Bulgarian ousted premier Boyko Borisov’s party came first in tense elections on Sunday but fell short of a majority, exit polls showed, setting the scene for political stalemate and fresh protests.
Three months after the biggest demonstrations in years prompted the former bodyguard to tender his government’s resignation, Borisov’s GERB party won between 30.4 and 34 percent of the vote, the exit polls showed, AFP reported.
In second place was the socialist BSP party on between 25.3 and 27.1 percent, followed by the Turkish minority party MRF on 10-11.5 percent and the ultra-nationalist Ataka on 7.3-8.6 percent.
It remained unclear yet if a fifth party would pass the 4.0 percent threshold to win seats in the legislature in the European Union’s poorest country.
The tight vote also made it impossible for pollsters to say if GERB could muster a slim majority together with Ataka--which used to back their previous majority cabinet but turned against them as the vote drew near.
“There is no way for Ataka to back GERB,” snapped Ataka’s flamboyant leader Volen Siderov late Sunday.
“Bulgaria needs stability and if parties are responsible they should back even a minority cabinet,” GERB’s campaign manager and ex-interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.
Roadside Bomb Kills 10 Afghans
A roadside bomb hit a bus in southern Afghanistan on Monday and killed 10 civilians, mostly women and children, officials said.
Kandahar province’s police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq said the blast wounded another 12 people in Maroof district, roughly 60 kilometers (36 miles) northeast of Kandahar city, AP reported.
Insurgents plant landmines and roadside bombs in the south and the east of the country to target Afghan and international troops, but civilians often are killed or injured as a result.
Also, Monday a Taliban spokesman said the four remaining Turkish nationals among a group of 11 people abducted last month by the militant group would be released shortly.
An email statement from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed said the earlier release of another four Turks was intended as a “goodwill gesture” and “soon” the remaining four Turks still in their possession would also be freed.
He did not make any reference to the Afghan translator and two pilots--one from Russia and one from Kyrgyzstan--who were captured along with the eight Turks when bad weather forced their helicopter to make an emergency landing in the Taliban-stronghold of eastern Afghanistan’s Logar province on April 21.
On Sunday Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the freed Turks were taken to the Turkish Embassy in Kabul.
17 Injured in New Orleans Shooting
At least 17 people--including a child as young as 10--have been hurt in a shooting at a parade in the US city of New Orleans, local media reported on Sunday.
Broadcaster WWLTV cited local police spokeswoman Remi Braden as saying that the wounded included both participants and attendees of the Mother’s Day event.
Local police spokesman Garry Flot said earlier that at least 12 people were hurt. “It’s probably going to be more than that,” Flot said, AFP reported.
He added that no one was killed and that three to four people were in hospital for surgery. A young girl suffered a graze wound.
Flot declined to provide further details and could not confirm WWLTV and other local media reports that the parade was held in honor of Mother’s Day.
New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas told reporters that shots from “maybe two different types of weapons” rang out “and immediately after the shots were fired, our officers saw three people running away.”
In addition to those who may have been shot, one person may have been hurt when he or she fell to the ground, Serpas added. “At this time, we have no indication that anyone will perish from today’s events,” he said, adding that the injured girl, believed to be aged 10, was in good condition.
Police were searching for a motive for the shooting. “It appears that these two or three people just for a reason unknown to us, started shooting at, toward or in the crowd,” Serpas said. “It was over in just a couple seconds.”
The Times-Picayune newspaper quoted Serpas as saying there were about 300 to 400 people in the parade and some 200 people in the area of the shooting.
The newspaper reported that one of its journalists, who was participating in the parade, heard six or seven shots being fired.
It also cited a parade participant as saying that those in the event were throwing teddy bears and candy to watching revelers.
“I think what frustrates all of us is the selfishness of some people, and I think what frustrates all of us is that the great culture of this city sometimes stumbles a bit because of the selfish behavior of some people,” Serpas told reporters.
S. Korea, US Launch Naval Exercise
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“The risk of a nuclear war in the peninsula has risen further due to the madcap nuclear war practice by the US and the South’s enemy forces,” the committee added.
Last week, North Korea warned against any provocation during the joint maneuver, saying that Pyongyang was ready to counterstrike if a “single shell” drops across the disputed Yellow Sea maritime border.
“In case the enemies recklessly counter our counterstrikes, all striking forces will turn the (South’s) five islands… into a sea of flames,” Pyongyang said in a statement on May 7.
New Defense Chief
North Korea has replaced its defense chief with a little-known army general, according to a state media report on Monday, in what outside analysts call an attempt to install a younger figure meant to solidify leader Kim Jong Un’s grip on the powerful military.
Jang Jong Nam’s appointment is the latest move since Kim succeeded his late father in late 2011 that observers see as a young leader trying to consolidate control.
Jang’s new role as minister of the People’s Armed Forces, however, isn’t thought to indicate a potential softening of Pyongyang’s stance toward Seoul and Washington any time soon, analysts said. Jang replaces Kim Kyok Sik, the former commander of battalions believed responsible for attacks on South Korea in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. Outsiders don’t know much about Jang, but analysts said it’s unlikely that Kim Jong Un would name a moderate to the post at a time of tension with the outside world.
Pak Elections and Challenges Ahead
By Moeen Cheema
Given the coverage of Pakistan’s election campaign, one may be forgiven for believing that these elections were about one set of issues, and one alone: the role of Islam in statecraft and the country’s struggles with terrorism.
Militant groups had strategically targeted the three supposedly liberal parties that had been a part of the previous coalition government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). This created an environment of fear in which these parties struggled to hold large public rallies in the run-up to the elections.
In sharp contrast, Pakistan’s right-leaning parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former premier Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, were able to campaign relatively openly and hold large gatherings without the threat of terrorist attacks.
There is no denying that selective terrorist attacks distorted the electioneering process, but it had minimal effect on the outcome. Pakistanis came out to vote in unprecedented numbers despite the threat of large-scale terrorism which fortunately did not materialise.
It appears that they largely voted on the issues of economy and governance, to the extent that issues were relevant to their choice. The former ruling parties were penalised for their woeful economic performance, chronic maladministration, cronyism and corruption.
The two major beneficiaries of the swing were the PTI in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the PML-N in Punjab. The high voter turnout reflects the political engagement of young voters and segments of the urban population who had previously remained disillusioned and disengaged with electoral process. This is a positive development for the prospects of continuing democratisation in Pakistan.
However, it is also evident that a substantial portion of the electorate voted according to the demands of patronage-oriented politics. The PML-N had been particularly effective in putting together a candidate list dominated by ‘electables’ in Punjab--that is, individuals who can claim considerable support independent of party affiliation based on local patronage and kinship (biraderi) networks--and appears to have reaped the benefits of traditional politics.
The PML-N’s overwhelming victory in Punjab, the largest and most populous province which accounts for148 out of a total of 272 National Assembly seats, has seen it emerge with the possibility of forming a stable government at the federal level. The party is also set to complete a smooth transition to its second successive provincial government in the province. The timing of the elections also creates the possibility that the incoming federal government will have better working relationships with the other power centers in Pakistan’s state. President Zardari’s term expires in September and given the hammering received by his party at the polls, he is likely be replaced by a PML-N nominee. With a budget just around the corner, the PML-N government will have to quickly come to terms with managing a national economy suffocated by enormous debt-servicing and defence expenditures burdens.
Tough choices on reforms designed to broaden the tax base, including the documentation of a massive informal economy and imposition of agricultural income tax, can only be deferred at the cost of increasing international debt and continued dependence on foreign aid.
Managing Pakistan’s relationship with the US is going to be a difficult affair as the US seeks to devise a less than dishonorable exit from Afghanistan in the coming years. The new government will have to deal not only with US expectations, but also find ways to work with a military establishment, which has historically enjoyed a sway over foreign and national security policymaking.
The PML-N will have to absorb considerable public pressures in the process. In particular, it will have to wage a bruising battle of wits with Imran Khan’s PTI, which explicitly campaigned on the promise of redefining the terms of partnership in the war in Afghanistan and ending US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Provincialization of Politics
Other facets of foreign and domestic policy, which might lead to friction between the military and the new government, include the fate of General Musharraf, currently under trial on a number of criminal charges, and the military operation in Balochistan.
There is no love lost between the incoming prime minister and the former military dictator who dismissed Nawaz Sharif’s last government in a coup in 1999. However, the military will be wary of a high profile prosecution of its former head, involving potential allegations that other senior members of the armed forces were involved in the various actions that are the subject of charges against General Musharraf.
As issues of violence in the metropolis of Karachi, terrorism and drone strikes in the tribal areas of the northwest region, military operation in Balochistan and the demands for the creation of new provinces regain center-stage, the new national government will have to come to terms with working within a federal system in which power is no longer centralised.
The provincialization of politics thus creates interesting prospects for a competitive federalism in which the parties heading different provincial governments have an incentive to implement policies and styles of governance that may enable them to regain lost ground in the rest of the country by the time of the next elections.
The PTI has also brought to the table demands of social justice, universal education and health, undoing of the public-private divide in the provision of basic services, and creation of elected local governments. If Imran Khan’s party makes any strides in furthering this agenda in the terrorism-hit province, where the Pakistani state is presently under the greatest stress, the PML-N government will be under enormous political pressure to match such a performance.
Less violence than usual and expected glitches in voting machines marked Monday’s congressional and local elections in the Philippines, which will gauge popular support for the president’s anti-corruption drive and other reforms.