elections

FILE PHOTO: Matteo Salvini, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right League Party, speaks as he launches campaigning for the European elections
FILE PHOTO: Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the far-right League Party, speaks as he launches campaigning for the European elections, in Milan, Italy April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo/File Photo

April 19, 2019

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s League is threatening to bring down the government over a graft scandal involving one of its senior politicians, coalition partner the 5-Star Movement said on Friday.

The accusation was swiftly rejected by League leader Matteo Salvini, but the harsh verbal spat underlined how relations between the two coalition allies have sharply deteriorated in the run-up to next month’s EU parliamentary election.

The coalition was thrown into turmoil on Thursday when Armando Siri, an economic adviser to Salvini, was placed under official investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to promote the interests of renewable energy companies.

Siri, who serves as an undersecretary in the transport ministry, has denied the accusations. But as soon as news of the judicial probe leaked, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is a 5-Star member, stripped him of his government responsibilities until further notice.

The unilateral move angered the League and led to furious recriminations between the two coalition partners, who formed a surprise government alliance last May after an inconclusive national election.

“…Even today the League is threatening to bring down the government … I’m really stunned,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said on Facebook, accusing his government ally of acting irresponsibly.

In comments that looked certain to further inflame tensions, Di Maio said his party had seen Siri in the past trying to introduce measures that were “a bit controversial”.

“We remember them. When they landed on our desk they seemed strange and we stopped them. … Without us, who knows what would have happened,” Di Maio wrote, without giving any details.

Siri made no immediate comment, but Salvini responded with a brief statement. “The League wants to govern well and for a long time in the interests of Italians. Thoughts of a government crisis can only to be found in Di Maio’s head,” he said.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer)

Source: OANN

Hackers from Russia were able to gain access to at least one county’s election computer network in Florida ahead of the 2016 election, it was revealed Thursday.

As the Miami Herald pointed out, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the election included a portion about how hackers from the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency in Russia, used a spear phishing email to get into one county. The report did not name which county, and the FBI would not reveal the name of the county when the Florida Department of State asked about it.

“We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government,” the Mueller report reads. Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents “did not independently verify that belief.”

Florida’s Department of State told the Herald in a statement it is confident in its assessment the 2016 election was not compromised.

“The Department maintains that the 2016 elections in Florida were not hacked,” spokesperson Sarah Revell said. “The Florida Voter Registration System was and remains secure, and official results or vote tallies were not changed.”

The Mueller report was released Thursday, with many redacted parts to hide classified and privileged information. President Donald Trump was exonerated from conspiring with the Russians to win the 2016 election, but the report outlined several instances where Russia meddled in it.

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos
FILE PHOTO: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

April 18, 2019

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s supreme court on Thursday backed constitutional changes that allow long-ruling President Yoweri Museveni to extend his time in office.

A 4-3 majority decision affirming the validity of 2017 constitutional amendments was widely expected in the East African country where critics say judicial independence has been eroded under President Museveni’s 33-year rule.

Parliament, which is controlled by the ruling party, voted overwhelmingly in December 2017 to scrap an age limit of 75 years for presidential candidates.

The original legislation would have effectively barred 74-year-old Museveni from standing in the next elections due in 2021.Opponents of Museveni, including lawmakers and individual opposition activists, mounted a legal challenge to the amendment first in the constitutional court which rejected their petition.

That rejection triggered their appeal to the supreme court.”The decision of the constitutional court is upheld. This appeal therefore fails,” ruled Bart Katurebe, the country’s chief justice and a member of the panel.    The process to amend the constitution was marred by widespread violence including police dispersing rallies by MPs consulting their constituents on the amendments and beatings and detentions of opposition activists

Some opposition MPs were also at one time forcefully removed from the House’s debating chamber by members of military. The petitioners had cited these incidents and other irregularities as sufficient grounds for nullification of the amendment.

Eldad Mwangusya, of the three justices who ruled in favor of the petition said widespread violence and security personnel interference in MPs’ public consultations made the removal of the age limit unconstitutional.”Members of parliament… were assaulted, thrown onto public vehicles, detained and released without charge all of which amount to inhuman treatment which is in contravention of the constitution,” he said.

In power since 1986, Museveni has been accused by critics of using security forces to stifle opposition through intimidation. Political activists routinely allege arbitrary arrests and beatings.

In February the executive committee of the ruling National Resistance Movement endorsed Museveni as its candidate in the next presidential election due in 2021, potentially extending his rule to 40 years.

One of his opponents in the next polls will likely be singer and lawmaker Bobi Wine – real name is Robert Kyagulanyi – who has rattled officials with his fast-growing support base.Kyagulanyi’s following has ballooned since he joined parliament nearly two years ago, drawn by his criticism of Museveni’s long rule and government excesses through his lyrics.

(Editing by Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the report by special counsel Robert Mueller has made at least one clear conclusion: Russia has and will continue to meddle in U.S. elections.

Manchin, in a statement released by his office, said he has not had an opportunity to read the report yet, but he maintained Russia’s election interference is obvious.

And he said that “we must work immediately to safeguard our democratic institutions.”

Manchin added: “I look forward to reading the Mueller report and coming to my own conclusion, just like every American should. The last two years has divided our country and I’m glad the Mueller report has been released to the public for the sake of transparency and for our national healing.” 

Source: NewsMax Politics

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

April 18, 2019

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – British voters at the elections for the next European Parliament would strengthen eurosceptic groups, while the center-right would remain the largest grouping in the legislature, an EU survey showed on Thursday.

The projection, commissioned by the European Parliament, showed that the two most eurosceptic groups in the parliament would increase their share of seats to 14.3 percent of the total compared with 13.0 percent in the previous survey from March which did not include British voters.

The survey included national polls published up to April 15.

With Britain’s participation in the elections, which might still be avoided if a Brexit deal is struck before the May 23-26 vote, the nationalist Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) which includes Italy’s far-right League would scoop 8.3 percent of seats in the next legislature, down from 8.7 percent.

Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, the other openly eurosceptic grouping which currently includes the United Kingdom Independence Party, would win 6 percent of the seats from 4.3 percent predicted in March when Britain was not expected to take part in the EU elections.

The European Conservatives and Reformists grouping, which includes the PiS party of Polish eurosceptic leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, would obtain 8.8 percent of the seats, up from 7.5 percent in the previous poll which did not include British Conservative voters.

Britain has secured an extension of Brexit to the end of October, meaning British parties have began campaigning for the EU election.

Under the new survey, which assumes the number of seats in the next parliament will remain 751 instead of dropping to 705 after Brexit, the center-right European People’s Party would remain the largest, but its share of seats would fall to 24.0 percent from 26.7 percent forecast in March.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats are expected to remain the largest national party in the next legislature, holding 30 seats, down from 33.

The center-left Socialists and Democrats would be the second biggest grouping with 19.8 percent of the seats, down from 20.1 percent in the previous survey in March which did not include British votes.

Despite the contribution of the British Labour Party, which is estimated to win 20 seats in the next EU legislature, the center-left’s total share of seats would fall due to declines for other national parties, including in Germany and Italy.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)

Source: OANN

Sudanese demonstrators rest under the shadow of a tree in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum
Sudanese demonstrators rest under the shadow of a tree in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

April 17, 2019

By Khaled Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Deposed ex-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been moved to Khartoum’s grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said on Wednesday, and transitional military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption.

Sudan’s military ousted Bashir after weeks of mass protests that climaxed in a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry compound. Protests are continuing and their leaders say the unrest will not cease until the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hands power to a civilian-led authority ahead of elections.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), leading the revolt, has called for sweeping change to end violent crackdowns on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism and ease an economic crisis that worsened during Bashir’s last years in power.

In initial moves to tackle graft, the TMC ordered the central bank to review financial transfers since April 1 and to seize “suspect” funds, state news agency SUNA said on Wednesday.

SUNA said the TMC also ordered the “suspension of the transfer of ownership of any shares until further notice and for any large or suspect transfers of shares or companies to be reported” to state authorities.

The TMC also decreed that all state entities disclose financial holdings within 72 hours, and warned that officials who failed to comply could be fined and face up to 10 years in prison, SUNA reported.

The decree applies to bank accounts and holdings of foreign currency as well as precious metals and jewelry inside and outside Sudan, according to the TMC.

BASHIR IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Bashir, 75, had been detained under heavy guard in the presidential residence inside the compound that also houses the Defense Ministry, before being transferred to Kobar prison late on Tuesday, the family sources said. He was being held in solitary confinement at Kobar, a prison source said.

Kobar, just north of central Khartoum adjacent to the Blue Nile river, housed thousands of political prisoners under Bashir’s nearly 30-year rule and is Sudan’s most notorious jail.

At least some political prisoners have been freed since Bashir’s overthrow, including several SPA figures.

Awad Ibn Auf, an Islamist like Bashir, initially headed the TMC before stepping down after one day in the post. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has engaged in impromptu dialogue with protesters in the streets of the capital, now heads the council and has promised to hold elections within two years.

REBELS SUSPEND HOSTILITIES

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a rebel group fighting in the southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, announced it was ceasing all hostilities until July 31 as a “goodwill gesture” following Bashir’s overthrow.

In a statement conveyed to Reuters in Khartoum, the group’s leader Abdelaziz Adam al-Helew said the move was to help facilitate “the immediate and smooth handover of power to civilians” in Sudan.

The SPLM-N had sought to overthrow Bashir and pushed for autonomy for Blue Nile and South Kordofan states and a redistribution of wealth and political powers in the country.

Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron hand after he seized power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.

UGANDA MAY OFFER ASYLUM TO BASHIR

Uganda will consider offering asylum to Bashir despite his decade-old indictment by the International Criminal Court, Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, told Reuters. But Oryem said Bashir had yet to make any contact with Kampala.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has in the past criticized the ICC, calling it a tool of Western justice against Africans.

Bashir faces ICC arrest warrants over accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations. Fighting in Darfur has subsided over the past three years.

The head of the TMC’s political committee, Omar Zain al-Abideen, said on Friday the council would not extradite Bashir for trial, suggesting he could be tried in Sudan instead.

In The Hague, an International Criminal Court spokesman declined comment “on hypothetical situations”. ICC member states, which include Uganda, are legally obliged to hand over indictees who enter their territory.

Bashir has defied the ICC by visiting several ICC member states. Diplomatic rows broke out when he went to South Africa in 2015 and Jordan in 2017 and both declined to arrest him for extradition to the ICC in the Netherlands.

London-based Amnesty International called for Bashir to be immediately extradited to ICC custody. “His case must not be hurriedly tried in Sudan’s notoriously dysfunctional legal system. Justice must be served,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes.

“Sudan must take urgent steps to rebuild its justice sector but, in the meantime, the only way victims of his alleged crimes will see progress towards justice are if Bashir faces a fair trial at the ICC,” Nyanyuki said in an Amnesty statement.

On Tuesday, TMC chief Burhan fired Sudan’s three highest-ranking public prosecutors after the SPA-led protest movement demanded an overhaul of the judiciary.

On Monday, the African Union urged the TMC to hand power to a transitional civilian-led authority within 15 days or risk Sudan being suspended from the AU.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Anthony Deutsch in the Netherlands; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Source: OANN

Brexit campaigner and Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage arrives to attend a debate on the outcome of the latest European Summit on Brexit, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg
Brexit campaigner and Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage arrives to attend a debate on the outcome of the latest European Summit on Brexit, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

April 17, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will top next month’s election in Britain for the European parliament with 27 percent of the vote, far ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

The Brexit Party is five percentage points ahead of Labour’s 22 percent, followed by the Conservatives on 15 percent and then the Green Party on 10 percent, the YouGov survey for The Evening Standard newspaper showed.

Britain had been due to leave the European Union on March 29 but that has been postponed until as late as end-October as parliament has thrice rejected May’s negotiated deal and failed to come up with an alternative which would command a majority.

Voters across the 28-member European Union are due to go to the polls between May 23 and May 26.

YouGov surveyed 1,855 adults across Britain on April 15 and April 16. The results exclude those who said they would not vote, don’t know or refused to respond.

In the last such elections in 2014, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), at the time led by Farage, came first in Britain.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Stephen Addison)

Source: OANN

Voters mark their ballots at a polling centre during elections in Jakarta, Indonesia
Voters mark their ballots at a polling centre during elections in Jakarta, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

April 17, 2019

JAKARTA (Reuters) –

Indonesians voted in the world’s biggest single-day election across the sprawling equatorial archipelago on Wednesday following a six-month campaign to choose a new president and parliament.

Early results showed President Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman who launched his political career as a small-city mayor, with a comfortable lead, in line with opinion polls that had predicted the low-key reformist was heading for a second five-year term.

Data from Private pollsters, based on a partial count of samples from polling stations, showed that Widodo was winning more than half of the vote and his challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, was more than 10 percentage points behind him.

Widodo narrowly defeated Prabowo in the last election, in 2014.

The campaign has been dominated by economic issues, but also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam, with politicians including Widodo taking pains to appear more Islamic. The worry for investors is that the appeal for conservative votes will translate into populist policy.

While most opinion polls gave Widodo a double-digit lead, the opposition has disputed the findings and also said it had uncovered data irregularities affecting millions on the electoral rolls. It has vowed to take legal action or use “people power” if its complaints are not resolved.

(Graphic: Indonesia election by the numbers – https://tmsnrt.rs/2V4DCqq)

The election has been a huge logistical operation in the world’s third-largest democracy with 245,000 candidates vying for votes cast during a mere eight hours.

Voters had five paper ballots – for president, vice president, and national and regional legislative candidates – and some clearly struggled with the process.

Nearly 350,000 police and military personnel, in addition to 1.6 million paramilitary officers, have fanned out across the archipelago of 17,000 islands to safeguard the vote.

More than 10,000 people have also volunteered to crowd-source results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT on Tuesday) in the east and closed at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) in the west.

While the winning presidential candidate is likely to be apparent later on Wednesday, the General Election Commission is expected to announce an official result in May.

THE ‘NEW FACE’ IN POLITICS, WIDODO SEEKS A SECOND TERM

When Widodo was elected five years ago he offered a break from the military and political elite that had clung to power since the fall of strongman ruler Suharto in 1998.

Now, Widodo, 57, is running on his own record for a second term.

With his easy smile and signature “blusukan”, or impromptu walkabouts, he came to power on a wave of support for the clean, can-do image he cultivated as a small-city mayor, and then as governor of the capital, Jakarta.

Still, during his political rise, Widodo, a moderate Muslim from the city of Solo in Java island, has had to fend off smear campaigns suggesting he was anti-Islam, a communist or in debt to China. On Sunday, he made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

As president, Widodo was saddled with expectations he could fix a host of problems, from human rights abuses to pervasive graft. Jokowi, as he is popularly known, also inherited an economy coming off a commodities boom, and faced an obstructive parliament.

He stitched together a majority in parliament and while unable to hit an economic growth target of 7 percent, led a push to build ports, roads and airports.

THE CHALLENGER – FORMER SPECIAL FORCES COMMANDER

Challenger Prabowo Subianto, 67, has long harbored ambitions for the top job and has cultivated a strongman image and ties with hardline Islamist groups in the hope of boosting his chances.

In the last election, in 2014, Prabowo, the head of the Great Indonesia Movement party, came within 6 percentage points of beating Widodo.

A former special forces commander, Prabowo comes from an elite political family. His father was one of Indonesia’s most prominent economists, serving in the cabinets of both presidents Sukarno and Suharto. The latter was his father-in-law.

Prabowo has fired up his rallies with warnings the country is at the mercy of unspecified foreign powers and on the verge of fragmentation.

CLAWING BACK VOTER SUPPORT IN MUSLIM HEARTLAND

Since taking office, Widodo has made efforts to bring religious parties into his coalition, and to secure the backing of the conservative voters he failed to win over in 2014.

His decision to pick Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, 76, as his running mate was part of a strategy to enhance his ticket’s appeal among conservatives but it disappointed some of his moderate and progressive supporters, who say the president is pandering to conservatives and fear the erosion of Indonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance and pluralism.

Widodo’s aides say the mobilization of grassroots support and canvassing of thousands of Islamic schools in conservative provinces is crucial to prevent a repeat of 2014, when the opposition attacks cost him votes.

(Graphic: Widodo’s achievements – https://tmsnrt.rs/2CRgHYC)

DISGRUNTLED RURAL VOTERS WEIGH OPTIONS

Economic growth has hovered at about 5 percent over Widodo’s first term, but there has been a drop in real income for its nearly 40 million farmers, who account for a third of the labor force.

Widodo has sought to tame inflation with a cap on prices of staples such as rice and shallots, and to import more food. He remains popular in many rural areas though some farmers are considering the opposition even though Widodo has led an infrastructure drive that has improved access to markets.

Prabowo has said some of Widodo’s infrastructure projects have failed to help ordinary people.

SOCIAL MEDIA ELECTION BATTLE

This election has been fought out over social media as never before. So-called buzzer teams have proliferated, named for the buzz they aim to create, to spread propaganda on behalf of both Widodo and Prabowo, sometimes with fake accounts.

Under Indonesia’s broad internet defamation law, creating and spreading fake news is illegal, but holding social media accounts in false names is not, unless a real person is being impersonated. Both campaign teams deny using buzzers or spreading fake news.

Misinformation is rampant on Facebook, which counts Indonesia as its third-largest market globally with an estimated 130 million accounts, as well as on its Instagram and WhatsApp affiliates and rival service Twitter.

The companies say they are working with the government and fighting false content.

BREAKDANCING, HOLOGRAMS TO WIN YOUTH VOTE

People aged 17 to 35 account for more than a third of the electorate. Both Widodo and Prabowo ramped up efforts to appeal to them, deploying everything from holograms, campaign messaging in comic strips, and breakdancing.

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE IN INDONESIA’S MONEY POLITICS

Indonesia has some of the worst money politics in Southeast Asia, according to researchers. Handouts of cash and gifts, anti-graft advocates and politicians say, lead to rampant corruption as successful candidates recoup election expenses, and more, once elected.

Envelopes, usually stuffed with cash ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 rupiah ($1.42 to $7.08), are commonly doled out to voters. Though small amounts, the overall cost can be huge over a six-month campaign.

The going rate for a serious run for one of 560 seats in the national legislature is about 10 billion rupiah, or $708,000, according to the former deputy chief of the Corruption Eradication Commission.

PALM OIL CENTRAL TO ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENCY PLEDGES

Both candidates have pledged to achieve energy self-sufficiency by boosting the use of bioenergy, particularly from palm oil. Indonesia opposes a European Union plan to curb the use of palm oil over deforestation concerns.

(Editing by Karishma Singh, Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

A security personnel checks ballot boxes before polls open during elections in Bogor
A security personnel checks ballot boxes before polls open during elections in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

April 17, 2019

By Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesians voted on Wednesday to pick a new president and parliament after a six-month campaign in the sprawling equatorial archipelago dominated by economic issues but also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam.

The eight-hour vote across a country that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips is both a Herculean logistical feat and testimony to the resilience of democracy two decades after authoritarianism was defeated.

President Joko Widodo, a furniture businessman who entered politics 14 years ago as a small-city mayor, is seeking re-election against former general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in the last election, in 2014.

Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead, but the opposition says the race is much closer and Prabowo, dressed in a white shirt and a traditional Indonesian peci cap, said before voting in Bogor he was optimistic about winning with a big margin.

President Widodo, dressed in a white shirt and accompanied by First Lady Iriana Widodo, voted in the capital.

“I feel relieved,” said Widodo, after casting his ballot and displaying a finger dipped in indelible ink, part of the process of avoiding fraudulent voting.

More than 10,000 people have volunteered to crowd-source election results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.

However, the opposition has already alleged voter list irregularities that could affect millions and has vowed legal or “people power” action if its concerns are ignored.

Widodo’s running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, called a for a peaceful vote “because the presidential election is not a war, but a search for the best leader”, according to Kompas TV.

There was not much obvious security at polling stations in Jakarta, with volunteers helping direct people into voting booths.

The election is being billed as the world’s biggest single-day vote and is certainly one of the most complicated, with voters contending with five paper ballots for president, vice president, and national and regional legislative candidates.

Some voters clearly struggled with the process.

“The ballots with the photos on it were actually confusing. And the other one had a lot of names I didn’t recognize,” said Orlando Yudistira, 19, a first time voter in Jakarta.

Another voter, Siti Suprapti, 85, said she had needed help to open the ballot “but I chose the candidates myself”.

WIDODO WIN PRICED IN

Dozens of volunteers and witnesses from political parties were present at polling stations to ensure transparency.

Several videos appeared online last week apparently showing thousands of voting papers stuffed in bags at a warehouse in neighboring Malaysia, with many apparently already marked.

The country’s election supervisory board has recommended a re-vote for Indonesians in Malaysia and in Australia, where several hundred registered voters were still standing in line after the polls closed there on Saturday. A decision will be taken by the elections commission.

An unexpected win for the challenger could trigger a brief sell-off in financial markets that have priced in a Widodo victory, analysts say.

“Should Prabowo win, this would literally be the end of opinion polling in Indonesia … and a major, major upset,” said Marcus Mietzner, associate professor at Australian National University. “The question is what the margin of victory will be,” he said, predicting Widodo’s re-election.

A win for Widodo with 52-55 percent of the vote would be the “sweet spot” said a senior government official close to the president, adding that this would spur him to continue and even accelerate economic reforms.

“GAME OF THRONES”

Social media users compared the presidential race to the HBO series “Game of Thrones” – with one online meme showing Widodo sitting on its coveted Iron Throne.

Widodo touted his record on deregulation and improving infrastructure, calling it a first step to tackling inequality and poverty in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

A moderate Muslim from central Java, Widodo had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia. He picked Islamic cleric Amin, 76, as his running mate.

Prabowo, a former special forces commander who has links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate, business entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno, say they will boost the economy by slashing taxes and cut food prices.

Political analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar said the “instrumentalisation” of religion had become much more visible in Indonesian politics in recent years with both candidates trying to appeal to conservative Islamic groups.

QUICK COUNTS

More than 192 million people are eligible to cast ballots in national and regional legislative elections being contested by more than 245,000 candidates.

“Moving from authoritarianism to democracy is a very difficult process but Indonesia has developed a good track record for holding free, fair and peaceful elections,” said Ben Bland, an analyst at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT on Tuesday) in the east and will close at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) in the west.

Unofficial “quick counts”, based on samples from polling stations, will be released hours after voting ends. The winning presidential candidate could be known by late on Wednesday.

Official results will be announced in May. Any disputes can be taken to the Constitutional Court where a nine-judge panel will have 14 days to rule on them.

(Graphic: President Joko Widodo’s achievements – https://tmsnrt.rs/2CRgHYC)

(Additional reporting by Maikel Jefriando, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Tabita Diela, Kanupriya Kapoor, Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Tommy Ardiansyah in Bogor; Writing by John Chalmers and Ed Davies; Editing by Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO: Afghan women line up at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kabul
FILE PHOTO: Afghan women line up at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo

April 16, 2019

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – Women will be included for the first time in the Taliban delegation to peace talks in Qatar this month, the movement’s main spokesman said on Monday, ahead of the latest round of meetings aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.

For a group notorious for its strictly conservative attitude to women’s rights, the move represents a step towards addressing demands that women be included in the talks, intended to lay the foundations for a future peace settlement.

The April 19-21 meeting in Doha will be between the Taliban and a delegation comprising prominent Afghans, including opposition politicians and civil society activists. It follows similar talks between the two sides in Moscow in February.

“There will be women among Taliban delegation members in the Doha, Qatar meeting,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, said by telephone.

He did not name the women, but added, “These women have no family relationship with the senior members of the Taliban, they are normal Afghans, from inside and outside the country, who have been supporters and part of the struggle of the Islamic Emirate”.

In a tweet, he specified that the women would only join the discussions with Afghan civil society and political representatives, not in the main negotiations with American officials, led by U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Taliban have maintained their rejection of formal talks with the government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime controlled by the United States.

While Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative country, especially in rural areas, there have been major advances in women’s rights since the U.S-led campaign of 2001 that toppled the Taliban government. Many women fear that if the group regains some power, many of these gains could be erased.

The movement gained worldwide notoriety when it came to power in the 1990s by forcing women to wear full facial covering and imposing severe restrictions including banning girls from school and forbidding women from working outside the home.

However, Taliban spokesmen say the group has changed and it encourages girls’ education and other women’s rights within an Islamic Sharia system.

Civil society groups, the Western-backed government and Afghanistan’s international partners have pressed for women to take part in the talks and news of the Taliban delegation was welcomed. Fawzia Koofi, a former member of parliament who took part in the meetings in Moscow, said the presence of women in the Taliban team was a “good step”.

“Only women can feel the pain and miseries that Afghan women have suffered. The presence of women among the Taliban negotiators shows that the Taliban’s ideology has changed.”

Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been pressing for women to play a role in the peace talks said the process should be inclusive.

Future international support for Afghanistan could be affected by whether women’s rights were properly respected in any settlement, she said.

“There are certain levers that we have, that the Taliban are interested in,” she told reporters in Kabul, where she was visiting as part of a Congressional delegation. “There is going to be an interest in economic support after the conflict ends.”

“I think if the Taliban has any interest in getting international support … it would be in their interest to recognize the importance of including women and including human rights as part of any settlement that happens.”

(This story corrects paragraph 3 to make clear April 19-21 talks are between the Taliban and a delegation of prominent Afghans, not with U.S. officials. Corrects name in paragraph 13 to Jeanne (not Jean).)

(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Frances Kerry and Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN


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