Weekly Briefing

Pakistan: coalition
Increasing corruption and inflation are behind the latest party withdrawals from Pakistan's coalition government. The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) is the second-largest party in the alliance; the departure of its two ministers from the federal cabinet follows the complete withdrawal of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam a few weeks earlier. If MQM left the coalition entirely it would destroy the government's majority.

As the Taliban continue to make their presence felt in the north-west, killing 43 in a recent suicide bombing, the government is struggling to keep Pakistan's economy afloat. An IMF loan of £7bn was approved last May, but with reforms demanded in return for the next tranche of money, the government must find a solution to its political woes if it is to overcome its economic difficulties.

Côte d'Ivoire: violence
“Did the Ivorians elect me or not? That's the only question," insisted Laurent Gbagbo. Numerous international bodies would no doubt agree. The consensus is that Ivorians did not, and the refusal of the incumbent president to step down has led to violent tension. Nearly 200 people have been killed, 14,000 have fled to Liberia and thousands more are expected to become refugees, too.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya has been asked to act as mediator, and has said he will try to convince Gbagbo - who has often spoken out in support of democracy - that "the time has come to lead by example". But Gbagbo's claims that he is the victim of a western plot suggest trouble will continue to escalate.

Switzerland: bonuses
In 2008 - not generally considered the global banking industry's finest year - US banks awarded nearly 5,000 $1m-plus bonuses. New rules proposed by the Swiss-based Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a regulatory panel representing the US, UK and 25 other countries, might not bring that figure down, but are intended at least to "allow market participants to assess the quality of . . . compensation practices and the incentives towards risk-taking they support". Banks would have to disclose the number and sizes of bonuses, and how these relate to performance.
Sceptics doubt that the increased demands for transparency will make the slightest difference; in addition, new EU regulations capping bonuses are already stricter. But the committee insists that "greater specificity" will help guard against longer-term risk.

Bolivia: strikes
“The government and the president will never ignore the workers," announced Evo Morales on 27 December - not an unusual sentiment for the president, but one not often associated with huge commodity price hikes. The state is ending its petrol and diesel subsidies - which cost £250m in 2010 - arguing that, as profits from Bolivian oil are mostly made abroad, the subsidies are "an open vein of Bolivians that nourishes foreign interests". The change will cause domestic petrol prices to rise by 70 per cent.

Transport workers have started an indefinite strike and economists warn that rising transport prices will push up the cost of other goods.

US: bigger genes
If after the festive season you're feeling a little better insulated than usual, don't worry. Thanks to researchers at the University of Massachusetts, we can now shift yet more blame on to biological inheritance. Scientists have found that mice whose fathers had low-protein diets metabolised some foods more slowly than their counterparts - in effect hoarding the calories that their parents were starved of.

“There are many ways our parents can 'tell' us things," mused one of the researchers. As Philip Larkin might have put it: they fatten you up, your mum and dad . . .

This article first appeared in the 03 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The siege of Gaza