Berlusconi claims win for center-right in Sicily vote

This file photo taken on May 22, 2014 shows Former Italian Prime Minister and president of the Italian center-right Forza Italia (FI) party, Silvio Berlusconi during a rally. (AFP)
Updated 07 November 2017
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Berlusconi claims win for center-right in Sicily vote

PALERMO, Italy: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was poised for for a stunning political comeback on Monday, as he claimed victory in an election in Sicily that puts him and his rightist allies in pole position for a national vote due by next May.
With about 85 percent of the votes counted, a center-right bloc backed by the four-times prime minister was running five percentage points ahead of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, with the center-left a distant third.
“Sicily, just as I asked, has chosen the path of real, serious, constructive change, based on honesty, competence and experience,” the 81 year-old said in a video posted on Facebook.
The result puts Berlusconi back on the political map after years of sex scandals and graft allegations. By contrast, it deals a stinging blow to another former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD), which is locked in feuding with erstwhile leftist partners.
After a raft of vote setbacks in recent years, Renzi has many critics inside the PD who may now try to mount a challenge to his leadership.
The regional Sicilian ballot, held on Sunday, is seen as a dry run for the national vote, with many of the island’s problems reflecting those of the country as a whole — high unemployment, a debt mountain and sluggish economic growth.

“A WINNING MODEL“
Sicily is traditionally a center-right stronghold which was poached by the PD in 2012 thanks to splits in the conservative bloc. This time Berlusconi reunited the coalition behind a widely respected leader with a far-right background.
Nello Musumeci, the center-right’s candidate for governor of the island, had 39.8 percent of the vote, while the 5-Star’s Giancarlo Cancelleri had 34.7 percent. The center-left’s Fabrizio Micari was lagging on 18.5 percent.
“From Sicily we will demonstrate that this is a winning model that can triumph at a national level,” said Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party which is the junior partner in the center-right alliance.
The maverick 5-Star, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, had campaigned relentlessly for months in Sicily, looking to take charge of its first region after a string of successes in municipal ballots in recent years, including in Rome and Turin.
Its leader Luigi Di Maio said the party had been penalized in Sicily by low turnout — less than half of those eligible cast a vote.
“In two or three months I think many of those who abstained will regret not going to vote,” Di Maio said, insisting that if turnout had been 3 or 4 points higher it could have tilted the result in the movement’s favor.
Although defeat is a blow, the 5-Star can take comfort from the fact that it is the largest single political force, taking at least 30 percent of a separate vote on Sicily for party lists against less than 15 percent for its nearest rival — Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!)


South Africa inquiry into top-level state graft opens

Updated 20 August 2018
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South Africa inquiry into top-level state graft opens

JOHANNESBURG: A judicial inquiry into alleged corruption at the top of government in South Africa is scheduled to open on Monday when the first public hearings begin.
The hearings by a panel led by the country’s second highest judge, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, will probe allegations of corruption and fraud in the public sector during former president Jacob Zuma’s tenure.
Although the panel does not have powers to arrest or prosecute, evidence it collects can be used in any future prosecution.
Zuma appointed the judicial inquiry into the alleged graft in January on the orders of a high court.
A month later, on February 14, he was forced to resign from office as criticism grew from within the ruling ANC party over multiple corruption scandals.
State corruption in post-apartheid South Africa was first exposed formally two years ago by the country’s former ombudswoman Thuli Madonsela, who issued a damning report and called for a judicial inquiry into Zuma’s relationship with a wealthy business family.
Zuma was accused of being in the sway of the Guptas — a wealthy family of Indian origin — allegedly granting them influence over government appointments, contracts and state-owned businesses.
Pravin Gordhan, a former finance minister, but now responsible for state companies, has estimated that around 100 billion rand ($6.8 billion) of state funds may have been looted through corrupt practices.
Justice Zondo has vowed that the investigation into the so-called “state capture,” will be carried out thoroughly regardless of who is being investigated.
“I will investigate anybody and everybody no matter who he or she is. This commission will do its job properly. We owe that to the people of South Africa.” he said earlier this year.
The first witnesses to appear before the commission include a former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, an ANC lawmaker Mabel Mentor and the former government spokesman Themba Maseko.
The local Sunday Times said Zuma has been “invited” to appear before the panel, but the commission’s spokesman declined to comment on the newspaper report.
Initially tasked to probe and conclude its findings within six months, the commission has asked for an extension of up to two years.
Zuma’s successor as president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has vowed to crack down on government corruption, which he has admitted was a serious problem.
“I would hope that the inquiry gets to the bottom of how the South African state was captured in the way it was and what can be done to prevent this from happening again,” David Lewis, the executive director of South Africa’s non-profit organization Corruption Watch, said.