Saturday, Mar. 11

Saturday, Mar. 11

The stories that matter before they happen.

ON THE MONEY: INDIAN ELECTION RESULTS

Photo: Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times

Photo: Arun Sharma/ Hindustan Times

Election results for five Indian states will be released on Saturday, with exit polls predicting a major win for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.

With a population of 220 million people, Uttar Pradesh is a critical battleground; no party can govern India without holding power there. The BJP will need to secure 202 out of the state’s 403 assembly seats for the win –an achievable outcome, with some analysts predicting a windfall of up to 279 seats.

Saturday’s results will also gauge Prime Minister Modi’s popularity and serve as a litmus test for the 2019 national elections. Modi will be boosted by the well-received February budget, as well as signs that the economy is stabilising after the shock of his controversial demonetisation policy late last year.

Until now, Modi’s tax reforms have been blocked by the upper house, where his party does not hold a majority.  Strong support for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh could strengthen its position in the upper house, allowing the government to pass much-needed reforms quickly.

RICHES TO RAGS: WESTERN AUSTRALIA VOTES

Photo: ABC

Photo: ABC

Western Australians will vote in a new state government on Saturday. Having presided over a mining boom and with little to show for it, the end of the road beckons for Premier Colin Barnett.

His centre-right coalition has ruled the vast state for nine years but is facing voter backlash over poor economic management. At 6.5%, Western Australia has the country’s highest unemployment rate, and despite an influx of billions in resource investment, primarily from Asia, the state’s debt is set to reach a record high of $33.8 billion by June. Ratings agencies warned of this riches to rags story in 2014, when they stripped Australia’s largest state of its triple-A rating.

The centre-left Labor Party looks set to capitalise on Barnett’s economic mismanagement – a poll last month showed it with a commanding 8% lead. Predictably, Labor is running on a platform of job creation and promises to add 50,000 jobs.

Fuelling resentment against the Liberal Party – at least in some quarters – is its decision to preference the nationalist-populist One Nation over its current coalition partner, the Nationals.

In a similarly precarious position on the national level, Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull will keep a close eye on Saturday’s vote.

Dig deeper: Australia’s sunspotted economy

A MESSY TRANSITION: DR CONGO

Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

After much delay, the body of Congo’s opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi – who died last month in Brussels – was to be returned to Kinshasa on Saturday. But earlier this week, his family announced the trip would be postponed, accusing the government of blocking the move.

This is unsurprising: Mr Tshisekedi and his opposition coalition had been a thorn in the side of President Joseph Kabila. After Kabila refused to cede power late last year, Tshisekedi instructed his followers to take to the streets, threatening unrest and a backslide into civil conflict. Congolese remember such horrors well – the country fought a bloody five-year war from 1998 to 2003, which ultimately caused the death of more than 5 million people.

But late last year, crisis was averted when a power transition agreement was reached between the late Etienne Tshisekedi and President Kabila. Mr Tshisekedi was to lead that transition; his death throws those plans into turmoil.

Kabila will exploit the confusion in his attempts to hang onto power for an unconstitutional third term. Expect further civil unrest in the coming months as opposition figures jockey for influence and try and enforce the transition agreement.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

American authorities will announce whether Bitcoin – a crypto-currency that enables holders to make anonymous online payments – will be able to trade on the stock market as an exchange-traded fund. If given the go-ahead, investing in Bitcoin will become substantially easier. The price of Bitcoin has shot up some 25% since the start of the year, even exceeding the price of an ounce of gold briefly last week.

The bankrupt US territory of Puerto Rico must submit a revised fiscal plan by Saturday. The initial plan, which was presented on February 28, was rejected on Thursday for relying on overly optimistic projections.

The appointment of Hong Kong Chief Leung Chun-ying as vice-chairman of China’s top advisory body will be debated internally before an official vote on Monday. Mr Leung’s strong stance against the pro-independence movement has reportedly made him a strong contender for the position.