Economist 4/4/16

  1. Intense fighting in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has left at least 30 dead, amid the worst violence since the shaky ceasefire declared in 1994. Shooting has long been common across the front line. But the use of tanks, attack helicopters and heavy artillery has raised fears of a return to all-out war, which would undermine regional stability and draw in outside powers, including Russia (which has a military base in Armenia) and Turkey (which has close ties to oil-rich Azerbaijan). The Azeri leadership declared a unilateral ceasefire yesterday, but fighting seemed to continue.Both Russia and America, which with France supervise the long-stalled peace talks, have called for calm. But a heavily militarised front line, no international peacekeepers and deep-seated resentments give little cause for comfort.
  2. THE fallout from a huge leak of financial documents, dubbed “The Panama Papers”, looks set to grow, with more revelations expected in the coming week. A group of journalists from 80 countries has begun publishing stories exposing the hidden wealth of national leaders, state officials, celebrities and others, based on emails and other documents from the database of a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca. These contain details of secretive offshore structures used by Mossack’s clients. The British Virgin Islands is the most popular domicile for their anonymous shell companies (firms which exist on paper only, with no real employees or offices), with Panama in second place.The activities these anonymous firms are used for appear to range from the perfectly legitimate, to tax evasion, to the deeply dodgy, including the looting of public wealth.Around 140 political figures, among them Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are alleged to have links to the holders of the offshore accounts.
  3. President’s rule over India’s federal states has been declared more than 100 times since the country became independent in 1947. It was used excessively by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s and then in the tit-for-tat exchange with the national government that followed: when Morarji Desai was prime minister, 16 chief ministers who won office under Gandhi’s Congress banner were deposed in less than two years. Declaring president’s rule dropped off precipitously after a case in 1994 when the Supreme Court brought it under judicial review. Now it seems on the verge of making a comeback in India’s mountainous states in the north. In January it was imposed on Arunachal Pradesh, on the eastern end of the Himalayas, under similar conditions.This week the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh scurried to Delhi to plot his own defence with party bosses.
  4. When president’s rule was reviewed after its first heyday, it was found to have been warranted barely a third of the times it was imposed. When it fell out of fashion in the 1990s, a major reason seems to have been tactical: in a time of coalition governments, the big parties couldn’t afford to make permanent enemies.An essay published this month in the new “Oxford Handbook of the Indian Constitution” argues that the Supreme Court’s “unwillingness to clarify the grounds on which Article 356 may be invoked is a cause of concern.
  5. ON MARCH 30th in Napyidaw, Myanmar’s eerie purpose-built capital, Htin Kyaw was sworn in as the country’s first civilian president in more than 50 years. Parliament elected him president just over two weeks ago; in Myanmar’s hybrid electoral system, the people elect parliament, and then parliamentarians vote for president. His party, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), won commanding majorities in both houses of parliament last November.Mr Htin Kyaw was neither the NLD’s nor Myanmar’s first choice for president. They would have preferred Miss Suu Kyi, but the constitution bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from the top job (her sons, like her late husband, are British; most believe the bar was specifically written to keep her out of office).She will run the country from the foreign ministry, while Mr Htin Kyaw, her longtime confidante and loyal placeholder, holds what looks like a nominal presidency.But the larger threat to democracy comes from the expansive power Myanmar’s constitution reserves for the army.The last gives it control of the state’s administrative backbone, right down to the village level. Through those ministries the army dominates the National Defence and Security Council, which can disband parliament, impose martial law and run the country. Changing the constitution requires a 75%+1 majority in parliament; since the army has 25% of seats reserved by law, it holds a perpetual veto
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