Politics this week

After 20 years in power and weeks of mass protests, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s ailing president, resigned. The announcement sparked celebrations in the capital, Algiers. Some fear that the old guard will try to hang on to power. Abdelkader Bensalah, the Speaker of the Senate (and a Bouteflika loyalist), is next in line as president, according to the constitution. He has 90 days to organise new elections. See article.

The Iranian government ordered the evacuation of more than 70 villages in the province of Khuzestan because of flooding. Dozens of people have been killed in the past two weeks, during Iran’s worst rains in years. Iranian officials blamed American sanctions for impeding their aid efforts. American officials said Iran was mismanaging the crisis.

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Thousands of Palestinians marked the first anniversary of an uprising along the Israel-Gaza border. Scores of activists approached the perimeter fence, throwing stones and explosives at the Israeli side. Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers. A broader ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza, appeared to be holding.

The number of cholera cases in Mozambique rose sharply in areas affected by Cyclone Idai. Over 1,400 people have been infected, up from the 249 cases reported recently. Many of the affected areas still cannot be reached by road, complicating a mass vaccination campaign.

A return to the dark ages

Harsh new penalties came into force under Brunei’s Islamic criminal code. Anal sex and sex outside marriage (including gay sex) can earn death by stoning. Thieves risk the amputation of a hand or foot. See article.

Australia approved a new law imposing severe penalties on social-media firms that fail to remove footage of crimes such as murder and rape. Singapore proposed a new law that would allow similarly harsh punishments for those disseminating fake news. See article.

Activists in Thailand questioned the opaque conduct of the Election Commission, which has not yet announced the results of last month’s election. In response, the head of the military junta, which is supposedly soon to give way to civilian government, denounced the “incorrect thinking” on social media.

A bill was introduced to Hong Kong’s legislature that would allow the…

McDermott: Populist politics is the perfect breeding ground for anti-vaccination nonsense

Measles Outbreak

A signs posted at The Vancouver Clinic in Vancouver, Wash., warn patients and visitors of a measles outbreak. A measles outbreak near Portland, Ore., has revived a bitter debate over so-called personal belief exemptions to childhood vaccinations. Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus,File)

Gillian Flaccus

The surge in global measles cases might be the first medical epidemic bolstered by a political movement. The anti-vaccination crowd — long relegated, quite properly, to the fringes of society — has moved perilously close to the mainstream, riding in on the same currents that brought us the Tea Party, Brexit and other populist movements.

Definitions vary, but a few traits of populism are consistent: It’s a deep distrust of government, whether a particular government has earned that distrust or not. It’s the enthusiastic undermining of societal norms, however legitimate they might be. It’s the rejection of expertise and the vilification of “elites” — a label that includes people like scientists and doctors.

Populism is a virtual petri dish for a virus like the anti-vaccination movement, in other words.

“There is a highly significant … association between the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties and who believe that vaccines are not important,” concluded a study presented in February in the European Journal of Public Health. “Vaccine hesitancy and political populism are driven by similar dynamics: a profound distrust in elites and experts.”

The correlation between populism and the anti-vaccination movement is so clear, the paper argues, that doctors should be tracking where populist sentiments are strongest and focus their vaccine-awareness efforts there: “Support for populist parties could be used as a…

Why the Mueller Report Is Causing ‘Breakdown-Level’ Stress Among White House Staff

Special counsel Robert Mueller departs St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House in Washington. Democrats say they want

Special counsel Robert Mueller departs St. John’s Episcopal Church, across from the White House in Washington. Democrats say they want “all of the underlying evidence” in Mueller’s investigation. But what is all of that evidence?

Cliff Owen/AP/REX/Shutterstock

More than qualifications, more than intelligence, more than a Rolodex filled with Russian oligarchs, President Trump values loyalty. It’s why he’s installed family members into high-profile administration positions, made his buddies ambassadors and put the welfare of military veterans in the hands of Mar-a-Lago members. It’s also why the current and former White House staff members are reportedly worried about what may be revealed when a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is released to the public on Thursday. According to NBC News, more than a dozen officials who cooperated with Mueller’s investigation are concerned they will be outed as a source of information that hurts the president.

One person close to the situation told NBC News there is “breakdown-level anxiety” among the staff who cooperated. A former White House official said there is concern among staff that “the wrath” of Trump and his allies “will follow” if they are revealed to have provided the special counsel with information that doesn’t reflect well on Trump, particularly regarding his potential obstruction of justice.

“You have a whole bunch of former White House officials and current White House officials, but especially former White House officials, who were told to cooperate,” said the former official. “So people went and did that, and now the uncertainty is just how much of that information is going…

Indonesia elections: Personality, religion and politics

More than 190 million Indonesian voters are heading to the polls for an election that will test the country’s democracy. The two presidential candidates have similar ideas, but very different leadership styles.

Indonesia presidential candidates Subianto (L) and Jokowi (R) (Reuters)
Indonesia presidential candidates Subianto (L) and Jokowi (R) (Reuters)

The 2019 Indonesian election is a massive undertaking, with presidential, parliamentary, regional and local elections all taking place at the same time in a country with 193 million eligible voters spread across three time zones; from Papua in the east, to the tip of Sumatra over 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) away in the west.

According to estimates by the Australia-based think tank Lowy Institute, these five simultaneous elections will combine more than 245,000 candidates, contesting a total of 20,000 seats in local, regional and national legislatures. This will involve nearly 6,000,000 election workers and 810,000 polling stations. Lowy dubbed it the “world’s most complicated election.”

Read more: Indonesia election puts Islam on the ballot

The all-important presidential vote is a remake of the 2014 contest, with incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, once again going up against former general Prabowo Subianto.

Jokowi won the 2014 election with 53% of the votes, and ran his campaign by promoting Indonesia’s social plurality, while promising to boost the economy and improve infrastructure.

This time around, Subianto hopes to edge off Jokowi by running on a platform of law and order, combined with conservative Islamic values. Subianto is selling himself as a strongman, and has said he wants to transform Indonesia into an “Asian tiger.”

Whether this strategy will work with Indonesian voters is uncertain. Current opinion polls currently show Jokowi with a comfortable lead. Outside of conservative circles, Subianto is seen by many voters as a firebrand. And as the son-in-law of Indonesia’s former dictator, Suharto, for some voters, he represents a return to Indonesia’s authoritarian past.

Jokowi is known for his moderate and measured communication style and has built a strong voter base backed up by infrastructure projects along with health and education programs that have benefited rural communities in this far-flung archipelago nation.

As his first term comes to an end, he has boosted Indonesia’s economy to 5% annual growth and increased the country’s GDP to over $1 trillion in 2017.

However, during his five years in office, many civil society and human rights organizations have criticized Jokowi for…

Six in 10 Britons say Brexit uncertainty bad for mental health

Less Brexit placard

The depth of British anxiety over Brexit has been revealed by research showing that more than six in 10 people believe the ongoing uncertainty is bad for mental health.

A poll of 2,004 people carried out late last week by the research company Britain Thinks found that a significant majority of the public are bored and confused by the Brexit process and have very little trust in politicians to sort it out.

It found that 83% of people were sick of seeing Brexit on the news every day, 64% believed the attendant anxiety was bad for people’s mental health, and more than two-thirds felt Brexit became more confusing the more they heard about it.

Asked whether or not they agreed with the statement “I’m not impressed with what either the Conservative party or the Labour party have been doing on Brexit”, 84% of respondents concurred. Seventy per cent said a general election “would not resolve anything”.

There was greater division on…