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THE INDEX — April 21, 2010

A new video posted online appears to show election officials in Sudan stuffing ballots during last week’s contentious elections. The video, which  can be seen here, has reinforced claims of opposition  parties and election observers that the country’s national  election commission was not the impartial watchdog Sudan’s government claimed it to be. One opposition party official, Siddig Youssef, said, “This video is proving everything we said that the elections are rigged and they rigged the boxes.” Another official publicly called the video “scandalous,” claiming that the stuffed ballotboxes show “forgery, of course, done by the ruling party. They exchanged the boxes with already filled boxes. They brought them by cars from outside.” By way of response, Sudan’s election commission has denied receiving any formal complaints, while noting “We will not investigate anything that appears on the Internet.” In many respects, the video comes as an embarrassment to the Obama administration, whose special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, publicly backed the electoral process in the weeks leading up to the vote—relaying his support even after several opposition parties formally withdrew from the election, protesting fraud and intimidation on the part of Sudan’s leading party.  As Gration told reporters from the Sudan Tribune on April 3, “They [officials with the National Election Commission] have given me confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible. These people have gone to great lengths to ensure that the people of Sudan will have access to polling places and that the procedures and processes will ensure transparency. This has been a difficult challenge but I believe they have stepped up and met the challenge.” However, in the wake of reports of massive voting irregularities—released this week by the European Union and the Carter Center (both of which had election observers on the ground in Sudan)—the White House issued a statement noting, “Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities.” The White House continued, “The United States regrets that Sudan's National Elections Commission did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting.”

An unprecedented cabbage shortage in South Korea has caused prices to skyrocket and left consumers struggling for alternatives to the national food staple, kimchi. Following a snowy winter that stunted an already meager cabbage harvest, prices nearly quadrupled from last year to 6,000 Won ($5.30) for a single head. Cabbage stocks have run out and retailers are being forced to buy on the open market, oftentimes paying more than triple the normal price which has made kimchi, the Korean national dish, prohibitive to many consumers. Other essential food items like onions and fish have also risen in price, some up by 100%. Rising food prices are compounded by heavy tariffs. "Vegetables are just too expensive. I surfed the web for packaged stuff but that was also too costly," one woman, Kim Hyung-sook, reported. "When I get sick of eating the overly fermented kimchi I stored last winter, I prepare alternatives such as pickled radish."  Many South Koreans are looking towards cheaper alternatives and smaller portions of the national dish. South Koreans eat nearly 2 million metric tons of kimchi every year. The ruling party of current president Lee Myung-bak has faced increasing domestic dissatisfaction about the runaway cost of living in South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy. Pressure to do something about rising costs is mounting as mid-term regional elections approach in June.

Radio broadcasters in Mogadishu are being pulled in multiple directions by competing government and insurgent forces attempting to control the airwaves. Last Tuesday at least 14 radio stations based in Mogadishu halted music broadcasts after a decree ten days prior by the insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, that charged music was un-Islamic and would no longer be permitted to air.  Stations were warned of “serious consequences” for non-compliance. The New York Times reported that some broadcasters, while trying to work around the new ultimatum, had resorted to airing sounds of car horns and animals braying as alternative programming.  This ruling was countermanded Sunday when the Somali government said that all stations heeding the insurgent ultimatum would be shut down and considered “working with the insurgents.” “The order and counter-order are very destructive,” said Abukar Hassan Kadaf, the director of Somaliweyn radio, one of the broadcasters caught in this cross fire. “Each group is issuing orders against us and we are the sole victims.” Both the government and the insurgents are attempting to assert authority in the anarchic country. The declaration that music is considered un-Islamic is part of a larger movement in Somalia, reminiscent of Taliban-run Afghanistan, that Western culture must be suppressed. Analysts are speculating that Hizbul Islam’s decree is an attempt at showing solidarity with the global Islamic jihadist movement.   

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