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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Friday 11 May 2018

Economics

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Mo’ money, mo’ problems

Argentina has concerned its citizens by asking the IMF for a loan – and not for the first time.

For many in Argentina, the idea of having a relationship with the International Monetary Fund is anathema. Which is why the decision by president Mauricio Macri to ask the financial body for a stand-by loan of $30bn (€25.2bn) has caused some consternation. In the 1990s Argentina accepted the IMF’s help to cope with the hyperinflation left from the previous decade. The country, however, failed to control its level of public debt and eventually defaulted on the $100bn it owed in 2001. Many people lost their savings overnight, presidents came and went and there was rioting in the streets. Following the crisis Néstor Kirchner and his wife and successor Cristina severed ties with the IMF in 2006 when the government finished paying the debt, and proclaimed the country’s fiscal independence. Now the peso is sliding in value against the dollar and Macri is returning to the Washington-based institution for help. If history is anything to go by, a loan may not be the best fix for the country’s economic woes.

Politics

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Shake it all about

Between the incomings, outgoings and turnarounds, there’s quite the commotion in Malaysian politics at the moment.

There was more drama in Malaysian politics yesterday when hours after a conclusive victory, prime minister-elect Mahathir Mohamad had been neither sworn in nor asked to form a new government by the country’s monarch. After a day of uncertainty, with some fearing a constitutional crisis, the incumbent PM was finally invited to the palace in Kuala Lumpur late on Thursday evening. Now comes the difficult part. Mahathir is the leader of a large and unwieldy coalition that appealed to voters by decrying corruption and promising to rebuild public institutions. However, there is little in the way of concrete strategies to achieve any of that. There is yet more intrigue surrounding Mahathir’s plans for succession. The 92-year-old is rumoured to have pegged his former foe Anwar Ibrahim as a leader in waiting, which is a significant turnaround from when Mahathir reportedly ordered that he be arrested and jailed for corruption and sodomy in 1999.

Transport

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Platform for change?

A train network to unite the Korean peninsula is a great idea – but one surely destined for derailment.

During last month’s inter-Korean summit, South Korean president Moon Jae-in gave his northern counterpart a USB drive. This week its contents were revealed: Moon’s vision for an extensive KRW38trn (€30bn) railway network that would upgrade North Korea’s ailing infrastructure. The plan includes a high-speed train that would connect Busan to Seoul and North Korea’s largest cities all the way to Sinuiju, on the border with China. It’s one of several ideas for reviving North Korea’s economy that the South hopes will entice Kim Jong-un away from nuclear armament. The favouring of carrot over stick is an optimistic strategy but will only work if the northern despot is serious about boosting the economy and elevating his citizens out of poverty – and there is little evidence for that just yet. Moon’s railway network may be as distant a dream as a denuclearised North Korea but a glimmer of hope is better than none at all.

Culture

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Hear, hear!

Known more for its political voting than its protest songs, this year’s Eurovision is promising entries with an edge – and we like it.

Because of its origins as a symbol of a unified postwar Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest is not designed to be a political soapbox. The entry rules state that didactic lyrics are strictly forbidden. This year the vetting must have gone awry as the competition has taken a decidedly political turn. Israel’s entry was inspired by the MeToo movement – its performer Netta singing “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy” – and Italy’s entry, a song entitled “You’ve Done Nothing to Me”, lists the locations of recent terror attacks. The most affecting of Eurovision’s politically framed songs is France’s entry by Madame Monsieur entitled “Mercy”. The song tells the story of a child born to refugee parents making the dangerous trip by boat from north Africa to southern Europe. Social and political commentary is often at the centre of the most poignant art and music, its presence at Eurovision should be encouraged too.

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