Erdogan Says Turkey May Hold Referendum On EU Accession Bid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY) 

Erdogan says Turkey may hold referendum on EU accession bid

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey may hold a second referendum on whether to continue with European Union accession talks following a planned vote on April 16 that could give him sweeping new powers.

“Right now we are holding a referendum on April 16 and after that we could choose to do a second one on the (EU) accession talks and we would abide by whatever our people would say there,” Erdogan told a forum in the southern city of Antalya.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but they have moved very slowly due to disagreements over Cyprus, human rights and other issues. Relations between Ankara and Brussels have become particularly strained in recent months.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

SWIFT Messaging System Cuts Off Remaining North Korean Banks

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

SWIFT messaging system cuts off remaining North Korean banks

By Tom Bergin | LONDON

SWIFT, the inter-bank messaging network which is the backbone of international finance, said it planned to cut off the remaining North Korean banks still connected to its system, as concerns about the country’s nuclear program and missile tests grow.

SWIFT said the four remaining banks on the network would be disconnected for failing to meet its operating criteria.

The bank-owned co-operative declined to specify what the banks’ shortcomings were or if it had received representations from any governments.

Experts said the decision to cut off banks which were not subject to European Union sanctions was unusual and a possible sign of diplomatic pressure on SWIFT.

Belgium-based SWIFT has previously refused to cut off Burmese, Russian or Syrian banks which were subject to sanctions by other countries, such as the United States, citing a policy of remaining politically neutral.

SWIFT ignored years of pressure linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and only cut off Iranian banks in 2012 after the EU passed specifically tailored sanctions. SWIFT is overseen by the central bank of Belgium which is subject to EU law.

“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) banks remaining on the network are no longer compliant with SWIFT’s membership criteria,” SWIFT spokeswoman Natasha de Teran said in a statement.

“As a result, these entities will no longer have access to the SWIFT financial messaging service. Given the increased ongoing international attention on the DPRK, SWIFT has informed the Belgian and EU authorities,” she added.

Last week, the Belgian authorities said they would no longer allow SWIFT to provide services to North Korean banks which were under U.N. sanctions.

That followed a U.N. report in February that said North Korea was relying on continued access to the international banking system to flout sanctions imposed in relation to its nuclear program.

Former SWIFT chief executive Leonard Schrank said the only previous occasions he could remember when SWIFT had cut off banks not subject to EU sanctions was when the banks had lost their banking license or a country’s central bank had ceased functioning.

“This is a very, very serious action,” he said, adding it could open SWIFT up to pressure in respect of other countries.

A spokesman for the European Commission denied leaning on SWIFT: “This is a commercial matter for SWIFT. We do not interfere in the business decisions of any such company,” he said.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Belgian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Geert Wilders Falls Short In Election, As Wary Dutch Scatter Their Votes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Geert Wilders, a Rising Anti-Muslim Voice

This is Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician with aspirations to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands. He has compared the Quran to “Mein Kampf” and has called Moroccans “scum.”

By AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER on Publish Date March 13, 2017.  

THE HAGUE — The far-right politician Geert Wilders fell short of expectations in Dutch elections on Wednesday, gaining seats but failing to persuade a decisive portion of voters to back his extreme positions on barring Muslim immigrants and jettisoning the European Union, according to early results and exit polls.

The results were immediately cheered by pro-European politicians who hoped that they could help stall some of the momentum of the populist, anti-European Union and anti-Muslim forces Mr. Wilders has come to symbolize, and which have threatened to fracture the bloc.

Voters, who turned out in record numbers, nonetheless rewarded right and center-right parties that had co-opted parts of his hard-line message, including that of the incumbent prime minister, Mark Rutte. Some parties that challenged the establishment from the left made significant gains.

The Dutch vote was closely watched as a harbinger of potential trends in a year of important European elections, including in France in just weeks, and later in Germany and possibly Italy. Many of the Dutch parties that prevailed favor the European Union — a rare glimmer of hope at a time when populist forces have created an existential crisis for the bloc and Britain prepares for its withdrawal, or “Brexit.”

Continue reading the main story

“Today was a celebration of democracy, we saw rows of people queuing to cast their vote, all over the Netherlands — how long has it been since we’ve seen that?” Mr. Rutte said.

Alexander Pechtold, the leader of Democrats 66, which appeared to have won the most votes of any left-leaning party, struck a similar note underscoring the vote as a victory against a populist extremist.

“During this election campaign, the whole world was watching us,” Mr. Pechtold said. “They were looking at Europe to see if this continent would follow the call of the populists, but it has now become clear that call stopped here in the Netherlands.”

GRAPHIC

How Far Is Europe Swinging to the Right?

Right-wing parties have been achieving electoral success in a growing number of nations.

OPEN GRAPHIC

According to an unofficial tally compiled by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation, the country’s public broadcaster, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy was likely to capture 33 of the 150 seats in Parliament — a loss of seven seats, but still far more than any other party.

Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom was expected to finish second, with 20 seats (an increase of eight); and the right-leaning Christian Democratic Appeal and the left-leaning Democrats 66 were tied for third, with 19 each, the broadcaster reported.

In the Netherlands, the results betrayed a lingering distrust of turning over the reins of power to the far right, even as its message dominated the campaign and was likely to influence policies in the new government.

Yet there are limits to how much the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, will be a reliable predictor for Europe’s other important elections this year, including next month’s presidential elections in France.

Mark Bovens, a political scientist at Utrecht University, noted that Mr. Wilders and other right-wing parties, despite their gains, did not drastically cross traditional thresholds.

“The nationalist parties have won seats, compared to 2012 — Wilders’s party has gained seats, as has a new party, the Forum for Democracy — but their electorate is stable, it has not grown,” Mr. Bovens said.

Mr. Bovens pointed out that an earlier populist movement led by the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn had won 26 seats in 2002, and that Mr. Wilders’s won 24 seats in 2010. If Mr. Wilders’s party rises to 20 seats, as the early returns seemed to indicate, it will still be lower than the previous high-water marks.

“And some of the traditional parties have moved in a more nationalistic direction, taking a bit of wind out of his sails,” he said. “You see the same strategy in Germany.”

The German governing coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is facing a stiff election challenge of its own this year, was clearly buoyed by the Dutch result, its foreign ministry sending a warmly enthusiastic message via Twitter.

Photo

“The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said ‘Whoa’ to the wrong kind of populism,” said Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd. CreditCarl Court/Getty Images

“Large majority of Dutch voters have rejected anti-European populists. That’s good news. We need you for a strong #Europe!” it read.

In the Netherlands’s extremely fractured system of proportional representation — 28 parties ran and 13 are likely to have positions in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament — the results were, not atypically, something of a dog’s breakfast.

Mr. Rutte’s party lost seats, even as it came out on top, and will need to join forces with several others in order to wield power. Virtually all parties said they would not work with Mr. Wilders in a coalition — so toxic he remains — though his positions are likely to infuse parliamentary debate.

“Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!” Mr. Wilders wrote on Twitter, and indeed his anti-immigrant message, which dominated much of the campaign, was not likely to go away.

It came into particularly sharp relief on the eve of the election, when Turkey’s foreign minister sought to enter the Netherlands to rally support among Turks in Rotterdam for a referendum to increase the power of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Dutch officials refused him landing rights.

Mr. Wilders, who has seemed to relish being called the “Dutch Donald Trump,” has been so extreme that some appear to have thought twice about supporting him.

He has called for banning the Quran because he compares it to Hitler’s work “Mein Kampf,” which the Netherlands banned, and for closing mosques and Islamic cultural centers and schools.

Election turnout was high, with polling places seeing a steady stream of voters from early morning until the polls closed at 9 p.m. Of the 12.9 million Dutch citizens eligible to cast ballots, more than 80 percent voted.

Some polling places ran out of ballots and called for additional ones to be delivered. There were so many candidates listed that the ballots were as voluminous as bath towels and had to be folded many times over to fit into the ballot box.

Photo

Supporters of the Green Party reacted in The Hague on Wednesday.CreditRobin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The percentage of the vote that a party receives translates into the number of seats it will get in Parliament. If a party gets 10 percent of the total votes, it gets 10 percent of seats in the 150-seat Parliament, given to its first 15 candidates listed on the ballot.

The election was a success for the left-leaning Green Party, led by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, a relative political newcomer, whose leadership at least tripled the party’s seats, making it the fifth-place finisher and potentially a part of the government.

Mr. Klaver ran specifically on an anti-populist platform and worked hard to turn out first-time voters.

“In these elections there was an overwhelming attention from the foreign press, which is understandable because Brexit happened and Trump was elected, and because France, Germany and maybe Italy will be holding elections,” Mr. Klaver said. “They asked us: Will populism break through in the Netherlands?”

The crowd shouted: “No.”

“That is the answer that we have for the whole of Europe: Populism did not break through,” Mr. Klaver said.

Another striking development was the first-time election of former Labor Party members, all three of Turkish background, who formed a new party, Denk (which means “think”). It will be the only ethnic party in the Dutch Parliament and is a reminder that Turks are the largest immigrant community in the Netherlands. There are roughly 400,000 first, second, or third-generation Turkish immigrants in the nation.

The big loser was the center-left Labor Party, which was expected to drop from being the second largest party in Parliament, with 38 seats and a position as Mr. Rutte’s coalition partner. The party was expected to win only nine seats.

In past elections the impact of extremist right-leaning parties has been largely blunted by a political system that for more than a century has resulted in governance by coalition.

This year’s election may give the Netherlands its most fragmented government in history. Some political analysts believe it could take weeks or months to form a government and that the governing coalition will be fragile.

In Belgium, which has a similar political system as the Netherlands, it famously took nearly a year and a half after inconclusive elections in June 2010 to form a government.

Dutch Voting Today, The Issue: To Remain A European Country Or To Become An Islamic Country?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

The Netherlands Votes in Election That Is Seen as a Test for European Populism

Updated: 12:35 PM Eastern | Originally published: 3:30 AM Eastern

(THE HAGUE, Netherlands) — Voter turnout is high in the Netherlands as the country’s parliamentary elections unfold. The vote is being closely watched as a possible indicator of the strength of far-right populism ahead of national votes in France and Germany later this year.

Research bureau Ipsos, which is conducting an exit poll, says that turnout at 1:45 p.m. (1245 GMT; 8:45 a.m. EDT) was 33 percent, up from 27 percent at the same stage in the last parliamentary election.

Major cities also were publishing turnout figures. In Amsterdam, turnout at 1 p.m. (1200 GMT; 8 a.m. EDT) was 25.1 percent, compared to 14.1 percent at the last national elections, in 2012.

In Rotterdam, around 38 percent had voted at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT; 10 a.m. EDT), compared to 30 percent at the last national elections.

National broadcaster NOS reports that extra voting booths are being added at some popular locations, such as a high-rise tower in Amsterdam.

Two-term Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing VVD party was leading in polls ahead of the Dutch vote, with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom of firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders a close second.

Rutte has framed the election as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of this nation of 17 million’s economic recovery, while casting Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to take tough decisions were he to gain office.

The chance of Wilders becoming leader in this country where the proportional representation voting system all but guarantees coalition governments is small — all mainstream parties, including Rutte’s VVD, have ruled out working with Wilders.

Wilders’ one-page election manifesto includes pledges to de-Islamize the Netherlands by closing the borders to immigrants from Muslim nations, shuttering mosques and banning the Quran, as well as taking the Netherlands out of the European Union.

The final days of campaigning were overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments over the refusal of the Netherlands to let two Turkish government ministers address rallies about a constitutional reform referendum next month that could give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers. It showed Rutte as refusing to bow to pressure from outside, a stance which has widespread backing in the nation.

“It is my task to keep the nation safe and stable and deal with these kind of people,” said Rutte.

The 12.9 million Dutch voters can cast their ballots until 9 p.m. (2000 GMT). They have plenty to choose from; there are 28 parties fielding candidates in the splintered political landscape.

Turk President Er- Dog’ The Dictator Dares To Threaten EU Countries About Democratic Values?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ercan Gurses and Humeyra Pamuk | ANKARA/ISTANBUL

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday warned the Netherlands that he could take further steps in a deepening diplomatic row, while a government spokesman in Ankara said economic sanctions could be coming.

Incensed by Dutch and German government bans on his ministers from speaking to rallies of overseas Turks, Erdogan also accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of siding with the Netherlands in the fight between the NATO allies.

Turkey suspended high-level diplomatic relations with the Netherlands on Monday, banning the Dutch ambassador from the country and preventing diplomatic flights from landing in Turkey or using its airspace.

Those steps were taken after Erdogan branded the Netherlands “Nazi remnants” at the weekend for muzzling his ministers.

“The cabinet took action yesterday but there are many other things that could be done against the Netherlands,” Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on television.

“We will show those who think they can get away with an apology that they are making a mistake,” said Erdogan, who is campaigning for an April 16 referendum on boosting his powers and has been looking to the large number of Turks living in Europe to help secure victory.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus later told broadcaster CNN Turk that economic sanctions could be in the works.

“Pressure will continue against the Netherlands until they make up for what they did. We’ve started with the political, diplomatic sanctions, and economic sanctions may follow,” he said.

Erdogan has threatened to take the Netherlands to the European Court of Human Rights over the ban on his ministers, which both the Dutch and Germans have imposed citing fears of unrest.

Dutch police used dogs and water cannon on Sunday to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags outside the consulate in Rotterdam. Some protesters threw bottles and stones and several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. Mounted police officers charged the crowd.

SAARLAND, BELGIAN BANS

The small western German state of Saarland said on Tuesday it would ban political campaigning by foreign politicians.

“Internal Turkish conflicts have no place in Germany. Election appearances which put at risk domestic peace in our country must be banned,” State Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement.

“The atmosphere that has been created by Nazi comparisons and insults must not be allowed to escalate,” she said.

The Belgian city of Antwerp said it would not allow a politician from the nationalist MHP party to speak at an event, although Ali Guler was still set to appear on Sunday at a Turkish restaurant in Genk, in the east of the country.

While Turkish law forbids election campaigning abroad and in diplomatic missions, ministers are circumventing the ban by holding what they say are cultural events with Turkish citizens.

Erdogan has said that those who oppose the referendum, are aligning themselves with terrorists. He has also accused European states, including Germany, of harboring terrorism, an allegation they deny.

SHARP WORDS FOR MERKEL

EU states are also unhappy with what they see as an increasingly authoritarian tone from Turkey and the spat is likely to further dim Ankara’s prospects of EU membership.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to moderate its language and avoid further escalating the dispute.

Erdogan renewed his attack on Merkel after she criticized his “Nazi remnants” jibe against the Dutch.

“The countries that have embraced this thuggery have lost all their credibility. The Chancellor of Germany has come out and said she supported the Netherlands. We know that you are no different from them,” Erdogan said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Turkish sanctions, while “not too bad”, were inappropriate as the Dutch had more to be angry about.

Ankara’s foreign ministry said the European Union was exercising democratic values selectively.

“It is very grave for the EU to hide behind member country solidarity and stand by the Netherlands, which has clearly violated human rights and European values,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Daren Butler in Istanbul; Toby Sterling in Amsterdam; Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Jon Boyle and Toby Davis)

So Turkey’s Sunni Dictator Er-Dog-an Calls European Countries Nazi Because They Won’t Allow Him To Rule Them

 

So the Sunni Dictator Dog of Turkey, the man who has ruined the lives of his people with his hate and his ego has the gall to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s. When he first took power in Turkey the country and it’s people lived in relative peace with its neighbors and within its own borders. Turkey was the crown jewel in the Middle-East of the countries that had a majority Islamic population as far as people of various religions being free to worship as they pleased. There were many Gothic Churches that were hundreds of years old that dotted the landscape of this beautiful restive country. Now by my understanding of the many different articles I have read over the past few years several of these landmark Churches have either been destroyed or turned into Sunni Mosque.

 

Since Er-Dog-an has been in power he has through his policies created a situation where it is rather common for the people to have to try to survive car and truck bombs as well as suicide attacks on not just Turkey’s police and military personnel but on the civilians themselves. He had created tensions with Russia and with Israel before recently correcting this error, at least publicly. I say publicly because if you honestly think that Russia’s President Putin or Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consider him a friend or that they trust him you are being quite delusional. He has spent his time in power doing mainly one thing and that is to gain more power and control over every aspect of life within the borders of Turkey. He has invaded his Shiite neighbor Syria and is not welcome in Iran or Iraq. Yet personally I believe that one of his biggest most arrogant and stupid policies has been his constant assault on the Kurdish people. The Dog has made it very plain that he wants nothing to do with peace with this huge ethnicity of people that live in the eastern part of Turkey. He could have peace with them if he wasn’t so darn greedy. The Kurdish people simply want their own homeland and being they already had settled in the eastern part of Turkey it would have been easy to have had peace with them by simply letting this small part of Turkey be officially theirs. Then the two Nations could have easily become good neighbors, brothers, sisters and trading partners. There would have been peace this way and many people who are now dead would still be alive. He has been playing the EU against Russia card trying to see how much he can get from both sides. He cared so little for his countrymen that instead of sealing off their border with Syria and not allowing millions of refugees to enter Turkey at all he let them in then has used them as bargaining chips with the EU trying to extort money and EU membership from them.

 

Now this egomaniac Dictator dares to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s because of their policies that he personally doesn’t like. Think about this for a moment please, why is he slandering the leadership of these two countries? In Rotterdam they are going to be having elections very soon and Turkey has a huge number of Turk people living there now and there was going to be a big rally that the Turk Foreign Minister was going to address and the government decided to not let him show up. What is going on is very simple, if the Turk population grows to a high enough level they can then have more control of the laws passed in that country. If a minority population can gain control of a foreign country and they are loyalist to their home Dictator, this Dictator can have a huge effect on being the defacto Ruler of that Nation. Do not be naive, the people who believe in the teachings of ‘the prophet’ Mohammed know that they are ordered to infiltrate Infidel countries and when they have sufficient numbers to attack from within and to take control of the country and then to convert everyone there to Islam. The easiest way to take control of a Democratic country is through the ballot box, then if that doesn’t work, take it by force. Europe is starting to wake up and many of the people of Europe’s Nations are realizing the dangers they are having now and that it will only get much worse if they allow Islamic believing people to settle in their country. It is obvious why this Sunni egomaniac used the slur of Nazism toward Germany because the pain of their past but when this horse’s behind referred to the Netherlands the same way he showed his ignorance and his hate as well as pure stupidity. The worse thing that has happened to the Nation of Turkey since world war two has been allowing this madman to continue breathing within their borders. I say this because as he proves constantly like this upcoming referendum to give him alone even more power to rule as a King or a god would, he is only interested in making as many people as possible bow to his power, even Nations outside of Turkey’s current borders. If the EU Leaders in Brussels ever allow Turkey or any Islamic Nation to become part of the EU, that will be the kiss of death for their Countries and their way of life, and their very lives.

French Government Proves It Will Not Tolerate Free Speech Or Truth Concerning Islamic Terrorism?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN NEWS)

Marine Le Pen loses immunity over violent ISIS images

(CNN)Marine Le Pen’s bid to become the next French president has hit another stumble after members of the European Parliament voted to lift her immunity from prosecution.

The move, formally confirmed on Thursday, will allow French prosecutors to investigate her over tweets she sent in December 2015, which showed images of killings by ISIS militants.
French law prohibits the distribution of violent images or incitement of terrorism.
Announcing the result of the vote on whether to lift the immunity, Parliamentary President Antonio Tajani said a “clear majority” of members backed the motion.
Le Pen declined to comment when contacted by CNN.
As an MEP, Le Pen, leader of the National Front, enjoys immunity which covers freedom of speech — but that immunity can be lifted if a request is made by the authorities of the person’s member state.
In this case, the request was made by a prosecutor in Nanterre, in the west of Paris.
Under French law, the maximum penalty for distributing violent images is three years in prison and a fine of up to €75,000 ($79,000).
The lifting of her immunity relates to this case only and any action is unlikely to occur before the first round of voting on April 23.
Le Pen’s chief of staff under investigation 02:06
This is not the first time Le Pen’s immunity has been lifted by the EU Parliament, which also took a similar step in 2013.
That allowed her to be prosecuted in 2015 with “incitement to discrimination over people’s religious beliefs” after she compared Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during the Second World War. She was acquitted by the court in Lyon.
Le Pen is already under scrutiny over allegations that members of her staff were paid for non-existent jobs at the European Parliament.
Le Pen initially admitted they had been paid while not working, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said. She later denied having said so.

Democracy Lebanon Style

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-AWSAT NEWS AGENCY)

Opinion

Opinion: When Lebanese Democracy Talks

The controversy surrounding the election of Donald Trump as US president made many outside America have another look at how its electoral system works. However, controversy is surely not limited to America; it extends to Lebanon, a faraway small country that boasts being an ‘institutional democratic’ state built on consensus and entente.

Many pose questions about the logic behind the American political system which values the electoral votes of individual states more than the direct popular votes of the electorate. The fact is that the USA is a federal country, thus its political representation needs to reflect two fundamental principles without which no healthy democracy can survive:
-The first is simple direct democracy whereby the numerical majority has the advantage over the numerical minority; and this is embodied in the House of Representatives where each state is represented by a number of congressmen relative to its population.
-The second is respect for national unity in a diverse society, where an individual in a populous state must enjoy no advantage over another individual from a less populous state before the federal law which must treat all Americans equally. The principle of national unity is enshrined in the Senate where all states, regardless of population, are equally represented by two senators each.

This great vision has helped make the American political system as a whole, one of the fairest and most advanced in the world. It has sustained an ever growing and geographically expanding country since the 16th century, attracting wave after wave of immigration; and through the years each American state based on its topography, natural environment, and economic resources had specific attributes and qualities despite free and smooth inter-state movement.

Of course Lebanon is far too small compared to the USA. Its ‘democratic’ experience is also pretty modest to compare with that of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ and the legislations and agreements they adopted, even though these legislations and agreements failed to prevent the American Civil war (1861-1865), some vestiges of which remain until today. In fact, Lebanon too had a civil war in 1860 that helped create its almost ‘independent’ status; and as in America’s case, the vestiges of the war remain, while its borders have changed.

Still, size and global influence aside, there is another major difference between the American and Lebanese examples, which is that the Americans have learnt from their experiences, respected their institutions, and stopped bluffing themselves, which is not the case with the Lebanese.

In the USA no less than five presidents trailed their opponents in the popular votes, but abiding by the Constitution, the process led them to the White House. Moreover, despite the huge diversity in a country of 320 million inhabitants, there remains a good deal of healthy co-existence. We don’t hear people calling every day for a new electoral law that enhances the share of his or her ethnicity or religious sect. Nor do we hear of people calling for foreign intervention in their favor in the light of changing international policies.

Lebanon’s case, however, is totally different. Here, even the Lebanese constitution does not deal with its people as citizens but rather as members of sectarian flocks. The constitution which recognizes 17 sects, has “permanently” allocated each sect what has been deemed as its fair share of governmental position although population changes are continuous as are political disagreements.

Another interesting fact is that any Lebanese may spend his/her lifetime within the confines of his/her sect without interacting with other sects, beginning with birth, death, inheritance and marriage registries, and ending with education, health and employment. Thus, religious sects in Lebanon are de facto quasi-independent ‘states’, that have their own leaders, political parties, schools, universities, hospitals, and even sport clubs!

Given this situation and bearing in mind the vestiges of the past, the Lebanese have two living obsessions: the first is the ‘unfairness’ lamented by the Muslims who believe they are the majority that is long prevented from enjoying what it deserved under the French Mandate (1920-1943); and the second is the ‘fear’ felt by the Christians towards the ‘sea of Muslims’ surrounding them. The latter, led at first to separating Mount Lebanon from its surrounding area in 1861 and giving it the status of an ‘autonomous district’, i.e. “Mutassarrifiyya”, under the joint rule of the Ottoman Government and the European Powers, in order to ensure the ‘protection’ of the Christians. Then in 1920, it led to the creation of the current Lebanon (Grand Liban) under a Christian president, and a 6 to 5 parliamentary representation in the Christians’ favour that lasted until the ‘Taif Agreement’ in 1989.

Now, after ending ‘the presidential vacuum’ and forming the new cabinet, all that remains is electing a new parliament to replace the current one. The latter ended its four year term in 2013, but due to ongoing disagreement the scheduled elections were cancelled and its term extended. Still, disagreements continue regarding under what electoral law the forthcoming elections should be conducted, noting that almost all political parties and blocs refuse to carry on under the current multiple seat constituency law, popularly known as ‘The 1960 Law’.

There are many alternatives being put forward by parties and blocs ranging from full ‘proportional representation’ as preferred by Hezbollah and followers – which is understandable given its virtual armed hegemony – to the ‘Greek Orthodox Law’ whereby each sect elects its own members of parliament, including different ‘mixed’ versions combining direct vote and PR.

One alternative, however, that seems to be intentionally and stubbornly dismissed is the one calling for a bi-cameral parliament comprising: A Senate or Upper House elected by each sect, whereby all religious sects are equally represented and enjoy a ‘veto’ on issues adversely affecting their interests; and a House of Deputies or Representative, elected with no sectarian quota, with Lebanon as a single constituency, thus encouraging proper issue-based political parties after ridding the country of the two obsessions, i.e. the Muslims with ‘unfairness’ and the Christians with ‘fear’!

Why the idea of a Senate looks like being rejected out of hand, is not really surprising, if one keeps in mind the Lebanese eternal gamble in external forces and changes of regional and international balance of power. This remains the case despite the fact that the Lebanese Constitution, as adopted in Taif, called clearly for ‘wide decentralization’ and a ‘senate’.

Indeed, it has become a habit of Lebanon’s factions to demand justice and fairness when they are the underdogs, but seek hegemony when they feel they are winning.

Given such a mentality, any authority devised to curtail the ambitions of the powerful and defended the rights of the weak, has no chance of being accepted; as every faction hopes one day to be powerful enough to monopolize the country, and obliterate the others. Even the one who may be weak today would rather hope for an opportune moment to gamble again, and settle old scores.

In short, this is ‘electoral democracy – Lebanese Style’!

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Iran’s Violations of Arms Embargo to Be Discussed by UN Security Council

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ASHARQ AL-AWSAT NEWS AGENCY)

 

Iran’s Violations of Arms Embargo to Be Discussed by Security Council

United Nations Security Council. Reuters

New York- Few days after former Secretary-general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern regarding the fact that Tehran might have violated an arms embargo by supplying weapons and missiles to Lebanese Shi’ite group so-called Hezbollah, the topic is set to be discussed by the council on January 18.

The second bi-annual report, due to be discussed by the 15-member council, also cited an accusation by France that an arms shipment seized in the northern Indian Ocean in March was from Iran and likely bound for Somalia or Yemen.

Regardless that the session was aimed at following the implementation of U.N. resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Reuters confirmed on Monday that the report submitted every six months by U.N. chief included U.N. concern from Iran violating an arms embargo.

According to Reuters, the report was submitted to the Security Council on Dec. 30 by Ban Ki-moon before he was succeeded by Antonio Guterres on Jan. 1.

It came just weeks before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has threatened to either scrap the nuclear agreement or seek a better deal, takes office.

“In a televised speech broadcast by Al Manar TV on 24 June 2016, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, stated that the budget of Hezbollah, its salaries, expenses, weapons and missiles all came from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Ban wrote in the report.

“I am very concerned by this statement, which suggests that transfers of arms and related materiel from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Hezbollah may have been undertaken contrary to a Security Council resolution,” Ban said.

Most U.N. sanctions were lifted a year ago under a deal Iran made with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States and the European Union to curb its nuclear program.

However, Iran is still subject to an arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the nuclear agreement.

Meanwhile, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran Asma Jahangir expressed deep concerns over the continuous detention of human rights defenders in the country, who, she said “have been tried on the basis of vaguely defined offences and heavily sentenced following trials marred with due process violations.”

Raising alarm over the health of several prisoners of conscience in Iran, who have been on a prolonged hunger strike contesting the legality of their detention, the U.N. expert on the human rights situation there urged the authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release all those who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted for exercising their rights.

Two of at least eight protesting prisoners of conscience have been on hunger strike since October last year.

One of the two ended his strike last week after his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a human rights defender, was granted bail.

Another protester – Mohammed Ali Taheri – started his strike on 28 September.

However, his whereabouts have been unknown since his reported transfer to Baghiatollah Military Hospital in October.

Furthermore, at least one of the protesters – Arash Sadeghi, another human rights defender – is being denied transfer to specialized medical facilities despite his critical health condition and is reportedly kept in his cell.

“I call on the Iranian authorities to ensure that Sadeghi has access, as a matter of utmost priority, to specialized health care in a hospital outside prison, in compliance with international human rights standards and medical ethics in particular the principles of informed consent,” said Jahangir.

Greece’s Ambassador To Brazil Murdered By His Wife’s Lover

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Police contend Greece’s ambassador to Brazil was killed by his wife’s lover — a military police officer — and the widow is being questioned in the crime, Brazil’s state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported Saturday.

Chief Evaristo Pontes, a police investigator in the Baixada Fluminense state, said Friday that Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho claimed he killed the ambassador in self-defense and then recruited his cousin to help dispose of the body, Agencia Brasil News reported.
Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis, 59, had been missing since Monday, Pontes said. A burned car with Amiridis’ charred body inside was found in Nova Iguaçu, a town outside Rio de Janeiro, on Thursday, he said.
“He (Moreira) says he got into a physical fight with the ambassador, and he had no choice other than to hit the ambassador and kill him,” Pontes said. “He says he was in desperation and didn’t know what to do, given what had happened, so he asked a cousin for help and they went to make the ambassador’s body disappear.”
Greek ambassador to Brazil Kyriakos Amiridis.

Besides Moreira, the ambassador’s widow, Francoise De Souza Oliveira, and the officer’s cousin, Eduardo Moreira de Melo, are also being questioned, Pontes said.
Pontes said investigators think Oliveira ordered the killing. No charges have been filed.
“She only told us that her lover — let’s call him that — the military policeman, was the author of the crime, executed this crime against her husband,” Pontes said. “She denies taking part.”
Agencia Brasil reported the officer killed Amiridis inside the ambassador’s home in Nova Iguaçu. The officer and his cousin wrapped the body in carpet and put it inside a car, Agencia Brasil reported.
Pontes said the cousin told police Moreira offered “to pay him 80,000 reals (about $24,574) 30 days after the crime, a period after which they thought there wouldn’t be any more problems.”
“All are under temporary arrest for 30 days for the ambassador’s death,” Pontes said. ” As we said before, this was a tragic, cowardly act.”
Amiridis had lived in Brasilia, the capital, since being appointed ambassador in January but usually spent holidays in the house outside Rio, where he was consul-general from 2001 to 2004, Agencia Brasil said.
The news agency said Oliveira was Brazilian.
Speaking to reporters outside the police station, Francisco Oliveira, the widow’s brother, said the couple “did not fight,” reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“For me it’s like a dream,” said Rosangela Oliveira, her mother. “I’ll wake up and nothing will have happened.”
Brazilian President Michel Temer’s office issued this statement: “In this moment of pain and sorrow, I offer, on behalf of the Brazilians, my condolences and solidarity to the government and people of Greece, in particular to the families and people close to Ambassador Amiridis.”
The statement says Brazilian authorities will investigate the incident thoroughly.
“The Brazilian government reaffirms its willingness to collaborate actively with the Greek side, as it has done from the beginning,” the statement said.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its “deepest sorrow” at the death of Amiridis.
“The late diplomat served at the Permanent Mission of Greece to the EU, at the General Consulates in Rio de Janeiro and Rotterdam and at the Greek Embassy in Belgrade during the first phase of the war in Yugoslavia,” the statement said.