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India’s EC mulls new-age EVMs to help 300mn plus internal migrants and NRIs to vote




Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, December 26: The Election Commission of India (ECI) is examining an ambitious plan to allow internal migrants and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote for a candidate in their home constituencies from anywhere in the country and abroad. This will enable 290 million Indians working in the country away from his birthplace, and 16 million NRIs working abroad.

In the world’s largest democracy, 911 million out of 1,138 million people are aged above 18, and are eligible to vote. In last year’s Lok Sabha election, 610 million (67%) voted—-the highest in Indian parliamentary history.

The proposal under discussion involves ushering in a new-age electronic voting machine (EVM) that will have a dynamic candidate’s list to enable voting for a contestant in one’s home constituency.

Current EVMs have a constituency-specific ballot unit which lists candidates only for a specific constituency. EVMs with a ‘dynamic ballot paper’ will display a list of contestants of a voter’s home constituency.

For instance, a voter registered in Malda in West Bengal but working in Delhi will be able to vote for a candidate of his or her choice in Malda from Delhi itself. At present, migrant voters are unable to vote unless they go to their constituency.

 About 10,000 new-age EVMs are estimated to serve the purpose with every district given 5-6 such machines at various ‘remote voting’ centres with a higher number in bigger cities having higher migrant population.

 The full Election Commission is set to soon deliberate a conceptual framework of the technology to enable vote-from-anywhere, with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind, The Economic Times quoted officials as saying. Pilot runs are likely to be done during bypolls.

 In April, the poll panel set up a seven-member technical advisory group chaired by Rajat Moona, the former director general of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and with experts from IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) in Madras, Delhi and Bombay as members to work on a plan to develop a ‘remote voting framework’.

 Moona said a ‘prototype demonstration’ will be done in a month to ECI. “We are looking at an EVM which instead of a paper ballot for a specific constituency will have a dynamic candidates’ list display to allow one to vote for a candidate in one’s home constituency.

 “Each machine will be able to help voters of multiple constituencies cast the ballot instead of being specific to one constituency. New machines will have to be brought in for the purpose, and we hope to share the conceptual plan and prototype soon with the EC, which will take a final decision on it,” Moona said.

 The study group has identified two key challenges: Minimal internet use with high safety features. Current EVMs do not use any internet and, therefore, are considered ‘hackproof’. The second challenge will be formulating a protocol for vote counting, VVPAT (Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) checks and verification for ballots cast using the dynamic EVMs.

 “The latter is the toughest part, and we are looking at a few choices for the purpose of counting and VVPAT verification. In April, the poll panel set up a seven-member technical advisory group to work on a plan to develop a ‘remote voting framework’.

 “ECI’s inputs and views on the right choice will be taken. We hope to have clarity by January so that we can plan pilot projects and ultimately scale up the use of the machine in the next Lok Sabha election in 2024,” Moona added.

 The ECI is planning a technology shift along with the proposed postal ballot-based voting for NRIs. Incidentally, when consultations were held with political parties on allowing postal ballot for NRIs, many in the opposition, including the Congress Party, argued that steps need to be first taken to ensure domestic migrants are able to vote, regardless of geographic location. The ECI itself has been alive to the issue of domestic voters missing out for a while now.

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Foreign News

Pope Francis to evict Cardinal Raymond Burke from Vatican




US Cardinal Raymond Burke has been a leader in the Catholic Church for decades (BBC)

Pope Francis is evicting US Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken critic, from his Vatican apartment and revoking his salary.

Cardinal Burke is part of a group of American conservatives who have long opposed the Pope’s plans for reforming the Catholic Church.

A Vatican source told the BBC that Pope Francis has not yet carried out his intention to evict the 75-year-old and the decision is not meant as a personal punishment, the source added. Instead, it comes from the belief that a person should not enjoy cardinal privileges while criticising the head of the church.

Still, the move is “unprecedented in the Francis era”, Christopher White, a Vatican observer who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, told the BBC. “Typically, retired cardinals continue to reside in Rome after stepping down from their positions, often remaining active in papal liturgies and ceremonial duties,” he said. “Evicting someone from their Vatican apartment sets a new precedent.”

White warned that the decision could “provoke significant backlash” and deepen divides between the Vatican and the US church, where there is already “fragmentation”.

Cardinal Burke has yet to respond to the news and the BBC has reached out to his office for comment.

The Pope revealed his plan to act against the cardinal at a meeting with heads of Vatican offices last week. His frustration with US detractors who take a more traditional or conservative view on several issues appears to be coming to a boil.

Earlier this month, he fired Joseph Strickland, a conservative Texas bishop who had blasted his attempts to move the church to more liberal positions on abortion, transgender rights and same-sex marriage. The removal followed a church investigation into governance of the diocese.

A few months before, the Pope told members of the Jesuit religious order in Portugal that there was “a very strong, organised, reactionary attitude in the US church”, which he called “backward”, according to the Guardian.

Tensions with Cardinal Burke, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, have been simmering for nearly a decade, with the American prelate openly criticising Pope Francis over both social and liturgical issues.

“Cardinal Burke’s situation seems to stem from his gradual alienation from the Pope,” said  White. “It appears the Pope perceives Burke as fostering a cult of personality, centred around traditionalism or regressive ideals. This action seems aimed at limiting Burke’s influence by severing his ties to Rome.”

Pope Francis with hand up in front of Vatican building
Pope Francis waves to crowds while leaving St Peter’s Square (pic BBC)

Most recently, the cardinal held a conference called The Synodal Babel in Rome on the eve of the Pope’s synod, or meeting of bishops, last month.

He also joined fellow conservatives in publishing a “declaration of truths” in 2019 that described the Catholic church as disoriented and confused under Pope Francis, saying that it had moved away from core teachings on divorce, contraception, homosexuality and gender. Notably, he disagreed with the Pope promoting Covid vaccines.

Within church politics, he and Pope Francis were at odds over the firing of the head of the Knights of Malta after the order’s charity branch was found to have distributed condoms in Myanmar.

The Pope, in turn, has demoted Cardinal Burke within the church hierarchy or moved him to posts with less influence over the years.

Michael Matt, a columnist for the right-wing Catholic newspaper The Remnant, wrote that the most recent action taken against Cardinal Burke showed that Pope Francis was “cancelling faithful prelates who offer hierarchical cover to pro-life, pro-family, pro-tradition hardliners”. He accused the Pope of putting critics into “forced isolation”.


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Foreign News

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies aged 100




Henry Kissinger at the State Department's 230th anniversary celebrations in 2019

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has died at the age 100.

He served as America’s top diplomat and national security adviser during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

In a statement, Kissinger Associates, a political consulting firm he founded, said the German-born former diplomat died at his home in Connecticut but did not give a cause of death.

During his decades long career, Mr Kissinger played a key, and sometimes controversial, role in US foreign and security policy.

Born in Germany in 1973, Kissinger first came to the US in 1938 when his family fled Nazi Germany. He became a US citizen in 1943 and went on to serve three years in the US Army and later in the Counter Intelligence Corps. After earning bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees, he taught international relations at Harvard.

In 1969, then-President Richard Nixon appointed him National Security Adviser, a position which gave him enormous influence over US foreign policy in two administrations.


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Rupees 1,500 million allocated for ‘Greater Kandy Urban Development Program’ – State Minister for Provincial Councils and Local Government




State Minister for Provincial Council and Local Government  Janaka Wakkambura participating in a Press Briefing held at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Wednesday (29) under the theme ‘Collective Path to a Stable Country’,  announced that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has allocated Rs. 1,500 million for the “Greater Kandy Urban Development Program” in this year’s budget and that part of the allocation would to be utilized to develop the approach roads to Kandy City.

He also announced that the President had allocated  Rs. 1,000 million to develop tourism by enhancing facilities through the involvement of local government bodies.

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