Tunisian election to entrench president’s rule

Tunisian election to entrench president’s rule
Employees load ballot boxes into a supervised military truck that will transport them to a polling station in the district of Ariana near Tunis. (AFP)
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Updated 17 December 2022

Tunisian election to entrench president’s rule

Tunisian election to entrench president’s rule
  • Tunisia holds a parliamentary election on Saturday that will tighten President Kais Saied's grip on power
  • The ballot bolsters a new political order following Saied's dissolution last year of the previous legislature

TUNIS: Tunisians go to the polls Saturday to elect a parliament largely stripped of its powers, under a hyper-presidential system installed by the head of state Kais Saied after his power grab last year.
Over a decade since Tunisia’s popular revolution unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, opposition parties have urged a boycott of the vote, which they say is part of a “coup” against the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
The election for the new 161-seat assembly comes after President Saied froze the previous legislature on July 25 last year, following months of political crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
He later dissolved the parliament, which had long been dominated by his nemesis the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.
Saied on Wednesday defended his decision, saying that the “Tunisian people, wherever I went, were all asking to dissolve the parliament.”
“The country was on the brink of civil war,” he told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington.
The previous legislature had far-reaching powers, in the mixed presidential-parliamentary system enshrined in the North African country’s post-revolution constitution.
Last July, Saied used a widely shunned referendum to push through a new constitution, stripping parliament of any real clout and giving his own office almost unlimited powers.
The legal expert who oversaw its drafting said the version Saied published had been changed in a way that could lead to a “dictatorial regime.” Saied later published a slightly amended draft.
Analyst Hamadi Redissi said the aim of Saturday’s polls was “to complete the process that started on July 25” last year.
The resulting parliament “won’t have many powers — it won’t be able to appoint a government or censure it, except under draconian conditions that are almost impossible to meet.”
Saied’s new system essentially does away with political parties and electoral lists, meaning candidates will be elected as individuals with no declared affiliation.
He appoints the prime minister under the new constitution — a departure from the previous system which gave parliament a central role in picking the cabinet.
The assembly’s final make-up is not expected to be determined until March next year, after any second-round run-offs have been completed.
The vote aims “to increase the legitimacy of the presidency,” Redissi said, adding that the result would be “a rump parliament without any powers.”
Almost all the country’s political parties, including Ennahdha, have said they will boycott the vote, labelling Saied’s moves a “coup.”
The head of the National Salvation Front, the main opposition alliance which includes Ennahdha, said the bloc would not recognize the results.
The elections “will plunge the country even further into political crisis,” Ahmed Nejib Chebbi told journalists in Tunis on Thursday.
He also voiced alarm over the postponement of a critical International Monetary Fund meeting next Monday, at which the Washington-based lender was to decide on a bailout package for the deeply indebted North African country.
The delay “threatens the country’s economic balance,” he said.
The powerful UGTT trade union federation, which did not openly oppose the initial power grab, has called the poll meaningless.
Most of the 1,058 candidates are unknowns.
The Tunisian Observatory for Democratic Transition says some 26 percent are teachers, and a further 22 are mid-level public servants.
The election result will likely see a drop in the representation of women, with just 122 female candidates.
Nejib Chebbi, head of an anti-Saied coalition including Ennahda, said the election amounted to a “a still-born farce,” and the result seems unlikely to have any impact on government policy.
Al Bawsala, a non-governmental organization that has monitored the work of parliament, has said it will boycott the new legislature which it believes will be an instrument for the president.
Few of the country’s nine million registered voters are expected to turn out.
Several young people told AFP they had little interest in the election or desire to know more about the candidates.
Marwa Ben Miled, a 53-year-old shopkeeper, told AFP the country was “going from bad to worse.”
“What happens on the political scene doesn’t interest me anymore,” she said. “I don’t trust anyone.”
Tunis construction worker Mohamed Salmi said he did not plan to vote. “They have made our lives hell ... Our ultimate dream has become to find a bottle of milk for our children,” he told Reuters.
Saied’s electoral law forbids candidates from speaking to the foreign press, a stance the North Africa Foreign Correspondents’ Club said would make it difficult for journalists to do their jobs.
Saied has made several public appearances, meeting market traders in the Old City of Tunis in the run-up to the vote.
Some social media users have posted satirical images ridiculing the vote.
In one video, a mock candidate appears with a cigar and smelling a posy of jasmine, before giving a donation to a pair of musicians who then shout pro-Saied slogans.
(With AFP and Reuters)

Thousands of Israelis block streets in protest of judicial overhaul

Thousands of Israelis block streets in protest of judicial overhaul
Updated 19 sec ago

Thousands of Israelis block streets in protest of judicial overhaul

Thousands of Israelis block streets in protest of judicial overhaul
TEL AVIV/JERUSALEM: Israelis took to the streets en masse on Thursday in protest against the government’s overhaul of the court system, blocking roadways across the country and intensifying a months-long campaign decrying the move.
Thousands of people carrying flags and signs marched on a Tel Aviv thoroughfare stopping traffic in the middle of the workday. A small group burned tires in the street outside a seaport, briefly blocking trucks. Police forced demonstrators from the road in front of a conference center in central Israel.
The protests have escalated since the start of the year when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government introduced new legislation that would limit the authority of the Supreme Court.
The plan has stirred concern for Israel’s democratic health at home and abroad. Military reservists have joined the protests and senior officials in the Finance Ministry warned this week of an economic backlash.
In Jerusalem, crowds gathered along the walls of the Old City from which they hung a huge replica of the country’s declaration of independence.
“What we are doing here is we are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our lives as a Jewish people together in the state that we have been building for 75 years,” said Avidan Friedman, who was wearing a Jewish prayer shawl over his head.
“We are fighting because we feel like what’s going on now is tearing us apart and we are calling on the government to stop.”
Netanyahu in the meantime pushed ahead with the legislation, which includes bills to give the government decisive sway in electing judges and to limit the court’s power to strike down laws. On Thursday a law was ratified limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed.
Netanyahu — on trial for corruption charges he denies — says the judicial overhaul is needed to restore balance between the branches of government. Critics say it will weaken Israel’s democracy and hand uncontrolled powers to the government of the day.

UK may have killed up to 32 civilians in Syria campaign against Daesh: charity

UK may have killed up to 32 civilians in Syria campaign against Daesh: charity
Updated 3 min 10 sec ago

UK may have killed up to 32 civilians in Syria campaign against Daesh: charity

UK may have killed up to 32 civilians in Syria campaign against Daesh: charity
  • Figure undermines Ministry of Defence claim that RAF strikes caused single civilian casualty: BBC

LONDON: Airstrikes launched by the UK’s military in Syria may have killed up to 32 civilians, research by a charity has reportedly revealed.

According to the BBC, the Action on Armed Violence organization, which investigates conflicts around the world, said its research had shown that at least nine attacks by the Royal Air Force led to civilian casualties between March 2016 and 2018.

It undermines a claim by the UK Ministry of Defence that its activities only led to a single civilian death during Britain’s seven-year aerial campaign against Daesh.

A ministry spokesperson said that military personnel examine evidence and mission data from every operation, and that there was “no evidence” of civilian casualties in the airstrikes investigated by AOAV.

A statement by the ministry said it had “identified nothing to indicate that such civilian casualties were caused in Syria.

“The RAF always minimizes the risk of civilian casualties through our rigorous targeting processes … but no evidence has been identified in these instances.”

The charity’s research claims that “at least 26 civilians are likely to have been killed” in RAF airstrikes during the two-year period, while “up to 32 civilians may have actually been killed.”

AOAV used “self-reported” civilian deaths to reach its figure, where military personnel under the US-led coalition against Daesh reported the high likelihood of civilian casualties following an operation.

The charity found that the reports were “credible” in eight of the nine RAF airstrikes.

It cross-checked the reports with the Ministry of Defence’s own internal mission data as well as information from US Central Command and other charities.

The single civilian death that the UK Ministry of Defence has admitted came in May 2018, when a motorcyclist was killed by a Reaper drone targeting Daesh fighters.

But another report surrounding possible civilian deaths, which the ministry has denied, centered on an RAF jet operation in May 2017, when Tornado aircraft attacked seven Daesh targets in Iraq’s Mosul.

The incident led to a “self-reported” claim by coalition personnel, with The New York Times newspaper finding that three civilians were nearby one of the strike targets, according to US mission data.

The data said: “The explosion from striking the mortar site was large enough to conclude that any person in the blast radius was seriously injured or killed in the strike.”

The US has said that 1,437 civilians may have been killed in the aerial campaign against Daesh between August 2014 and May 2023.

Israeli forces kill one Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan

Israeli forces kill one Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan
Updated 23 March 2023

Israeli forces kill one Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan

Israeli forces kill one Palestinian in West Bank raid on first day of Ramadan
  • The Palestinian health ministry said 25-year-old Amir Abu Khadijeh was shot in the head in the city of Tulkarem

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian officials said, amid attempts to curb surging violence from spiralling further.
A statement from Israeli border police said its undercover unit was involved in a raid early on Thursday to arrest a Palestinian man suspected of involvement in several shooting attacks. The forces surrounded the house he was in and fired at the man after he aimed a weapon at them, the border police said.
The Palestinian health ministry said 25-year-old Amir Abu Khadijeh was shot in the head in the city of Tulkarem.
A new group formed to confront Israel’s occupation under the name of the “Tulkarem Brigade” said Abu Khadijeh was one of its founders and described the killing as an “assassination.”
Thursday marked the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Palestinian territories.
In previous years, Ramadan has occasionally seen clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians, particularly around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, revered as the Temple Mount by Jews. Ramadan coincides this year with Judaism’s Passover and Christian Easter.
On Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials made commitments to de-escalate violence at a meeting attended by US, Egyptian and Jordanian delegations in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Israeli-occupied West Bank has seen a surge of confrontations in recent months, with near-daily Israeli military raids and escalating violence by Jewish settlers, amid a spate of attacks by Palestinians.
Over the past year, Israeli forces have killed more than 250 Palestinians in the West Bank, including fighters and civilians. More than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have died in Palestinian attacks in the same period.
The Palestinians aim to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster
Updated 24 min 54 sec ago

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster

Israel ratifies law limiting conditions for a Netanyahu ouster
  • May be meant to shield the incumbent leader from any fallout from his corruption trials
  • ‘What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed’

JERUSALEM: Israel ratified a law on Thursday limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed, despite worries voiced by a government jurist that it may be meant to shield the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu from any fallout from his corruption trials.
The amended definition for the “incapacity” of national leaders is among legislative measures by the religious-nationalist coalition that have tipped Israel into crisis, with the opposition arguing that judicial independence is in peril.
The coalition says the overhaul is aimed at pushing back against what it calls Supreme Court over-reach and restoring balance among branches of government.
By a 61-to-47 final vote, the Knesset approved the bill under which prime ministers can be deemed unfit — and compelled to step aside — either if they or three-quarters of cabinet ministers declare them so on physical or psychological grounds.
The stipulations fleshed out a quasi-constitutional “basic law” that provides the government with guidance in the event of a non-functioning prime minister — but which previously lacked details on circumstances that may give rise to such situations.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, the rule had earlier left Netanyahu vulnerable to a possible assertion of his incapacity by Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, should she perceive an attempt by him to halt his three court cases.
The new law precludes this, IDI senior researcher Amir Fuchs said — while adding that he had considered such a finding by Bararav-Miara to be an unlikely “extreme case.”
Netanyahu denies all charges against him, and has cast the trials as a politicized bid to force him out of office.
Baharav-Miara — who was appointed by the former, centrist Israeli government — said last month that Netanyahu must stay out of his coalition’s push for a judicial overhaul because of what she deemed a conflict of interest arising from his trials.
Baharav-Miara’s deputy, Gil Limon, voiced misgivings over the incapacity bill during a Knesset review session on Tuesday.
“What we see before our eyes is a cluster of legislation elements that are most troubling and are being advanced at great speed,” Limon said, according to an official transcript.
“They have the potential to serve the personal interests of a man regarding the outcomes of legal proceedings he is facing.”
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed a Supreme Court appeal against the new law. Should the court rule to overturn the law, that would in itself fuel the feud.
“Netanyahu and his coalition of corrupt men are trying every possible maneuver in their attempts to escape the threat of justice,” a statement from the watchdog group said.

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
Updated 23 March 2023

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions

Palestinians and Israelis clash at UN over Netanyahu actions
  • Ambassador Riyad Mansour takes issue with Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denying the existence of Palestinians as a people
  • Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan hits back, accusing the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history

UNITED NATIONS: The Palestinians and Israel clashed over the future intentions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right-wing government at a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, with the Palestinian UN ambassador pointing to an Israeli minister’s statement “denying our existence to justify what is to come.”
Israel’s UN ambassador countered that the minister had apologized, and accused the Palestinian leadership of regularly inciting terrorism and erasing Jewish history.
The council’s always contentious monthly meeting on the Mideast was even more acrimonious in the face of comments and actions by Israel’s new coalition government, which has faced relentless protests over its plan to overhaul the judiciary and strong criticism of Tuesday’s repeal by lawmakers of a 2005 act that saw four Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank dismantled at the same time that Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the Security Council the statement by firebrand Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claiming there’s “no such thing” as a Palestinian people wasn’t part of “a theoretical exercise” but was made as Israel’s unlawful annexation of territory the Palestinians insist must be part of their independent state “is more than underway.”
While not all Israeli officials go as far as denying the existence of Palestinians, some deny Palestinian rights, humanity and connection to the land, Mansour said.
Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past three months “even worse,” he said. So far this year, 85 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, and Palestinian attackers have killed 15 Israelis, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
Nonetheless, with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the approach of the Jewish holiday Passover and Christianity’s Easter observance, Mansour said the Palestinians decided to be “unreasonably reasonable” and leave no stone unturned to prevent bloodshed.
The Palestinian envoy urged the Security Council and the international community to mobilize every effort “to stop annexation, violence against our people, and provocations.” Everyone has a duty to act now “with every means at our disposal, to prevent a fire that will devour everything it encounters,” he said.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called his country “unquestionably the most vibrant liberal democracy in the Middle East” and accused the Palestinians of repeating lies, glorifying terrorists who spilled innocent Israeli blood and “regurgitating fabrications” that are not going to solve the decades-old conflict.
“To the Palestinian representative, I say: ‘Shame on you. Shame on you.’ It is so audacious that you dare condemn the words of Israeli minister who apologized and clarified what he meant, while your president and the rest of (the) Palestinian leadership regularly, regularly incite terrorism, never condemn the murders of Israeli civilians, praise Palestinian terrorists, and actively attempt to rewrite facts and the truth by erasing Jewish history,” he said.
Erdan accused the Palestinians of being “dead set on encouraging more violence” while Israel has taken significant steps to de-escalate the current tensions by sitting down with Palestinian officials in Jordan in February and on Sunday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
In a joint communique afterward, the two sides had pledged to take steps to lower tensions ahead of the sensitive holiday season — including a partial freeze on Israeli settlement activity and an agreement to work together to “curb and counter violence.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and Gaza Strip as an independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — which most of the world considers illegal and an obstacle to peace.
But Netanyahu’s government has put settlement expansion at the top of its agenda and has already advanced thousands of new settlement housing units and retroactively authorized nine wildcat outposts in the West Bank.
The repeal of the 2005 act on the four West Bank settlements came after Sunday’s agreement, and a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded two Israelis in the West Bank underscored the difficulties in implementing the joint communique. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, criticized the repeal, summoning Israel’s US ambassador, and other countries were also critical.
Netanyahu appeared to back down Wednesday, saying his government has no intention of returning to the four abandoned settlements.
Ambassador Erdan echoed him, saying “the state of Israel has no intention of building any new communities there,” but he said the new law “rights a historic wrong” and will allow Israelis to enter areas that are “the birthplace of our heritage.”