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MALE/COLOMBO, September 19, 2018 (News Wires) - More than a quarter of a million people will vote on Sunday for the next leader of the tropical Maldives in an election criticised internationally for a lack of transparency and suppression of government critics.

President Abdulla Yameen is seeking a second five-year term in the Indian Ocean archipelago, a popular high-end tourist destination and a key state in the battle for influence between India and China.

But the government has jailed many of his main rivals after speedy trials for charges ranging from terrorism to corruption, and introduced new vote-counting rules that observers say will prevent them from seeing individual ballot papers, leading to doubts about the legitimacy of the vote.

The main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) and local and international observers have also raised concerns over restrictions on foreign journalists wanting to cover the polls and the Election Commission’s refusal to share the final list of voters.

“Maldives authorities have detained critics, muzzled the media and misused the Election Commission to obstruct opposition candidates to ensure President Yameen a victory on election day,” said Patricia Gossman, Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch.

Transparency Maldives (TM), an independent election monitor, said on Tuesday that “unless these issues are resolved, it is very likely that the outcome of such an election will not be accepted by the people”.

Election Commission spokesman Ahmed Akram told Reuters the allegations “don’t have any basis in reality”.

“The counting process will not be different from the previous elections,” he said.

The Election Commission has previously said that foreign observers will be present, without naming who those will be.

Yameen, 59, dismissed allegations of abuse of power earlier this month during campaigning.

“If the accusations about authoritarianism are true, when I go to islands, the people will tell me ‘we are tolerating so much abuse’,” he said.

“I won’t see smiles on the faces. No one will come to greet me and shake my hand, if there is tyranny.”

The country has faced upheaval since February, when Yameen imposed a state of emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader.

Since then, Yameen’s ruling coalition has enacted laws without a required quorum in parliament, approved by the Supreme Court after its chief justice was arrested in February for alleged corruption under emergency regulations.

MDP leader Nasheed, who in 2009 famously held a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear to highlight the dangers of global warming to the low-lying islands, is currently in exile in Sri Lanka and is barred from standing in Sunday’s poll.

Member of parliament Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (Ibu) is running against Yameen under an opposition coalition, promising democracy, a crackdown on corruption and better relations with the West after Yameen steered the country closer to China.

“What happens from today to the voting day remains uncertain,” the MDP’s spokesman, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who lives in exile, told Reuters.

Yameen has disregarded calls from the United Nations, several western countries and India for an amicable solution to the lingering political crisis. In 2016, the Maldives quit the Commonwealth group of nations, which threatened to suspend the country after it criticised the government for rights abuses.

BANGKOK, September 13, 2018 (AFP) - The toppled Thai opposition on Thursday called on the ruling junta to lift the ban on political activities as the countdown begins for the kingdom's first election since a 2014 coup.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed two bills on Wednesday that clear the bureaucratic hurdles to a poll, which has been promised and delayed for years by the junta. An election is required to take place by May.

Junta critics want to hold political gatherings, which have been banned since a coup four years ago toppled the Puea Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's first female premier.

"We demand for the junta to lift the political activities ban as soon as possible," Pichai Naripthaphan, an ex-minister in Yingluck's cabinet, told AFP.

"As the country heads to an election, we need to create a good atmosphere so that people can express their opinions."

Senior junta figures have floated a February 24 poll date.

Pichai said that date is now increasingly likely. He cautioned the National Council for Peace Order (NCPO) -- the political name of the junta government -- against postponing it again.

"If the NCPO postpones it again, there will be local and international pressure," he said.

Puea Thai is affiliated to the Shinawatra clan, a powerful and wealthy political family whose parties and proxies have won every Thai general election since 2001.

But coups and court rulings have toppled their governments, pushing Yingluck -- and her older brother Thaksin, the family patron -- into self-exile to avoid jail terms in Thailand.

With the ban on politics still in place, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha has spent months positioning himself for a potential run at the next election.

Despite insisting he has no interest in politics -- only in maintaining peace and order -- the gruff former general is expected to front an army-aligned party in the next election.

For months he has criss-crossed the country promising economic development, wooing local politicians with promised investment and showing his softer side to the electorate with endless photo opportunities.

On Thursday he hosted Japanese girl pop sensation "AKB48" at Government House, waving a pink day-glo stick to one of their smash hits and posing for photos.

Flanked by a royalist, conservative Bangkok-centric establishment, Thailand's military loathes the Shinawatras, accusing them of winning the hearts of the electorate with a toxic form of populist politics.

But junta critics say the army upended Thailand's fragile democracy to ensure its role is embedded in the kingdom's political future.

ISTANBUL, June 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Tayyip Erdogan is seen falling short of a first-round victory in Turkey’s presidential election, with his support dipping 1.6 points in one week, according to a survey by pollster Gezici published on Thursday.

The poll also showed his ruling AK Party was forecast to lose its parliamentary majority in the June 24 vote.

Gezici’s survey of 2,814 respondents, conducted on June 2-3, showed Erdogan receiving 47.1 percent of votes in the first round of presidential election, down from a level of 48.7 percent in a survey which it conducted a week earlier.

The poll showed that the AK Party’s alliance with the nationalist MHP would fall short of a majority in the 600-seat assembly, with 48.7 percent of the votes, unchanged from the figure in the previous survey a week earlier.

Abidjan, May 6, 2018 (AFP) - The party of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Saturday voted to back the formation of a large "unified party" with its allies, with the president saying there should be a primary to choose a candidate before presidential polls due in 2020.

"Everyone voted en masse for the unified party," said Henriette Diabate, president of the RDR.

Ouattara said the "unified party (was) an opportunity for Ivory Coast".

"Selfishness leads nowhere," he said, adding that the new formation would contribute to "political stability and economic development".

Ouattara, who came to power after a bloody five-month crisis in 2010-11 and is now in his second term, did not use the word primary but said the new party should "lay the basis for the choice of our next candidate".

"It will be a democratic choice. Everyone can be a candidate , the best among us will be chosen," he said.

Ouattara in 2010-11 ousted the then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing elections and is now on trial in The Hague for war crimes.

Violence between supporters of the two rivals claimed around 3,000 lives.

Ouattara has sparked opposition protests with a new senate that took office last month, condemned as a costly rubber stamp for the president.

It is the fruit of a revised constitution overwhelmingly approved by a referendum in 2016 -- the cornerpiece of Ouattara's strategy of change.

The opposition boycotted the referendum on the charter, deriding the proposed constitution as undemocratic and crafted to let Ouattara boost his grip on power and hand-pick his successor.

Nouakchott, April 22, 2018 (AFP) - Mauritania's opposition says it will contest upcoming legislative and municipal elections after previously boycotting votes in the country.

The National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU), seen as a radical opposition grouping, has declined to participate in a number of votes against President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and his government, but said it would take part in the elections slated for August or September.

"We have decided to participate in these elections because we do not accept to stay at the margins of a process leading to a political changeover in the country," said FNDU leader Mohamed Ould Moloud, during a press briefing in Nouakchott.

He slammed a new electoral commission set up recently without members of the radical opposition and said the FNDU "will not accept a kidnapping of the country and an electoral hold-up".

Hungarians go to the polls

BUDAPEST, Hungary, April 8, 2018 (News agencies) - Hungarians cast their ballots in a national election Sunday, a test of whether Prime Minister Viktor Orban—a fierce nationalist and leading figure on the European right—will retain his lock on parliament following a campaign in which he denounced immigrants and international institutions.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban cast his vote on Sunday in the parliamentary election, saying the ballot is about “Hungary’s future.”
Orban, who voted with his wife at a Budapest school near their home, told a crowd of reporters that he will “respect the decision” of the Hungarian voters.
Orban, who seeking his third consecutive term, and fourth overall since 1998, says he’s voting early so he could keep campaigning until polling stations close Sunday evening.
Orban, who focused his campaign on his harsh anti-migration stance, says it’s a “misunderstanding” that his frequently harsh criticism of Brussels was directed at the whole of the European Union.

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