India: BJP continues its electoral successes
After winning the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been maintaining its winning streak. In 2017, it had a string of electoral successes across the country. Of the seven States that went to polls in the year 2017, the BJP was successful in forming government in six. In four States, namely, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, secured majority in these State Assemblies. In Manipur and Goa too, the BJP was able to form governments despite securing fewer seats than the Opposition Congress Party.
In Goa, the BJP, though could only secure 14 seats as against 16 of the Congress in the 40-member legislative assembly, managed to place then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, back as Chief Minister. Parrikar became Goa’s CM for the fourth time, replacing Digambar Kamat of the Congress Party. In doing so, the BJP was able to secure support from the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), and Vijay Sardesai, an independent. Both told the BJP leadership, ‘Parrikar or none’.
The biggest electoral success for the saffron party was in UP where Yogi Adityanath, the chief priest and caretaker of the Gorakhnath Math, was chosen as the chief minister. Here, the BJP was able to form a majority government after a gap of 15 years, trouncing the State’s major political players, namely, the ruling-incumbent, in the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the main Opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The BJP won 300-plus seats in the nation’s largest State, with the highest number of 403 assembly seats. UP also has 80 Lok Sabha seats in a total of 542, and therefore holds the single-largest relevance among the 29 States in the country.
The next Congress bastion to fall after Goa was Uttarakhand, where the BJP secured 57 seats out of the 70. The party chose Trivendra Singh Rawat, a former Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, as the chief minister. Rawat replaced Congress strongman Vijay Bahuguna, son of the post-Emergency fame, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, who was the state chief minister since 2012.
Attacking ‘Gujarat model’
Towards the concluding months of the year, namely, November and December, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat respectively went to the polls. While the BJP was expected to win in Himachal Pradesh, thanks mainly because of the anti-incumbency factor and the issue of corruption that plagued the government in the State, the party faced unexpected challenge in Gujarat, the home of the Prime Minister and party chief Amit Shah. The trio of youth leaders, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, under the Congress umbrella, made the opposition challenge very stiff though finally the BJP government, led by CM Vijay Rupani, managed to retain power.
The opposition Congress’ strategy for Gujarat revolved around securing the support of the trio and highlighting the faults and discrepancies of the ‘Gujarat model’ of development propagated by the BJP. The BJP was finally able to safeguard its stronghold of Gujarat, where it has been in power for the last 22 years, by winning 99 seats out of 182, lower than the tally in the outgoing House, and the 150 that Shah said he would secure for the party this time. The Congress was able to improve its figure to 77 seats. Party leader Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive campaign also came in for a lot of notice.
The BJP is now the ruling party, either as the single largest party or part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), in 19 of the 29 States. In six States, it shares power with coalition partners such as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Janata Dal United (JD-U) in Bihar.
The only major setback for the BJP in 2017 was the loss of Punjab, where it was/is a coalition partner with the Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD). In this State, the Congress was successful in persuading the electorate on corruption and lawlessness under the incumbent Akali Government of ageing chief minister Prakash Singh Badal. The Congress won 77assembly seats in a total of 117.
Punjab, being a swing State, the outcome was much expected. Though much was expected from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), headed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, it failed overall but managed to win in 20 assembly segments. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the AAP had won in four parliamentary constituencies in Punjab.
Prime Minister Modi’s continuing charisma and a strong party base and cadre-strength at the primary level seem to have helped the BJP in securing electoral wins in the northern and western States in the year 2017. Other factors, such as post-poll management, as in Manipur and Goa, also contributed to BJP’s success.
Despite disruption in the form of the demonetisation that had a significant impact on the informal sector of the economy and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that critics argued was implemented in haste, the BJP continues to enjoy the confidence of urban voters. This was evident in Gujarat, where despite suffering heavily in rural areas, the party managed to retain the urban turf. Of the 55 urban constituencies in Gujarat, the BJP won 44 seats.
This trend was visible in UP too, where the BJP won 14 mayoral seats in the civic polls held in three phases after the assembly poll victories, also in 2017. However, major challenges confront the party as it gears up for the bigger contest in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Apart from the growing public resentment on the job-front, as the economy struggles to generate employment, the Opposition has targeted Prime Minister Modi for not fulfilling the commitments made during the 2014 poll campaign. In the new year, in between, the party will be faced with Assembly elections in more States, including southern Karnataka, where there used to be much talk of the BJP returning to power early, but no one is talking as much, since.
The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi
Bhutan: Electing a new Parliament
The Himalayan kingdom is all set to go for polls in the New Year. Preparations are underway for the poll-period that will begin in February and end in October 2018, for electing representatives to both Houses of the nation’s bicameral Parliament. Since the first general elections were held in 2008, this is the third time that the country would be holding the all important event, the parliamentary elections.
Filing of nominations for the National Council, the first of the two Houses of Parliament to go for polls, has been completed and about 142 candidates are in the fray for 20 seats out of the total strength of 25. The remaining five seats in the Council are nominated directly by the king. The Election Commission is likely to continue from where it left, the local government elections in 2016. The successful holding of the local government elections has already demonstrated the institutional strength of Commission.
Irrespective of which party emerges victorious in this dance of democracy, the tiny nation of Bhutan has demonstrated the will of the people and the king in the democratic practice of adult franchise. Despite having exhibited a good track record of governance, Bhutan has had her share of problems in her short but eventful democratic journey that began exactly a decade back.
Cutting external influences
For a functioning democracy, a nation needs to cut external influences affecting the free and fair exercise of adult franchise. Especially, the strength of a nation lies in ensuring that her voters are able to cast their votes without any fear or anxiety. The temporary muddle over the discontinuation of LPG subsidy by the neighbouring main supplier in India, in the run-up to the General Elections in 2013, had an effect over the outcome of the polls. Then, the incumbent Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Pheusum, which was comfortably ahead of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the first round, saw a reversal of its fortunes in the final round, conceding defeat and losing power to the underdog.
As the nation gears up for elections for the third time, rumours over hike in LPG rates have already gripped the country, suggesting a farcical re-run of the pre-election speculation. The government, brushing aside the rumours over LPG issue, has denied any increase in the prices of cooking gas cylinders. Thankfully, no similar renewal of an international agreement on as basic a commodity as domestic gas is in the offing this time round. However, the country has to be cautious of a host of issues that might underpin the elections.
Bhutan is limited by geographical, demographic and economic size. Located between two big neighbours, China and India, who are jostling for influence over the kingdom of Bhutan, the county has fewer foreign policy choices. But letting the choices of voters-sway on an issue that it has little control on is certainly not in the interest of a country that swears by its sovereignty.
The ‘Doklam issue’ is one that has a potential to threaten swinging choices of voters.
The standoff between New Delhi and Beijing concerning a road, that the latter was building at the tri-junction of Bhutan, China and India from August to October, last year was the single-most and the most absorbing international event also drawing, Thimphu. The building of the road by Bhutan’s northern neighbour in a disputed territory that led to a territory claimed by Bhutan saw the kingdom mostly maintaining stoic silence through much of the three-month stand-off, other than to rebut China’s claims.
The Doklam stand-off between Bhutan’s two neighbours might have temporarily been called off, but the power struggle between the two giant neighbours continues and continues to affect choices of voters, depending on the incumbent’s policy choices between her northern and the southern neighbour. There have been in the last two months some reports of escalation of tension on the tri-junction touching borders of China, Bhutan and India. Any significant change in the dynamic on the tri-junction or at the Sino-Indian border is likely to affect the voter’s and accordingly sway their choices of candidates or political parties.
A nation at the throes of democracy stares at the dialectic between individual and the state. Finding the right kind of a balance, between the two is essential for steady and irreversible progress on the path of democracy. The Bhutanese state is righty exercising her choices as far as prioritizing development is concerned but such choices must not subvert individual choices and aspirations. As, Benedict Anderson, rightly points out, nations are “Imagined Communities” and Bhutan exists in reality as she is imagined by her people.
Under the rubric of the multitude of imaginations of a nation, are the entries of newer political parties in the electoral fray with their competing visions for Bhutan. Besides, the incumbent and the opposition in the parliament, the Druk Chirwang Tshogpa, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party are the probable contestants for the election. Besides, the multitude of political parties, the media, civil society groups, are actors together shaping the imagination of the nation of “Bhutan”.
The general elections form an important aspect of this imagination that was thought by Bhutan’s visionary monarchs. Free and fair conduct of the elections without external influences and participation of all sections of the society is desired for bringing into practice the dictum of Tsa-Wa-Sum (King, Country and the People) on her charted path of prosperity and development.
The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata
Terrorists hinder peace
Documents pertaining to the joint management of the Durand Line have been handed over to Afghan officials by the Pakistani government. If achieved by the end of 2019, a lot of border concerns would be resolved. Both countries are working towards this end. The only hitch remains the prevailing US and Afghani suspicion of Pakistan harbouring the Taliban’s and Haqqani networks that are primarily responsible for the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. However Pakistan has denounced any such claim.
Recently 75 Hezb-e-Islami prisoners were released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul by the Afghan government to initiate peace with Gulbuddin Hekmatayr. The peace deal had been signed by the two parties in 2016. Human rights activists and apprehensions of an uproar by the right activists delayed the immediate release of prisoners. It is hoped that other insurgent groups will follow Hekmatyar’s steps towards a peaceful reconciliation. However the Talibans have so far showed disdained towards any peace negotiations.
Violence in Nangarhar
Eastern Nangarhar province, where military operations were going on to eliminate ISIS loyalists, experienced a clash between the US Special Forces and local uprising forces recently. A security official revealed that this was the result of a verbal clash and the killing of eight public uprising force members. Talibans on the other hand have claimed the responsibility of this attack. Nangarhar, which had been relatively calm after the fall of the Taliban regime now frequently, experiences such Taliban insurgencies.
In an answer to the planned attacks on the public uprising and the Afghan Police Force in the Suki district and ISIS attacks in the Deriwa Gul valley, a counter-attack was carried out by the 201st Silab Corps of the Afghan Air Force. An air-strike and an artillery attack was launched against t ISIS targets in the volatile eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan, killing three IS militants. In this regard, the insurgent groups have not responded yet.
Rallies banned in Capital
In a bid to ease traffic congestion in Dhaka, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader informed this week that no permission would be given to the political parties to host rallies or procession on the weekdays. Since the country is all set to host its parliamentary elections in later this year political observers fear occurrence of rallies by the political parties will increase and this may disturb the daily lives of people. Country’s political parties are infamous for holding rallies, which often turn violent and have caused a major problem for law and order problem.
Death for war-crimes
The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh this week sentenced two to death while three others to life in prison for the crimes committed during the country’s liberation war in 1971. Many top leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, including Mir Quasem Ali, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Abdul Quader Molla, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, have already been executed for 1971 war crimes.
India releases grant
Bhutan’s all-weather friend, India, on January 12, released Nu 455 million for the Construction of Anim Shedra (nunnery) at Mongar, a Project Tied Assistance (PTA) project. Indian Embassy in Thimphu’s, first secretary (Ecomic and Commercial), S Koventhan handed over cheques to Gross National Happiness Commission Director Rinchen Wangdi.
Graft in Health Ministry
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has forwarded cases that involve 16 Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) staff and three private individuals to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).It has also written to the board’s chair to take punitive action against them and other officials of the RICBL.
WHO hands over equipment
World Health Organisation (WHO) handed over a refrigerated van, 17 sets of outdoor gym equipment and laboratory equipment worth USD 0.3 million (M) to the health ministry yesterday. Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the refrigerated van is one of the essential parts of vaccine transportation to maintain the right temperature
SC reopens 1984 riots cases
The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to set up its own three member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe 186 cases not investigated by the Union government’s SIT. The three member SIT would be headed by a former high court judge and will have one retired senior rank police official of Inspector General (IG) level and one serving senior ranked official.
Virtual ID ‘unworkable’
Petitioners who are fighting a case against the Aadhar system say that the new virtual ID is untested and unworkable. The Supreme Court is hearing the petitioners challenge the validity of the 12 digit unique identification number and government’s decision to make it mandatory. The UIDAU on January 10 announced it would release the virtual ID software by 1 March and that people would be able to generate a temporary 16 digit number that can be showed instead of the Aadhar.
New Space Secretary
Rocket scientist K. Sivan’s name has been approved as the new Space Secretary by the Appointments committee of the cabinet. His name was recommended by the SCSC, as per an order issued by the ACC secretary under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. K. Sivan joined ISRO in 1982 and worked on the PSLV and the GSLV projects. He is its Secretary now.
138 Pak soldiers killed
In all, 138 Pakistan Army personnel were killed by the Indian Army in 2017 in tactical operations and retaliatory firings, Government said on Wednesday. The Indian Army lost 28 soldiers while 70 of its personnel were injured during the same period along the LOC. According to sources 860 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops were reported in 2017 as compared to 221 last year.
Modi visit at ‘suitable time’
After Foreign Minister Mohammed Asim’s recent visit to Delhi as President Abdullah Yameen’s special envoy, the Foreign Ministry announced that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would visit Maldives at a ‘suitable time’. Minister Asim’s visit is also reported to have helped straighten out tensions in bilateral ties, caused purportedly after Maldives signing an FTA with China, almost very secretly and Yameen visiting Beijing for the purpose at short notice.
UN has ‘no authority’
Reacting to a UN Special Rapporteur’s declaration that they would pronounce former President Mohammed Nasheed as eligible for running in this year’s presidential polls, Maldivian Government has claimed that the UN had no powers in the matter. Coming as the announcements did ahead of an EU delegation’s Male visit, the Government also dismissed US ‘travel advisory’ for its citizen-tourists, saying they was no threat of any terror-attack in Maldives for anyone to stay away.
Army says Rohingya ‘terrorists’
Myanmar security forces in a press release said that its soldiers had killed 10 captured Muslim “terrorists” during the insurgent attacks at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave they had dug.
Call for stability
President Htin Kyaw, while addressing the 70th Anniversary of Kachin State Day, said, “by attaining and grasping good and firm foundation, the nation will strive together with the people of Kachin State for the stability and development of the Kachin State”.
Earthquake near Pyu
A strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit a remote region of central Myanmar early on January 11. The shallow quake struck some 40 kilometres (24 miles) west of the town of Pyu. It was followed by three weaker tremors in the region, all of magnitudes 5.3, the survey reported.
Access for Chinese internet
The Sino-Nepal friendship gained further ground when the latter decided to drift towards Chinese supply of cyber services, cutting off the same from India. For decades, the Himalayan country relied upon Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications Ltd. for connectivity to World Wide Web. However, this liaison came to end with the Nepal Telecom and China Global Telecom joining hands and laying optical fibre cables from Kerung in China to Rasuwagadi in Nepal.
One of the most important phases of elections in the country through single-transferable voting system has set its base with around 21 political parties enrolling themselves with the Election Commission to contest for Upper House elections. Given the volatile state of the election procedure after the Provincial Assembly balloting, hopes are high.
End ethnic politics: Musharraf
Former President and retired Army chief, Pervez Musharraf, addressing a public meeting viavideo-link from Dubai, asked people of Karachi to reject politics of ethnicity by supporting his party All Pakistan Muslim League in the forthcoming elections. The former military dictator criticised the MQM stating that it has brought bad name to the Mohajir community. He declared that the party would try its best to form the next government and work towards development of Karachi city. He also declared that India was plotting against Pakistan but should remember that Pakistan’s defence was impregnable.
Pakistan officials seemed to be worried over America’s strategy of two pronged attack on the Taliban. According to diplomatic sources, Pakistan is believed to have cautioned the US against a failed military offensive on the Taliban which will have a negative consequence for the entire region. Pakistani officials expressed that they did not disagree with the basic thrust of American policy but it is likely to fail without engaging Taliban factions in a dialogue. They reminded the US interlocuters that Pakistan was still suffering from the consequences of misadventure by Russians and Americans.
Riots after rape
The murder and rape of an eight-year-old girl Zainab has shocked Pakistan. Violent protests broke out in Kasur as soon as the news was reported and came to an end after adding two adults to the death toll. The crowds protested and demanded immediate arrest of the ‘monster’. Condemnations poured in Twitter, the Chief of Army Staff extended full support to the civilian administration for bringing the perpetrator of Zainab to justice. PTI chief Imran Khan condemned the incident and stated that it has exposed vulnerability of children to sexual abuse in Pakistani society. Following protests in Kasur, Lahore also saw major demonstration in demand of justice for Zainab.
Term under review
A political controversy has erupted after President Maithiripala Sirisena unilaterally referred for Supreme Court’s determination the 19-A provision, cutting down the presidential term from six years to five. The Joint Opposition has said that the presidential reference was timed for February’s nation-wide local government polls even as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s major UNP partner in the ruling coalition said that Sirisena should have taken allies into confidence in the matter.
Session sans substance
Parliament witnessed fisticuffs after angry Opposition members clashed with those in the Treasury Benches after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a special session to discuss the Central Bank bonds scam report, but without the report being made available to members. Though inevitable delays in translating the English report of the probe panel into Sinhala and Tamil, as mandated, was said to be the cause for the delay, the Opposition said they were still ready for a debate if at least the English report copy was given to them.
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Afghanistan: Sohini Bose
Pakistan: Mayuri Banerjee
Bangladesh: Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihiir Bhonsale
India: Ketan Mehta
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy
Nepal: Sohini Nayak