Election Related Uncertainty Poses Risk To GDP Growth Forecast For Some African Economies

Most African countries have a positive economic outlook, apart from those with upcoming elections, according to ICAEW’s (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) latest report. In Economic Insight: Africa Q4 2018, launched today, the accountancy body provides GDP growth forecasts for various regions including East Africa which is set to grow by 6.3%, Western and Central Africa by 2.5%, Franc Zone at 4.6% and South Africa by 1.2%.

According to the report; East Africa continues to report the highest GDP growth on the continent even though the region’s economic growth is expected to ease slightly, from 6.8% in 2017 to 6.3%. Ethiopia reported the highest forecast at 7.8%, while the lowest forecast for the region was at -3.8%, by war-torn South Sudan.

However, lower growth ranking for some countries in the region demonstrate how large an effect political instability can have on economic prospects. For example Kenya’s growth rebounded to 5.4% this year after it dropped to 4.9% in 2017. The drop was attributed to political uncertainty during last year’s elections.

Michael Armstrong, Regional Director, ICAEW Middle East, Africa and South Asia said: “Political instability tends to peak around election time for some African nations. This scenario tends to dampen the GDP growth of some countries, since economic growth shares a complex relationship with both elections and accompanying political instability.”

In West and Central Africa average growth is forecast at 2.5%. Ghana’s forecast is expected to expand by a decent 5.2%, highlighting a stable economy. However, this is not so for Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria whose growth is forecast at 1.8%. The weak performance can partly be attributed to the upcoming elections in February next year.

There is little uncertainty about who will win elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in December, but political tensions are set to rise nonetheless, and are the main obstacle to the GDP growth forecast of 4.1% this year.

The elections narrative is still replicated in Southern Africa, being the slowest region with GDP forecast set to expand only by 1.2%. Election rhetoric regarding land and property rights in South Africa ahead of polls in 2019 has frightened investors.

As a result, President Cyril Ramaphosa is finding it difficult to convince them otherwise. The country is expected to post GDP growth of just 0.7%.

In North Africa, Libya and Algeria are set to hold polls in the near future, in December 2018 and April 2019, respectively. Nevertheless, Libya’s election will almost certainly not go ahead as the legal framework for it is not yet in place. Incidentally, the two countries are the region’s fastest and slowest growing economies this year, at 14.7% and 2.3% respectively.Egypt which held elections in March to overwhelmingly return President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to power, is expected to grow by 5.3% this year. The certainty of Mr Sisi’s grip on power appears to be helping the country’s economic rebound.

The Franc Zone is expected to see GDP growth of around 4.6% this year. Cameroon is expected to post a GDP growth rate of 4.0% this year – up from 3.2% in 2017. This is despite the unpopular re-election of President Paul Biya and the violence that accompanied his re-election.

Elections and accompanying political instability evidently have a complex relationship with economic growth.

The full Economic Insight: Africa report can be found here:

https://www.icaew.com/technical/economy/economic-insight/economic-insight-africa

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Exclusive: Modi's party wants expansionary economic policy ahead of India election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party is in favor of an expansionary economic policy and does not consider the government’s plan to keep the fiscal deficit to 3.3 percent of GDP as “sacrosanct”, a party spokesman told Reuters.

Ahead of a general election that must be held by May and after a string of losses in recent state polls, the government run by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced several stimulus measures for the countryside where millions of farmers are grappling with low crop prices. Other fiscal moves have been aimed at helping small businesses.

The measures are likely to be a drain on finances in Asia’s third-biggest economy, though the Modi administration is expected to get the Reserve Bank of India to agree to transfer an interim dividend of 300-400 billion rupees ($4.32 billion-$5.8 billion) to the government by March, Reuters reported last week quoting sources.

Weak consumer spending and the fragile farm sector have already been a drag on economic growth, creating a headache for Modi as he struggles to meet ambitious job creation targets.

India lost 11 million jobs last year, with around 83 percent in rural areas, according to independent think-tank the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, as operational costs surged for small businesses. Those costs were boosted by the launch of a national sales tax in 2017 and the economic impact of an earlier ban on high value currency notes.

“There’s a demand, there’s a debate – all my colleagues are saying what’s the need of keeping the fiscal deficit in check when there is a distress in a particular sector,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the economic affairs spokesman for the Hindu nationalist BJP, referring to the farm sector.

“Even think-tanks associated with us are talking in this sense. Very few people domestically are talking about fiscal prudence. Only foreign think-tanks are talking fiscal prudence, fiscal prudence. I strongly believe an expansionary policy can benefit the party,” he said in an interview on Tuesday night.

India’s 10-year benchmark bond yield rose 4 basis points to 7.53 percent after the news, its highest since Jan. 8 on worries about the fiscal deficit. The rupee also weakened to 71.23 to the dollar from its previous close of 71.03.

Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is a director at state-run Bank of Baroda and a member of a government committee on small and medium-sized businesses, said Modi was aware of his party colleagues’ thinking but that no final decision had been taken.

D.S. Malik, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the United States for a medical check-up, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that India’s “fiscal discipline during the past five years has been amongst the best as compared to any preceding period”.

NEED TO REACH LANDLESS

Agarwal said the government understands that farmers are in distress and that directly transferring money to their bank accounts was an option to help them out. He said the government was, however, trying to figure out how to distribute funds to landless tillers to make sure any such transfer program was effective and didn’t just benefit those with land.

The government is studying a program launched by the eastern state of Odisha under which farmers with landholdings of up to 5 acres would get cash assistance to buy seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and pay for labor. Sharecroppers, who cultivate rented land will also get the benefits, which include life insurance coverage.

Agarwal said Modi and many financial institutions were not in favor of waiving farm loans, as done by states recently won by the main opposition Congress party, because doing so mainly helps banks and not so much farmers in duress.

“There’s definitely a suggestion to give interest-free loans to farmers. Banks won’t have to pay, it has to be incorporated into the budget,” he said.

“And what’s the so sacrosanct issue about keeping the fiscal deficit at less than 3.5 percent? If you don’t adopt an expansionary economic policy, then the government alone can’t create demand by just spending on infrastructure. It has to come from both public and the private sector. The economy will grow only when demand will be created.”

He said increasing the income tax exemption limit for individuals was also being considered for the interim budget to be presented on Feb. 1 by Jaitley.

William Foster, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said that it expects the country’s fiscal deficit to slip to 3.4 of GDP this fiscal year ending March 31 due to revenue shortfalls from goods and services tax, lower excise duty and below-target receipts from sale of government assets.

“Increased expenditure on income transfers, farm loan waivers or other forms of subsidies would weigh further on government finances,” Foster told Reuters.

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Congo President Didn’t Run for Re-election, but He’s Still in Control

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The blaze that consumed the headquarters of the main opposition party of the Democratic Republic of Congo was so devastating that several men were charred beyond recognition, their bodies among dozens killed protesting the rule of President Joseph Kabila.

“We’re dealing with a rogue state,” said the opposition leader, Félix Tshisekedi.

That was a little over two years ago.

Last week, shortly after he was anointed president-elect, Mr. Tshisekedi said he “paid tribute” to Mr. Kabila, describing him as “a partner for change, not an enemy.”

While the situation in Congo remains fluid after an election that most independent observers, including the Roman Catholic Church, consider to be illegitimate, one thing does seem certain: In the absence of intense international pressure or a determined domestic uprising, the Kabila government seems likely to continue running the country in everything but name.

“Kabila is in a very comfortable position,” said one presidential adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “He was very upset over the results, as we all were, but we still retain power.”

The government came under a degree of pressure on Sunday from the Southern African Development Community, which had sent election observers to monitor the vote. The group, which has stopped short of congratulating Mr. Tshisekedi, demanded “a recount that would provide the necessary reassurance to both winners and losers.” It also called for a unity government “given the strong objections to the provisional results.”

Martin Fayulu, the opposition candidate whom many consider the real winner, is contesting the results and has filed an appeal at the Constitutional Court, demanding a manual recount of votes. Election officials deny that the vote was rigged and have threatened to annul the election if it is rejected by foreign powers, some of them openly critical of the outcome.

Most analysts expect the Constitutional Court to validate Mr. Tshesekedi’s election, and the inauguration is planned for Jan 22. What happens next is hard to predict.

There have been few reports of violence despite repeated warnings, in a country that has never seen a peaceful transfer of power, let alone one through the ballot box. (Mr. Kabila himself became president after his father, a rebel leader turned head of state, was assassinated.)

The residents of Kinshasa have gone about their business, despite an internet shutdown that has now lasted three weeks — the government said it was intended to stop the spread of false information and speculation before the election, but critics say it was a move to prevent opponents from organizing demonstrations. The city’s traffic is as chaotic as ever, and yellow minibuses zoom past billboards advertising skin-bleaching creams and “American water.”

There seems little appetite for the sort of violent uprisings that Congo has seen in the recent past. Throngs of supporters ambled Sunday in front of the headquarters of Mr. Tshisekedi’s party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, rebuilt after the attack two years ago. “It was shocking,” recalled Dady Mutahali, 42. “We wish for these things to never repeat again.”

Looking ahead, the most probable scenario, analysts say, is that the Constitutional Court, presided over by Mr. Kabila’s former chief of staff, will receive Mr. Fayulu’s appeal but rule that it is unfounded. Mr. Fayulu is required to gather evidence, like counting tally sheets from thousands of polling stations — a task made even more difficult by the shutdown of the internet. It is unclear whether he can manage this in the limited time he has been given.

“The court is controlled by the regime, and is going to try give the semblance of credibility to justice,” said Israel Mutala, the editor in chief of 7sur7, a major news site in the country. Still, “there is some form of change,” he said, adding that Congo “has not yet reached democratic maturity, but it has crossed a threshold.”

Pierre Lumbi, an adviser to Mr. Fayulu, said in an interview that if the court rejected the opposition leader’s appeal, the party would call for peaceful demonstrations.

While Mr. Fayulu pursues his appeal, Mr. Tshisekedi, the son of one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, is negotiating with Mr. Kabila. The discussions include a possible grant of immunity for any alleged political and financial crimes, according to analysts and some news reports.

The government has denied those reports. Mr. Tshesekedi’s supporters say he is a strategist who is simply biding his time before consolidating power and making changes.

Mr. Kabila has always denied wrongdoing, but he and his family have long been dogged by reports of fortunes squirreled away in offshore holdings. Some of his entourage, including the man he chose as his successor, Emmanuel Shadary, are listed on European and American sanctions lists.

But the elections forced Mr. Kabila to choose between two opposition figures, and Mr. Tshisekedi was considered to be more palatable than Mr. Fayulu because of his backers, analysts said. Mr. Fayulu had the support of two prominent opposition figures who were themselves barred from running for office, one for a war crimes-related conviction and the other for what supporters dismissed as manufactured criminal charges. One of them, Moïse Katumbi, a billionaire in exile in South Africa, was once an associate of Mr. Kabila but became his sworn enemy, apparently after falling out over a business deal.

A Fayulu victory would have meant a victory for Mr. Katumbi, Mr. Mutala said, adding, “The president and his political family have made it clear that Moïse Katumbi will never accede to power.”

Mr. Kabila’s party dominated legislative elections that took place at the same time as the presidential vote. That gives it a majority in Parliament and the power to appoint a prime minister, who in controlling cabinet appointments arguably wields greater power than the president.

Mr. Tshisekedi would be likely to make concessions, analysts said, such as leaving to Mr. Kabila’s party plum ministries like the security forces, mining and finance, areas that President Kabila and his entourage are said to have capitalized on to amass extraordinary wealth over the years.

To provide incentives for President Kabila to step down, the Parliament has approved a number of perks for former presidents, including a large measure of legal immunity and the designation of senator for life. “The architecture is built for Kabila to retain huge influence even outside the presidency,” wrote Hans Hoebeke, a Congo analyst at the International Crisis Group, in a report in August.

“Joseph Kabila,” another analyst, Adeline Van Houtte, with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said, “is likely to become the future Senate president, which means he would retain significant control.”

Nevertheless, he said, “we need to work together to build the future.”

President Kabila may be forced to make certain concessions, such as giving up his vast holdings of land, property and businesses across the country, Mr. Mutala said. President Kabila, according to Jeune Afrique, an online magazine, is expected to remain in his presidential palace while Mr. Tshisekedi would live in the current residence reserved for the prime minister.

Mr. Tshisekedi, for his part, said that one of his first actions would be to return the remains of his father, Etienne Tshisekedi, whose corpse has been languishing in a morgue in Belgium since his death two years ago.

Tshisekedi père, as some call him affectionately, was so popular for having fought Mobutu, a dictator and kleptocrat backed by the United States, that the Kabila government worried that bringing back his body would be enough to trigger a popular uprising.

But few Congolese want to see a repeat of the large-scale violence that erupted after elections in 2006 and 2011, as well as 2016, when President Kabila refused to step down after his constitutionally-mandated two-term limit ended. He finally did last year, putting forward Mr. Shadary, who was dealt such a spectacular defeat that Mr. Kabila was forced to choose between the two opposition candidates in an effort to avoid sparking widespread unrest and outright international condemnation.

“The Congolese aspire to peace,” said Mr. Mutala. The economy has languished in a country that, paradoxically, is rich in natural resources, but most of its population lives on about a dollar. The killings of hundreds of protesters over the years have exhausted a nation traumatized by state-led violence and impoverishment, he said.

“In the name of peace, they are ready to close their eyes on some irregularities that have marred the electoral process,” Mr. Mutala said. “Politics in Congo is a game that is exciting, but dangerous,” he said, adding after a pause. “Very dangerous.”

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India slaps cases against critics of plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslims

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – Indian police on Friday said they are investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The cases have been filed amid a wave of protests in the BJP-governed northeastern state of Assam. A small regional party in India quit the ruling coalition on Monday in protest against the plan.

The Modi government is facing growing criticism for stifling criticism, including in the media. A television journalist in the region was jailed last month for criticizing the government on social media.

“We have registered a case against a few people based on certain statements that they made at a public rally in Guwahati,” Deepak Kumar, a police official from Guwahati in Assam, told Reuters.

The three have not been charged.

Many people fear such a move could change the demographic profile of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.

Hiren Gohain, an 80-year-old academic, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta have been accused of criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage a war against the government, Kumar said.

The bill, which seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been passed by the lower house of the parliament.

The bill will be tabled for approval in the upper house in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress party. The BJP does not have a majority in the upper house of the parliament.

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Fratricide in Full Bloom as Israeli Election Campaign Heats Up

JERUSALEM — With elections a few months away, it is political fratricide season in Israel: From left to right, candidates are sticking knives in the ribs of their natural allies in hopes of elevating their own chances of succeeding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This week, the Zionist Union, a four-year-old liberal alliance, blew itself up as the Labor Party chief, Avi Gabbay, humiliated the veteran politician Tzipi Livni by abruptly breaking with her and her boutique party Hatnuah (The Movement) while television cameras rolled.

The popular ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked abandoned their right-wing party, the Jewish Home, to form a new one — the New Right — that they vowed would be less beholden to religious leaders but would still push to settle the West Bank and oppose a Palestinian state.

And a former army chief of staff, Benny Gantz, barged into the political center with a vague-sounding new party — Israel Resilience — and a still-to-be-announced set of ideas. It instantly threatened to siphon off support from more established moderate contenders like Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon, as well as another former chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon.

For the moment, the biggest beneficiary of the infighting appears to be Mr. Netanyahu, whose conservative Likud party stands like a giant in Lilliput. But the atomizing parties could come back to haunt him in the April 9 election, said Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at Hebrew University and the Israel Democracy Institute. A comfortable Likud lead could encourage voters to get behind smaller alternatives — but if too many small parties compete, some could fail to enter Parliament and so could not join a governing coalition.

“People can say, ‘Netanyahu will win anyway, so maybe I’ll vote for so-and-so,’ ” Mr. Rahat said. “For the Likud, it’s not good.”

Mr. Netanyahu has a more immediate reason to fear: Waiting just offstage with the equivalent of a broadax in hand is the Israeli attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who is expected to decide in the coming months whether to heed police recommendations that he indict Mr. Netanyahu on bribery or other charges arising from three major corruption investigations.

Israeli politics is notoriously turbulent, but the drama-a-day tumult and the suspense over Mr. Netanyahu’s legal predicament left one columnist comparing the campaign to a television series and wishing only that it could be binge-watched. Here, for the moment at least, is a look at the starring characters:

Benny Gantz and the Center

With movie-star good looks and “good hair,” as a fair number of analysts have noted, Mr. Gantz, a familiar face during his long army career, managed to shake the political center merely by offering himself up as a candidate.

He is the latest in a string of retired generals to make that leap, one that worked for Yitzhak Rabin and, briefly, Ehud Barak, but has also ended in some spectacular belly-flops.

The taciturn Mr. Gantz has divulged nothing so far about his positions, apparently heeding the advice of those who say that he can only harm himself by taking any.

But that strategic ambiguity — as Israel calls its nuclear policy — cannot last. And there is pressure from the dump-Netanyahu crowd for Mr. Gantz to help coalesce a larger and more viable center-left bloc.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked

He wears a skullcap. She wears the pants.

A former commando turned high-tech millionaire, the religious Mr. Bennett has been hawkish on national security, frequently lambasting his own coalition for being too soft on Hamas. The secular Ms. Shaked, who set about curbing the judicial branch and engineering a rightward shift in the Supreme Court’s makeup, may have overtaken Mr. Bennett in popularity.

But their partnership remains intact, and after leading the Jewish Home’s amalgam of religious Zionists and Orthodox Jews since 2012, they felt increasingly hemmed in by their radical, rabbinically guided partners, who have been accused of racism, messianism and homophobia.

On Saturday, they announced a “New Right” party to appeal to a broader Israeli public, with religious and nonreligious Jews as equal partners. They said they supported Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election, but clearly have their eyes on his office once he has left.

Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni

This partnership was always a ticking time bomb. On Tuesday it went off.

Mr. Gabbay, who had floundered since taking over Labor in 2017, was convinced that Ms. Livni — in publicly calling for the center-left to unite, but not necessarily behind Mr. Gabbay — had been undermining him.

He got his revenge by inviting reporters into a meeting and then wishing Ms. Livni success “in any party you are in.” Some likened it to a beheading, and Mr. Gabbay to Jihadi John. His loyalists said it showed he possessed the steel that Israelis expect in their leaders.

But critics said he would never have treated a man the same way. “Avi Gabbay and the Labor Party just lost the vote of every woman who has been dumped by a guy in a humiliating fashion,” Allison K. Sommer, a Haaretz columnist, wrote on Twitter. “And that’s a lot of women.”

By Thursday, quickie polls gave Labor just seven or eight Knesset seats, down from the Zionist Union’s 24 in the 2015 election, and Mr. Gabbay was facing public calls and a petition drive from Labor members demanding his resignation.

For all her flaws as a politician, Ms. Livni could still wind up forming part of a liberal bloc.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud

The prime minister for a decade, Mr. Netanyahu is the favorite to win another term. But the attorney general has indicated he will try to decide whether to indict Mr. Netanyahu before the April election.

That leaves Mr. Netanyahu sounding more like a defendant than a candidate: He would still be entitled to a last hearing before being criminally charged, so he is now demanding Mr. Mandelblit do nothing ahead of the election because there wouldn’t be time for a hearing before the voters go to the polls.

Preparing for life after Bibi, meanwhile, younger Likud leaders are jostling for position, perhaps the most formidable among them Gideon Saar, a former Likud minister who took a timeout from politics in 2014 and announced his comeback last year.

That so rattled Mr. Netanyahu that he clamored for a special law to be enacted requiring a party leader to be chosen to form the next government, rather than the lawmaker with the best chance to form a coalition. Dubbed the “Gideon Saar Law,” it could have protected Mr. Netanyahu, but he had to abandon it when he called early elections.

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Republicans spurn North Carolina board investigating election fraud

(Reuters) – Republicans in North Carolina refused on Wednesday to participate in the creation of an interim elections board, forcing election officials to postpone a hearing in its investigation of election fraud in a congressional contest.

The State Board of Elections was to hold a hearing on Jan. 11 as part of its probe into possible election fraud involving the collection of absentee ballots in the run-up to the November elections that has left the race for the Ninth Congressional District in limbo.

Republican Mark Harris has claimed victory over Democrat Dan McCready after initial results showed he won the race by 905 votes.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he would appoint an interim elections board which was disbanded on Friday after a state court declined to extend a stay on a previous order declaring the composition of the board unconstitutional.

Under state law, Cooper is to seat the five-person board from a list of names provided by the two political parties. But the state’s Republican party said on Wednesday it would not submit names to the governor.

“Our unwillingness to participate in the creation of an unlawful ‘interim’ State Board of Elections results from a desire to ensure that any future investigation surrounding the Ninth Congressional District election is open, fair, and transparent, and not tainted by actions taken by an illegal board,” North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement.

Election board officials said in a statement that, as a result, the hearing was postponed but staff would continue to interview witnesses and pursue leads.

“Quickly rooting out real election fraud should be a bipartisan effort. Today in North Carolina, we have a Board of Elections with five empty chairs because Republicans are blocking the way,” Cooper said.

Since the November election, residents of rural Bladen County have stated in affidavits that people came to their homes and collected incomplete absentee ballots. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.

The campaign for Harris said in a statement that he will file a petition on Thursday with a state court to certify the results of the election.

North Carolina’s board of elections could order a new vote. The U.S. House of Representatives could also rule on the election outcome.

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Former Israeli FM Livni out in cold as left-wing opposition splits

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s main left-wing opposition split on Tuesday, leaving one of the country’s most prominent politicians, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, out in the cold ahead of an April general election.

The Zionist Union, the second-biggest faction in parliament, was formed as a partnership between the Labour Party, which is led by Avi Gabbay, and the smaller Hatnua party headed by Livni. The alliance has fared poorly in recent opinion polls.

With a stone-faced Livni sitting next to him at a Zionist Union meeting, Gabbay unceremoniously dumped her.

The shakeup added more drama to the nascent national election campaign, coming just days after a split in Jewish Home, a far-right party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current Likud-led coalition.

“I hoped and believed this alliance would bring about our blossoming, a real connection and we would complement each other. But the public is smart, saw this is not the situation and distanced itself from us,” Gabbay said.

“Tzipi, I wish you success in the election – in any party you’re in,” he said, announcing the split on live television.

The move appeared to catch Livni, a former peace negotiator with the Palestinians and current leader of the opposition in parliament, by surprise.

“I’m not responding. I will make my decisions. Thank you,” she said, and then left the room.

At a news conference later in the day, Livni said she would soldier on and lead Hatnua into the election, although the party has just five lawmakers in the 120-member parliament, compared with Labour’s 19 and Likud’s 30.

“What is more important than Labour parting ways with Hatnua is to leave the path on which this government is leading us, so we will be able to separate from the Palestinians,” she said, referring to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of which she is a leading advocate.

Opinion polls predict Likud will win the snap election Netanyahu called for April 9, taking between 27 to 31 seats – enough to lead a right-wing coalition, despite three corruption investigations against him.

Zionist Union was lagging behind Likud and centrist parties, with polls predicting it would capture only eight to nine seats compared with the 24 it holds in the outgoing parliament.

Livni, now 60, served as foreign minister from 2006 to 2009. A former junior officer in the Mossad intelligence agency, she has been a member of several parties and coalition governments since entering politics in 1999.

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Bangladesh PM rejects complaints of rigging after landslide win

DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday rejected opposition complaints of vote rigging and said people had gone to the polls enthusiastically in a largely peacefully general election that her ruling alliance swept with a landslide.

Hasina won a third straight term in Sunday’s election, with alliance led by her Awami League winning 287 of the 298 seats for which results had been declared, the Election Commission said.

But the opposition rejected the result and called for a fresh vote, complaining of what it said was widespread rigging.

Hasina dismissed complaints of cheating and the chief election commissioner rejected the opposition demand for a re-run of the vote. He said voting had been held in a peaceful manner.

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  • Bangladesh election commissioner rejects call for fresh election

At least 17 people were killed during the vote, police said, after a violent campaign in which the opposition alleged the government denied it a level playing field.

The Election Commission said earlier it was investigating allegations of vote rigging from “across the country”, and Hasina told reporters the commission had every right to do so.

Hasina’s win follows a decade in power in which she has been credited with improving the economy and promoting development, while being accused of rights abuses, a crackdown on media and suppressing dissent.

The government rejects those accusations.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which had boycotted the last general election in 2014 saying it would not be fair, won just six seats in the 300-seat assembly this time.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia – Hasina’s arch rival and a former prime minister – was jailed in February on corruption charges she says were politically motivated. This was the first election in which the BNP campaigned without her.

Hasina told reporters the opposition had done badly in the election as it lacked leadership. She also said she was surprised the opposition had not campaigned more actively.

The rivalry between the two women – both related to former leaders – has largely defined Bangladeshi politics for decades.

Raising minimum wages for workers in Bangladesh’s robust garments industry, the world’s second-biggest after China’s, could be one of Hasina’s first tasks, party leaders have said.

Opposition leader Kamal Hossain earlier said their alliance, the National Unity Front, led by the BNP, had called on the Election Commission to order a fresh vote under a neutral administration “as soon as possible”, saying the vote was flawed.

“We’ve had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was,” 82-year-old Hossain told Reuters late on Sunday.

Candidates reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centers, Hossain said.

“The minimum requirements of free and fair election are absent,” he said.

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Bangladesh’s Leader Wins a Third Term but Opposition Contests Results

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s governing party won handily in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, clinching a third consecutive term for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina even as widespread reports of irregularities, voter intimidation and violence cast the voting into question.

Mrs. Hasina’s party, the Awami League, and its allies officially won 288 of the 298 parliamentary seats that have been called by the Election Commission, with a total of 300 seats up for grabs.

But the opposition swiftly rejected the results, accusing the governing party of tampering with votes and calling for a fresh election. Mrs. Hasina, 71, is the first leader in Bangladesh’s history to win three consecutive terms, but she has increasingly been accused of autocratic behavior.

The opposition leader Kamal Hossain lambasted the “farcical election” on Sunday night as the results streamed in. The Election Commission said it was looking into reports of irregularities.

“News of vote robberies have come from almost all constituencies,” Mr. Hossain told journalists Sunday night. “We reject the announced result of this election.”

Reporters from the prominent Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star said they witnessed ballot stuffing and voter intimidation across the country.

At least 17 people died in election-related violence across the country, according to the police, though that was less than in previous voting. But if the opposition were to take to the streets, many fear that deadlier clashes would break out given Bangladesh’s history of political violence.

In past elections, the Awami League and the largest opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, carried out brutal campaigns to suppress each others’ voters. The country has vacillated between the two parties’ rule since democracy was restored in 1991 when a series of military dictatorships came to an end.

Ahead of this election, local and international rights organizations accused the governing party of creating an intimidating atmosphere by arresting and harassing opposition candidates and preventing them from campaigning. A Human Rights Watch report earlier this month described the pre-election atmosphere as “a climate of fear extending from prominent voices in society to ordinary citizens.”

Mrs. Hasina brushed off those accusations ahead of the polls. And the Awami League praised the election when polling stations closed on Sunday.

“This election has proved that a free, fair and neutral election is possible under a partisan government,” said H.T. Imam, an adviser to Mrs. Hasina.

Mrs. Hasina has been credited with fostering economic and social development that has lifted Bangladesh from one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world to one that outperforms neighbors like India and Pakistan in some development measures, including gender equality and economic growth.

During nearly 10 years of Mr. Hasina’s governance, per capita income has increased by nearly 150 percent, while the share of the population living in extreme poverty has shrunk to about 9 percent from 19 percent, according to the World Bank.

But under Mrs. Hasina, the government has also become increasingly heavy-handed about dissent. The police have continued to arrest critics without warrants and have detained citizens who disparage her government in Facebook posts or in media interviews.

Allies of Mrs. Hasina, including the opposition leader Mr. Hossain, split with the premier to oppose her in the election, denouncing what they described as her authoritarian tendencies that they warned would harden should she win a third term.

The opposition pitted the polls as Bangladesh’s last chance to salvage democracy, claiming that the governing party was sacrificing citizens’ personal freedoms and liberties in exchange for economic growth. Although the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had a poor human rights track record when in power, they vowed that they would change their ways, and made delivering good governance a centerpiece of their campaign.

At the very least, democracy advocates critical of both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League had hoped that the opposition would perform better in Sunday’s elections to provide a strong check to Mrs. Hasina’s third term. But the opposition only managed to win seven seats in parliament.

The prime minister rejected her critics in an interview in December with The New York Times, claiming that only urban elites were concerned about the right to criticize her government freely or assemble for protests. She went on to say that the opposition was pursuing an anti-government agenda and inciting violence.

“If I can provide food, jobs and health care, that is human rights,” Mrs. Hasina said. “I know my country, and I know how to develop my country. My biggest challenge is that no one is left behind.”

Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Maria Abi-Habib from Goa, India.

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