India’s Election Commission rejects ballot tampering claims

Indian polling officials check an Electronic Voting Machine at a distribution center in Kolkata on May 18, 2019, on the eve of the seventh phase of India’s general election. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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India’s Election Commission rejects ballot tampering claims

  • Authorities tightened security at counting centers where the electronic voting machines have been kept in strong rooms across the country
  • The Indian elections, the world’s largest democratic exercise, ended May 19 after seven rounds of polls staggered over six weeks

NEW DELHI: India’s Election Commission rejected opposition fears of possible tampering of electronic voting machines ahead of the counting of votes Thursday that will determine the outcome of the country’s mammoth national elections.
Authorities on Wednesday tightened security at counting centers where the electronic voting machines have been kept in strong rooms across the country. The winners of most of the 542 seats up for grabs in India’s lower house of Parliament are expected to be known by Thursday evening.
The Congress and other opposition parties were stunned by mainstream TV channels’ exit poll projections on Sunday of a decisive victory for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.
Top opposition leaders met with Election Commission officials on Tuesday after videos appeared on social media showing some electronic voting machines being moved in north Indian states. They alleged that an attempt was being made to tamper with the verdict in favor of the BJP by replacing electronic voting machines, or EVMs, in some areas.
The Election Commission rejected the allegations in a statement Tuesday.
“The visuals seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls,” it said, explaining that the footage showed reserve, unused machines being put into storage.
The three-person body said that after the close of polls on Sunday, all voting machines used in the election were brought under security cover to designated strong rooms, which were sealed with double locks.
Since India first introduced electronic voting machines in 1998, rolling them out as the exclusive form of polling in all national and state assembly elections in 2004, glitches have been reported, but challengers’ tampering claims have never been proven.
The Indian elections, the world’s largest democratic exercise, ended May 19 after seven rounds of polls staggered over six weeks. Some 900 million people were registered to vote.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 37 sec ago
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.