Netanyahu rejects calls to resign after police seek indictment

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the Muni World conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. Netanyahu said today his government was “stable” and criticized the police investigation against him, prompting calls for him to resign. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Netanyahu rejects calls to resign after police seek indictment

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls to step down Wednesday after police recommended his indictment for corruption, the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing premier’s long tenure in power.
Netanyahu again came out swinging on Wednesday, harshly criticizing the police investigation while making clear he has no intention of resigning.
His governing coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history, appears firm for now, but reactions from key members in the coming days will be watched closely for signs of fissures.
“I can reassure you that the coalition is stable,” Netanyahu said at an event in Tel Aviv.
“Neither me nor anyone else has plans for elections. We’re going to continue to work together for the good of Israeli citizens until the end of the term” in 2019.
Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of nearly 12 years, also harshly denounced the police recommendations against him as “full of holes, like Swiss cheese.”
He said the police report was “contrary to the truth and logic.”
Police recommended Tuesday that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.
The attorney general must now decide how to move forward, a process that could take months.
A prime minister facing such police recommendations or who has been formally charged is not obliged to resign.
As it became clear police were to issue the recommendations on Tuesday night, Netanyahu gave a televised address to the nation, proclaiming his innocence and criticizing the police.
Ministers close to him also defended Netanyahu.
Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labour party, said the “Netanyahu era is over” and called on him to step down.
“He is unworthy to continue to be prime minister of Israel. It’s very simple,” Gabbay said in a video interview with the Ynet news site.
Tzipi Livni, part of the main opposition Zionist Union alliance that also includes Labour, criticized what she called a campaign to undermine the police.
One of Netanyahu’s main rivals also came under the spotlight when it emerged he had spoken to police about one of the allegations against the prime minister.
Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, said “there is no choice but to tell the truth when the police ask for explanations in a serious corruption case.”
Lapid, who also called on Netanyahu to step down, was finance minister at the time one of the allegations took place.
But at the same time, key coalition ministers signalled they would remain in the government, though at least one also criticized Netanyahu’s behavior.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said “taking gifts” as Netanyahu is alleged to have done was not up to the “standard” of a prime minister.
But he stressed Netanyahu was innocent until proven guilty and that he would wait for the attorney general’s decision.
Bennett, who has ambitions to be prime minister, heads the far-right party Jewish Home, which holds eight seats in parliament.
Netanyahu’s coalition controls 66 out of 120 seats in total.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose center-right Kulanu party controls 10 seats, also signalled he would remain in the government as did Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party holds five seats.
“Something very, very dramatic happened last night, a kind of earthquake, but as far as changes in the political arena, I don’t see that yet,” political scientist Abraham Diskin of Hebrew University said in an interview with The Israel Project NGO.
Police have been investigating Netanyahu over suspicions that he and his family received expensive gifts from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.
The gifts allegedly included pricey cigars, jewelry and champagne.
The total value of the gifts received between 2007 and 2016 is estimated at around one million shekels (229,000 euros, $283,000), according to police.
They have also been probing allegations Netanyahu sought a secret deal for favorable coverage with the publisher of top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Police recommended indicting Milchan and the publisher, Arnon Moses, with bribery as well.
The 68-year-old premier has been questioned seven times by police and has called the investigation an attempt by political opponents to force him from office.
Police said Netanyahu had been suspected of trying to help Milchan receive tax benefits in Israel, of assisting him in receiving a visa in the United States and of promoting his business interests.
Milchan, who is Israeli, has produced many films, including the blockbuster “Pretty Woman.”
While an indictment alone would not legally oblige Netanyahu to resign, he would likely face mounting pressure to do so. He would be legally forced to step down if convicted and all appeals exhausted.
He has already faced a series of large protests in Tel Aviv over the corruption cases.
Netanyahu’s time as premier is fast approaching Israel’s revered founding father David Ben-Gurion’s 13 years. He first held the office from 1996-1999 before returning to power in 2009.


Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

Updated 23 May 2018
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Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

  • Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week
  • The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has picked prominent ministers to run for parliament next month, strengthening the ruling AK Party’s chances of winning a majority but putting their future role in government into question, party officials say.
Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week by the party to run for parliament in the June 24 poll, where the Islamist-rooted AK Party faces a stiff challenge from an opposition alliance.
While boosting the list of candidates, the move could affect the shape of the future cabinet because lawmakers will not be able to hold ministerial posts under the new presidential system, unless they resign their seats.
The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force, but recent opinion polls have suggested it could struggle to win an absolute majority, even with the support of its nationalist MHP ally.
The latest fall in the lira, which has lost more than a fifth of its value against the dollar this year, could also work against Erdogan if voters fear the government is pushing prices and the cost of living higher.
Erdogan is still widely expected to win the presidential election to be held the same day. While the presidency will take on greater executive authority afterwards, an opposition-controlled parliament could vote down legislation.
“Erdogan wants to win a parliamentary majority in this critical election with a strong list,” said one AK Party member running for parliament.
A survey by MAK pollsters, viewed as sympathetic to the ruling party, showed on Wednesday that the parliamentary race is absolutely balanced, with the AK Party together with the MHP winning exactly 50.0 percent. In the presidential vote, it saw Erdogan winning 51.4 percent.

MINISTERIAL CHANGES
The move to throw high profile ministers into the parliamentary race could have a major impact on the composition of next cabinet.
“Under normal circumstances, those who are in the (parliamentary) list will not be appointed ministers,” a senior AK Party official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Finance Minister Naci Agbal was not named as a parliamentary candidate, and three sources said he was expected to remain in the post-election cabinet.
However, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci is expected to leave the cabinet and run for a mayoral office, the sources said, while the future of Mehmet Simsek, deputy prime minister with responsibility for the economy, was undecided.
Investors have been watching closely for signals about Simsek’s role. As a former investment banker in New York and London, he is seen as one of the most investor-friendly members of a government at odds with economic orthodoxy.
The Turkish lira, already one of the weakest emerging market currencies this year, has lost another 13 percent against the dollar since Erdogan said in London last week that he planned to take greater control of the economy and that the central bank would not be able to ignore signals from the new executive presidency.
“Erdogan will make the last call on Simsek. Although Simsek’s policies are sometimes criticized, everyone knows that it’s hard to replace him,” an AK Party official said.
Simsek congratulated those on the party’s parliamentary list on Tuesday, adding in a tweet: “Onwards, no stopping.”
Officials say economic management is expected to be overseen by one of five vice presidents in a cabinet made up of 14 ministers — down from the current 21.
The changes have not yet been finalized, however, and may not be completed before the election, one of the AK Party officials said.