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Latin America prepares for frantic month of elections in November | USA

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A man casts his vote during local elections in Chile, March 2021.
A man casts his vote during local elections in Chile, March 2021.MARTIN BERNETTI (AFP)

Latin America has a full electoral calendar in November. Ballot boxes will change the political landscape in Argentina, Chile and Honduras, while leading to heightened tension in Nicaragua where a general election will be held in which President Daniel Ortega is set to win the vote after jailing all opposition candidates one after the other. Venezuela, meanwhile, will stage regional elections with opposition candidates following the decision of the anti-Chavist political wing to end an electoral boycott and form a united front.

Nicaragua goes to the polls on November 7, with the incumbent the only candidate, given that the other politicians taking part in the process are considered to be puppets of the regime by the opposition. Ortega, who is seeking his third consecutive re-election, unleashed a political crackdown in June when he started to jail those opposition candidates who, according to the polls, had the best chance of winning. Among them was Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who was hoping to repeat her mother’s 1990 defeat of Ortega at the polling booth.

A survey conducted by polling firm Cid Gallup and published in Nicaraguan daily Confidencial last Sunday found that 76% of Nicaraguans believe that Ortega’s reelection to be illegitimate. The poll showed that in a fair election, 65% of voters would cast their ballot for any of “the candidates of the opposition,” while just 17% would back Ortega and his vice president and wife, Rosario Murillo. The election has been described as “a farce” by the opposition and the United States, the Organization of American States and the Union European have all stated their concerns over the lack of guarantees in the electoral process.

The following Sunday, November 14, the Peronist government of Alberto Fernández faces crucial legislative elections in Argentina. The primaries held in September – a first mandatory electoral period for voters and parties – was a catastrophe for the ruling party, which suffered defeats in 18 of the country’s 24 provinces. If that result is repeated in the second round, the Peronist coalition Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front) will lose its Senate majority (and with it the quorum itself) and could even find itself in a minority in the Chamber of Deputies. The opposition in the lower house would be in a legal position to demand the presidency of the chamber.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (r) and his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo at an election rally in September.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (r) and his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo at an election rally in September. Alfredo Zuniga (AP)

The Fernández administration has pulled out all the stops to reverse the polls with big-spending social aid plans for the poorest sections of society, credits for the middle classes and a campaign based on face-to-face meetings with the electorate. However, the economic crisis, malaise resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and internal squabbling among the coalition that swept Fernández to power has thwarted the success of this strategy.

On Sunday, November 21, Chile will go to the polls to elect a successor to President Sebastián Piñera in the most polarized vote since the country’s return to democracy in 1990. Social disaffection two years after the October 2019 protests has scarcely abated while a Constitutional Assembly dominated by independents has spent four months drawing up a new constitution to replace the one inherited from the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The economic climate has darkened, along with the mood of the citizenry. This unrest has given a boost to the campaign of José Antonio Kast, a far-right candidate who defends Pinochet’s legacy. Kast currently leads the polls with 22%, followed by Gabriel Boric of Social Convergence, which forms part of the leftist Broad Front coalition. A politician formed in the student protests of 2011, Boric currently has the projected support of 17.4% of voters. As things stand, it seems inevitable that a runoff vote will be required on December 19.

Argentina's President Alberto Fernández at the United Nations climate summit.
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández at the United Nations climate summit.ADRIAN DENNIS (AFP)

At the same time as Chile votes, Venezuela will elect 23 governors and 335 mayors, councilors and local deputies. The ballots will feature opposition candidates after most political parties decided on August 31 to end an electoral boycott that had been in place since 2017 and present a unified list of candidates. After months of negotiation, the anti-Chavist front agreed that it was better to put up a fight at the polling stations than to clear the way for President Nicolás Maduro to assume absolute control. For the first time in 15 years, there will be international observers from the European Union and the nongovernmental organization The Carter Center, among others. This was one of the conditions that the opposition laid out to guarantee transparency in the electoral process. As part of the negotiations that some sectors of civil society and countries including Norway have promoted, new members of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for maintaining transparency during elections, were sworn in in February, and for the first time, two of the five rectors have no political association with Chavism.

Despite the importance of these elections, the opposition has done little to encourage voter participation. The exhaustion of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s strategy of pressure has taken its toll. Although the majority of parties have put forward candidates, Guaidó and a section of opposition leaders who are loyal to him have not taken on the regional elections as a rallying cry, evidence of the internal splits that favor the government, reports Florantonia Singer.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera in October.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera in October.Esteban Felix (AP)

Honduras brings the electoral flurry to a close on November 28 in elections that will be marred by allegations of fraud and accusations of involvement with drug trafficking against outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández, which are being investigated by the US authorities. The polls show that voters will decide between two of the three candidates: Nasry Asfura, the leader of the ruling National Party of Honduras, and Xiomara Castro, leader of the leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party. More than five million Hondurans will go to the ballots to elect a new president, 128 members of Congress and 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament.

A poll conducted by the Center for Democratic Studies and published last week places Castro at the head of voter preferences. The leftist candidate is the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was pulled from his bed in his pajamas at gunpoint and overthrown in a 2009 coup that polarized Honduran society. The poll places Castro’s projected share of the vote at 38%, compared to 21% for her closest rival, the conservative Asfura.

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Belgium might close schools and cultural activities

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Today, Friday, Belgian governments are meeting again in order to decide on new Covid measures in order to stop the spreading of the virus as numbers are spiking. This time the concertation committee is gathering on the request of the Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon who suggested to close down all indoor events, including all concerts and theatre productions. The closing of schools is also on the agenda.

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El Salvador ‘responsible for death of woman jailed after miscarriage’ | Global development

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The Inter-American court of human rights has ruled that El Salvador was responsible for the death of Manuela, a woman who was jailed in 2008 for killing her baby when she suffered a miscarriage.

The court has ordered the Central American country to reform its draconian policies on reproductive health.

The decision on Tuesday marked the first time an international court has ruled on El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws and was celebrated by women’s rights activists, who believe it could open doors for change across the region.

Since 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned without exception, even in cases of rape and incest. Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.

The case of Manuela v El Salvador was brought after the 33-year-old mother of two from the countryside died from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned. She had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide after a miscarriage.

When Manuela – whose full name has never been made public in El Salvador – went to the hospital after miscarrying, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Manuela was handcuffed to her bed and denied access to a lawyer while police interrogated her.

“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” the landmark court ruling stated. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”

The court also ruled that the state must pay reparations to Manuela’s family, and should develop comprehensive sexual education policies and guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The Inter-American court has done justice by recognising Manuela was another victim of an unjust legal context that originates in the absolute prohibition of abortion,” said Morena Herrera, at the Feminist Collective for Local Development, one of the parties in the case supporting Manuela’s family.

“Manuela’s story is a sad one, but it represents a change and becomes a path of justice and hope for all women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are criminalised for obstetric events.”

Most countries in the region respect the Inter-American court’s jurisdiction, opening the door for sweeping change, activists said.

“This is a huge advance for reproductive rights, not only in El Salvador but across Latin America,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, another party in the case. “This is a standard we can apply to the constitutions and states across the region.”

Martínez Coral added that while the ruling was to be celebrated, the issue of poverty affecting access to reproductive rights remained a challenge.

“There are over 180 cases of women in jail, or that have been jailed, over these issues,” said Martínez Coral, who also worked as a litigator on the case against the Salvadorean state.

“What that means is we’re dealing with a state that criminalises women and, above all, criminalises poor women in the most rural and impoverished areas,” she said.

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EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

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The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to digitalise EU cross-border justice systems, aiming at making them more accessible and effective. Under the new draft law, the EU executive wants to tackle inefficiencies affecting cross-border judicial cooperation and barriers to access to justice in cross-border cases. Shifting paper-based communications to electronic formats would save up to €25m per year across the EU in postage and paper costs.

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