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Power trip

Philippines — Energy

Bataan is a sleepy peninsula of farms, beach resorts and national parks 100km west of Manila that has found itself at the centre of a political debate about the country’s energy future. At the end of last year the Philippine government signed an agreement with Russia to develop the Southeast Asian country’s nuclear-power infrastructure. The deal will look at reopening a mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan, the first to be built in an Asean country and still the only one in the Philippines.

Former president Ferdinand Marcos ordered Bataan Nuclear Power Plant to be built in response to the 1973 global oil crisis, signing a deal with US firm Westinghouse. However, it was never fuelled: completion in 1986 coincided with the ousting of the late dictator and the Chernobyl meltdown. Some of the plant’s original nuclear engineers are now retiring after unexpected careers as tour guides.

But talk of a nuclear revival has resurfaced following Rodrigo Duterte’s election as president in 2016; the Fukushima disaster in Japan stymied earlier talks (the Philippines is also at risk of natural disasters). Duterte, an avid Marcos fan, has now replaced the US with its former Cold War rival. It’s not the only nuclear boost that Russia has had lately: the country’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation has signed a similar deal with Indonesia, stealing a march on other countries with nuclear industries such as France, South Korea and China.


Due a win

Timor-leste — Election

Last year citizens of Timor-Leste, one of Asia’s poorest nations, cast their votes in a peaceful election. Yet it produced no clear winner. On 12 May voters will reconvene to resolve the impasse. Tensions have mounted with the consolidation of two opposing political camps and the election will test the strength of Timor-Leste’s young democracy.

Politicians cannot afford ructions. They are in talks with Australia and investors about developing the €37bn gas deposits in the Timor Sea. Timor-Leste’s economy relies on old oil-and-gas fields, which are almost depleted. If no winner emerges in May, the country could face a crisis far more critical than a parliamentary one.


Iron ladies

Lebanon — Gender

Despite its reputation as one of the Middle East’s most progressive countries, Lebanon puts on a poor show when it comes to female representation in politics. Just 3 per cent of MPs (four out of 128) are women – half the rate of conservative Iran.

With steerage from the UN and rights organisations, Lebanese political parties have put forward 111 female candidates for May’s parliamentary elections – a vast jump from the 12 who stood in 2009, the last time elections were held. “Families don’t encourage their daughters to get into politics and political parties don’t encourage women to take leading positions within the party,” says Laury Haytayan, who is running for a seat in Beirut.

It remains to be seen whether voters will elect women. “Women who have previously occupied MP positions have belonged to established political families or were wives or sisters of male politicians,” says Nayla Geagea, who is running with the group LiBaladi. In Lebanon, voting for women not only challenges gender norms: it confronts the political elites who have ruled for decades.


Big brother

Ontario — Dynasty

Provincial politics in Canada is not the most popcorn-worthy affair but the June election for Ontario’s next premier has taken an interesting turn. Doug Ford – older brother of Rob, the late former mayor of Toronto, infamous for his crack use – has been elected to lead Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party.

The Ford name remains one of the most recognisable, and perhaps most notorious, in Canadian politics. Doug was an outside choice even within his own party: his Trumpian rhetoric alienated many while gaining traction in working-class areas. His election is also a suggestion that Canadians are becoming comfortable with the idea of political dynasties.

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