US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill

US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill
US Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks behind a group of protesters blocking an entrance to the US Capitol as they end an eight-day hunger strike in favor of voting rights legislation in Washington, US, January 20, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 January 2022

US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill

US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill
  • Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats’ best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much of his agenda has stalled

WASHINGTON: Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following the collapse of their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some shifting their focus to a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald Trump exploited in his bid to overturn the 2020 election.
Though their bid to dramatically rewrite US election law failed during a high-stakes Senate floor showdown late Wednesday, Democrats insisted their brinksmanship has made the new effort possible, forcing Republicans to relent, even if just a little, and engage in bipartisan negotiations.
The nascent push is focused on the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that created the convoluted proces s for the certification of presidential election results by Congress. For more than 100 years, vulnerabilities in the law were an afterthought, until Trump’s unrelenting, false claims that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election culminated in a mob of his supporters storming the Capitol.
An overhaul of the Gilded Age statute could be Democrats’ best chance to address what they call an existential threat to American democracy from Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election. But with serious talks only beginning in the Senate and dwindling time before this year’s midterm elections, reaching consensus could prove difficult.
“We know history is on the side of voting rights, and we know that forcing leaders to take stands will ultimately move the ball forward,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.
Just weeks ago, many Democrats were adamant that updating the Electoral Count Act was no substitute for their voting legislation. Updating the 1887 law, they pointed out, would do nothing to counter the Trump-inspired push in 19 states to make it more difficult to vote.
They still hold that position, but after the defeat of their marquee elections bill, they are running out of options. Meanwhile, Trump loyalists are girding for the next election, working to install sympathetic leaders in local election posts and, in some cases, backing political candidates who participated in the riot at the US Capitol.
Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats’ best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much of his agenda has stalled.
“I predict to you they’ll get something done,” Biden told reporters Wednesday.
Any legislation would have to balance Democrats’ desire to halt what they view as a GOP plan to make it more difficult for Black Americans and other minorities to vote with Republican’s entrenched opposition to increased federal oversight of local elections.
“What other things could be put in there?” said South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I want to deal with more than just counting the votes for the president. I want to be sure that we count the votes for everybody else. So voter nullification like they’re doing in Georgia, I think it can be addressed.”
Republicans involved in the effort to update the Electoral Count Act acknowledge that the bill would need a wider focus.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is holding bipartisan talks with Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“It’s such a needed thing,” said Manchin, who added that the narrower scope was “the first place” Democrats “should have started.”
Manchin and Sinema effectively tanked Democrats’ marquee bill Wednesday, joining Republicans in voting against a rule change that would have allowed the party’s voting legislation to pass with a simple majority.
Collins has proposed new protections for poll and elections workers, some of whom received chilling threats to their safety after the 2020 election. She has also called for more funding for local elections. Manchin wants harsh criminal penalties for those convicted of intimidating or threatening poll and election workers.
“It’s a heavy lift, but if we continue to get people to talk there’s a path,” said Tillis, who said tensions over the Democrats’ failed voting bill will need to cool before coalition building can seriously begin. “We are going to have to have more Republicans get on board because there are going to be protest votes.”
But at its core, many Republicans want any legislation to primarily focus on the Electoral Count Act.
“This is directly related to Jan. 6,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Thursday. “It needs fixing.”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called it “an old piece of law, so you can always modernize it.”
The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is also working on a proposal.
As Trump’s legal appeals and efforts to pressure state and local officials ran out of steam, he began to focus on Mike Pence, who presided over the certification in Congress of the Electoral College results. Trump spent days in a futile bid trying to convince Pence that the vice president had the power to reject electors from battleground states that voted for Biden, even though the Constitution makes clear the vice president’s role in the joint session is largely ceremonial.
Separately, he encouraged Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the low threshold to lodge objections to the outcome. Even after rioters fought in brutal hand-to-hand combat with police as they lay siege to the Capital on Jan. 6, 147 Republican lawmakers later voted to object to Biden’s win.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, is working on a bill that would shore up several key vulnerabilities in the Electoral College process.
Any legislation should make clear the vice president holds only a ceremonial role, limit the scope of Congress’ involvement in the certification of the election and narrow the grounds for raising an objection to a state’s results, according to a summary provided by his office.
Civil rights activists don’t object to the revisions. But they question the value of the effort if Republican-controlled states can still enact voting restrictions.
“It doesn’t matter if your votes are properly counted if you cannot cast your vote in the first place,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who is also pastor at the church Martin Luther King Jr. once led.


Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
Updated 26 May 2022

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
  • Iranians and Iraqis combined make up almost a third of those seeking a better life in the UK
  • The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022

LONDON: One in four migrants crossing the English Channel in the first quarter of the year are people fleeing Afghanistan, according to figures released by the UK Home Office.
The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022, almost as many as the 1,323 Afghans that attempted the crossing in the entirety of 2021.
Iranians made up the next highest demographic at 16 percent, with Iraqis the third highest at 15 percent.
While the figures claim 90 percent of Afghans who made it to the UK were granted asylum, they do not include the UK’s two resettlement schemes set up in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country in August.
The plans have faced criticism from politicians and sections of the public for leaving thousands of UK translators and others who worked for coalition forces behind after the UK withdrawal.
Compounding that failed operation, the numbers of non-Afghan refugees awaiting an asylum decision in the 12 months to March almost doubled from 66,000 to 109,000.
Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said: “Increased numbers waiting for a decision is desperately worrying, and it leaves thousands of vulnerable men, women and children trapped in limbo.
“Adults, banned from working, living hand to mouth on less than £6 ($7.55) and left not knowing what their future holds; this simply is not good enough,” he added.
Amnesty International has pointed the finger of blame for the backlog in asylum decisions at the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing her of a “disastrous leadership” over a department that has become “a byword for backlogs and dysfunction”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said it had “helped thousands” of people fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.


INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
Updated 26 May 2022

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
  • Amari says Saudi Arabia and UAE are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities”
  • Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE

TOKYO: Veteran ruling-party politician Amari Akira says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities.”
Amari is the Honorary Chairman of the Parliamentary Friendship Council and has close ties with the Middle East. He has played a key role in Japan’s energy policy, and he emphasized the importance of those ties.
“Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; it’s around 35 percent, and the total from both countries amounts to over 70 percent,” he stated. “They are two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities. A stable energy supply is the lifeblood of Japan. In that sense, the Middle East is connected to this lifeline.”
Amari recalled chairing an international conference in Saudi Arabia.
“I met with current Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, both in Japan and Saudi Arabia when he was deputy minister of Oil,” he said.
“When I was eating with him, I said: “I heard that the starry sky seen in the desert in Saudi Arabia is very beautiful since the air is so clean. I heard it’s as wonderful as to see the stars falling, so I want to see it someday.”
Minister Abdulaziz replied: ‘The next time you come, I will set up a tent in the desert, so please come and let’s see the starry night sky together.’
“I replied to him that it is a good plan, but I can’t eat sheep’s brains, but Minister Abdulaziz told me not to worry. He said, when he is in Japan, he eats everything, so why not try Saudi food; it would not be good manners not to. Of course, he was joking. Through such casual exchanges, I feel that the Middle East is close to me.”
Amari was a key backroom player behind the political success of Prime Minister Kishida, Secretary General Motegi, Foreign Minister Hayashi and the Secretary General of the Upper House and is keen for them to lead Japan forward.
“What we need to do now is to lead a new team once again to make a Japan with innovative power,” he said. “I am doing university reform, which is the source of basic research. I also created a 10 trillion yen fund to promote university reform. We will also create an area in Tokyo for international start-ups representing Asia.”
Amari also talked about his visit 15 to 17 May to the UAE where he was the special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Japan to officially pay respect to the people of the UAE on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE.
“I was honored to be able to pay my respects to such an important country as a special envoy to the prime minister. President Sheikh Khalifa pushed the UAE forward under the influence of his founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. When Sheikh Khalifa was Crown Prince in 1970, he visited the Osaka Expo, and since then the bond between Japan and the UAE has deepened. Also, UAE is a country with a special relationship that supports Japan’s energy.”


Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries
Updated 26 May 2022

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries

Tokyo government reaffirms connections to Islamic countries
  • Japan and the followers of Islam have long enjoyed friendly relations in various fields
  • Forty-nine Islamic countries and regions were invited and 27 attended the meeting

TOKYO: Diplomats from Islamic countries and regions took part in a Tokyo policy briefing and discussion meeting at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office on Wednesday.
Tokyo Gov. KOIKE Yuriko, who has strong ties with Arabic and Islamic countries, made the opening remarks.
“It is a great pleasure and honor to welcome you to the ‘Tokyo Networking.’ I am very pleased to have you here in person this year after two years of cancelations due to COVID-19.
“These two years have been a long battle against the virus. Through regular communication with you, we have been able to keep it from spreading extensively. Thank you everyone for your enormous cooperation,” Governor Koike said.
“Japan and the followers of Islam have long enjoyed friendly relations in various fields. It is my sincere hope that good relations with your countries will continue.”
Forty-nine Islamic countries and regions were invited and 27 attended the meeting.
Palestinian Ambassador Waleed Siam made a speech as a representative of the diplomats.
“Today, we are here to participate and support the Tokyo Metropolitan Initiative for improvement of the environment for the multi-faith community,” he said. “The Muslim community is an important and large part of society as a whole.
“Thanks to Gov. Koike’s efforts who started Iftar in Tokyo 15 years ago, it has since been held every year (except during the pandemic).”


Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’
Updated 26 May 2022

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’
  • Outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte began a crackdown on drug suspects when he assumed power in 2016
  • Between 12,000 and 30,000 suspects have been killed since, international rights groups estimate

MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday that his predecessor had asked him to uphold his “war on drugs,” a controversial anti-narcotics campaign that has led to the deaths of thousands of Filipinos.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte began a crackdown on drug suspects when he assumed power in 2016.

According to official data, over 6,000 Filipinos have been killed in the anti-drug campaign. International rights groups estimate the death toll to be between 12,000 and 30,000.

In the first media address since his proclamation as the next president, Marcos said that Duterte told him it was important that the campaign continue.

“I fully appreciate what he said,“ the new leader told reporters. “The drug problem in the country continues to be a problem and we must continue to look that way.”

He said that Duterte had told him to proceed with the campaign on his own terms.

“‘Continue the anti-drug (war) that I started. Do it your own way. Do what you want with it, just don’t set it aside because it will be the youth who will suffer. Their lives would be ruined,’” he added, quoting Duterte.

The Philippines has come under pressure from the UN to investigate allegations of systematic killings as part of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

International Criminal Court investigators launched a probe into the war on drugs in September last year, saying it appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population,” and could amount to a crime against humanity.

The inquiry was suspended two months later to assess a deferral request from the Philippines government and has not resumed since.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the late Philippines dictator, and his running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of the incumbent president, were declared winners of a May 9 election, succeeding Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, who will complete their six-year terms on June 30.

It was not immediately clear how Marcos plans to implement the anti-drug campaign, but one of his electoral promises was a continuation of Duterte’s policies.

The incoming administration’s nominated executive and press secretaries did not respond to repeated attempts on Thursday to reach them.


Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
Updated 26 May 2022

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
  • Khan addresses rally after clashes between demonstrators and police, hundreds of arrests
  • Ex-PM had urged supporters to march on Islamabad, stay there until government dissolved

ISLAMABAD: Normalcy resumed in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Thursday after Imran Khan, the ousted former prime minister, called off a protest march, giving the government six days to dissolve assemblies and announce fresh elections.
On Thursday morning, thousands of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who had gathered at D-Chowk in front of Parliament from different parts of the country, especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, dispersed peacefully following Khan’s address.
This followed a long day of political drama that included clashes between demonstrators and police, and the arrests of hundreds of Khan supporters nationwide.
“We are leaving for our homes now, but will come back again on Khan’s call to topple the government,” Hassan Shirazi, a demonstrator from Pakpattan city, told Arab News.
Shortly after the protest ended, the Islamabad’s district administration started removing shipping containers to unblock all roads in the federal capital and adjoining Rawalpindi. Police and other law enforcement personnel requisitioned from other provinces were also seen packing up and boarding buses to return to their stations.
The administration also reopened Jinnah Avenue, the main protest venue, and all other roads in Islamabad, including Srinagar Highway and Islamabad Expressway. The main Murree Road in Rawalpindi has also been reopened for both sides of traffic, according to the Islamabad Traffic Police.
Entry into the Red Zone, which houses important buildings like Parliament and the Supreme Court, is still restricted.
Meanwhile, the federal government filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking contempt of court proceedings against Khan for what it says was a violation of the court’s directions.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday ordered the government and the PTI to constitute negotiating committees and meet at 10 p.m. to finalize modalities for the peaceful and safe conduct of Khan’s long march to the capital. Negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other’s representatives did not show up.
The court had also ordered the government to designate a spot where the protesters could rally. However, protesters converged at D-Chowk instead and Khan held his rally on Jinnah Avenue.
Police fired teargas, baton-charged and detained supporters of Khan on Wednesday to stop them from reaching the capital to demand fresh elections. Clashes were also reported in multiple other cities, including the southern port city of Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore, and the government called in the army to maintain law and order in the capital.
Khan, ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, had urged supporters to march on Islamabad and alleges he was pushed from power in a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by the US, refusing to accept the new government.
“I am giving you (the government) six days; if you don’t announce elections I will come back to Islamabad again with all Pakistanis,” he said as he addressed supporters before ending his protest.
“(The) government has tried every method to crush our Azadi (freedom) March; they used teargas on peaceful protest, our homes were raided and privacy of the homes were violated,” Khan said.
“However, I have seen the nation free itself of fear of slavery.”
Khan started his anti-government march from Peshawar on Wednesday morning while the government blocked all roads leading to the capital and rounded up supporters.
Videos shot by an Arab News reporter on Wednesday evening showed thousands of Khan supporters walking down the capital’s Blue Area business zone toward D-Chowk while police fired tear gas at them, before charging them with batons.
Supporters had lit fires all the way down the road to D-Chowk in an apparent bid to neutralize the effects of the tear gas, but police said on Twitter they had set fire to trees and vehicles.
“Police called the fire brigade. Some places were set on fire while the protesters again set the trees on the Express Chowk,” the police said. “Security in the Red Zone has been beefed up.”
Other video clips on social media platforms also showed a burning metro station in the city surrounded by hundreds of PTI supporters, while a mob torched a prison van in Karachi after clashing with police.
Local TV footage showed police fighting with Khan’s supporters in Lahore, beating them and, in some places, breaking vehicle windscreens and bundling people into police vans.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police had carried out a total of 4,417 raids on Khan supporters’ homes, offices and rallies, and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were later freed.
“We haven’t stopped anyone from exercising their constitutional and legal right to hold a rally or take part in democratic politics,” Sanaullah said, “but we can’t allow anyone to sow violence and chaos.”