The World Today for June 11, 2024

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Colonial Democracy

NEW CALEDONIA

Four people, including a security officer, died recently in riots in the French territory of New Caledonia, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to declare a temporary state of emergency on the Pacific island.

Since unrest broke out in New Caledonia last month, a total of seven people have died, hundreds have been injured, and police have arrested more than 130 people, reported Radio France Internationale. To curb looting and the destruction of property, authorities instituted a curfew, banned public gatherings, closed the airport, and blocked TikTok. Macron sent hundreds of troops to the island to support 1,800 police and gendarmes already there.

These contretemps stem from a mix of causes. In one sense, the problem is France’s relationship with the global south, as World Politics Review explained. Citizens of New Caledonia can vote for the French president, lawmakers who represent them in the capital of Paris, as well as European parliamentarians. Many nevertheless still dislike the thought of their former colonial master retaining control over their sovereignty.

The nickel-rich island’s population is split by indigenous Kanaks who favor independence for their homeland, and so-called “Caldoches,” or Europeans who have settled in the former colony and want the benefits, citizenship – and French transfer payments – of one of the world’s richest and most powerful nations. Kanaks rebelled against French rule in 1878, 1917, 1984, and today. The French state has always “brutally” suppressed these uprisings, Jacobin magazine wrote, arguably undermining the stable rule its security forces hope to defend.

Numerous referendums – when the population has been able to vote on whether or not to remain part of France – have always rebuffed the Kanaks’ desires for independence, even after a 1998 agreement prevented new arrivals from voting, the Economist noted. Many Kanaks complained when Macron refused to delay a 2021 referendum held during the coronavirus epidemic when many voters failed to go to the polls, however.

Many protesters are now angry that Macron has proposed allowing French citizens who have recently arrived on the island to vote in future elections and referendums, wrote Reuters. Many Kanaks view the move as an attempt to dilute their vote. They have refused to take down roadblocks until Macron changes his mind. The president has said he won’t force the island to accept the change – but the roadblocks must come down immediately.

In a bizarre twist, Macron has also blamed the Central Asian former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan for stoking the protests. As Al Jazeera reported, Azerbaijani officials, who deny their involvement, have supported separatists in New Caledonia as well as the French possessions of French Guiana, French Polynesia and Martinique. France, coincidentally, has supported Armenia in that country’s fights against Azerbaijan.

The Azeris might be involved. Even so, they didn’t start the discontent, the Washington Post noted, and it won’t likely evaporate anytime soon.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

To Be Continued

INDIA

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a rare third term this week, following a sobering election result that saw his once-dominant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lose its majority in the lower house and raised questions about his new coalition government’s ability to govern as before, the Washington Post reported.

On Sunday, President Droupadi Murmu swore in the Hindu nationalist leader for another five-year term as prime minister – the second Indian politician to achieve this feat after Jawaharlal Nehru, one of India’s founding fathers.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Modi unveiled the 71-member council of ministers composed of BJP politicians and members of his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition. Details of the ministerial appointments are expected in the coming days, prompting questions about who will secure crucial security and economic posts.

Modi’s third term comes after India’s massive parliamentary elections saw the BJP lose its majority in the lower house of legislature, forcing him to rely on his coalition partners.

The BJP secured only 240 seats, far below the 272-seat threshold needed for a majority in the lower house.

Analysts suggested that the new coalition government will have a “veneer of continuity,” noting that Modi’s third term will not be very different from his previous two.

Still, the election results marked the start of an uncertain period for Modi and the BJP, who have dominated Indian politics since they came to power in 2014.

Observers explained that the once-battered opposition made significant gains after campaigning on issues of high unemployment, inflation and complaints from India’s rural voters, Sky News added.

Inequality also remains high in the country, with the Paris-based World Inequalities Lab reporting that the top one percent of India’s population controls 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

At the same time, Modi has been accused of favoring the country’s Hindu majority at the expense of the Muslim minority: He escalated anti-Muslim rhetoric during the campaign. But following the election results, he appealed to his coalition partners by saying that the new government would represent all Indians.

Political analysts told the Post they are watching to see if Modi’s allies will retain control over key agencies, such as law enforcement, which opposition parties claim have been misused for the BJP’s political aims.

Another focus is whether NDA coalition members will seek to fill the role of parliamentary speaker, allowing potential defections to the opposition without censure, thus leveraging their power over the BJP.

Hedging Bets

MEXICO

Mexico’s ruling Morena party and its allies secured a super-majority in the lower house of parliament but not the upper house in elections earlier this month, according to party officials, a result that leaves the leftist group short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, Reuters reported Monday.

Preliminary results of the June 2 elections showed Morena’s coalition – which includes the Green Party and Labor Party – winning 372 seats in the 500-seat lower house. However, the political union only secured 83 seats in the 128-seat Senate, just shy of the 85-seat super-majority threshold.

Despite the outcome, Morena party President Mario Delgado welcomed the results, saying the coalition “will deepen the transformation to keep building a country with well-being and shared prosperity.”

The announcement comes a week after the elections saw Morena candidate Claudia Sheinbaum win Mexico’s presidency by a landslide and become the country’s first female president.

Even so, uncertainty about the next legislature – set to take office in September – rattled markets last week.

Both outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his successor Sheinbaum support major constitutional reforms, including abolishing independent energy regulators, centralizing power within the executive branch, and restructuring the judiciary to have supreme court judges elected by popular vote.

Meanwhile, the country is also grappling with a wave of election violence that has claimed the lives of dozens of political candidates, according to CBS News.

On Friday, councilwoman Esmeralda Garzon was gunned down in the southern state of Guerrero, the second female politician to be killed after Sheinbaum’s victory.

Garzon’s death comes days after Yolanda Sánchez Figueroa, a mayor of the western town of Cotija, and her bodyguard were murdered outside of a gym.

According to official statistics, at least 23 political candidates were killed while campaigning before the elections, making it the most violent election in modern Mexican history.

However, non-governmental organizations reported even higher numbers, with at least 30 candidates killed. The number of victims tops 50 people when relatives and others are counted, observers noted.

Missing in Action

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced an intense backlash over the weekend for his decision to skip a significant D-Day commemoration in France in favor of doing a political interview, a scandal that comes as the ruling Conservative party and its leader face an uphill battle in July’s parliamentary elections, the Financial Times reported.

Despite apologies, Sunak said he wouldn’t consider resigning, the BBC reported. “I’m not going to stop fighting for people’s votes,” he said.

On Thursday, Sunak gave a speech at the British Normandy Memorial near the French village of Ver-sur-Mer in the morning as part of the 80th anniversary commemorations of Allied forces’ historic World War II invasion.

However, the prime minister departed before the afternoon event at Omaha Beach to participate in an election interview with ITV. That event was attended by world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

In Sunak’s absence, former Prime Minister and current Foreign Secretary David Cameron represented the UK.

But his decision sparked criticism and condemnation in the UK, including from members of Sunak’s own party, with some officials describing it as a “disastrous mistake” and “the stupidest of stupid ideas.”

In response, Sunak apologized for his departure, explaining that his itinerary had been set weeks in advance – before the start of the general election campaign – and that the decision not to attend the international event was planned back then.

The Independent also reported that he felt “despondent” over the furious backlash.

However, this explanation was met with skepticism from Conservative candidates, with some warning that the misstep comes at a critical time in the election cycle.

The prime minister is attempting to close a 20-point gap in opinion polls favoring the opposition Labour Party.

One senior party official suggested that Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party might soon surpass the Conservatives in polls. During a multi-party debate hosted by the BBC, Farage chided Sunak’s absence, saying that veterans felt let down, the Guardian added.

The incident and the subsequent backlash have also sparked discussions among Conservatives about potential post-election scenarios, including a possible return of Boris Johnson to counter Farage.

Amid the UK’s political turmoil, Biden and Macron celebrated their countries’ partnership during a state visit to the French capital, according to the Hill.

The leaders emphasized their united stance on global security issues, including preventing a regional escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict and supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia amid ongoing funding challenges.

DISCOVERIES

The Great Replacement

Bronze cuckoos annoy other birds.

Too lazy, perhaps, to build their own nests, they lay their eggs in the carefully constructed homes of small songbirds. When the cuckoo egg hatches, the chick then pushes the host bird’s eggs out of the nest and tricks the new parents into caring for it.

They are nature’s ultimate free-loaders.

More amazing still is what happens next, the so-called coevolution – and possibly the creation of a new species – in a process called speciation, which happens after the close interaction between species, according to a new study that resulted from two decades of observation and analysis by a team of scientists.

Scientists call it “an evolutionary arms race.” The prize? More species.

“This finding is significant in evolutionary biology,” said Clare Holleley, an evolutionary biologist at the Australian National Wildlife Collection, who worked on the study. “It shows that coevolution between interacting species increases biodiversity.”

Until now, there hadn’t been any evidence to support this theory.

To prove it, the researchers used scientific modeling, and “looked at the DNA and morphology of bronze cuckoos,” wrote Corinne Simonti, editor of the journal Science where the study was published.

They found that speciation was more likely when a cuckoo species targets several different host species.

“Cuckoos are very costly to their hosts, so hosts have evolved the ability to recognize and eject cuckoo chicks from their nests,” said Naomi Langmore of Australian National University, Canberra, lead author of the study.

To avoid this, cuckoo chicks mimic the hosts’ chicks’ appearance and birdsong, thus going into separate genetic lineages.

“This exciting new finding could potentially apply to any pairs of species that are in battle with each other,” said co-author Rebecca Kilner of Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology. “Just as we’ve seen with the cuckoo, the coevolutionary arms race could cause new species to emerge – and increase biodiversity on our planet.”

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