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Orbán faces toughest election challenge amid Ukraine war

Voice Of EU



Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán, widely-seen as an ally of both Russian president Vladimir Putin and former US president Donald Trump, is facing his toughest challenge since coming into power in 2010, from a united opposition, at the general election this Sunday (3 April).

Almost eight million Hungarian voters will elect 199 members of the National Assembly, currently dominated by government Fidesz loyalists.

  • Opposition leader Péter Márki-Zay is mounting the most serious challenge to Orbán in the last 12 years (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

A politically-charged referendum pushed by the government on the so-called promotion of LGBTIQ in schools will also be voted on simultaneously. The issue is seen mostly as a Fidesz-led effort to rally its supporters with anti-LGBTIQ propaganda.

And while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been dominating the campaign agenda, it has not redrawn the battle lines in a deeply-divided Hungarian society.

Over the past 12 years, Orbán and his Fidesz party has managed to rule with a two-thirds majority, constructed a self-described “illiberal” state, and curbed independent institutions, media freedom and judicial independence.

This time six opposition parties — spanning from once far-right Jobbik to urban liberal Momentum — have united to take on Orbán’s Fidesz party, led by conservative newcomer politician and anti-corruption champion Péter Márki-Zay.

Despite Márki-Zay’s successful bid last autumn to lead the opposition parties, they failed to spur a wider momentum to unseat Orbán.

This was partly due to “operational difficulties”, András Bíró-Nagy, director of think tank Policy Solutions, said. “They needed to build a campaign from scratch,” he said, adding that the opposition coalition itself had also been surprised that the small-town mayor overtook more heavyweight opposition figures.

Room for surprise

And Márki-Zay, 49, is facing an uphill battle against the Fidesz machinery.

The Fidesz media-dominance and persistent concerns over rewritten election laws — which have not been dealt with for four years despite damning reports by international observers — has led to a full-scale observation mission by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“Fidesz has a much better chance to win, but for the first time in 16 years the opposition has a chance. There could be a surprise, but the expectation is that Orbán wins,” political analyst Róbert László at Budapest-based think tank Political Capital said.

A poll, conducted by pollster Zavecz Research 23-25 March and published by website on Monday, put support for nationalist Orban’s Fidesz at 41 percent of the electorate, while the opposition alliance stood at 39 percent.

Experts warn that because of the distortions built into the election system by the Fidesz majority, the opposition needs to win by at least a three-four percentage points margin over Orbán’s party to clinch victory.

Those distortions include gerrymandering: redrawing constituencies to favour Fidesz, and different voting rules for Hungarians living outside of Hungary.

“On top of it comes 12 years of permanent campaign we live in, that advantage is very difficult to counter,” he added, referring to the Orbán government’s years-long campaign against EU institutions, civil organisations, US billionaire George Soros, migrants, and most recently, LGBTQI people.

Orbán’s dominance also helped him avoid being hammered by the opposition. Their campaign is repeatedly pointing out his close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine a month ago, and his lukewarm support for Ukrainians.

Pro-Kremlin narratives

While Hungary has backed EU sanctions, its pro-government and public media has been spewing Kremlin-inspired narratives.

Budapest is also home of the International Investment Bank, a Moscow-backed development bank viewed as an arm of the Russian secret service by its critics.

Russia has also signed a €12.5bn agreement with Hungary on expanding the country’s nuclear power plant, which has since ground to a halt given the widespread sanctions following Ukraine’s invasion.

On top of the cosy relationship, an investigative site, Direkt36 revealed on Monday that Russia had hacked the communication system of Hungary’s foreign ministry and had access to material including encrypted top-secret political documents.

The opposition has been attempting to focus the election as a choice between Putin and the West.

The Fidesz government has meanwhile had its own framing, falsely alleging that the “dangerous” opposition wants to take Hungary to war — because of wanting greater support for Ukraine — while Orbán is portrayed as the guarantor of peace.

“Orbán has betrayed Hungary, the European Union, and the Nato, he betrayed all of us,” Márki-Zay said at a campaign event on Tuesday (29 March) in Budapest.

“Orbán’s goal is not to let the issue of the war cause losses in his camp,” Bíró-Nagy added, saying that Orbán’s failed policy of opening towards the east, towards Russia, meant an opportunity for the opposition.

Although Orbán might be successful in convincing his voter base that his support for Putin was the best option, he remains in a tight spot.

Orbán’s immediate future remains extremely challenging, even if he wins the election.

Issues like high inflation, high energy prices, unsustainable price caps, and a lack of EU funds due to corruption have yet to be tackled. “It will be difficult to not call austerity what is about to come,” Róbert László added.

Orbán is also increasingly isolated on the international stage.

On Tuesday, a Budapest meeting of the defence ministers from Hungary’s closest allies, the Visegrad Four countries of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia was cancelled, after Warsaw and Prague pulled out over Budapest’s lukewarm support for action against Moscow.

László pointed out that with so many things in Orban’s favour, his Fidesz party is still only polling neck-and-neck with the opposition. Those factors include government-controlled media dominance, a permanent campaign mode, the overhaul of the entire institutional system in Hungary, and a weak opposition.

“It shows that support for him isn’t great, he manages to hold onto this with hundreds of tricks,” László said.

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Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development

Voice Of EU



Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.

The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.

Doreen Kajuju Kimathi
Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, who now volunteers for a widows’ support group. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.

“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”

Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.

While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.

For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.

But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.

The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.

Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization.
Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization. Photograph: Courtesy of CTWOO

The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.

Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.

Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa logo
Grassroots groups are emerging to build awareness of widows’ rights. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.

“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.

Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.

But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.

“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

Voice Of EU



Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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Jury calls for sweeping reforms to Canada’s approach to femicide | Canada

Voice Of EU



A community in rural Canada has made a series of transformative recommendations at a coroner’s inquest that – if adopted – could position the country’s most populous province as a leader in preventing femicides, particularly those carried out by an intimate partner.

The jury in Renfrew County, Ontario, just west of Canada’s capital, delivered 86 recommendations this week in a unanimous verdict on the deaths of three local women, who were killed by the same man on a single morning nearly seven years ago.

The boldest was to have the Ontario government “formally declare intimate partner violence as an epidemic” that requires “significant financial investment” and deep systemic change to remedy.

Since the triple homicide on 22 September 2015, 111 women in Ontario have been murdered by their current or former partner, the inquest heard. Every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, according to Statistics Canada.

The jury also recommended official prominence be given to the word “femicide” – to have it be listed as a manner of death by coroners in the province and added to the criminal code of Canada to underscore the misogyny beneath the killings of women and girls because of their gender.

“A lot of the recommendations are groundbreaking,” said Pamela Cross, a lawyer and expert on intimate partner violence in Ontario who testified at the inquest.

The inquest, which heard from nearly 30 witnesses over three weeks, was meant to examine the systems that broke down in the weeks, months and years leading up to the day Basil Borutski got in a borrowed car, drove to Carol Culleton’s cottage and strangled her with a coaxial cable, then moved on to Anastasia Kuzyk’s house where he shot her to death and then to Nathalie Warmerdam’s farm where he shot her too.

All three women had previously been in an intimate relationship with Borutski. He had been in and out of jail for assaulting Kuzyk and Warmerdam and was on probation at the time of the murders and subject to a weapons ban.

Borutski had been flagged as “high risk” two years before the triple homicide, the inquest heard, and exhibited 30 out of 41 risk factors identified by Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee – including a deep sense of victimhood and the ability to convince new partners he was innocent and unfairly targeted by police in his prior convictions.

Police witnesses told the jury Borutski was very good at “manipulation” and constantly flouted court orders, including never showing up to a mandated partner assault response program.

The jury heard from family members, including Valerie Warmerdam, Nathalie’s daughter, who painted a nuanced and empathetic picture of Borutski as a troubled stepfather. It heard from a frontline worker who described Warmerdam and Kuzyk’s constant terror that Borutski would kill them or harm their family.

The inquest jury demanded decision-makers make “significant financial investments” in ending violence, have police all use the same records management system and create clear guidelines for flagging high-risk abusers. It urged the study of disclosure protocols like Clare’s Law, which is used in the United Kingdom and in parts of Canada to allow a concerned person to check if their partner has a police record of intimate partner violence.

Valerie Warmerdam welcomed the verdict, but underscored the need for action on the part of governments who will receive these recommendations in the wake of the inquest. “I want change,” she said. “These recommendations are a good start, if they are actioned. That’s a big if.”

Kirsten Mercer, counsel to End Violence Against Women Renfrew County (EVA), noted that it was the jury themselves who added the epidemic recommendation among 13 others, including creating a registry of high-risk offenders akin to the sex offenders registry, and exploring electronic monitoring of those charged or found guilty of an IPV-related offence.

“The jury has asked that we tell the truth about intimate partner violence,” Mercer told the media after the verdict. “The jury has asked that we put our money where our mouth is.”

The idea to add femicide to the coroner’s list of manners of death and to the Criminal Code of Canada came from the joint submission. Countries in Latin America have already added this as a criminal offence, she said, and should be looked to as a model for how to do it here.

Accountability was a priority for this jury, Mercer said. The verdict called for the creation of an accountability body akin to the United Kingdom’s domestic abuse commissioner and a specific committee to make sure this verdict does not just languish in decision-makers’ inboxes.

“We are not going to wait forever any more.”

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