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Posts tagged ‘Elections’

Macedonia local elections to test new left-wing government

October 13, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s left-wing government faces a strong test in this weekend’s municipal elections, five months after it came to power during an acute political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.

The first round of the vote is scheduled for Sunday, with over 1.8 million registered voters choosing local officials in the capital, Skopje, and another 80 municipalities. The re-run is on Oct. 29. Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the governing Social Democrats, particularly in the capital, Skopje, where the party’s candidate mayor is 2.6 percent ahead of the conservative incumbent.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE main opposition party is seeking to defend its dominance on a local level. It won 56 of 81 municipalities in the last elections in 2013 against the Social Democrats’ four. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to get Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, and to see through criminal investigations into conservative officials over a 2015 wiretapping scandal.

Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.” Zaev’s ascent followed a protracted political crisis triggered by the wiretaps, for which he blamed the then-ruling conservatives. They denied wrongdoing and blamed unspecified foreign spies.

On the streets of Skopje, many voters seem disenchanted with politics. “After every election, I’m poorer and more miserable. It is just a show for politicians and their greed for more power and money,” 36-year-old dentistry technician Dijana Stojanovska told the Associated Press.

VMRO-DPMNE campaigning has focused on what it calls “national issues,” claiming that the Social Democrats plan to change the country’s name — over which Macedonia has a decades-long dispute with southern neighbor Greece — to join NATO and the EU.

VMRO-DPMNE also accuses Zaev’s government of treason, for proposing to make Albanian Macedonia’s second official language, and signing a friendship pact with neighboring Bulgaria. Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1-million population, and ethnic tensions boiled over in 2001 when an ethnic Albanian uprising brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The local elections were delayed for five months due to a new crisis after VMRO DPMNE came first in parliamentary elections last year but was unable to secure a governing majority. Second-placed Zaev was eventually able to form a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has over 300 observers to monitor the voting. Preliminary results are expected Monday.

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Italy populists protest passage of revised election rules

October 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — Backers of Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement are protesting the initial passage of revised election rules they contend are designed to foil their bid to gain national power for the first time.

The Chamber of Deputies — the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament — approved the rules late Thursday despite defections by some lawmakers from parties that are officially backing the changes. Supporters include the main governing Democratic Party, loyalists of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, and the Northern League, a right-wing party gaining ground in opinion polls.

The Senate now takes up the bill. The 5-Star Movement, Parliament’s largest opposition party, opposes the changes, which reward parties in election coalitions. The Movement refuses to participate in coalitions and hopes to win Italy’s premiership in elections due by early 2018.

Weah takes early lead in Liberia election’s first results

October 13, 2017

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Former international soccer star George Weah has taken an early lead in Liberia’s presidential election as the West African nation begins releasing provisional results. The National Election Commission data shared late Thursday show Weah ahead in 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties while Vice President Joseph Boakai leads in his home county, Lofa. With 20 candidates in the race, observers expect a runoff election.

Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya warned that the early results represent a small portion of the total vote, and he cautioned candidates’ supporters against declaring victory. Liberia seeks a successor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country as it recovered from civil war and the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.

One of the largest political parties called for a halt to vote-counting Thursday, alleging voting irregularities and fraud. Angry Liberty Party supporters claimed that polls opened late and that ballot-tampering occurred in at least one location in the capital, Monrovia.

“These people stood in the rain and under the sun. These people sacrificed,” the party’s vice chairman for political affairs, Abe Darius Dillon, told The Associated Press. The Liberty Party’s candidate is Charles Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who placed third in 2005 elections and fourth in 2011.

The election commission is ready to listen to official complaints but the vote-counting will continue, spokesman Henry Boyd Flomo said. “The constitution mandated us to conduct elections and declare results therefore in 15 days,” Flomo said. “We’ve got no option but to live with that.”

He said he could not address the accusation of ballot-tampering but acknowledged that many voters found it difficult to find their voting station. Everyone was allowed to vote, he added. The Carter Center, which observed elections, commended Liberians “for the calm and peaceful atmosphere” of the vote. It noted difficulties with long lines and management of voter lists but said it could not give a final assessment until vote counting is complete.

“No matter the outcome of this election, it will result in a transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another for the first time in the lives of many Liberians,” it said in a statement.

Kenya ruling brings new uncertainty to fresh election

October 11, 2017

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan judge on Wednesday ruled that a minor opposition candidate can run for president in this month’s election, bringing fresh uncertainty a day after opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrew from the new vote ordered by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, lawmakers approved amendments to the electoral law that have been criticized by the opposition and Western diplomats. The amendments require the approval of President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose ruling party sought the changes after the Supreme Court nullified Kenyatta’s election in August and cited “irregularities.”

Elsewhere in Nairobi, police used tear gas to disperse thousands of opposition protesters who regrouped outside the election commission’s offices and demanded reforms. In the opposition stronghold of Kisumu city, four people with gunshot wounds were admitted to hospitals after police used live ammunition to disperse protesters, a police official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

Wednesday’s court ruling appeared to open the way for other presidential candidates in the August election to run again on Oct. 26, though none aside from Kenyatta and Odinga received even 1 percent of the vote.

Justice John Mativo said he did not see any reason for Ekuru Aukot to be barred from participating in the repeat election. Aukot won about 27,000 votes of more than 15 million cast in the invalidated poll.

The Supreme Court last month rejected the August election in which Kenyatta was declared the winner after Odinga challenged the results, saying hackers infiltrated the electoral commission’s computer system to manipulate the vote in Kenyatta’s favor.

Odinga then surprised Kenyans on Tuesday by withdrawing from the fresh election, saying the electoral commission must be changed or the new vote risked having the same problems. His withdrawal created confusion in East Africa’s largest economy, with observers wondering how the new election might go forward.

The election commission has said it was meeting with its legal team on the way forward. Kenyatta, who called the Supreme Court judges “crooks” after their ruling, has said he does not want changes to the election commission. His Jubilee Party has instead has used its parliamentary majority to push for the changes to the electoral law.

The opposition says the changes are meant to make the transmission of election results a manual process that would have fewer safeguards against fraud, and would make it more difficult for the court to annul an election.

Diplomats including the United States ambassador this month said the proposed amendments put at risk the election commission’s “ability to conduct a better election” and unnecessarily increase political tensions.

Hundreds rally for free, fair elections in Serbian capital

October 06, 2017

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Several hundred people have gathered at an opposition protest demanding that an upcoming local election in the Serbian capital of Belgrade be free and fair. Opposition leaders have alleged that the ruling parties have been beefing up voters’ lists ahead of the ballot expected next spring. The authorities have denied this.

The Belgrade race is viewed as a test of President Aleksandar Vucic’s rule. Vucic swept the presidential elections earlier this year and his right-leaning coalition controls the government, but opposition parties are hoping to undermine his power in Belgrade.

Opposition leaders have accused Vucic of stifling democratic freedoms, exerting pressure on the media and threatening opponents. Protesters on Friday put forward a set of demands, including equal treatment in the media and international observers at the Belgrade vote.

Election may reflect Germany’s management of migrant influx

September 20, 2017

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted a mantra when citizens questioned her decision to open the country to refugees fleeing wars: “We’ll manage.” She kept repeating it as the lines at immigration offices circled city blocks, school gyms turned into temporary housing and the questions devolved into angry criticism.

But as Merkel campaigns for a fourth term, the German obsession with “Ordnung”— order — looks to have been assuaged. Most of the 890,000 asylum-seekers who entered Germany two years ago are in language and job training courses. Students are again playing sports in the gyms. Rejected asylum applicants are being deported.

A national election on Sunday could show how well voters think Merkel’s government managed the refugee influx. For the chancellor and her Christian Democrats, the signs are promising. The far-right Alternative for Germany party has struggled to make immigration a major election issue. While the party is expected to win seats in parliament for the first time, the support it drew when thousands of newcomers were arriving daily has fallen along with the number of migrants trying to enter the country.

At the same time, Merkel has changed her rhetoric. Along with working to streamline and improve services for new arrivals, she now emphasizes that migrants not deserving of asylum will be sent home and that other European nations need to share the work of assisting eligible refugees.

“Merkel’s government started a highly risky maneuver with its policy of the absolute opening of the borders,” University of Heidelberg political scientist Manfred Schmidt said. “It led to a loss of control which was interpreted as a big, big problem by the people. However, the politicians realized themselves that they had a huge problem and started facing the issues.”

German opinion has been divided since large numbers of job-seeking migrants from economically depressed countries and refugees from Middle East nations wracked by civil wars and extremist groups poured into Europe in 2015.

Tens of thousands of Germans pitched in to help the refugees, bringing food and water to train stations, waving welcome signs and volunteering at shelters. Tens of thousands more took to the streets in the nationalist Pegida demonstrations, a German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.”

The friction between the two sides came to a head in October 2015 in Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city. Henriette Reker, a mayoral candidate who oversaw municipal services for the refugees who sometimes arrived at a rate of 500 per week, was stabbed and nearly killed by a far-right extremist at a campaign event.

Reker, an independent who went on to win the election while still in a coma, concedes Germany was not prepared to take in so many desperate foreigners, yet defends Merkel’s decision to welcome refugees.

“The chancellor did the only right thing: she didn’t close the borders for purely humanitarian reasons,” Reker, 60, a career civil servant, said in an interview. “If she had closed it, and this is really not being mentioned enough, than hundreds of thousands of people would have languished.”

Two months after Reker’s stabbing, Cologne again became a flash point in the immigration debate. Hundreds of women reported being groped and sexually assaulted by migrants during the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration, causing attitudes toward young men from the Middle East and Africa in particular to harden into hostility.

The New Year’s Eve assaults marked a low point in Merkel’s popularity, they also served as a catalyst for reforms that seem to have brought the country back on track The German parliament quickly passed a number of bills making it easier for victims of sex crimes to file complaints, enforcing the deportation of criminal foreigners and toughening asylum standards.

Merkel also benefited from an EU deal with Turkey to prevent migrants from setting out for Europe. In addition, the German government is working to slow the flow of migrants from Africa by initiating partnerships to address the conditions that cause people to leave their homelands.

Today in Cologne, most people say that while they haven’t forgotten the nearly 1 million new arrivals, their initial concerns that Germany would be overwhelmed have been allayed now that the country is running smoothly.

Not everyone was convinced, however. “I think not everything is under control as planned,” Moritz Bertram, 20, who is from a small village northeast of Cologne, said. “Everything is overcrowded, also for the people who, of course, need the help, but don’t get it because it’s all too much.”

Reker conceded that getting people through the asylum process, out of shelters and into more permanent housing has been slow going and more needs to be done, but said progress has been steady. Before school started in Cologne this fall, the city was able to return to local schools the last final gyms that had been serving as temporary refugee shelters.

“We’ve fulfilled all the basic requirements,” Reker said. “Now, it’s all about getting these people really integrated into our society.”

France: Macron’s party faces likely blow in Senate elections

September 24, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s unconventional political party is fighting to make its mark on the Senate in elections Sunday for half the seats in the upper house — but the results are likely to reflect mounting disenchantment with Macron’s leadership.

His centrist Republic on the Move! party, created just last year, won a large majority in the lower house of parliament in June elections, but is unlikely to do the same in the Senate. Polls suggest the conservative Republicans party will consolidate its dominance of the chamber’s 348 seats instead. Macron’s party is likely to seek alliances in the Senate with other centrists and moderate Republicans and Socialists to approve his business-friendly economic reforms.

The senators are not chosen by the public but by some 75,000 elected officials — mayors, legislators, regional and local councilors — casting ballots in town halls across the country. Results are expected Sunday night. Nearly 2,000 candidates are running for 171 Senate seats.

It’s the first time Macron’s party is competing in Senate elections since he created it to shake up French politics and attract voters tired of the status quo. The party is hoping to win 50 seats. The Senate voting system tends to give an advantage to locally rooted politicians from traditional parties, instead of candidates of Macron’s party, many of whom are political newcomers. Also, many local elected officials are upset by Macron’s plan to slash budgets of local authorities, and that could see the president’s allies getting fewer votes than might have been the case a few months ago.

The election also comes as Macron’s popularity is on the wane, just four months into his presidency. Tens of thousands of people massed in Paris on Saturday to protest changes to labor law that they fear are dismantling the French way of life — and more protests and strikes are ahead. Truckers plan blockades of streets and fuel blockades Monday.

Macron insists the changes — which reduce union powers and hand companies more freedom to lay off workers — are need to create jobs and compete globally. The lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, has the final say in French lawmaking, but Macron also needs broad support in the Senate to follow through on other major changes he has promised, notably to unemployment benefits, the pension system and the French Constitution.

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