Thursday, September 24, 2015

The rise and fall of India's AAP

Just a few months ago, India’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept to power in the Delhi State election with an unprecedented 67 of the 70 seats.

The party and its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, were heralded for halting the previously unstoppable juggernaut of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Observers claimed they were the coming force in the nation’s politics.

Instead, it quickly became clear the AAP, founded just three years ago, was a disaster waiting to happen.

Disagreements among the party’s leaders, papered over during the election campaign, emerged within weeks of the stunning victory.

nfighting, allegations of corruption, and counter-claims led to a number of prominent members being expelled. Then Minster of Law Jitendra Tomar was involved in charges that his legal qualifications were fakes.

Attempts by the party leadership to close ranks behind Tomar backfired when police produced clear evidence that his certificates were forgeries.

dengue fever outbreak in the capital was mismanaged to the point where the poor were being turned away from hospital because they could not pay for treatment — hardly a good look for a Government whose very name translates as the Common Man’s Party.

Worst was to come when two children died after being refused treatment at several hospitals and the distraught parents of one committed suicide.

Now the former Law Minister in an earlier short-lived AAP minority government in Delhi, Somnath Bharti, is on the run after his wife brought charges that he had assaulted her on a number of occasions and had tried to murder her.  

After being told by the Delhi High Court that he could not expect bail while the case against him proceeds, Bharti went underground and is nowhere to be found.

Tired of the constant waves of bad publicity, Kejriwal demanded that Bharti give himself up and cooperate with police, so far to no effect.

Battered AAP supporters say the problems lie with the political inexperience of most of its members and that things will get better. However, most commentators are in agreement that the fledgling party’s reputation has been damaged to the point where no repair is possible.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fear grips Delhi as fever spreads

The Indian capital of New Delhi is currently gripped with fear over a virulent outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease dengue fever — and apart from a lot of finger- pointing and attempts to shift the blame, authorities seem powerless in the face of the crisis.

Official reports state there have been nearly 1900 cases and five deaths in the National Capital Region, but the figure is almost certain to be higher as many families decide to treat victims at home rather than take them to over-stretched public hospitals or to private facilities where they have to pay.

Almost all Government-run hospitals are struggling to cope, with television images showing three patients sharing beds.

The Delhi State Government is now waving the big stick at the city’s private hospitals, warning them they will forfeit their licences if they turn patients away because they cannot pay.

This follows a scandal when two young boys died of the disease after being turned away by a number of private hospitals. The parents of one of them then committed suicide.

As the blame-game steps up, the State Government is being accused of cutting back on health expenditure. There have been calls for the Federal Government to step in with additional assistance.

Health experts says the dengue outbreak – the worst for five years – has exposed the inadequacy of the public health system with the number of hospital beds not keeping pace with the rising population.

Delhi is better served than most areas with 2.7 beds for every 1000 people, but that is only just over half the ratio recommended by the World Health Organisation.  

And the worst may still be to come with incidences of the disease unlikely to peak for another month at the end of the monsoon season.

Dengue fever is endemic in India and at the moment can only be contained by the elimination of the mosquitos that carry the virus. India is involved in a global effort to find a vaccine that can directly attack the virus, so far without success. 





Thursday, September 10, 2015

Refugees a lifeline for ageing West

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and German Chancellor Angela Merkel find themselves at different ends of the argument when it comes to dealing with the greatest movement of people since World War II – perhaps even since Genghis Khan spread his terror throughout Eurasia in the 13th Century.

While Mr Abbott did not actually say that stopping the asylum-seeker boats was helping Australia to a sustainable surplus, as the headline of his interview with Leigh Sales suggests, it is clear that he regards any influx as a detriment to the economy and a drain on national resources.

Ms Merkel is of a completely opposite opinion. Among European Union leaders she stands along with her commitment to take a massive 800,000 refugees from the throngs currently making their weary and often dangerous way into the continent — that’s nearly one per cent of Germany’s total population.

But while she is being hailed by refugee supporters and humanitarian agencies across the globe, there is method in her generosity from which all Western leaders should take note.

For a start, the Chancellor is not alone in welcoming the refugees to Germany. Business leaders say they are needed to fill jobs and to boost the economy, and they have very good reasons for making those statements.

Germany desperately needs an injection of young people – particularly if they have skills that can quickly be translated into the domestic workforce. The nation is ageing and its generous pensions system is buckling under the strain. With one of the world’s lowest birth rates, it is facing a contracting labour force with more taking out than are putting in.

In winning the 2013 election, Ms Merkel promised to find a solution to the demographic problem during her term. She had absolutely no chance of doing so until this year’s refugee surge from the Middle East dropped a solution right into her lap.

At the same time she gains international prestige by offering compassion and dignity to the displaced masses, by stressing it is Germany’s obligation to take in people fleeing the horrors of war. A win-win situation? Well, not quite.

Ms Merkel still has to deal with virulent opposition from the far right — opposition which has resulted in sporadic violence towards refugees already in the country. But in this case it seems she is ready to face her opponents down.

She did not mince her words in a recent speech when she said the experiences of 2015 were going to change Germany forever, but she also asserted the country was strong enough and ready enough to cope with those changes.

She also had words for those who oppose her Government’s refugee policies: “There will be no tolerance towards those who question the dignity of others.”

Asked to elaborate the Chancellor said there would no dialogue, no concessions to the far right. “The key is not to show even the slightest bit of understanding. Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies their stance.”

In saying this Ms Merkel shows a determination to keep the anti-refugee lobby on the fringe of the debate. This is in direct contrast to Australia where those who oppose asylum seekers are given at least equal time, in Parliament and in the media, with those who welcome them.

In contrast to Ms Merkel, Mr Abbott stresses only the cost to Australia of refugees – and of course keeping them under guard in offshore detention is expensive. Germany minimises the cost of camps by releasing refugees into the community as soon as their needs have been assessed.

However, it is prepared to spend billions on language training, upskilling and reskilling the people it has taken in. It appears that the majority of Germans are with Ms Merkel in seeing this as an essential investment in the nation’s future.

Yes, it will mean change, but change has been the one constant throughout human history. Past generations have coped with it. Should we expect to be any different?  


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lawlessness threat to Nauru refugees

The New Zealand Government’s decision to suspend aid to Nauru’s justice system further highlights the deteriorating situation in the small Pacific Island nation. If not yet a failed State it is certainly a State where the rule of law is being repeatedly ignored to the point where it is lapsing into totalitarianism.

New Zealand’s decision, announced by the country’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, should ring alarm bells in Canberra where the Government is responsible for close to 1,000 refugees currently held there.

Mr McCully said the decision was taken to suspend the $1.1 million annual aid package because he feared his country would be seen “as part of the problem rather than part of the solution”. The clear implication being that he did not want New Zealand to continue to prop up an administration that was increasingly ignoring the rule of law.

And indeed there have been numerous examples of a Nauruan Government out of control and making war on those who dare to oppose it.

It began with the arrest and deportation of Nauru’s Chief Magistrate, Peter Law just as he was preparing an inquiry into the suspicious death of the Justice Minister’s wife, followed by the cancellation of the visa of the Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames while he was out of the country.

Since then five Opposition MPs have been suspended from Parliament; journalists visiting the island have been told they must pay an $8,000 non-refundable fee; the Police Commissioner has been sacked after he launched an inquiry into bribry allegations involving the President and the Minister for Justice, and access to the social media site Facebook has been shut off.

Despite the inability of journalists to report freely, news has leaked out of beatings, rapes and general unrest involving the refugees, some of them children. Last month the Refugee Action Coalition highlighted the case of a female asylum-seeker from Iran who it says has been held in isolation since being sexually assaulted in May.

The Australian Government has repeatedly said that asylum-seekers who try to come to Australia by means other than its own processing system will never be settled there. Even so, it still bears responsibility for those it has sent to offshore detention.

As the Chair of the New Zealand Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee, Austin Forbes, pointed out in an interview with the ABC, Nauruan MPs are being held in prison without charge, legal representation has been denied: “We had to do something”.

The New Zealand Government has made it clear it regards Nauru as a country where the rule of law cannot be guaranteed. It is now over to Canberra to take up its moral and legal obligation to ensure the absolute safety of the men, women and children it has sent there.