Abe targets N. Korea after storming to ‘super-majority’ vote win

Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe smiles as he puts rosettes by successful general election candidates' names on a board at the party headquarters in Tokyo on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 23 October 2017
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Abe targets N. Korea after storming to ‘super-majority’ vote win

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stormed to a landslide “super-majority” in snap Japanese elections, near complete projections showed Monday, with the hard-line nationalist immediately pledging to “deal firmly” with North Korea.
Abe’s conservative coalition is on track to win at least 312 seats with only a handful left to call, according to public broadcaster NHK, giving him a coveted two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.
That will allow him to pursue his cherished goal of proposing changes to the country’s pacifist constitution to beef up the status of the military, which is effectively restricted to self-defense.
Abe, 63, is now on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier, winning a fresh term at the helm of the world’s third-biggest economy and key US regional ally.
The hawkish prime minister said the crushing election victory had hardened his resolve to deal with the crisis in North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and fired two missiles over its northern islands.
“As I promised in the election, my imminent task is to firmly deal with North Korea. For that, strong diplomacy is required,” stressed Abe, who has courted both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, while local media acknowledged what was described as a “landslide” victory, many chalked up Abe’s win to a weak and ineffective opposition and urged caution.
“The voters didn’t think the opposition parties were capable of running a government... they chose Prime Minister Abe, who is at least better, even if they had some concerns about the ruling coalition,” said the Nikkei daily.
The Asahi newspaper said: “The Abe brand is not as strong as it was before. There are some signs that voters are seeking a change in the situation whereby Abe is the only decent option.”
“Winning an election in a democracy doesn’t give the winner carte-blanche and he would be overconfident if he thought people were satisfied with the past five years of government management,” said the paper.
According to an exit poll by Kyodo News on Sunday, 51 percent of voters said they do not trust Abe with 44 percent saying they did.
Turnout was expected to be only a fraction higher than all-time low set in the 2014 election and was boosted largely by people voting early to avoid a typhoon, which smashed into Japan on election day.
The opposition Party of Hope, formed only weeks before the election by the popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, suffered a drubbing. It won just 49 seats according to the NHK projections.
A chastened Koike, speaking thousands of kilometers away in Paris where she was attending an event in her capacity as leader of the world’s biggest city, said it was a “very severe result” for which she took full responsibility.
The new center-left Constitutional Democratic Party out-performed Koike’s new group but still trailed far behind Abe with 54 seats.
“People are reluctant about Prime Minister Abe, but then who would you turn to? There is no one,” said Naoto Nonaka, professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

Abe, who has in the past been criticized for an arrogant attitude toward voters, vowed to face the challenge posed by the victory “humbly.”
He struck a cautious note on possible revisions to the US-imposed constitution, saying that he would “deepen” debate in parliament on the divisive issue but not seek to ram anything through.
“I don’t plan to propose (changes) via the ruling bloc alone. We’ll make efforts to gain support from as many people as possible.”
Any changes to the document must be ratified by both chambers of parliament and then in a referendum, with surveys showing voters are split on the topic.
Many voters stressed that the economy is their biggest concern, as the prime minister’s trademark “Abenomics” strategy of ultra-loose monetary policy and huge government spending has failed to rekindle the former Asian powerhouse.
Abe has vowed to use the proceeds from a planned sales tax hike to fund free childcare in a bid to get more women into the workforce.
“Neither pensions nor wages are getting better... I don’t feel the economy is recovering at all,” said 67-year-old pensioner Hideki Kawasaki as he cast his vote in a rain-swept Tokyo.
But investors cheered the victory, with the benchmark Tokyo index up 1.15 percent, extending a winning run that has seen 14 straight consecutive gains — the first since 1961.


France immigration bill sows seeds of dissent in Macron party

Updated 19 April 2018
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France immigration bill sows seeds of dissent in Macron party

  • France's right-wing opposition say the bill is too soft but left-wing parties and NGOs have branded it repressive
  • France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, bucking the general trend in Europe, where the number of asylum seekers halved between 2016 and 2017

PARIS: The French parliament votes Friday on a tough immigration bill that has sparked rumblings of revolt within President Emmanuel Macron’s party, with several MPs openly challenging his plans to speed up deportations of failed asylum-seekers.
The government argues that tighter controls are needed to check the rise of anti-immigration populists, who are on the march across Europe from Berlin to Budapest after suffering a setback in last year’s French elections.
“I fear that if we do not resolve the problem facing us... others will do it without any humanity,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said earlier this month.
The bill aims to both cut waiting times for asylum applications — from around a year currently to six months — and make it easier to deport those turned down as “economic” migrants.
The right-wing opposition say the bill is too soft but left-wing parties and NGOs have branded it repressive.
“We cannot take on the misery of the world,” Macron, who campaigned as a champion of open borders but has adopted a tough line on migration since taking office, said in an interview with BFMTV on Sunday.
Macron pointed to the “ticking bomb” of population growth in Africa, wars and climate change among factors that would continue driving migration to Europe in the years to come.
Faced with an “unprecedented” wave of arrivals the government would focus on welcoming those whose lives were at risk in their country of origin, he said firmly.
France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, bucking the general trend in Europe, where the number of asylum seekers halved between 2016 and 2017.
A shortage of accommodation means many wind up on the streets of Paris, or the northern port of Calais, a gateway to Britain, where a squalid camp housing thousands of migrants was razed by the state in late 2016.
A February survey by pollsters BVA showed 63 percent of voters felt there were too many immigrants in France, home to around six million people who were born in another country.
On Monday, France’s human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon slammed the “unacceptable conditions” facing around 1,000 migrants packed into a new tented camp along a canal in northeast Paris.
“We cannot remain on this path which is unworthy of France’s welcoming tradition and increasingly difficult for some of our fellow citizens,” Collomb, one of the more hawkish figures in Macron’s left-right administration, argued in parliament this week.
The bill doubles the time that failed asylum seekers can be detained to 90 days, making it easier to deport them.
It also reduces the time they have to lodge their application from 120 to 90 days and gives them just two weeks to appeal if unsuccessful, a period slammed by NGOs as far too short to gather more evidence in support of their claim.
Once accepted, however, refugees will be given more help to integrate, by, for instance, gaining the right to work and being given more French classes.
The government has defended the legislation as balanced but several members of Macron’s usually compliant Republic on the Move (LREM) party have vowed to reject the bill or abstain when it is put to a vote Friday.
“This bill stigmatizes foreigners,” Francois-Michel Lambert, a LREM lawmaker representing the southern Bouches-du-Rhone region, told BFMTV.
Delphine Bagarry, an MP representing Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told France Inter radio that while she supports the need to shorten the agonizing wait for asylum, “it cannot be at the expense of their right to a defense.”
Fearing that any sign of weakness could embolden dissidents to break ranks on other issues, party leader Richard Ferrand has threatened LREM naysayers with expulsion.
But the bill is expected to pass, despite strong opposition from far-right leader Marine Le Pen — the runner-up to Macron in last year’s election — and the conservative opposition Republicans.
The Republicans’ hard-line leader Laurent Wauquiez charged that Macron’s presidency was on course to legalize “a million more immigrants” by 2022.
Right-wingers have also argued that provisions allowing underage refugees to bring siblings to live with them in France will have a “pull effect” on migration.