France gets new PM as Macron charts ‘new course’

The new premier, Jean Castex is taking over as Edouard Philippe leaves the post after three years. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 03 July 2020

France gets new PM as Macron charts ‘new course’

  • A wider cabinet reshuffle could now come later in the day
  • The new premier, Jean Castex, is taking over as Philippe leaves the post after three years

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron Friday named a senior bureaucrat to replace Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whose government resigned after a poor local election showing for the ruling party.
The new premier, Jean Castex, officially a member of the right-wing opposition but in charge of overseeing the country’s progressive emergence from coronavirus lockdown, is taking over as Philippe leaves the post after three years, the Elysee Palace announced.
Macron has said he will set a “new course” for the government as the country grapples with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
A wider cabinet reshuffle could now come later in the day.
Speculation that Philippe was on the way out mounted this week after Macron’s centrist party was routed in municipal elections last Sunday and Greens took control of several major cities.
Philippe, a right-wing politician who never joined Macron’s Republic on the Move party, easily won his bid to become mayor of Le Havre.
Yet while Macron was widely expected to seek to boost his socialist credentials with a leftist premier, Castex is from the rightist Republicans party.
While Philippe’s approval ratings have surged over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, those of Macron, who has pursued ambitious economic reforms since coming to office in 2017, have fallen.
In an interview with regional newspapers published late Thursday, Macron said France must prepare for a “very difficult” economic crisis, “so we have to chart a new course.”
“I see this based on an economic, social, environmental and cultural reconstruction,” he said. “Behind this, there will be a new team.”
Serving Macron from the start of his presidency, Philippe has pushing through a series of controversial overhauls that sparked massive strikes as well as the fierce “yellow vest” anti-government revolt.
At a meeting Thursday, Macron and Philippe “agreed on the need for a new government to embody a new phase for this term,” an official in the Elysee Palace said Friday.
“A new phase is opening, with new talents and new methods for governing,” the source said.
Press reports had suggested that possible replacements could have included defense minister Florence Parly or foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, both Socialists before joining Macron’s team.
But analysts say Macron had a thin bench of potential replacements, not least because his young party has failed to produce any standouts from its parliamentary ranks — meaning he could tap someone relatively unknown to the public.
Other top ministers could also be on the way out in a cabinet reshuffle that may be completed by the end of the day.
Under particular pressure is interior minister Christophe Castaner, who has been assailed by critics over the failure to contain the rioting and looting that marred the “yellow vest” protests of 2018-2019.
More recently, Castaner has drawn the ire of police who say he has failed to support them against renewed claims of violence and racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Already since the start of Macron’s presidency, a total of 17 ministers have quit the government, most recently Agnes Buzyn, who stepped down as health minister in a doomed bid to wrest the Paris mayor job from Socialist Anne Hidalgo.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.