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Posts tagged ‘Elections’

Ruling party’s candidate wins Burundi’s presidential poll

May 25, 2020

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — The candidate of Burundi’s ruling party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, has been declared the winner of the country’s presidential election. Ndayishimiye won with 69% of the vote in the election which took place on May 20, the country’s election commission announced Monday. Because he garnered more than 50% of the vote, Ndayishimiye will not have to go to a runoff election and he is expected to be inaugurated in August.

Ndayishimiye, 52, will succeed President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005. Both are from Burundi’s ruling party which has said Nkurunziza will have the title “Supreme Guide” after he steps down from the presidency. Many believe that Nkurunziza will wield considerable influence over the new president.

Seven candidates contested the election in which ballots were cast by more than 4 million voters of Burundi’s 11 million people, according to the election commission. The candidate coming in second place was Agathon Rwasa, leader of the opposition CNL, who got 24% of the vote, according to the election commission.

Rwasa said that the elections were marred by fraud with some districts reporting more votes than the number of registered voters. Rwasa also condemned the government’s action to block social media on polling day, saying it could have encouraged election fraud.

“We fully reject and protest these results because we know very well our party won,” Aime Magera, a representative of Rwasa’s CNL party told The Associated Press. Magera claimed his party won with 57% of the vote.

“We will go to court to challenge this,” Magera said. Some observers worry that disputed results could lead to the kind of violence that marked the previous vote in 2015. Ndayishimiye has been serving as the ruling party’s secretary-general and is an ally of Nkurunziza. He dropped out of university to fight alongside Nkurunziza in Burundi’s civil war. He later served as minister of interior.

“Ndayishimiye has worked for unity for many years and many Burundians have decided to give him chance,” said Desire Manirakiza in Gitega, Burundi’s capital city. Ndayishimiye is known for consulting the viewpoint of others but many political analysts say he is not expected to take any decisions different from Nkurunziza.

“He will be a clown,” said Jean Baptiste Bireha, a Burundian journalist who is in exile. Outgoing leader Nkurunziza surprised many when he agreed to step down last year. Early this year parliament agreed to award him with $530,000 and a luxury villa as well as his honorary title.

Nkurunziza rose to power in 2005 following the signing of the Arusha accords ending a 13-year civil war that killed about 300,000 people. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote. He then claimed he was eligible for a third term in 2015 — a move that critics called unconstitutional.

Street demonstrations erupted against Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. The deadly turmoil that followed badly damaged global relations, and Burundi became the first country to leave the International Criminal Court after it started investigating allegations of abuses.

The U.N. human rights office reported more than 300 extrajudicial killings and was kicked out of the country. Burundi’s government has denied allegations it targets its people. Recently the Burundi government expelled the representative of the World Health Organization.

Israel’s Netanyahu, unbeaten in elections, is going on trial

May 23, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — After entering the record books last year as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu will once again make history when he becomes the country’s first sitting leader to go on trial.

Surrounded by security guards, Netanyahu is set to march into Jerusalem’s district court for arraignment on a series of corruption charges on Sunday. The stunning scene will push Israel into uncharted political and legal territory, launching a process that could ultimately end the career of a leader who has been undefeatable at the ballot box for over a decade.

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of cases. He is accused of accepting expensive gifts, such as cartons of champagne and cigars, from wealthy friends and offering favors to media moguls in exchange for favorable news coverage of him and his family.

In the most serious case, he is accused of promoting legislation that delivered hundreds of millions of dollars of profits to the owner of a major telecom company while wielding behind-the-scenes editorial influence over the firm’s popular news website.

Netanyahu has denied the charges, claiming he is the victim of an “attempted coup” by overaggressive police, biased prosecutors and a hostile media. “It’s the classic deep state argument,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Israel’s Hebrew University. Netanyahu claims “an unelected movement is trying to remove him from power just because he is a representative of the right,” she said.

Netanyahu is not the first Israeli leader to go on trial. Both former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former President Moshe Katsav went to prison in the 2010s — Olmert on corruption charges and Katsav for rape. But they stepped down to fight the charges.

As opposition leader in 2008, Netanyahu led the calls for Olmert to leave office, famously saying a leader “up to his neck” in legal troubles had no business governing a country. But as the investigations have piled up, culminating with his indictment last November, Netanyahu has changed his tune. He has rejected calls to resign while repeatedly lashing out at the country’s legal system.

Among his favorite targets have been a former police chief and the current attorney general — both Netanyahu appointees — and the country’s Supreme Court. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recently filed a complaint to police over anonymous threats sent to his mobile phone.

Netanyahu’s conspiratorial claims of victimhood have played well with his base of religious and nationalist supporters. But it is unclear whether they will hold up in court, given the lack of evidence.

In the courtroom, the legal arguments are more likely to focus on his claims that his gifts were genuine shows of affection from close friends and that he never received anything in return for the favors he is accused of offering.

The case is expected to last for several years, given the vast number of witnesses and documents that are expected to be presented. Netanyahu has done his best to avoid this moment. During a three-year investigation, which was slowed by Netanyahu’s trips abroad and occasional security crises, he repeatedly claimed that investigators would “find nothing because there is nothing.”

He briefly tried, but failed, to win parliamentary immunity from prosecution. In March, his hand-picked justice minister delayed the trial by two months, citing coronavirus restrictions. This week, judges rejected Netanyahu’s request to stay home on Sunday and allow his lawyers to represent him. Netanyahu had argued that his presence was unnecessary and costly, and that having his security detail in the courtroom would violate social-distancing requirements.

Nonetheless, he enters the courtroom with renewed strength. After three bruising elections over the past year, Netanyahu was sworn into office this week for a fourth consecutive term. All three elections were seen as referendums on his fitness for office, and all ended in deadlock. After the most recent vote in March, his rival, Benny Gantz, appeared to have mustered enough support in parliament to pass legislation that would have disqualified Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment.

But in a stunning turnaround, Gantz, citing fears of a fourth expensive election and the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to shelve the legislation and instead form a power-sharing government with Netanyahu.

The Supreme Court cleared the way for Netanyahu to remain in power. In a key ruling, it said an indicted politician may serve as prime minister — even though Israeli law requires all other office-holders to resign if charged with a crime.

Under their deal, Netanyahu was forced to yield some powers to Gantz, with each wielding a veto over most key decisions. Gantz will hold the title of “alternate prime minister,” and after 18 months, they will swap jobs.

Talshir, the political scientist, said the agreement creates troubling conflicts of interest. Netanyahu made sure he would be involved in the appointments of key officials, including Supreme Court judges and the next attorney general, who could influence any appeals process.

“Netanyahu’s perspective all this year was interfering with his own trial,” she said. Under the deal, the alternate prime minister, like the premier, will not be required to resign due to criminal charges. That could ensure that Netanyahu remains in office throughout his trial and even into a possible appeals process.

It will also give him the opportunity to continue to attack the legal system. Netanyahu’s eldest son Yair, who often acts as his unofficial spokesman, posted a profile picture on Twitter that spells the word “prosecution” with a sewing machine as the first letter. The message: the case against the prime minister is unfairly “stitched up.”

Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said such attacks on the courts have caused great damage by persuading many Israelis to question the authority and integrity of Israel’s democratic institutions.

“It might be the most harmful thing that has happened to Israel’s democracy, this one and a half years of attacking the whole basis of the rule of law,” he said. “I hope we will have a long rehabilitation from that. But we’re not even in the start of it.”

Hong Kong lawmakers clash as pro-Beijing camp elects chair

May 18, 2020

HONG KONG (AP) — Clashes broke out in Hong Kong’s legislature Monday for a second time this month as a pro-Beijing lawmaker was elected as chair of a key committee that scrutinizes bills, ending a prolonged struggle for control with the pro-democracy camp.

The legislature’s House Committee, which vets bills and decides when to present them for a final vote, had been without a chairperson for more than six months. The central government in Beijing criticized deputy chairperson and pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok for deliberately delaying matters and causing a backlog of bills that affect public interest.

Kwok was replaced Friday by Chan Kin-por, who was appointed by the legislature’s president to preside over Monday’s election. After scuffles and shouting matches, leading to Chan ejecting most of the pro-democracy lawmakers, the election took place with pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee winning easily.

Her election will likely speed up the passing of a controversial bill that would criminalize abuse of the Chinese national anthem. Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said last week that passing the bill was a priority for the government, and the bill will be presented to the committee on May 27.

At Monday’s meeting, pro-democracy lawmakers held up placards that read “Abuse of Power” and “CCP tramples HK legislature,” referring to the China’s ruling Communist Party. Within minutes, at least five lawmakers were ejected for disorderly behavior, with at least one lying injured on the ground as the meeting was briefly suspended.

“Hong Kong is marching towards the beginning of the end of ‘one country, two systems’,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo after the meeting ended. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under a one country, two systems framework that gives Hong Kong its own legal system and greater rights than in the mainland.

Mo urged the Hong Kong people to vote out those who “don’t care about Hong Kong’s future” in the legislative elections in September. Pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan accused security guards of Hong Kong’s legislature of “losing their impartiality,” after the security guards surrounded the bench where the chairperson was seated and prevented pro-democracy lawmakers from getting close.

Lawmakers clashed over the same issue on May 8, when Lee occupied the chairperson’s seat more than an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start, saying that external legal counsel had advised that she had the power to preside over House Committee meetings.

Pro-democracy lawmakers accused her of abusing her power and staged a walkout, leaving Lee and the pro-Beijing camp to clear several bills.

Poland’s presidential vote to be in person with mail option

May 13, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers have changed the rules for the country’s postponed presidential election to make it a vote in person at polling stations with an option of voting by mail. No date for the vote has been set yet.

The changes to the electoral law that were approved late Tuesday come after the May 10 election was postponed amid political infighting over its timing during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials could not ready an all-postal vote in time and the opposition said it was not fair that their candidates could not campaign during the coronavirus lockdown while President Andrzej Duda often appeared on state television.

The vote in favor of the new electoral legislation was 244-137 with 77 abstentions. It still needs to be approved by the Senate and the president. The Parliament speaker still has to announce the new date for the election, that has to come before late July.

Duda, whose term expires on Aug. 6, is seeking reelection and leads opinion polls ahead of nine other candidates. He is required to be above party politics by law but often sides with the ruling Law and Justice party.

Israel swears in new government after 3 deadlocked elections

May 14, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) — After three deadlocked and divisive elections, and a year and a half of political paralysis, Israel was finally swearing in a new government on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu securing a historic fifth term in office thanks to a controversial power-sharing deal with rival-turned-partner Benny Gantz.

Netanyahu and Gantz, a former military chief, announced last month they would be putting their differences and animosity aside after three hard-fought campaigns to join forces to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis and its severe economic fallout.

It came at the price of the dissolution of Gantz’s Blue and White party and reneging on his key campaign promise not to serve under Netanyahu, who has been indicted of corruption charges and faces an upcoming criminal trial. Their much-scrutinized coalition deal, resulting in the most bloated government in Israeli history and potential clauses to help Netanyahu cling to power, could only come about after the country’s Supreme Court ruled it had no legal grounds to block it.

Despite the criticism, Gantz argued that teaming with Netanyahu offered the country its only way out of the prolonged stalemate and prevented Israel from being dragged once again to another costly election that would have been its fourth in just over a year.

The ceremony at parliament introducing the country’s 35th government is set to kick off late Thursday, under strict social distancing guidelines. Last-minute jockeying Thursday over Cabinet appointments could delay the event.

The deal calls for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for the government’s first 18 months before being replaced by Gantz for the next 18 months, with their blocs having a similar number of ministers and virtual veto power over the other’s major decisions.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute, said that the main achievement was the mere fact that it should allow the government to resume functioning after the longest political deadlock in Israeli history. But he said the deep distrust between the opposing camps following a prolonged campaign of aggressive, even violent, rhetoric left doubts on how they could govern together.

“The jury is still out if indeed the political deadlock is over and if we have a broad government that will exercise its authority,” he said. “The main tests of the new government are the paralysis test and the reconciliation test.”

Gantz will start out as defense minister, with party colleague and fellow retired military chief Gabi Ashkenazi serving as foreign minister. Netanyahu’s top deputy in Likud, outgoing Foreign Minister Israel Katz, will become finance minister. Yariv Levin, perhaps Netanyahu’s closest ally, will become the new parliament speaker. The coalition will also include a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and some other individual defectors to add up to 73 out of parliament’s 120 members.

The main point of contention for critics has been the newly created position of “alternate prime minister,” a post that could allow Netanyahu to remain in office even after the swap and throughout his corruption trial and a potential appeals process. There are also deep suspicions about whether Netanyahu will keep his part of the bargain and ultimately cede the premiership to Gantz.

Still, the new position is supposed to enjoy all the trappings of the prime minister, including an official residence and, key for Netanyahu, an exemption from a law that requires public officials who are not prime minister to resign if charged with a crime.

Netanyahu has been indicted with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving trading favors with wealthy media moguls. He denies any wrongdoing and blames the charges on a media-orchestrated plot to oust him. Since his indictment last fall he has repeatedly lashed out at the country’s legal system as well, with his political allies taking special aim at the high court and accusing it of overreach and political interference. His legal woes and fitness to serve were central issues in the recent election campaigns.

Another hot topic will be Netanyahu’s intention to introduce Israeli plans to annex large parts of the West Bank as early as this summer. The coalition agreement allows him to present an annexation proposal as soon as July 1. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Wednesday for a lightening-quick visit to discuss it as part of a Trump Mideast plan that envisions handing 30% of the West Bank to permanent Israeli control.

The Palestinians claim the entire West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the heartland of an independent state. Annexing chunks of this territory would likely put an end to the Palestinians’ already diminishing hopes of a two-state solution and would anger the international community, which overwhelmingly supports Palestinian statehood.

Gantz says he will only support such a move with international backing. By including two members of the more dovish Labor party in his bloc, he looks to be tempering the ambitions of Netanyahu’s nationalist base to push for annexation before the U.S. elections in November — after which Trump could be replaced by Joe Biden, who has said he opposes unilateral annexation.

Netanyahu’s plan also took a setback when his longtime religious nationalist allies, the pro-settler Yemina party, opted not to join the coalition after Netanyahu rejected its demands for key spots. Naftali Bennett, the outgoing defense minister, said in a Facebook post that Netanyahu “chose to get rid of Yemina, which was his nationalist backbone,” and that his party would serve the country from the opposition instead.

Still, Netanyahu looks to have a parliamentary majority for annexation if it comes up for a vote.

Former EU head Tusk appeals for boycott of Poland’s election

April 28, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Former European Council president Donald Tusk appealed Tuesday for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election in his native Poland, saying the postal vote the government has proposed carries health risks amid the coronavirus pandemic and would not meet democratic standards for free, equal and transparent elections.

Tusk, who served as Poland’s prime minister during 2007-2014, said in a video on Twitter that he would not “not take part in the voting procedure” for the May 10 balloting. He said the vote promoted by the right-wing ruling party “has nothing to do with an election.”

Poland’s governing Law and Justice party is pushing to have the election held as planned, arguing that an all-mail vote could take place safely. Law and Justice backs the reelection bid of President Andrzej Duda, who currently leads in opinion polls.

The candidate for the centrist Civic Platform founded by Tusk, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, said she would not take part in the vote, either. Despite the ruling party’s determination, the election could be held up. A bill regulating the proposed postal balloting is pending in the Senate and may not come to final vote until May 7. The opposition and a faction inside the government are in talks about postponing the vote.

The European Union parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have also spoken against holding the election during the pandemic. Poland’s influential Roman Catholic bishops issued a carefully worded appeal to Law and Justice and opposition parties, asking them to “seek such solutions through dialogue that would raise no legal doubts” and would respect the democratic principles of “free and honest elections.”

Judge restores New York Democratic presidential primary

May 06, 2020

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Democratic presidential primary must take place June 23 because canceling it would be unconstitutional and deprive withdrawn presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang of proper representation at the Democratic convention, a judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan ruled after lawyers for Sanders and Yang argued Monday that they otherwise would be harmed irreparably. The judge said there was enough time before the primary to plan how to carry it out safely. She acknowledged that the reason it was canceled — to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — was an important state interest but said she was unconvinced it justified infringing rights, especially since every voter can use an absentee ballot. She noted that no other state had canceled its primary.

Torres wrote that removing presidential contenders from the primary ballot deprived them of votes for the Democratic Party’s nomination. She said it also diminished the delegates’ influence on the party’s platform and their ability to react to unexpected convention developments.

It also “deprived Democratic voters of the opportunity to elect delegates who could push their point of view in that forum,” she said. “The loss of these First Amendment rights is a heavy hardship.” The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted last week to cancel the presidential primary even though New York still planned to hold its congressional and state-level primaries June 23.

They cited fears the coronavirus could spread among an extra 1.5 million voters who would show up for an election in which former Vice President Joe Biden already has been endorsed by the major candidates he had faced.

The fact that the primary was going to occur on June 23 anyway because of other contested races, including a number of congressional primaries, led Torres to question on Monday why the primary wasn’t canceled entirely if safety was such a concern.

Asked for reaction, New York state Democratic party chair Jay Jacobs said: “We are reviewing it.” Jacobs had called holding the primary “unnecessary” with the suspension of Sanders’ campaign and said reduced turnout could reduce the need for many poll workers.

State board of elections spokesman John Conklin said: “No comment at this time. Our lawyers are reviewing the decision.” Biden’s campaign declined to comment. The campaign has kept its distance from the situation, not wanting to become embroiled in a new fight over nearly 300 delegates to the summer convention and saying the campaign didn’t ask for the primary to be scrapped.

Biden became the presumptive nominee when Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign last month, but Sanders had made clear that he wanted to continue collecting delegates from remaining primaries, including in New York, to maximize his influence over the party platform and other decisions at the Democratic convention this summer.

Biden’s campaign did not want to be seen as stepping on Sanders’ efforts to do that in a state like New York, where the Vermont senator maintains a significant following. Sanders’ allies celebrated the ruling.

“Credit to Andrew Yang and all the grassroots groups that have been carrying on the fight for democracy in New York,” said Larry Cohen, who chairs Our Revolution, the grassroots organization spun out of Sanders’ 2016 White House bid. “Vote by mail is the answer to the pandemic,” Cohen continued, “not canceling the presidential primary when more than 80% of democrats have other elections the same day.”

Sanders’ representatives, in a statement forwarded by attorney Arthur Schwartz, who argued before Torres, called the decision “an extraordinary victory for the democratic process here in New York, a state much in need of something to cheer about.”

Attorney Jeff Kurzon, representing Yang and Congressional candidate Jonathan Herzog, said he was thankful that the judge upheld the laws and protected the right to vote. “We are fired up and up and ready to go vote on June 23!,” he wrote in an email.

Associated Press Writer Bill Barrow reported from Atlanta and Marina Villeneuve reported from Albany.

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