Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

Indian women line up to cast their votes at a polling station during the second phase of the mammoth Indian elections in Patidarang village, some 60km from Guwahati, the capital city of India’s state of Assam, on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

  • Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament
  • The first phase of the election began on April 11

NEW DELHI: There was brisk polling Thursday in the second phase of the Indian election, with people in 13 states casting their votes.

Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament.

The national election, the world’s largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The first phase of the election began on April 11. The second saw voting in 97 parliamentary constituencies and was spread out from the north to the south of the country.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a history of voting overwhelmingly in favor of one party, with that party playing a crucial role in the formation of a government in New Delhi.

In 2014, the regional All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK) party won 37 seats and helped the BJP to a two-thirds majority.

“The BJP is banking on AIADMK to repeat the 2014 performance but this time it’s not easy,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, from the Observer Research Foundation.

“The BJP has been very desperate to seal a strong alliance in Tamil Nadu. It knows that it’s not possible for them to get the same number of seats from north India this time. Therefore, Tamil Nadu becomes crucial in forming the government in Delhi,” he said. 

“But this time it’s not going to be easy for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. Opinion polls favor a sweep by the opposition Congress party-led alliance,” he told Arab News.

The BJP, on the other hand, was confident and predicted its allies were poised for a landslide win.

“We are 100 percent sure that we will form the government,” said Sudesh Verma, national BJP spokesman.

“We will not only retain seats in Tamil Nadu but also improve our performances in other states. There is an undercurrent in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

In Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, there was low voter turnout amid high security.

News agency AFP reported that authorities had deployed tens of thousands of security forces in the state, with troops, paramilitaries and police flooding Srinagar.

Kashmir leapt to the forefront of Modi’s campaign after a February suicide bomb attack killed 40 paramilitaries and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

“The government thought that by arresting separatist leaders and civil society activists people will come out to vote,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. “But the reverse has happened today. The boycott of the election is more intense today than before. The election should be an eye- opener for the government, that you cannot put people of Kashmir into submission. By using brute force, democracy in the valley has become stigmatized.”

The election is taking place in seven phases and voting concludes on May 19. Counting takes place on May 23.

No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

Updated 17 July 2019

No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

  • Many lawmakers, business community fear dire economic outcome
  • A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit

LONDON: The battle to become Britain's next prime minister enters the home straight on Wednesday with both candidates hardening their positions on Brexit, putting the future government on a collision course with Brussels.
Ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Theresa May, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are now both referring to Britain's departure with no overall deal in place as a realistic prospect.
The business community and many lawmakers fear dire economic consequences from a no-deal Brexit, which would lead to immediate trade tariffs for some sectors including the automotive industry.
Johnson and Hunt are taking part in a final question-and-answer session later on Wednesday before the result of the vote by Conservative Party members is announced next Tuesday.
The new party leader will be confirmed as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on the following day.
Britain has twice delayed its scheduled departure from the European Union after 46 years of membership as May tried and failed to get her deal with Brussels through parliament.
The two candidates vying to replace her have vowed to scrap a "backstop" provision in the agreement that Brussels insisted upon to keep the Irish border open.
Their latest attacks on the measure during a debate on Monday prompted a plunge in the value of the British pound.
The currency fell again Wednesday to its lowest level against the US dollar in over two years.
"The tougher stance from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in terms of their rhetoric on Brexit is clearly weighing on the pound," said market analyst Neil Wilson.
"Make no mistake, this decline in the pound is down to traders pricing in a higher chance of a no-deal exit."
The backstop has proved a key stumbling block in the Brexit process.
The measure would keep open the post-Brexit border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland whatever the outcome of negotiations over the future relationship between London and Brussels.
Johnson announced early in his campaign that he would not sign up to it and would pursue a no-deal Brexit if required, leading his opponent to follow suit.
However, European leaders have been adamant that the backstop must remain a part of any divorce deal, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who will become European Commission president in November, said the draft withdrawal agreement provided "certainty".
She also broached a possible further delay to Britain's departure, saying: "I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason."
Johnson has pledged that under his leadership, Britain will leave "do or die" on the current deadline of October 31.
A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit, but attempts to pass legislation blocking the scenario have failed.
Reports this week suggested Johnson is considering plans to end the current session of parliament in early October, leaving MPs powerless.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond said Wednesday it was "terrifying" that some Brexit supporters thought that no deal would leave Britain better off.
And in a speech in London, May said the "best route" for Britain was to leave with a deal.
Delivering her last major address, she railed against the trend towards "absolutism" in Britain and abroad, and urged her successor to compromise.
"Whatever path we take must be sustainable for the long term, so that delivering Brexit brings our country back together. That has to mean some kind of compromise," she said.