Final round of voting underway in India’s marathon elections

The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2019
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Final round of voting underway in India’s marathon elections

  • The voting on Sunday also covers Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, a holy Hindu city where he was elected in 2014
  • Counting of votes is scheduled for May 23

KOLKATA, India: Indians voted in the seventh and final phase of national elections Sunday, wrapping up a 6-week-long long, grueling campaign season with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party seeking reelection for another five years.
The voting also covers Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, a holy Hindu city where he was elected in 2014 with an impressive margin of over 200,000 votes.
He spent Saturday night at Kedarnath, a temple of Hindu god Shiva nestled in the Himalayas in northern India.
The last round of election includes 59 constituencies in eight states. Up for grabs are 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, four in Himachal Pradesh and three in Jharkhand and Chandigarh.
Counting of votes is scheduled for May 23.
In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, voters lined up outside polling stations since early morning to avoid scorching heat with temperatures reaching up to 38 degree Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit). Armed security officials stood guard in and outside the centers amid fear of violence.
While the election since April 11 has been largely peaceful, West Bengal state in eastern India is an exception. Modi is challenged here by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who heads the more inclusive Trinamool Congress party and eyes a chance to go to New Delhi as the opposition’s candidate for prime minister.
Modi has visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda that had provoked sporadic violence and prompted the Election Commission to cut off campaigning.
Voters were also up early in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, where the Election Commission arranged for drinking water, shade and fans to cool them down.
“I straightaway came from morning walk to cast my vote and was surprised to see enthusiasm among the voters,” said Ramesh Kumar Singh, who was among the first ones to vote. “There were long queues of people waiting patiently to cast their votes, which is a good sign for democracy.”
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He played up the threat of Pakistan, India’s Muslim-majority neighbor and archrival, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 Indian soldiers.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s main opposition is Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers.
Congress and other opposition parties have challenged Modi over a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Some of Modi’s boldest policy steps, such as the demonetization of high currency notes to curb black-market money and bring a large number of people into tax net, proved to be economically damaging. A haphazard implementation of “one nation, one tax“— goods and services tax — also hit small and medium businesses.
Voter turnout in the first six rounds was approximately 66%, the Election Commission said, up slightly from 58% in the last national vote in 2014.
Pre-election poll surveys by the media indicate that no party is likely to win anything close to a majority in Parliament with 543 seats. The BJP, which won a majority of 282 seats in 2014, may need some regional parties as allies to stay in power.
A Congress-led government will require a major electoral upset.


World population expected to rise to 9.7 billion in 2050: UN

In this Jan. 31, 2014 file photo released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, lining up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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World population expected to rise to 9.7 billion in 2050: UN

  • The global fertility rate fell from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 births in 2019 and is projected to decline further to 2.2 births by 2050

UNITED NATIONS: The world’s population is getting older and growing at a slower pace but is still expected to increase from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050, the United Nations said Monday.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division said in a new report that world population could reach its peak of nearly 11 billion around the end of the century.
But Population Division Director John Wilmoth cautioned that because 2100 is many decades away this outcome “is not certain, and in the end the peak could come earlier or later, at a lower or higher level of total population.”
The new population projections indicate that nine countries will be responsible for more than half the projected population growth between now and 2050. In descending order of the expected increase, they are: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Indonesia, Egypt and the United States.
In sub-Saharan Africa, population is projected to nearly double by 2050, the report said.
Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Lu Zhenmin said in a statement: “Many of the fastest growing populations are in the poorest countries, where population growth brings additional challenges in the effort to eradicate poverty,” promote gender equality and improve health care and education.
The report confirmed that the world’s population is growing older due to increasing life expectancy and falling fertility levels.
The global fertility rate fell from 3.2 births per woman in 1990 to 2.5 births in 2019 and is projected to decline further to 2.2 births by 2050.
A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman is need to ensure population replacement and avoid declines, according to the report.
In 2019, the fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa was the highest at 4.6 births per woman, with Pacific islands, northern Africa, and western, central and southern Asia above the replacement level, said the report.
But since 2010, it said 27 countries or areas have lost one percent or more of their population.
“Between 2019 and 2050 populations are projected to decrease by one percent or more in 55 countries or areas, of which 26 may see a reduction of at least 10 percent,” the UN said. “In China, for example, the population is projected to decrease by 31.4 million, or around 2.2 percent, between 2019 and 2050.”
Wilmoth, the head of the Population Division, told a news conference launching the report that the population growth rate is slowing down as the fertility level gradually decreases. That decrease usually follows a reduction in the mortality level that initially instigated growth, he said.
Wilmoth stressed that multiple factors lead to lower fertility including increasing education and employment, especially for women, and more jobs in urban than rural areas, which motivate people away from costly large families to smaller families.
But to achieve this, he said, people also need access to modern methods of contraception.
According to the “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights” report, migration is also a major component of population growth or loss in some countries.
Between 2010 and 2020, it said 14 countries or areas will see a net inflow of more than one million migrants while 10 countries will experience a similar loss.
For example, some of the largest outflows of people — including from Bangladesh, Mepal and the Philippines — are driven by the demand for migrant workers, the report said. But some migrants are driven from their home countries by violence, insecurity and conflict, including from Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela.
The UN said countries experiencing a net inflow of migrants over the decade include Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.