October 02, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Counterclockwise Carousels

It seemed like Benjamin Netanyahu was in trouble.

The results of the Sept. 17 election in Israel had been inconclusive. Neither the conservative prime minister nor his centrist main rival, ex-army leader Benny Gantz, garnered enough votes to form a government outright in the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

For more than a week, Netanyahu and Gantz held power-sharing talks to no avail.

But on Sept. 25, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin invited Netanyahu to form a government, giving the prime minister, already the longest serving in history, the unprecedented opportunity for a fifth term in office. Netanyahu has 28 days to assemble a majority, reported Reuters. He can ask Rivlin for an extension of two weeks.

Perhaps Rivlin’s move broke the deadlock that has gripped Israel’s political system for months.

But perhaps not: Netanyahu is likely to tell Rivlin by Sunday that he is unable to form a government, Haaretz reported earlier this week. On Wednesday, the Times of Israel noted that Gantz canceled a meeting with Netanyahu saying, “Likud (is) not acting in good faith.”

Meanwhile, both parties are trading accusations of causing another round of elections.

Voters had been to the polls in April, but Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White Alliance won the same number of seats and neither could muster a majority with smaller parties. Amid corruption scandals that have engulfed the prime minister and his family – he claims innocence – Netanyahu called a snap election in hopes of eking out a victory.

In an analysis, the BBC forecast that harmony would prove elusive.

In the September vote, Blue and White gained a slight edge, winning 33 seats in the Knesset, while Likud claimed 32. That leaves both short of the 61 seats needed to form a majority government.

The leader of Yisrael Beiteinu Party, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, could play kingmaker here, CNN reported. He controls eight seats. But Liberman refuses to join with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious parties that are vital to Netayahu’s coalition, or with the Arab-Israeli parties that endorsed Gantz.

Known as the Joint List, the Arab parties’ participation in the process is telling. The third-largest bloc in parliament, they don’t normally support any Israeli politicians. But on the campaign trail Netanyahu controversially pledged to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, territory that Israel occupied after the 1967 war.

“The Israeli government has done everything in its power to reject those of us who are Arab Palestinian citizens, but our influence has only grown,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh opined in the New York Times.

Outraged with Netanyahu, the Joint List sided with Gantz, though not unanimously, wrote Time magazine.

Ideological differences split the religious right, too, reported Haaretz. Hoping to capture more votes, Ultra-Orthodox parties joined into a grand coalition that included parties that want a so-called “Halakhic” state based on religious law as well as more secular Jews. The gambit flopped. They won fewer votes than in April.

Netanyahu now has one more seat lined up than Gantz.

Just not enough to make his ascendance to another term easy – or a clear majority of Israelis happy.

WANT TO KNOW

PERU

A Standoff

Peru was thrown into a constitutional crisis after President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Congress for obstructing the government’s anti-corruption reforms and trying to stack the country’s top court, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

“Peruvian people, we’ve done everything we can,” said Vizcarra in a televised address Monday. “However, it’s clear that the obstruction…will continue.”

The crisis in one of the region’s strongest economies started after Vizcarra dissolved Congress.  Lawmakers then moved to suspend his powers and replaced Vizcarra with Vice President Mercedes Aráoz. She resigned Tuesday, calling for new elections, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, police barred lawmakers from entering Congress.

The president’s supporters, including the armed forces, argue that Congress’ decision is not valid since the legislature was already dissolved before the vote. However, the country’s business community and others criticized the dissolution of Congress as undermining democracy.

Vizcarra assumed the presidency last year after then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned over allegations of corruption.

Soon after taking office, Vizcarra had proposed reforms which included term limits for Congress, changes in campaign finance rules and reduced parliamentary immunity.

UKRAINE

Peace?

Ukraine’s government agreed to hold local elections in two of its easternmost regions Tuesday, a deal intended to pave the way for peace with Russia and end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The agreement was brokered in the Belarusian capital of Minsk between Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Under the deal, Ukraine will take control of the regions prior to the elections and exchange all remaining prisoners captured during the conflict with Russia.

After holding elections deemed free and fair by the OSCE, the occupied regions will receive self-governing status.

The agreement was part of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s promises to end the six-year conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people. He took office earlier this year.

However, former President Petro Poroshenko and several nationalist parties are criticizing the move, saying it will legitimize Russian proxies in the Donbas region.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

The Collector

Car lovers lavished more than $27 million earlier this week on Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys seized from the son of Equatorial Guinea’s long-time president, Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979.

The auction of luxury cars is the result of a three-year Swiss investigation into Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue for money laundering and misappropriation of public assets, the Associated Press reported.

Swiss authorities plan to use the proceeds from the auction to benefit the people of the oil-rich but impoverished central African nation.

”The dictatorship under President Obiang has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country’s people,” said Human Rights Watch. The country’s leadership, meanwhile, is one of the most repressive and brutal in Africa, human rights officials say.

Still, last year, Brazilian officials seized $16 million in undeclared cash and luxury watches they suspect were part of a scheme to launder money embezzled from the government.

And in 2017, a Paris court convicted the vice president of embezzling millions of dollars from the government. The case has been appealed.

The US has also been attempting to seize the family’s assets, according to the BBC.

DISCOVERIES

Pyramids of Shame

Utility companies generally send polite reminders to customers who fall behind on paying their bills.

A company in the city of Samara, Russia, however, is taking a less subtle approach, the BBC reported. Samara Utility Systems is placing giant black-and-yellow pyramids near the debtors’ doors to shame them into paying up.

The eye-catching pyramids weigh more than a ton and are adorned with arrows and inscriptions pointing to the debtor’s residence. Adding insult to injury, they are programmed to broadcast a recording every 10 minutes noting the amount the utility claims the person owes.

Meanwhile, many aren’t amused by these stunts, complaining that the pyramids also annoy residents who pay their bills on time.

Some sympathize with the debtors, blaming poverty for their delinquent bills.

“Ninety-nine percent of debtors are counting pennies for food, and that’s why they don’t pay,” tweeted a Samara resident.

It’s still uncertain if the “pyramids of shame” will goad customers into paying.

The company has tried other bizarre methods to persuade customers to pay up, but it took in no more than 0.1 percent of unpaid bills over the past two years.