- Israel held its second election in five months, which came after its parliament dissolved itself and triggered new elections in May when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government.
- With 95% of the votes counted, Netanyahu has won 32 seats, while his main opponent, Benny Gantz has won 33 seats. Neither have gained enough votes to meet the 61-seat majority required to be prime minister.
- Once all of the votes are in, Israel’s president will decide who has the best chance to form a government.
- Many have viewed the election as a referendum on Netanyahu, who is facing indictment over corruption and bribery charges on Oct. 2.
Results are still coming in from Israel’s second election in five months, which many have viewed as a referendum on long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and his Likud Party won the first election in April by a fraction of a percent, beating out Benny Gantz, the leader of the new White and Blue party.
The election, held Tuesday, comes after Netanyahu failed to form a government in the allotted time period back in May. As a result, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections.
With 95% of the vote counted, right now it looks like Gantz’s Blue and White party has just a one-seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Gantz currently holds 33 seats and Netanyahu holds 32.
Now, there are two main options for what happens next.
Option 1: Unity Government
The first option is for the Likud and the Blue and White parties to form what’s called a national unity government. Under that system, the two parties would come up with a power-sharing agreement and pool their seats to form a majority.
But there’s a big catch here: Gantz has said he would not form a unity government with Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud as long as Netanyahu faces indictment.
Netanyahu is currently facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust that stem from three different corruption cases against him. He has denied the charges and is set to have a pre-trial hearing starting in just two weeks on Oct. 2.
As a result, Netanyahu is unlikely to agree to a unity government where he is not the leader. Especially because many believe he would try to get parliament to pass a last-minute immunity deal for him, something many experts say could be his only shot at avoiding possible indictment.
Option 2: Coalition Government
The second option is for Netanyahu and Gantz to try to piece together coalitions with the smaller parties to form a majority.
For that to happen, we have to look to the blocs– the alliances that parties form based on their political and ideological opinions.
There are two main blocs in Israel’s parliament: the center-left bloc, which includes the Blue and White Party, and the right-wing bloc, which includes Likud.
According to the current unofficial election results, both Gantz’s center-left bloc and Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc are expected to get 56 seats each.
Again, not enough seats for either to have a majority.
That leaves the other eight seats, all of which are expected to go to one party– Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular ultranationalist party led by Avigdor Lieberman.
Yisrael Beiteinu’s political leanings would normally place them with the right-wing bloc. In fact, Lieberman even served in Netanyahu’s cabinet in the past. However, Lieberman has been at odds with Netanyahu and is unlikely to throw his weight behind him.
Lieberman refused to join forces with Netanyahu after he won the election back in April unless Netanyahu supported a bill that would require ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military conscription.
But if Netanyahu had supported the bill, he would lose the support of the ultra-Orthodox, which held 16 seats he needed. All of that, of course, ultimately resulted in Netanyahu dissolving the government and holding new elections.
Again, so much power to decide the next prime minister is in Lieberman ’s hands, which is why the Israeli media often refers to him as the “kingmaker.”
Lieberman, for his part, has said he wants a unity government between his party, the Blue and White Party, and the Likud.
Netanyahu’s Hold on Power
Netanyahu remains adamantly opposed to a unity government.
Speaking in an announcement after meeting with members of his right-wing bloc, Netanyahu said the bloc “decided unanimously that we’re going forward together to negotiations that will establish a government led by me.”
“Now there are only two possibilities — a government led by me, or a dangerous government that depends on the Arabs,” he continued. “Now more than ever, with the vast security challenges that lie ahead for the country, a government must not be established that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties. That’s our commitment to the country and to our voters.”
It should not come as a surprise that Netanyahu will try almost anything to cling to power, especially because the stakes have arguably never been higher for him. That has only been reflected in his efforts and rhetoric leading up to the election.
Last week, Netanyahu announced that he would annex part of the West Bank if re-elected. After that statement, Israel’s Central Election Committee fined the Likud $8,500 for illegal propaganda.
On Thursday, Netanyahu’s Facebook page’s chatbot was shut down for violating hate speech rules, after sending a message that said Israel’s Arab politicians “want to destroy us all.”
The Facebook bot was later brought back, only to be suspended again on Tuesday after it violated regulations that prohibit the publishing of voter surveys on Election Day.
The day before the election, Netanyahu gave two radio interviews, breaking a law that bars candidates from promoting themselves from 7 p.m. and on starting the night before the election.
The Likud party also allegedly persuaded an Israeli television station to report that surveillance cameras were being installed at “dozens” of polling places in Arab areas, which experts have said was part of an effort to suppress Arab turnout.
However, if that was the intent, it did not work. The turnout from Israel’s Arab population, which composes about 20% of the whole country, was much higher than the last election.
Once the final votes are in, Israel’s president will choose the candidate he thinks will have the best chance of forming a majority government. Usually, that goes to whoever has the most seats, but not always.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (Times of Israel) (Haaretz)
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.
See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)
E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention
- The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
- Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
- Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.
Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.
The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.
- Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
- Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
- First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
- Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
- Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.
Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.
First Step For Biden
These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.
One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”
“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.
The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.
He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.