India’s Modi stuns opposition with huge election win

Indian supporters and party workers of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dance as they celebrate on the vote results day for India's general election in Bangalore on May 23, 2019. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP)
Updated 23 May 2019

India’s Modi stuns opposition with huge election win

  • Election Commission data showed the Bharatiya Janata Party leading in contests for 206 seats
  • A party or coalition needs a simple majority, or 272 seats, to govern in India

NEW DELHI/AYODHYA: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a dramatic election victory on Thursday, putting his Hindu nationalist party on course to increase its majority on a mandate of business-friendly policies and a tough stand on national security.
His re-election reinforces a global trend of right-wing populists sweeping to victory, from the United States to Brazil and Italy, often after adopting harsh positions on protectionism, immigration and defense.
Official data from the Election Commission showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead in 300 of the 542 seats up for grabs, up from the 282 it won in 2014 and more than the 272 seats needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.
That would give his party the first back-to-back majority for a single party since 1984.
“Together we will build a strong and inclusive India,” Modi said on Twitter. “India wins yet again!“
Modi has slashed red tape in the world’s fifth-largest economy, though some overseas firms, including Amazon, Walmart and Mastercard, have complained about policies they say are designed to benefit domestic rivals.
He will face demands to provide jobs for the tens of millions of young people coming on to the market in the next few years and to boost depressed farm incomes.
“The immediate challenges are to address employment, the issue of agricultural income and revive the banking sector,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Care Ratings in Mumbai.
But making good on his promise of unity will be difficult as the BJP campaign was often divisive, and India’s Muslim minority has expressed fears that policies aimed at pleasing the Hindu majority could imperil their livelihoods.
Modi’s pledge of a strong stand against a separatist movement in Muslim-majority Kashmir has fueled tension with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, although its prime minister, Imran Khan, congratulated Modi on his win.
“Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” Khan added on Twitter.
Besides a harder line on national security, BJP members will look to Modi for progress on a project to building a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu zealots in the northern holy town of Ayodhya in 1992.
“I want Modi to finish terrorism from Kashmir (and) make Pakistan bite the dust again and again,” said Shekhar Chahal, a BJP worker from the capital, New Delhi.
“I am confident that Modi will also make the temple in Ayodhya.”

Celebrations begin

Cheering supporters set off firecrackers and showered the mastermind of the campaign, BJP President Amit Shah, with petals as he arrived at party headquarters in New Delhi.
“It’s a stamp of approval by voters on the honest and decisive leadership of Prime Minister Modi,” said Nalin S Kohli, a BJP spokesman.
The NDA’s predicted margin of victory, at 348 seats versus 85 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, according to broadcaster NDTV, far exceeds survey forecasts in the run-up to the vote.
Most polls indicated a victory for Modi’s alliance but expected it to fall short of an overall majority.
Final results are due by Thursday evening.
(Click HERE https://reut.rs/2VXBoxz for graphic of live updates of election results)

Security swing
Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
However, campaigning shifted toward India’s relationship with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian police in February in the Himalayan region of Kashmir claimed by both countries.
Modi ordered an air strike on what India said was a militant training camp on the Pakistani side of the border, a tough response that benefited the right-wing BJP, analysts said.
While Pakistan has signalled a willingness to open talks with India, it also displayed its military might, with the test of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile with a range of up to 1,500 miles (2,400 km).
The BJP has also capitalized the star power of Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as its superior financial resources.
It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters this month.
The main opposition Congress party was ahead in just 52 seats, but its leader Rahul Gandhi, twice defeated in general elections by Modi, refused to rule out resigning as party chief in a brief televised news conference.
Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, lost to the BJP candidate in the northern constituency of Amethi the family has held almost continuously for the last four decades.
But he was leading in the southern constituency from which he is also running for parliament.
“The Congress party has not been able to improve at all,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
“One big story is the emerging challenge for the Congress to remain a national alternative to the BJP. That now is under question.”

Strong leader
In the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament, the BJP was leading in 60 of the 80 seats in the fray, out in front of a powerful alliance of caste-based parties campaigning to improve rural conditions.
“After the air strike on Pakistan, almost all these important issues started fading and farmers decided to cast their ballot for the BJP,” said Raghubar Das, 55, who grows rice and wheat on the outskirts of Ayodhya, which many devout Hindus believe to be the birthplace of the God-king Rama.
“Mind you, they didn’t vote for the BJP, they voted for Modi. Everyone loves a strong a leader.”
The party also won seats in several states where it has long struggled, including West Bengal, where it took on the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party. Data showed it leading in 19 of 42 seats, surpassing the two it won in 2014, data showed.
Investors welcomed Modi’s victory, hoping his government will push through reforms.
Indian stocks surged more than 5 percent this week to hit record highs on Thursday, but the euphoria fizzled quickly, with stocks and the rupee ending the day weaker, as the focus returned to a faltering economy.


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.