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Posts tagged ‘Elections’

Lebanon holds first elections in 9 years

May 06, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s polling stations opened Sunday for the first parliamentary elections in nine years, with people lining up early in the morning to take part in a vote that is fiercely contested between rival groups backed by regional and international powers.

Sunday’s vote is taking place amid tight security, with army and police forces deployed near polling stations and on major intersections. Electoral campaigns have been tense as each group has mobilized its supporters, with fist fights and shootings occurring in several areas in recent weeks.

The main race is between a Western-backed coalition headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. The vote also reflects regional tensions between Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back the rival groups.

The vote is the first since Syria’s war broke out in 2011. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad’s forces, a move that has been harshly criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians who see the group as pulling the country into regional conflicts.

The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria’s war. Lebanese who support opposing sides in the war have clashed on a number of occasions, and Sunni extremists have carried out several bombings. The war next door driven more than a million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, straining the country’s economy and infrastructure.

There are about 3.6 million eligible voters, and early results are expected after polling stations close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT). Some 586 candidates, including 86 women, are running for the 128-seat parliament, which is equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

In the past, the winning list took all the seats in the electoral district. Hezbollah and its allies are likely to add more seats, while Hariri is likely to lose several. Some of his Sunni supporters see him as being too soft on Hezbollah, and the billionaire businessman has also faced criticism after laying off scores of employees from his companies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Still, Hariri will most likely be named to form a national unity Cabinet after the vote. Rival sides can hardly govern effectively without each other, and are expected to recreate the unity government that currently exists, which includes Hezbollah.

The vote comes a week after Lebanese living oversees voted in 39 countries around the world for the first time ever.

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Lebanese expats vote in parliamentary elections

April 29, 2018

SAO PAULO (AP) — Lebanese expatriates began voting Sunday in the first parliamentary elections held by the tiny Arab country in nine years The current legislature has extended its term several times, citing security threats linked to the war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon’s political system distributes power among the country’s different religious communities, and the main parties are led by political dynasties that fought one another during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Sunday’s vote in 33 countries comes two days after thousands of Lebanese voted in six Arab countries. The vote marks the first time that Lebanese are allowed to vote abroad. Millions of Lebanese live abroad, but Lebanon’s state-run news agency says the number of registered voters is 82,970. The voting inside Lebanon will be held next Sunday.

Australia has the largest number of registered voters, with about 12,000, followed by Canada with 11,438 and the United States with about 10,000. In Brazil, home to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Lebanese descent, many were casting their ballots in Latin America’s most populous nation.

“Today’s voting is very important because for the first time we will have a voice in Lebanese affairs,” said Leila Smidi a 30-year-old mother of four who has been living in Brazil for 11 years. She spoke shortly after casting her ballot at Lebanon’s consulate in Sao Paulo.

About 1,500 Lebanese expats in Brazil are expected to vote. Lebanese immigrants and their descendants today form a community estimated at about 7 million – larger than Lebanon’s population of about 4.5 million. Lebanese immigrants began arriving in Brazil in the late 19th century, fleeing the Turkish-Ottoman empire that ruled much of the Middle East.

Accomplished merchants, many settled in Sao Paulo — Brazil’s biggest city — and earned a living as traveling salesmen selling textiles and clothes and opening new markets. Eventually they opened their own textile and clothing shops and factories.

Today, many of their descendants are prominent in the arts, politics, business, communications and medicine. The best known Brazilian politicians of Arab descent are President Michel Temer, Paulo Maluf, who twice served as mayor of Sao Paulo and once as governor of Sao Paulo state, and former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad.

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s business capital, and one of its leading businessmen is Paulo Antonio Skaf, president of the powerful Sao Paulo State Federation of Industries and the son of Lebanese immigrants.

Among Brazil’s brightest literary stars is Milton Hatoum, the Lebanese-descended author of the acclaimed novel “The Tree of Seventh Heaven.” Also a descendent of Lebanese immigrants, film director and commentator Arnaldo Jabor offers his strong opinions on just about everything daily on the Globo radio and TV network.

This year’s vote is according to a new election law that is based on proportional representation, implemented for the first time since Lebanon’s independence in 1943. Voters will choose one list of allied candidates, as well as a preferred candidate from among them.

Lebanon’s 128-member parliament is equally divided between Muslims and Christians. The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers have approved several extensions since then. The main competition will be between two coalitions, one that is led by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the other by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally who holds Saudi citizenship and is a critic of Tehran.

Despite the rivalry between Hariri’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, both are part of the national unity government and will most likely be represented in the Cabinet formed after next week’s vote.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.

No clear winner: Mixed results in local English elections

May 04, 2018

LONDON (AP) — The two major parties have failed to deliver a knockout blow to one another in a series of English local elections. Results released Friday showed the left-leaning Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has gained ground in some parts of England but was unable to dent Conservative Party strongholds in key parts of London.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party did not lose significant ground in the local results of city and town councils in many parts of England despite the party’s weak showing in last year’s general election.

Party chairman Brandon Lewis said the Conservatives did better than expected. Support for the right-wing U.K. Independence Party faltered badly after a series of leadership changes following its successful role in the 2016 referendum to take Britain out of the European Union.

Trump thrusts abortion fight into crucial midterm elections

May 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration acted Friday to bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, energizing its conservative political base ahead of crucial midterm elections while setting the stage for new legal battles.

The Health and Human Services Department sent its proposal to rewrite the rules to the White House, setting in motion a regulatory process that could take months. Scant on details, an administration overview of the plan said it would echo a Reagan-era rule by banning abortion referrals by federally funded clinics and forbidding them from locating in facilities that also provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, a principal provider of family planning, abortion services and basic preventive care for women, said the plan appears designed to target the organization. “The end result would make it impossible for women to come to Planned Parenthood, who are counting on us every day,” said executive vice president Dawn Laguens.

But presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the administration is simply recognizing “that abortion is not family planning. This is family planning money.” The policy was derided as a “gag rule” by abortion rights supporters, a point challenged by the administration, which said counseling about abortion would be OK, but not referrals. It’s likely to trigger lawsuits from opponents, and certain to galvanize activists on both sides of the abortion debate going into November’s congressional elections.

The policy “would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Social and religious conservatives have remained steadfastly loyal to President Donald Trump despite issues like his reimbursements to attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to a porn star alleging an affair, and Trump’s past boasts of sexually aggressive behavior. Trump has not wavered from advancing the agenda of the religious right.

Tuesday night, Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List’s “campaign for life” gala. The group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion. It says it spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton and promote a “pro-life Senate.”

The original Reagan-era family planning rule barred clinics from discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring “nondirective” counseling to include a full range of options for women.

The Trump administration said its proposal will roll back the Clinton requirement that abortion be discussed as an option along with prenatal care and adoption. Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women a year through clinics, costing taxpayers about $260 million.

Although abortion is politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report .

Abortion remains legal, but federal family planning funds cannot be used to pay for the procedure. Planned Parenthood clinics now qualify for Title X family planning grants, but they keep that money separate from funds that pay for abortions.

Abortion opponents say a taxpayer-funded program should have no connection to abortion. Doctors’ groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling women trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the administration action amounts to an “egregious intrusion” in the doctor-patient relationship and could force doctors to omit “essential, medically accurate information” from counseling sessions with patients.

Planned Parenthood’s Laguens hinted at legal action, saying, “we will not stand by while our basic health care and rights are stripped away.” Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents clinics, said requiring physical separation from abortion facilities is impractical and would disrupt services for women.

“I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged,” Marcella said. But abortion opponents said Trump is merely reaffirming the core mission of the family planning program.

“The new regulations will draw a bright line between abortion centers and family planning programs, just as … federal law requires and the Supreme Court has upheld,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a key voice for religious conservatives.

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said, “Abortion is not health care or birth control and many women want natural health care choices, rather than hormone-induced changes.” Abortion opponents allege the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins’ group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers to support the Trump administration’s proposal.

Abortion opponents say the administration plan is not a “gag rule.” It “will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion … but neither will it include the current mandate that (clinics) must counsel and refer for abortion,” said the administration’s own summary.

Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Paraguay ruling party candidate wins presidential election

April 23, 2018

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — The son of a former dictator’s top aide won the presidential election in Paraguay on Sunday, helped by a booming economy under his party. Mario Abdo Benitez of the governing Colorado Party had 46.5 percent of the votes, with 96 percent of 21, 000 polling stations reporting, electoral officials said. Efrain Alegre of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party finished second with 42.7 percent of the ballots. Eight other candidates finished far out of the running.

Both candidates are conservatives and the election was closer than the 20-point edge that opinion polls had given Abdo going into the election. Alegre, a 55-year-old lawyer who also finished second in the last presidential election, declined to concede, saying he would wait for the final count, though electoral officials said there were not enough ballots left to be counted to change the result.

The new president begins a five-year term Aug. 15. Abdo, a 46-year-old marketing expert, campaigned on a promise to continue the business-friendly policies of outgoing President Horacio Cartes and he played down any fears of a return to the heavy-handed past of dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled from 1954 to 1989. Abdo’s father was Stroessner’s private secretary.

After the results were announced, Abdo promised an “unwavering commitment” to being a good manager of the government. “We built an electoral project with a dialogue of reconciliation and pardon among all Paraguayans,” he said.

The top two candidates had similar platforms, promising to attract foreign investment to create jobs in an economy that has been one of the fastest-growing in the region but that still suffers from high poverty levels, extreme inequality and endemic corruption.

Both also are social conservatives who criticized sex education and abortion rights. The Colorado Party has led Paraguay with only a few interruptions since the mid-20th Century. The landlocked nation of about 7 million people borders Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

Election officials reported no serious disturbances during the balloting, though a woman was detained for hitting Abdo in the shoulder while he was at the polling place. Police said her motive was unclear.

Sunday’s voting also elected all seats in Congress and 17 governorships nationwide.

Armenia to Elect New Prime Minister on May 1

Thursday, 26 April, 2018

Armenia will elect a new prime minister next week to succeed Serzh Sarkisian, who quit on Monday after days of opposition protests.

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, who led the rallies, appears to be the favorite to win the vote, which will take place at an extraordinary parliament session on May 1.

The demonstrations, driven by public anger over perceived political cronyism and corruption, looked to have peaked on Monday when Sarkisian stepped down.

But demonstrators have made clear they view the whole system tainted by his drive to shift power to the premier from the president. They want a sweeping political reconfiguration before ending their protests, which continued on Thursday.

“Protests will grow throughout Armenia until authorities can hear us,” Pashinyan said.

Pashinyan, a former journalist turned lawmaker who has been instrumental in organizing the protests, has said he is ready to become prime minister. Tens of thousands rallied in the capital Yerevan on Wednesday in support for his bid for the premiership.

If elected, he wants to reform the electoral system to ensure it is fair before holding new parliamentary elections.

Sarkisian’s party still holds a majority in the parliament, however.

“We will have a people’s prime minister and after the election a people’s government and parliament,” said Anna Agababyan, a 38-year-old teacher who was protesting in Yerevan on Thursday, holding a small national flag.

Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilize Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by its decades-long, low-level conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan.

Moscow has two military bases in the ex-Soviet republic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Armenian President Armen Sarkissian by phone on Wednesday.

They agreed that political forces must show restraint and solve the crisis through dialogue, the Kremlin said.

Pashinyan said on Wednesday he had received assurances from Russian officials that Moscow would not intervene in the crisis, and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was in Moscow on Thursday for talks.

Armen Sarkissian, the president, on Thursday hailed what he called “a new page” in Armenia’s history and called on lawmakers to help forge a new country while respecting the existing constitution.

Pashinyan and his allies have been busy trying to build support for him with the ruling Republican Party and other parties and Pashinyan is expected to hold talks with Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the second-biggest party in parliament, later on Thursday.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1250061/armenia-elect-new-prime-minister-may-1.

Hungary’s Orban seeks re-election on anti-migrant platform

April 05, 2018

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is betting that his relentless campaign against migration will keep his voter base united and motivated for Sunday’s national election. Since 400,000 people passed through Hungary in 2015 on their way to Western Europe, Orban has made migration the near-exclusive focus of his government. Now, at most, a few people a day reach the country’s borders.

Orban is seeking his third consecutive term and fourth overall since 1998. Most polls predict Orban’s Fidesz party will get around 50 percent of the votes, far ahead of Jobbik, a nationalist right-wing party, the Socialist Party or several smaller left-wing or green groups.

According to Orban and his ministers, Hungary will descend into chaos should it become an “immigrant country” like France or Belgium. He claims that domestic and European Union funds meant for Hungarian families or the country’s 800,000-strong Roma minority will be diverted to migrants, whose presence will weaken Hungary’s security and increase its terror risk.

And if migrants settle in Hungary, Orban claims Hungary’s economic development will end, its support for rural areas will dwindle, women and girls will be “hunted down” and Budapest, the capital, will become “unrecognizable.”

After building razor-wire fences on the country’s southern borders in 2015 to divert the migrant flow, Orban has constructed a grand conspiracy theory. He claims the EU, the U.N., Hungarian-American financier George Soros and the civic groups he sponsors are all conspiring to force Hungary to take in thousands of mainly Muslim migrants to weaken its independence and its Christian identity and culture.

He spoke last month about a “Soros mercenary army” with around 2,000 people “being paid to work toward bringing down the government” in Sunday’s vote. Still, forecasts about the 199 parliamentary seats at stake are complicated. In Hungary’s complex electoral system, voters cast two ballots — one for a candidate in their voting district and another for a party list. Fidesz should clearly win the party race, which allocates 93 seats, but there are many uncertainties about its performance in the 106 individual districts.

Although opposition candidates won only 10 individual districts in the 2014 vote, they are urging supporters to vote tactically for the opposition candidate in each district who has the best chance to prevent a Fidesz victory.

“People may not even vote for their favorite party or candidate but rather for the one with biggest chance” to defeat Fidesz, said Jobbik leader Gabor Vona. It’s not clear how well the tactic will work.

“As long as the opposition is in a fragmented state … this migrant/refugee campaign is sufficient to keep (Orban’s) voting base united, to keep it mobilized,” said Balazs Bocskei, political analyst at the Idea Institute, a Budapest think-tank.

Spokesman Zoltan Kovacs says the government’s “Stop Soros” package, which has been submitted to parliament, aimed to close “legal loopholes.” “So-called NGOs camouflaging themselves as philanthropic and human rights groups are basically going against the established rules of this country and the European Union, helping illegal immigration happen,” Kovacs said.

The bill has yet to be passed but its effects are already being felt. “The ‘Stop Soros’ package … already results in considerable self-censorship from our part. For reasons of safety, we don’t work anymore the way that we used to,” said Annastiina Kallius of the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary.

Opposition leaders reject Orban’s claims that they are controlled by Soros and support mass immigration. “It’s all a huge delusion,” said Gergely Karacsony, the prime ministerial candidate of the Socialist Party and his own Dialogue party. “Since they can’t govern, they are trying to hold on to power by deceiving the people.”

Vona said Jobbik was strongly anti-migration “but we don’t want to manipulate and scare people with this issue.” Some experts say there is no alternative to Orban for Hungary’s conservative voters. “Unfortunately, for those on the right who are disappointed with Orban, there is no democratic conservative alternative like Germany’s CDU or a French Macron-type party,” said Paul Lendvai, a journalist and author of “Orban: Hungary’s Strongman.” ”Someone who is angry with him can only show it by not going to the polls.”

The one thing opposition parties do agree on is the need to reverse many of Orban’s policies, which they call anti-democratic. They are vowing to restore the democratic system of checks and balances, expand press freedom, join the European Public Prosecutor’s Office to enhance anti-corruption efforts and allocate more funds to education, health care and fighting poverty.

“The Orban regime is a hybrid regime between democracy and dictatorship,” Karacsony said. “This isn’t one election among many, where people vote about their judgment of a good or fairly good government. This is about the social model which has solidified in Hungary.”

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