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Modi pitches for simultaneous parliamentary, state assembly and local body polls across India

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bY S VENKAT NARAYAN,

Our Special Correspondent

 NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, once again pitched his One Nation, One Election idea —- simultaneous parliamentary, state assembly, and local body polls. He said this is not just a matter of debate, but a requirement for India.

Addressing presiding officers of legislatures from across India by video link, Modi also suggested a common voters list for all elections to prevent a waste of resources. He maintained that simultaneous elections at every level should be held using a common voter list.

“Every few months, we see an election in some part of the country. You all know what is the impact of these polls on development. There is a need for a deeper study and discussion on the issue, and I suggest that presiding officers may lead such discussions,” Modi said.

Holding elections in the world’s largest democracy is also possibly the most expensive on the planet. For example, New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) has estimated that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections alone had cost INR 550 billion or $8 billion —- six times more than what the 1998 general election had cost.

Last year’s Lok Sabha polls had involved 900 million voters, went on for 75 days, extravagant rallies, widespread advertising in newspapers, on TV, radio and social media. In quite a few of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, candidates would have spent as much as INR 400 million! Several thousand security personnel and government employees get involved in conducting the polls. And administration across the country comes to a grinding halt.

Every time there is an election in a state, or local body polls, the same process gets repeated on a smaller scale, and no administrative work gets done because government officials get busy organizing the polls.

The One Nation, One Election idea was first pitched by Modi in 2015. It is also on the agenda of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The idea entails one election every five years for the Lok Sabha, states, even corporations. But it has met stiff resistance from rival parties.

Last year, the main Congress Party had skipped a meeting called by the PM on the issue, and the Left parties dubbed it as a “back-door way of replacing our parliamentary democracy”.

The issue has starkly divided India’s political parties. Its advocates have argued the move will help focus on governance, reduce expenditure, and help channel security forces more efficiently.

Its critics, including the Congress, have alleged that the move will undermine democratic accountability, the federal structure and also pointed to its lack of feasibility within the constitutional scheme.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the Prime Minister has been pushing for simultaneous elections but any such measure requires structural changes in Constitution. “It is also against the very essence of democracy. So, we think it is just a rhetoric,” he added.

Describing the presiding officers as a bridge between the public and the Constitution, Modi hit out indirectly at the Congress for imposing Emergency rule in the 1975. He said it was an attempt to dilute the separation of power of the three wings of the state, but that the Constitution eventually provided a solution.

“After the Emergency, the system of checks and balances kept getting stronger as the legislature, executive and judiciary moved ahead, learning from the episode,” he said.

On Constitution Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Constitution of India, Modi said the national charter had also helped India tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19 by enabling the passage of several laws to help the people. He praised parliamentarians for accepting pay cuts and working more to increase Parliament’s productivity.

The Prime Minister cautioned against a tendency of keeping projects pending, citing the example of the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, which was stuck for years, delaying the benefits that accrued to the people of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan when it was finally constructed.



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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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ADB country chief hopes Lanka could sustain policy reforms despite elections

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Takafumi Kadono

ECONOMYNEXT –The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects Sri Lanka not to reverse its International Monetary Fund-led policy reforms despite elections soon, the ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono said.

The island nation has witnessed repeated reversals of policy reforms in the past due to greedy politicians who misled  the people to vote for them by sowing the seeds of subsidy mentality with unsustainable debts at expensive borrowing costs, economists say.

That led the country into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with a sovereign debt default. Sri Lanka is still struggling to come out of the crisis.

The IMF has strictly placed some reforms including in state sector enterprises, fiscal and monetary sectors.

Sri Lanka has implemented the painful IMF reforms so far including higher personal income taxes, but economists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the current reforms due to possible changes in the policies in the event of a new president or government comes to power after democratic elections.

“If that kind of reversal happens, we also cannot justify our support,” ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Takafumi Kadono told EconomyNext on late on Wednesday.

“We do expect these policy reforms to be sustained. So that is our expectation. That is the premise which we are providing our budget support. If they reverse, the whole premise will be collapsed. That kind of policy reversal cannot happen.”

The island nation had sought IMF bailout package for 17 times including the ongoing support. However, the authorities have failed to complete most of the past IMF loan disbursements due to politically motivated contradiction with the global lender’s tight fiscal policies.

Sri Lanka has shown some signs of recovery in the third quarter of 2023 with the economic growth turned to positive from contraction for the first time in seven quarters.

However, opposition political parties have promised to revisit the IMF deal if they come to power.

Higher taxes, soaring cost of living, and lack of salary hike have made President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government unpopulour among the public, analysts say.

Wickremesinghe has said the country will hold both presidential and parliamentary election by 2025.

Some government politicians have told EconomyNext that the higher taxes would be eased from April and the authorities will try their best to meet the IMF conditions for the third disbursement in June this year.

The presidential polls should be held by October this year, but opposition parties have said President Wickremesinghe is in the process to delay the poll.

However, Wickremesinghe’s office last week said Presidential Election will be held “within the mandated period”, without giving an exact time.It also said the General Election will be held next year, “according to the current timeline”.

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