The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 24 April 2017

Politics

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Macron on the march

Marine Le Pen has made the final two but her centrist opponent is in the ascendancy – in more ways than one.

A pro-European, unashamedly liberal 39-year-old who has never run for office is the favourite to become France’s next president. Emmanuel Macron, who quit François Hollande’s government and started his own centrist political movement, won the first round of the French presidential election last night. His opponent in the second round, to be held a week on Sunday, will be the far-right’s Marine Le Pen. Most opinion polls show Macron comfortably defeating Le Pen by at least 20 percentage points. And yet this is not the moment for Europe’s liberals to celebrate. As in Austria and the Netherlands, a far-right politician will come, at worst, second in a national election. The established parties on the left and right – particularly the Socialists, who came fifth – need to work out a route back to power. They may take comfort from Macron’s success: he has shown that populists can be beaten without aping their language or policies.

Affairs

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Royal pain

Malaysia’s new monarch should enjoy the relative peace while it lasts.

Malaysia has a new king: Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan, one of nine sultans who share the rotating monarchy, begins his five-year term today. At the age of 47, the relative whippersnapper has a penchant for motorcycles, keeps a menagerie of pets and is fond of public walkabouts in his home province. But being a largely ceremonial monarch in scandal-hit Malaysia is no walk in the park: the nine hereditary rulers have previously grouped together to demand an investigation into the 1MDB corruption saga that has dogged prime minister Najib Razak’s second term in office. With a general election due in the next year and Razak expected to stand again, today’s national unity will soon turn tribal.

Economics

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Hot water

Saudi’s oil may account for much of its GDP but, for a month at least, it’s not the only liquid in town.

Saudi Arabia may be struggling to diversify its economy in an era of cheap oil but there’s one other commodity that is also doing a roaring trade. Zamzam is a small well in the centre of Mecca and the water from it shoots up in value at this time of year as Muslim homes from Jakarta to Jaipur stock up ready for Ramadan next month. The price, it’s reckoned, can go up by eight times its value in the run-up and at Saudi airports there’s a special area to check-in crates of it, which entrepreneurial sorts buy up to drink or resell at a premium back home. The Kingdom has even toyed with the idea of copyrighting “Zamzam” to separate the fake stuff from the real deal.

Governance

Image: Getty Images

High drama

Romans are fuming that their fragile ruins could be under threat from an opera.

Towering over the historical site of Rome’s Colle Palatino, the stage for ancient Rome-inspired opera Divo Nerone is now ready for the huge production, taking place in the city on 1 June. The show proudly markets itself as the musical that will “reignite Rome” and it’s doing just that ­­– albeit not for the right reasons. Tempers are inflamed by the fact this 14-metre high structure was built to host 3,000 visitors a night among such delicate surroundings. An unconcerned culture ministry claims that no harm will be done to the site ­ and that ticket sales will yield funds for future restoration. But as more and more landmarks across the city are being restored thanks to cash injections by private companies (famously Tod’s for the Colosseum and high-fashion Roman label Fendi for the Trevi Fountain), it’s time for Italy’s government to dip into its own pocket to prop up the nation’s cultural heritage.

From Monocle 24

Plethora of print

The Stack

We speak to the founder of The Hyman Archive, the largest collection of magazines in the world, and chat with the editor of Lodestars Anthology. Plus: new French title The Skirt Chronicles and a look at the French weeklies with Marie Billon.

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