From chits to apps, new measures for India’s mega-election

There are an estimated 300 million illiterate Indians. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 March 2019
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From chits to apps, new measures for India’s mega-election

  • The Election Commission has introduced a slew of new measures to ease the upcoming elections
  • The measures are also meant to increase public trust in the democratic process

NEW DELHI: Holding the world’s biggest democratic election is no mean feat, with 900 million Indians across the country eligible to vote between April 11 and May 19.
To iron out some of the hiccups of India’s previous 16 national ballots — and increase public trust in the democratic process — the Election Commission has introduced a slew of new measures.
With an estimated 300 million illiterate adults across India, photos of candidates will now feature alongside party symbols on electronic voting machines.
The devices have been dogged by claims they can be hacked, but will now print out a chit for each voter, who can confirm the details before dropping it in a sealed box inside the polling booth.
Random matching of the chits and numbers of votes on the machines should verify no tampering was done.
Vehicles transporting the voting machines will also be fitted with GPS devices to monitor their movements.
In the outgoing parliament thTere were 186 lawmakers facing criminal charges or being investigated — some 112 of them involving serious cases such as murder or rape.
This time, candidates under a legal cloud have to issue three newspaper and TV advertisements detailing any charges they face in the constituency where they’re standing.
The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) charity reported in 2014 that candidates facing criminal charges had a higher chance of winning elections compared to those without — either by intimidating voters or from buying influence.
Candidates have to declare income and tax returns for the past five years — the information is made public before the vote — as well as submit details any of assets and liabilities in their name abroad.
Webcams broadcasting live on the Internet will monitor 5,000 polling stations and all counting halls, allowing voters to keep a close eye on proceedings in real time.
A smartphone app will allow citizens to record any polling misconduct or malpractice such as distributing liquor or drugs — a common method of vote buying.
The complainant, who can remain anonymous, can upload a photo or video to the app and officials are obliged to respond with action taken within 100 minutes.
A toll-free helpline number for voter information, feedback and complaints will also operate for the first time.
Apart from citizen monitors, some 3.7 million polling staff were involved in running the 2014 election.
India is Facebook’s biggest market, with smartphone use exploding since the last election thanks to the world’s cheapest data tariffs.
Candidates have to declare their social media accounts in legal filings when they apply to become an election candidate.
This is aimed at monitoring and ending the misuse of social media during the polls, in a country where online misinformation is rife.
Social media advertisements will be scrutinized and vetted by the Election Commission.
Political advertising on social media will be considered a formal part of the campaign in the upcoming polls, unlike in 2014, and subject to rules and regulations.
Facebook India has said it will run “published by” or “paid for by” disclaimers on political advertising to increase transparency.
The new policy will also apply to Instagram, the photo app owned by US tech giant.
Nearly 39,000 voters have registered as “third gender,” the first time they have been able to after a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that formally recognized transgender Indians.
There are around half a million transgender people in India, but previously they had to register as either a man or woman.
Female participation in Indian politics is low and just 59 lawmakers out of 543 in the outgoing lower house of parliament are women.
This year every constituency across the country is required to have at least one voting center reserved for females, while the southern state of Karnataka has gone even further and will boast 600 women-only polling stations, including staff and security.


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.