Record Breaking Voter Turnout in India; Focus on Fraud in Afghan Election Results; Bomb Blast in Karachi
Bonus read: "Could Modi Be India's ‘Nixon to China?'" Shrey Verma (SouthAsia)
Sixth phase of voting: Mumbai records highest turnout in 25 years, protests in Kashmir
According to initial estimates, elections in Mumbai on April 24 saw a turnout between 52 and 55 percent, a significant increase from the 41.5 percent recorded in 2009 (Mint, TIME, Indian Express). The highest percentage of votes was cast in Mumbai's northwest district, followed by the south central voting district and overall, touched levels last seen in 1989. While many prominent citizens such as captains of industry, Bollywood stars and sports personalities stepped out to vote (and later posted ink-selfies to prove it), thousands of voters in the city complained their names did not appear on electoral rolls including many seasoned voters (Indian Express). One newspaper claims over 200,000 went missing from voting lists in the city (DNA). The Election Commission later confessed to lapses in their supervision, admitting "indifference" on the part of some electoral officers (Economic Times).
The sixth phase of voting saw ballots being cast across eleven states and one union territory. However, more Maoist violence continued to impact elections in Jharkhand. Four paramilitary soldiers and two polling officials were killed in Shikaripada, a village in Jharkhand's east while they were aboard a bus on their way back from working polling stations (NYT).
In addition, hundreds of protesters gathered in Anantnag, Kashmir to throw stones at election booths chanting "down with India" in the third round of voting in the state. An election official was killed soon after voting took place on Thursday in Shopian, in an attack that also injured three central police personnel (NDTV).
Meanwhile, BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi also filed his nomination papers from Varanasi, amid a massive roadshow. Varanasi votes in the final phase of the Indian election, on May 12 (NDTV).
Visas in two days for Chinese citizens
The Indian Embassy in Beijing announced a new, streamlined process for Chinese citizens keen to visit India: visas will be processed within two days without any extra charges (Mint). Announced ahead of a major cultural showcase, "Glimpses of India," to be held in twelve cities across China, the move hopes to target business visitors and tourists alike. While over 600,000 Indians visited China in 2012, about 100,000 Chinese visited India the same year. India's Ambassador to China Ashok K Kantha addressed the press about growing defense relations between the two countries. Some examples of growing ties included the participation of Indian naval vessels in the 65th anniversary of the Chinese navy and joint military exercises between the two countries to be held later in the year.
India, an energy update
Kazakhstan seeks to renew its energy ties with India after a snub over its Kashgan oil fields soured relations between the two nations (Hindu Businessline). After offering the oil fields to India for $5 billion, Kazakhstan pre-emptively sold the stake to China. Kazakhstan has now invited Indian investment to participate jointly with its state firm KazMunaiGas oil field to develop new oil and gas blocks as well as its trans-national pipeline. A senior Kazakh government official speaking to Businessline said the invitation to India was to prevent the country from becoming "over dependent on China," which accounts for 40 percent of business.
Meanwhile, India's intended increase in natural gas prices continues to invite controversy. This past year, the government used a technique known as the Rangarajan formula to determine gas prices and concluded that prices needed to double to $8.4 per unit starting April 1. The move was stayed by the Election Commission that sought to defer price increases in commodities until after the election. However, Oil Minister Veerappa Moily has hinted there may be legal consequences in store for the government for postponing price increases (Economic Times). Meanwhile, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) will continue to move an arbitration case against the Indian government over gas pricing, arguing that even the current Rangarajan formula used to determine prices is too low (Economic Times).
Remission for Rajiv killers stayed
The Supreme Court stayed the Tamil Nadu government's decision to release the killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and instead referred the matter to a constitutional bench (Mint). The matter refers to a February 19 decision by the Tamil Nadu cabinet to free seven convicts lodged in the Central Prison in Vellore, who have been in custody since 1991. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on February 20 by the Central Government requesting a stay on the move. A constitutional bench is expected to hear the matter within three months.
-- Shruti Jagirdar
82% of votes tallied
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced a third set of partial results on Thursday from the April 5 presidential election that was based on 82 percent of the total votes (Pajhwok, BBC). IEC chief Ahmad Yusuf Nurstani said at a press conference in Kabul that Abdullah Abdullah has collected 43.8 percent of the votes and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has collected 32.9 percent. While Abdullah has a comfortable lead, he does not have the 50 percent necessary to avoid a runoff election in late May or June. Although 17.5 percent of the total votes remain to be counted, it is doubtful the results will change significantly.
Preliminary results will be announced on Saturday, after a delay by the IEC to allow for audits and recounts. Candidates who are behind in the vote count have focused their attention on the fraud: Mr. Ghani recently complained at a news conference that election officials were releasing results without filtering out the fraudulent votes first (NYT). Fraud occurred on both an individual and industrial scale: The New York Times reports fraud ranged from people voting multiple times to whole ballot books being stuffed into the boxes without anyone bothering to detach the individual ballots.
Flash Floods kill at least 24
At least 24 people have been killed and dozens of others are missing after flash floods hit northern and western Afghanistan on Friday (Pajhwok). Heavy rain started late Thursday night, causing flash floods that destroyed villages and displaced thousands of people in Jowzjan, Badghis, and Herat provinces. Jowzjan Deputy Govenor Abdul Rahman Mahmoudi said helicopters were being used to rescue people in areas hit by what he said was the worst flood in 30 years (RFE/RL).
Bomb in Karachi kills 4
A bomb explosion in the Clifton neighborhood of Karachi killed four people and wounded 25 others on Friday (Post, Dawn). According to police officer Abdul Khaliq Sheikh, the blast badly damaged several vehicles and a nearby multi-story building in the upscale neighborhood. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the blast comes a day after a bomb targeting prominent police officer Shafiq Tanoli exploded in another part of Karachi, killing him and three others (ET).
The attacks in Karachi also coincide with the Pakistani government's air strikes on Thursday in the Khyber agency targeting "terrorist hideouts" (BBC). The air strikes, which the government claims killed 35 suspected militants and wounded 14 others, were the first operation against insurgents in two months because of the ongoing ceasefire with the Pakistani Taliban (ET).
Royal Trail almost complete
The Royal Trail project, an initiative to improve infrastructure services and rehabilitate building facades in the Walled City of Lahore, is nearing completion, according to Director General Kamran Lashari (ET). The project began in April 2012 and so far, 57 streets with more than 800 properties have been restored. Lashari added that power lines were buried underground and that buildings were decorated with flowers and plants. The trail is a big draw for tourists who visit the Walled City and its many monuments, and residents believe the restoration has improved business within the city.
-- Emily Schneider
-- Edited by Peter Bergen
PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images