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YEREVAN, Armenia, May 8, 2018 (News Wires) — Armenia's parliament has elected opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian as prime minister.

BAGHDAD, May 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Elections will be held in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq on September 30, Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw said on Tuesday, citing regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Rudaw is close to the Kurdistan Regional Government(KRG) based in Erbil. A federal Iraqi election, which includes the Kurdistan region, is set to take place on Saturday and its results will give clues as to the importance of the different Kurdish political parties.

KRG Prime Minister Barzani has proposed holding regional elections on September 30, Rudaw said.

The vote should elect both a parliament and a president for Kurdish regions which have gained self-rule in 1991, when a US-led coalition forced Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army to withdraw from them in the wake of his eight-month occupation of Kuwait.

Longtime Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani stepped down from the KRG presidency on Nov. 1 after a failed referendum on independence held in September.

Opposition to the ruling Kurdish establishment has become more vocal over the past years, especially after the referendum.

The Iraqi government and Shi’ite militias allied to Iran dislodged Kurdish forces from the oil region of Kirkuk, curtailing the oil income of the KRG and leading to an economic crisis in the region.

Unpaid public servants hold regular demonstrations in Kurdish cities, and new parties have been formed to challenge the Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

BEIRUT, May 5, 2018 (News Wires) — Polling stations employees in Lebanon have begun distributing thousands of ballot boxes ahead of the country's first parliamentary elections in nine years.

The distribution began Saturday, a day before more than 3.6 million registered Lebanese voters are set to cast their ballots.

The vote, the first for a parliament since 2009, is also the first since Lebanon adopted a new election law last year.

The law changed the previous winner-takes-all system to a complicated sectarian-based proportional representation which awards the number of seats by the share of vote received.

There are more than 500 candidates running in 15 districts around the country for the 128-seat parliament.

All eyes are on whether the voting Sunday and the turnout can loosen the grip of an established political class on the country's affairs.

The Iran-backed Hizbollah movement and its allies could stand to dominate parliament and reinforce their clout in Lebanon, a small country clamped between war-torn Syria and Israel.

A new voting system has raised some hope for an unprecedented civil society list to make a small dent in the decades-old monopoly of political dynasties but disillusionment is rife in the electorate.

The triumvirate heading the state is unlikely to change, with parliament speaker Nabih Berri almost certain to keep the post he has held since 1992 and Prime Minister Saad Hariri also set to stay put.

Hizbollah is allied both to Berri and Aoun and is expected to chip at the camp led by Hariri's movement.

"Hizbollah and its allies will be the first beneficiaries" of the new electoral law, said pollster Kamal Feghali. A clear win for Hizbollah, which is active in several conflicts in the region, could further fray the nerves of Israel and Washington.

Hizbollah is funded and armed by Iran while Hariri has historically been supported by Saudi Arabia. But both have appeared ready to continue sharing power and neutralise growing tension between their rival sponsors.

"These three forces will directly or indirectly be at the helm" after the vote, said Sami Atallah, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. A fifth of this year's 3.7 million-strong electorate was too young to vote in the last legislative polls in 2009.

But the widespread perception that self-serving, hereditary and corrupt traditional parties have long sewn up a deal to preserve the status quo could keep many voters away on Sunday.

"What is there to be interested in? It's the same names, the same faces, the same joke," said Joumana, a 51-year-old secretary at a clinic in Beirut. "My son and my daughter are doing their university studies in Europe. That is what's giving them a future, not the Lebanese state."

Members of Lebanon's vast diaspora voted abroad for the first time this year, but those who were able to register in time were in small enough numbers that they were not expected to have a major impact on the results.

BEIRUT, May 4, 2018 (News Wires) - The Lebanese Shi'ite group Hizbollah and its allies expect to emerge stronger from a parliamentary election on Sunday, a result that would affirm Iran's regional ascendancy from Tehran to Beirut.

The Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni, is meanwhile battling to limit losses he is expected to suffer in the first parliamentary election in nine years. He is nevertheless expected to form the next government.

A majority for the Iran-backed Hizbollah and its allies would underline a balance of power already tilted in favor of the heavily armed Shi'ite group, and the diminished role of Saudi Arabia in a country where it once held big sway.

Classified as a terrorist group by the United States, Hizbollah is an arch foe of Israel which is deeply alarmed by Iran's growing influence in the region, including Syria where Hizbollah has been fighting since 2012.

The Lebanon vote is to be followed on May 12 by an Iraqi election that is also set to underline Iran's reach, with one of three pro-Tehran Shi'ite leaders set to become prime minister.

An anti-Hizbollah alliance led by Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia won a majority in parliament in 2009. But it has since disintegrated and Saudi Arabia has turned its focus to confronting Iran elsewhere.

The vote for the 128-seat parliament is being held according to a complex new law that has redrawn constituencies and replaced a winner-takes-all system with a proportional one. The seats are divided according to a sectarian quota.

Analysts believe Hariri will still emerge with the biggest Sunni bloc. But his position as the dominant Sunni is being challenged like never before by both Hizbollah allies and wealthy businessmen running as independents.

One of the key Sunni battlegrounds is west Beirut, long a Hariri stronghold. In a speech on Thursday, Hariri said the eight rival lists challenging his Future Movement there amounted to a Hizbollah conspiracy.

Hizbollah has also been campaigning furiously, reflecting the uncertainties of the new law that has put once safe seats at risk. Its leader has urged a big turn out.

MADRID, May 4, 2018 (AP) — Catalonia's parliament has voted to change regional laws so that it can elect fugitive former leader Carles Puigdemont as president, even though the move is almost certain to be blocked in court.

The slim majority of separatist lawmakers in the parliament voted in favor of allowing Catalonia's president to be sworn in without being present and to govern from abroad.

Puigdemont is currently on bail in Germany awaiting extradition to Spain, where he is accused of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia's independence.

Catalan separatist parties have defied the Spanish government for the past six months by continuing with efforts to secede from Spain. Court rulings have repeatedly thwarted their ambitions, because the constitution says Spain is "indivisible."

 

Karbala, May 4, 2018 (AFP) - Iraq's highest Shi'ite authority, whose opinions carry great weight in the country, on Friday urged voters not to re-elect "corrupt" MPs during next week's national elections.

Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalai, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued the call during weekly Friday prayers in the holy city of Karbala.

He said Iraqis who will vote in the May 12 polls should not re-elect candidates from among MPs and officials who have already held government jobs and proved to be "corrupt and failing".

Iraq is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

More than 24 million Iraqis are registered to elect 320 deputies from a field of around 7,000 candidates on May 12, with 71 seats reserved for the capital.

According to the electoral commission, only 20 per cent of the candidates are newcomers.

Karbalai said voters should "avoid falling into the trap of those who want to fool you", including "those whom you have known" -- a reference to outgoing MPs and other officials running in the polls.

Political analyst Aziz Jaber said Karbalai's remarks targeted "heads of lists who have held government jobs and MPs such as vice-presidents Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi".

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi -- accused by critics of failing to tackle rampant corruption in Iraq -- heads one of the main lists and hopes to be re-elected.

Shiite religious parties have come to play a greater role in the years since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sistani, whose opinions are widely respected among Shiites, mobilised tens of thousands of men to join paramilitary units of the Hashed al-Shaabi, which played a crucial role in defeating the Islamic State group in Iraq.

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