Embattled Australian PM suffers historic defeat over refugees

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was defeated by MPs who insisted refugees held in offshore facilities have the right to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment. (AFP/File)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Embattled Australian PM suffers historic defeat over refugees

  • MPs insist migrants being detained have right to access to medical treatment in Australia
  • The vote is a monumental political defeat for the conservative minority government

CANBERRA: Australia’s conservative minority government suffered a monumental political defeat Tuesday, becoming the first administration in nearly a century to lose a vote on major legislation and fueling calls for a snap election.
Despite a bruising and highly personal lobbying effort, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was defeated by MPs who insisted refugees held in offshore facilities have the right to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment.
It is the first time in decades that an Australian government has lost a vote on a substantive piece of legislation, sparking applause and cheers from observers in the parliamentary viewing gallery in Canberra.
Morrison lost his parliamentary majority last year and has been relying on crossbenchers to keep control of the lower House of Representatives.
The 75-74 vote — which came on the first sitting day of parliament this year — is a blow to the already embattled prime minister and raised questions about whether he can remain in office.
When the sitting government last lost a vote on substantive legislation in 1929, then prime minister Stanley Bruce immediately called an election, and lost it.
The government of prime minister Arthur Fadden lost a symbolic budget vote in 1941 and immediately resigned.
Morrison last week ruled out calling a snap election if his government was defeated over the “stupid” bill.
His coalition has to call an election by May and has been trailing the opposition center-left Labour Party in opinion polls.
The bill was first mooted by independent MP Kerryn Phelps last year after she won the Liberal Party stronghold of Wentworth when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted in a party coup.
Since then, the government had lurched from crisis to crisis, and a disastrous showing in elections in Victoria state sparked fears that it would also lose the national poll.
Under a harsh policy meant to deter asylum-seekers from reaching Australia by boat, Canberra sent arrivals to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing and barred them from resettling in Australia.
But criticism of the camps has grown amid reports of abuse, suicides and lengthy detention periods, even as the government says the policy is discouraging asylum-seekers from embarking on dangerous sea voyages.


India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures after laying a wreath to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs memorial in Amritsar on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 27 min 2 sec ago
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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

  • Rahul Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties
  • This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised

NEW DELHI: Indians are voting Tuesday in the third phase of the general elections with campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and the opposition marred by bitter accusations and acrimony.
People lined up outside voting station at several places even before the polling started at 7 a.m.
The voting for 117 parliamentary seats in 13 states and two Union Territories on Tuesday means polls are half done for 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The voting over seven phases ends May 19, with counting scheduled for May 23.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch trying to win the majority Hindu votes by projecting a tough stance against Islamic neighbor Pakistan.
The opposition is challenging him for a high unemployment rate of 6.1% and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.
Modi is scheduled to vote on Tuesday in his western home state of Gujarat, though he is contesting for a parliamentary seat from Varanasi, a city in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The voting also is taking place in Wayanad constituency in southern Kerala state, one of the two seats from where opposition Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting. His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh state will have polling on May 6. He will give up one seat if he wins from both places.
The voting is staggered to facilitate movement of security forces to oversee an orderly election and avoid vote fraud.
India’s autonomous Election Commission intervened last week to block hate speeches by imposing a temporary ban on campaigning by some top politicians across political parties.
Uttar Pradesh state chief minister Yogi Adityanath of Modi’s BJP was barred from campaigning, in the form of public meetings, road shows or media interviews, for three days for making anti-Muslim speeches. He said a Hindu god will ensure the BJP victory in elections, while the opposition was betting on Muslim votes.
Mayawati, a leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, was punished for 48 hours for appealing to Muslims to vote only for her party. India’s top court ordered strict action against politicians for religion and caste-based remarks.
Hindus comprise 80% and Muslims 16% of India’s 1.3 billion people. The opposition accuses the BJP of trying to polarize the Hindu votes in its favor.
Meenakshi Lekhi, a BJP leader, filed a contempt of court petition against Rahul Gandhi in the Supreme Court for misrepresenting a court order while accusing Modi of corruption in a deal to buy 36 French Rafale fighter aircraft. Modi denies the charge.
Modi has used Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers, in a bid to appear a strong, uncompromising leader on national security. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.
Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers’ suicides.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.