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Narendra Modi Re-Elected as Prime Minister of India

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  • India’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi won re-election in a surprising landslide victory.
  • The election, which was the biggest in the history of the world, was viewed as a referendum on Modi, who many feel has not fulfilled his campaign promises from 2014.
  • Modi campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security this election and now is faced with impending economic problems, religious divisions, and increased tensions with Pakistan.

Election 2019

After six weeks of voting, the largest election in the history of the world has come to a close with incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning his re-elected by a landslide.

With almost all of the votes counted, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats in India’s 543-seat Parliament, which is much more than the 272 seats required for a majority.

Source: Google

The vote count is expected to wrap up later today, but Modi has already declared victory, writing  “India wins yet again!” in a tweet before appearing on stage to give a formal victory speech a few hours later.

Modi’s opponent, Rahul Gandhi, who is the leader of the opposition Congress Party, formally conceded the election in a news conference. “I said during the campaign that the people were the masters, and today they have given their verdict,” he said. “We concede in this election that Narendra Modi and the BJP have won.”

Gandhi also took to Twitter to congratulate Modi.

Narendra Modi

Modi may have won by a landslide, but his huge victory came as a surprise.

Before the election, the majority of analysts had predicted that the BJP would lose seats in Parliament. Now, it looks like the BJP is actually set to win more seats than they had before.

Many viewed this election as a sort of referendum on Modi, who is a strong Hindu nationalist. Modi and the BJP were first elected back in 2014 and they were extremely popular. In fact, they were so popular that the BJP became the first political party to win an outright Parliament majority in 30 years.

Modi is considered a hard-working, charismatic leader, with humble roots as a tea-seller. In 2014, he campaigned on improving India’s economy and cracking down on corruption. However, those promises have been largely unfulfilled.

Modi has not delivered nearly as many jobs as he has promised. Unemployment in India has also grown to 7.2 percent in the last year alone and the unemployment rate is currently the highest it has been in 45 years.

Modi also promised to double the income of farmers, who played a large role in electing him in 2014. However, in the last few years, India has seen the continued trend of farmers’ operating costs going up while incomes have gone down.

In fact, some of Modi’s economic and anti-corruption policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he instituted a sweeping demonetization policy that involved pulling 86 percent of India’s cash from circulation.

He argued that it would crack down on money that had not been taxed and fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist organizations, but India’s economy is largely cash-based, so the move ultimately hurt businesses and the poor.

Experts have said the policy did not actually hit the kind of money it targetted.

2019 Election

One campaign promise Modi did fulfill while in office was pushing and implementing Hindu nationalist policies.

As a result, in the 2019 election, he campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security, telling voters that he was the only one who would protect India’s security and combat terrorism. In that regard, India’s recent conflict with their main rival and neighbor Pakistan seems to have helped him.

In February, a militant group attacked an Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. Modi responded by promising forceful retaliation and later claimed his government had struck a major terrorist training camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, killing “a very large number” of militants.

While Pakistan has denied that a camp was hit, Modi’s approval rating still skyrocketed from 32 percent to 63 percent.

What Now?

Modi’s strong brand of nationalism and his national security platform seemed to have propelled him to Thursday’s huge win, but despite his success, Modi’s troubles are far from over.

Now, Modi and the BJP will have more pressure to address India’s economic problems. In addition to growing unemployment, many fear that India’s economy is slowing and that the country could be heading into a recession. That will be exacerbated as Modi faces demands to provide jobs for the millions of young people who are now entering the workforce.

Modi’s win is also expected to widen religious divisions in the country. His brand of staunch Hindu nationalism is appealing to large swaths of India’s population.

While India is about 80 percent Hindu, it is also home to a number of other religions, and India’s religious minorities have said they have felt increasingly afraid and marginalized.

Since Modi took power, there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 44 people were killed between May 2015 and December 2018, and most of those people were Muslim.

India’s Muslim population is considerable, with around 200 million people that make up nearly 15 percent of the country. Now, Muslims in India are worried the BJP’s rise will disempower them, especially as the number of seats Muslim parties hold in Parliament is expected to fall to an all-time low.

Of course, there is also the question of Pakistan. Once it became clear that Modi was set to win the election, Pakistan’s military announced that it had successfully fired and tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

At the same time, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Modi on Twitter, and said that he will “look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Vox) (BBC)

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TikTok Faces Billion Dollar Lawsuit in U.K. Over Children’s Data Collection Practices

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  • A former U.K. Children’s Commissioner is suing TikTok on behalf of a 12-year-old girl over concerns that the company mishandles the data of users under 13.
  • The lawsuit alleges that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and doesn’t clearly tell children or parents how much data it collects nor how it will be used.
  • The complaint seeks several billion pounds and has transformed into a class-action suit, with millions of children across the U.K. and E.U. eligible to take part.
  • TikTok denies all the claims against it, but if the plaintiffs are victorious, then the social media company could be forced to pay thousands of pounds to each affected child.

TikTok Mishandling Data

TikTok is currently facing a serious legal challenge in the United Kingdom over how it uses and collects children’s data.

The claim was filed by former English Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield on behalf of an anonymous 12-year-old girl, although it has since transformed into a class-action lawsuit for children in the U.K. and European Union.

The legal challenge is for several billion pounds, and if successful, could lead to each affected child in the U.K. and E.U. receiving a few thousand pounds.

Longfield claims that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and alleges that it takes children’s phone numbers, videos, exact location, and biometric data without sufficient warning. Particularly concerning for her are children under the age of twelve, who aren’t even supposed to use TikTok but do anyways.

Because of their age, they are supposed to get more legal protections over what’s done with their information, and that age range isn’t a small group of children. Longfield claims that 44% of children 8-12 use TikTok, which would roughly be 3.5 million children in the U.K. alone.

Those stats wouldn’t be too surprising, as according to a 2020 fact sheet published by Ofcom, the U.K.’s communication regulator, 50% of children aged 8 to 15 use TikTok.

Scott & Scoot, the law firm representing the case, added in a statement to the BBC that there is so little transparency for children and parents about what’s being done with the info that it’s “a severe breach of U.K. and EU data protection law.”

While every social media site collects large amounts of user data, Longfield targeted TikTok in particular because it had “excessive” data collection policies. Additionally, Longfield is annoyed at how easy it is for kids under 13 to use TikTok, saying, “Clearly, they know under-13s are using it, companies often say kids put the wrong age on but my view is that isn’t good enough.” 

“Knowing kids will do that, you need additional measures to provide more robust verification of children when they are online.”

Not The First Accusation

TikTok denied the accusations and said they “lack merit,” but the claims aren’t without precedent. The company is currently under investigation by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office for knowingly hosting the data of children under-13 when it merged with Music.ly.

The company was ordered to delete the info and set up an age verification system.

In 2019, the company was hit with a $5.7 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. for mishandling children’s data. It was also fined $155,000 in South Korea over similar issues.

The concerns over children’s data have also prompted many countries to consider various legislation to either enact or expand protections on such data. In the U.K., the Online Safety Bill is being considered by Parliament. Meanwhile, in the U.S., members from both parties in Congress have expressed interest in passing laws to curb social media companies that offer services aimed at people under 16.

Longfield’s lawsuit against TikTok is still in its early stages and what happens next remains to be seen.

See what others are saying: (TechXplore) (Reuters) (BBC)

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Netanyahu Loses Key Vote in Knesset, A First Step in Losing Power

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  • A coalition of anti-Benjamin Netanyahu parties gained control of a key committee that will set the legislative agenda as Israel tries to form a new government.
  • The major legislative victory could indicate that the opposition may have a serious chance of forming a majority government when asked to do so by President Reuven Rivlin, which will likely occur in two weeks if Netanyahu fails to do the same.
  • The pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs are all courting a group of right-wing and pro-Arab parties that have yet to declare a side.
  • Convincing all of the parties in either bloc to work together is increasingly difficult, as many have refused to do so if certain parties are brought into their coalitions, leaving Israel with the likely prospect of its fifth election in two years.

Major Roadblock

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost a key vote on Monday in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, that could possibly lead to his fall from power. 

Bibi, as he’s known, has managed to hold onto power throughout the last two years despite his coalition lacking enough votes to form and keep a government. The latest round of elections in late March once again saw Netayanhu lacking the votes to form a majority government. 

For the last few weeks, Netanyahu has been working to cobble together a coalition government. Two weeks ago, he was finally given a four-week deadline by President Reuven Rivlin.

While Netanyahu retains the title of Prime Minister, he doesn’t get to set the legislative agenda without a majority. The authority to set the agenda is granted to the powerful Arrangements Committee. The Prime Minister received his first major defeat in his efforts to set up a government when the anti-Netanyahu opposition managed to get a majority in the Knesset and gain a majority of the seats on the committee. 

Netanyahu made efforts to secure control of the committee, but like his previous attempts to form a government, he relied on the votes from the pro-Arab Islamist Ra’am party, which instead voted with the opposition. 

The move isn’t a complete shock, as small parties such as Ra’am and the right-wing Yamina party compose a central role in the situation by consistently playing both sides in an effort to get a better deal and more power.

Unclear Future

While Netanyahu has lost control of the Arrangements Committee, it’s unclear if that will translate into a long-term majority for the anti-Netanyahu coalition. 

Many of the wildcard players have issues with parties in both coalitions, with some members of each vowing to back out if the others join. 

For example, Netanyahu needs Ra’am to be able to form a government, but its status as a pro-Arab Islamist party puts it into conflict with a large pro-Jewish party in Netanyahu’s bloc, which vowed to back out if Ra’am was brought into the coalition. The opposition faces similar issues trying to get some of the right-wing parties on board to work with Ra’am, as well.

Netanyahu has two more weeks to try and form a government. If he can’t, President Rivlin will likely turn to the leaders in the opposition with a similar request. If no one is able to form a government, then Israel will head to its fifth election in two years.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Metro) (Jerusalem Post)

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New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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