Thursday, March 6, 2014

General Elections 2014: Country’s Biggest Ever Democratic Exercise Sees Five-Week Process

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath announced on March 5 that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will be held in five weeks. Voting for the 543-member Parliament is set to take place in nine phases until May 12 with counting scheduled four days later on May 16.

The 2014 polls will see 814 million adults eligible to vote, from the remote Himalayas in the north to India's tropical southern tip -- 100 million more than last time in 2009. The coming country’s biggest ever democratic exercise is expected to be fought largely on a platform of economic revival.

Long-Ardent Process

Elections will be conducted in phases on April 7, April 9, April 10, April 12, April 17, April 24, April 30, May 7 and May 12. The biggest phase will be on April 17 when 122 constituencies across 13 states go to the elections.

With the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, states in North India will go to the polls in separate yet single phases. While April 30 will be election day in Punjab, people in Haryana, Chandigarh and the National Capital of Delhi will vote on April 10. The hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will see voting on May 7.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the polls will be held in five phases on April 10 (Jammu), April 17 (Udhampur), April 24 (Anantnag), April 30 (Srinagar) and May 7 (Baramulla and Ladakh). It is believed that multi-phase polling was needed in Jammu and Kashmir due to security considerations. While Ladakh borders China and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the constituencies of Jammu and Baramulla abut PoK. Andhra Pradesh will have both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls as an undivided state and candidates elected will automatically become legislators of their respective states after Telangana comes into being on June 2.

Sampath said the nine-phase polling and the entire process -- from today to counting of votes on May 16 -- will be over in 72 days, three days less than the previous election. The number of voters will be almost 10 crore more than the 2009 Lok Sabha election. More than 2.3 crore enlisted voters are in the 18-19 age group.

Model Code of Conduct
The model code of conduct, a set of legally binding dos and don’ts, became operational with immediate effect with the announcement of the 16th Lok Sabha election schedule.

The model code of conduct bars the government from using public money to announce new schemes and projects, came into force following the announcement of the schedule for elections to the 16th Lok Sabha and simultaneous Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha.

The code bars ministers from combining official visits with electioneering work and bans the use of official machinery for electioneering and advertisements at the cost of the exchequer for partisan coverage of political news.

There can be no announcement of financial grants or promise of roads and water supply. Transfer of officials is banned.

Parties’ Efforts
The ruling Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are making efforts to woo host of smaller parties. Leaders of 11 regional parties have come together to form a Third Front against the Congress and BJP.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a spectacular debut in the recent Delhi assembly polls, will also contest the Lok Sabha polls. Opinion polls tip Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, as frontrunner to be the country's prime minister. However, opinion polls show Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when anti-Muslim riots left more than 1,000 dead in 2002, holds a large advantage over his bitter rival.

Highlights of the General Elections 2014
* The Election Commission is mandated to finish the election process before May 31
* 2014 Lok Sabha polls likely to be conducted in 9 phases
* Prime requisite of general polls is up to date electoral rolls, final rolls have been published
* People voting these general elections is 814 million; 10 crore more than 2009 elections
* Special camps will be set up across country to give electorate final chance to enroll
* There will be approx 9.3 lakh polling stations in country, an increase of 12 percent from last time
* EPIC distribution which was 82 percent last time has already reached 96 percent this time
* Model code of conduct comes into force with immediate effect
* Photo voter slips will be introduced these elections
* Use of money power matter of concern for poll panel; there will be sufficient checking mechanism
* First date of poll shall be on April 7, in 2 states
* Second election date is April 9, in 5 states
* Third election date: April 10, in 14 states
* Fourth election date: April 12, in 3 states
* Fifth election day: April 17, in 13 states and Union Territories
* Sixth election date: April 24, in 12 states
* Seventh election date: April 30, in 9 states
* Eighth election date: May 7, in 7 states
* Ninth election date: May 12, in 3 states
* Counting of general elections is in one day on May 16
* Polling in 543 constituencies to be covered in 9 election dates from April 7 to May 12

Naxal-Hit Areas
* All naxal-hit areas will be covered in a single day across India
* Andhra Pradesh: April 30 and  May 7
* Arunachal Pradesh: April 9
* Assam: April 7, 12, and 24
* Bihar: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7 and 12
* Chhattisgarh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Goa: April 17
* Gujarat: April 30
* Haryana: April 10
* Himachal Pradesh: May 7
* Jammu and Kashmir: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7
* Jharkhand: April 10, 17, and 24
* Karnataka: April 17
* Kerala: April 10
* Madhya Pradesh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Mahrashtra: April 24
* Manipur: April 9 and 17
* Meghalaya: April 9
* Mizoram: April 9
* Nagaland: April 9
* Odisha: April 10 and 17
* Punjab: April 30
* Rajasthan: April 17 and 24
* Sikkim: April 12

To sum up, it can be said that the 2014 general elections will be remembered not for the logistic difficulties and the sheer size and magnitude of the exercise. After ten years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), this election will see corruption and governance as major issues, along with livelihood and safety concerns. The BJP, by announcing Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, is seeking to turn this election into a vote for a strong, able government that does not waver in decision-making. Unmistakably, the UPA coalition, with many of the allies pulling in different directions, and some of the ministers caught in corruption cases, has come to be seen as weak and ineffectual.

The BJP holds an edge, if one were to go by the recent findings of various opinion surveys. The party's prime ministerial candidate, Modi, appears to be a firm favorite, as most young and first-time voters are said to be inclined to his brand of assertive governance and, therefore, to the BJP. However, the Congress is also hoping to garner the support of young voters on the strength of the party’s projection of Rahul Gandhi as its youth mascot.

What we can expect now is a renewed and frenzied attempt by the parties and their leaders to strike pre-poll alliances, finalize their candidates accordingly, and hit the ground running. There is no more time to lose. Every political party will be eyeing not just its traditional vote-bank but also the new voters, a substantial 10 crore in number, according to the poll panel. Poll pundits agree that the first-time voters hold the key, which is why parties are going overboard to woo them. In addition,  also tapping into the voter fatigue with the UPA would be the new entrant, the AAP, with its focus on institutionalized responses to ending corruption and delivering services.

Nevertheless, the 16th Lok Sabha elections will provide an opportunity for the people to discard the discredited and endorse the performers. However, Indian elections have been known to throw up surprises. Time will better tell the story.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jorge Mario Bergoglio: Challenges Before 266th Pope of Roman Catholic Church

The world had had a few seconds to prepare itself. The French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran who made the announcement Habemus Papem — in medieval Latin revealed two things. The first was the name Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The second was the name he had chosen — Francis.

Francis, the first pope from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order, bowed to the crowds in St Peter's Square and asked for their blessing in a hint of the humble style he cultivated while trying to modernize Argentina’s conservative church and move past a messy legacy of alleged complicity during the rule of the military junta of 1976-83.

About New Pope

Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital city, December 17, 1936. He studied and received a master's degree in chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, but later decided to become a Jesuit priest and studied at the Jesuit seminary of Villa Devoto. He also studied liberal arts in Santiago, Chile, and in 1960 earned a degree in philosophy from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires. Between 1964 and 1965 he was a teacher of literature and psychology at Inmaculada high school in the province of Santa Fe, and in 1966 he taught the same courses at the prestigious Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires.

In 1967, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. After his perpetual profession as a Jesuit in 1973, he became master of novices at the Seminary of Villa Barilari in San Miguel. Later that same year, he was elected superior of the Jesuit province of Argentina.

In 1980, he returned to San Miguel as a teacher at the Jesuit school, a job rarely taken by a former provincial superior. In May 1992 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. He was one of three auxiliaries and he kept a low profile, spending most of his time caring for the Catholic university, counseling priests and preaching and hearing confessions. In June 1997, he was named coadjutor archbishop. He was installed as the new archbishop of Buenos Aires in February 1998. Since 1998, he has been archbishop of Buenos Aires, where his style is low-key and close to the people.

Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, came close to becoming pope during the last conclave in 2005. He reportedly gained the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running before selection of Vatican insider Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

With the name Bergoglio, we knew some decisive changes had been set in train. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires is the first non-European pope for 1,000 years. He is the first pope from the New World, most specifically from Latin America where the majority of the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics live. He is the first pope ever from the Jesuits, the order renowned for having produced some of the most intellectually profound, and often free-thinking, church minds over the centuries.

With the name Francis came a signal of another new departure. No pope had ever before taken the name of the great saint of the poor, Francis of Assisi. And Bergoglio was known for his commitment to social justice and his championing of the poor of his native Argentina in the teeth of a global economic crisis whose cost fell chiefly upon the shoulders of the most vulnerable.

Seventy-six-year-old Bergoglio, it was known, was a humble man who had moved out of his archiepiscopal palace and into a simple apartment. He gave up his chauffeur-driven car and takes the bus to work. He cooks his own meals.

Unlike many of the other papal contenders, Bergoglio never held a top post inside the Vatican administration, or curia. This outsider status could pose obstacles in attempts to reform the Vatican, which has been hit with embarrassing disclosures from leaked documents alleging financial cover-ups and internal feuds.
But the conclave appeared more swayed by Bergoglio's reputation for compassion on issues such as poverty and the effects of globalization, and his fealty to traditional church teachings such as opposition to birth control.
His overriding image, though, is built around his leaning toward austerity. The motto chosen for his archdiocese is "Miserando Atque Eligendo,'' or "Lowly but Chosen.''
Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, warmed by a small stove on frigid weekends when the building turned off the heat. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals. Yet Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women.

Charges Against New Pope             

Bergoglio, whose official name is Pope Francis, without a Roman numeral, also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was five months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: The woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important'' for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

Preferences and Actions

His preference to remain in the wings, however, has been challenged by rights activists seeking answers about church actions during the dictatorship after the 1976 coup, often known as Argentina's "Dirty War.'' Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements'' in society. It is one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but less than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

Challenges before Pope

Pope Francis will have a tough job ahead of him. The Catholic Church has been seen as an organisation facing the pressure of modernisation. It has been scarred by child sex abuse scandals and in recent years, also by infighting, even corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy. The new pontiff is not a Vatican insider. This could well be to his advantage as he uses his dedication, energy and skills to clean up what his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, called the “filth” in the church. Pope Francis must build on his known love for the poor and his association with the area that has the largest number of Catholics in the world to leave a lasting legacy.

The former Bishop of Buenos Aires is the first non-European Pope in the modern era; he is the first Pope to hail from Latin America, the first Jesuit to hold the revered post; and he is also the first to take on the name ‘Francis’ after St Francis of Assisi. That is not all. During the course of his first public appearance itself, Pope Francis I broke with tradition — not once but twice — as he refused to stand upon a pedestal that would elevate him above the other Cardinals who stood by him. Instead, he chose to “stay down here”, and surprised many again when he asked the people to pray for him first, before he blessed the crowd. On both the occasions that the newly named Pope steered away from convention, he appeared to strengthen his image as a humble pastor, not given to the pomp of the Vatican, but instead, committed to serving his people — much like his namesake St Francis of Assisi who chose to live in poverty and who remains one of the most beloved figures in Catholic history even though he was never ordained into Catholic priesthood.

One of the most important challenges before Pope Francis will be to bring the faithful back to the fold. Particularly in the Western world, which has traditionally been the heart of Christendom, the Catholic Church has lost much of its following as an increasing number of people have been moving away from institutionalized religion. Much of this problem is of the Church's own making. For example, in recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has been associated with sex abuse scandals across the world and rampant corruption within the Vatican. In fact, Pope Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had come under much criticism for his alleged efforts to overlook sexual assaults that priests had committed on children. Yet, it remains unclear if Pope Francis will take up the kind of zero tolerance policy against such crimes as many would want him to.

Demand of the Situation

The list of trials facing Catholicism is as long as it is daunting: plummeting church attendance and a massive shortage of new priests in the secular West; a widening theological chasm between the developed and developing world over what is socially acceptable; inter-religious animosity and distrust; the seemingly ever-recurring sex abuse scandals and a Vatican bureaucracy that all but the most naïve of commentators will admit is riven with corruption, incompetence and political infighting.

Similarly, it is also to be seen if Pope Francis will respond to the reformist within him — a hallmark of Jesuit priests — and introduce changes in the Catholic Church's policies toward key social issues such as contraception, abortion and gay rights. For example, Pope Francis had earlier said that contraceptives could be used to prevent the spread of AIDS, but has stayed away from endorsing the use of contraceptives in general, in keeping with official Church policy.

While many will look for signs of change from the new Pope, and there are already some departures from tradition, a look at his record shows that Cardinal Bergoglio, who belongs to the Jesuit order, is theologically conservative and supportive of the Vatican’s positions on major issues. He is against abortion, gay marriage and the ordination of women. However, the energy with which he has devoted himself to his flock as Archbishop of Buenos Aires has often been praised.

How Pope Francis will prioritize these problems remains to be seen but he will need to tackle them nonetheless. Pope Francis is both a continuation of the past and something very different. Theologically he is an orthodox conservative like his predecessor. No-one will be expecting him to take the Catholic Church into a brave new world where homosexuality is suddenly accepted and women are ordained.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Change of Reigns in China: Xi Jinping Takes Over as Country’s President, Military Commission Chief; Li Keqiang Becomes Nation’s Premier

Xi Jinping emerged as China's most powerful leader in decades after he was named President and head of the powerful Military Commission on March 14. He was also named chief of the ruling Communist Party, smoothly completing a 10-yearly transition of power in the world's second-largest economy. Officially, Xi is being elected for a five-year term, but barring extraordinary events the 59-year-old president will hold the position for a decade.

In addition to being the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which effectively rules the country, Xi has been appointed as the chairman of the powerful Military Commission, when he was elected as the new leader of the party in November 2012.
According to an official announcement here, Xi was elected as president by 3,000-strong National People’s Congress, which also endorsed his appointment as the chairman of the Military Commission.

The Military Commission supervises 2.3 million-strong and the world’s largest standing army called People’s Liberation Army (PLA), incorporating Army, Navy and Air Force.

Xi’s election a formality as the NPC, dominated by the CPC functionaries completed the once-in-a-decade power transfer from the administration headed by Hu, 70, who along with team of leaders including premier Wen Jiabao formally retires.

With today’s election Xi has emerged as the most powerful leader in China as heads the country, CPC and the Military.

The NPC also elected Li Yuanchao, a reformist and Politburo member of the CPC, as vice president. Yi who was reportedly picked by Xi ignoring pressures within the factions to energize the economic reform process to revitalize slowing economy.

Widely regarded as smooth transfer of power, Xi along with seven member standing committee of the CPC which virtually rules the country completed over 100 days in the leadership running various public campaigns against corruption, austerity both in the government and military and revamping the administration by cutting down size of cabinet.

Election of New Prime Minister

China’s annual Parliament confirmed Li Keqiang as the country’s new prime minister to replace Wen Jiabao on March 15, who retires after a decade in the post. Approximately 3,000 delegates to the National People’s Congress, the ruling Communist Party’s nominal state Parliament, endorsed Li’s recommendation by the party.

Li was nominated to the Congress by state president. He won 99.7 per cent of the 2,949 votes counted, with just three votes against him and six abstentions

Profile of New President

Xi is the son of one of China's most esteemed generals and known as a "princeling", the name given to relations of China's first generation of Communist leaders, who grew up immersed in the ruling party's upper echelons. But he has threatened to target not only lowly "flies" but also top-ranking "tigers" in corruption crackdowns, warning that graft could "kill the party".

Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary veteran Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist Party's founding fathers.

Xi Zhongxun was purged from the post of vice-premier in 1962 prior to the Cultural Revolution and eventually imprisoned.

The younger Xi was then sent aged 15 to work in the remote village of Liangjiahe for seven years, like most other "intellectual youth" of the time.

A local village official who knew Xi at that time described him as "very sincere and honest", adding that he was just like one of them "so everybody liked him very much".

Xi has acknowledged that this time spent working alongside villagers was a key experience for him.

He went on to study chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which has produced many of China's current top leaders, including Hu Jintao.

Accepted into the party in 1974, Xi served as a local party secretary in Hebei province and then went on to ever more senior roles in Fujian and then Zhejiang provinces.

He was named party chief of Shanghai in 2007 when its former chief, Chen Liangyu, was sacked over corruption charges. Shortly after, he was promoted to the party's Standing Committee and became vice-president in 2008.

Challenges Ahead

In November 2012, in his first speech to the Communist Party’s elite Politburo,.Xi denounced the prevalence of corruption and said officials needed to guard against its spread or it would “doom the party and the state.”

In following month of the same,. Xi made his first trip outside of Beijing with a visit to special economic zone of Shenzhen in south China that has stood as a symbol of the nation’s embrace of a state-led form of capitalism. Xi’s trip was seen as a strong signal of support for greater market-oriented economic policies.

The new Chinese president is well-traveled and intimately familiar with the West. His daughter attends Harvard, and he is said to enjoy Hollywood films about the Second World War.

Hu, a onetime hydroelectric power technician, worked his way up through jobs in China’s hardscrabble interior. The new Chinese president is the son of a Communist Party aristocrat, Xi Zhongxun, who was present at the birth of China’s turn to capitalism and helped develop the special economic zone of Shenzhen.


The Presidency coupled with the post of the chairman of the Military Commission which supervises 2.3 million-strong world's largest standing military, People's Liberation Army (PLA), gives him a head start to begin his 10-year stint in power.Hu got the post of head of the military from Jiang Zemin two years after he took over as the president.

While retiring, Hu ensured that the head of the country and the party has single power structure to ensure stability. Seen as having a zero-tolerance attitude towards corrupt officials, Xi has twice been drafted in to trouble-shoot major problems.

In Fujian, he helped to clear up a corruption scandal in the late 1990s which involved the jailed smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing.

Xi takes charge at a time when the public is looking for leadership that can address sputtering economic growth and mounting anger over widespread graft, high-handed officialdom and increasing unfairness. A growth-at-all-costs model that defined the outgoing administration's era has befouled the country's air, waterways and soil, adding another serious threat to social stability.