Vote counting is under way in Israel after millions took part in an election widely seen as a referendum on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who became Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in July, is seeking a record fifth term in office. He is competing against his toughest challenger in years, former army chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party.
According to the first round of exit polls, which are unofficial and can be unreliable, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition bloc have failed to secure the 61-seat majority they needed.
Two exit polls put Gantz’s party in a narrow lead. A Channel 12 exit poll said it would win 34 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud one seat behind. The poll had Arab Joint List – an alliance of four Palestinian parties – winning 11 seats with eight for former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu.
Meanwhile, an exit poll on Channel 13 put Likud at 31 seats, trailing Gantz’s party by two seats.
Official preliminary results will be announced on Wednesday, with final results due on September 25.
Speaking to cheering supporters in Tel Aviv early on Wednesday, Gantz said it was necessary to wait for the official results, but was clearly confident.
“Netanyahu has not been successful in what he set out to do,” he told the crowd. “We, on the other hand, proved that the idea called Blue and White – a venture we started a little over six months ago – was successful.”
Speaking shortly afterwards, Netanyahu took the stage at Likud’s party headquarters in Tel Aviv.
He told his supporters that coalition talks had already begun.
“Israel is entitled to a strong government, a stable government, a government that ensures Israel is the nation of the Jewish people, and that it cannot, will not, be a government which is formed of parties which hate the nation,” he said, apologising for a croaky voice and sipping on water.
Majdi Halabi, an analyst and expert on Israeli affairs, said the initial unofficial results were a “slap in the face” for the prime minister.
Some 31 parties were competing for the 120 seats in the country’s 22nd Knesset.
Although many observers expected election fatigue to set in as voters headed to the polls for the second time in less than six months, early turnout was the highest in decades and long queues formed during the afternoon on Tuesday outside polling stations in the capital Tel Aviv.
The more than 11,000 polling stations across the country closed at 10pm (19:00 GMT).
Israel’s election commission says the final turnout was 69.4 percent, compared with 68.5 percent in April, with a total of 4,440,141 votes cast.
Netanyahu rallied his supporters throughout the day, using various social media platforms, phone messages, and direct engagement with voters on the streets of several major cities.
“We are fighting to the last minute. Every vote is important. Get out and vote for Likud. Bring everyone you can to the ballot box,” Netanyahu told his followers via Twitter in the final hour before voting closed.
Netanyahu is also facing a pretrial hearing in connection with three separate corruption cases – bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.
In a statement, Israeli police said they had detained or arrested 20 people for various offences, including one man in the Negev Region who allegedly tried to disrupt voting at a polling station.
Netanyahu vs Gantz
Coalition governments are the norm in Israel as no single party has won a majority of seats in the Knesset and the negotiations ahead are likely to be difficult.
Lieberman has said he would not join an alliance that included ultra-Orthodox parties – Netanyahu’s traditional partners.
Gantz has ruled out participating in an administration with Netanyahu if the veteran politician is indicted on the corruption charges.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will decide who will be given the mandate to form a new government – usually the leader of the party that wins the most seats.
If Rivlin thinks this person is unlikely to garner enough support from smaller parties to control at least 61 seats in the Knesset, he may give the task to someone else.
“If Netanyahu doesn’t clear the 61-seat threshold, Rivlin may still give him the mandate to form a government,” Eli Nissan, an Israeli political analyst told Al Jazeera.
“But if he fails to form a government within the next few weeks – like what happened after the April vote – the President may give Gantz the opportunity to do that instead,” he added. “If he fails as well, the president may push for a unity government.”
Israel has not had a unity government since Netanyahu came to power in 2009.
According to experts, voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel was expected to be higher than the April vote which saw only 49.2 percent of eligible voters among Palestinians cast their ballot.
“There was a higher voter turnout among Palestinian citizens this time, most of whom voted for the Arab Joint List,” said Haifa-based analyst Diana Buttu.
“We also saw a large number of Jewish voters support the Joint List,” she added referring to the alliance which had split into two competing groups in April but regrouped again in advance of this election.
Oudeh Bisharat, a Nazareth-based political analyst, agreed.
“Palestinian voters went out in bigger numbers this time because the Arab Joint List was united again and because they wanted to challenge Netanyahu’s racism and incitement against them,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera.
Internal emails reveal de Blasio had City Hall staff help with re-election bid
Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly used his City Hall staff to boost his 2017 re-election bid while state and federal authorities were investigating his campaign fundraising practices, according to internal emails released Thursday.
City rules prevent public employees from using their official time for political purposes. Yet over 205 pages of emails between the mayor and his two sets of staff, obtained through a Freedom of Information request and first reported by the Daily News, show that they routinely flouted those rules.
In the most glaring example happened in December 2016 when the mayor asked his campaign and City Hall staff to coordinate a meeting with a deep-pocketed donor — and then tried to rope a deputy mayor into the fundraising effort.
“Steve Mostyn is in town from Dallas,” the mayor wrote to his City Hall scheduler and the deputy finance director for his campaign on Dec. 5, 2016.
“Very important I see him. Pls set up,” de Blasio wrote. His campaign finance director, Elana Leopold, followed up on her boss’s email.
“Mayor wants an hour w him and wants Herminia to stop by to say hi at the front of [sic] back end,” Leopold wrote, referring to then Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Hermania Palacio.
De Blasio’s official scheduler, Prisca Salazar-Rodriguez, suggested having the meeting at City Hall before his Leopold said, “I don’t think it’s allowed to be at City Hall.”
Members of Mostyn’s family later donated nearly $10,000 to the mayor’s reelection campaign.
A mayoral spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said “the mayor wanted to Deputy Mayor Palacio to attend because they had a personal connection and he thought they’d enjoy meeting. She wasn’t able to attend, however, and the meeting did not occur at City Hall.”
“City Hall and the campaign followed all rules and regulations. There is nothing prohibiting the teams from coordinating on scheduling,” Goldstein said.
But Alex Camarda, with the good government group Reinvent Albany, said the emails showed the mayor needs a state versus church divide to keep his political and official activities separate.
“The mayor’s campaign and City Hall should establish procedures that create clearer boundaries in setting up meetings and communications to separate campaign work from government work,” Camarda said.
“We’re Confident…”: Trump Appears To Confirm US Nukes Are In Turkey
US government officials have long avoided disclosing or even confirming widely believed locations of US nuclear weapons.
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has often said things he perhaps shouldn’t have and repeatedly has disclosed sensitive information as president. On Wednesday, he did it again, appearing to confirm that the United States has nuclear weapons in Turkey.
At the White House, Trump was asked about those weapons’ security, now that Turkey has gone against U.S. wishes by invading northern Syria after the Trump-ordered U.S. withdrawal from the region. He didn’t explicitly confirm that the weapons were there, but he went along with the premise, saying that “we’re confident” they’ll be safe “and we have a great air base there – a very powerful air base.”
U.S. government officials have long avoided disclosing or even confirming widely believed locations of U.S. nuclear weapons.
“As a matter of policy, the Defense Department does not comment on the presence of nuclear weapons in Turkey or anywhere else in Europe,” said Kingston Reif, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
“U.S. and NATO officials do not, as a matter of policy, confirm the existence, locations or numbers of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe,” said Jessica Varnum, deputy director at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
The existence of the weapons in Turkey isn’t exactly a secret, though. Reif noted that “the Air Force, in its fiscal year 2015 budget request, noted the presence of ‘special weapons’ at ‘storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.”‘ Other experts noted that it’s not easy to hide such weapons.
Last July a document published by a NATO-affiliated body, which later was deleted, appeared to confirm that nuclear weapons were being housed in those same five countries. The document from a Canadian senator for the Defense and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly said the U.S. nukes were in Incirlik in Turkey.
Vipin Narang, a nuclear proliferation expert at M.I.T., highlighted another issue with Trump saying that “we have a great air base there.”
“Incirlik is Turkey’s air base, not ours,” Narang said. “And that is essentially the problem. We store these nuclear weapons in secure vaults on a Turkish air base, where we either have to secure them under the present circumstances, or bring transport aircraft to the base, move them on a Turkish air base and then fly them out of Turkish airspace if we wanted to extract them.
“Under the present circumstances, that is not a simple logistical or security feat.”
The security of those weapons has been a growing concern this week. The New York Times reported that State and Energy Department officials were looking at how to evacuate the weapons from Turkey if the situation in the region deteriorates.
As an Air Force Times report this week showed, though, officials would still avoid confirming the locations, even if they seemed plainly obvious:
“In an interview this summer with Air Force Times on the future of Incirlik amid rising tensions with Turkey, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James would not confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons there. But, hypothetically speaking, she said that if nuclear weapons did have to be removed from that base, it would be a complicated operation. It would require negotiations with the nation that would become the weapons’ new host, James said. And it would require a great deal of logistical and security work.
“If the Air Force found a new nation willing to host the nukes, James said, it would have to take ‘the greatest of care’ in their removal and transport. If the receiving base did not have the facilities or security necessary, James said, it would require a significant construction effort. And NATO would likely be involved.”
Trump in May 2017 shared highly classified information with top Russian officials in the Oval Office – information that U.S. officials worried could jeopardize a valuable intelligence source. He also reportedly told the Philippines’ president in April 2017 that the United States had two nuclear submarines off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to the New York Times. And two months ago, Trump tweeted what appeared to be an image from a classified satellite or drone in Iran.
Presidents have broad authority to declassify whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean the disclosures are necessarily beneficial for the U.S. government.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by TansportationVoice staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
Elijah Cummings, senior Democrat involved in Trump impeachment probe, dies aged 68
- Cummings died aged 68 from ‘complications of longstanding health challenges’
- Comes two years after he had an operation to repair his aortic valve, and a month after he went to hospital saying that he would be back at work in a week
- 13-term representative from Maryland was chair of the Oversight Committee, and spearheaded several investigations into Trump
- He famously rowed with Trump after President called Baltimore ‘rat-infested’
Elijah E Cummings, a senior Democrat who was a key player in the Trump impeachment inquiry, has died aged 68.
Cummings, who chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee, passed away at Baltimore’s John Hopkins Hospital at 2.45am on Thursday, his office said.
The Maryland representative, who has been in office since 1996, died of ‘complications concerning longstanding health challenges’.
His death comes two years after he had surgery to repair his aortic valve, and a month after he was admitted to hospital for further treatment.
He leaves behind wife Maya Rockeymoore – who he married in 2008 – and his three children, including daughters Jennifer and Adia
She said: ‘Congressman Cummings was an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility.
‘He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.’
When he was admitted in early September, Cummings predicted that he would be back in Washington within a week.
A sharecropper’s son, Cummings became the powerful chairman of a U.S. House committee that spearheaded investigations into President Donald Trump.
He was also a formidable orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his district that encompassed a large portion of Baltimore.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led multiple investigations into Trump’s governmental dealings.
The investigations angered the president, who criticized the congressman’s district in 2019 as a ‘rodent-infested mess’ where ‘no human being would want to live.’
Cummings responded that government officials must stop making ‘hateful, incendiary comments’ that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems.
‘Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,’ Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.
The Oversight Committee – as the main investigative committee of the House – was one of six involved in the impeachment inquiry into Trump and was spearheading efforts to gather evidence, alongside the Intelligence Committee.
Cummings’ long career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.
Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. And by 2016, Cummings was the senior Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee, which he said was ‘nothing more than a taxpayer-funded effort to bring harm to Hillary Clinton’s campaign’ for president.
Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.
His constituents began mourning shortly after his death at 2:45 a.m. on Thursday. The Baltimore archdiocese tweeted that Cummings ‘generously shared his God-given gifts and talents w/the people of his beloved city, state and nation for so many years. We give thanks for his dedicated service and pray for the repose of his soul.’
Dear Mr. #Cummings rest in Peace Sir. 🙏✝️🙏
We give thanks for his dedicated service and pray for the repose of his soul.” pic.twitter.com/HV9KF6KYrv
— USMC Cougar (@CougarUsmc) October 17, 2019
Cummings was born on Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.
‘I was devastated,’ Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before he won his seat in Congress. ‘My whole life changed. I became very determined.’
It steeled Cummings to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but one of the most powerful orators in the statehouse, where he entered office in 1983.
He rose to become the first black House speaker pro tem. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.
Cummings was quick to note the differences between Congress and the Maryland General Assembly, which has long been controlled by Democrats.
‘After coming from the state where, basically, you had a lot of people working together, it’s clear that the lines are drawn here,’ Cummings said about a month after entering office in Washington in 1996.
Cummings chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2004, employing a hard-charging, explore-every-option style to put the group in the national spotlight.
He cruised to big victories in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which had given Maryland its first black congressman in 1970 when Parren Mitchell was elected.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS and CHRIS PLEASANCE
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