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Eye in the sky: Drones to monitor Bihar polls

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New Delhi, Oct 8 : Drones will be used for the first time for surveillance in the upcoming Bihar assembly polls, according to a top election official.

“Helicopters have been used in the past for surveillance, but drones will be used this time, probably for the first time,” R Lakshmanan, Bihar’s Additional Chief Electoral Officer, told IANS in an interview over the phone from Patna. He declined to give operational details about the drone usage.

The task of conducting polls for the 243 assembly constituencies across the 38 districts of the country’s third most populous state will be done in five phases – October 12, 16, 28, November 1 and 5. Counting of votes will take place on November 8.

Lakshmanan said that arguably, the biggest challenges would be maintaining law and order, checking “use and misuse of money power”, the implementation of model code of conduct and “improving voter participation.”

About 4.89 lakh officials drawn from the civil side, and 6 lakh security personnel have been deployed to oversee poll preparations.

Lakshmanan said till October 6, Rs 15.56 crore in cash and close to 5.34 lakh litres of liquor which had been confiscated. The liquor was being stocked for distribution before voting days.

According to him, money and liquor were the two area which threw up challenges as far as monitoring election expenditure was concerned. So far, the election office has registered 265 FIRs for these violations.

In comparison, Rs 6 crore in cash and around 5.78 lakh litres of liquor were confiscated during the 2014 Lok Sabha election in the state, he said.

The other big challenge was over law and order. He said combing operations over the last couple of months in the 11-odd districts “where the Maoists threat is serious have fetched positive results”.

 

“There has been significant success with the recovery of 300 explosives and 800 odd illegal weapons,” he added.

He said the poll-day preparations have begun well in advance and adequate numbers of security forces were available for deployment.

Over 6.6 crore voters, including over 3.1 crore women voters, are eligible to cast their ballot at the 62,779 polling stations across the state. Some 1,200 of these polling stations in certain areas of Bhagalpur, Khagaria, Vaishali, Darbhanga and Supaul districts, besides others, fall in the riverine belt of the state and are difficult to access.

Poll officials are posed with the peculiar challenge of treading a difficult terrain and cross over a river to access the polling stations and reach out to the voters there, the election official said.

Lakshmanan pointed at another challenge. He said that religious festivals such as Durga Puja and Muharram in between the poll schedule pose a unique challenge. “We have to ensure communal harmony as we handle the security arrangements during these festivals in poll time,” he said.

Lakshmanan, a Bihar cadre bureaucrat, has previously served as the district magistrate of Darbhanga and was the district director of the education department’s mid-day programme.

He has been with the Bihar CEO Ajay Nayak’s office for past year and half.

He said a number of initiatives had been taken to get the approximately 50 lakh first time voter – between the age group of 18 and 19 – to vote.

The run-up to the staggered polls has also seen a number of leaders from across parties indulging in hate speech.

Lakshmanan said leaders generally adhere to the model code of conduct, and when “we see certain violations in speeches”, the commission sends a show cause notice.

For instance, senior state BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad were issued notices and both have responded to the Election Commission in New Delhi.

“Seven FIRs have been filed in this regard so far and a police probe is on,” he said. He did not give further details.

Lakshmanan said the days of booth capturing and violence at polling booths in the state are over as not a single such incident was reported during the polls in 2005, ’09 and ’10.

(Priyanka,IANS)

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USA Finally Votes On Tuesday To Render Decision On Trump

Republicans are counting on Trump's frenetic campaign pace in the final days to help them retain or even expand their narrow Senate majority.

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jamal Khashoggi, election
President Donald Trump talks to reporters about journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance prior to boarding Air Force One for travel to Montana from Joint Base Andrews, Md. VOA

A sharply divided U.S. electorate is voting Tuesday to elect a new Congress and to render a midterm verdict on President Donald Trump. The results could shift the balance of power in Washington and alter the next two years of Trump’s presidency.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are at stake Tuesday, plus 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats and 36 of the 50 state governorships.

Public opinion polls and analysts suggest that opposition Democrats have an advantage in the battle for control of the House of Representatives. Democrats are favored to win more House seats than they currently have and they need an overall gain of 23 to retake the House majority.

Republicans are counting on President Trump to rally his supporters to help maintain their narrow 51 to 49 seat edge in the Senate. Of the 35 Senate seats at stake Tuesday, Democrats hold 26 and Republicans hold nine.

Immigration focus

Democrats are trying to hold 10 Senate seats in states where Trump prevailed in the 2016 election, including Tennessee.

Trump blasted Democrats over immigration during a recent rally in Chattanooga.

America, election
A woman arrives at a polling station in Lark Community Center as early voting for midterm elections started, in McAllen, Texas. VOA

“Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to pour into our country. I don’t think so,” Trump said, invoking images of the caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico. “No nation can allow its borders to be overrun. And that is an invasion. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what the fake media says. That is an invasion of our country.”

Democrats are getting some high-profile campaigners to help them including former President Barack Obama, who rallied voters in his home state of Illinois and told them Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the border in response to the caravan was a “political stunt.”

“When you vote, Illinois, you can reject that kind of politics. When you participate in the political process, you can be a check on bad behavior. When you vote, Illinois, you can choose hope over fear,” Obama said.

election
President Donald Trump acknowledges the crowd at a rally in Chattanooga, Tenn. VOA

Early turnout has been huge in several states, especially for a midterm election when total voter turnout often struggles to reach 40 percent of eligible voters.

Trump a central issue

Polls show Democrats are most concerned with health care and the economy, with Republicans focused on immigration.

But Brookings Institution expert John Hudak said it is also clear that Trump is a major issue for both parties this year.

“This is a president who wants this midterm to be a referendum on him, largely because he thinks his own popularity is so great that it will carry Republicans across the finish line,” Hudak said.

But Trump is not only battling Democrats in this year’s election, he is also battling history.

election
lorida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, left, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), right, listen to former President Barack Obama as he addresses the media and supporters as they stump for votes at a rally in Miami, Florida, VOA

“The big picture is that midterm elections go against the president’s party,” noted John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “I think there will be no difference here. The Democrats will do quite well in the House of Representatives, in the governorships and state legislatures.”

Trump’s approval rating is also a concern for Republicans. RealClearPolitics puts Trump’s average approval at about 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving.

“The midterm history is pretty stark in that the president’s party usually loses ground in the midterms and it is usually a question of how much ground they lose,” said University of Virginia analyst Kyle Kondik. “That is particularly true when a president is unpopular, as this president is.”

Kondik notes that in the 29 congressional midterm elections held since 1900, the president’s party has lost House seats in all but three — 1934, 1998 and 2002.

Will Democrats turn out?

Historically, though, Republicans are more reliable voters in midterm elections.

Gallup pollster Frank Newport said that puts pressure on Democrats to make sure their supporters get out and vote.

America, election
People stand cast their ballots ahead of the Nov. 6 election at Jim Miller Park, in Marietta, Ga. VOA

“Under the expectation that Republican voters typically are more likely to turn out, can Democrats energize people who identify with the Democratic Party to turn out and vote for their candidates?” Newport said.

If Democrats win enough House seats to reclaim the majority, Trump would face a shift in the balance of power in Washington.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump To Meet Google CEO Sundar Pichai And Other Heads Of Tech Giants

“The House has been a rubber stamp for the Trump agenda. It will no longer be a rubber stamp,” said Jim Kessler of the centrist Democratic group Third Way. “Anything that gets done will have to be a bipartisan basis.”

Democrats are hoping for a wave election that would bring them control of the House and gubernatorial victories in key states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Republicans are counting on Trump’s frenetic campaign pace in the final days to help them retain or even expand their narrow Senate majority. (VOA)