Ardern to lead New Zealand liberal government

Leader of the Labour party Jacinda Ardern, center, arrives at a press conference with MPs Kelvin Davis, right and Craig Robertson at Parliament in Wellington on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Ardern to lead New Zealand liberal government

WELLINGTON: Jacinda Ardern will be New Zealand’s next prime minister and hopes to take the country on a more liberal path following nine years of rule by the conservatives.
The outcome of a national election nearly a month ago only became clear Thursday after the small New Zealand First party decided to back Ardern’s liberal Labour Party.
Ardern, 37, will be the nation’s youngest leader in more than 150 years. She has been compared to other young, charismatic leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron in France and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada.
Ardern wants to curb immigration, ban foreign speculators from buying homes and build thousands more affordable houses. She also wants to spend more money on health care and education, and clean up polluted waterways.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party’s choice was either “a modified status quo” with the incumbent conservatives or an option for change.
The liberal Green Party will support the coalition but won’t be a part of the government’s policy-setting Cabinet. The Green Party ratified the deal late Thursday.
Ardern said she wanted to lead a government that looked after the environment and the country’s most vulnerable people.
“It is an absolute honor and a privilege,” she said.
Outgoing Prime Minister Bill English, who appeared emotional, said he was naturally disappointed but felt he’d left New Zealand in good shape and that the country has plenty of opportunities ahead.
Asked how he rated Ardern, English noted her rapid rise.
“That’s a fairly remarkable performance given that just 10 or 12 weeks ago she was the deputy leader of a failing opposition.”
New Zealanders have been waiting since the Sept. 23 election to find out who will govern after the voting ended without a clear winner.
New Zealand’s currency fell by about 2 percent as the result became clear, with the New Zealand dollar trading at $0.70.
The policies of New Zealand First are nationalistic and eclectic. Peters wants to drastically reduce immigration and stop foreigners from buying farms. He opposed plans by English’s National Party to increase the pension age and plans by Labour to tax certain water users.
New Zealand First is expected to extract policy concessions and win some ministerial posts by joining the Labour coalition. Ardern said the details would be released in the coming days.
Peters said in his announcement that his party’s perception of how capitalism needs to change influenced its decision.
“Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism not as their friend but as their foe, and they are not all wrong,” he said. “That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible, its human face.”
In his election campaign, English said his party has grown the economy and produced increasing budget surpluses which had benefited the nation.
Under New Zealand’s proportional voting system, larger parties must typically form alliances with smaller parties to govern.
A government needs at least 61 seats to hold a majority in the 120-seat parliament. National won 56 seats, Labour won 46, New Zealand First won nine seats and the Green Party won eight.


India Hindu temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

Updated 25 min 29 sec ago
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India Hindu temple turned into fortress for new gender battle

  • More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, line routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state
  • About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday

PAMBA, India: Indian police mounted a huge security operation Friday to ensure women can safely access a flashpoint Hindu temple, after battles erupted the first time they attempted to enter following a historic court ruling.
More than 3,400 police, many in riot gear, lined routes to Sabarimala temple, a hilltop shrine in Kerala state, which traditionalists are trying to prevent women from reaching.
The Supreme Court ruled in September that a ban on women aged between 10 and 50 entering the temple was illegal. Sabarimala has since become a showdown issue for gender activists and Hindu hard-liners.
About 700 women have registered to visit the shrine, which opens on Friday ahead of the start of a Hindu festival beginning on Saturday.
Hundreds of thousands of devotees were expected to make the four-hour trek up a hill to Sabarimala during the festival which lasts until mid-January.
On Friday morning hundreds of demonstrators at Kerala’s Kochi airport tried to stop leading activist Trupti Desai from leaving for Sabarimala.
“We tried to hire taxis several times but the agitators are not allowing them to take us. They have threatened violence if they do,” Desai told Indian television.
“Even police said they cannot help us go out of the airport right now because the number of protesters is swelling and they are resorting to violence,” she said.
“A while back they tried to take us out from a back door but the protesters spotted us and attacked the cars.”
On the roads around the temple, 150 kilometers south of Kochi, police meanwhile set up barricades to check cars.
“We will deploy over 15,200 police around the temple for the entire season up to January 15,” Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar said.
In mid-October, when the temple opened for the first time since the court ruling, hardliners clashed with police and prevented women from accessing the site.
They threw stones at the police and assaulted female journalists and attacked their cars. Some 2,000 people were later arrested.
Police in riot gear had escorted two women to within 500 meters (yards) of the temple but were forced to turn around.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said its followers were unfairly targeted in the arrests.
“The BJP supports the devotees,” the BJP president in Kerala, P.S Sreedharan Pillai, said.
The state is run by a communist government and Pillai added: “The communists are atheists and want to destroy the Sabarimala temple culture,” Pillai said.
Activists say that the ban at Sabarimala reflects an old view that connects menstruation with impurity.
The traditionalists argue that women are allowed in most Hindu temples and the practice at Sabarimala is part of their tradition, and not anti-women.
This time the state government is determined to ensure that women get the upper hand.
Press reports said the police were even considering using helicopters to take women to the site.
Late Thursday the state government called a meeting of all political parties in a bid to reach an agreement on letting women into the temple on certain days.
But the talks ended late Thursday in an acrimonious failure.
“We are at a standstill and now the situation is becoming even worse,” said Sasikumar Varma, a top representative of the Pandalam royal family that has been traditionally involved in the temple’s management.
“The government stuck to its stance of allowing women’s entry and we are opposed to it.”