India’s Modi set to return to power with a bigger majority, exit polls show

An Indian election officer (R) marks the finger of a voter at a polling centre on the outskirts of Amritsar on May 19, 2019, during the 7th and final phase of India's general election. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2019
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India’s Modi set to return to power with a bigger majority, exit polls show

  • Modi visited West Bengal 17 times in an effort to make inroads with his Hindu nationalist agenda, provoking sporadic violence and prompting the Election Commission to cut off campaigning there
  • Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to return to power with an even bigger majority in parliament after a mammoth general election that ended on Sunday, exit polls showed, a far better showing than expected in recent weeks.
Modi faced criticism early on in the campaign for failing to create jobs and for weak farm prices, and analysts as well as politicians said the election race was tightening with the main opposition Congress party gaining ground.
But he rallied his Hindu nationalist base and turned the campaign into a fight for national security after tensions rose with Pakistan and attacked his main rival for being soft on the country’s arch foe.
Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament with the Congress party-led opposition alliance at a distant 77 to 108, India Today Axis exit poll showed.
To rule, a party needs to win 272 seats. Modi’s alliance won 336 seats in the 2014 election. The exit polls showed that he not only held to this base in the northern Hindi belt but also breached the east where regional groups traditionally held sway.
Only the south largely resisted the Hindu nationalist surge, except for Karnataka, home to software capital Bengaluru.
Counting of votes recorded in hundreds of thousands of computerised machines will begin early on Thursday and results are expected by noon.
According to another poll released by Todays Chanakya, Modi’s alliance is likely to get around 350 seats. One poll by Neta Newsx, though, forecast Modi’s group falling 30 seats short.
Exit polls, though, have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 million people — around two-thirds of whom voted in the seven-phase election. They have often gotten the number of seats wrong, but the broad direction has generally been correct, analysts say.
With three out of four of the polls indicating a clear majority for Modi’s alliance, Indian equity markets are expected to rally sharply on Monday, while the Indian rupee is also likely to strengthen versus the US dollar, according to market participants.
A clear win would mean Modi can carry out reforms investors expect to make India an easier place for doing business, they said.
“I expect a positive reaction from markets on both the rupee and equities,” said Sajal Gupta, head of forex and rates at Indian brokerage firm Edelweiss Securities.
“Equity indices should have a rally of maybe 250-300 points,” said Gupta, adding the Indian rupee may test the 69 level against the US dollar before retreating.

HINDU HARDLINE FEARS
But a big win for Modi would fan fears that Hindu hard-liner groups would be further emboldened to pursue partisan programs such as punishing Muslims for the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, rewriting school textbooks to reduce India’s Muslim history and attack liberals.
Critics say Modi sought to win votes by stoking fear among the Hindu majority of the potential dangers posed by the country’s Muslims and Pakistan, and promoted a Hindu-first India.
But his supporters say Modi and his allies are simply restoring Hinduism to its rightful place at the core of Indian society. Muslims make up about 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population.
“The massive crowds and response at every rally of Prime Minister Modi were a clear indicator of their approval for his leadership, the performance of the past five years and the vision for the future,” Nalin Kohli, a spokesman of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said.
Dilip Agrawal, 46, who runs a mill in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said he had voted for Modi, despite the difficulties faced by farmers.
“He is doing so much for our country, our national security. Of course farmers want better rates than they are getting, that’s only natural. Only a strong leader can meet our aspirations, and Modi is that leader.”

GANDHI LOSS
The Congress pary led by Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for decades following independence, focused on Modi’s failure to deliver on the promises he made to transform the economy and turn India into a manufacturing hub.
Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha dismissed the poll projections, saying that an alliance led by his party would defeat the BJP when votes are counted on May 23.
“Many of the pollsters, if not all of the pollsters, have got it wrong,” he said, adding that a polarized atmosphere and fear had kept voters from telling pollsters about their actual allegiance.
Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal state and a bitter opponent of Modi, said the fight was not over.
“I don’t trust exit poll gossip,” she said on Twitter. “I appeal to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together.”
Voting began on April 11 and ended on Sunday in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
Although Modi’s party is poised to lose seats in northern Uttar Pradesh, which elects the most lawmakers out of all Indian states, the party’s return to power will be on the back of a strong showing in other northern heartland regions and two eastern provinces, CVoter’s polling showed.
 


China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

Updated 16 min 52 sec ago
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China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

  • Xi JingPing will be in Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year

BEIJING: Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said Monday, as Beijing tightens relations with Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China — his country’s sole major ally — four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
“China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter,” CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a “series of important consensus” in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will “push for new progress” in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations — a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year — are also at a deadlock.
“The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specializing in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
“You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role,” he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit — with logistics finalized only last month.
In recent days, hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, pruning bushes and replanting flowerbeds on the approaches to the monument, which commemorates the millions of Chinese troops Mao Zedong sent to save the forces of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, from defeat during the Korean War.
A detachment of soldiers in white jackets was also seen outside the Liberation War Museum — which includes a section on the Chinese contribution — potentially indicating that it may be on Xi’s itinerary.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it had learned about Xi’s travel plans last week.
“We hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which will lead to the settlement of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.
It will be Xi’s first trip to North Korea since taking power in 2012, though he visited the country as vice president in 2008.
In contrast, Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year — an unbalanced exchange that has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
According to diplomatic sources in the North Korean capital, after Kim’s many trips to meet Xi, there were increasingly strong feelings in Pyongyang that the Chinese leader should reciprocate for reasons of saving face.
“From a North Korean perspective, it’s time for Chairman Xi to visit,” said John Delury, an expert on US-China relations and Korean Peninsula affairs at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“They do keep score and it’s like four to zero,” he recently told AFP. “So far, Xi has approached China-North Korea relations very much as a function of US-China relations and kind of calculated in terms of that.”
The visit also comes as negotiations between Trump and Kim have soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, Kim has accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” and given it until the end of the year to change its approach.
Still, the nuclear situation is “under control for now,” said Delury.
“That creates a space, a window where Xi could make a visit without expecting like a missile test the day he leaves or something like that,” he said.