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Posts tagged ‘Elections’

Preliminary results: Ex-rebels win Kosovo election

June 11, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The coalition of former ethnic Albanian rebel commanders won the most votes Sunday in Kosovo’s general election, which also saw a surge in popularity for a nationalist party, according to preliminary results.

The ex-rebels came in first with around 35 percent of the vote. The nationalist Self-Determination Movement was neck-and-neck with the coalition led by former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, which had around 26 percent each after the counting of about 70 percent of the votes, according to Democracy in Action, a monitoring group.

No group can govern alone and coalitions will be likely. The new Cabinet will have a tough job in resolving several thorny issues, including the border demarcation deal with Montenegro. The approval of another agreement with Serbia giving more rights to the ethnic Serb minority, and the continuation of fraught talks with Belgrade, which denies Kosovo’s existence as a state, were also key concerns.

Ramush Haradinaj, whom the leading coalition has nominated to be prime minister, hailed Kosovars “for the trust given to the coalition,” adding “these are the best elections ever held” in Kosovo. “The victory is convincing and make us capable of operating further to create the country’s government,” he said.

The final results for the new 120-seat parliament are expected later in the week. Ethnic Serbs and other minorities have 20 out of 120 seats in the parliament. Self-Determination Movement officials celebrated the results, which saw the party double its share of the vote. The party has been a disruptive force in the previous parliament and is the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions. The party’s members and supporters released tear gas inside parliament and threw firebombs outside it to protest the contentious deals with Montenegro and Serbia.

The party has nominated its former leader, 42-year-old Albin Kurti, as a candidate for prime minister. If elected, the party says it “is the only one which is going to fight corruption in a successful way,” send former officials to jail, end the current talks with Serbia while seeking a closer union with neighboring Albania.

Kosovo’s election authorities say that preliminary figures put turnout in the country’s general election at 41.79 percent. Central Election Commission head Valdete Daka says that “there have been no problems that would gravely damage the process.”

The turnout is smaller than in the previous polls, for example in 2014, when it was 42.63 percent. Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the EU’s Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo’s parliament must first approve a border demarcation deal signed with Montenegro in 2015.

Opposition parties say that deal meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo’s land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country’s Western backers dispute that claim.

The Self-Determination Movement and others also oppose another deal signed in 2015 that gave more rights to the ethnic Serb minority. A further issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established war crimes court. The court in The Hague is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Kosovo’s general election poses headaches for the winner

June 10, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovars vote on Sunday to choose the new 120-seat parliament that will face some seemingly intractable problems. There is the thorny issue of the border demarcation deal with Montenegro that brought down the previous government; the continuation of fraught talks with Serbia, which denies Kosovo’s existence as a state; and potential war crimes trials of some senior political leaders.

Nineteen political parties, five coalitions and two citizens’ initiatives, all promising to break the isolation and secure growth, have nominated candidates. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The new state has been recognized by 114 countries, including the United States and most of the EU members, but not by Belgrade.

Kosovo is the only western Balkan country whose citizens need visas to enter the European Union’s Schengen zone. To join, Brussels insists Kosovo must first approve the border demarcation deal. That deal with Montenegro was signed in 2015 but opposition parties say it meant a loss of territory, over 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres), or less than 1 percent of Kosovo’s land. The former Cabinet, international experts and the country’s Western backers dispute that claim.

Another looming issue is the prospect of former ethnic Albanian senior rebel commanders facing prosecution in the newly established international war crimes court in The Hague that is expected to shortly issue indictments for crimes committed against civilians during and after the 1998-1999 war with Serbia.

There are three key groupings in the contest:

FORMER REBELS

Three major parties run by former rebel commanders have joined forces to back Ramush Haradinaj for prime minister. Haradinaj briefly served as a prime minister in 2005 but was forced to resign after a U.N. war crimes court put him on trial for crimes allegedly committed during Kosovo’s 1998-99 war with Serbia. He was acquitted twice.

Serbia still regards Haradinaj as a war criminal. Kosovo suspended EU-sponsored talks with Serbia earlier this year after Haradinaj was arrested in France on a warrant from Serbia. A French court refused to extradite him.

Haradinaj claims his coalition is “a new beginning ” and has pledged he will persuade the EU to admit Kosovars to the visa-free regime within 90 days, and also bring fast improvements in the country’s ailing economy.

PEACENICKS

The party of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa has joined forces with billionaire Behxhet Pacolli and Mimoza Kusari-Lila, a former deputy prime minister and trade minister from the Alternativa party. They have proposed the former finance minister, Avdullah Hoti, as a future prime minister.

Hoti boasts that he was successful in fighting corruption and bringing the customs and financial department in line with European standards. He earned a Ph.D. in economics at Staffordshire University in Britain and is a professor at the Pristina University.

NATIONALISTS

The Self-Determination Movement, an aggressively disruptive force in the previous parliament, is the biggest opposition party to shun pre-election coalitions. Self-Determination Movement members and supporters released tear gas inside parliament and threw petrol bombs outside it to protest the contentious deals with Montenegro and Serbia.

The party has nominated its former leader, 42-year-old Albin Kurti, as a candidate for prime minister. Since the 2014 election, Kurti has been at the forefront of opposition forces. If elected, the party says it “is the only one which is going to fight corruption in a successful way,” send former officials to jail, end the current talks with Serbia while seeking a closer union with neighboring Albania.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

France’s Macron faces test in parliamentary elections

June 11, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French voters are choosing lawmakers in the lower house of parliament on Sunday in a vote that is crucial for newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron. A total of 7,882 candidates are running for 577 seats in the National Assembly in Sunday’s first round of the two-stage legislative elections. Top vote-getters advance to the decisive second round June 18.

Polls suggest the elections will strongly favor Macron’s party and dramatically shake up French politics, punishing the traditional left and right parties and leaving no single strong opposition force.

Macron’s year-old centrist movement, Republic on the Move, is seeking an absolute majority to be able to implement his campaign promises, which include simplifying labor rules and making it easier to lay off workers in hopes of boosting hiring.

The government outlined the main themes of a major labor reform that has already angered French unions and is likely to prompt tensions over the summer. Macron also plans to quickly pass a law to strengthen security measures — effectively making the state of emergency permanent, after multiple Islamic extremist attacks in France — and another one to put more ethics into French politics.

The government needs a new Assembly in place to vote on the bills. Macron called on French voters to give him a “majority to make changes” on the night of his victory May 7. “That’s what the country wants and that’s what it deserves,” he said.

A minimum of 289 seats is required to secure an absolute majority. According to the latest polls, Macron’s movement appears in a position to win potentially as many as 400 seats. The candidates of Republic on the Move include many newcomers in politics, like a retired bullfighter, a fighter pilot and a mathematical genius. Half of them are women.

Candidates from the conservative Republicans party are expected to arrive in second position, and other parties with possibly more than 100 seats. The Socialists, who dominated the last Assembly are expected to suffer a stinging defeat and win just a few dozen seats.

In the wake of far-right Marine Le Pen’s qualification for the presidential runoff, the National Front party is expected to get its highest-ever score — but does not appear able to become the major opposition force Le Pen had hoped for. Polls project it could win about a dozen seats, in part because of a voting system that favors the biggest parties.

Marine Le Pen herself is running for a seat in Henin-Beaumont in northern France. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in a strong fourth place in the presidential vote with nearly 20 percent support, is running for a parliamentary seat in the southern city of Marseille. His movement could obtain between 10 and 20 seats.

The turnout rate is expected to be low for France, with possibly only half of the voters going to the polls. To win in the first round, candidates need an absolute majority and support from at least a quarter of the district’s registered voters.

Otherwise, all contenders who get at least 12.5 percent of the votes of registered voters advance to the second round. The French Parliament is made up of two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate. The legislative elections don’t concern the Senate, which is currently run by a conservative majority.

The National Assembly always has the final say in the voting process of a law.

Wounded May soldiers on as election shock complicates Brexit

June 10, 2017

LONDON (AP) — In a political drama both brutal and surreal, British Prime Minister Theresa May tried Friday to carry on with the business of governing as usual, while her Conservative Party reeled from losing its parliamentary majority and her opponents demanded she resign.

An election that May called to strengthen her hand as Britain leaves the European Union ended with her political authority obliterated, her days in office likely numbered and the path to Brexit more muddied than ever.

Meanwhile the supposed loser, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, savored a surprisingly strong result and basked in the adulation of an energized, youthful base. British newspapers summed it up in a word: Mayhem.

The Conservatives built their election campaign around May’s ostensible strengths as a “strong and stable” leader, and the outcome is a personal slap in the face. But May soldiered on Friday, re-appointing senior ministers to her Cabinet and holding talks with a small Northern Irish party about shoring up her minority government.

“I obviously wanted a different result last night,” a grim-faced May acknowledged, promising she would “reflect on what happened.” With results in from all 650 House of Commons seats after Thursday’s vote, May’s bruised Conservatives had 318 — short of the 326 they needed for an outright majority and well down from the 330 seats they had before May’s roll of the electoral dice.

Labor had 262, up from 229, and the Scottish National Party 35, a loss of about 20 seats that complicates the party’s plans to push for independence. The final result was announced almost 24 hours after polls closed. After three recounts, Labor took the wealthy London constituency of Kensington from the Conservatives by just 20 votes.

Speaking outside 10 Downing St., May scarcely acknowledged the election’s disastrous outcome, promising to form “a government that can provide certainty.” She said the government would start Brexit negotiations with the EU as scheduled in 10 days’ time.

“This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks … and deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union,” she said after visiting Buckingham Palace to inform Queen Elizabeth II that she would try to form a new government.

This is the first time since the 1990s that Britain has a minority government, in which the governing party cannot get measures though Parliament without outside support. May said she was in talks with the Democratic Unionists — a socially conservative, pro-British Protestant party in Northern Ireland — on an agreement to “work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.”

Cutting a deal with the DUP, which won 10 seats, may not be straightforward. The party’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage places it at odds with modernizing Conservatives. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson — a rising star in the party — tweeted a link to a speech she made in support of gay marriage, drawing on her own experiences as a lesbian Christian.

May’s snap election call was the second time that a Conservative gamble on the issue of Britain’s relations with Europe backfired. Her predecessor, David Cameron, first asked British voters to decide in 2016 whether to leave the EU. When voters stunned him and Europe by voting to leave, he resigned, leaving May to deal with the mess.

The latest election shock is “yet another own goal” that will make “already complex negotiations even more complicated,” said the European Parliament’s top Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt. Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said it’s not even clear whether May will now lead those negotiations.

“She might start off doing that but the Conservatives might well replace her mid-stream,” he said. “That’s going to make it difficult for the EU 27 because they’re going to want to know who they’re talking to and what their policy is.”

In the Conservative Party, recriminations were immediate and stinging. Many analysts said it was unlikely May could remain leader for long now that her authority has been eroded. Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, called her “a zombie prime minister.”

“Honestly, it feels almost like she is almost not aware of what has happened in the last 24 hours,” Conservative lawmaker Heidi Allen told LBC radio. Allen said she couldn’t see May hanging on for “more than six months.”

The election’s biggest winner was Corbyn, who confounded expectations that his left-wing views made him electorally toxic. A buoyant Corbyn piled on pressure for May to resign, saying people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change,” he said. Initially blind-sided by May’s snap election call, and written off by many pollsters, Labor surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people with the promise to abolish tuition fees, the hope of better jobs and a chance to own property.

“The young have a bad deal,” said Ben Page, chief executive of pollster Ipsos MORI. “They didn’t want to leave the EU. It appears clear they were determined this time to make a difference and vote.” Page said Corbyn, a lifelong left-wing activist who has spent decades speaking to crowds, was underestimated as a campaigner. While he was demonized by conservative newspapers, on Facebook Corbyn was trending.

Voter turnout in the election was up from 66 percent in 2015 to almost 69 percent, and half a million more young people registered to vote than before the last election. “I felt passionate about voting to make sure Theresa May knew that young people like me would never support her or a Conservative government,” said 23-year-old student Janet Walsh, who voted Labor. “I blame her party for destroying Britain by pushing for Brexit and austerity, two things that will ultimately be bad for my generation. This was the first time I voted.”

From the start, an election called by May when polls gave her a commanding lead did not go to plan. She was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.”

Then, attacks in Manchester and London killed a total of 30 people and twice brought the campaign to a halt. They sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism.

It’s unclear what role the attacks and their aftermath played in the election result. But the uncertain outcome is more evidence that after the populist surges that produced Brexit and President Donald Trump — and the centrist fightbacks led by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron — politics remains volatile and unpredictable.

For many British voters, the feeling after the country’s third major vote in as many years was weariness. “We’re in another mess again, and probably we’re going to have to have another election, and it’s all such a waste of time at the end of the day,” said 85-year-old Londoner Patricia Nastri.

Associated Press writers Paisley Dodds, Sylvia Hui, Gregory Katz, Jo Kearney, Sophie Berman and Niko Price in London and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this story

May’s UK election gamble backfires as Tories lose majority

June 09, 2017

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble in calling an early election backfired spectacularly as her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament, throwing British politics into chaos.

UK media, citing sources they did not identify, reported early Friday that May has no intention of resigning despite calls for her to step down. The shock result could send Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union — due to start June 19 — into disarray. The pound lost more than 2 cents against the dollar.

With 636 of 650 seats in the House of Commons declared, the Conservatives had 310 to the Labor Party’s 258. Even if the Conservatives won all the remaining seats, the party would fall short of the 326 needed for an outright majority. Before the election the Conservatives had 330 seats and Labor 229.

May called the snap election in the hope of increasing her majority and strengthening Britain’s hand in exit talks with the European Union with a “strong and stable government.” Instead, the result means the Conservatives will need to rely on support from smaller parties to govern, with more instability and the chance of yet another early election.

“This is a very bad moment for the Conservative Party, and we need to take stock,” Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry said. “And our leader needs to take stock as well.” Left-wing Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was among those calling on May to resign, said Friday morning that people have had enough of austerity politics and cuts in public spending. He ruled out the potential for deals or pacts with other progressive parties in Parliament.

“The arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost, and we need to change.” The results confounded those who said Corbyn was electorally toxic. Written off by many pollsters, Labor surged in the final weeks of the campaign. It drew strong support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers.

As she was resoundingly re-elected to her Maidenhead seat in southern England, May looked tense and did not spell out what she planned to do. “The country needs a period of stability, and whatever the results are the Conservative Party will ensure we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability,” she said.

Many predicted she would soon be gone. “Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government, then she, I doubt, will survive in the long term as Conservative Party leader,” former Conservative Treasury chief George Osborne said on ITV.

British media later reported Friday that May had no intention to resign. The result was bad news for the Scottish National Party, which lost about 20 of its 54 seats. Among the casualties was Alex Salmond, a former first minister of Scotland and one of the party’s highest-profile lawmakers.

The losses complicate the SNP’s plans to push for a new referendum on Scottish independence as Britain prepares to leave the EU. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the idea of a new independence referendum “is dead. That’s what we have seen tonight.”

May had hoped the election would focus on Brexit, but that never happened, as both the Conservatives and Labor said they would respect voters’ wishes and go through with the divorce. Despite the surprise election result, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he doesn’t believe voters have changed their minds about leaving.

But speaking Friday on Europe 1 radio, he said “the tone” of negotiations may be affected. “These are discussions that will be long and that will be complex. So let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “I’m not sure that we should read, from the results of this vote, that Britons’ sovereign decision on Brexit has been cast into doubt in any way.”

EU budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the EU is prepared to stick to the timetable that calls for negotiations to start in mid-June, but said it would take a few hours at least to see how the results of the election play out in forming a government.

“Without a government, there’s no negotiation,” he said Friday morning by phone on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. May, who went into the election with a reputation for quiet competence, was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.” As the polls suggested a tightening race, pollsters spoke less often of a landslide and raised the possibility that May’s majority would be eroded.

Then, attacks that killed 30 people in Manchester and London twice brought the campaign to a halt, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism. Corbyn accused the Conservatives of undermining Britain’s security by cutting the number of police on the streets.

Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Voters were left flustered by the fast-moving events. “It’s a bit of a mess,” Peter Morgan, 35, said in London. “I was kind of hoping it would just go the way that the polls suggested it would and we could have a quiet life in Westminster but now it’s going to be a bit of a mess.”

Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said Britain had seen an election “in which the personal authority of a party leader has disappeared in an unprecedented way.”

“If she had got the majority she wanted, she would have been a supreme political colossus,” he said. “She did not get that and she’s a hugely diminished figure. She’s a zombie prime minister.”

Gregory Katz, Sophie Berman and Niko Price contributed to this story.

Cambodian vote in elections testing strongman’s power

June 04, 2017

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodians voted in local elections Sunday that could shake longtime ruler Hun Sen’s grip on power. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly warned of civil war if his Cambodian People’s Party loses the majority in city and village councils to the main opposition party that made major gains in the last general elections four years ago and claimed it was cheated out of outright victory. The polls could have a major impact on Cambodia’s political landscape ahead of 2018 national elections.

Hun Sen and his wife were among the early voters Sunday. His government has been accused of using violence against opponents, but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in courts. After casting his vote, Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said he expects to win more than 60 percent of the vote. In the last communal elections in 2012, Hun Sen’s party received 60 percent compared to the CNRP’s 30.6 percent.

On Friday, Hun Sen appealed to political parties to accept the outcome rather than make accusations of irregularities, saying courts can dissolve any party if it challenges the result of the vote. Hun Sen and some of his top ministers have frequently used strong rhetoric leading up to the vote, warning of dire consequences should the opposition win, in what has been seen as an attempt to intimidate voters into supporting him.

The ruling party could take some credit for bringing modest economic growth and stability in a country devastated by the communist Khmer Rouge’s regime in the 1970s. Hun Sen left the movement that was responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease and executions before it was toppled in 1979.

This week, Amnesty International accused Cambodia’s government of using its grip on the judiciary system to intimidate human rights defenders and political activists. It said in a report that since the 2013 general election, Hun Sen’s government has used the courts as a tool to imprison at least 27 prominent opposition officials, human rights defenders and land activists, as well as hundreds of others facing legal cases.

Also early this month, the State Department said the U.S. was urging Cambodia’s government to “guarantee a political space free from threats or intimidation” and respect freedom of expression for all its citizens.

Merkel’s party wins election in rivals’ German heartland

May 15, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives won a state election Sunday in their center-left rivals’ traditional heartland, a stinging blow to the challenger in September’s national vote.

The western state of North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous and has been led by the center-left Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966. It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the Sept. 24 election. Schulz was hoping for a boost after two previous state election defeats sapped his party’s momentum.

Instead, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won 33 percent of the vote in the election for the state legislature, with the Social Democrats trailing on 31.2 percent. Social Democrat governor Hannelore Kraft’s coalition lost its majority as her junior governing partners, the Greens, took only 6.4 percent. Conservative challenger Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Merkel’s party, was set to replace Kraft.

“The CDU has won the heartland of the Social Democrats,” said the conservatives’ general secretary, Peter Tauber. “This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally as well,” Schulz, who wasn’t on the ballot Sunday, told supporters in Berlin. “I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today.”

But he urged the party to concentrate now on the national election. He said that “we will sharpen our profile further — we have to as well.” “We will continue fighting; the result will come on Sept. 24,” Schulz said.

The Social Democrats’ national ratings soared after Schulz, a former European Parliament president, was nominated in January as Merkel’s challenger. But defeats in two other state elections since late March punctured the party’s euphoria over Schulz’s nomination.

The Social Democrats’ result in Sunday’s election, the last before the national vote, was their worst in North Rhine-Westphalia since World War II. In the state’s last election in 2012, the Social Democrats beat the CDU by 39.1 percent to 26.3 percent.

The pro-business Free Democrats won a strong 12.6 percent of the vote Sunday after a campaign headed by their national leader, Christian Lindner. That gave the party, with which Merkel governed Germany from 2009 to 2013, a strong base for its drive to return to the national parliament in September after it was ejected four years ago.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4 percent, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature. The opposition Left Party fell just short of the 5 percent needed to win seats. The result gives the CDU and Free Democrats a very slim majority. If they can’t agree on a governing alliance, Laschet could opt for a “grand coalition” of the biggest parties with the Social Democrats.

A “grand coalition” would mirror Merkel’s national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners. After a blaze of publicity earlier this year, Schulz — who chose not to join the government when he returned to Germany in January — has struggled to maintain a high profile. He has focused on addressing perceived economic injustices, but critics have accused him of providing too little detail of his aims.

Kraft told ARD television she had “asked Martin Schulz to let national politics wait until the election was over.” Asked whether that was smart, she replied: “I said I would take responsibility for that, and I’m doing that this evening.” She resigned as her party’s regional leader.

Merkel’s conservatives sought to portray Kraft’s government as slack on security, and also assailed what they said is regional authorities’ poor handling of education and infrastructure projects. The region of 17.9 million, nearly a quarter of Germany’s population, includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial area.

Merkel’s party seemed keen not to appear too euphoric, insisting that regional issues played the key role. Asked about Germany’s government after September her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said that “we always have to keep a cool head … we shouldn’t talk about coalitions before the harvest is in.”

National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel’s conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

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