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Daily Archives: September 22, 2008

Voting starts in Slovenia at fifth parliamentary elections

Voting began yesterday in Slovenia in parliamentary elections with a bribery scandal hanging over Prime Minister Janez Jansa and the opposition left showing unity in a bid to regain power after four years of centre-right rule.
The last poll published by the daily Delo — polls are only allowed until a week before elections — put Jansa's centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) in the lead with 25.0 percent of votes, ahead of the main opposition centre-left Social Democratic party (former communists), with 22.4 percent.
In a show of unity Tuesday, the Social Democrats closed ranks with their rivals on the left, the Liberal Democracy Party (LDS) and the newly founded Zares, hoping to motivate voters to go to the polls.
Slovenia's 1.7 million eligible citizens will vote to elect the fifth 90-seat parliament since the former Yugoslav republic declared independence in 1991.
Voting will end at 7 pm (0100 Macau time today).
The country's two main television stations will publish exit poll results immediately after the end of voting while the first partial results are expected later during the night.

Tiny Pacific nation struggles for survival amid exodus

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by David Brooks*

The deserted homes with sagging roofs and boarded up windows on the tiny Pacific island of Niue tell the story of a nation which is struggling to survive.
In a world threatened by the problems of overpopulation, the 260-square-kilometre island, is threatened by a decades-long exodus of its citizens to Australia and especially New Zealand, 2,200 kilometres to the southwest.
Now fewer than 1,500 people according to official figures — and around 1,100 according to islanders — remain to keep the government and economy running.
"A dropping population means there's not the human resources here to carry out the development work here," says expatriate New Zealander Stafford Guest, who owns a motel and bar on the island.
"We're getting to a dangerous situation where we soon won't have enough people to carry out the essential services on the island."
Aid from New Zealand — now running at about 16 million New Zealand dollars annually — and other international sources is the only thing keeping Niue solvent.
Exports in the year to June 2006 were a paltry 264,000 dollars and the largest exporter, a fish processing factory, closed last year.
To the outsider Niue appears blessed with a warm tropical climate, an easy going lifestyle and land covered in lush vegetation.
Chickens roam everywhere, drivers acknowledge each other — even strangers — with a wave and everyone has time for a few friendly words.
There is not a single cash machine on Niue and just a handful of phone lines link it to the outside world.
On the other hand, most villages have free wireless Internet access and a recent donation by a US-based foundation means all 500 school children have been given bright green laptop computers.
There is only one flight each week in and out of Niue — known to locals as The Rock — and the shipping service was recently cut back to about once every two months.
Once a New Zealand colony, Niue is now self-governing in association with New Zealand, which means it makes all its own decisions but remains heavily dependent on its former colonial master for financial support.
Niueans still retain New Zealand citizenship and since the 1960s when the population peaked at more than 5,000, many have chosen to move to New Zealand or Australia.
About 25,000 people of Niuean descent live in New Zealand and more than 5,000 in Australia. Few ever return as the empty houses in the island's 14 villages attest.
"It is very difficult to reverse something that has been going on for the last 30, 40 or 50 years," says Niuean Premier Toke Talagi of the exodus.
"The difficulty we have is that we have free access to New Zealand. It's both a good thing and a curse."
One Niuean who did return home is Taumafai Fuhiniu, president of the Matakau Vaka club which keeps alive the tradition of making and racing outrigger canoes.
Fuhiniu lived away from Niue for more than 20 years in New Zealand and Australia before returning with his aged parents.
"When I finally came back I regained my childhood dreams, it gave me that second chance to re-establish myself and rediscover my roots and find my place on the island," Fuhiniu said.
He believes greater self-reliance is part of the answer for Niueans, rediscovering the traditional skills which served the isolated society before the intrusion of the modern world.
But other residents like Guest worry that Niue will reach a stage where there are not enough people to keep the island viable as a nation.
"We just have to take it a day at a time and see how it goes. If it gets worse, we will just have to pack and go I guess," says Michael Jackson, a former legislator for 15 years and publisher of the island's only newspaper.
New Zealand is conscious of the island's precarious position and has increased aid since 2004 when Cyclone Heta pounded into the island, killing two people, destroying the hospital, hotel and large numbers of homes.
The New Zealand government sees a growing role for private enterprise, rather than relying on the state.
"At the moment, there's more than 400 people in the public service, that doesn't leave too many people apart from the very old and the very young looking for jobs," says David Payton, who heads the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade unit handling relations with Niue.
"We have a relatively brief period of time in which the government of Niue, supported by New Zealand, can turn this place around," he said.
"If it continues to lose people then its very, very difficult to see how it can remain a viable, forward-looking community."
But he has sympathy for the plight of Niueans, saying it is impossible for fewer than 1,500 people to effectively carry out all the functions of a government.
Small scale tourism offers one glimmer of hope for Niue. Although there are virtually no beaches on the island ringed by cliffs up to 30 metres high, there are dramatic swimming holes and caves set amongst the cliffs.
Niue is also popular for diving, fishing, and whale and dolphin watching in the waters around the island.
On a recent night on Niue, visitors watched a humpback whale pass closer than 50 metres from Guest's clifftop bar. As the whale swam out of sight, a large pod of leaping spinner dolphins passed by.
Talagi's family has renovated a couple of deserted homes for tourist accommodation and he says he wants other expatriate Niueans to do the same.
Some people like Guest see integration with New Zealand as the only long term answer, although a poll in 2001 showed two-thirds of Niueans wanted to retain their self-governing status.
"We still want to be Nuiean, be proud to be Nuiean and keep living in Niue," said Jackson. "You can see it is a beautiful place."

* AFP

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