Posts Tagged ‘Socialist Party’

Hungary opposition vows ‘year of resistance’ to Orban

January 3, 2019

Hungarian opposition parties on Thursday pledged to turn 2019 into a “year of resistance” against nationalist-conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, two days ahead of fresh anti-government protests in Budapest.

“We vow to make 2019 a year of resistance, both inside and outside parliament. And we will do this with the unity and cooperation of all the opposition parties,” a group of politicians declared at an impromptu gathering in front of the parliament in the Hungarian capital.

Following a holiday truce, opposition parties, trade unions and civil groups are hoping to draw tens of thousands of demonstrators to a rally in Budapest on Saturday in new protests against a controversial labour reform signed into law last month.

Opposition parties in Hungary hoping to draw tens of thousands of demonstrators to a rally in Budapest on Saturday in new protests against a controversial labour reform signed into law last month

Opposition parties in Hungary hoping to draw tens of thousands of demonstrators to a rally in Budapest on Saturday in new protests against a controversial labour reform signed into law last month.  AFP/File

Dubbed a “slave law” by its opponents, the reform has increased the amount of overtime that employers can demand from 250 to 400 hours per year and allows payment to be delayed by up to three years.

The government says the law is needed to tackle Hungary’s labour shortage and will enable those who wish to work more hours to earn more.

Hungarian President Janos Ader signed the reform into law just before Christmas, despite more than 10 days of sometimes violent clashes between demonstrators and police in the capital and other cities.

The opposition is also calling for another recent reform to be scrapped that could threaten the independence of judges. And it is demanding greater freedom for public media in a country that is regularly criticised for infringing the right of law.

Since he was re-elected for a third term last April, Orban, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has pursued reform policies aimed at creating an “illiberal democracy”.

The head of the Socialist Party, Bertalan Toth, welcomed the new show of unity between the leftist, liberal, environmentalist and far-right opposition parties, regretting that they had failed to demonstrate such solidarity during the elections in April.

With 48 percent of the vote, Orban’s Fidesz party and its allies holds two thirds of the seats in parliament, giving it the power to make constitutional changes.

AFP

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‘Yellow Vests’ open a new front in the battle for France: Popular referendums

December 17, 2018

Many of the “Yellow Vests” who hit the streets again on Saturday wielded signs with the acronym RIC – for “Citizens’ Initiative Referendum” – as demonstrators demanded popular votes be held to allow citizens to vet government policy proposals.

Image result for R.I.C., yellow vests, France, Photos

In a list of demands released in late November, the Yellow Vests ask that any policy proposal garnering 700,000 signatures trigger a national referendum to be held within a year. The RIC is one item on a list of 42 measures being demanded by the Yellow Vests.

A 2008 constitutional amendment provided for holding a referendum if a measure had the support of one-fifth of the members of Parliament and the backing of one-tenth of registered voters. But the citizens’ initiative has never been used, despite the launch of a website dedicated to listing the public proposals currently under debate.

Several of the 2017 presidential candidates were vocal supporters of popular referendums, notably far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon also proposed a measure that would have called on Parliament to debate any proposal that received support from at least 1 percent of the electorate.

An RIC system already exists in some countries, notably Switzerland, where voters are regularly called upon to vote on policies. Italy’s constitution calls for a vote to be held if a proposal gets 500,000 signatures or is backed by at least five regional councils.

Those Yellow Vests who support holding public referendums nevertheless differ on the mechanics, with some arguing the public votes should merely inform government policy (with no obligation on the part of the government to implement them) and others insisting the will of the people should automatically become policy.

There have also been suggestions for setting up a platform to allow citizens to submit their own policy proposals; those that garner a certain number of signatures online would then proceed to a vote.

And so far the government seems at least somewhat amenable to the idea.

In an interview with Les Echos newspaper published online Sunday evening, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said the government had “made mistakes“, among them that it had “not listened enough to the French people”.

He said there were plans to debate holding referendums on government policy, adding that they could be a “good tool for a democracy”.

The French government is likely hoping that the recent decline in Yellow Vest protesters indicates that the most direct challenge so far to Emmanuel Macron’s presidency may finally be losing steam. The interior ministry estimated some 66,000 people demonstrated across France for a fifth straight Saturday on December 15, down from 125,000 the week before.

Macron’s approval rating has dipped to 23 percent over the last month, according to a poll published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche weekly. In an effort to defuse the crisis Macron has already announced a series of measures, including a €100 monthly increase in the minimum wage and reducing some taxes on low-income pensioners. On December 5 the government abandoned plans for the tax hike on fuel that first ignited the protests .

AFP

Catalan government accused of playing ‘dangerous’ game after unrest

October 2, 2018

Catalonia’s separatist executive came under fire Tuesday, accused of playing a “dangerous” game after the regional leader encouraged radical independence activists to carry out disruptive acts on the anniversary of a banned referendum that culminated in clashes.

Hundreds of separatist protesters knocked down barriers at the regional parliament in Barcelona on Monday evening, clashing with police in stark contrast with the usually peaceful nature of Catalonia’s independence movement.

Analysts said this reflected the movement’s divisions and lack of direction, with some pushing for direct confrontation with Madrid and others calling for moderation, while at the same time trying to keep the spirit of last year’s secession bid alive.

Image result for Elsa Artadi, Photos
Elsa Artadi

Reacting to the clashes, Catalan government spokeswoman Elsa Artadi acknowledged it was “the first time that we are faced with this situation within the independence movement.”

She told Catalan television that a “minority” took part in the unrest.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez rapped regional leader Quim Torra, asking him to “not endanger political normalisation by encouraging radicals to lay siege to institutions which represent all Catalans.”

“Violence isn’t the way forward,” Sanchez, who is attempting to negotiate with Catalan leaders and also depends on separatist lawmakers to prop up his minority government, said in a tweet.

Image result for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, photos

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

– ‘Very dangerous’ –

Monday’s clashes forced the leader in Catalonia of anti-secession party Ciudadanos to leave the building under escort in unrest that topped a restive day in the northeastern region that remains sharply divided on independence.

Radical activists called by a group naming itself the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs), many of them hooded, cut roads and railway lines, encouraged by Torra — a staunch independence supporter himself.

“The (independence) movement is divided between radicals and an executive that isn’t sure where to go, and which is also divided,” said Oriol Bartomeus, politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

“I think Torra shares the CDRs’ ideas but he knows perfectly well that the independence movement will lose if it goes down that road.

“Torra is in the middle,” he said, describing the situation as ” very dangerous.”

In an editorial, Catalonia’s El Periodico daily wrote that “much has changed, it seems, in just one year,” accusing Torra and his regional ministers of playing a “double game” it described as “unsustainable.”

Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on October 1, 2017 was marred by a violent crackdown by police ordered to stop peaceful voters from casting their ballot, in footage that went around the world.

A year later, the tables appeared to have turned with images of radical independence supporters cutting roads and railway lines, muscling their way into a government building and clashing with police.

– Violence condemned –

Miquel Iceta, head of the Socialist party in Catalonia, told Spanish radio the unrest “highlighted that a regional president cannot encourage mobilisation if he is then unable to guarantee security.”

He said it also showed “that the Catalan government’s discourse, as it is far from reality, generates frustration and violence among its most radical followers.”

Image result for Miquel Iceta, photos

Miquel Iceta, head of the Socialist party in Catalonia

Even former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in self-exile in Belgium after last October’s secession bid, condemned the violence.

Image result for Carles Puigdemont, photos

Carles Puigdemont

“If they are hooded they’re not from the 1-0,” he tweeted in reference to the referendum last year, which went ahead despite a court ban and eventually led to a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence on October 27.

That prompted then conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy to sack the regional government, dissolve the Catalan parliament and call snap local elections.

“If they use violence they’re not from the 1-0. We did it with our faces uncovered and in a peaceful way,” Puigdemont added.

AFP

Celebrating Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and The Democratic Socialists of America

July 19, 2018

“Socialism has known increments of success, basic failure and massive betrayal. Yet it is more relevant to the humane construction of the twenty-first century than any other idea.”

With those words, Michael Harrington began his book “Socialism,” published in 1972. In his day, Harrington was often called “America’s leading socialist.” He was also one of the most decent voices in politics, a view shared not just by his friends but also by most of his critics.

Harrington founded Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which, in the often splintered politics of the left, was a breakaway group from the old Socialist Party. My hunch is that Harrington — whom I counted as a friend until his death in 1989 at the age of 61 — would be amazed, though not entirely surprised, by the extraordinary growth of DSA since Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.

By E. J. Columnist — July 18 at 4:27 PM
The Washington Post

It would thrill him that the organization is now heavily populated by the young, although I also suspect he would have spirited tactical arguments with youthful rebels about what works in politics. Harrington was a visionary realist, and the dialectic between those two words defined his life. He preached vision to those worn down by a tired political system, and realism to those trying to change it.

Socialists have had quite a journalistic run since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old DSA member, defeated veteran Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), a genial and rather liberal stalwart of the old Queens Democratic machine, in a primary last month.

Image result for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, photos

Opinion has been divided, roughly between those who see her as the wave of the future and those who warn of grave danger if Democrats move “too far to the left.” I use quotation marks because that phrase has been repeated so much, and because it’s imprecise and misleading.

The triumph of a young Latina who emphasized the interests of working people caught the imaginations of not only progressives but also many who do not fully agree with her politics. Even her posters were innovative, as Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen pointed out in The Post. But she also represented something very traditional: the transition of power from one ethnic group to another. As Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us long ago in their classic book “Beyond the Melting Pot,” never underestimate the role of ethnicity in New York politics.

Yet to use her victory as a prelude to a radical takeover of the Democratic Party badly misreads what has been happening. In Democratic primaries this year, more moderate candidates have done well. There have been important progressive victories, Ocasio-Cortez’s being one of the most striking, but no lurch left.

Moreover, Jake Sullivan, who was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 senior policy adviser, is right to argue in the journal Democracy that “Democrats should not blush too much, or pay too much heed, when political commentators arch their eyebrows about the party moving left.” (Disclosure: I have long-standing ties to Democracy.)

Sullivan sees “the center of gravity” in our politics moving in a more progressive direction in response to “the flaws of our public and private institutions that contributed to the financial crisis” and “the decades of rising inequality and income stagnation that came before.” Rescuing and rebuilding the American middle class require boldness, not timidity, he says, and an engagement with the persistent experimentation that Franklin D. Roosevelt championed.

The presence of an active democratic socialist voice encourages the conversation Sullivan describes. It serves as a corrective to a debate that had skewed so far right that middle-of-the-road progressives — Barack Obama, for one — found themselves (laughably) labeled as “socialists.” Having real socialists in the arena laying out more adventurous positions — among them, single-payer health care and free college — moves the boundaries of discussion and could, in the long run, improve the outcomes in legislative bargaining. Radical tax cuts from the right and measured austerity from the center represent a dreary choice for discontented voters and offer little hope for solving the problems that ignite their anger.

Our new left should attend to the realism Harrington preached. Social reform in our country has usually depended on alliances of the center and the left, and outright warfare between them only strengthens the right. The word “democratic” must always be given priority over the word “socialist,” and broad coalitions are the lifeblood of democracies.

But Ocasio-Cortez and, if I may use the word, her comrades are shaking up politics in constructive and promising ways. For this moderate social democrat, that’s a cause for cheer.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democratic-socialisms-time-has-come-around/2018/07/18/de9072ba-8ab2-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a85d0958a431

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Downcast Venezuela opposition seeks blow to Maduro through ballot box

October 15, 2017

Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s political crisis shifts from barricades to the ballot box on Sunday with gubernatorial elections that could hand the demoralized opposition a major victory against President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

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A resident walks past a campaign graffiti of opposition candidate for the government of Miranda Carlos Ocariz ahead the governors elections in Caracas, Venezuela, October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The ruling Socialist Party currently controls 20 of 23 state governorships. But polls show the opposition Democratic Unity coalition poised to upend that, given voter anger at hunger and shortages stemming from an economic meltdown.

Having failed to remove Maduro in protests earlier this year that led to 125 deaths and thousands of arrests, the opposition hopes a strong showing can be parlayed into victory in next year’s presidential election.

The government, however, is confident of stemming losses.

It has been making liberal use of state resources in its candidates’ campaigns and is appealing to Venezuelans’ exhaustion with political turmoil to vote against the opposition’s “candidates of violence.”

The pro-government election board also has thrown up hurdles for the opposition that could impact final results.

Those include the relocation of 200 vote centers on security grounds – mostly away from pro-opposition areas – and a refusal to update the ballot to remove superfluous names of opposition politicians who lost in primaries.

Additionally, a plethora of opposition leaders and activists, including major figures Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez, are barred from office or detained on accusations of coup-plotting, corruption and other charges.

“The more obstacles they put up, the stronger we become,” said coalition election coordinator Liliana Hernandez, urging supporters to turn out despite disillusionment.

The government says Sunday’s votes, from remote Amazon and Andean communities to heavily populated Caribbean coastal areas, are proof Venezuela is no dictatorship contrary to increased foreign criticism this year.

“When you vote, you will be sending a message to the imperialists,” the Socialist Party’s powerful No. 2 Diosdado Cabello said at a campaign rally this week, blasting the United States which has imposed some sanctions on Venezuela.

“We must vote for the legacy of Hugo Chavez,” Cabello added, referring to the populist firebrand and Maduro predecessor who ruled between 1999-2013 before dying from cancer.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro smiles during a meeting with representatives of the health sector at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela October 13, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

“GO CRY TO WASHINGTON!”

In contrast to the constant evoking of Chavez, the unpopular Maduro has been largely absent from his candidates’ rallies.

Even if the government loses a majority of governorships, Maduro has repeatedly said none of the newly-elected officials will be allowed to take office unless they pledge allegiance to a new legislative superbody elected controversially in July.

The opposition boycotted that vote and refused to recognize the entirely pro-government Constituent Assembly, which supersedes all institutions including the opposition-controlled congress.

“If they don’t swear, they don’t take office, full stop,” Maduro said in a speech this week.

“Then they can go and cry to Washington!”

Some opposition supporters, particularly youths in a self-styled ‘Resistance’ movement at the front of pitched street battles earlier this year, have accused their leaders of selling out and legitimizing a dictator by taking part in Sunday’s vote.

But most appear to have swallowed their qualms.

“Too many people were dying, with few results,” said student Manuel Melo, 20, who lost a kidney from the impact of a water cannon during one protest. “I agree with the elections.”

Should the government suffer big reverses, it can mitigate the practical effect by reducing funding and responsibilities for governors, as it has in the past when local posts have gone to the opposition.

After the election, the opposition will seek to throw the focus straight back to its main demands: guarantees of free and fair conditions for the 2018 presidential vote, freedom for jailed activists, foreign humanitarian aid, and authority for congress.

The government has said it hopes Sunday’s vote will help revive a stalled mediation bid with the opposition in the Dominican Republic. Any perceived dirty tricks by the government could risk more U.S. sanctions or new European ones.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Tom Brown

Venezuela: Citizens fear Sunday vote means end of democracy — Maduro tightens grip on power

July 30, 2017

The President’s radical plan will create a political body with the power to rewrite the country’s constitution and dismantle any brand of government seen as disloyal

By Nicholas Casey

The Independent 

One by one, the markers of Venezuela’s democracy have been pushed aside.

First, the Supreme Court was packed with loyalists of the President, and several opposition politicians were blocked from taking their seats. Then, judges overturned laws that the President opposed, and elections for governors around the country were suddenly suspended.

Next, the court ruled in favour of dissolving the legislature entirely, a move that provoked such an outcry in Venezuela and abroad that the decision was soon reversed.

Now, President Nicolas Maduro is pushing a radical plan to consolidate his leftist movement’s grip over the nation: he is creating a political body with the power to rewrite the country’s constitution and reshuffle – or dismantle – any branch of government seen as disloyal.

The new body, called a constituent assembly, is expected to grant virtually unlimited authority to the country’s leftists.

Venezuelans are going to the polls tomorrow to weigh in on the plan. But they will not have the option of rejecting it, even though some polls show that large majorities oppose the assembly’s creation. Instead, voters will be asked only to pick the assembly’s delegates, choosing from a list of stalwarts of Mr Maduro’s political movement.

The new assembly will rule above all other governmental powers – technically even the President – with the kind of unchecked authority not seen since the juntas that haunted Latin American countries in decades past.

“This is an existential threat to Venezuelan democracy,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group.

The list of delegates includes powerful members of the President’s political movement, including Diosdado Cabello, a top politician in the ruling Socialist Party who was involved in a failed coup attempt in the 1990s, and Cilia Flores, the President’s wife.

But the push to consolidate power also puts the country at a crossroads, one laden with risk.

As Maduro effectively steers his country toward one-party rule, he sets it on a collision course with the United States, which buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s administration froze the assets of, and forbade Americans to do business with, 13 Venezuelans close to Maduro, including his interior minister and heads of the army, police and national guard.

The administration is warning that harsher measures could follow, with “strong and swift economic actions” if the vote happens tomorrow, according to Trump. In a statement, he called Maduro a “bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator”.

There is also the potential powder keg on Venezuela’s streets. Infuriated by Mr Maduro’s government, the opposition has mobilised more than three months of street protests that have crippled cities with general strikes, rallies and looting. More than 110 people have been killed, many in clashes between the state and armed protesters. Few know how protesters will react to newly imposed leaders.

Even the members of the new assembly themselves are a wild card. Their power will be so vast that they could possibly remove Mr Maduro from office, some analysts note, ending a presidency that has been deeply unpopular, even among many leftists.

“It’s a crapshoot, a Pandora’s box,” said Alejandro Velasco, a Venezuelan historian at New York University who studies the country’s leftist movements. “You do this and you have so little control over how it plays out.”

Mr Maduro contends that the government restructuring is necessary to prevent more bloodshed on the streets and save Venezuela’s failing economy, which is dogged by shortages of food and medicine.

The President has refused to negotiate with street protesters, calling some of them terrorists and asserting that they are financed by outside governments trying to overthrow him. A new governing charter would give him wide-ranging tools to “construct peace”, he and leftists have said.

“We need order, justice,” Mr Maduro said during an interview with state television this month. “We have only one option, a national constituent assembly.”

The turmoil gripping Venezuela illustrates the sweeping declines in popularity for the Venezuelan left since the death of its standard-bearer, former president Hugo Chavez, in 2013.

It was Chavez who oversaw the last rewrite of the constitution, in 1999, which was widely backed by the voters who had propelled him to office in the belief that the country’s rule book favoured the rich.

That new constitution – and rising oil prices – fuelled a socialist-inspired transformation in Venezuela. It helped enable Chavez to redistribute state wealth to the poor, nationalise foreign assets and make him popular with his supporters. The constitution also left open the possibility of another constituent assembly in the future.

Now Mr Maduro has taken that option at a time when the leftists are dogged by their deepest crisis in decades. This time, Venezuelans are seeing it less as a stab at reform than as an attempt by a struggling ruling class to maintain power.

“It’s a last-ditch effort to secure his base,” Mr Velasco said. “He’s doing it at a moment of weakness.”

Under the rules of the vote, the constituent assembly would take the reins of the country within 72 hours of being officially certified, though it is unclear to most people what would happen after that.

Some politicians have suggested that governorships and mayors be replaced with “communal councils”. Top members of Mr Maduro’s party have identified Luisa Ortega, the attorney general, who has criticised Mr Maduro’s crackdown on protesters, as someone to be immediately dismissed.

But many fear that a likely first step will be the abolition of the country’s legislature, a tactic first used by Chavez when rewriting the constitution in 1999.

Leftists did not control the legislature then, and the same is true today. For more than a year, courts close to Mr Maduro have chipped away at the powers of opposition lawmakers there, overturning laws – like a measure to release political prisoners – and stripping them of budgetary oversight.

Organisers of a symbolic vote against the measure this month said more than 7 million ballots had been cast, with 98 percent backing the opposition.

Juan Guaido, an opposition politician, fears that the constituent assembly will dismantle his chamber, effectively liquidating any political power held by Mr Maduro’s rivals.

“If there was anything left of Venezuela’s battered democracy, it was the powers that were legitimately elected by the people, like the National Assembly,” he said. The vote would create a “totalitarian and repressive dictatorship”.

Still, some say the opposition has failed to offer clear alternatives to Mr Maduro. Eva Golinger, an American lawyer who was a confidante of Chavez’s, said rivals of the leftists had focused too heavily on wresting power from the President, something that could risk a wider civil conflict.

“They only rally around regime change,” said Ms Golinger, who opposes how Mr Maduro has gone about the constitutional rewrite.

The constituent assembly would also be able to take on one piece of work left unfinished by Chavez: creating a more socialist constitution.

Chavez later tried to amend his 1999 document with changes that he argued would speed the course of his populist revolution. But the additional measures were narrowly defeated when they were taken to voters in 2007.

Mr Maduro has indicated that he intends to pick up where Chavez left off. He has suggested a nine-point outline that includes increasing public spending for education and health care, giving socialist organisations increased governing abilities and taking unspecified measures to prevent foreign meddling in Venezuela.

Analysts also expect that the new constitution could dig deeper into the economic policy favoured by the President, which many economists blame for exacerbating the country’s economic crisis.

With much of the opposition expected to boycott the vote, it was mainly Venezuelans loyal to Maduro’s party who were eager to head to the polls tomorrow.

Maria Elena Perez, 54, a leftist activist in Caracas, the capital, said it was time for a new rule book.

“The current constitution is weak, and there’s a lot that needs to be fixed,” she said.

In the week before the vote, potential delegates were making their pitches on Venezuelan airwaves.

In one video, Ysmael Modoy, a candidate from the western state of Portuguesa, urged voters to defend Chavez’s legacy and promised a new constitution that better battled corruption.

Some sought a lighthearted tone. Antonio Leon, a candidate who goes by the nickname the Mask, entered his commercial dancing and singing while crossing an empty street. He didn’t address any changes to the constitution, but promised voters that he would make it easier to get government rations.

“Remember: you are love, you are life,” he said before returning to his dance.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/venezuela-crisis-protests-violence-nicolas-maduro-vote-election-referendum-a7866931.html

Venezuela: Massive turnout Sunday expected in protest rejection of President Nicolas Maduro and his policies — “Democracy and freedom are in play.”

July 16, 2017

Venezuelan opposition hopes for big turnout in protest vote

File photo: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro holds a copy of the country’s constitution as he talks to the media during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By FABIOLA SANCHEZ


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s opposition called for a massive turnout Sunday in a symbolic rejection of President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a proposal that’s escalating tensions in a nation stricken by widespread shortages and more than 100 days of anti-government protests.

Maduro has called a July 30 vote to elect members of a special assembly to retool Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. The opposition says the vote is structured to pack the constitutional assembly with government supporters and allow Maduro to eliminate the few remaining checks on his power, creating a Cuba-style system dominated by his socialist party.

Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships. The country’s chief prosecutor has recently broken with the ruling party.

“This fraudulent constitutional assembly will create a majority that will shut congress, throw democracy out the window, wipe out state governors and fire the chief prosecutor,” said former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga, who flew to Caracas Saturday with a group of former Latin American presidents to support the opposition vote. “Tomorrow, democracy and freedom are in play.”

The opposition is boycotting the constitutional assembly. Instead, it has asked Venezuelans to oppose Maduro’s plans by showing up at 2,000 sites across the country to fill out ballots featuring three yes-or-no questions. Do they reject the constitutional assembly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they support the formation of a government comprised of Maduro backers and opponents?

The symbolic referendum has no legal impact; it will serve as a show of support whose success or failure will be measured in how many millions of people participate. Democratic Unity, a coalition of some 20 opposition parties, has printed 14 million ballots for voters inside and outside the country of 31 million people. Few expect turnout that high but analysts say participation by more than eight million people would significantly hike pressure on the government two weeks before the constitutional assembly.

The government calls the opposition vote a manipulation aimed at destabilizing the country, and has been urging its supporters to participate in the constitutional assembly, which it calls a way of restoring peace to Venezuela.

“Some comrades and brothers may be worn out by the right’s great media campaign. Now they’ve invented this July 16 thing to put the burden on their own people and evade their responsibility,” socialist party Vice President Diosdado Cabello said Saturday. “That’s how the right is, manipulative, fooling their own people.”

Polls show that barely 20 percent of Venezuelans favor rewriting the late Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution — about the same level of support they have for Maduro.

The government has nonetheless called for its own nationwide exercise Sunday, a rehearsal for the July 30 assembly that will pull backers into the streets.

Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers. The petroleum-rich nation has been hit hard by falling world oil prices.

Clashes between protesters and police have left at least 93 people dead, 1,500 wounded and more than 500 behind bars.

Edinson Ferrer, head of the Justice First opposition party, said he didn’t expect violence between government backers and opponents Sunday because the polling sites for the two voting exercises were far enough apart to avoid clashes. He said some 50,000 poll workers would help organize the opposition event.

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Fabiola Sanchez on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fisanchezn

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Reuters

Venezuela opposition holds unofficial plebiscite to defy Maduro

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks, during a meeting with supporters at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 19, 2017. Reuters Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition holds an unofficial referendum on Sunday to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro as he seeks to create a legislative superbody that his adversaries call the consolidation of a dictatorship.

The symbolic poll, which will also ask voters if they want early elections, is intended to further dent Maduro’s legitimacy amid a crippling economic crisis and three months of anti-government protests that have led to nearly 100 deaths.

The opposition has cast the vote, which begins at 7 a.m. local time at some 2,000 centers around the country, as an act of civil disobedience to be followed by “zero hour,” a possible reference to a national strike or other escalated actions against Maduro.

But the vote does not appear to augur a short-term change of government or a solution to the country’s political stalemate.

Maduro, 54, says Sunday’s plebiscite is illegal and meaningless. Instead, the leftist leader is campaigning for an official July 30 vote for the new assembly, which will be able to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.

“(Even with) rain, thunder or lightning, Sunday’s poll will go ahead!” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles in a Friday evening broadcast. “We Venezuelans are going out to vote for the future, the fatherland and the freedom of Venezuela.”

Voters will be asked three questions: if they reject the constitutional assembly, if they want the armed forces to defend the existing constitution and if they want elections before Maduro’s term in office ends in 2018.

Some public employees, under government pressure not to participate in opposition events, are seeking creative ways to vote in the plebiscite without being noticed. [L1N1K41VV]

The vote will also include participation of the swelling ranks of Venezuelans who have moved abroad to escape the OPEC nation’s increasingly dire economic panorama.

The opposition is hoping millions will turn out and promises the results will be available on Sunday evening.

But the opposition faces some major obstacles.

It will not have access to traditional electoral infrastructure for the hastily convened plebiscite, and the elections council – which the opposition calls a pawn of Maduro – is simultaneously holding a test-run for the July 30 vote.

Also, state telecommunications regulator Conatel has ordered radio and TV stations not to use the word “plebiscite” on air and has told them to pull opposition ads for the vote, according to Venezuela’s main organization of media workers.

Street Violence

A high turnout would reflect widespread national dissatisfaction with Maduro and boost the opposition campaign to remove him, while low attendance would give the ruling Socialist Party a boost for the constitutional assembly.

Government officials say the plebiscite violates laws requiring elections to be organized by the elections council.

“We are not going to let the Venezuelan right wing impose themselves and harm the people,” said Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello during a Saturday rally for the constitutional assembly.

The vote comes against the backdrop of near daily opposition protests, in many of which masked youths with stones, Molotov cocktails and homemade mortars have battled riot forces using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.

The unrest has caused fatalities among both demonstrators and security forces, mostly from gunshots, as well as hundreds of arrests and thousands of injuries since April.

Last week, seven National Guard troops were injured by an explosion along an avenue in Caracas, which the government blamed on the opposition.

And on Friday, a video circulating on social media showed a man being punched, kicked, stomped and hit in the head with weapons and riot shields after being thrown on the ground by a half-dozen security officials. He was then loaded onto a motorcycle and driven away with blood on his face.

A second video shows men in uniform smashing the windows of a car after what appears to be a scuffle with a woman on the sidewalk. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the veracity of the videos.

Maduro has repeatedly refused to recognize the authority of the National Assembly since the opposition won it in a 2015 landslide election, which his critics call evidence he is eroding democratic institutions in order to retain power.

The former union organizer says the country is victim of an “economic war” and that opposition protests are an effort to overthrow him with U.S. connivance.

Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte, Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Cynthia Osterman

French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open but victory far from assured

April 23, 2017

Fox News

As voting starts in the French Presidential Election,  Marine Le Pen — who has built her campaign on the populist anger that helped President Trump get elected — is seeing a similar boost in support.

Marine Le Pen goes into today's first round of the French election in the lead

Marine Le Pen goes into today’s first round of the French election in the lead

An opinion poll released Friday by Odoxa shows her nearly neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a jump in the past week. Analysts point out that the latest attack in Paris, which killed a police officer and left three other people wounded Thursday, may have contributed to her surge in support.

HOW FRANCE’S ELECTION COULD HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON UNITED STATES

Still, the race is far from decided. As many as one-third of voters had not settled on a candidate this week, Newsweek reported. President Trump said he believed the Champs-Elysees attack would help Le Pen, while former President Barack Obama offered Macron his best wishes in a phone call Thursday. Both Trump and Obama stopped short of full endorsements.

Election stations opened Saturday in French overseas territories voting first — one day earlier than on the mainland.

Newsweek found many voters across France saying they were leaning toward Le Pen — which would parallel the surge for Trump last year among undecided voters and supporters who chose to lay low.

‘COULD LE PEN WIN?’ A GUIDE TO THE FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

André Robert, 56, said her tough stance on terror convinced him. “I’m voting for the candidate who’ll keep us safe.”

“Marine gets me shaking,” 65-year-old Monique Zaouchkevitch said, adding that she’d stayed out of politics until she heard Le Pen speak. “Marine, she’s close to the people.”

In another parallel to the U.S., some voters seemed to suffer from election fatigue and weren’t blown away by any of the candidates. Gabriel Roberoir, a 61-year-old former public servant, called the election a “circus,” adding, “I don’t even know why any of them are running.”

Sunday’s vote is the first round in the French elections, with the top two candidates advancing to a winner-take-all runoff on May 7. The high-stakes contest is viewed as something of a vote on the future of the European Union, with Le Pen calling for a referendum on France’s membership in the bloc.

In a sign of how tense the country has become, a man holding a knife caused widespread panic Saturday at Paris’ Gare du Nord train station. He was arrested and no one was hurt.

Conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, whose campaign was initially derailed by corruption allegations that his wife was paid as his parliamentary aide, also appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-leftist, Jean-Luc Melenchon. Campaigning by the 11 presidential candidates got off to a slow start, bogged down by corruption charges around once-top candidate Fillon before belatedly switching focus to France’s biggest fear: a new attack.

Le Pen has also echoed some of Trump’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration, calling for hardening French borders to stanch what she describes as an out-of-control flow of immigrants.

She has spoken of radical Muslims trying to supplant France’s Judeo-Christian heritage and, among other measures, has called for foreigners suspected of extremism to be expelled from the country.

Le Pen, a 48-year-old mother of three, has distanced herself from her father, National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of crimes related to anti-Semitism and mocked the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.

Nevertheless, earlier this month she denied the French state was responsible for the roundup of Jews during World War II, drawing condemnation from other presidential candidates and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

A victory for Macron would be a vote of confidence in France staying in the EU. Obama, when he was in office, encouraged Britain not to leave, though it ultimately voted to do so anyway.

Trump backed Britain’s decision to exit from the EU and has also predicted that other countries would make similar decisions. Yet during a White House news conference Thursday, the president said he believed in a strong Europe.

“A strong Europe is very, very important to me as president of the United States,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/04/22/france-election-marine-le-pen-sees-trump-like-boost-in-support-but-victory-far-from-assured.html

See also from The Telegraph:

French election 2017: Marine Le Pen leading the race as polls open
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/23/france-goes-polls-marine-le-pen-emmanuel-macron-leading-race/

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France: Polls open in Presidential Election that could have a dramatic effect on the shape of the European Union

April 23, 2017

Amid heightened security fears following a terror attack in Paris, the French will elect a new president in two rounds of voting on April 23 and May 7—the result could reshape the European Union. WSJ’s Niki Blasina explains who the top candidates are, how they could win, and what might happen next. Photo: Getty Images.

PARIS—French voters headed to the polls Sunday for the first round of a closely contested presidential election that has turned into a referendum on the future of France’s generous entitlement system and on the nation’s place in the European Union, amid heightened security days after a terror attack in the capital.

Uncertainty is running high as polls show the four candidates leading the race are within striking distance of one another. The quartet comprises two mainstream contenders and two antiestablishment candidates seeking to pull apart the political and economic order that has governed France and Europe for the past 60 years.

The top two finishers from a field of 11 will proceed to a runoff on May 7, unless any one candidate garners more than 50% of the vote Sunday.

Adding further tension, voters are casting their ballots amid heightened security following a spate of terror attacks. An additional 50,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed to secure polling stations around the country, where some 10,000 soldiers are already patrolling the streets as part of an antiterror mission.

Photos: Voting Begins in France

French voters cast their ballots in the first round of that country’s election Sunday

Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong.
Expatriate French voters line up at a polling station in Hong Kong. ALEX HOFFORD/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday.
A voter casts his ballot at a Paris polling station in the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday. CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS

French people were reminded of the threat Thursday when a police officer was gunned down on Paris’s Champs-Élysées. Two days earlier, police detained two men in the southern city of Marseille suspected of planning an imminent terror attack.

Polling firms say many voters planning to cast a ballot still hadn’t picked a first-round candidate at the end of the week. According to a poll by BVA Thursday and Friday, 23% of people intending to vote say they could still change their mind.

Leading among the anti-EU candidates is Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader who has pledged to halt immigration, and wants France to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ditch the euro. Left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon is also threatening to pull out of NATO and the EU, unless the bloc bends to his demands to scrap treaties that rein in excessive spending.

Coming to the defense of Europe are Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker who has never run for office, and François Fillon, a social and fiscal conservative who has publicly apologized after news reports showed he had put his family on the public payroll.

Also at stake in Sunday’s vote is the fate of France’s big-hearted state. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Mélenchon are promising to reinforce pension and holiday entitlements. Messrs. Fillon and Macron say the time has come to bring benefits in line with France’s debt-laden public finances.

Second-Round Matchups

The six most realistic scenarios for the May 7 presidential runoff and their predicted outcomes.

Emmanuel Macron | François Fillon

A contest between two pro-Europeans that shifts the debate to taxation, spending and how to fix the French economy.

Emmanuel Macron | Marine Le Pen

A staunch EU defender takes on one of the economic bloc’s most committed adversaries.

Emmanuel Macron | Jean-Luc Mélenchon

A referendum on the role of France in the EU and NATO, laying bare divisions on the French left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | François Fillon

A soak-the-rich crusader of the far-left squares off with a conservative proponent of austerity.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon | Marine Le Pen

The second round investors fear most, because it guarantees France will have a deeply euroskeptic president.

François Fillon | Marine Le Pen

This matchup with the scandal-plagued Mr. Fillon, polls say, is Ms. Le Pen’s best shot at the presidency.

Sources: Staff reports; CEVIPOF poll conducted between Apr. 16–17 by Ipsos-Sopra Steria of 11,601 people registered on the electoral rolls (polling)

The BVA poll showed Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron each on track to garner 23% of the vote, with Mr. Mélenchon on 19.5% and Mr. Fillon half a point behind the left-wing candidate. The projections, the poll says, have a 2.5-percentage-point margin of error.

Those razor-thin margins are testing the longstanding practice in France of casting ballots for those candidates voters consider to be lesser evils—what is known locally as a “vote utile,” or “useful vote.”

“It was already complicated before,” said Florence Pilon, 43 years old, who is now leaning toward voting for Mr. Macron. “We haven’t had a very reassuring campaign.”

At the start of the year, Mr. Fillon and Ms. Le Pen held a comfortable lead in polls, which projected him beating her in the second round as voters rallied against the National Front leader.

But Mr. Fillon’s campaign suffered a blow after a newspaper reported he had hired his wife and two children as parliamentary assistants, paying them hundreds of thousands of euros in state funds. In March, an investigative magistrate notified Mr. Fillon he was suspected of embezzlement for providing his family with fake jobs. Mr. Fillon has apologized for hiring relatives but denied allegations the jobs were fake.

Mr. Fillon’s ensuing collapse in opinion polls thrust Mr. Macron, a pro-business former economy minister, into pole position.

In recent weeks, however, Mr. Macron’s left flank has come under attack from Mr. Mélenchon, a fiery, Mao jacket-wearing leftist who has cast himself as the champion of the working class.

Mr. Mélenchon’s surge scrambled the voting math once again, as polls showed many on the left were tempted to abandon Mr. Macron.

The Interior Ministry will publish the first turnout figures at noon local time and again at 5 p.m.

The first estimations based on a partial count the vote will be calculated by polling companies for the main TV channels and broadcast at 8 p.m.

Polling companies expect to have firmer projections by 10 p.m., though there is an outside chance the race could still be too close to call. If that is the case, the first round may not be called until the government completes the vote count on Monday morning.

Write to William Horobin at William.Horobin@wsj.com and Joshua Robinson at joshua.robinson@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-tense-presidential-election-gets-under-way-1492927200?mod=e2tw

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France votes amid political turmoil — “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

April 23, 2017

Today’s first round of voting in France’s presidential elections is the culmination of the country’s very surprising campaign. Lisa Louis reports from Paris.

Frankreich Wahlen (Reuters/P.Rossignol)

France has seen its most extraordinary presidential election campaign in recent history. Beyond politics as usual, it points to a deep institutional crisis.

The French are going to the polls today to vote in the first round of the presidential elections. About a third of them still don’t know who to vote for according to polls. And can you really blame them?

French presidential election campaigns normally produce two clear front runners – often from the main center-right and center-left parties. In 2012, the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was facing current Socialist President Francois Hollande. Admittedly, far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round of voting in 2002. But that had been undetected by the polls.

This time around though, four candidates could potentially reach the decisive run-off vote on May 7. The gaps between their projected tallies are so small that they lie within the margin of error. That’s unheard of and hasn’t occurred since the beginning of France’s Fifth Republic in 1958.

“This is the first time that the media’s projections published at [1800 UTC] on the first day of voting will probably not give us the names of the two candidates that’ll get into the second round – the vote will just be too close,” said Nicolas Lebourg, political historian at Montpellier University.

“It’s extraordinary – never has a presidential election been so chaotic,” he added.

Full of surprises

Thursday night’s terror attack just added to the confusion focusing the campaign on terrorism in its last stretch. Unemployment had been the main talking point up until then. During the attack, one policeman was killed and three other people wounded after a 39-year old French man opened fire on a police van on Paris’ iconic Champs-Elysées boulevard. However, it doesn’t seem to have given any of the candidates a huge edge according to the latest polls.

But the whole campaign has been full of surprises. To start off with, none of the winners of the Republican and Socialist parties’ primaries were expected to come first.

Frankreich Francois Fillon (Getty Images/AFP/P. Kovarik)Francois Fillon, once the frontrunner, has seen his candidacy hurt amid allegations he gave family members fake jobs

Then came scandal for the conservatives. The Republican candidate, former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, had for months been the favorite to become France’s next President. He’s a social conservative and intends to get the country back on track with Thatcher-like radical economic reforms. He is also planning on repositioning the country internationally – by seeking closer ties with Russia and Syria.

But in January, scandals around alleged fake jobs for his family saw his poll numbers drop from 28 to about 18 percent. He is now competing with far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon for third position.

Melenchon recently – and surprisingly so – zoomed upwards from ten percent, with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon plummeting to single-figure numbers.

The left-extremist Melenchon still thinks in terms of class warfare. A gifted orator, he wants to strengthen the French welfare state by increasing the minimum wage and bringing down weekly working hours – currently at 35. He also intends to renegotiate EU treaties or, if that fails, push for France to leave the EU all together.

Another extremist is among the two front runners – again a first in French history. Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Front has a very good chance of getting through to the decisive run-off vote – and this is reflected in the polls. She’s proven popular with a recipe of anti-immigrant, economic protectionism and nationalistic rhetoric. But she has managed to smoothen out the party’s image by no longer making controversial statements like her father Jean-Marie. He was tarnished by charges of xenophobia and anti-semitism.

Kombobild Melenchon Le PenLeftist Jean-Luc Melenchon has risen in the polls ahead of the vote, while far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is hoping her anti-EU, anti-migration rhetoric will galvanize her populist base

Traditional parties in crisis

Le Pen’s closest rival is independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. The former Economics Minister is pro-European and pro-business but also intends to maintain and strengthen France’s welfare state. His movement “En Marche!” (On The Move!), founded only a year ago, skyrocketed in the polls. He’s now in first place.

“The fact that a lightning party like ‘En Marche!’ can attract members from the Communists and the Republicans just shows to what extent the traditional parties are in a crisis,” said Florence Faucher, Professor for Political Science at Paris University Sciences Po.

But historian Lebourg says it’s not just the Socialist and the Republican Parties that are in a dire state – but the whole Fifth Republic: “This is a deep institutional crisis.”

“Our Republican Monarchy was made for the agrarian France of 1958, when less then ten percent of the people under 50 had a degree – now that figure is at 38 percent.”

“People want to be included in political decisions – and no longer be dictated to. Our institutions and very authoritarian and centralized political system are just not suitable any more.”

Perhaps for this reason, many in this election campaign were trying to depict themselves as anti-system candidates – including Melenchon, Le Pen, and Macron.

No clear favorite

Lebourg says the current political system, based on two rounds of voting, only works with two frontrunners and two strong political poles. But with four strong candidates, none of them is likely to get enough votes to appear legitimate. “The two run-off candidates will not have been able to gather much more than 20 percent in the first round,” he stated.

And more problems could lie ahead. Parliamentary elections will take place in June and the resulting majority will form the new government.

But only a President Francois Fillon would have a chance of getting such a majority. He could fall back on a large base of traditional voters of his party.

The other candidates, if elected, would not have that base and would hardly be able to get the necessary number of MPs. Those who are voting for the winner in the Presidential elections would not necessarily support his or her candidates in parliamentary elections, Lebourg explained.

The result would then be a coalition – a so-called “cohabitation.”

But coalitions have never worked very well in French history. “It would be total chaos – the French are just not good at making compromises,” Lebourg said adding that it wasn’t for nothing that the French had come up with the term “Franco-French war”.

“In any case, the system is at breaking point – it’s almost impossible not to reform it as things stand.”

Lebourg thinks the electoral rules need to be changed towards a proportional system and that more space needs to be given to citizen initiatives.

Political scientist Faucher says it’s no wonder people are confused given all the ups and downs of the election campaign. “The French are just not happy with the status quo. This campaign is the expression of a resentment against the established system, just like the Brexit vote and the outcome of the US presidential elections.”

“Many just don’t know who to vote for now – especially as they are more worried than ever to get things right.”

http://www.dw.com/en/france-votes-amid-political-turmoil/a-38548523

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