Voter turnout slumps, Modi ‘wave’ missing from India’s 2024 polls

Voter turnout slumps, Modi ‘wave’ missing from India’s 2024 polls
Voters wait outside a polling booth before casting their votes during the second phase of India’s general election in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, April 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 27 April 2024
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Voter turnout slumps, Modi ‘wave’ missing from India’s 2024 polls

Voter turnout slumps, Modi ‘wave’ missing from India’s 2024 polls
  • India’s general election started on April 19 and is taking place in seven phases till June 1
  • Voters are battling extreme temperatures as parts of India gripped by heatwave

NEW DELHI: Voter numbers have slumped in the first and second phase of India’s general election, with experts saying that the “wave” of enthusiasm that brought incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2014 was no longer present in the ongoing polls.
More than 968 million people have been registered to vote in the world’s biggest general election, in which Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are aiming for a rare third consecutive term in power.
The first phase of voting was on April 19 and the polls are taking place over six weeks, with results expected on June 4.
India has a total of 28 states and eight federally governed territories. Some regions complete the process on a single day, while others spread it out over several phases.
The second phase was on April 26 and the other voting dates will be May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.
Friday’s turnout was estimated by the Election Commission of India at 61 percent — compared with 68 percent in the second phase five years ago. In the first phase, it was 65 percent against nearly 70 percent in 2019.
The lower turnout showed “apathy toward politics,” D. Dhanuraj, chairman of the Kerala-based Center for Public Policy Research, told Arab News.
“I think it is clear now that there is no wave in favor of any party as such. In 2014, there was a wave, in 2019 there was a wave,” he said, referring to the enthusiastic pro-Modi balloting in the past two general elections.
“(In) 2024, there was a talk that there was a wave, but I think it is becoming clear that there is no such wave, no wave that would give exponential majority in the parliament to any party.”
Modi and his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance are 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.
Congress plunged to a historic low when it was swept out of power by the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 general vote, and won its second-lowest number of 52 seats in 2019, when Modi’s party enjoyed a landslide victory, winning 303 out of 543 seats in the lower house of parliament.
The party or coalition that wins at least 272 parliamentary seats forms the government.
In 2024, Modi has been aiming for 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his BJP. But the target, often cited ahead of the first phase, has not been repeated.
Although pre-poll surveys suggested Modi would easily win, it is no longer projected to be a landslide as in in the two previous elections.
“It was the electoral rhetoric of the BJP to cross 400 seats, but this reality is not happening, it seems now,” Satish Kumar Singh, political analyst in Delhi, told Arab News.
“The BJP gave that slogan just to galvanize voters. When there is less voting that also means that the BJP might not have a whopping majority, it might be close to a simple majority.”
Another factor deterring voters from standing in long queues at polling stations was the hotter-than-normal summer, with temperatures in some states on Friday exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.
“There is no wave but heatwave in this election,” Singh said. “That is keeping the voters away from the polling booths.”
Not all experts expected the lower turnout to affect the ruling party’s chances in the polls.
“There seems to me no empirical evidence that if voter turnout increases it supports any side — the ruling (party) or the opposition,” said Sandeep Shashtry, political analyst and vice-chancellor of Jagran Lakecity University in Bhopal.
“I think we cannot make a generalization about the wider implications.”


DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid
Updated 8 sec ago
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DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid

DR Congo militia kills more than 20 in village raid
  • Locals blame Codeco militia, which claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe, for the killings

BUNIA, DR Congo: Militia fighters on Friday killed more than 20 civilians in a village in the gold-rich Ituri province in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, local residents said.
The residents blamed the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco) militia for the killings. Codeco claims to be fighting for the interests of the Lendu tribe against the rival Hema tribe.
“Codeco militias attacked the village of Lodjo on Thursday, where they killed eight civilians. They came back on Friday, the current death toll is 36,” Innocent Matukadala, head of the Banyali Kilo administrative center, that takes in Lodjo, told AFP.
He said the Congolese army “arrived too late” to prevent the massacre. “The population is in disarray,” he added.
“For now, there are 28 dead (on Friday) and a massive displacement of the population,” said a civil society leader on condition of anonymity.
Other sources put the number of dead at 23. One said the dead included gold miners, women and children.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in Codeco attacks on villages in the province since the beginning of this year.
Inter-communal violence killed thousands in Ituri from 1999-2003 until an intervention by European forces restored calm.
The conflict erupted again in 2017, resulting in thousands more deaths and the mass displacement of local people.
The southern part of Ituri has also suffered from the inter-communal violence spilling over from neighboring North Kivu province, which has been ravaged by attacks blamed on rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces group, affiliated with Islamic State.
The ADF, originally mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels, have established a presence over the past three decades in eastern DR Congo, killing thousands of civilians.
 


Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown
Updated 12 min 38 sec ago
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Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown

Mali political parties say leaders arrested amid crackdown
  • Eleven people arrested at private meeting, mostly political leaders, activists say
  • Political parties accuse authorities of silencing democratic voices, pursuing dictatorship

BAMAKO, Mali: An alliance of political parties and civil society groups in junta-led Mali said several of their leaders were arrested on Thursday evening during a private meeting at a house of a former minister. The alliance in a statement demanded their prompt release. The West African country, which has been under military rule since a coup in 2020, in April issued a decree that restricted political life in the name of maintaining public order.
The political parties and civil society groups did not say how many people were detained, but Boubacar Toure, a representative of one of the parties, told Reuters on Friday that 11 people had been arrested at the private meeting. Most of them were political leaders, he said.
In a statement, the political parties and groups accused the authorities of pursuing “a path to dictatorship ... with the sole aim of staying in power and silencing all democratic and republican voices.”
Mali’s security ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling junta has suspended all activities by political parties and “associations of a political nature” after the group of political parties and civil society organizations jointly criticized the authorities on March 31 for failing to schedule elections within the promised time frame.
In response to the junta’s order, the political parties turned to the Malian Supreme Court but it is not clear when the top court will consider the appeal.
The location of Thursday’s gathering had been shared in a WhatsApp group for activists and political party members, the president of an association told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his safety.
“The objective of these arbitrary arrests ... is to create fear among citizens, so that no activist, no member of an association, will raise a finger or come out to denounce what is being done,” he said.
Those arrested had gathered during the Eid religious festival to exchange best wishes and also to discuss politics, said the secretary-general of a political party who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
“With the suspension of political parties, the banning of political party activities, it is difficult for people to come together and talk, so every opportunity that allows people to come together is an opportunity to address essential questions,” he said.
He said the arrests would damage confidence in the ruling junta but would not prevent Malians from discussing politics.
“People continue to call each other on the phone, they continue to express their opinions,” he said. “One way or another, we will find the means to meet again, whether in the fields, whether in the orchards, whether around the squares.”


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN
Updated 24 min 41 sec ago
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights: UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • The Taliban applies a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid”

UNITED NATIONS: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, noting the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha is not legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”
 


Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit
Updated 22 June 2024
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Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine says Global South nation could host second peace summit

Ukraine believes a second summit to consider Kyiv’s proposals for peace with Russia could be hosted by a country in the Global South, a senior official was quoted as saying by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Friday.
More than 90 countries attended the first summit in Switzerland last week as Ukraine seeks broad support for its plan to end the war, which began nearly 28 months ago with a full-scale Russian invasion.
Moscow, which was not invited, described the summit’s result — a communique signed by most participants but spurned by India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia in particular — as “close to nil.”
“We have several countries [offering to host], and I can say with a high degree of probability that such a summit could take place in one of the countries of the Global South,” presidential aide Ihor Zhovkva was cited as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.
Ukraine wants the next summit to be convened before the end of the year, he said, adding that Russia could be invited if it was prepared to consider the road map set out by Ukraine and did not issue ultimatums.

Ukrainian serviceman Oleksandr watches for Russian drones next to a military vehicle with a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft cannon at an undisclosed location in Donetsk region, Ukraine on June 19, 2024. (REUTERS)

President Vladimir Putin said on June 14 that Russia would end the war in Ukraine if Kyiv agreed to drop its ambitions to join NATO and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed and partly occupied by Moscow — demands Kyiv rejected as tantamount to surrender.
Zhovkva declined to identify the prospective hosts, saying this would only help Russia to undermine the diplomatic efforts.
Having the backing of most Western countries, Kyiv has stepped up its efforts to win support from the Global South and from Asian countries historically closer to Russia and more ambivalent on Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
China, which proclaimed a “no limits” partnership with Russia days before Moscow launched its invasion, did not attend the summit. It portrays itself as neutral and denies supplying Moscow with weapons or ammunition. (Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit

Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit
Updated 22 June 2024
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Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit

Japanese Emperor Naruhito finally begins delayed UK state visit
  • The emperor’s trip is the third state visit of Charles’ reign, but the first since it was revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer

LONDON: Emperor Naruhito and his wife begin a week long visit to Britain on Saturday, visiting Oxford University where they both studied and attending a formal banquet with King Charles, but there are no plans for a meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, had been due to make the trip in 2020 when Queen Elizabeth was still alive but it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their first overseas trip together after his enthronement was to Elizabeth’s funeral in 2022, and ahead of the state visit Naruhito, 64, spoke of the kindness the British royals had shown to him when he arrived in Britain to study in the early 1980s.
He recalled how the late queen had invited him to Buckingham Palace for tea which she made herself.
“I have fond memories of the heartwarming hospitality I received from her majesty the queen and the royal family, making me feel like I was part of their family,” he told a news conference held in Tokyo.
The emperor’s trip is the third state visit of Charles’ reign, but the first since it was revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Naruhito said he was grateful the king would host them despite his illness, and he also sent good wishes to Charles’ daughter-in-law Kate, wife of heir Prince William, who is having preventative chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
“I understand that they are both going through a hard time, but I pray that their treatment will go smoothly and that they will have a speedy recovery,” he said.
The official reason for the trip is to celebrate the long ties between the two royal families, and to demonstrate the deep relationship between the two countries.
However, the Japanese royals are also using it as a chance to return to Oxford where they both studied at separate times, while Naruhito will visit the River Thames flood barrier which he had researched while at university there.
The visit clashes with campaigning for the British election on July 4, and a Japanese foreign ministry official said there were no plans for a meeting with the prime minister.
The official state elements of the trip begin on Tuesday when Prince William will formally greet the emperor, before a grand carriage procession along The Mall to Buckingham Palace where there will be a state banquet.
During the trip Naruhito will also privately visit St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to lay a wreath on the tomb of Queen Elizabeth.