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Foreign Elections Thread - Currently: Do-Over in Istanbul

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I thought I would set up a thread to talk about foreign elections, as I don't think there's really a good thread here to talk about these.  Here are ten identified by the Council of Foreign Relations as ones to watch in 2019.

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Nigerian General Election, February 16. Roughly 60 percent of Nigeria’s 190 million citizens were born after 1990, but many of its leading politicians were born before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. A “Ready to Run” campaign is supporting young people seeking seats in the federal and state legislatures. “Ready to Run” follows on the “Not Too Young to Run” campaign, which helped persuade President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seventy-five, to sign a law lowering the age requirement for presidential candidates from forty to thirty-five and for gubernatorial candidates from thirty-five to thirty. So far, though, the change hasn’t remade the field of presidential candidates. Buhari is seeking reelection under the banner of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC). It is not clear, however, that he enjoys the party’s full support; nearly five dozen legislators have defected from the APC in recent months to protest his leadership. Nigeria’s major opposition parties have backed Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who is seventy-two. A lot is at stake. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, its largest economy, and its largest oil producer. It continues to be plagued by internal violence, however, and its unemployment rate hovers around 19 percent. Falling oil prices are only intensifying those troubles.

Ukrainian Presidential Election, March 31. Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election raised hopes that the country had turned an important corner in its short, troubled history. But sadly, Ukraine remains plagued by corruption, political and economic uncertainty, a Russian-sponsored insurrection, and disagreement over whether its future lies with the West or Russia. The two leading contenders this time around are familiar faces: incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who finished second in 2014. The public doesn’t seem keen on either candidate. Poroshenko is taking a nationalist line with slogans like “Army! Language! Faith! We are Ukraine." Tymoshenko proposes turning Ukraine into a parliamentary republic. A long-shot candidate is Anatoliy Hrytsenko, a former defense minister. He hopes to unify several small opposition parties. Looming over the election is Russia. It seized three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Azov Sea in late November, raising fears it plans to intensify direct and indirect military pressure on Ukraine. Even if the guns remain silent, the Kremlin might find other ways to meddle. Ukraine has established a body to identify and hopefully prevent Russian interference. Whoever wins in March will face an old set of problems.

India’s Lok Sabha, or Lower House, parliamentary election in April or May. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rode an electoral landslide into power back in 2014, ending decades of coalition government in Delhi. Modi is hoping to recapture that magic in 2019. But his popularity has waned among some of his core voting blocs, like farmers, as he has been slow to deliver on his many big promises. An effort to overhaul India’s healthcare system to increase access and reduce costs has bogged down, and he hasn’t been able to improve India’s relationships with either China or Pakistan. Just this week the BJP lost three state elections. The big winner in those votes was the Congress Party, which hopes that 2019 will mark its comeback election on the national level. To reclaim control of the Lok Sabha, which it once routinely dominated, the Congress Party is promising to help farmers and create jobs. The party’s leader, Rahul Gandhi—the son, grandson, and great grandson of Indian prime ministers—is also building alliances with regional parties with an eye toward building a coalition government. Regardless of which parties carry the day when all the votes are counted, the Indian election remains a wonder. More than 850 million people are eligible to vote—that’s more than twice the entire population of the United States—and they will cast their ballots at some 800,000 polling stations, using some 1.3 million voting machines.

Indonesian Presidential Election, April 17. The upcoming Indonesian presidential election will look a lot like the 2014 vote. Incumbent President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, is set to square off against the man he defeated, former Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto. Expect the mudslinging that characterized the 2014 election to resurface. But more is at stake than personal differences. Indonesia is the world’s third largest democracy. It’s also a young democracy, grappling with the challenges of knitting together the interests and perspectives of more than 260 million people spread across more than 17,000 islands. Jokowi remains popular, even though he has failed to deliver on many of his promises to improve governance and protect human rights. He has named a conservative Muslim cleric, Ma’ruf Amin, as his running mate. Amin has been accused of promoting intolerance of ethnic, religious, and social minority groups. Prabowo has formed strong bonds with Islamist groups that hold considerable sway over public opinion. His stances on democracy and human rights draw comparisons to those of Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines. Appeals to sectarianism and cries of “fake news” will likely dominate the headlines as the election nears.

Afghanistan Presidential Election, April 20 [ETA: Postponed to September 28]. Afghanistan’s forthcoming presidential election hardly calls for optimism. October’s parliamentary elections were held three years late and were hampered by electoral fraud. Making matters worse, Taliban attacks killed more than one hundred thirty people trying to cast their votes. That didn’t stop President Ashraf Ghani, who wants a second term, from calling the elections a “historic success.” More broadly, Afghanistan’s security situation has worsened in recent years. The Taliban effectively controls as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, even with fifteen thousand U.S. troops in the country. The Trump administration is trying to pursue peace talks. Ghani is onboard with the idea, even showing a willingness to accept the Taliban as a political party. But with their advances on the ground, Taliban leaders may prefer to wait the United States out. While Afghani powerbrokers are still jockeying over who will square off against Ghani for the presidency, the more important question will likely be whether Afghanistan can hold a free, fair, and safe election in 2019—or any election at all.

European Parliament Election, May 23-26. Not too long ago the European Union (EU) was projected to run the twenty-first century. Now serious people talk about whether it might collapse. It certainly faces a long list of problems: a growing rift with the United States; rising illiberalism in central Europe; an increasing possibility of a “hard Brexit”; a brewing budget confrontation between Rome and Brussels; mounting political unrest in France; and declining enthusiasm to rejuvenate EU institutions. All of those trends could tip the outcome of the European Parliament (EP) elections. The EP has been around since 1952, though it remains the perhaps the weakest of the EU’s institutions. But it does have the ultimate say in selecting the new president of the European Commission, the EU’s real powerhouse. The incumbent European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says he will not seek reelection. With many of Europe’s mainstream parties foundering in recent years and with populism on the rise across the continent, the EP elections may catapult what were once fringe parties to center stage. A critical question is how many Europeans will vote. Some 500 million EU citizens are eligible, but turnout has averaged less than 50 percent since 1999. And because the United Kingdom is (presumably) leaving the EU in March, the EP will have fewer seats in 2019, 705 instead of 751.

South African General Election, Between May and August. Will the African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, lose its hold on power in 2019? A year ago that seemed possible.  Incumbent President Jacob Zuma faced a long list of corruption allegations and had failed to deliver on promises to make South Africa a safer and more equal society. Although the ANC’s lead role in the fight against apartheid had enabled it to dominate South Africa’s post-apartheid politics, Zuma’s performance had taken a toll on the party’s reputation. Support for the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had increased, though both still lagged lag far behind the ANC nationally. Then in February 2018, the ANC pushed out Zuma in favor of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The move looks smart in retrospect. The ANC’s popularity has rebounded as the result of what’s been called “Ramaphoria,” making Ramaphosa the odds-on favor to win a term on his own. If that happens, he will have a full inbox. One immediate problem is South Africa’s ongoing economic recession, which he is seeking to end in part by soliciting billions in foreign direct investment from countries like China and Saudi Arabia. And Ramaphosa and South Africa will continue to grapple with problems of inequality, racism, and corruption that have endured well past the end of apartheid.

Argentine General Election, October. Bill Clinton’s slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” fits the mood in Argentina these days. Unemployment is nearly 10 percent, inflation is expected to surpass 30 percent, interest rates top 60 percent, and the overall economy is shrinking. President Mauricio Macri recently secured a $57 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the largest in IMF history, in a bid to ease the economic pain. Macri isn’t the first Argentine president to turn to the IMF for help, but Argentines thought they were escaping economic hardship when they elected the businessman-turned-politician back in 2015. Not surprisingly, Macri’s public approval ratings have sunk as Argentina’s economic woes have mounted, raising doubts that he can win a second term. The question is, who will emerge as his main challenger? He or she will almost certainly to be a Peronist or Peronist affiliate, the political force that has dominated Argentine politics for seven decades. Former President and current Senator Cristina Kirchner is eyeing a return to the Casa Rosada, but she helped create the economic mess Macri was elected to clean up and she has been charged with accepting bribes when she was president (though she can’t be imprisoned even if convicted as long as she holds elected office). Whoever Argentines pick in October won’t lack for problems to fix.

Canadian Federal Election, October 21. Justin Trudeau won a stunning victory in 2015. His Liberal Party gained 150 seats, the largest turnaround in Canadian history, and with it a parliamentary majority. Three years later, both Trudeau and the Liberals have seen their approval ratings fall; nearly 60 percent of Canadians say they want a different party in power. Those poll numbers don’t necessarily mean the Liberals are headed back into the political wilderness. Canada, like the United States, uses a first-past-the-post voting system, so vote shares don’t translate directly into parliamentary seats. The Liberals won their current parliamentary majority with just 39.5 percent of the vote. But opposition parties see an opportunity and are seizing it. The Conservatives won elections in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, this summer, ending fifteen years of Liberal rule. Meanwhile, a new center-right party took power in Quebec this fall. The Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, will likely make the Liberals’ proposals to deal with climate change a central part of their platform. Maxime Bernier, a former foreign affairs minister who narrowly lost the race to be Conservative leader, founded a new political party in August. His People’s Party of Canada may become a footnote in history, or it could split the conservative vote, to the benefit of the Liberals.

Israeli Legislative Election, Before November 5. [ETA: MOVED TO APRIL 5.] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until November to call for elections. But a vote could come sooner. Just last month Israel narrowly avoided early elections after one party quit the six-party governing coalition, and another almost did, over disagreements about how to respond to attacks launched from Gaza. And that’s just one of several issues dividing the coalition. Netanyahu’s Likud Party currently holds just thirty of the 120 seats in the Knesset, so keeping the government together requires a delicate balancing act. Further complicating matters, Israeli police have recommended that the country’s attorney general charge Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases. The threat of prosecution hasn’t dimmed the prime minister’s optimism; he thinks Likud could gain seats in a new election, saying that “35 is possible, 40 is the goal.” But Netanyahu doesn’t lack for challengers. He is a divisive, polarizing figure in an era where Israeli politics is being defined by a shift to the right and a weakening of the Israeli left. Whenever elections are called, expect Netanyahu to highlight his national security experience and close ties to President Donald Trump, who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year.

 

 

Edited by Don Quixote
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Also seeing the first impacts of Bolsonaro's win last year, in which has taken some pretty strong measures early in his tenure.

What the first days of Bolsonaro’s presidency say about the direction he will take Brazil

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By Marina Lopes and
Anthony Faiola January 5


SAO PAULO — Brazil’s jolt to the right in the three days since President Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration has been faster and more severe than even his critics may have anticipated.

Since Tuesday, he has eradicated the country’s Labor Ministry, ordered monitoring of nongovernment and international organizations, undermined indigenous rights and excluded the LGBT community from explicit protection by the Human Rights Ministry.

“I come before the nation today, a day in which the people have rid themselves of socialism, of inversion of values, of statism and political correctness,” the former army officer said in his inauguration speech. Hours later, the first tremors of change were felt from Brasilia, the nation’s capital, as Bolsonaro signed a decree granting farmers eager to access protected lands the authority to decide which indigenous territories merit recognition by the federal government, a move widely expected to increase logging in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro’s speedy moves to reward the base that got him elected — enacting populist policies through executive orders, at little political cost — recall the early days of President Trump’s tenure.

Trump also vowed a litany of moves on Day 1 of his presidency, including a federal hiring freeze and withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Some of those promises were left for later or abandoned, but the president made headlines by signing a number of orders and directives that signaled to his base that he meant business.

Similarly, Bolsonaro has made a showy flourish of his first days and signaled even bolder acts to come. The new president plans to loosen restrictions on gun ownership, cut the number of government employees by 30 percent and shut down the agency responsible for diversity in the Education Ministry.

In Brasilia, where the leftist Workers’ Party governed for 14 years, men on scaffolds this week slowly removed the letters on the sign of the now extinct Labor Ministry. 

The scene was surreal in a country once hailed as a bastion of the global left. But much has changed since Brazil’s most popular president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, left office with an 87 percent approval rating eight years ago. The country sank into its worst-ever recession, a corruption investigation decimated its political class and a crime wave led to record homicides. Lula now leads a disorganized and dispirited opposition from jail, where he is serving 12 years for corruption. 

The result was an outpouring of popular anger that catapulted Bolsonaro to the presidency. And the swing to the right he promised in response appears set to be the sharpest Brazil has seen since the end of its military dictatorship almost 35 years ago. 

“It is the other face of radicalization, the other side of the Workers’ Party,” said Marcelo Kfoury Muinhos, an economics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo.

Bolsonaro and Trump have expressed mutual admiration. But the tie may have significant limits. Bolsonaro is likely to back Trump on some global and regional issues, such as climate change and Venezuela.

However, he is unlikely to fully embrace other causes that hold more risk for Brazil, particularly the U.S.-led campaign to pressure China on trade policy. 

In a television interview this week, Bolsonaro said he would be open to discussing establishing U.S. military bases in Brazil to contain Russian interference in Venezuela. Just a decade ago, by contrast, Lula sought to foster regional independence from the United States by building out organizations like the Southern Common Market, the South American trade bloc known as Mercosul, and the New Development Bank.

“Count me as one of the skeptics that this going to amount to more than theater and rhetoric,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a D.C.-based think tank. “They may do a lot of posturing and grandstanding together that will make them feel good and tough and like powerful guys. But what does that amount to in the end? I don’t know that this is the kind of romance that leads to anything concrete.”

Bolsonaro’s finance minister, Paulo Guedes, a libertarian and University of Chicago-educated economist, said he plans on undoing 40 years of bad investments and statism in four years of government. That could mean enacting significant cuts to the country’s budget and pension system — cuts that economists say are needed to pull Brazil out of recession. Investors lauded the plan and the Sao Paulo stock market closed at a record high on the news. 

But delivering on the broader anti-corruption and economic reforms Bolsonaro has pledged will take more than the stroke of a pen. He will need broad support from Congress to deliver on promises such as shrinking Brazil’s budget and selling off government assets. 

Yet with the left in disarray, even Bolsonaro’s more controversial reforms may get the green light. His once-fringe Social Liberal Party won the second-highest number of seats in the lower house and struck a deal this week expected to unite center-right and center parties on its platform. 

To be sure, some of Bolsonaro’s more extreme campaign promises on security, like giving police officers license to kill on the job without being prosecuted, face stiff opposition and would prove nearly impossible to implement. But by simply giving such ideas airtime, analysts say, he is amplifying their power nationally. Police violence in Rio de Janeiro, for example, spiked 38 percent last year when Bolsonaro’s campaign was in full gear. 

“Everything Bolsonaro has said about security would face huge institutional barriers for implementation,” said Maurício Santoro, a professor of political science at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, “but his simple presence in the presidency — having a president who delivers this kind of discourse — could lead to more violence by officers who feel protected not just by the president, but by society as a whole.”

 

 

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Israel election was moved up to April, with speculation that it was done by Netanyahu to avoid him being indicted before the election.  

Israeli attorney general’s Comey-like bind: Whether to go public in Netanyahu probe before the election

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By Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash January 5

JERUSALEM — As Israel tees up for early elections, one question is on everyone’s mind: Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted before the vote? 

With police recommending that the Israeli leader be charged in three corruption cases, the decision on whether to go ahead now lies in the hands of one man: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. And the pressure on him is mounting. 

Mandelblit is in a bind that recalls the lose-lose decision then-FBI Director James B. Comey faced over the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

If the attorney general lays out his conclusions in the corruption probe against Netanyahu before the April 9 vote, he will be accused of improperly influencing the electoral process.  

If he waits until afterward, he could draw criticism for improperly withholding information from voters.

Netanyahu, who is widely thought to have called early elections to in a bid to avoid indictment before the vote, has much riding on a delay in the legal process. If he is reelected, he could argue that he has the public’s support despite the allegations. And if he survives until July, he will become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, overtaking the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.

Netanyahu has vehemently asserted his innocence, dismissing the investigations with his often-repeated mantra, “There will be nothing because there is nothing.” 

But the corruption allegations that long swirled around him have solidified. Top aides are now state’s witnesses. Police recommend that he be charged with fraud, bribery and breach of trust. In one case, he is accused of accepting bribes in relation to gifts worth $300,000 from wealthy business executives. In the most serious case, he is suspected of influencing regulatory decisions that netted hundreds of millions of dollars for the telecommunications company Bezeq in return for favorable coverage on a news site it owned.  

Mandelblit could decide there is insufficient evidence to proceed, or he could decide to indict — although in the latter case, a hearing would first be held in which the prime minister’s attorneys could put forward a defense, a process that could drag on for months. 

“He’s in a quandary,” said Guy Lurie, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. “You need to keep the prosecution nonpolitical, and the decision he takes and the time frame should remain nonpolitical and professional.”

Doing that requires maintaining a distance from the election process, Lurie said. “But the issue here is the public has the right to know, and the attorney general has this obligation towards the public.” At the same time, he noted, “he also has an obligation to the suspects, who have the right to a fair criminal proceeding and fair trial.”

Those considerations “don’t push in the same direction,” he said. 

At stake is the reputation of the office itself, which risks being politicized in an ugly and polarized climate. 

Returning from a trip to Brazil on Thursday night, Netanyahu posted a video clip in which he denounced “thuggish and inhumane” pressure on the attorney general from the left wing and the media. 

“They are trying to force the attorney general to intervene crudely in the elections by summoning me to a hearing, when it is known in advance that the hearing cannot be completed by the elections,” he said. 

The vitriol is seeping onto the streets. 

“Mandelblit is a collaborator,” read freshly sprayed graffiti on a wall alongside Israel’s coastal highway this past week after reports that he is moving to indict. 

Two weeks earlier, the grave of Mandelblit’s father was desecrated.

But others have praised the jurist. “Boom! Bibi is finished,” tweeted former prime minister Ehud Barak, who has called for Netanyahu’s resignation. “Scoop: Mandelblit is growing a spine.” 

Whatever Mandelblit decides, “it will tear the country apart,” said Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “There’s that democratic perspective that the public should know, but Netanyahu will always spin it, saying: ‘It’s the liberal, left-leaning elite that wants to oust me. They can’t do it in the voting booth, so they are doing it in the legal system.’ ” 

Netanyahu’s attorneys have said that indicting him, pending a hearing, before the election would be “inconceivable” because the public would not hear the case for his defense until after the election and the attorney general may be persuaded by it. “There have been many cases where hearing the answers of the other side led to the case being closed,” a statement from his attorneys said. 

David Amsalem, coalition chairman and one of Netanyahu’s closest allies, called the prospect of an indictment “madness” and an apparent coup attempt by the attorney general’s office and the police. 

Mandelblit has responded that those attacking state institutions are seeking “to undermine the deepest foundations of the rule of law.” 

“Only the evidence will speak,” he said Thursday at a conference in Haifa. There is “one compass that guides our path — the good of the country.” 

When he was appointed attorney general two years ago, Mandelblit was widely seen as a Netanyahu ally. A right-wing Orthodox Jew, he served as the chief military advocate general before becoming cabinet secretary in Netanyahu’s government in 2013. 

But political analysts consider it likely that he will bring at least some charges against the prime minister. “With so many cases and so much evidence, he can’t dismiss all of them,” Hazan said. 

Netanyahu has said that he will not quit if he is indicted. Under the law, he is not explicitly required to do so unless convicted. And if he makes it to the election and wins a new term, his fifth, he could argue that he has been given a new mandate by the public despite the cases, refuse to step down and perhaps even try to push through a change to the law that prevents the indictment of a sitting prime minister.   

A majority of Israelis, 51 percent, said Netanyahu should have to resign if he is indicted pending a hearing before the elections, according to a poll commissioned by the Jerusalem Post this past week. But Netanyahu needs to win only a plurality to stay in office. Some 34 percent of respondents said he should not have to resign if indicted ahead of the vote.

A poll by the Israeli daily Maariv shows Netanyahu’s Likud party winning 30 seats and remaining the largest party in the Knesset even if the prime minister is indicted. Still, analysts say, even some die-hard Likud supporters are likely to balk at electing an indicted leader. 

If Netanyahu were to win despite an indictment, he would still need to form a coalition, and other political players are sensing weakness. 

Former cabinet minister Gideon Saar has announced he will run in Likud primaries. Netanyahu’s right-wing education minister and justice minister — Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, respectively — have split from their current bloc to form a new party. 

“These are all people that are smelling that Netanyahu is not going to survive much longer and positioning themselves for a leadership battle in the right wing,” Hazan said. 

 

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Some interesting stuff going on in Congo.  Government moves to delay elections results, and cut off internet service, have given rise to fear of manipulation of the results and possible unrest if the results end up in favor of the government.

As Congo delays election results, people’s suspicions rise

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KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — As Congo anxiously awaits the outcome of the presidential election, many in the capital, Kinshasa, say they are convinced the opposition won and that the delay in announcing results is allowing manipulation in favor of the ruling party.

Since the Dec. 30 vote, the government has cut internet service in this vast Central African country to prevent speculation on social media about who won, and blocked some radio stations. But it cannot stop lively debate on the ground.

We are the voters, we know who we have voted for and we know the opposition has won,” said Hubert Mende, 55, a teacher. “Only Martin Fayulu or Felix Tshisekedi’s names can be accepted. If the official result does not reflect the truth, there will be a crisis,” he added, as a crowd of two dozen people at a newsstand nodded.

False results will be taken as a “declaration of war against the people,” said Heritier Bono, 25, a motorcycle taxi driver. “The reaction will not be only in Kinshasa, it will be all over the country.”

Congo’s electoral commission on Sunday announced an indefinite delay in releasing the first results of the vote, frustrating many in this country that is rich in the minerals key to the world’s smartphones, laptops and electric cars. The election itself was delayed for more than two years, sparking sometimes violent protests as people called on President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, to step aside.

Many have seen this election as Congo’s first chance at a democratic, peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

Amid fears of unrest in recent days, the U.S. has deployed some 80 military personnel to the region to protect U.S. citizens and diplomatic assets in Congo from possible “violent demonstrations.”...

 

Edited by Don Quixote

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I may be the only one who is interested in this sort of stuff, but I'll keep the updates going...

Minor victory in Congo that one of the opposition leaders (Tsisekedi) was declared the winner, but not the opposition leader (Fayulu) who was the favorite in the polls, and who neutral observers had said won the election.  Lots of rumors going around that Tsiskedi made a deal with Kabila (the outgoing President who was term-limited out of office, and had delayed the election), after Kabila realized that his favored candidate was going to get trounced.  May lead to a lot more continued uncertainty.

Opposition leader declared winner in Congo election

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Shock victory by Tshisekedi is rejected by rivals and could prolong political crisis


 The Democratic Republic of Congo named opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi as the winner of last month’s contentious presidential election, in an announcement that was rejected by other opposition candidates and could prolong the country’s dangerous political crisis.

The head of the country’s election commission said in the early hours of Thursday that Mr Tshisekedi had won the delayed election with about 39 per cent of the vote, defeating another opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who finished second, and President Joseph Kabila’s chosen successor Emmanuel Shadary, who finished third.

Mr Tshisekedi’s surprise victory followed statements this week from his party that it had met with Mr Kabila’s representatives to discuss a transition, stoking reports that the two sides had reached a deal to block Mr Fayulu from power.

The country’s powerful organisation of Catholic bishops, which ran the biggest election monitoring mission, told diplomats last week that Mr Fayulu was in an unassailable lead. It publicly warned the election commission, widely believed to be aligned with the government, not to distort the results.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French foreign minister, on Thursday cast doubts on Mr Tshisekedi’s victory. “We must have clarity on these results, which are the opposite to what we expected,” Mr Le Drian told CNews, according to Reuters. “The Catholic Church of Congo did its tally and announced completely different results.”

While Mr Tshisekedi thanked Mr Kabila for his backing, Mr Fayulu refused to accept the result and called on election observers to reveal “who really was our people’s choice”.

The mistrust generated by the delayed announcement of results and the rumoured backroom dealing has turned what might have looked like a momentous victory for Congo’s biggest opposition party into a potentially explosive scenario, said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at the Center on International Cooperation, a New York think-tank.

“This is a relatively volatile, unpredictable situation,” Mr Stearns said. “Tshisekedi’s victory goes against what the Catholic Church is reported to have said in private, and is likely to be contested by many in the opposition. The looming question for many remains: was there a deal struck between Tshisekedi and Kabila to enable this victory?”

Congo has never had a transfer of power via the ballot box and many of its 80m people appeared desperate for change as they queued to place their ballots on December 30.

In office since 2001, Mr Kabila was due to step down in 2016 but delayed elections and held on to power, sparking violent protests in which dozens died. Under domestic and international pressure Mr Kabila agreed to step down in August, naming the former interior minister, Mr Shadary, to run in his place....
 

 

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Moldova's Elections Could Shift the Country's Focus East

>>Highlights

A Moldovan presidential election at the beginning of 2019 could shift the country further into Russia's orbit.

While Moldova is unlikely to pivot away from the European Union completely, the results of the election could freeze or reverse the integration process with the European bloc.

In a bid to diversify its political and economic relationships, Moldova could strive to strengthen ties with other regional players, such as Turkey and China, after the polls.

As the Russia-West standoff continues unabated over Ukraine, a lesser-known — yet no less intense — competition is playing out between Moscow and the West over next-door Moldova. While it pales in comparison to the size and population of Ukraine (Moldova has roughly 3.3 million people in a territory the size of Maryland), its small stature belies its significance. Now, parliamentary polls in February could do much to shift the balance in this standoff in favor of Russia.

A Stomping Ground for Empires

The country's location in the lowlands of Eastern Europe between the Black Sea and the Carpathian Mountains has made it a strategic attraction to larger powers and empires over the years, including the Russians, the Ottomans and the Germans. The area that Moldova inhabits, known as the Bessarabian gap, has been used as an invasion route from Russia into Southeastern Europe and vice versa.

In modern times, Moldova has largely fallen into Russia's sphere of influence. The territory was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the early 19th century and spent most of the 20th as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in the USSR. In the post-Soviet era, Moldova has been swinging between the East and the West, oscillating between Russia and the European Union (particularly Romania, which has close ethnic, linguistic and historical ties to the area). The country aligned with Russia under the Communist Party in the initial post-Soviet years, but a pro-European coalition came into power in 2009. The Euromaidan uprising in Ukraine in 2014 pushed Moldova deeper toward the pro-EU camp, but corruption scandals have weakened the pro-EU coalition, facilitating the rise of the Socialist Party, whose leader Igor Dodon won the presidential elections in 2016. As it stands now, Moldova is divided between a pro-Russian president and a pro-European Parliament.

The Power Behind the Throne

Now, another election is looming in Moldova. After 10 years of parliamentary rule under a pro-European coalition, Dodon and the Socialists are poised to consolidate their power in the Feb. 24, 2019, polls. Indeed, surveys from early September give the Socialists a hefty lead at 36.6 percent, while the pro-European Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) trails in a distant second at 11.9 percent. The ruling pro-European Democratic Party has fallen to 11.2 percent, while another Westward-looking party, Dignity and Truth, sits at 10.6 percent.

The polls reflect a roughly even split between the pro-Russian Socialists and three pro-European parties, but there is more than meets the eye. Though the Democratic Party trails far behind the Socialists, its leader is oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who wields considerable power behind the scenes in the capital, Chisinau. Plahotniuc and the Democrats are nominally pro-European, but a corruption scandal and several political maneuvers have alienated the Democrats from other pro-European parties in the country, as well as the bloc itself. Those incidents include the theft of $1 billion from Moldova's largest banks and political maneuverings to revamp the electoral system, as well as the freezing of EU funding for the country after Moldovan authorities invalidated the winner of Chisinau's mayoral elections on a technicality.

Recent polls reflect a roughly even split between Moldova's pro-Russian Socialists and three pro-European parties, but there is more than meets the eye.

ccordingly, the Democrats could align with the Socialists, instead of the other pro-European parties, after the elections, shifting Moldova's foreign policy orientation away from the European Union and toward Russia. Such a realignment would be driven less by foreign policy ideology than political pragmatism, especially as Plahotniuc is well-aware that his political survival could depend on sidelining the PAS and Truth and Dignity, two non-systemic opposition parties whose leaders have called for his imprisonment and his party's dissolution due to alleged corruption. Regardless of the reasons underpinning such a foreign policy realignment, the implications would be significant — not only because it could mark the de facto end of Chisinau's push toward EU integration but also because it could rearrange Moldova's political and economic ties with several key regional actors.

Advantage Russia

The country that stands to gain most from such an arrangement is Russia. Chisinau and Moscow have experienced strained relations since the emergence of Moldova's pro-European government, and particularly since Moldova signed the Association and Free Trade Agreement with the European Union in 2014. The move prompted Russia to halt agricultural imports from Moldova, whose leading exports are farm goods such as fruit, cereals and wine. But since coming to power, Dodon has criticized the country's integration efforts with the European Union and NATO and pursued closer ties with Russia, acquiring observer status in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Until now, the pro-European Parliament led by Prime Minister Pavel Filip has stymied Dodon's efforts to bring Moldova politically and economically closer to Russia, but this resistance could weaken after February's parliamentary elections. While Dodon and Plahotniuc would be loath to completely abandon ties with the European Union (the country ships 70 percent of its exports to the bloc), they could freeze or reverse the EU integration process, gradually chipping away at Moldova's ties to the union in favor of Russia. The European Union has already frozen much of its financial assistance to Moldova over controversial electoral changes effectively overseen by Plahotniuc, who was trying to maintain his power behind the scenes and keep rivals such as Dignity and Truth leader Andrei Nastase and PAS leader Maia Sandu at bay. And the elections could open the door to tighter political and economic ties with Russia.

Moldova's potential reorientation could also benefit other non-Western countries, namely Turkey and China. While Turkey is not as big a trading partner as the European Union and Russia, it has participated in symbolic economic projects in the country, including the renovation of the presidential palace, and it has reportedly invested in a sports stadium and one of Moldova's largest banks. Moldova's autonomous Gagauzia region, a largely pro-Russian area whose population is predominantly Orthodox and Turkish, has also been the focus of Ankara's investment. After Dodon's push for an official Turkish visit, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to visit Moldova on Oct. 17-18. A few weeks before Moldovan authorities had detained seven Turkish teachers who worked for a school linked to Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding Turkey's July 2016 coup attempt, before extraditing them to Turkey. The warm ties between Chisinau and Ankara could foster even closer relations after the elections if the Socialists and the Democrats perform well.

China is another country that could benefit from a freeze or reversal of Moldova's EU integration. Unlike the bloc, China does not attach political conditions for democracy and human rights to economic cooperation, and Eastern Europe has been a focal point for Beijing within its Belt and Road Initiative. Though Moldova's small size and largely agrarian economy do not make it a particularly attractive country to China for large-scale investment, its strategic location between Russia and the European Union could pique Beijing's interest in terms of infrastructure development. Previous Moldovan efforts to obtain Chinese financial assistance have fallen flat — in part due to objections from the International Monetary Fund, which viewed Chinese financing as mutually exclusive — but a new government could attempt to woo Beijing once more.

Looking Ahead

Moldova's upcoming polls thus offer the potential for significant foreign policy and economic shifts in the country's post-election environment. However, its poor business and investment climate — whether due to corruption concerns, its small market or problems with the breakaway territory of Transdniestria — will complicate Chisinau's efforts to fully diversify away from its decadelong orientation toward Brussels. Instead, Moldova could enter a gray zone, where a country does not orient itself heavily toward any one country or bloc but rather engages with multiple actors to get the best of all worlds.

Such nonalignment might just suffice for Moscow. Russia's primary goal is to ensure that the countries in its borderlands steer clear of active integration with Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO. A halt, if not a reversal, of Moldova's Western integration would represent a significant victory for Russia, particularly after the European Union reinvigorated its integration efforts with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia after the Euromaidan uprising. For the moment, Moldova's upcoming election is likely to confirm the country's deep polarization — as well as tip the scales from the West toward the East.<<

 

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Algeria: Thousands expected to take part in anti-Bouteflika march

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African country rocked by an unprecedented wave of protests over Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term in office.

Algerians on Friday will take part in what are expected to be the biggest protests in decades.

The demonstrations - dubbed the Million Man March - follow week-long protests in more than 30 cities against incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's reelection bid for a fifth term in office. 

Elected president in 1999, Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a serious stroke in 2013.

The 81-year-old's last official trip abroad dates back to January 2012 when he travelled to neighbouring Tunisia to participate in the one-year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings that overthrew long-standing ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali among others.

Algeria protests: Students rally against president (1:18)

Authorities were taken aback by the scale of the protests that erupted on February 22 which called on the ailing president to withdraw his candidacy. 

Protesters also chanted slogans against the president's brother, Said, who opponents say is running the country from behind the scenes.

Hasni Abidi, a Geneva-based political analyst, said the demonstrations marked a turning point in the history of Africa's biggest country.

"For the first time, we are witnessing protests in all of Algeria's main cities concentrated on a single issue: the withdrawal of the president's candidacy," Abidi said.

"In my opinion, this fifth term has managed to unify and bring together Algerians from different walks of life."

Mouwatana, an opposition group made out of several political parties and civil-society actors, also held a rally last Sunday in the capital Algiers, as well as in Paris.

On Wednesday, university students marched in campuses across the country, demanding the president's resignation and an end to the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party's hold on power.

Obscure centres of power

Algeria's political system is so opaque that analysts disagree on who really wields power.

The military, seen as one of the most powerful and well organised in Africa, has long played an important role in politics.

In 1991, the People's National Army (ALN) staged a coup d'etat, depriving the Islamic Salvation Front party (FIS) of a near-certain electoral victory, resulting in a decade-long civil war.

Bouteflika was brought in to head a transition period in 1999.

Since assuming power, analysts say the octogenarian managed to bring the military under the presidency's fold and restore a semblance of civilian control.

In 2015, for example, the country's powerful intelligence chief, General Mohamed Mediene, or Toufik as he is better known, who ran the secretive DRS intelligence agency for more than 20 years, was controversially dismissed. 

But the firing of about a dozen generals in 2018 reignited speculation about whether the army itself was divided in its support of the ailing president, suggesting that the country's military was not entirely neutral. 

A leaked audio recording of a conversation between Bouteflika's campaign manager, former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, and business tycoon Ali Haddad surfaced on Thursday, during which the two men discussed the latest wave of protests.

Both Haddad - a Bouteflika loyalist who has seen his business empire expand dramatically under the latter's leadership - and Sellal seemed surprised at how fast the protests had escalated.   

Some analysts believe that the leak could have been made by elements within the military establishment that are against Bouteflika assuming the reins for another five years.

Algeria: the leaked recording of Bouteflika's campaign manager Sellal & Tycoon Ali Haddad is raising questions about whether part of the military & intel are signaling their displeasure with Bouteflika's candidacy & are trying to undermine it

#لا_للعهدة_الخامسة #حراك_1_مارس pic.twitter.com/CWTUKX9dvM

— Weddady (@weddady) February 28, 2019

Soufiane Djilali, president of the opposition Jil Jadid party, told Al Jazeera that businessmen such as  Haddad are some of the president's fiercest supporters because they have benefitted from preferential access to lucrative state contracts in recent years.

Politicians such as Djilali participated in the protests and have called for the political system to be completely overhauled, and for free and fair elections.

"If Bouteflika falls, it is his entire regime that must go with him, at which point we would have to go through a short transition period," Djilali said.

'Also started peacefully in Syria'

Commenting on images of protesters offering flowers to policemen, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on Thursday warned that demonstrations in Syria had started in a similar fashion. 

The head of government added that his intention wasn't to "scare people", after a number of politicians stormed out of the assembly, where he was giving a speech.  

On Monday, Ouyahia seemed to dismiss concerns over the president's fitness for office, insisting Algerians would have the final say on who would run their country.  

Presidential hopefuls are in effect required to pass a medical aptitude test, the failure of which would automatically render them ineligible for the vote. 

Opponents fear that the president will be able to secure the medical clearance required as he had in 2014 and compete in polls whose result has already been pre-determined.

 

 

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‘Parallel universe’: The front-runner seeking to be Ukraine’s president plays one on TV

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KIEV, Ukraine — In the second season of the Ukrainian hit TV show “Servant of the People,” comedian Volodymyr Zelensky plays a schoolteacher turned presidential candidate who shoots to the top of the polls amid voter disgust with the political establishment. 

Zelensky is now running for president in real life. 

With just weeks to go until Ukraine’s March 31 election, he has shot to the top of the polls amid — as in the show — voter disgust with the political establishment. 

And just to blur the lines even more: His party is called Servant of the People.

“People are voting for the plot of the show,” said Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. “They want to bring the plot of the show to life.” 

As Ukraine’s deadly conflict with Russian-backed separatists drags on, a 41-year-old comedian with no political experience is increasingly a favorite to take over as its commander in chief. The reason? Five years after the country’s pro-Western revolution, its people still thirst for change.

Street protests in 2014 marked a decisive turn away from Moscow, but they did far less to modernize the economy or root out corruption. President Petro Poroshenko’s government and administration have been beset by infighting and state spending scandals. The economy, suffering from weak investor confidence and the war in the heavily industrial east, still hasn’t recovered from its near-collapse five years ago. 

The most prominent candidates heading into the election campaign represented the old guard: the incumbent Poroshenko, who is also a chocolate tycoon and one of Ukraine’s richest men, and the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

For them, things have not gone according to plan. 

Zelensky, who declared his candidacy on national television on the New Year’s Eve edition of his variety show, has led Tymoshenko and Poroshenko in almost every published poll since early February. 

The building disbelief among Ukraine’s political class echoes the furor of the establishment as Zelensky’s character rises in the polls in “Servant of the People.” Voting for Zelensky for president, Tymoshenko told a Ukrainian interviewer recently, was like making the beet soup borscht out of Cheburashka, a Soviet-era cartoon character. 

“This is a sort of experiment, but it’s certainly not tasty,” Tymoshenko said. 

In “Servant of the People,” which premiered in 2015, the schoolteacher played by Zelensky becomes an overnight sensation after his impromptu rant against government corruption goes viral. 

He is elected president and goes on to fight the entrenched elites, refusing to be bought. In Season 2, which started airing in late 2017, Zelensky’s character resigns as president after facing down the International Monetary Fund and then stages an improbable, underdog reelection campaign. 

We’re living in a parallel universe,” said a senior Western diplomat in Kiev who, like many colleagues, has been catching up on the show. “People are confusing what’s real and what’s fiction.” 

Coming in the wake of President Trump’s election and the success of comedian Beppe Grillo’s populist Five Star Movement in Italy, Zelensky’s rise echoes that of other outsiders storming into politics.

But it is possible that no recent presidential campaign has featured such a head-spinning blend of fact and fiction.

Just like his character in Season 2, Zelensky, the real-life candidate, has taken to addressing voters in selfie videos and recording himself talking to regular Ukrainians. Zelensky’s campaign videos on his YouTube channel include clips from “Servant of the People” interspersed amid footage from Zelensky’s actual campaign. 

Unlike his character, Zelensky has not yet pulled all the funds from his campaign coffers to install safer, glowing sidewalks across the country. And Zelensky says that as president, he wouldn’t hurl an obscenity at the IMF as his character does in the show because “in life, we don’t have the right to.” 

He claims his real-life principles do match those of the incorruptible, everyman character he plays on TV. 

To some degree, maybe people really do have the feeling that the guy on screen and the guy in real life are one and the same person,” Zelensky told foreign journalists earlier this month in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. “This might even be true, to some extent.” 

 

Zelensky’s true politics are a mystery. 

He says he’s in favor of Ukraine seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, but that those moves should be endorsed by the public in a referendum. He says he’s ready to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in eastern Ukraine, but he’s offered few specifics on how he would accomplish that without ceding any territory to Russia. 

He insists all of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs will be equal before the courts. But critics doubt the same will hold for Ihor Kolomoyskyi, the billionaire rival of Poroshenko who owns the channel that aired Zelensky’s show. 

“It’s extremely difficult right now to say what kind of a president he’ll be,” said Fesenko, the analyst. “I think he himself doesn’t know what his politics will be.”

Zelensky asked his 2.8 million Instagram followers recently to send him their picks for prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and even security service chief and prosecutor general. Some Western diplomats in Kiev say they worry Zelensky’s inexperience will be a particular risk when dealing with Putin. The comedian has promised to negotiate with the Russian president, though he has provided few details on how he will do that.

“There needs to be some kind of negotiating table with Russia. It’s necessary to talk and discuss things,” Zelensky said in the interview with foreign journalists. 

Pressed on what he would do differently from Poroshenko in dealing with Putin, Zelensky said he would insist the Russian president explain his past actions and his demands on an official piece of paper. 

Fesenko said Zelensky is a rare candidate who has managed to transcend the divide between East and West and Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers in the country. His image is as that of a young, pro-Western actor and entrepreneur, but he hails from Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking southeast. 

Poroshenko’s campaign has focused on issues of identity and security. Many of his billboards have said “Army! Language! Faith!” and one of his achievements has been to help create a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow. 

But his tenure has been overshadowed by corruption scandals, including allegations last month of embezzlement in arms procurement involving a top aide. ...

 

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On 3/1/2019 at 1:48 PM, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Things are getting pretty interesting there.  Bouteflika’s plane is currently en route to Algeria from Geneva, where he has been undergoing medical treatment for the past couple of weeks. They have also closed universities for the next two weeks.  It should be an important few days there. 

link

According to the article, a key date will be March 13th, when they certify legitimacy of the candidates for the election.

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Estonia opposition wins election as far right surges

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Estonia's opposition liberal Reform party won Sunday's general election, outpacing centre-left Prime Minister Juri Ratas's party and a surging far-right buoyed by a backlash from mostly rural voters in the Baltic eurozone state.

Led by former MEP Kaja Kallas, Reform garnered 28.8 percent of the vote, well ahead of Ratas's Centre party on 23 percent, with the far-right EKRE more than doubling its previous election score at 17.8 percent, according to full results on Estonia's official state elections website.

Two other parties in the race which currently govern in coalition with Ratas, the Social Democrats and conservative Isamaa, respectively took 9.8 percent and 11.4 percent of the vote.

Both could team up with Reform for a 56-seat majority in the 101-member parliament, or holding a combined 60 seats, arch-rivals Reform and Centre could govern together as they have done in the past. ...

 

- The growth of Euro rightist nationalist parties continues.

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On 3/1/2019 at 1:47 PM, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Big news out of Algeria today.  Algerian President Bouteflika announced that he would not seek a fifth term after all.  Election has been postponed. No new date announced yet.

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32 minutes ago, Don Quixote said:

Big news out of Algeria today.  Algerian President Bouteflika announced that he would not seek a fifth term after all.  Election has been postponed. No new date announced yet.

Nice.

When you can't speak any more, perhaps you ought to listen (to the people)

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On 3/11/2019 at 6:27 PM, SaintsInDome2006 said:
On 3/11/2019 at 5:40 PM, Don Quixote said:

Big news out of Algeria today.  Algerian President Bouteflika announced that he would not seek a fifth term after all.  Election has been postponed. No new date announced yet.

Amazing, this is the first real good pro-democracy news in a while.

Well, it was good news for a brief period.  Protests are picking back up in Algeria.  With elections delayed, Bouteflika announced that he plans to stay past the end of his term.  Opposition wants him to step down immediately, or at the end of his term next month.  

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On 3/10/2019 at 10:59 AM, Don Quixote said:

Thought I’d re-up this with the Ukraine Presidential election today. The front runner remains comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who I posted about a few weeks ago.  It would be a pretty interesting story (truth stranger than fiction) if he goes on to win.  

The election would go to a runoff if no one receives more than 50% of the vote. 

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1 hour ago, Don Quixote said:

Thought I’d re-up this with the Ukraine Presidential election today. The front runner remains comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who I posted about a few weeks ago.  It would be a pretty interesting story (truth stranger than fiction) if he goes on to win.  

The election would go to a runoff if no one receives more than 50% of the vote. 

This is pretty awesome. There are 39 candidates, so it’s a very crowded field that will almost certainly go to a run-off. But the comedian is way ahead of everyone else. Based on pre-election polling, he’s at around 30%, while the current incumbent is next at about 18%, and the woman who finished second in the last election is third at around 15%. The next tier is far behind those three.

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1 hour ago, Maurile Tremblay said:

This is pretty awesome. There are 39 candidates, so it’s a very crowded field that will almost certainly go to a run-off. But the comedian is way ahead of everyone else. Based on pre-election polling, he’s at around 30%, while the current incumbent is next at about 18%, and the woman who finished second in the last election is third at around 15%. The next tier is far behind those three.

Yeah, the major question going in seems/seemed to be who Zelensky will face in the run-off.   It looks like the incumbent, Poroshenko, so far. That may be the best for Zelensky’s chances of winning.  If it were the woman, I could see her supporters combining with Poroshenko’s to try continue establishment politics, and make the runoff pretty close.  Maybe Poroshenko can pick up some of hers, but Porosheno only getting around 17-18% of the vote seems a pretty clear sign that most want someone else in office.

Edited by Don Quixote

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A Political Quake in Turkey as Erdogan’s Party Loses in His Home Base of Support

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ISTANBUL — Step by step over the years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey sought to ensure nobody could challenge him. He marginalized adversaries. He purged the army, the police and the courts. He cowed the press. He strengthened his powers in the Constitution. And he promised Turks a bright economic future.

So it was a huge surprise when the outcome of weekend municipal voting showed on Monday that Mr. Erdogan’s party had not only lost control of Ankara, the political center, but maybe Istanbul, the country’s commercial center, his home city and longstanding core of support.

Even if the results were not final, they amounted to the most momentous political earthquake to shake Mr. Erdogan in nearly two decades of basically uncontested control at the helm of Turkey, a NATO ally and critical linchpin of stability in the region.

What was different this time was the rapidly tanking economy and a highly disciplined opposition.

 

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Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika submits resignation, ending two-decade rule

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By Sudarsan Raghavan April 2 at 3:28 PM
CAIRO — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika submitted his resignation Tuesday night, ending his two-decade rule following weeks of massive demonstrations against his continued political aspirations, the state news agency reported.

The announcement, though expected, nevertheless represents a stunning turn of events for the North African nation, which joins the ranks of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, where autocrats have been pushed out of office by populist pressure in recent years.

The ailing and wheelchair-bound Bouteflika, who is 82, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. His resignation came a day after his office announced on state media that he would step down before April 28.

Big news.  Not sure where things will go from here just yet.

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I saw “Servant of the People” was on Netflix.  Just watched the first episode.  Pretty well done, and entertaining.  I’m assuming there are some inside jokes that probably only someone in Ukraine would catch, but the themes are pretty universal.  

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I only noticed this thread today and wanted to thank those of you posting all these updates.  It's fascinating stuff.

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Protests in Khartoum over 500,000 people.

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Thousands of Sudanese protesters on Sunday are rallying outside the Army General Command in the capital Khartoum as a mass overnight sit-in continues into its second day.

Although the military allowed more than 500,000 people, according to witnesses, to gather outside the military headquarters on Saturday, the security services staged an attack on the demonstrators in the late afternoon.

"With the dawn of freedom and the continuation of our sit-in for the second consecutive day in front of the General Command of our glorious army, there are exposed plans from the security services and loyalists to the army leaders to disperse the crowds and empty the sit-in, but the crowds will withstand with the steadfastness of revolutionaries," stated the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the main protest organiser since demonstrations erupted in mid-December.

 

 

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On 4/9/2019 at 3:21 AM, Maurile Tremblay said:

What’s with the boat-style architecture of the largest building pictured?

I think it's all part of a massive armed forces complex. There's a building that's shaped like a ship and there's also one that is shaped like a plane. 

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49 minutes ago, SaintsInDome2006 said:

Wow.  It will be interesting to see where things go from here.  Sudan’s military overthrows president following months of popular protests

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KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan’s defense minister said that President Omar al-Bashir was taken into military custody on Thursday, effectively announcing a coup to end Bashir’s 30-year rule.

A two-year transition government administered by the military would take over, the constitution would be suspended, and a three-year state of emergency would be put in place, he said.

Sudan’s state media also reported that all political prisoners, including leaders of the protests that precipitated Bashir’s fall, were in the process of being released from jails around the country.

The announcement by Awad Ibn Auf, who is also Sudan’s vice president, came after four months of nationwide street protests sparked by price hikes on basic goods but also reflecting a deep-rooted desire for the replacement of his decades-old regime. Bashir is accused of crimes against humanity and genocide against his own people by the International Criminal Court...

 

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A couple of things to monitor:

1.  Voting in India's election began on April 11th.  It goes on for about six weeks.  

Your Guide to India’s Upcoming General Election

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is riding a wave of nationalist passion as India’s general election gets under way. Not long ago, economic frustrations had eroded his popularity, including stubborn unemployment, an unpopular national sales tax and his government’s disastrous ban on most bank notes. Even the opposition, largely in disarray since Modi’s resounding victory in 2014, was beginning to unite. Then everything changed with a terrorist strike against Indian troops in February. Modi’s authorization of airstrikes against arch-foe Pakistan allowed his party to tap into public anger and shift the agenda from the economy. Now Modi’s ruling coalition looks likely to retain power, albeit with a lesser majority....

 

2.  Election in Indonesia is tomorrow.  

In Indonesia’s Election Campaign, a Dictator’s Son-in-Law Rails Against ‘Elites’

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Hammering a podium and railing against the rich and powerful, Prabowo Subianto, a former general now in the homestretch of Indonesia’s presidential campaign, whipped up the crowd of thousands.

“I am sick and disgusted with the evil elites in Jakarta!” he bellowed, referring to the Indonesian capital as he harangued his troops like the general he once was. “Disgusted! Always lie, lie, lie. Lie to the people!”

A microphone went flying as he hit the podium with his open hand. The crowd, at a rally last week in Yogyakarta, about 250 miles southwest of the capital, roared its approval, and he struck it again. His supporters chanted, “Prabowo! Prabowo!”

The message was a strange one, coming from the scion of one of Indonesia’s most powerful and politically connected families. But making his fourth and perhaps final try for the presidency, and trailing in the polls by double digits, Mr. Prabowo, 67, is pulling out all the stops.

The son of a Christian mother and the son-in-law of the  former dictator Suharto, Mr. Prabowo has transformed himself this election cycle into a crusading populist and devout Muslim in a last-ditch effort to woo nationalists, hard-line Islamists and the large number of poor Indonesians who struggle to make a living.

Seemingly lost on many of Mr. Prabowo’s followers is that he was once a prime example of the elites he now attacks. Before Mr. Suharto’s ouster in 1998, the dictator plundered the country’s coffers to enrich himself and his family. As Mr. Suharto’s son-in-law and chief enforcer, Mr. Prabowo commanded the country’s feared Special Forces and acted with impunity to keep the regime in power.

For Indonesians, who go to the polls on Wednesday, the choice is whether to continue with the low-key, steady leadership of President Joko Widodo, 57, a former furniture manufacturer who was born in a slum, or Mr. Prabowo, a volatile ex-general who was dismissed from the army after ordering the kidnapping of political activists, and whose record on human rights earned him a yearslong ban on entering the United States.

Personality often prevails over ideology in Indonesian elections and the policy differences between the two candidates are not great. But with Mr. Prabowo’s courting of hard-line Islamists since his defeat in 2014, his victory would most likely mean advancing measures to promote Islam in daily life and greater military spending to rebuild the armed forces.

Winning the presidency would be a personal triumph for Mr. Prabowo and complete the remaking of his image. Mr. Prabowo has run for president in every national election since Mr. Suharto’s ouster in 1998.

Mr. Joko, fortified by the power of incumbency since their last face-off, can point to numerous accomplishments over the past five years, including expanding health care for the poor and building thousands of miles of rural roads, bridges, airports and a Jakarta subway and rail line that is hoped will ease the city’s notorious traffic.

Mr. Joko can also boast that Indonesia has bested foreign interests by regaining control of oil reserves, fisheries and mines, including the giant Grasberg gold and copper mine in the eastern province of Papua that is now run by an Indonesian firm after being operated by the American company Freeport-McMoRan.

And while Mr. Prabowo has the support of hard-line Islamists, Mr. Joko is well known as the more pious. The president can recite verses of the Quran and lead prayers at the mosque, something Mr. Prabowo does not attempt.

Whoever wins the presidency will have the challenge of leading the world’s fourth largest country, a vast archipelago of 17,500 islands that is rich in oil, minerals, fish and timber but notoriously difficult to govern.

Indonesia has struggled for decades to overcome widespread poverty and rampant corruption, improving modestly on both counts under Mr. Joko.

Officially a secular nation, Indonesia is nearly 90 percent Muslim and has more Muslims than any other country.......

 

Edited by Don Quixote
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Early returns show Indonesian President Joko Widodo winning reelection

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian President Joko Widodo appeared on track Wednesday to win a second term, according to early vote counts, holding a 10 percentage-point lead over a retired general who had courted nationalist and conservative Islamic forces in a campaign waged on the country’s fault lines.

Widodo’s apparent victory over Prabowo Subianto marked a rare bright spot in a region that has trended toward authoritarian and strongman rule.

But Prabowo issued his own claim that he was the rightful victor, urging supporters to ensure the election is not taken from them even as the early “quick count” vote went strongly in Widodo’s favor.

In Indonesia, a quick count by several trusted independent polling agencies is considered an accurate gauge of the elections and correctly tallied Widodo’s 2014 win. Official vote counts in the sprawling archipelago could take up to two weeks as ballots come in from remote locations. The independent agencies tally votes from a representative sample of polling stations.

Prabowo did not signal his next possible move, but his defiant stance raised the possibility of street protests if Widodo’s victory is confirmed.

So far, however, the election was overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly. It further underscored an important shift in Indonesia to democratic elections in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation two decades after the bloody end of authoritarian rule under President Suharto.

Widodo urged supporters to wait for official results as they broke out in cheers, chanting his nickname, Jokowi, and heralding his reelection.

“From the implication of exit polls and quick count, all of which we’ve seen, we have to be patient until [the election authority’s] calculation,” he said.

Widodo was gathered with his inner circle, including his running mate, influential cleric Maruf Amin, and the head of his political party, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, at a ballroom in central Jakarta, smiling and laughing as the unofficial results came in.

If his lead of about 10 percentage points holds, it would be more comfortable than his six-point victory in 2014. Indonesian presidents are elected by direct popular vote.

But Prabowo, reprising a similar move following his presidential election defeat in 2014, refused to concede. In comments to reporters, he said exit polls show he had won, and he disputed the preliminary results from the independent surveys.

“I will be and have already become the president of all Indonesians,” he said in a second victory speech Wednesday, claiming he had won with 62 percent of the vote, revised from his earlier assertion of taking 52 percent earlier. “We will build a victorious Indonesia, a just and prosperous Indonesia, peaceful and a force to reckon with in the world.”

For Widodo, victory would represent an endorsement of his moderate, steady brand of leadership, which has focused on infrastructure development and welfare programs for the poor. His rival, 67-year-old Prabowo, is a retired lieutenant general and son-in-law of Suharto. He was blacklisted from entering the United States for years because of his human rights record.

In his campaign, he railed against elitists, promised self-sufficiency for Indonesia and vowed to do more for the poor. He also played to a base of Islamic conservative voters, pledging to be a strong defender of the religion.

More than 192 million eligible voters fanned out to 800,000 polling stations scattered across hundreds of islands in the archipelago, and 6 million electoral workers staffed the mammoth and mind-boggling logistical operation. All modes of transportation, from boat to horse, were used to transport ballot boxes.

The election was colored by identity politics and the role Islam should play in Indonesian society and politics. Despite Widodo’s apparent win, critics and some of his early supporters say the shine has rubbed off the president, a 57-year-old former furniture salesman who rose from political obscurity to win in 2014.

Over the past five years, his critics charge, he has been weak on human rights and has not done enough to protect religious minorities, instead playing to those who think he will not protect Islam in Indonesia by choosing an influential cleric as his running mate. Analysts say he is trying to appeal to more moderate Muslims, rather than those who want Islam to have a bigger role in Indonesian politics.

Rut Ogetay, a 34-year-old women rights’ activist for Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province and the scene of frequent violence in response to calls for independence, could not bring herself to vote for either candidate.

“Until the end, rights abuses in Papua will never end,” she said. “Jokowi getting elected won’t stop human rights abuses being perpetrated.”

The peaceful and sometimes jubilant process on Wednesday, with voters proudly holding up their pinkie fingers marked with indelible ink and taking post-voting selfies outside polling stations.

A 48-year-old voter who identified herself only as Lydia said she believed the divisive campaigns playing to religion were only on the surface. Along with other voters, she sang Indonesia’s national anthem, “Indonesia Raya,” as people cast their ballots.

“Here in this place, we’re just cool with one another. Only a small group of people are like that,” she said, adding she has never missed an election.

 

Edited by Don Quixote

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Exit polls suggest comedian won in Ukraine run off

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Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has won a run-off election to become the country's next president by a landslide, exit polls suggest.

The polls give him more than 70% support. He dominated the first round of voting three weeks ago when 39 candidates were on the ticket.

Mr Zelensky challenged incumbent president Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Poroshenko has admitted defeat but told supporters gathered in Kiev that he will not leave politics.

Ukraine's president holds significant powers over the security, defence and foreign policy of the country.

"I will never let you down," Mr Zelensky told his supporters on Sunday.

He added: "While I am not formally president yet, as a citizen of Ukraine I can tell all post-Soviet countries: 'Look at us! Everything is possible!'"

If polls are correct, he will be elected for a five-year term.

 

Hoping for the best in Ukraine. Governing is not easy, though neither is comedy

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34 minutes ago, msommer said:

Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has won a run-off election to become the country's next president by a landslide, exit polls suggest.

The polls give him more than 70% support.

He's at 73% in a blurb I saw. That's remarkable.

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