seeing fewer reasons to support the ANC, whose support is perilously close to dropping below 50 percent of the electorate for the first time.

The ANC has also suffered divisions. South Africa’s top court, for example, recently ruled that ex-President Jacob Zuma was disqualified from appearing on the ballot because in 2021 he was sentenced to prison for 15 months after failing to appear in court to answer corruption charges, the Guardian explained. Zuma had been forced to resign in 2018 because of corruption allegations. In December, the 82-year-old created the uMkhonto WeSizwe political party and sought to run again.

Other former ANC leaders have also split off and launched new parties, Deutsche Welle reported.

ANC officials have tried to stem the loss of support in a push to reelect the incumbent president, Cyril Ramaphosa. They worked overtime, for instance, to improve the country’s electrical system in recent months. This success has led critics to charge that they only took action to improve people’s lives when they saw their support faltering.

Last month, the ANC polled at around 40 percent, followed by the pro-business Democratic Alliance (with 22 percent) and the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters (11.5 percent), whose leader, Julius Malema, was forced out of the ANC. Zuma’s party follows with 8 percent and even if he can’t run, he’s still on the ticket.

If the election results fail to give the ANC a majority, it would force the party into a coalition – a first for South Africa. South Africa has 14 political parties currently represented in parliament and more than 300 parties registered nationally.

Still, coalitions at the local level, however, have not been very successful at delivering services for frustrated citizens, the Associated Press wrote.

Even so, South African commentators say the mood among voters is one of wanting to punish the powers that be.

“What is at stake now is a reckoning with the fact that the country that we live in now is not the country that we hoped for 30 years ago,” Redi Tlhabi, a South African journalist, told Foreign Policy. “The ANC has been the torch-bearer of really shocking corruption acts in our country,” he said, adding: “And I think there are people who want to see them pay the price and be held accountable.”


Order, Order


Amid mass protests and violent confrontations in parliament, Taiwan’s opposition lawmakers on Tuesday approved a controversial reform package that analysts said would undermine the president’s powers – even as a majority of Taiwanese have little trust in the legislative branch, the Guardian reported.

Carried by the two main opposition parties, the nationalist, pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) and the center-left Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), the bill passed in a 58-45 vote. The parties together hold a majority in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, which President Lai Ching-te’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost in the January elections.

The bill, at first glance a domestic issue, has attracted international attention because critics say it will diminish barriers against Chinese influence, Nikkei Asia wrote. Last week, Beijing, which considers Taiwan as a part of its territory, launched a series of military drills around the island following President Lai’s words on sovereignty at his inauguration.

The new measure allows parliamentarians to demand information from companies, citizens and the military. It also creates a crime of “contempt of parliament”, requiring the president to issue regular reports and answer questions in the legislature – a first in Taiwan, Reuters explained.

The opposition argued the move was needed to enforce “checks and balances.”

On Monday, ahead of the vote, more than 60 legal experts called on the KMT and TPP to review the bill and “seek the opinions of experts,” arguing that some parts were unconstitutional.

The DPP – which introduced similar legislation in 2016 but withdrew it amid a public outcry – accused the opposition parties of forcing through the current bill.

There were scenes of violent confrontations inside the legislature over the week, with projectiles thrown from both sides of the aisle. Two lawmakers were hospitalized.

Amid the chaos, one member seized the bill and tried to run away with it to prevent the reform from being passed, NDTV reported.

In the streets of Taipei, thousands of protesters chanted, “No dialogue, no democracy.”

Many of them were university and high school students. In January’s general election, most young voters chose the TPP, a newly emerged party. But they opposed the reform, in part due to the TPP and KMT’s rushed efforts to approve the bill, the Diplomat reported.

The protests over the reform bill are the largest Taiwan has seen since the 2014 Sunflower movement, where students and civil society opposed a trade agreement between the then-ruling KMT and China.

Lai expressed his support for the protesters. After Tuesday’s parliamentary vote, the president will likely face obstacles to creating security plans to counter Beijing’s annexation threats, the Guardian wrote.

On the High Wire


Israeli tanks advanced further into Rafah Tuesday as part of an expanding military operation in the southern Gazan city, an escalation that comes amid growing international condemnation of Israel’s efforts to defeat Hamas since the two sides began fighting in October, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Palestinian witnesses said tanks passed near one of the city’s landmarks, while Israeli media noted that the military added another brigade to the five already operating in Rafah, engaging in close-quarter combat with Hamas.

The development comes two days after an airstrike in Rafah killed at least 45 civilians, including women and children, according to Palestinian officials in the city. Israeli military representatives claimed the strike targeted two Hamas officials but civilian casualties occurred when a nearby tent encampment caught on fire.

While the Israeli military defended the strike, the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the civilian deaths a “tragic mistake.”

The airstrike follows months of fighting in the Gaza Strip: Israel began a military campaign in the Palestinian enclave after Hamas and its allies launched a brutal attack in the country’s south on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and kidnapping more than 240 others.

Israel aims to dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure and disrupt smuggling networks from Egypt, but it has also faced international pressure to do more to protect civilians and allow in humanitarian aid.

Sunday’s strike underscored Israel’s challenge of balancing military objectives while facing international pressure and condemnation.

The recent military actions came days after the International Court of Justice demanded that Israel halt operations in Rafah.

Analysts told the Journal that the strike “further isolates Israel, further turns countries against Israel.”

Amid the tensions, Spain, Norway and Ireland formally recognized the Palestinian state Tuesday, the Associated Press wrote. The recognition is seen as part of an effort to pressure Israel to soften its response to the October attack, while some observers said it will also coax other European Union nations, such as France and Germany, to recognize Palestine.

Israel criticized the move by the three European countries, countering that it would not impact the war in Gaza.

Even so, the fallout from the Gaza war is also impacting Israel’s relations with neighboring Egypt: On Monday, Israeli and Egyptian forces engaged in a rare cross-border clash that left an Egyptian officer dead.

Despite ongoing fighting, mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the US are continuing their efforts to restart ceasefire talks. Negotiators propose a six-week truce, potentially followed by a year-long ceasefire and a phased Israeli withdrawal, contingent on Hamas’s engagement in talks.

Strike Two


Peru’s attorney general filed a constitutional complaint against President Dina Boluarte this week over allegations of corruption involving her possession of luxury watches, a move observers say could lead to impeachment, Reuters reported.

The complaint is connected to a recent scandal over Boluarte’s use of expensive Rolex watches and other jewelry of worth that appears to exceed her public salary. The president has already faced questioning and police raids but has denied any wrongdoing, claiming the luxury products were loaned to her by a local governor.

The formal complaint accuses her of receiving a bribe and could lead to her removal by the Peruvian legislature.

Government officials criticized the move, with Prime Minister Gustavo Adrianzen saying the president will not be distracted by “political noise.”

But the attorney general’s move marks the second constitutional complaint against Boluarte and comes as polls show her popularity has sunk to a new low of 5 percent.

Boluarte previously served as vice president in leftist President Pedro Castillo’s administration. She ascended to power in late 2022 after Castillo tried to illegally dissolve congress before a vote to remove him from office.

Castillo’s ousting and arrest sparked weeks-long violent demonstrations in the country that killed more than 40 people.

In November, the attorney general filed a complaint against Boluarte’s handling of those mass protests.

Peru’s turbulent political landscape has ousted a number of Boluarte’s predecessors in recent years, with lawmakers frequently spearheading impeachment proceedings against them. In April, lawmakers twice rejected motions to bring Boluarte’s impeachment up for debate.

Peru has had six presidents in the past six years, Al Jazeera noted.


Going Global

German cockroaches are master travelers: These days, despite their name, they are literally everywhere – on every continent but Antarctica.

But because they lack a natural habitat, scientists have not been able to figure out where they actually came from.

Recently, however, researchers began tracking how the ubiquitous insect went global over a few millennia.

“The German cockroach can’t even fly,” evolutionary biologist Qian Tang, who led a new study on the bug, told National Geographic. “They hitchhike in human vessels around the world.”

First described by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1767, the German cockroach, or Blattella germanica, is the most prevalent of roughly 4,600 cockroach species around the world.

Qian Tang and his colleagues probed the insect’s DNA, analyzing genome-wide markers for more than 280 cockroaches from 17 countries on six different continents.

Their findings showed that B. germanica evolved from the Asian cockroach (B. asahinai) some 2,100 years ago in what is now India and Myanmar.

At some point, the German cockroaches moved in with humans, which later triggered their dispersal: They arrived in the Middle East more than a millennium ago via traders and military movements during the Islamic Ummayad and Abbasid caliphates.

They later hitchhiked their way to other parts of the world thanks to the exploration and trade routes that took place nearly 400 years ago.

The researchers explained that their dispersal wasn’t just a coincidence, but related to the bug’s uncanny ability to survive and adapt to any environment, which stems from their rapid reproductive rate that also allows them to produce new offspring with new traits, such as resistance to pesticides.

Co-author Chow-Yang Lee said that it’s doubtful that humans will get rid of them anytime soon, while expressing awe for the tough bugs: “If you ask me to name one species or organism that I respect the most, it’s probably the German cockroach.”

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