Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

Voters stand in queues to cast their votes at a polling station in New Delhi on May 25, 2024, during the sixth phase of voting in India’s general election. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

  • 111 million people vote in election’s penultimate phase
  • Temperature in New Delhi soared to more than 44 degrees Celsius

NEW DELHI: Voters in Delhi braved a sweltering heatwave on Saturday as they queued at polling stations in the penultimate phase of India’s general election.
The voting, which more than 968 million people have been eligible to do, started on April 19. Some of India’s 28 states and eight federally governed territories completed the process in a single day, while others have spread it out.
The sixth phase of the poll covered the capital, Delhi, as well as the neighboring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar in the country’s east, and Jammu and Kashmir.
In Delhi, voters queued to cast their ballots despite the temperature soaring to over 44 degrees Celsius — with humidity making it feel like 56 C, according to reports — prompting the Election Commission to deploy paramedics to some polling stations.
While there have been concerns over voter turnout — with the first phase estimated to have seen at least 4 percent fewer people take part than in 2019’s election — those who arrived to cast their votes said there was no way the heat could deter them.
“Voting is the only way we can convey our feelings toward governance. It is a decisive way. To spend one hour in the line after five years is not a big deal for us,” said Karan Sharma, who was voting in the East Delhi constituency.
“We were complaining about the heat, but ... it’s a duty, it’s like eating food. After every five years, the festival comes, we have to participate in it.”
For Kavita Wadhwa, who cast her vote in the New Delhi constituency, it was a matter of exercising her rights.
“We have the right to select our own leaders,” she told Arab News. “It’s important for us ... It’s a democratic country.”
The election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.
He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), led by the Congress Party, which ruled the country for close to 45 years following its independence in 1947.
Modi’s key contender is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru — all of whom were prime ministers of India.
Gandhi also cast his vote in Delhi on Saturday, after which he took to social media to encourage others to follow suit.
“Your vote will not only improve your life but will also protect democracy and the Constitution,” he said on X. “Come out of your homes in large numbers and vote for your rights and the future of your family.”
Around 111 million people were eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the election. Some of them, like Arohi Anand, were voting for the first time.
“I think it’s a great right ... The government is for us — if we don’t vote, it is on us,” he told Arab News. “(The heat) is a secondary thing. The most important thing is our vote, because the government is the most important thing; it will shape our future.”
The party or coalition that wins at least 272 of the 543 contested seats in the lower house of parliament will form the government.
The first five phases of the election have already decided the fate of 429 representatives. Saturday’s vote will add another 58.
The seventh and final phase of the election will be held on June 1. Vote counting will take place on June 4.


UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

Updated 4 sec ago
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UN envoy warns that threat of terrorism is `resurging’ with attacks by Daesh extremists

  • Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue

UNITED NATIONS: The top UN envoy for Syria told the Security Council on Monday that the threat of terrorism is “resurging” with attacks by Daesh extremists set to double this year, endangering civilians already facing a “protracted state of displacement and dire humanitarian conditions.”
UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said Syria is “riddled with armed actors, listed terrorist groups, foreign armies and front-lines” 13 years after President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on peaceful protests against his government turned to civil war. Nearly a half million people have died in the conflict and half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced.
The Daesh group declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that killed tens of thousands of people and left cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.
Pedersen warned the Security Council of Syria’s delicate security situation.
“The threat of regional conflict cascading over Syria has not abated, particularly with an uptick in Israeli strikes on Syria,” Pedersen said.
Israel has attacked targets in Syria linked to Iran for years, but the strikes have escalated over the past five months as the war in Gaza and conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border continue.
US deputy ambassador Robert A. Wood blamed Iran, Assad’s greatest regional supporter, for the violence in Syria.
“Iran and its proxies and partners have only brought death and destruction and do nothing to help the Syrian people,” Wood said, calling on Assad to curb Iran’s influence.
The Syrian, Iranian, and Russian ambassadors to the UN strongly condemned Israel’s strikes on Syria.
Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeed Iravani said the attacks “flagrantly violate international humanitarian law” and are a “serious threat to regional peace and security.” He said Israel’s strikes add to the chaos created by Syria’s civil war.
Over 16 million people in Syria currently need humanitarian assistance and 7.2 million remain displaced in the “worst humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict,” Ramesh Rajasingham, coordination director in the U,N. humanitarian office, told the council.
He added that “severely reduced humanitarian funding” exacerbates Syrians’ suffering during months of extreme heat, when rainwater dries up and a lack of basic sanitation infrastructure increases the risk of water-borne diseases.
In rebel-held northwest Syria, over 900,000 people, more than half children, are not receiving “critical water and sanitation support,” Rajasingham said.
Rajasingham and Pedersen called for increased humanitarian access to Syria and international funding. The 2024 UN humanitarian appeal for $4 billion remains only 20 percent funded, “seriously constraining” humanintarian work, Rajasingham said.
On the political front, Pedersen urged the Security Council to pursue Syrian-led peace negotiations with the involvement of “all major international stakeholders,” in line with a unanimously adopted 2015 resolution by the council.
“The conflict is ultimately a political one that can only be resolved when the Syrian parties are able to realize their legitimate aspirations,” Pedersen said.
Last week, Syria announced that all 185 candidates from Assad’s Baath party won parliamentary seats in the country’s elections, a seven-seat increase to the party’s majority.
Pedersen said the elections are “not a substitute” for the political process outlined in the 2015 Security Council resolution, while Wood called the elections a “sham” and a “rubber stamp on Bashar Assad’s continued dictatorship.”
Wood said the US “will not normalize relations with the Syrian regime or lift sanctions absent an authentic and enduring political solution.”

 


Harris compares Trump to ‘predators’ and ‘cheaters’

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at her campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Del., Monday, July 22, 2024. (AP)
Updated 19 min 21 sec ago
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Harris compares Trump to ‘predators’ and ‘cheaters’

  • "Cheaters who broke the rules for their own gain. So hear me when I say I know Donald Trump’s type”

WASHINGTON: Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday compared her election rival Donald Trump to “predators” and “cheaters,” as she attacked the first former US leader to be convicted of a crime.
Speaking of her past as a prosecutor in California, Harris told her campaign staff: “In those roles I took on perpetrators of all kinds. Predators who abused women. Fraudsters who ripped off consumers. Cheaters who broke the rules for their own gain. So hear me when I say I know Donald Trump’s type.”
 

 


Harris to meet Netanyahu during Washington visit: VP aide

Updated 19 min 7 sec ago
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Harris to meet Netanyahu during Washington visit: VP aide

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris this week during his visit to Washington, an aide to Harris told AFP on Monday.

The White House meeting will be separate from President Joe Biden’s planned sit-down with Netanyahu, the aide said, and comes after Harris looks set to replace Biden atop the Democratic ticket following his shock end to his reelection bid.


Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

Updated 23 July 2024
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Ukraine reaches preliminary deal with bondholder group on $20-billion debt restructure

  • Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners

LONDON: Ukraine said on Monday it had reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors to restructure $20 billion of international bonds, bringing the war-torn country closer to an unprecedented debt rework.
Ukraine’s announcement comes just over a week before a two-year debt suspension agreement struck in 2022 is due to run out and marks the first time a country has embarked on a debt restructuring during a full-scale war.
“After months of engagement and hard work with our private bondholders, the IMF and our bilateral partners, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Ad Hoc Creditor Committee on the comprehensive restructuring of our public external debt,” Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said in a statement.
This was an important step to ensure Ukraine maintained the budget stability and cash resources needed to continue financing its defense, he added.
Ukraine’s finances are precarious as its 28-month war with Russia drags on. Russia’s 2022 invasion decimated its economy, leaving it heavily reliant on money – and military aid – from international partners.
The US presidential election in November and the risk of wavering commitment to maintain support for Ukraine under a potential Donald Trump presidency increased pressure for a debt restructuring, sources close to the talks and analysts said.
The proposal would see a 37 percent nominal haircut on Ukraine’s outstanding international bonds, saving Kyiv $11.4 billion in payments over the next three years — the duration of the country’s program with the International Monetary Fund set to expire in 2027, according to government statements.
The government said the IMF had confirmed that the deal was compatible with the parameters of its $122 billion support package, and that the country’s official lenders, the Group of Creditors of Ukraine (GCU), had also signed off on it.
A spokesperson for the Paris Club of creditor nations, which usually handles communications for the GCU, confirmed the group was comfortable with the proposal.
The IMF welcomed the agreement and confirmed it is consistent with the current program, adding that it will be “essential to bring Ukraine’s debt burdens to sustainable levels, thereby ensuring room for critical spending and supporting growth.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a message on the Telegram app that the deal would free up resources for urgent needs, including defense, social protection and recovery.
A source at the Germany finance ministry welcomed the draft agreement and said it was a key step to preserve the Ukraine government’s ability to act and plan ahead.
The Ad Hoc Creditor Committee, which holds 22 percent of the country’s sovereign bonds, called the agreement “swift and constructive.”
“We are pleased to be able to provide significant debt relief to Ukraine, assist its efforts to regain its access to international capital markets, and support the future reconstruction,” it said in a statement.
RACING TO THE FINISH
Under the proposal, some of the new bonds issued would start paying a 1.75 percent coupon from next year, with payments stepping up to as much as 7.75 percent from 2034 onwards. Bondholders are also in line to receive a consent fee.
Interest payments had been a sticky issue in the talks. Bondholders sought financial inducement to agree to a rework, while Ukraine’s international partners such as Group of Seven nations and the IMF objected to large amounts of money being funnelled to private lenders and away from strained government finances.
Payments to bondholders under the deal would amount to less than $200 million through to end-2025.
While the bonds have a face value of $19.7 billion, Ukraine owes around $23 billion with past due interest.
The international bonds soared more than 5 cents after the announcement, with most maturities trading around the 35 cents mark and at their strongest in about two years.
Ukraine’s $2.6 billion GDP warrants — fixed-income instruments with payouts linked to the strength of economic growth — were not part of the restructuring, though the government said it would “ensure the fair and equitable treatment of holders of the Warrants.”
Bondholders will vote on the proposal in coming weeks. If enough sign off, the government will issue new bonds.
A first payment in the wake of the two year moratorium is due on Aug. 1, but Ukraine last week passed a law allowing it to miss payments — and enter debt default, even temporarily — while the agreement is finalized.
The debt deal would be Ukraine’s second in a decade triggered by its neighbor: Ukraine restructured in 2015 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
“Once completed, this restructuring will also pave the way for Ukraine’s market re-entry as soon as possible when the security situation stabilizes to fund our country’s swift recovery and reconstruction,” Marchenko said in the statement.


If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

Updated 35 min 48 sec ago
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If not Kamala Harris, who else could be the Democratic nominee for November’s election?

  • Arab American analysts assess the Democrats seeking to be the candidate who will challenge Donald Trump
  • Arab Americans alienated by Biden’s Gaza stance could prove decisive in key battleground states

NEW YORK CITY/CHICAGO: President Joe Biden’s decision to end his reelection campaign and drop out of the US presidential race has created sufficient momentum for Vice President Kamala Harris to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, according to three Arab American analysts.

Biden, who endorsed Harris in his withdrawal announcement on Sunday, was trailing former President Donald Trump in opinion polls amid a growing Arab American #AbandonBiden movement, and wider demands he drop out of the 2024 race following his disastrous debate performance on June 27 in Atlanta.

Biden was trailing former President Donald Trump in opinion polls. (AFP)

What was to be a coronation for the 81-year-old Biden at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on Aug. 19 has now become an open contest in which nearly 4,700 party delegates will vote by state for the nominee of their choice to challenge Trump, the Republican Party nominee.

Rana Abtar, a talk show host in Washington D.C. for Asharq News, expects Harris to become the Democratic nominee, although several other candidates might also be considered. However, she believes the Democrats “must show unity” if they are to win the November election.

“Today, what we are noticing is that Democrats are starting to support Harris, one by one,” she told Arab News. “There were some delegates in a couple of states who have already voted to support Kamala Harris. That means that their votes will reflect in the Democratic National Convention.

Many still view Harris as a part of the Biden administration’s policies that fueled the #AbandonBiden movement, said Rana Abtar. (AFP)

“The rest of the Democrats who have not supported Harris yet are expected to fall in line soon. At some point we will see all the Democrats, or most of the Democrats, line up behind Harris. It is very important for the Democrats to present a show of unity after the dilemma that their party was facing following President Biden’s announcement that he will not seek a second term.”

Biden’s withdrawal from the race frees up his convention delegates from the nation’s 50 states and provinces to support any candidate during the convention. Many alternative names are being floated, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.

Noting that Harris is popular among African American voters, a traditional core pillar of the Democratic Party support, Abtar said many still view her as a part of the Biden administration’s policies that fueled the #AbandonBiden movement, in which Arabs and Muslims voted in key swing state primaries for “uncommitted” or “no vote” options rather than for the president.

Donald Trump chose JD Vance has his running mate last week. (AFP)

“Harris is not that popular in the polls,” Abtar said. “A lot of Democrats are worried that her chances against Trump are the same as the chances of President Biden against Trump. Of course, in the coming days we will see Harris getting out there, talking to the voters, because in the past, in her role as vice president, she did not speak directly to the American people on many occasions.

“Biden gave her the immigration matter, which by itself put her in a very awkward position, especially given that the Republicans’ main attack against Democrats concerns immigration and border security.

“But I do believe that the most important element here is not Harris. It will be who she will pick as her running mate because voters need excitement. Democratic voters need excitement to get out and vote.”

“Harris is not that popular in the polls,” Rana Abtar said. (AFP)

Abtar said third-party candidates, such as independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, are often viewed as “election spoilers” — people who might drain votes from Harris or even from Trump.

“Kennedy’s numbers are considered pretty high for an independent candidate and his voters might make a difference in the election season by taking away votes from … Trump or Harris … if she gets the official nomination,” Abtar said.

Any of the individuals currently being suggested as replacements for Biden could become nominees for vice president, including Pritzker, a billionaire with presidential ambitions of his own.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who some thought could be a contender, backed Harris on Monday. (AFP)

Amal Mudallali, a former ambassador to the UN and CEO of Bridges International Group, thinks Harris has a “problem of perception.”

She told Arab News: “The perception is that she was not a strong vice president, that she will not be a strong candidate and that she will not be able to defeat Trump.”

Although Democrats seemed to be moving fast to rally behind Harris, including former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement on Monday, Mudallali remains cautious.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama name has also been floated in Democratic circles. (AFP)

“It’s all up in the air because there are still very powerful Democrats calling for an open convention and to have an open field for everybody to throw their hats into the ring, and to see if they can get the strongest candidate for the Democratic Party to be able to defeat Trump,” she said.

The impact of the independent candidates in the election cannot be written off either, she added.

“In very close elections, independent candidates can do a lot of harm. Because this election is a very close race — you are talking about a couple of thousands of, or a thousand, votes — that could make or break an election campaign,” Mudallali said.

“Let’s say if Kennedy was able to get a lot of votes from the Democrats, this could hurt Democrats more and that will be a big problem for them.

“But so far we don’t know who the Democratic Party candidate will be. If the individual is a very strong candidate, the party might be able to unite the anti-Trump constituency, which will overwhelmingly vote for the candidate on the Democratic side. In that case, the independents will not make a difference.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be her running mate on the first “all woman ticket.” (AFP)

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Harris is “all but certain” to replace Biden as the nominee, and suggested that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be her running mate on the first “all woman ticket.”

He told Arab News: “The speculation is heavily focused on who will be her vice-presidential running mate, including possibly an all-women ticket should she choose Whitmer. That’s unprecedented and carries risks. But Whitmer could help deliver the key swing state of Michigan, and an all-woman team could re-energize the currently largely demoralized Democratic base.”

“A lot of Democrats are worried that her chances against Trump are the same as the chances of President Biden against Trump,” said Rana Abtar. (AFP)

He added: “Harris’s likability ratings with the American public have never been high. But at this point, the decision by the Democratic Party and President Biden to put her name forward is largely based on funding and finances. She is the only one who will be able to qualify for all the money, the hundreds of millions of dollars, that have been raised so far. Therefore, her choice for a running mate will also be key in terms of bringing around that Democratic base and for the general likability of that Democratic ticket.”

Maksad believes Biden’s withdrawal from the presidential race, and speculation about Whitmer’s addition to the ticket, might hold sway over the strong Arab and Muslim vote in Michigan, many of whom voted against the Biden-Harris team in the Feb. 27 Democrat Party primary contest.

Democrats seemed to be moving fast to rally behind Harris. (AFP)

“Arab Americans are not monolithic,” he said. “They are a diverse group with differing priorities spread out across four battleground states. Michigan gets a lot of attention, but also Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“In Michigan, where there are 100,000 of them, they have strong feelings about the war in Gaza and President Biden not doing enough to stop the war. Having Biden step aside opens up the potential for the Democratic Party to make inroads among Arab Americans in Michigan again. And should the vice president (choice) in fact be the governor of Michigan, that will then give Democrats even more opportunities to make inroads and win Michigan over again, as a key battleground state.”