Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on the grounds of Kirribilli House, Sydney, Australia, October 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

  • While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged Sunday his embattled government would serve out a full term despite the conservative coalition looking set to lose its majority after a voter backlash in a crucial Sydney by-election.
The Liberal-National coalition, which has a one-seat parliamentary majority, appeared headed for minority government status after a huge swing in a traditionally safe seat, fueled by anger over the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
But despite the Liberal candidate conceding defeat Saturday after high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps captured an apparently insurmountable lead in the seat of Wentworth, the count has narrowed sharply as postal votes are counted.
Phelps’ lead of more than 54 percent under Australia’s voting system — which allocates voters’ second preferences if no candidate secures a majority — shrank Sunday to just over 50.61 percent, or 884 votes over her Liberal rival.
It rose late Sunday to a margin of 1,616 as routine recounts for several booths increased her lead.
While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone.
“If it (the margin) gets as close as 100 then an automatic recount is triggered under the normal rules,” Morrison told reporters. “I am not saying it will get to that.”
The prime minister, who must call national elections by mid-May, acknowledged voter anger over political infighting in Canberra but said he was determined to stay on even if the coalition becomes a minority government.
“Australian people expect governments to serve their term. We are elected to serve our term and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
The by-election in the wealthy seat was triggered after Turnbull, the local MP, resigned after being toppled in a party coup in August.
Turnbull had held the seat with a comfortable margin of 18 percent, but support for the Liberals tumbled over his treatment.
Morrison signalled he was willing to work with minor parties and independents to address what Phelps said would be the first item on her agenda — removing refugee children held in Australian detention camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to remote Pacific facilities including on Nauru to deter them from trying to come to Australia.
There has been growing international and domestic pressure on Morrison to move the children to Australia amid reports they are suffering from serious health problems.
A final count for Wentworth might only be declared after the November 2 deadline for postal votes has passed.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 22 March 2019
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.