World News Brief, Thursday May 8

South Africans head to the voting booths; Thai court orders PM to step down; Chinese e-commerce conglomerate to go public -- worth more than Amazon; Boko Haram takes 11 more girls, Putin signs restrictive "blogger law"; and more 

Top of the Agenda

South Africans Vote

South Africans head to the voting booths on Wednesday, twenty years after the country's first elections with universal franchise. The elections have been cast as a referendum on the African National Congress (ANC), the liberation movement that has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994 (NYT). Voters are expected to return the incumbent party to power, but this year's elections are the most fiercely contested yet as unemployment and poverty remain high, corruption and cronyism in the ANC run rampant, and President Jacob Zuma, who is seeking a second term, has become embroiled in a series of scandals (FT). Many South Africans are abstaining from voting amid disaffection with the ANC (Mail & Guardian).


"Two particular scourges have worsened under [President Jacob Zuma's] rule: the lack of jobs and the spread of corruption. The number of unemployed South Africans, now a third of the working-age population if you include those who have given up looking for jobs, has risen sharply under Mr Zuma. The economy has stagnated at a time when the rest of Africa is starting to boom. And corruption is growing apace. The ANC gives the impression that South Africa is a de facto one-party state where only its friends should get the plum jobs and contracts. Mr Zuma himself is sorely tainted by scandal and dodgy friendships," writes the Economist.

"I am conflicted by my feelings of seething anger seeing that government has not done nearly enough to change the lives of people in the townships, and the gulf in reality between the poor and the cognoscenti noveau riche and stealthy old money which continues to exert its significant power over the economy. This dichotomy is the root of the country's high crime rate and the violence which simmers under the surface waiting to erupt into wild-cat strikes, protests and carjackings. Its nadir was the mining strike in 2012 at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine during which 34 miners were shot and killed by the police. Marikana traumatised South African society and spooked its foreign investors. If the ANC does not substantially tackle poverty, the anger of the underclass will bring the country to its knees," writes Desné Masie in African Arguments.

"Intra-party competition has replaced inter-party competition, and although the ANC has been able to present a relatively united front ahead of the elections, once the campaign is over things will begin to change. The party's next leadership election is at the party conference in 2017 and a serious challenger is yet to emerge - although many see Cyril Ramaphosa, former trade unionist and reluctant entrepreneur, as the 'prince in waiting'. The net result is that the ANC has a broad constituency covering a wide segment of the political spectrum. Although this constituency is increasingly disassociating itself with ANC policy a serious alternative to the ANC is yet to materialize," writes Chris Vandome for Chatham House.


Pacific Rim

Thai Court Orders Premier’s Removal

Thailand's Constitutional Court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and some of her cabinet to step down from office immediately over abuse of power (Bangkok Post). The incumbent party called the move, which follows six months of antigovernment protests, a "new form of coup d'état" (NYT).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick blogs about Thailand's political divisions.

CHINA: Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group filed plans on Tuesday for a U.S. initial public offering, with analysts valuing the company upwards of $150 billion, larger than Amazon (Marketplace).


Boko Haram takes 11 more girls 

Putin signs restrictive "blogger law"

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