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.


Sri Lanka’s president orders execution of 4 drug convicts

Updated 7 min 44 sec ago
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Sri Lanka’s president orders execution of 4 drug convicts

  • The executions if carried out will end a 43-year moratorium on capital punishment
  • President Maithripala Sirisena says narcotic drugs have become a serious menace across the country with 300,000 addicts

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s president said on Wednesday that he has ordered the executions of four drug offenders who will be hanged in prison soon, amid alarm over drug-related crimes in this Indian Ocean island nation.
The executions if carried out will end a 43-year moratorium on capital punishment.
President Maithripala Sirisena told a media discussion on Wednesday that he has signed the death warrants including the days of the executions and sent them to prison authorities.
He said narcotic drugs have become a serious menace across the country with 300,000 addicts. According to Sirisena, 60 percent of 24,000 inmates have been jailed for drug-related offenses. Sri Lanka prisons are built to accommodate 11,000 people.
Sri Lanka last executed a prisoner in 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses.
Prison authorities are now in the process of recruiting two hangmen after two others quit without executing anyone.
At present, 26 people have been shortlisted for a two-day training, said Bandula Jayasinghe, an official at the Justice and Prison Reforms Ministry.
Drug trafficking is a capital offense in Sri Lanka, which authorities believe is used by peddlers as a transit hub.
Rights groups and foreign governments including the EU have previously criticized Sirisena’s suggestions to revive the death penalty, saying there is no perfect criminal justice system and the risk of executing an innocent person can never be eliminated.
Sirisena, who visited the Philippines in January, praised President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs as “an example to the world.” Thousands of suspects, mostly urban poor, have been slain since Duterte took office in 2016. Rights groups have denounced what they say are extrajudicial killings. Police say most of the suspects were killed in encounters with officers.
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, a religion that advocates non-violence. Sirisena has previously said the country has had positive influences from all religions but tough law enforcement is necessary to curb crime and maintain order.
In April, police publicly destroyed 770 kilograms (1,695 pounds) of drugs seized in 2016 and 2017. Police have seized 731 kilograms (1,608 pounds) of heroin, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine and 1,607 kilograms (3,535 pounds) of marijuana so far this year.
Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Sri Lanka, followed by heroin and cocaine. Drug-related arrests rose 2 percent in 2017 from the previous year to 81,156.