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Democrats Regain Majority In The House of Representatives This U.S. Midterm Election

CNN's exit poll showed 80 percent of voters said it was important for more women to be elected.

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Adrian Avella and Mazeda Uddin react during the midterm election night party of Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City. VOA
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Democrats retook the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections while Republicans preserved control of the Senate, creating a divided Congress that will put up roadblocks to President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda in the coming two years.

The result, which was expected, also serves as at least a partial rebuke of Trump, who had held numerous rallies across the country in support of Republican candidates and repeatedly insisted the election was essentially a referendum on his presidency.

“Today is more about Democrats and Republicans, it’s about restoring constitutional checks and balances to the Trump administration,” said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California in a victory speech at Democratic party headquarters in Washington.

With control of the House for the first time in eight years, Democrats can do more than just obstruct Trump’s legislative priorities. They will also be able to go on the attack, taking leadership of crucial House committees that have strong investigatory powers. Some Democrats have suggested they will demand to see the president’s tax returns and investigate his personal finances and business interests, as well as his 2016 presidential election campaign’s ties to Russia.

Donald Trump, democrats
U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. VOA

“It is a critical check on Trump,” says University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. “Big legislation with an ideological tint, left or right, won’t pass for the next two years. Democrats now have the power of subpoena so Trump and his administration can expect to be investigated rather than protected by the House.”

But by retaining control of the Senate, Republicans will preserve the ability to confirm Trump’s judicial and other nominees. The Republican-led Senate also could prevent Congress from removing Trump from office, if the Democratic-controlled House decides to move forward with impeachment proceedings, as some have hinted.

‘Blue wave’ in House

Though votes are still being counted, Democrats are projected to pick up over 30 seats in the House, a little more than the 23 votes they needed to claim the majority. That is consistent with many pre-election polls and analysis that predicted a “blue wave,” a major Democratic victory.

The Democratic victory drew in large part on a coalition of minority voters, young people and those in urban and suburban swing districts, many of whom were upset over Trump’s style of leadership and harsh language about immigrants and minorities.

“The demographic crisis has finally hit,” says Evan Siegfried, a Republican analyst. “And in a way that is brutal and is decimating the Republican Party.”

Democrat, USA
Democrat Jennifer Wexton speaks at her election night party after defeating Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., Nov. 6, 2018, in Dulles, Virginia. VOA

That trend was evident in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, where Jennifer Wexton, a lawyer and state senator, defeated the Republican incumbent, Representative Barbara Comstock.

In New Jersey, Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and political novice, defeated Republican Jay Webber, winning a seat that had been held by Republicans for over three decades.

Though polls had suggested healthcare and the economy were main issues for voters, Trump was never far from voters’ minds.

Democrats. USA
Voters line up to vote at a polling place in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. VOA

A CNN national exit poll suggested 55 percent of voters disapprove of Trump’s performance while 44 percent approve of it. Moreover, 56 percent of those surveyed believe the country is on the wrong track and only 41 percent said it was on the right track.

Republicans keep Senate

However, Republicans are expected to increase their 51 to 49 seat hold on the Senate by three seats.

The White House said early Wednesday that Trump called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “to congratulate him on the historic Senate gains.” Trump also spoke with outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring in January, as well as Pelosi.

Democrats’ Senate chances were dealt a major blow in Indiana, where Republican businessman Mike Braun pulled off an upset win against incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. In Tennessee, Democrat Phil Bredesen, the state’s ex-governor, lost to Republican Marsha Blackburn to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker. Blackburn will become Tennessee’s first female senator. And in Missouri, two-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was defeated by state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

democrats
Democratic Texas U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke embraces his wife Amy as he concedes to Senator Ted Cruz at his midterm election night party in El Paso, Texas. VOA

In one of the closest watched races in the country, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who just months ago was a relatively unknown congressman from El Paso, narrowly lost to Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Still, O’Rourke, an unabashed progressive lawmaker with a gift for fundraising, is widely considered to be a prominent Democratic presidential contender in 2020.

Women’s role

Women also played a major role in the election.

A record 237 women ran in House races and 23 in Senate races across the country, including 185 Democrats and 52 Republicans. Their wins are likely to boost the percentage of women in Congress beyond 20 percent for the first time. Many stepped up as candidates in the last two years, energized by reports of Trump’s behavior toward women, the rise of the #MeToo movement that has publicized the pervasiveness of sexual assault, and Republican policy platforms on issues including the right to abortion.

democrats, USA
Democratic U.S. congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrates with her mother at her midterm election night party in Detroit, Michigan. VOA

Christopher Borick, a political science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, says the role women played in this election lived up to expectations.

“We’re seeing a vast increase in the percentage of women that will be within in the House of Representatives. I’ll give you an example in Pennsylvania, which is kind of the one of the most striking scenes. Before this election we had zero, not one member of an 18-seat congressional delegation that was a woman. Tonight, just in suburban Philadelphia, in the Lehigh Valley where I’m speaking from, four women won in a really tight area,” Borick said.

Also Read: Donald Trump Key Force In Driving The MIdterms Election

Winners included the first two Muslim women in Congress, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, and the first Native American woman, Sharice Davids from Kansas. First-time female congressional candidates also won in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The surge reflects the preferences of female voters, who have also been motivated by Trump’s reputation with women and by candidates who have increasingly spoken on their particular issues as parents and employees.

CNN’s exit poll showed 80 percent of voters said it was important for more women to be elected. (VOA)

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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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Rohingya, myanmar
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

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Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)