Economy in focus as India PM Modi starts second term without key aide

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will take his oath of office on Thursday, waves to supporters after offering prayers at the Kashi Vishwanath temple, in Varanasi on May 27, 2019. (AFP)
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India's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. (Reuters)
Updated 30 May 2019

Economy in focus as India PM Modi starts second term without key aide

  • Narendra Modi won a massive mandate in the general election that ended this month
  • ‘India is proud of all those brave men and women martyred in the line of duty’

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take his oath of office on Thursday along with his ministers, though he suffered a setback at the start of his second term when key aide and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley opted out of the next government.

The swearing-in ceremony at the forecourt of the colonial-era presidential palace will be attended by thousands of guests including Bollywood stars and leaders of neighbors including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Modi won a massive mandate in the general election that ended this month after focusing his campaign on national security, as tension with old rival Pakistan shot up over a deadly militant attack on security forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Pakistan was not invited to the inauguration.

“India is proud of all those brave men and women martyred in the line of duty,” Modi said after visiting a war memorial near parliament on Thursday. “Our government will leave no stone unturned to safeguard India’s unity and integrity. National security is our priority.”

Many ministers who are also senior members of the ruling alliance are expected to keep their place in the government. But changes in their departments are likely, especially after Jaitley wrote to Modi on Wednesday asking to be kept out due to health reasons.

Modi and the chief of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Amit Shah, could also promote many fresh faces to reward good electoral performance, mainly in the east of the country where they have traditionally been weak.

Shah himself is tipped to take up a role in the government, though some political analysts say he could stay on as BJP president to steer the party toward a majority in the upper house of parliament after dominating the lower house.

Nearly 8,000 people, including leaders of the decimated opposition bloc, are expected to attend the ceremony that will fete the incredible rise of 68-year-old Modi, the son of a tea seller.

The BJP now controls 303 of the 545 seats in the lower house of parliament, paving the way for Modi to possibly attempt controversial land and labor reforms amid concerns that Asia’s third largest economy is faltering.

This week, two major industrial bodies called on the new government to urgently take steps to bolster the economy, which grew 6.6 percent in the three months to December — the slowest pace in five quarters.

Modi pushed through important reforms such as a unified goods and services tax and a bankruptcy law in his first five years in power, but faced flak for failing to create enough jobs for millions of people seeking employment, rising farm distress and lackluster economic growth.

India’s main opposition Congress party, meanwhile, is fighting to stay relevant after being overwhelmed in two straight general elections.

Its president, Rahul Gandhi, has offered to resign and on Thursday, the party said it would not send its spokespeople on television debates for a month as it analyzes its latest defeat.


Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

Updated 58 sec ago

Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

  • The chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons for missing the timetable
  • She said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week

KABUL: Afghanistan’s election commission conceded its failure to release initial presidential poll results set for Saturday and gave no new deadline for the vote which was marred by Taliban attacks and irregularities.
The presidential poll on Sept. 28 saw the lowest turnout of any elections in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ousting.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, the chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons, particularly slowness in entering data on to the server, for missing the timetable.
“Regrettably, the commission due to technical issues and for the sake of transparency could not announce the presidential election initial poll results,” she said in a brief announcement.
Without naming any camp, Nuristani also said: “A number of observers of election sides (camps) illegally are disrupting the process of elections.” She did not elaborate.
Nuristani said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week.
The delay is another blow for the vote that has been twice delayed to due to the government’s mismanagement and meetings between the US and the Taliban, which eventually collapsed last month after President Donald Trump declared the talks “dead.”
It further adds to political instability in Afghanistan, which has seen decades of conflict and foreign intervention and faced ethnic divides in recent years.
Both front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have said that they expect to win.
The pair have been sharing power in Afghanistan as part of a US-brokered deal following the fraudulent polls of 2014.
The IEC has invalidated more than 500,000 votes because they were not conducted through biometric devices, bought for the vote from overseas to minimize the level of cheating in last month’s polls.
Officials of the commission said that nearly 1.8 million votes were considered clean and it was not clear what sort of impact the turnout would have on the legitimacy of the polls and the future government, whose main task will be to resume stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
They said that the slowness of data entry on to the server was one of the technical reasons for the delay in releasing initial poll results.
Yousuf Rashid, a senior official from an election watchdog group, described the delay as a “weakness of mismanagement,” while several lawmakers chided IEC for poor performance.
Abdul Satar Saadat, a former senior leader of an electoral body, told Arab News: “The delay showed IEC’s focus was on transparency” and that should be regarded as a sign that it took the issue of discarding fraudulent votes seriously.