East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

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PM Alkatiri talks to journalists after casting his vote in a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri arrives at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood to vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter dips his finger in ink at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter shows his inked finger after casting his ballot to vote for members of parliament at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter shows his inked finger after casting his ballot to vote for members of parliament at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
Updated 12 May 2018
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East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

  • Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.
  • Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.

DILI: East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has urged his people to remain calm after they voted on Saturday for MPs who will determine a new prime minister and form a majority government to execute much-needed development programs in one of the world’s poorest countries.
“I appeal for the people to be calm, and for politicians and political parties to accept the results, because it was a very free and fair election. Whoever is defeated, it’s the people who really win the election,” Alkatiri told Arab News.
Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.
Alkatiri headed a minority government that collapsed after a three-party coalition led by former President and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao refused to approve the government’s budget.
Alkatiri said he is confident that his party will win more than 30 out of 65 seats in Parliament. His Fretilin party narrowly won the previous election in July 2017 by securing 23 seats.
“We’re already the winner,” he said after casting his vote. “Fretilin never lost a single election throughout its history.”
If his party wins, Alkatiri said the next government will work “to get poor people out of poverty. This is my target for the next five years.”
Every aspect of development is crucial, but what East Timorese need most are clean water, infrastructure and community housing.
Gusmao said he is confident his coalition will get more than the 35 seats it secured in last year’s election.
There are signs of electoral fraud, such as ink that washes out quickly and people who voted twice in different places, he added. “In some places, there were fewer ballot papers than registered voters,” he told Arab News.
A spokesman for Gusmao’s Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), Tiago Farmento, said there are reports that six supporters’ homes were burnt down in Oecusse, an East Timor exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.
Luis da Costa Ximenes, an election observer and director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun, told Arab News that the group identified 107 incidents during the one-month campaign period, including verbal abuse on social media from fake accounts.
Alkatiri said the incidents were minor, and the election was held in a very professional way. “Show me one election in the world that is without a single incident,” he added.
There were 784,286 registered voters out of a population of 1.2 million in East Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia for 24 years before it voted for secession in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002. Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.