EU votes as populists seek historic breakthrough

More than 400 million people are eligible to elect 751 members of the European Parliament with the first official results to be announced late Sunday once voting in all EU countries is over. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 May 2019
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EU votes as populists seek historic breakthrough

  • Polling has shown for months that populists and the anti-immigration far right could make big gains in the vote
  • Polls were open in Malta, Slovakia and Latvia, with most of the bloc’s 28 member states — including big players Germany, France and Italy — to vote on Sunday

BRUSSELS: Voters were called out for a third day in EU parliamentary elections on Saturday as populists hoped to win a major breakthrough and disrupt European politics for the next five years.
Polls were open in Malta, Slovakia and Latvia, with most of the bloc’s 28 member states — including big players Germany, France and Italy — to vote on Sunday.
More than 400 million people are eligible to elect 751 members of the European Parliament with the first official results to be announced late Sunday once voting in all EU countries is over.
Polling has shown for months that populists and the anti-immigration far right could make big gains in the vote, which will also help determine who replaces Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission as well as other top jobs.
An exit poll after voting in the Netherlands on Thursday however showed a surprise victory for pro-EU socialists, giving hope to establishment forces elsewhere in the bloc that the populist tide could be limited.
“To all our friends across Europe still campaigning, this one is for you too!” said Dutchman Frans Timmermans, the lead socialist candidate and one of the main contenders to replace Juncker.
Europhiles also had reason to cheer from an exit poll in Ireland that suggested Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, which is committed to closer EU integration, was in the lead.
Turnout is a major concern in the EU elections, with voters in Slovakia historically the least interested, having just 13 percent show up for the last polls five years ago.
Analysts said Slovakia would most likely send one far right MEP to Strasbourg, where Czech voters — who were voting for a second day on Saturday — seemed set to hand victory to the ruling ANO, polls suggested.
Britain voted on Thursday, a day before Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation following a months-long Brexit crisis, though the result will not be revealed until Sunday.
The Brexit Party, which was only set up this year by veteran euroskeptic MEP Nigel Farage, is expected to score a resounding win in the UK vote.
Britain was never supposed to have participated in the EU vote but May was forced to do so after delaying Brexit beyond the original date of March 29 because the UK parliament refused to approve the divorce deal.

On the far right, Matteo Salvini of Italy’s anti-immigrant League and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally (RN) want their Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group to become the third largest in Brussels. The League has topped opinion polls in Italy.
Le Pen is seeking to strike a big blow to Emmanuel Macron’s French presidency by overtaking his pro-European party Republic on the Move (LREM) and denying the young leader’s ambition to shake up the EU.
Polls give her RN party a slight edge, with around 25 percent support against Macron’s 22.5 percent.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of this week’s European Parliament elections,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group.
“Besides determining the composition of the next Parliament, the results will also be critical in shaping the future character and profile of the European Union,” he said.
The establishment is expected to remain strong in several countries, with voters from Spain to the former Soviet Baltic states showing solid backing for the EU.
In Germany, surveys put Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party — a heavyweight in the EU-wide center-right EPP group — in first place, with the Greens second.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.