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ANKARA, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) -- Turks began voting on Sunday for a new president and parliament in elections that pose the biggest challenge to Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party since they swept to power more than a decade and a half ago.

The elections will also usher in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.

More than 56 million people were registered to vote at 180,000 ballot boxes across Turkey. Voting began at 8 am (0500 GMT) and will end at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, moved the elections forward from November 2019, arguing the new powers would better enable him to tackle the nation's mounting economic problems - the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year - and deal with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

But he reckoned without Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanized Turkey's long-demoralised and divided opposition.

Addressing a rally in Istanbul on Saturday attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Ince promised to reverse what he and opposition parties see as a swing towards authoritarian rule under Erdogan in the country of 81 million people.

"If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to ... Fear will continue to reign ... If Ince wins, the courts will be independent," said Ince, adding he would lift Turkey's state of emergency within 48 hours of being elected.

Turkey has been under emergency rule - which restricts some personal freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with emergency decrees - for nearly two years following an abortive military coup in July 2016.

Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on the preacher's followers in Turkey. The United Nations say some 160,000 people have been detained and nearly as many more, including teachers, judges and soldiers, sacked.

The president's critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent. Few newspapers or other media openly criticise the government and he has received far more election coverage than other presidential candidates.

Erdogan, who defends his tough measures as essential for national security, told his supporters at rallies on Saturday that if re-elected he would press ahead with more of the big infrastructure projects that have helped turn Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies during his time in office.

Polls show Erdogan falling short of a first-round victory in the presidential race but he would be expected to win a run-off on July 8, while his AK Party could lose its parliamentary majority, possibly heralding increased tensions between president and parliament.

Other presidential candidates include Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), who is now in jail on terrorism-related charges that he denies. If the HDP exceeds the 10 percent threshold of votes needed to enter parliament, it will be harder for the AKP to get a majority.

In a final appeal for votes in a video clip from his high security prison, Demirtas said: "If the HDP fails to get into parliament, all Turkey will lose. Backing the HDP means supporting democracy."

WARSAW, Poland, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) — Poland's former president and pro-democracy leader, Lech Walesa, says he is joining forces with the opposition to prevent the right-wing ruling party from winning a string of upcoming elections.

The 74-year-old Walesa addressed a meeting of opposition parties and activists Saturday in the Baltic city of Gdansk, at the center dedicated to the Solidarity movement that he led in the 1980s and that brought democracy to Poland.

He said the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party is threatening democracy, and that a joint effort was needed to prevent the party from winning local and presidential elections.

The meeting comes as questions are being raised about the future of Law and Justice due to the illness of its leader and strategist, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

BOGOTA, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Colombians vote on Sunday in a deeply divisive presidential runoff that pits candidates offering polar opposite views and has stirred fears the winner will upset a fragile peace process or derail the economy.

Ivan Duque, the business-friendly protege of hardline former president Alvaro Uribe, wants to alter a peace deal he deems too lenient on Marxist FARC rebels, while keeping Colombia’s largely orthodox economic model.

His rival, leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, has pledged to take on political elites, redistribute land to the poor and gradually eliminate the need for oil and coal in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” said financial planner Juan Jose Mojica, 21. “They’re two extremes that could destroy the development that the country has made over the last years.”

From the sweltering Caribbean coast to the frigid heights of the Andes, some 11,230 polling stations will open at 13:00 GMT. Polls close at 21:00 GMT and results are expected within hours.

These are the first elections since a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which ended their part in a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Duque wants to change the accord with tougher punishments for FARC war crimes, while Petro promises to support the existing deal and continue a peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) - Colombia’s last active rebel group.

“Duque doesn’t want peace. He wants war to continue and prevent Colombia getting ahead,” said Jorge Andres Sanchez, 31, selling World Cup goods in a Bogota shopping center. “Let’s put it behind us and start again.”

A lot is at stake too for Colombia’s $324 billion economy. Duque has promised to keep investors happy by cutting business taxes, bolstering the oil and coal sectors - top exports - and helping manufacturing.

Petro, a one-time member of the now defunct M19 insurgent group, wants a new economic model that ditches reliance on extractive industries for renewable energy and a land reform that promotes an increase in productive use.

His policies have prompted rivals to compare him to Venezuela’s former Socialist President Hugo Chavez.

“The markets and the productive sector see Duque as someone who guarantees the continuity of the current economic model, while they see Petro as someone who would break it down,” said Carlos Sepulveda, dean of economics at Rosario University.

State-run oil company Ecopetrol SA is responsible for almost 60 per cent of Colombia’s oil production of around 830,000 barrels per day and operates export pipeline infrastructure.

Petro would shift its emphasis toward wind and solar power.

“I really don’t like either of them, but as I have to choose, it has to be Duque,” said Carlos Mora, a 52-year-old lawyer. “With Petro, I really think we’ll end up like Venezuela.”

Some candidates from the first round have asked Colombians to cast blank ballots – a means for voters’ to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates.

“The blank vote will be higher than usual because the two candidates are from the most extreme positions on right and left, leaving the moderate centrist electorate with no obvious option,” said political analyst Yann Basset.

MADRID, June 4 , 2018 (News Wires) - A close aide to new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday rejected any prospect of early elections, despite his Socialist party being well short of a majority in parliament.

Sanchez, whose party holds just 84 of 350 seats, was propelled to head of government on Friday after convincing an unlikely alliance of anti-austerity and nationalist parties to oust the conservatives over a corruption scandal.
 
“It’s clearly unusual to govern with 84 lawmakers but the political situation remains very fragmented and everything suggests a new election wouldn’t fix that,” Jose Luis Abalos, often described as Sanchez’s right-hand man, told COPE radio.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia, June 3, 2018 (News Wires) — Slovenians are voting Sunday in a parliamentary election with polls predicting that an anti-immigrant party will win the most votes but not enough to form a government on its own.

The ballot is being held a few weeks earlier than the country’s regular four-year span following the sudden resignation in March of outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar over a failed railway project.

Slovenia, once part of former communist-run Yugoslavia and the home nation of U.S. first lady Melania Trump, joined the European Union in 2004. It has been using the shared euro currency since 2007.

The right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Janez Jansa has seen strong support ahead of Sunday’s ballot, followed by an anti-establishment party led by ex-comedian Marjan Sarec and several moderate groups from the outgoing ruling coalition.

But observers also say many of the country’s 1.7 million voters were still undecided.

Jansa’s rising popularity in the traditionally moderate Slovenia is seen as a reflection of a wider surge in right-wing populism in central and eastern Europe amid an influx into Europe of migrants from the Mideast and Africa.

Jansa has allied himself with Hungary’s firebrand prime minister, Viktor Orban, who participated in one of the SDS party’s election rallies.

Orban built a razor-wire fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia to keep migrants away.

The latest opinion polls predict Jansa’s SDS party could get around 25 per cent of the votes. Former satirist Sarec’s list and the Social Democrats are trailing with around 12 per cent each while Cerar’s Modern Center Party stands below 10 per cent.

Since no group is expected to gain an absolute majority in the 90-member parliament, negotiations to form a coalition government are likely after the vote.

Despite being the front-runner, Jansa won’t be able to return to power. More likely, other groups will form a coalition and keep him out of government.

MILAN, May 31, 2018 (News Wires) — Financial markets have calmed amid signs that Italy may avoid imminent elections after President Sergio Mattarella gave two populist parties time to figure out whether they can agree on an alternative to a euroskeptic economy minister.
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The leader of the 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, has proposed moving the contested ministerial candidate to a different Cabinet post.

League leader Matteo Salvini, meanwhile, said he isn’t closing the doors on any solution. But he’s also showing some resistance to the change, saying “if someone in Berlin or Paris wakes up in a bad mood that doesn’t mean that an Italian minister gets kicked out.”

Mattarella gave the leaders time to form a coalition government after markets plunged on news of an interim administration that would take Italy to new elections.

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