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

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.


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 3 min 21 sec ago

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.