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Barrage of rallies in Punjab much before arrival of elections

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Chandigarh: It may not be election time in Punjab, but the state is witnessing a spate of political rallies as major parties in the state are already in a poll mode.

The lead has been taken by the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which announced ‘Sadbhawna rallies’ in Bathinda, Moga, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib and a ‘mega rally’ in Patiala.

The Akali Dal’s alliance partner, BJP, which was exploring options to go solo in the next assembly polls in the state, has done a re-think after the recent Bihar poll results and has joined the Akali Dal in the rallies.

The Akali Dal was forced to hold the rallies to avoid eroding its traditional vote bank of farmers and people in rural areas after recent incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib led to protests and violence and radical Sikh elements and organizations were able to cash in on the situation and blame the Parkash Singh Badal government for not restoring order.

The opposition Congress, which had been grappling with its internal power struggle and factionalism in the past one year, is also setting itself for a course correction with former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh being finally made the state unit president.

The big showdown between the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress is slated for December 15 when the Congress organises its first big rally in Bathinda town where Amarinder Singh will formally take over as the state Congress president.

Akali Dal president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has announced that the party will hold its biggest rally on the same day in front of the Moti Bagh Palace of Amarinder Singh, who belongs to the erstwhile royal family of Patiala).

The Congress chose Bathinda for Amarinder’s coronation after Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal recently challenged its leadership to hold a rally at the same ground where the Akali Dal organised its first ‘Sadbhawna rally’ on Nov 23.

Bathinda is the Lok Sabha constituency of Sukhbir Badal’s wife, union minister Harsimrat Badal.

“We will hold a big, historic rally in Bathinda which will be attended by all Congress leaders. People will join the rally on their own, unlike the Akalis who misused government machinery for their rally,” Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said.

After the Bathinda rally, the Congress is likely to plan more rallies in coming days.

Not the one to be left behind, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has four Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab, is making its presence felt with its own series of meetings across the state. The AAP has announced that its leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will camp in Punjab some time next year to strengthen the party’s base.

The AAP is preparing itself to be the third major force in the state. The party knows that it has a substantial vote bank of people who are disenchanted with the Akali Dal-BJP combine and the Congress.

Elections to Punjab’s 117-member assembly will be held in Feb-March 2017.

(Jaideep Sarin, IANS)

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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Faces First Defeat in Congress

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives at the inauguration ceremony of the new president of the Parliamentary Front of Agriculture (FPA), at the Clube Naval, in Brasilia, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Brazil’s lower chamber handed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro his first defeat in Congress on Tuesday, the day before his government presents its most important legislative proposal to rein in a gaping budget deficit and spur growth.

The house voted overwhelmingly to suspend an executive order by the Bolsonaro government that altered Brazil’s freedom of information law to broaden the number of officials allowed to designate data and documents as secret or ultra-secret.

Lawmakers voted 367 to 57 to fast-track a bill overturning the secrecy measure and government whips were unable to muster votes to avoid defeat.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate, but the reversal showed that Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, has not yet been able to organize a coalition in Congress to back his legislative agenda.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro will send to Congress his plan to overhaul Brazil’s generous and costly pension system that eats up more than half of federal spending and is the main factor behind an unsustainable budget deficit.

Brazil, Bolsonaro
FILE – Gustavo Bebianno in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. VOA

Approval of pension reform is vital for the recovery of investor confidence in Latin America’s largest economy.

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates in the October elections.

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The ousted minister, Gustavo Bebianno, was instrumental in getting Bolsonaro elected but had a run-in with one of the president’s sons, triggering the weeks-old government’s first cabinet crisis.

In a note to clients, analysts at Eurasia Group said the scandal indicated the administration’s political team was in disarray, but they still expected the pension reform to get passed, albeit in a less ambitious version. (VOA)