(1) Earthquake in Indonesia claims at least 268 lives
At least 268 people were confirmed dead after a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck near Cianjur town in Indonesia on 21 November. About 62 aftershocks rocked Cianjur following the earthquake. At least 151 people remain missing and more than 1,000 have been injured. A stronger earthquake rocked Sumatra just a little over a month ago, after earthquakes in February, August and September this year.
Clearly, Indonesia experiences earthquakes frequently, and there’s a reason for it. The country sits in a 40,000 km area called the ‘Ring of Fire’, an arc of fault lines in the Pacific Basin. This is where most earthquakes happen. In the case of this week’s earthquake damage, West Java, where Cianjur is located, could have seen damage to this extent because of the possibility of many inland faults, according to Gayatri Marliyani, an assistant geology professor at Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The severity of this week’s earthquake is not unusual either. Most earthquakes recorded from 2000 to 2021 were between 5 to 5.9 magnitudes.
Indonesia, too, shows a similar trend. Another trend in Indonesia’s earthquakes is that they are shallow.
However, Indonesia’s buildings are not quake-proof and shallow earthquakes like this week’s 5.6 magnitude, 10-km deep earthquake can wreak big damage.
(2) Supreme Court raps government over short Chief Election Commissioner tenures
Indian elections are frequent and big events. This week, the body that runs these events - the Election Commission - came under scrutiny. The question was this - is the Commission’s functioning truly independent?
A Supreme Court Constitution Bench heard a series of petitions seeking functional independence for Election Commissioners. The Bench was not happy with the current scenario. The Court said the government pays mere “lip-service” to the independence of the Election Commissioners. As an example, it pointed out the short tenures of recent Chief Election Commissioners (CEC).
Justice Joseph said that the government was cherry-picking CECs whose tenure ends before the 6-year term limit when they cross the age limit for CECs. He pointed out the short tenures of CECs after 2004.
The Court also had an issue with Arun Goel’s recent appointment as Election Commissioner. It asked the government to produce the file of his appointment. When it came to the appointment process, the Court suggested an “independent, neutral mechanism” to appoint Election Commissioners. One view is that the independence of Election Commissioners is a question of space, and not time.
This editorial argues that independence is not tied to tenure length, as seen in the case of Chief Justices. Therefore, it is security while in office that matters more than how long tenures are. It calls for giving the security of a CEC to Election Commissioners, regardless of appointment process.
(3) People are entering the UK in record numbers
The Office for National Statistics released net migration numbers on Thursday. Non-European nationals drove immigration. The UK was attractive to one more segment - students. This comes after the introduction of a new Graduate Visa programme. It allows students to work for three years after graduating from a UK university. India’s contribution to this inflow of students is the largest. Indian students getting UK visas increased 215% from 2019 for the year ending June 2022.
On the other hand, illegal immigration continues to be a thorn in UK’s side. Government figures released on Thursday showed 33,029 people were detected arriving by small boats across the Channel between January and September this year. To stop this, France and the UK made a deal to position more officers along the French border to monitor crossings.
(4) China’s COVID-19 problem
China’s COVID-19 problem is growing by the day. Case numbers broke records in the past week, reaching 31,656 on 23 November, surpassing the highest-ever daily cases recorded on April 13. Improvised quarantine centres have been set up. Worried people are emptying store shelves in anticipation of lockdowns. Offline classes have been stopped for some lower grades. China in 2022 looks very much like how the world looked in 2020.
Much of it can be blamed on the country’s intensive zero-COVID policy. The policy involves mass testing, lockdowns and quarantining close contacts all aim to eliminate outbreaks in the shortest time. Now, zero-COVID has become both China’s boon and bane. What once allowed China to stay open while the rest of the world locked down, is now keeping the door shut tight on economic growth.
However, China has no plans to open that door either. The government continues to defend the zero-COVID policy even as cases rise. It says that opening up the country now would expose its large unvaccinated elderly population to the virus and cause widespread deaths. Embracing vaccination would also mean embracing Western methods. After China’s strong messaging against Western methods, Chinese people will remain skittish about vaccinating. A strong vaccination campaign will be some way off.
But time is running out for China. With rising cases, people are frustrated about the zero-COVID policy’s tedium. A rare protest in Haidan district is a warning. People held banners saying “Food, not COVID tests” and “Reform, not a Cultural Revolution. Freedom, not lockdowns. Votes, not a leader. Dignity, not lies. Citizens, not slaves”. Keeping the zero-COVID policy or scrapping it would lead to different problems. Now, China holds a can of worms.
(5) Anwar Ibrahim sworn in as Malaysian Prime Minister after hung parliament
Long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as Malaysia’s prime minister on Thursday in a victory for political reformers who were locked in a battle with Malay nationalists for days after a divisive general election produced a hung Parliament.
Mr. Anwar’s multi-ethnic Alliance of Hope led Saturday’s election with 82 seats, short of the 112 needed for a majority. An unexpected surge of ethnic Malay support propelled former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s right-leaning National Alliance to win 73 seats, with its ally Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party emerging as the biggest single party with 49 seats.
The stalemate was resolved after the long-ruling bloc led by the United Malays National Organization agreed to support a unity government under Mr. Anwar. Such a tie-up was once unthinkable in Malaysian politics, long dominated by rivalry between the two parties. The graphics below showcase the results of the current elections and those in 2018, when Pakatan Harapan (the alliance whose current leader is Anwar Ibrahim) pulled off a historic victory over the long-ruling Barisan Nasional. But that victory was short-lived, as the Malaysian political crises in 2020, led to a Barisan Nasional-led coalition government to come in power yet again.