India’s mammoth election heats up in trend-defining second phase

India’s mammoth election heats up in trend-defining second phase
Voters queue up to cast their ballots outside a polling station during the second phase of voting of India’s general election in Bengaluru on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 26 April 2024
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India’s mammoth election heats up in trend-defining second phase

India’s mammoth election heats up in trend-defining second phase
  • Second phase is seen by analysts as defining dynamics of rest of the polls
  • Turnout in first phase was lower than expected — 66 percent, compared with 70 percent in 2019

NEW DELHI: India’s mammoth general election rolled on Friday into its second phase, which is widely believed to likely set the trend for the rest of the polls.
More than 968 million voters were registered to cast the ballot vote in the world’s most populous country, where incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are eyeing a rare third straight five-year term in power.
The first phase of the vote was on April 19 as polling takes place over six weeks, with results expected on June 4. The other voting dates will be May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.
India has a total of 28 states and eight federally governed territories. Some regions complete the process on a single day, and others spread it out over several phases.
Voting last week took place in 21 states and union territories, with nearly 169 million people eligible to cast their ballots. In the second phase, more than 160 million people were expected to vote across 13 states and federal territories.
As many as 1,202 candidates contested the polls on Friday, vying for 88 of the 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament. In the previous phase, 102 seats were up for grabs.
More than half of the 88 seats were in the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka and the northwestern state of Rajasthan.
The party or coalition that wins at least 272 seats will form the government.
Modi, who ahead of the election was targeting 400 seats for his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, led by the Congress party, which has ruled the country for close to 45 years since independence in 1947.
‘MINI-GENERAL ELECTION’
The second phase of India’s polls is seen by analysts as defining the dynamics of the remaining five phases. One of the factors was the voter turnout, which in this election might be lower.
In the first phase, 66 percent of those eligible to vote cast their ballot — compared with 70 percent in 2019.
“From the first phase of the election, the message went that there is a silent undercurrent against the BJP and the dip in the voting percentage sent the signal that the BJP would slip in its strongholds in northern India particularly Uttar Pradesh,” Umakant Lakhera, political commentator in Delhi, told Arab News.
“If the trend of voters’ perceived apathy toward the election in general — and the BJP in particular — continues, then it’s an opportunity for the opposition Congress party to consolidate and mobilize its resources to widen its reach and capitalize on anti BJP sentiment.”
The key leader of the opposition coalition and Congress member is Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, all of whom served as prime ministers of India.
Gandhi is seeking re-election from Wayanad in Kerala — the only major state that has never elected a BJP member of parliament, and where it was not a main competitor. This year, Modi’s party has been trying to make inroads into the state’s political scene.
The main contenders, besides Gandhi, are Annie Raja of the Communist Party of India and BJP’s K. Surendran.
“Kerala always has witnessed bipolar politics, but the BJP has been trying this time to make it a triangular contest, and this election will test whether a third force can find space in Kerala or not,” Prof. G. Gopa Kumar, political scientist and adviser to the Kerala-based Center for Public Policy Research, told Arab News.
“The second phase will test whether the stigma of the BJP of being an outsider in Kerala will continue or not, whether the stigma of not winning a seat in Kerala will continue or not.”
Far from Kerala, in the north, where several states were also going to the polls, another test was taking place at the same time — for the Congress party. Congress plunged to a historic low when it was swept out of power by the BJP in the 2014 general vote, and won its second-lowest number of 52 seats in 2019.
“The second phase is a mini-general election. What is at stake is whether the Congress is going to challenge the dominance of the BJP in the north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or not,” Kumar said.
“The contest is getting serious from now on. For the Congress, it is a survival question as they have to prove that they can defeat the BJP and survive as a big force.”
Although surveys suggest Modi will easily win a comfortable majority in parliament, his 400-seat target, often repeated ahead of the polls, has not been cited since last week’s first phase.
Asad Rizvi, an analyst based in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state and BJP stronghold, Uttar Pradesh, said that the performance was apparently not as good as expected, despite the repetition of the party’s tactics of polarization along religious lines.
“A perception has come to dominate after the first phase of elections that the BJP has not performed well in its strongholds in Uttar Pradesh, therefore, the BJP will have a tough time mobilizing its core voters to retain the seats,” he told Arab News.
“The second phase is also crucial that will test whether the BJP’s communal agenda is working or not.”


Landslides kill nine as Bangladesh lashed by rain

Landslides kill nine as Bangladesh lashed by rain
Updated 4 sec ago
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Landslides kill nine as Bangladesh lashed by rain

Landslides kill nine as Bangladesh lashed by rain
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: Torrential rains in Bangladesh have triggered landslides burying alive at least nine people and forcing thousands to flee to higher ground, police and government officials in the low-lying nation said Wednesday.
Schools have been turned into shelters for those abandoning their homes to rising river waters, while more than a million people have been stranded in northern areas.
Bangladesh, a nation of around 170 million people, is among the countries most vulnerable to disasters and climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
The annual monsoon rains cause widespread destruction every year, but experts say climate change is shifting weather patterns and increasing the number of extreme weather events.
“At least 700,000 people have been stranded by flash floods and heavy rains in Sylhet district, and another 500,000 people in neighboring Sunamganj district,” Abu Ahmed Siddique, commissioner of Bangladesh’s northeastern Sylhet district, told AFP.
Those killed in landslides were in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.
Eight were Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar, and the other was from Bangladesh, said Amir Jafar, a police official in command of security in the camps.
“They were sleeping in their shelters when heavy rains overnight triggered the landslides in five spots of the camps,” Jafar told AFP. “They were buried under the mud.”
He said hundreds of refugees had been moved from areas deemed at risk.
“The rain is still going on,” he said.
About one million Rohingya live in makeshift shelters of bamboo and tarpaulins in dozens of scattered camps cut out of cleared forest land on the slopes of small hills, where landslides are a regular threat.
In Sylhet, lashing rain and rivers swollen by flooding upstream in India also swamped heavily populated areas.
“More than 17,000 people have been taken to shelters only in Sylhet district,” senior local government official Sheikh Russel Hasan said, warning rivers were still rising.
Much of Bangladesh is made up of deltas as the Himalayan rivers of the Ganges and Brahmaputra slowly wind toward the sea.
Floods in 2022 in Sylhet were some of the worst on record, leaving millions stranded and around a hundred killed.
Towhidul Islam, chief administrative officer of Gowainghat, part of Sylhet, said the river had risen two centimeters (0.7 inches) in the first three hours after dawn.
“If the rain and water level continues to increase, the situation will get worse, like 2022,” Islam told AFP.

US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism

US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism
Updated 19 June 2024
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US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism

US lawmakers’ visit to Dalai Lama sparks China criticism
  • Lawmakers led by Congressman Michael McCaul and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the Buddhist spiritual leader at his home base in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala

NEW DELHI: A group of senior US lawmakers including former House speaker Nancy Pelosi met Wednesday with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in India, sparking heavy criticism from China.
The bipartisan group of US lawmakers, led by Congressman Michael McCaul and Pelosi, visited the 88-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader at his home base in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala.
Pelosi told crowds of Tibetans it was an “honor” to have met with the Dali Lama, in a speech carried by the government-in-exile’s Tibet TV.
“It is truly a blessing,” Pelosi said.
The visit follows the passage of a bill by the US Congress that seeks to encourage Beijing to hold talks with Tibetan leaders — frozen since 2010.
“This bill is a message to the Chinese government that we have clarity in our thinking and understanding in the issue of the freedom of Tibet,” she said.
Pelosi said the bill was “soon to be signed” by US President Joe Biden.
Ahead of the visit, China’s embassy in New Delhi criticized the meeting, saying the Dalai Lama was “not a pure religious figure, but a political exile engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion.”
Many exiled Tibetans fear Beijing will name a rival successor to the Dalai Lama, bolstering control over a land it poured troops into in 1950.
The Dalai Lama was just 23 when he escaped the Tibetan capital Lhasa in fear for his life after Chinese soldiers eviscerated an uprising against Beijing’s forces, crossing the snowy Himalayas into India.
He stepped down as his people’s political head in 2011, passing the baton of secular power to a government chosen democratically by some 130,000 Tibetans around the world.
“The democracy of the diaspora of the Tibetans in exile is very important to us,” Pelosi said.
Penpa Tsering, the sikyong or head of that government, said it does not seek full independence for Tibet, but rather to pursue a long-standing “Middle Way” policy seeking greater autonomy and “to resolve the Sino-Tibet conflict through dialogue.”
But Beijing’s embassy accused the Tibetan administration of seeking to break away.
“We urge the US side to fully recognize the anti-China separatist nature of the Dalai group,” the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India wrote on social media late Tuesday.
It reiterated its oft-repeated position that the high-altitude territory “has always been part of China since ancient times.”


Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
Updated 19 June 2024
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Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties

Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin meet amid worry about Pyongyang and Moscow’s military ties
  • Russian leader hails ‘close friendship’ between the two countries based on ‘equality and respect of mutual interests’
  • North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event

SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow and Pyongyang will sign an agreement that will bolster their ties, and thanked North Korea for supporting the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.
Speaking at the start of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Russian leader said in remarks carried by Russian state Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies that the “new fundamental document will form the basis of our ties for a long perspective.”
Putin also hailed a “close friendship” between the two countries based on “equality and respect of mutual interests,” and noted their “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the US and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”
“We highly appreciate your consistent and unchanging support of the Russian policies, including in the Ukrainian direction,” Putin added.
Putin was met upon his nighttime arrival by Kim, who shook his hands, hugged him twice and rode with him from the airport in a limousine in a huge motorcade that rolled through the capital’s brightly illuminated streets, where buildings were decorated with giant Russian flags and portraits of Putin.
North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event that demonstrates the “invincibility and durability” of the two nations’ friendship and unity. Huge crowds lined up on the streets to greet Putin’s motorcade before the talks, chanting “Welcome Putin” and waving flowers and North Korean and Russian flags.
Putin, making his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, was quoted in official media outlets before his arrival as saying the two countries want to cooperate closely to overcome US-led sanctions and actively develop their partnership. He also said he appreciated North Korea’s firm support of his military actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in 2022.
Putin’s visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.
Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He said a number of documents will be signed during the visit, possibly including an agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership.
US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.
Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.
Aside of sending military supplies to Russia to help its war fighting Ukraine, the North may also seek to increase labor exports and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.


Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
Updated 19 June 2024
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Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China

Taiwan president says only military strength can keep the peace with China
  • China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai Ching-te took office last month

TAIPEI: Only military strength can keep the peace with China and the Taiwanese people will not give in to Chinese coercion, Taiwan President Lai Ching-te said on Wednesday as the United States agreed on a speeded-up arms package.
China, whose government views Taiwan as its own territory, held two days of war games around the island shortly after Lai took office last month, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist context.
Speaking at a news conference to mark one month since assuming the presidency, Lai said Taiwan’s people “love peace.”
“But peace must rely on strength, which is to say avoiding war by preparing for war to achieve peace. Empty promises are not true peace,” he said.
China’s national policy is to annex Taiwan, Lai added.
“Apart from using force, in recent years they have even been using non-traditional coercive measures to force Taiwan to succumb but Taiwan will not give in,” he said.
Taiwan says such coercive means include preventing Taiwan’s participation in international bodies and events, banning or heavily taxing certain exports to China, and “grey zone” tactics such as flying balloons over the island.
Shortly before Lai spoke to reporters at the presidential office in Taipei, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said US State Department had approved the sale to Taiwan of drones and missiles for an estimated $360 million.
The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, to the constant anger of Beijing.
Taiwan’s defense ministry expressed its thanks, especially for US efforts to increase arms sales to the island. Taiwan has repeatedly complained of delayed deliveries.
“The Taiwan-US special management team continues to work hard to improve the efficiency of arms sales operations between the two sides. This time, the administrative review time has been significantly shortened,” the ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Although the United States is Taiwan’s main international arms provider, Lai and his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen have made boosting domestic capabilities a priority.
“Going forward we will continue to strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities, not only on arms purchases but also on defense self-sufficiency,” he said.
Lai has repeatedly offered talks with China but been rebuffed.
He says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future, and that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are “not subordinate to each other,” which he told reporters was the consensus of society in Taiwan.


Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
Updated 19 June 2024
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Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea

Philippines says Beijing’s words not matching actions in South China Sea
  • Philippine foreign ministry ‘denounces the illegal and aggressive actions’ of Chinese authorities
  • ‘Peace cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters’

MANILA: China must avoid actions that would endanger sailors and vessels in the South China Sea, the Philippine foreign ministry said on Wednesday, adding peace cannot be achieved if its words do not match its behavior in the disputed waters.
The Philippine foreign ministry said it “denounces the illegal and aggressive actions” of Chinese authorities that resulted in personnel injury and vessel damage during Manila’s routine resupply mission in the South China Sea on June 17.
“In line with the Philippines’ commitment to pursue peace, the Department has been exerting efforts to rebuild a conducive environment for dialogue and consultation with China on the South China Sea,” the ministry said in a statement.
“This cannot be achieved if China’s words do not match their actions on the waters.”
The ministry also called on China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its own waters.