Tag Archives: elections

And Ford takes the race

Ford next Toronto mayor, defeats Smitherman

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

TORONTO -Right-wing juggernaut Rob Ford will take the top job in Canada’s most populous city, defeating former deputy premier George Smitherman in a bitter, 10-month race to become Toronto’s next mayor.

With 99 per cent of Toronto polls reporting Monday night, Ford took 47 per cent of the vote, compared to Smitherman’s 35 per cent and deputy mayor Joe Pantalone‘s 12 per cent.

Smitherman was considered an early favourite to win, but couldn’t compete against Ford, a scrappy city councillor who tapped into a potent well of voter fury with his promises to cut taxes and kill big spending at city hall.

“This victory is a clear call from the taxpayers, enough is enough,” Ford told cheering supporters. “The party with taxpayers’ money is over. We will respect the taxpayers again, and yes ladies and gentlemen we will stop the gravy train once and for all.”

The polarizing Toronto race was marred by ugly incidents, including homophobic ads targeting the openly gay Smitherman, and a newspaper article — later pulled from the Globe and Mail website — that took a shot at Ford’s weight.

His win is likely to send shockwaves all the way to Premier Dalton McGuinty‘s office. Many experts have predicted that a Ford victory could herald a Conservative sweep in next fall’s Ontario election. A grinning Mike Harris, Ontario’s former Conservative premier, called on both the provincial and federal governments to work with Toronto’s mayor-elect.

“It’s a good opportunity for Rob to reach out, for council to reach out to him, for the provincial-federal government to reach out to him, listen to what the voters of Toronto said and help him deliver,” Harris told TV station CP24 at Ford’s victory party.

After two terms of majority rule, recent polls suggest that McGuinty’s popularity is waning amid voter concerns with pocketbook issues, such as rising electricity bills and his controversial introduction of the harmonized sales tax. That may have played into the Toronto race, given Smitherman’s reputation as McGuinty’s former right-hand man and top enforcer.

“Differences aside, as a Torontonian who loves my city, I hope for your success Rob,” an emotional Smitherman told his supporters. “Toronto is too important, there are no boos tonight.”

Pantalone — the left-wing candidate endorsed by outgoing Mayor David Miller — was curt in his reaction to the night’s stunning outcome. “The people of Toronto have spoken and democracy is beautiful,” Pantalone said.

The night also saw Mike Layton, son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, walk in his father’s footsteps as he won Pantalone’s Trinity-Spadina ward — the same neighbourhood stepmother Olivia Chow represents federally. Meanwhile in Ottawa, another former provincial cabinet minister — Jim Watson — easily won the mayor’s race against businessman-turned-politician Larry O’Brien, in a race dominated by transit and urban development issues.

Watson, who served as the city’s mayor before a successful foray into provincial politics, took 49 per cent of the vote with nearly 98 per cent all polls reporting. Conservative incumbent O’Brien had 24 per cent.

Earlier this month, O’Brien made a startling admission that his first two years as mayor were a “disaster,” but implored voters to give him a second chance. His rocky term as mayor of Canada’s capital included allegations of influence peddling that forced him to step down temporarily as the matter went to trial. He resumed his duties after being acquitted.

By contrast, the race just west of the city in Mississauga has been decidedly uneventful, where voters simply watched to see how well 89-year-old Mayor Hazel McCallion performed in her 12th election campaign. “Hurricane” Hazel typically doesn’t campaign, put up signs or buy political ads. Her 31-year tenure as mayor is considered to be so rock solid, but a conflict-of-interest scandal appeared to put a dent in the 90 per cent voter support she’s known to command. With more than three-quarters of polls reporting Monday, McCallion had 76 per cent of the vote — a decisive victory for any politician but not the numbers of old.

In Vaughan, ex-Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua took the mayor’s seat from incumbent Linda Jackson, who is headed to court to face Municipal Elections Act charges.

Other interesting races include London, where former Liberal MP Joe Fontana was in a tight race to keep long-standing Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best from winning a fourth term. In all, there were 444 municipal votes in Ontario.


The Crisis in Honduras continues….

Hondurans to elect new president after June coup

By Mica Rosenberg

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Hondurans vote for a new president Sunday in the latest chapter of a months-long political standoff triggered by a coup that has divided the United States from Latin American powers Brazil and Argentina.

Neither President Manuel Zelaya nor arch-rival Roberto Micheletti, installed as interim president by Congress after Zelaya’s overthrow in June, is in the race.

That leaves the door open for someone else to take Honduras beyond the gridlock that has crippled the Central American nation for five months and cut off international aid.

But doubts remain over whether the world will recognize the vote because it is being run by the coup leaders and could end any hope of Zelaya returning to power.

Zelaya, camped out in the Brazilian Embassy since September when he snuck back to Honduras from exile, says the vote is illegitimate and is telling supporters to stay home.

Soldiers grabbed the leftist from his home before dawn on June 28 and threw him out of the country, starting Central America’s biggest political crisis since the end of the Cold War.

The U.S. State Department says Sunday’s election is “a democratic way forward for the Honduran people” after talks to find a negotiated solution collapsed over the question of reinstating Zelaya.

The U.S. position splits President Barack Obama from some Latin American leaders who say an election organized by Micheletti’s de facto government is invalid and would amount to a victory for the coup leaders.

Obama wants to improve ties with the region — still haunted by memories of U.S.-backed military governments in the late 20th century — but risks isolating himself from Brazil and Argentina, which reject the election.

The two leading presidential candidates hail from Honduras’ ruling elite and have tried to avoid talking about the crisis, trying to convince Hondurans that the elections will let the country move on.

“We have to leave the differences and conflicts that divide us behind,” front-runner Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo from the conservative opposition National Party said Saturday.

Lobo says that if he wins, he will plead with foreign leaders to restore funding and seek a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, after foreign donors slashed aid to impoverished Honduras after the coup.

In an October poll by CID-Gallup, Lobo was 16 points ahead of his closest rival, Elvin Santos from Zelaya’s and Micheletti’s Liberal Party.


Security forces have cracked down repeatedly on anti-coup protesters, causing several deaths, and some observers say a fair vote is impossible after Micheletti temporarily shut down pro-Zelaya news channels.

The Organization of American States and the United Nations refused to send observer missions to the election, set before Zelaya’s overthrow.

A series of small home-made explosive devices went off at voting centers and news stations in recent days, but there have been no major injuries. Even so, some Hondurans say they are afraid to vote.

“It will be dangerous to go out, I am going to stay in my house,” said Juan Villanueva, 50, an orange vendor who lives in a wood shack in one of Tegucigalpa’s sprawling slums.

Soldiers shot and seriously wounded a man in a car outside military headquarters in the capital Friday night. Police said the man failed to stop at a checkpoint.

Major television channels and radio stations, controlled by a clutch of wealthy businessmen who back the coup, are rallying the public with upbeat commercials and commentaries about how the vote can save the country.

The more than 5,000 polling stations, including six in the United States for the some 1 million Hondurans immigrants, open at 7 a.m. (8 a.m. EST).

Analysts say a nod from the United States could lead to a trickle of recognition from other countries. Costa Rica, which welcomed exiled Zelaya the day of the coup, and Peru said they were ready to accept the results. Conservative Panama and Colombia are likely to follow suit.

Zelaya angered business leaders and members of his own party by moving closer to Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez.

The army removed him at gunpoint after the Supreme Court and Congress accused him of trying to change the constitution to keep himself in power, a charge he denies.

Nicaragua, run by Chavez’s close ally, President Daniel Ortega, who strongly backs Zelaya, temporarily closed its border with Honduras Saturday.


“an environment of fear and intimidation”

Hondurans fearful ahead of disputed polls

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) – Fears of violence spread through the Honduran capital ahead of Sunday’s post-coup elections, which have divided both the Central American country and the continent.

A military crackdown on dissenters after the June 28 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya and scores of small explosive attacks on media outlets and political targets have frayed nerves in a city already mired in gang violence.

De facto leader Roberto Micheletti, who stepped down briefly over the electoral period, on Saturday accused Zelaya supporters of secretly setting up bomb attacks to disturb the polls, and blamed them for putting “psychological pressure” on voters to urge them to boycott the vote.

Zelaya’s backers have called for people to stay at home to avoid being blamed for possible clashes.

Brazil and Argentina have led regional support for their view that holding elections with Zelaya out of office — and still holed up in the Brazilian embassy — will legitimize the coup in a region with a painful history of dictatorships.

The United States, the country’s main commercial and military partner, has suggested it will support the polls in a bid to turn a page on the five-month crisis.

Levels of participation and the running of the vote will be key in evaluations of its credibility.

“It’s calm but people are frightened that they’ll be attacked over the vote,” said 27-year-old Patricia Calix, hawking fruit by the roadside in the Belen area, known for its street gangs.

Police this week carried out car and body searches in and around Tegucigalpa in a campaign to confiscate weapons in a country where guns are legal and widely visible.

But the main aim of the latest operation, which collected only a small haul, was to reassure citizens, said police spokesman Jorge Daniel Molina Galvez, underlining its “psychological value.”

“We’re living in an unusual and difficult situation,” said driver Manuel Aceitunos as officers searched his car.

“Sunday could be dangerous. You have to go out and vote and then remain at home.”

Around 30,000 soldiers and police have been deployed nationwide to distribute electoral material and oversee the polls.

Amnesty International said Friday that security forces had stockpiled 10,000 tear gas cans and other crowd control equipment.

Javier Zuniga, head of Amnesty’s Honduras delegation, decried what he called “an environment of fear and intimidation.”

Rights groups already expressed concern after several deaths and dozens of arrests in the aftermath of the coup, and have reported new threats and intimidation of pro-Zelaya activists.

Activists on both sides tore down electoral posters as the campaign to encourage voting gained force.

An ad in a newspaper sympathetic to the de facto regime warned voters that if they stayed away, their election history could easily be traced on the Internet.

“The real risk of the 29th (of November — election day) is that you don’t vote,” the ad said.

Back in Belen, where armed gangs roam pot-holed streets littered with rubbish, fears of violence are not new.

Presidential frontrunner Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo gained support in the area after his campaign on an anti-crime ticket.

Calix said she was planning to vote for him and welcomed the idea of more security forces.

“Pepe promises there’ll be more police, more security. I have children and I’m afraid for them to go out in the street,” she said.


Inauguration of President Hamid Karzai

Afghan leader to take oath, reputation in tatters

By Peter Graff

KABUL (Reuters) – Foreign dignitaries were to begin descending on Kabul on Wednesday, the eve of the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, who is struggling to rehabilitate his tattered reputation in the West after a fraud-marred election.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry says 300 international dignitaries will attend Thursday’s oath-taking ceremony at the sprawling presidential palace in Kabul, including 30 presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have confirmed they will attend Karzai’s swearing-in.

Other countries, including the United States, have not announced in advance who will attend for security reasons.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is in the final stages of deciding whether to send tens of thousands of extra troops, a decision that could come soon after the inauguration brings the tumultuous three-month election process to a close.

The Taliban insurgency has never been deadlier during Karzai’s 8-year rule, the Western force protecting him has never been larger, and his own reputation has never been weaker, wrecked by election fraud, corruption and weak government.

Security for the ceremony in Kabul will be extreme, with reporters barred from attending the inauguration itself.

The centerpiece of the ceremony will be Karzai’s inauguration speech, with Western officials hoping that the veteran leader can lay out a specific program to combat corruption, improve performance and limit the influence of former warlords.

“We would like some sort of roadmap. We want some clear direction given here,” a European diplomat said.


The election, intended to bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan leader, had the opposite effect, driving a wedge between Karzai and the Western countries whose troops defend him.

A U.N.-backed probe concluded nearly a third of votes for Karzai in the August 20 poll were fake, meaning he failed to win the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round. He was declared the winner anyway when his opponent quit before the run-off.

Public support for the war has plummeted in Western countries as the insurgency spreads and death tolls soar.

Obama has already presided over a massive escalation of the war. There are now nearly 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 68,000 Americans, more than half arriving this year.

Obama’s commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has requested tens of thousands of additional troops, warning that without them, the war will probably be lost.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Tuesday found that 52 percent of Americans now believe the war is not worth fighting, although 55 percent still believe Obama will choose a strategy that will work.

Western leaders need to persuade their people that Karzai’s government can be improved and is worth fighting for.

“Now that the election is finally over, we’re looking to see tangible evidence that the government, led by the president but going all the way down to the local level, will be more responsive to the needs of the people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told ABC television on Sunday.

Karzai’s government announced anti-graft measures this week, including a new major crimes police task force, prosecutors’ unit and tribunal — steps welcomed in the West, although it remains to be seen if they will be more effective than previous efforts.

Karzai was installed by the United States and its Afghan allies after they helped drive the Taliban from power in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. He won a full term in the country’s first democratic presidential election in 2004.

(Editing by Paul Tait)