TIME Cuba

USAID Denies ‘Cuban Twitter’ Was Meant To Subvert

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development testifies before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

The government's international development agency has rebutted claims that the U.S. aimed for the social network ZunZuneo, which failed to nab a massive user base, to spark a revolution in Cuba as administrator Rajiv Shah prepares to be grilled by lawmakers

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development pushed back against reports it created a “Cuban Twitter” to foment revolution in the Communist country at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, which controls USAID spending, told USAID administrator Rajiv Shah that launching the social network in Cuba had been a “cockamamie idea.”

A recent report by the Associated Press described ZunZuneo, which is slang in Cuba for a hummingbird’s tweet, as a social network designed to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society” and incite a “Cuban spring.”

Leahy said the work USAID did in Cuba knowingly put government contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island for four years, in direct danger. He voiced concerns that the project’s discovery will put other USAID workers around the globe at risk.

But Shah, who took the helm in 2009, denied the program’s purpose extended beyond improving communication networks within the country. “Working to improve platforms of communication is a core part of what USAID works to do,” Shah said. “It’s inaccurate that [the program] goes beyond that.”

The government agency had published a blog post ahead of Shah’s testimony, saying that the AP’s story “makes for an interesting read, but it’s not true.” The article went on to rebut eight of the AP’s claims, denying there was any attempt to trigger unrest and saying ZunZuneo was merely an attempt to overcome the “information blockade” in Cuba.

Shah claimed he did not know whose idea it had been to set up the program.

 

TIME Ukraine

A Russian Invasion of East Ukraine Would Make Crimea Seem Like a Cinch

Pro-Russian protesters stormed the regional building of Donetsk on April 6, 2014.
Pro-Russian protesters stormed the regional building of Donetsk on April 6, 2014. Romain Carre—NurPhoto/Zuma Press

Separatist violence in eastern Ukraine has set the stage for another Russian invasion, but it would bring risks and gains far beyond those involved in Crimea

The newest wave of separatism in eastern Ukraine feels very familiar. In the last few days, protesters waving Russian flags have seized government buildings by force, barricaded themselves inside, declared their intention to break away from Ukraine and appealed to Russia to send in troops to protect them. At every step, they followed the script that ended last month with the Russian annexation of Crimea. But the stage this time didn’t seem to fit the performance.

Eastern Ukraine is not like Crimea. It is far bigger, more diverse, better integrated into Ukraine’s economy and more vital to its survival than Crimea, and if the action proceeds again toward a Russian invasion of these territories, the Kremlin’s choreographers will have a much harder time pulling it off. The stakes this time are incomparably higher.

For one thing, Ukraine will defend itself. In February, when pro-Russian gunmen seized the Crimean parliament and installed a separatist leader, Ukraine did not have a central government capable of stopping them. The revolutionaries in Kiev, the capital, had only toppled the old regime a week before, and they were too busy deciding who would lead the nation to mount any defense of Crimea. The picture since then has changed. Ukraine’s institutions are functioning, and though the country’s economic affairs are hardly in order, it does have a police force and a military command structure to throw into the fight.

On Monday, Ukraine’s acting President, Oleksandr Turchinov, made clear that Ukraine would not sit by as it did with Crimea and watch another Russian land grab. “This is the second wave of the Russian Federation’s special operation against Ukraine,” he said in a televised address to the nation. “Its goal is to destabilize the state and overthrow Ukrainian power, disrupt the elections and tear our country into pieces.” By then, his security chiefs had already raced to eastern Ukraine to prepare a defense of its cities. Police had begun arresting separatists across the region and fighting to take back occupied buildings in what they termed a “counterterrorism operation.” Ukraine’s parliament then passed tougher laws on Tuesday against separatism, but stopped short of a proposed state of emergency in three eastern regions – Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv – where Ukrainian fighter jets had begun to patrol the skies.

Considering that only a few thousand protesters took part in the pro-Russian demonstrations over the weekend, the reaction seemed extreme. But the risks were high enough to warrant such measures. Eastern Ukraine, particularly the coal-mining region known as the Donets Basin, or Donbass, is the most densely populated and economically important part of the country. Donetsk alone accounts for 12% of Ukraine’s economy, more than any other region except the capital.

The demographics of eastern Ukraine also would not lend themselves to a secessionist referendum. According to the most recent census held in 2001, ethnic Ukrainians make up nearly 60% of the population in Donetsk and Luhansk, and more than 70% in Kharkiv, compared to only 24% in Crimea, where the majority are ethnic Russians. So it is hardly likely that a referendum in these eastern regions would result in a decision to break from Ukraine and join Russia, at least not by the overwhelming majority that was seen in Crimea last month.

More importantly, such a referendum could only be held if Russia first manages to occupy these regions, kick out the Ukrainian security forces and install a separatist government that could push ahead with a Crimean-style plebiscite under the gun. That would mean a Russian land invasion and, most likely, the start of a full-scale war that would cost many lives on both sides, pitting the armies of two fraternal nations against each other, nations that share ties of culture, religion, language and oftentimes blood.

Though Russia would surely win such a conflict, the conquered territory of east Ukraine would be much harder to defend. Whereas the Crimean peninsula could be sealed off with only two Russian military checkpoints – one on each of the roads leading to mainland Ukraine – a Russian conquest of any eastern region would create a wide-open military front thousands of kilometers long. Holding that line would stretch Russia’s armed forces to their limits.

On top of that, the diplomatic excuses Russia offered for conquering Crimea would seem very thin if applied to Ukraine today. In March, as it set the stage for its annexation of Crimea, Russia played up the threat from right-wing militants involved in Ukraine’s revolution this year. But those militant groups, namely the ultranationalist party Right Sector, have faced a crackdown from Ukraine’s new government, and they are actively being disarmed. So any claims that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are under threat from some kind of “fascist” force would be even flimsier than they were a month ago.

But none of that means Russia lacks the stomach or the will for another incursion. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a prominent member of the ruling party in Russia, said on Monday that violence against the separatists in eastern Ukraine could provoke an invasion. “If the government in Kiev moves in its troops or uses special forces, that could lead to an even bigger explosion and to Russian intervention,” he told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. The following morning, Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Kiev was not only sending troops to eastern Ukraine but using American military contractors who were working in tandem with Right Sector thugs. “They have the goal of crushing the residents in the southeast of the country who have come out to protest the policies of the current government in Kiev,” the Ministry’s statement said.

That would likely be enough of an excuse for Russia to proceed with an intervention, which would not take long to organize.

Since February, Russia has been amassing tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, and Western military leaders have warned that these armies are poised for an attack. “This is a very large and very capable and very ready force,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, told reporters last week. “We think it is ready to go and we think it could accomplish its objectives in between three and five days if directed to make the actions.”

All of that presents a tempting opportunity for Russia. The prize of eastern Ukraine would come with its vast reserves of natural resources, particularly metals and coal, and its conquest would cripple Ukraine’s new pro-Western government, whose downfall Russia sees as a valuable end in itself. Judging by recent opinion polls, an invasion of eastern Ukraine could also prove popular among the Russian public. In early March, when Russia had just occupied Crimea, 65% of respondents in a national poll agreed with the following statement: “Crimea and the eastern regions of Ukraine are in essence Russian territory, and Russia has the right to use military force to defend their populations.” In the same survey, which was conducted by the independent Levada Center polling agency, 79% of respondents said that Russia should annex any region of Ukraine that supports such a move in a referendum.

So what about the costs? In diplomatic terms, Russia could probably bear them, as it has little left to lose. The Kremlin has already crossed a threshold toward isolation from the West by annexing Crimea, and it’s not clear how much further the West could or would go in punishing Russia for another land grab. As President Obama has made clear, the United States. will not go to war with Russia over Ukraine. “I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia military would not be appropriate, and wouldn’t be good for Ukraine either,” Obama told NBC last month. “What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message.”

In the coming days, as Ukraine scrambles to stamp out the separatist forces in its eastern regions, Russia will have to decide whether to heed that message or go on the march. But its decision will not be swayed one way or another by the threats from Obama’s international coalition, as Western sanctions have so far only hardened the resolve of the Kremlin elites around President Vladimir Putin. In the end, Putin’s decision to invade eastern Ukraine will come down to a cold calculation of the risks and gains. Both militarily and economically, the risks are far greater for Russia than they were in Crimea – but so are the potential gains.

TIME Aviation

This Is How Much The Search For The Missing Plane Has Cost

The costs of the international search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue to build a month after the jet disappeared with 239 people aboard

The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has already cost $44 million, according to a new report, and that figure could reach well into the hundreds of millions before the search is over, making it the most expensive search in aviation history.

The $44 million figure, based on a Reuters estimate, includes money spent by the United States, China, Australia and Vietnam alone, but not spending by the other 22 countries that have contributed to the search. The figure is based on estimates of hourly costs of the various assets dedicated to the search. More has been spent in one month searching for the missing plane than was spent in two years searching for Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.

So far, Australia has borne the brunt of the expenses, since it is leading the search in the southern Indian Ocean off the western coast, but Prime Minister Tony Abbot indicated there may be some financial settling up in the future. “It’s only reasonable that we should bear this cost—it’s an act of international citizenship,” Abbot said last week. “At some point, there might need to be a reckoning, there might need to be some kind of tallying, but nevertheless we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all the countries that have a stake in this.”

[Reuters]

TIME Egypt

Egypt Imprisons Four Men for ‘Deviant’ Gay Acts

The court in Cairo was condemned by human rights groups for imposing jail sentences on men accused of dressing in women's clothing and attending "deviant" parties

A court in Cairo has jailed four men for carrying out homosexual acts.

The men received up to eight years in prison after being found guilty of dressing in women’s clothing and attending “deviant” sex parties, reports the BBC. One of the men received a sentence of only three years, but with the added condition of hard labor.

Homosexuality is not officially banned in Egypt, but legislation outlawing debauchery has previously been used to put gay people on trial. A notable case was the trial in 2001 of 52 men accused of being homosexuals. 23 of them received sentences of five years imprisonment with hard labor.

Human rights campaigners condemned Monday’s verdict, with the U.S.-based organization Human Rights First stating its “alarm and disappointment” over the sentence. The group said the news may set a troubling precedent in the region.

“What happens in Egypt sets a trend for developments throughout the Arab world,” it said in a statement.

Human Rights First also claimed that the number of people in Egypt arrested because of their sexuality has risen since the coup that unseated president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The trend has increased fears about a rising crackdown on personal freedoms within Egypt.

[BBC]

TIME East Asia

Hagel, Chinese Defense Chief Lock Horns Over Territorial Disputes

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan (R) shake hands at the end of a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters April 8, 2014 in Beijing, China Alex Wong—Getty Images

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sounds off in Beijing on China’s decision last year to create an air defense zone over several islands disputed with Japan, arguing the move could endanger regional stability and antagonize relations with neighboring countries

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned China’s Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan against unilateral moves that could escalate tension in the Asia Pacific, amid an ongoing dispute between Beijing and Japan over a group of uninhibited islands that both countries claim.

After touring China’s first aircraft carrier in the eastern city of Qingdao, Hagel arrived in Beijing on Tuesday and quickly took aim at China’s move late last year to establish an air defense zone that included skies over uninhabited isles known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

“Every nation has a right to establish an air defense zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation. That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to dangerous conflict,” said Hagel, according to the AP.

Hagel had already voiced the U.S. government’s continued support of Japan’s claims to the disputed territory during a press conference in Tokyo on Sunday.

“I restated the principles that govern longstanding U.S. policy on the Senkaku Islands and other islands,” said Hagel. “We affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty.”

However, China’s defense chief stuck to the party line and refused to budge over issues of Chinese sovereignty.

“We will make no compromise, no concession, no trading, not even a tiny … violation is allowed,” said Chang on Tuesday, according to AP.

Despite the surfacing of adversarial statements between the two parties at times, the defense bosses also confirmed that cooperation between Beijing and Washington was vital.

“The China-U.S. relationship is essential to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region in the 21st century,” said Hagel.

But as Hagel and Chang traded a bittersweet mix of barbs along with a strong helping of diplomatic platitudes in Beijing, the U.S. and Vietnamese navies kicked off the second of six days of planned drills between the former adversaries’ marine forces.

China has ongoing territorial disputes with the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, and much to Beijing’s chagrin, the U.S. has upped naval and economic cooperation with regional powers in a move that Chinese officials view as an effort to bridle the Asian superpower.

TIME Africa

Pistorius Breaks Down On Witness Stand

The South African paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year, was overcome with grief on the witness stand during his second day of testimony

Updated 8:56am

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial adjourned the court Tuesday when the Olympic athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend began weeping on the stand as he described her death. “She wasn’t breathing,” he sobbed.

Pistorius removed his prosthetics on the stand as he recalled the moments leading to the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, whom the double-amputee sprinter claims he mistook for a home invader on Feb. 14 of last year.

Pistorius, 27, told the court that after a calm Valentine’s Day evening that included the exchange of gifts, he woke up to noises that he believed came from an intruder. “That was the moment everything changed,” Pistorius said. “I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home.” He said that he told Steenkamp to get down and call the police.

The accused, who had changed from a suit into a T-shirt and shorts, left the witness box on his stumps to show how he went to the bathroom. He said he worried that the invader “could come at me at any time — I didn’t have my legs on.”

After putting his prosthetics back on, Pistorius returned to the stand to describe the seconds leading up to his shooting of Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door. Pistorius said that he screamed for Steenkamp to get on the ground, and when he heard a toilet door slam he knew that someone was in the bathroom. “There was ringing in my ears,” Pistorius said, crying, as he described taking the four shots through the bathroom door. He was unable to continue, and the judge adjourned until the next morning.

Earlier in the trial, Pistorius said he was “besotted” with the 29-year-old model.

“I was very keen on Reeva. If anything, I was more into her sometimes than she was into me,” Pistorius, 27, said during his televised testimony, adding that he fell in love with her instantly. “The first six days we knew each other, we saw each other every day.”

He also said that the couple were discussing “a future with each other,” that they had been “looking at interior design together” and were planning a trip to Brazil in March 2013, the month after her death.

During Tuesday’s testimony, the “Blade Runner” also read and explained the text messages he and Reeva Steenkamp had sent each other after having an argument. Steenkamp wrote that she was “scared” of him sometimes, and the SMSs were submitted as evidence by prosecutors earlier in the trial.

Pistorius, who admitted that the couple had a fiery relationship, is later expected to speak about the night he shot Steenkamp.

Pistorius began his testimony Monday by apologizing to Steenkamp’s family. He went on to describe the “security concerns” his family had during his childhood in South Africa.

“We grew up in a family where my father wasn’t around much so my mother had a pistol. She would often get scared at night so she would call the police — we didn’t stay in the best of suburbs,” the athlete said.

“She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow in a padded leather type of bag,” he said, adding that the family experienced several break-ins during his childhood.

The trial is set to continue until mid-May. If Oscar Pistorius is convicted, he will face a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison.

TIME europe

Ukraine Arrests 70 in ‘Anti-Terrorist’ Raid

Pro-Russian protesters are seen through barbed wires at a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk
Pro-Russian protesters are seen outside the regional government building they seized in the Donetsk region on April 7, 2014. © Stringer—Reuters

The Ukrainian government launches "anti-terrorist" operation against citizens who seized government buildings and called for Russian troops to invade, further raising tensions in the restive Eastern European state

About 70 people have been arrested in eastern Ukraine for taking over a regional administrative building in the Donetsk region city of Kharkiv.

The “anti-terrorist” operation was launched by the Ukrainian government in response to hundreds of pro-Kremlin protesters seizing government buildings in Donetsk on Monday, calling for Russia to send in troops. They even declared the region independent from Kiev, Reuters reports.

“An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. The city center is blocked along with metro stations. Do not worry. Once we finish, we will open them again,” the Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday on his Facebook profile.

The Ukrainian government established an “anti-crisis headquarters” on Monday and said that it would establish “anti-terrorist measures” to use against citizens who take up arms.

Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk lashed out at compatriots in the east of the country planning to “destabilize the situation” and “ensure that foreign troops could cross the border and capture the territory of the country,” United Press International reports.

[Reuters]

TIME Aviation

Submarine Hunt on Hold Until Fresh Pings Received From Missing Jet

China Malaysia Plane
A woman cries as she and others attend a vigil for their loved ones, who were on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, at a hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014 Andy Wong—AP

Investigators say they'll spend several days aiming to narrow the potential search zone for Flight 370’s black box before deploying an unmanned submarine as the world observes the one-month mark since the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing

No further signals have been detected from the southern Indian Ocean, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is thought to have crashed, but ships will continue to scour the area for several days as investigators attempt to narrow any potential submarine search area for the aircraft’s black box.

Australian vessel Ocean Shield detected two signals over the weekend — one lasting for two hours, 20 minutes and another for 13 minutes — but has been unable to do so since. The batteries of the flight-and-data recorders’ beacons only last for around 30 days, and Tuesday marks Day 32 since the jet’s disappearance.

Nevertheless, sweeps would continue until investigators have “absolutely no doubt that the pinger batteries will have expired,” Angus Houston, head of the Australian agency coordinating the search, told reporters at the Royal Australian Air Force’s Base Pearce near Perth on Tuesday, describing “very slow, painstaking work.”

“If we can get more transmissions we can get a better fix on the ocean floor, which will enable a much more narrowly focused visual search for wreckage,” he said, adding that to perform such work with current data would take “many, many, many days.” The ocean is around 2.8 miles (4.5 km) deep at the search zone — or the height of 12 Empire State Buildings.

Fourteen aircraft, 14 ships and several helicopters set out on Tuesday to scour some 30,000 sq. miles (77,700 sq km) of ocean — roughly the size of South Carolina — for wreckage from the twin-engine, 200-ton jetliner, despite nothing being discovered from 133 previous missions.

MH 370 vanished shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing at 12:41 a.m. on March 8. Analysis of data pings indicates the aircraft performed a U-turn over the Malay Peninsula before turning south toward the Indian Ocean, skirting the airspace of Indonesia and possibly running out of fuel some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) northwest of Perth.

“This is the most positive lead we’ve had, and we are pursuing it aggressively,” Australian Defense Minister David Johnston told reporters on Tuesday. “We’ve been doing calculations from [British satellite firm] Inmarsat that have never been done before.”

While black boxes are supposed to transmit signals of 37.5 Hz, those received by the Ocean Shield were distinctly lower than this. However, water pressure at excessive depths combined with a depleted power supply could account for this discrepancy, say officials.

On Monday evening, family members of those aboard the doomed flight conducted a prayer vigil in Beijing. Of the 227 passengers, 153 were Chinese nationals.

“Don’t cry anymore. Don’t hurt anymore. Don’t despair. Don’t feel lost,” said Steve Wang, one of the relatives in attendance.

Remarkably, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier suggested that some passengers might still be alive. “Miracles do happen,” he told a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur. “We continue to hope and pray for survivors. We are just hoping against hope.”

This contradicts a message from Malaysia Airlines sent to relatives two weeks ago via text message. “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH 370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived,” the carrier said.

According to Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, “the chance of getting a plane down in the Southern Ocean is about zero.”

He points out that U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which performed an emergency landing on the Hudson River in 2009, still had its engines ripped off despite it being a calm day with ideal weather conditions, tranquil water and little wind.

“In very perfect conditions people can get out,” Middleton tells TIME. But with MH 370, “you’re talking about night, gnarly waves several meters big and strong winds. They are going to be hypothermia in six hours, drowned in eight. I don’t see any real chance that there would be any survivors.”

TIME southeast asia

Indonesia’s Elections Feature Plenty of Women, but Respect in Short Supply

Megawati Sukarnoputri
Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri shouts slogans during a campaign rally in the Indonesian town of Klaten on April 5, 2014 Slamet Riyadi—AP

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has imposed a strict quota on women standing in this year’s parliamentary elections, but critics say the plethora of celebrities and political scions show they are pawns manipulated to prop up the established elite

Indonesian elections wouldn’t be complete without dangdut singers. Young women, usually attired in skimpy clothes, are a must at campaign rallies, warming up supporters with hip-shaking music and gyrating movements before party bigwigs deliver rousing political speeches.

Yet, as Indonesians prepare vote in national legislature elections Wednesday, the participation of dangdut singers has gone beyond a mere stage act.

To increase gender equality in politics, Indonesia has imposed a strict mandatory quota on women standing in this year’s elections. Each political party has to field at least 30% female parliamentary candidates in to participate in an electoral district, or else it will be disqualified.

It is essentially a good rule. But much to the derision of many voters and the consternation of women activists, political parties choose to pick women little experience in politics or public service: wives, daughters or female relatives of established politicians, and famous celebrities — dangdut singers, swimsuit models and actresses. (On the latter, a phrase has even been coined: caleg cantik, or beautiful legislative candidates.)

“Is it an election or a beauty pageant?” asks website LivingIndonesia, whose “Sexiest Legislative Candidates” post, comparing the celebrities’ pre- and postcandidacy photos, has gone viral. Feminist activist Gadis Arivia slams that “political parties prefer legislative candidates with big breasts to those with big brain capacity.”

Among the dozens of celebrity candidates is dangdut singer cum B-movie actress Angel Lelga. The 30-year-old, who is running for office for an Islamic party, became the butt of jokes after giving a bumbling interview on a TV talk show in January.

Women with political pedigree are in high demand too. Late President Suharto’s daughter Siti Hediati Hariyadi, popularly known as Titiek, is a leading MP candidate for Golkar Party, the strongman’s once formidable political vehicle. (Her former husband Prabowo Subianto is presidential candidate of his own Gerindra Party.) Members of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s extended family are running on his Democratic Party’s ticket.

Tunggal Pawestri, a candidate for the Yogyakarta provincial legislature, blames the male-dominated parties for failing to attract and nurture female talent. “So the shortcut is to recruit celebrities,” says Tunggal, who was among women’s-rights activists who pushed for the quota system. “They have a function as purely vote getters.”

Since Indonesia adopted the gender-quota law in 2003, and strengthened it five years later, the number of women elected to the 560-seat House of Representatives, or DPR, had increased, from 11% in 2004 to more than 18% in 2009.

But celebrities and political dynasts comprise the majority of women MPs. A quarter of the women elected to parliament in 2009 were popular figures, while some 42% were related to established power-families. “It was disappointing,” says Gadis, who founded the feminist Women’s Journal. “And I expect the trend to continue.”

Heavyweight politicians may prefer to recruit little-experienced celebrities and family members because they can be steered easily. But this was not always the case. Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), was first wooed to join the prior incarnation of her party, despite lacking experience, because she’s a daughter of Indonesia’s first President, Sukarno. And there are strong women hailing from the entertainment industry. Rieke Diah Pitaloka, of PDI-P, and Nurul Arifin, of Golkar Party, are both comic actresses turned legislators who have earned high respect in their new careers.

And to be fair, political parties also recruit male celebrities — Lelga’s former husband, dangdut star Rhoma Irama, is the presidential candidate for another Islamic party — and there are also many politicians’ sons, brother-in-laws and nephews appearing in nomination lists.

But it is the young, attractive female newcomers who invite most scrutiny, and sometimes sexist comments. That is not fair, Tunggal says. “The ones who decide on the candidacy are political parties, and they are the ones who should be blamed.”

One stumbling block to attracting female candidates is a relatively low employment rate of Indonesian women. According to the World Bank, only 51% of women are employed in the workforce, compared with 78% of men. Moreover, women who harbor big political ambitions could face opposition at home. Indonesian media recently reported a politician divorcing his legislative-candidate wife because, he said, she had little time for their family.

Gadis acknowledges that while the gender-quota law “helps women, it is not enough.” And they need to do more to push for real gender equality, she says. “We have male-dominated parties and patriarchal culture, and that closes access to many women. We need to shatter these if we want more capable women to participate in politics.”

TIME Crime

‘Webcam Killer’ Found Guilty of Murdering Chinese Student

Undated handout photo of Qian Liu, a 23-year-old York University student
Qian Liu, a 23-year-old York University student, is seen in this undated handout photo. Her killer was convicted of first degree murder in a Toronto court on Monday. Reuters

Brian Dickson, 32, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Toronto court for sexually assaulting and strangling to death a Chinese college student in an April 2011 attack that was partly witnessed by her former boyfriend during an online video call

A 32-year-old man was found guilty Monday of the first-degree murder of a Chinese student in Toronto that was captured on webcam.

A jury took only four hours to a hand down a guilty verdict to Brian Dickson. He broke into the apartment of Qian Liu on April 15, 2011, and made sexual advances toward the York University student before strangling her to death.

Qian’s ex-boyfriend, Xian Chao Meng, testified at the trial that he had been video chatting with her and witnessed Dickson enter the apartment and assault Liu before her computer was disabled.

The victim’s parents were present in the courtroom on Monday when the guilty verdict was handed down.

“We believe the Canadian judicial system is very good and very fair,” said Qian’s father Jian Hui Liu following the verdict, according to the Toronto Sun.

“This is not simply a crime against my daughter, but also against the whole society.”

Dickson will serve a life sentence for the murder with no parole option for 25 years.

[Tornoto Sun]

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