European Parliament raps Hungary on rights, eyes sanctions process

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 May 2017
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European Parliament raps Hungary on rights, eyes sanctions process

STRASBOURG: The European Parliament condemned on Wednesday what it called a “serious deterioration” in the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, at the start of a process that could theoretically lead to Budapest losing its EU voting rights.
The European Union’s rule of unanimity means the nationalist-minded government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is unlikely to be stripped of its voting rights as its ally Poland could veto such a move.
However, the European Parliament’s resolution, backed by 393 deputies to 221 against, sends a strong signal to Budapest that its actions are being closely monitored.
“Recent developments in Hungary have led to a serious deterioration in the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights which is testing the EU’s ability to defend its founding values,” the resolution read.
Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has eliminated checks on his power by taking control of much of Hungary’s media, curbing the powers of the constitutional court and placing loyalists in top positions at public institutions.
The European Parliament also asked the European Commission to strictly monitor Hungary’s use of EU funds and called on Budapest to repeal laws tightening rules against asylum-seekers and non-governmental organizations.
The resolution also urged Hungary to reach an agreement with US authorities that would enable the Budapest-based Central European University (CEU), founded by US financier George Soros, to continue operating as a free institution.
Orban’s critics say new legislation endangers the continued existence of the CEU, long considered a bastion of independent scholarship in central Europe. The European Commission has started separate legal action against Hungary over the issue.
The European Parliament will now prepare a formal resolution to launch a process to determine whether there is a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values by Budapest.
The process would be based on article 7 of the EU Treaty, whereby EU governments can ask a member state to take specific action to end a serious breach of EU values.
If that country ignores the recommendations, the 27 other EU governments can then decide by unanimity to suspend its voting rights. The right-wing government in Poland, which is currently under the EU’s rule of law monitoring procedure over its own actions, would be expected to veto any action against Hungary.


Muslim candidates running in record numbers face backlash

Updated 25 min 37 sec ago
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Muslim candidates running in record numbers face backlash

  • There were as many as 90 Muslim-Americans running for national or statewide offices this election cycle
  • Muslim Americans have been spurred to action by the anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric

SPRINGFIELD, Mass: A liberal woman of color with zero name recognition and little funding takes down a powerful, long serving congressman from her own political party.
When Tahirah Amatul-Wadud heard about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset over US Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary last month, the first-time candidate saw parallels with her own longshot campaign for Congress in western Massachusetts.
The 44-year-old Muslim, African-American civil rights lawyer, who is taking on a 30-year congressman and ranking Democrat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee, says she wasn’t alone, as encouragement, volunteers and donations started pouring in.
“We could barely stay on top of the residual love,” says Amatul-Wadud, US Rep. Richard Neal’s lone challenger in the state’s Sept. 4 Democratic primary. “It sent a message to all of our volunteers, voters and supporters that winning is very possible.”
From Congress to state legislatures and school boards, Muslim Americans spurred to action by the anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump and his supporters are running for elected offices in numbers not seen since before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, say Muslim groups and political observers.
Many, like Amatul-Wadud, hope to ride the surge of progressive activism within the Democratic Party that delivered Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely win and could help propel the Democrats back to power in November.
Still, the path to victory can be tougher for a Muslim American. Some promising campaigns already have fizzled out while many more face strong anti-Muslim backlash.
In Michigan, Democrat candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed continues to face unfounded claims from a GOP rival that he has ties to the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, even though Republican and Democratic politicians alike have denounced the accusations as “conspiracy theories.”
In Rochester, Minnesota, mayoral candidate Regina Mustafa has notified authorities of at least two instances where anti-Muslim threats were posted on her social media accounts.
And in Arizona, US Senate candidate Deedra Abboud received a torrent of Islamophobic attacks on Facebook last July that prompted outgoing US Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican lawmaker Abboud is hoping to replace, to come to her defense on Twitter.
“I’m a strong believer that we have to face this rhetoric,” said Abboud, who has also had right-wing militant groups the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights and the Proud Boys stage armed protests her campaign events. “We can’t ignore it or pretend like it’s a fringe element anymore. We have to let the ugly face show so that we can decide if that is us.”
There were as many as 90 Muslim-Americans running for national or statewide offices this election cycle, a number that Muslim groups say was unprecedented, at least in the post-9/11 era.
But recent primaries have whittled the field down to around 50, a number that still far exceeds the dozen or so that ran in 2016, said Shaun Kennedy, co-founder of Jetpac, a Massachusetts nonprofit that helps train Muslim-American candidates.
Among the candidates to fall short were California physician Asif Mahmood, who placed third in last month’s primary for state insurance commissioner, despite raising more than $1 million. And in Texas, wealthy businessman Tahir Javed finished a distant second in his Democratic primary for Congress, despite an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Nine candidates for Congress are still in the running, according to Jetpac’s tally. At least 18 others are campaigning for state legislature and 10 more seek major statewide and local offices, such as governor, mayor and city council. Even more are running for more modest offices like local planning board and school committee.
The next critical stretch of primaries is in August.
In Michigan, at least seven Muslim Americans are on the Aug. 7 ballot, including El-Sayed, who could become the nation’s first Muslim governor.
In Minnesota, the decision by Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim congressman, to run for state attorney general has set off a political frenzy for his congressional seat that includes two Muslim candidates, both Democrats: Ilhan Omar, the country’s first Somali-American state lawmaker, and Jamal Abdulahi, a Somali-American activist.
But historic wins in those and other races are far from assured, cautions Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analysis website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Omar’s chances of emerging from a field of five Democratic candidates in Minnesota’s Aug. 14 primary was bolstered by a recent endorsement from the state Democratic Party, but El-Sayed is an underdog in his gubernatorial race, he said.
Other Muslim-American candidates might fare better in Michigan, which has one of the nation’s largest Arab-American populations, Skelley added.
There, former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib has raised more money than her Democratic rivals in the race to succeed Democratic Rep. John Conyers, who resigned last year amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Former Obama administration official Fayrouz Saad is also running as a Democrat in the wide open race to succeed Republican Rep. David Trott, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Either could become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, which has only ever had two Muslim members: outgoing Ellison and Rep. Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat seeking re-election.
Saad, who served most recently as director of Detroit’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, recognizes the importance of representing her community in an era of rising Islamophobia.
The 35-year-old broke from the conservative Republican politics of her Lebanese immigrant parents following the 9/11 attacks because she felt Arabs and Muslims were unfairly targeted.
“I felt the way to push back against that was to be at the table,” said Saad, adding that her parents’ political leanings have also since moved to the left. “We have to step up and be voices for our communities and not wait for others to speak on behalf of us.”
But not all Muslim candidates feel that way.
In San Diego, California, 36-year-old Republican congressional candidate Omar Qudrat declined to comment on how Islamophobia has impacted his campaign, including instances when his faith have been called into question by members of his own political party.
Instead, the 37-year old political newcomer, who is one of at least three Muslim Republicans running nationwide this year, provided a statement touting his main campaign issues as faces Democratic US Rep. Scott Peters in November: addressing San Diego’s high number of homeless military veterans, improving public education and expanding economic opportunities for city residents.
“Running for public office is about advancing the interests of your constituents and the American people,” Qudrat’s statement reads. “Nothing else.”