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The Week Ahead: A king at last, Obama to Mexico, Malaysia divided

ElectionsPoliticsBarack ObamaMalaysiaCultureArts and CultureFelipe Calderon

A man takes charge in the House of Orange-Nassau

Tuesday, April 30 -– Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands becomes king, the first male head of state in 123 years.

The 46-year-old heir to the throne will inherit the crown, scepter and royal apple in a secular ceremony at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam in which Queen Beatrix will sign a deed of abdication ending her 33-year reign. The new king will be formally invested at Nieuwe Kerk, then will attend a joint session of the Dutch legislature, where lawmakers will pledge their allegiance to the new reign.

The monarchy enjoys strong support in the Netherlands, but a contingent of the anti-royalist Netherlands Republican Assn. plans to mingle in white attire among the orange-clad revelers as a gesture of protest.  Some leftist lawmakers have said they will refuse to swear loyalty to the new monarch at the legislative event.

Signs abound, though, that most Dutch are gearing up for a fervent celebration. When King Willem-Alexander and Queen Consort Maxima address well-wishers from a palace balcony after the investiture, multitudes are expected to line Amsterdam’s storied canals and bridges to be part of the historic succession.  Souvenir shops and kiosks have been stocked with memorabilia: rubber masks of the royals,  decorative plates and figurines, and images of the three young princesses next in the royal lineage -- Amalia, Alexia and Ariane -- stamped on mugs and other keepsakes.

Queen Beatrix, 75, announced in January that she would “lay down” her crown, a reference to the exchange of power symbols that takes place in Holland instead of a coronation. She has been queen since 1980, when her mother, Queen Juliana, abdicated. The new king’s great-grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, ruled for 58 years after she succeeded the last male monarch in 1890.

Nine-year-old Amalia, the eldest of the royal couple’s daughters, becomes crown princess with her father’s accession, portending  a return to female domination of the House of Orange-Nassau after skipping a generation.

 

Obama visit inaugurates a new relationship with Mexico

Thursday-Friday, May 2-3 -- President Obama travels to a different Mexico than the one he encountered during his first official visit four years ago.

Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled for seven decades before 2000, regained the political helm in elections last year. And in his few months in office, President Enrique Peña Nieto has struck a more independent pose in relations with his northern neighbor and sought to steer talks long dominated by the war on drugs to opportunities for more economic collaboration.

Under Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, U.S. diplomats and security operatives gained unprecedented authority in joint efforts to break the drug cartels. U.S. intelligence agents were said to be instrumental in the killing or capture of 25 drug kingpins, and Washington deployed drones, undercover squads, police trainers and other assistance to the tune of $2 billion.

Mexican officials are likely hoping the U.S. president brings good news on promised immigration reform, political analysts speculate. They acknowledge, though, that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, a Senate bill to ease the plight of undocumented workers in the United States has probably been set back.

After talks with the PRI leaders, Obama goes to Costa Rica for a gathering of the Central American Integration System, a forum inaugurated in 1991 to boost economic cooperation and democratic values in the region.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, with whom Obama will meet privately Friday, has said she hopes the integration discussions move  beyond the parties’ mutual concern about drug trafficking to address opportunities for clean energy production and regional investment.

 

Rule in Malaysia may shift as Chinese turn against race quotas

Sunday, May 5 -- After 44 years of tolerating racial preferences for majority Malays, the Chinese minority in Malaysia appears poised to switch political allegiance during elections and vote in a new governing coalition committed to more egalitarian social practices.

Malaysian Chinese, who make up about a quarter of the country’s 29 million citizens and much of its business elite, are reportedly defecting  from the 13-party alliance of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In the last election, in 2008, Razak and the Barisan Nasional coalition barely garnered a majority. That seems to have awakened the multiethnic populace to the notion that priorities accorded Malays for housing, jobs and college admissions that were adopted after 1969 race riots might have run their course.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has campaigned on the theme of ending race-based policies that hold back economic prosperity for all. His coalition has a more diverse sweep than Barisan Nasional, with a Chinese-majority party and a Malay-dominated faction that advocates applying Islamic law in criminal matters.

Malays account for about half the population, and indigenous groups make up about 11%. There are also smaller communities of Indians and other Southeast Asians.

Razak has responded with vows to gradually reduce the racial preferences to avoid jolting the stock market and spooking investors with the prospect of social turmoil of the kind seen in the "Arab Spring" rebellions.

Political analysts predict the election could be the closest in independent Malaysia’s nearly 60-year history.

 

 

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