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Phuket Gazette World News: Kenya elections; Pope vote; Borneo violence; QEII cancels Welsh appearances

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Phuket Gazette World News: Kenya elections; Pope vote; Borneo violence; QEII cancels Welsh appearances | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Kenyans to vote in tense head-to-head presidential race
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Kenyans vote today in a presidential election that will test whether the east African nation can restore its reputation as one of Africa’s more stable democracies after a lethal ethnic rampage erupted following the 2007 poll.

Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, the candidates and civil society groups have all appealed for a peaceful poll after the disputed vote five years ago unleashed a wave of killing by rival tribes that lasted weeks and left more than 1,200 dead.

“I also make a passionate plea for all of us to vote peacefully. Indeed, peace is a cornerstone of our development,” Kibaki, barred from seeking a third five-year term, told Kenyans in a televised address before polling day.

Yet, as in 2007, the race has come down to a high-stakes head-to-head between two candidates, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and once again both will depend heavily on votes from loyalists of rival tribes.

Though well ahead of six other contenders, polls suggest neither may be able to command enough ballots for an outright victory in the first round, which could set the stage for a tense run-off tentatively set for April 11. A narrow first round victory for either could raise prospects for legal challenges.

Kenya’s neighbours are watching nervously, after their economies felt the shockwaves when violence five years ago shut down trade routes running through east Africa’s biggest economy. Some landlocked states have stockpiled fuel and other materials.

The United States and other Western states are worried about the conduct of a poll in a state seen as a vital ally in the regional battle against militant Islam. Adding to election tensions, al Shabaab militants, battling Kenyan peacekeeping troops in Somalia, issued a veiled threat days before the vote.

But the West also frets about the result of the presidential race. One of the top candidates, Kenyatta, is indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Papal vote preparations start in earnest at Vatican
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Preparations for electing Roman Catholicism’s new leader begin in earnest today as the College of Cardinals opens daily talks to sketch an identikit for the next pope and ponder who among them might fit it.

The idea is to have the new pope elected during next week and officially installed several days later so he can preside over the Holy Week ceremonies starting with Palm Sunday on March 24 and culminating in Easter the following Sunday.

The general congregations, closed-door meetings in the interregnum between a papacy and the conclave to choose the next one, will hold morning and afternoon sessions in an apparent effort to discuss as much as possible in a short time.

The list of challenges facing the crisis-hit Church could take weeks to debate, but the Vatican seems keen to have only a week of talks so the 115 cardinal electors – those under 80 – can enter the Sistine Chapel for the conclave next week.

High on the agenda will be Church governance after last year’s Vatileaks scandal exposed corruption and rivalries in the Vatican’s Curia bureaucracy. Cardinals expect to be briefed on a secret report to the pope on the problems it highlighted.

“We should know about some things we don’t have enough information about because of our work or the distance (from Rome),” Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga told Italian television.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston in Texas, noted more than half the cardinal electors had been named since the now retired Pope Benedict was chosen in 2005 and had to find out how this most secretive of elections is conducted.

“Part of this is learning,” he told journalists. Cardinals over 80 can attend the general congregations and discuss issues with the electors, but not take part in the conclave itself.

Mexican president warns party over graft: No one is untouchable
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Sunday sounded a warning shot to his ruling party over corruption, saying no one is above the law as he tries to tackle the graft that has blighted its reputation in the past.

Speaking just days after the head of Mexico’s powerful teachers’ union was arrested on charges of embezzling around $200 million, Pena Nieto vowed a new era of transparency at a congress attended by some 4,200 members of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

“There are no untouchable interests,” said Pena Nieto, who pledged to break with the party’s past reputation for shady deals and patronage when he won the presidency last year. “The only interest I will protect is the national interest.”

Political analysts say the arrest of union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, herself a former PRI grandee, was a warning to any politicians or labour bosses involved in corruption.

However, the incident also raised fears that the PRI may be returning to past tactics of squashing dissent. Gordillo left the PRI several years ago and had opposed a new law being pushed by Pena Nieto to overhaul Mexico’s education system.

The PRI had become a byword for corrupt and often authoritarian rule by the time it was voted out of office in 2000 after a 71 years in power.

Pena Nieto, who is seeking to push through a raft of economic reforms in a bid to modernize the economy and boost growth, campaigned on a promise of a new PRI.

The party has updated its manifesto to include measures to foster transparency, including free access to information, which party members say applies in particular to economic issues.

“Today we are a more transparent party, open to the scrutiny of the people and being held to account,” Pena Nieto said. “Today the PRI has an instrument to distance itself from and reject those who are not up to the ethical standards of our party.”

“Let us demonstrate through our attitude, our voice, our actions that we are a new generation of the PRI.”

(Reporting by Simon Gardner; Editing by Kieran Murray and Christopher Wilson)

Germany to prevent Bulgaria, Romania entering Schengen – magazine
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Germany will prevent Bulgaria and Romania from entering the passport-free Schengen zone when European ministers meet to discuss the issue on Thursday, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said in a magazine interview.

“If Romania and Bulgaria insist on a vote, the attempt will fail due to a German veto,” Friedrich was quoted as saying in Der Spiegel on Sunday.

“Even the idea of a partial approval i.e. for entry by air or seaports is off the table,” he added.

He said Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, needed to tackle corruption more decisively and that German citizens would only accept an expansion of the Schengen area if the essential requirements were fulfilled, which he said was not currently the case.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote

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The stakes are high, the deliberations continue – Parliamentary Brexit vote | The Thaiger

Call it Super Saturday, call it Deal or No Deal, call it the most important day in recent UK history. Today (Saturday) the UK House of Commons will gather on a Saturday, the first time for decades. Golf games have been postponed, polo sticks will have to gather dust and the cleaner’s been told to come back on Sunday.

Earlier this week, British PM Boris Johnson did the near impossible and secured a new Brexit deal from the EU. The EU shocked everyone by throwing out the controversial Irish border backstop and replacing it with an alternative plan, after months of saying that Theresa May’s deal could not be changed. Moreover, the EU leaders seem happy with the deal and have been waxing lyrical about the scruffy British PM they all dreaded negotiating with.

But it’s not going to be easy. Some PMs have already tabled amendments that could make Johnson’s run of success fall short of a finish line. Opposition MPs will put forward proposals to scrap Brexit or schedule a second referendum.

So how is the crucial, and historic vote, going to roll?

It’s far too close to call. PM Johnson doesn’t have a majority in Parliament and his Northern Irish allies, the DUP, who he needed to pass legislation, have already said that they won’t back the new plan. Meanwhile, his opposition MPs are lining up to criticise the deal. And there’s serious concern that the arch-Brexiteers in his own Conservative party will vote against the deal too.

Bottomline, if MPs don’t vote for this deal then they can’t be certain that Brexit will be delayed, despite the fact that Johnson is legally obliged to request a Brexit extension if no deal has been agreed by 11 pm on Saturday night. Last month, opposition MPs passed legislation that binds the British to this commitment. Mr. Johnson says he will comply with the law but reminds his opponents that this decision relies on the EU still having to unanimously agree to it.

But, if the deal passes, the UK finally leaves the EU. Johnson would probably hope to capitalise on his success and call for a general election soon after. His poll ratings are good at the moment, and you’d think they would improve after delivering Brexit.

If the deal goes down, Johnson requests the extension and it’s approved, then we get into the nasty election where both sides will tear each other apart, adding more to a polarised community that may take decades to recover from this folly.

And if the EU refuses an extension, then all hell breaks loose.

Has it all been worth it?

Anyway, bring on Super Saturday as the deliberations continue.

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Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan

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Johnson tells MPs that there is ‘no better outcome’ than his Brexit plan | The Thaiger

British PM Boris Johnson is warning British MPs there was “no better outcome” to the tortuous Brexit process than his divorce deal, as he scrambles to get MPs behind the agreement ahead of today’s knife-edge vote in parliament (Saturday UK time).

Johnson is urging lawmakers to back the “fantastic” terms he struck with EU leaders and let Britain leave the bloc on October 31.

“There’s no better outcome than the one I’m advocating tomorrow.”

“I want colleagues on all sides of the House to think about a world tomorrow night in which we’ve got this thing done,” he added in a separate interview with ITV.

“I think the nation will heave a great sigh of relief.”

Johnson pulled off a major coup in agreeing a new divorce deal at a Brussels summit on Thursday, only a fortnight before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. But the deal’s fortunes, and Britain’s immediate fate, rest in the hands of a few undecided MPs, who will vote in the first Saturday session of the Commons since the 1982 Falklands War.

Political pundits suggest the vote could be exceptionally tight. Johnson has no majority among MPs, every opposition party has come out against the deal and even his parliamentary ally, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), says it cannot support the terms.

Johnson requires the support of 319 other MPs to guarantee victory – and claims he is confident of getting the numbers, as he spent the day meeting and calling MPs.

He must convince diehard eurosceptics in his own Conservative ranks, former colleagues he expelled from the party for seeking to block a “no deal” departure, and main opposition Labour MPs from Brexit-backing constituencies to have any chance.

Labour is ordering its MPs to vote against the deal but threatening no punishment if they vote in favour. Several MPs spent yesterday wrestling with their consciences as the more than three years of turmoil since the June 2016 EU membership referendum came to a head.

Johnson is expected to deliver a speech to parliament from 0830 GMT on Saturday, kicking off a day of debate that could last well into the evening.

The turning of the screws

If the Commons rejects the deal, Johnson will be forced by law to ask the EU to delay Brexit, for what would be the third time. He has said he would rather be “dead in a ditch”.

French President Emmanuel Macron piled the pressure on MPs, saying he did not want a new delay now a deal was struck.

“The October 31 date should be respected. I don’t think that new deadlines should be given,” he said at the EU summit in Brussels.

“We need to end these negotiations and get on negotiating the future relationship.”

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added: “There is no choice between Brexit or no Brexit: it’s a choice between deal or no deal.”

Johnson took office in July vowing to keep to the October 31 Brexit deadline, deal or no deal.

He pledged to renegotiate the most contentious elements of a divorce text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May with Brussels last year, which MPs rejected three times.

The compromise deal that was finally struck on Thursday has a new arrangement for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The DUP has said it cannot support the plans, as efforts to avoid checks on the Irish land border would lead to new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

Meanwhile…

Former Conservative prime minister John Major (1990-1997) and his Labour successor Tony Blair (1997-2007) pleaded with MPs to back a second referendum, ahead of a major rally by the “People’s Vote” campaign outside parliament on Saturday (UK time).

“Whatever is the outcome, no deal or bad deal, it should not pass without the final say resting with the people,” said Blair.

Major said Brexit was a “thoroughly bad idea” that risked breaking up the UK.

The Pound steadied around $1.29 yesterday as dealers took a breather at the end of a dizzying week.

ETX Capital analyst Michael Baker said the market was “really gambling” on the vote and had “not priced in fully all scenarios – so expect big moves”.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse | PHOTO: Associated Press

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy | The Thaiger

The British pound fell today as investors fret over PM Boris Johnson’s chances of pushing his Brexit deal through the British parliament, while Asian markets were mostly down after data showed China’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades.

The pound rallied almost to US$1.30 yesterday following news that negotiators had hammered out an agreement that would avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal – a move many warn would be economically catastrophic. But the brief celebrations were soon tempered by the realisation that the British PM faces an uphill task in getting the deal past lawmakers, with opposition MPs and even some in his own Conservative party saying they won’t pass it.

Most importantly, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Johnson’s government, said it was “unable to support these proposals”.

Forex traders sold sterling, pushing it back down below $1.29, and it extended losses in Asia. Focus is now on a crucial vote in London on the deal scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday).

“Much will depend on the PM’s ability to get some if not all DUP and (Scottish National Party) MPs onside, in addition to also getting the backing from the 21 ex-Conservative MPs he expelled from the party last month,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“Rejection of the deal might well see more political brinkmanship around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but the most likely scenario would be yet another extension of the 31 October Brexit date.”

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said whichever way the vote goes, “traders should prepare themselves for some severe volatility on Monday morning, with multiple big-figure moves a strong possibility”.

China growth slows again

Asian equity markets, meanwhile, were mostly lower after China said its economy expanded 6% in the third quarter, the slowest pace in 27 years, as leaders struggle to address weak domestic demand and the long-running US trade war.

The reading was a drop from the previous three months but in line with an AFP forecast and the government’s 6-6.5% target for the year.

While the National Bureau of Statistics said the economy “maintained overall stability”, it added that it “is under mounting downward pressure” from weakness at home and abroad.

Shanghai ended down 1.3% with Stephen Innes at AxiTrader saying traders were concerned the figures were not weak enough to prompt the Chinese central bank to embark on a big stimulus drive.

“With the People’s Bank of China, who arguably have plenty of policy ammunition to right the ship, probably unwilling to turn on the monetary taps, investors are taking risk off the table,” he said in a note.

Hong Kong was off 0.5% amid concern over the possibility of more violent protests over the weekend, while Sydney closed down 0.5 percent and Singapore eased 0.4%.

Seoul shed 0.8% and Wellington lost 0.7%, with Taipei and Manila also lower. But Tokyo closed 0.2 higher at a 10-month high, while Mumbai and Jakarta also edged up.

Hopes for the China-US trade talks were given a lift after Beijing’s commerce ministry said negotiators have “accelerated efforts” to hammer out details of last Friday’s mini-deal and were holding talks on moving on to the next phase of a wider agreement.

Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes to sign the deal with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Chile next month.

And the Turkish lira jumped more than 1% after Ankara said it would pause military operations in northern Syria for five days and US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would not impose any fresh sanctions.

Key markets today…

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2857 from $1.2891 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.48 pence from 86.31 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1122 from $1.1127

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.63 yen from 108.62 yen

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4% at 7,152.55

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.2% at 22,492.68 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5% at 26,719.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.3% at 2,938.14 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP four cents at $53.97 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 22 cents at $59.69 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1% at 27,025.88 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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