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Israel’s Netanyahu Tapped to Form Government After Second Election in Five Months

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  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been chosen by Israel’s president to form a government following last week’s election.
  • The election, which is the second in the last five months, was triggered after Netanyahu failed to form a government in May, prompting Parliament to dissolve itself and hold new elections.
  • Despite the fact that Netanyahu’s Likud Party received fewer seats than his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, he was given the first chance because the president believed he would be more likely to build a government.
  • Gantz and Netanyahu both agree that the best path forward is to pool their seats and form a unity government. But Gantz has said he will not create a government with Netanyahu because he faces indictment over criminal corruption charges.

Rivlin Nominates Netanyahu

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government Wednesday, in a move that surprised many following an election last week that appeared to jeopardize the long-term leader’s career.

The election, held last Tuesday, was the second held in the country in the past five months.

During the first election in April, Netanyahu’s Likud Party tied with his rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, with each receiving 35 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

As neither party had enough seats to make up a 61-seat majority, Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to form a government by building a coalition with other parties.

However, by May, Netanyahu had failed to get enough parties on board in the required time period. Instead of allowing Gantz to have a chance to form a government, Netanyahu proposed a bill to dissolve parliament and hold new elections, which parliament voted in favor of.

Many viewed the second election as a referendum on Netanyahu, who also faces indictment over corruption and bribery charges. As a result, when Gantz won 33 seats to Netanyahu’s 32, it was generally considered a significant defeat.

Blocs

But Rivlin’s decision to again choose Netanyahu to cobble together a coalition government despite the fact that he failed to do so last time and that Gantz won more seats appeared to reflect the fact that the president believed Netanyahu would be more likely to build a coalition.

Rivlin’s view that Netanyahu would have more success creating a government came down to the blocs: the power-sharing alliances that parties form based on their political leanings.

Following the election, the right-wing bloc of parties that included Netanyahu’s Likud had 55 seats, while the center-left bloc that Gantz’s Blue and White party belongs to had 54 seats.

Netanyahu will now have 28 days to try to form a government, though he can ask for a 14-day extension, as he did back in May.

Next Steps

Even with Netanyahu set to take the first swing at forming a government, it remains unclear what will happen next.

Rivlin, Netanyahu, and Gantz have all agreed that the best and possibly only way forward is to form what is known as a unity government. Under that system, the two parties come up with a power-sharing agreement and combine their seats to form a majority.

That may seem simple enough, but Gantz has refused to form a unity government with Netanyahu as long as he faces indictment.

Without the Blue and White Party, Netanyahu’s chances of forming a coalition government are slim to none. 

Much of the power to decide the next government remains in the hands of Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the secular ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party which won eight seats in the last election.

Lieberman, who has refused to back either party outright, also posed a similar roadblock for Netanyahu the first time around due to his clashes with the ultraorthodox parties in the right-wing bloc.

Lieberman’s disagreements with Netanyahu’s key religious allies ultimately resulted in the prime minister failing to form a coalition government by one seat.

For his part, Lieberman has said he supports a unity government between his party, the Likud, and the Blue and White Party.

Netanyahu’s Troubled Future

With Lieberman unlikely to back him and with Gantz refusing to form a government with Netanyahu at the helm, the Israeli leader seems to have found himself between a rock and a hard place.

Netanyahu is set to have a pre-indictment hearing on Oct. 2. Legal experts have said that it is likely he will be indicted. After that, charges could be filed within weeks. 

As long as there is no government, Netanyahu remains the official leader. If he is criminally charged while still serving as prime minister, he can continue to serve until a final conviction.

However, if Netanyahu were to heed Gantz’s demand and step aside as the Likud leader and take an ordinary ministerial role, he would likely be forced to resign if charges are filed.

As a result, experts have pointed out that remaining in power as prime minister is his best chance of avoiding being prosecuted and that he will cling to power and prolong the process as long as he can, perhaps by trying to strike an immunity deal.

If Netanyahu fails to form a government, Rivlin would likely choose Gantz to be the next to give it a shot. If Gantz fails, it is possible that a third member of parliament will be given the mandate to form a government. If everyone fails, a third election would be held.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (Haaretz)

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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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