TIME India

India’s Opposition On Track to Sweep National Elections

The Bharatiya Janata Party has scored a major victory and appears on track to have won a majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament, pulling off the best election performance by a single party in decades and paving the way for Narendra Modi to become the nation’s next Prime Minister

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has scored a major victory in India’s national elections and appears on track to have won a majority of seats in India’s lower house of Parliament, paving the way for Narendra Modi to become the nation’s next Prime Minister.

Partial counting indicates that the Hindu-nationalist party has pulled off the best performance by a single party in decades, buoyed both by Modi’s well-received campaign and a profound anti-incumbency sentiment felt across the nation after 10 years of government under the outgoing Congress Party. According to partial results at 9:30 E.T., the BJP was leading with 283 out of 543 seats in India’s lower house of parliament, according to India’s Press Information Bureau, a number that would give the party an absolute majority and clear mandate in the next government.

Though final results have yet to be announced, many foreign heads of state are reportedly already scrambling to congratulate Modi. “Good days are coming,” Modi said in a speech before supporters in Gujarat on Friday evening.From today for next five years, the journey has started.”

A record number of voters participated in world’s largest election, a mammoth five-week process that ended on May 12. Over 66% of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared with 58% in the last vote in 2009.

The results so far are a massive blow to Congress, very likely facing its worst showing ever with only 45 seats, according to partial results. The party has already conceded defeat, with analysts blaming it on the poor performance of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in leading the party’s campaign and, more broadly, an overall crisis in party leadership.

“We have to introspect,” Kapil Sibal, a Congress minister who appeared set to lose his New Delhi parliamentary seat to a BJP candidate, told NDTV. “We have to [make] corrections and look at it positively.”

In its first national contest, the Aam Aadmi Party, led by former bureaucrat Arvind Kejriwal, is on track for a relatively muted showing — leading in just four seats at 9:30 E.T. — compared with its successful first state elections in New Delhi in December. After taking control of the New Delhi government, Kejriwal stepped down from the chief minister’s post after less than two months in office, a move widely seen as damaging to the fledgling party in its national debut.

Markets, meanwhile, surged on the strong BJP indicators, with the Sensex reaching an all-time high and the rupee gaining strength. Indian industrialists have long been clambering for more pro-business policies from Congress and its allies, and have said Modi’s decisive leadership style will help get the economy back on the high-growth path.

Modi’s fast climb in national politics has taken many in India by surprise since his appointment as the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate in September. Having famously sold tea as a boy on the train platforms of his hometown in the western state of Gujarat, Modi rose through the state’s political machine to become its powerful chief minister in 2001. It’s a narrative that resonates with many Indian voters, but he has also been a divisive figure since a wave of bloody religious riots took place on his watch in Gujarat in 2002, in which over 1,000 Muslims were killed. Though Modi has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the courts, many, particularly within India’s large Muslim community, remain apprehensive about the prospect of a Modi-led government.

Aware of these sensitivities, the BJP was careful to downplay its Hindu roots throughout its campaign, focusing instead on issues of stable governance, development and job creation as Modi set out to reinvent himself as a national leader. His team ran a tireless and well-organized campaign, holding hundreds of rallies around the nation and making astute use of social media and carefully targeted advertising.

The party’s resounding win reflects the more conservative mind-set of provincial as opposed to metropolitan India. “It’s the first time you have a regional leader come to power in the center on his own gumption,” says Pradeep Chhibber, a political scientist at University of California, Berkeley. “This is a victory for small-town conservative India.”

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 21 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From rocket launches to Conchita Wurst, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME brazil

Brazilian Police Clash With Protesters Ahead of the World Cup

Hundreds of demonstrators protest against money spent on Brazil's World Cup preparations in São Paulo on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Andre Penner—AP

Riot police in the Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro fired tear gas at thousands of protesters on Thursday, as demonstrations against the cost of hosting soccer's World Cup resumed in Brazil

Riot police in the Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro fired tear gas at thousands of protesters on Thursday, as demonstrations against the cost of hosting soccer’s World Cup resumed in Brazil.

Some protesters torched tires, blocked roads and hurled rocks, the BBC reports. Local media reported that 234 people were arrested within a 24-hour period.

Protesters argue that the tournament’s $15 billion tab should instead be used for social projects and housing.

The government argues that the event will bring economic benefits and downplayed the relevance of Thursday’s demonstrations by pointing at their coincidence with labor strikes.

“I’ve seen nothing that is related to the (World) Cup,” said Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo. “There’s no reason to panic ahead of receiving 3 million Brazilian tourists and 600,000 foreign tourists.”

The World Cup kicks off on June 12.

[BBC]

TIME India

India’s Elections: Snapshots From the World’s Biggest Vote

Voting in India’s general elections concluded on May 12, five weeks after the first ballots were cast. Some 550 million people—equating to a record turnout of over 66%—voted in what was the biggest exercise in democracy on the planet. Results are due on May 16, with exit polls pointing to a victory for an alliance led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Photographs by Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

TIME Syria

Abducted Relief Workers Released in Syria

Médecins Sans Frontières says five workers who were kidnapped in January have been released after spending months in captivity

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced Thursday that five staff members had been released from captivity in Syria. An armed group had abducted the aid workers from a MSF hospital in northern Syria in January. Three workers were reportedly released in April and the final two were released on Thursday.

“The relief of seeing our colleagues return safely is mixed with anger in the face of this cynical act that has cut off an already war-ravaged population from desperately needed assistance,” Médecins Sans Frontières International President Joanne Liu said in a statement.

Médecins Sans Frontières did not released the identities of the workers, but says all are safe and with families.

Also known as Doctors without Borders, MSF has been providing medical care in Syria since 2012. The country’s civil war began in 2011. Fighting between the government and rebel forces has killed more than 150,000 and displaced millions.

TIME Syria

Kerry: Chlorine Gas May Have Been Used in Syria

John Kerry Syria
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference following the Friends of Syria meeting in London on May 15, 2014. Matt Dunham—AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters he has seen "raw data" indicating the chemical weapon was used in recent attacks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London on Thursday that he had seen “raw data” indicating that the Syrian government used chlorine gas amid the civil war, but he said the information was not confirmed.

“It hasn’t been confirmed, but I’ve seen the raw data that suggests there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war,” Kerry said. “And if it has, and if it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said Syria may have used chlorine in recent attacks, and France has called for the U.N. to refer the more than three-year-old conflict to the International Criminal Court for prosecution of war crimes. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the forces of President Bashar Assad likely used chlorine gas in attacks in mid-April.

The allegations come as the U.N. says nearly all of Syria’s chemical weapons have been removed ahead of a June 30 deadline as part of an internationally brokered agreement following Syria’s alleged use of the weapons in August.

TIME

Foreign Companies Strike Hopeful Note at Iranian Oil Fair

As Iran and the West attempt to hammer out a deal over the country's nuclear program, there was a spike in participation by foreign companies at an annual oil & gas expo in Tehran

As Iran’s 19th annual International Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Exhibition drew to an end in Tehran last week, it was hailed as a success by both organizers and participants alike. Though none of the European or American oil giants had taken part, there was a tripling of participation by foreign companies from countries such as Germany, Spain, Canada and Japan as well as the Chinese.

“This was the most successful annual exhibition since the Ahmadinejad government came to office 8 years ago,” said Akbar Nematollahi, the expo director and head of the public relations department of Iran’s Petroleum Ministry. Participation by foreign firms had fallen under the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government. “The number of foreign companies alone went up to around 600 from 195 last year.”

Some western firms that had not participated for years were thrilled with the reaction they saw during the 4-day long expo. “Our experience in this year’s fair was so good that we’ve already decided to come back next year with more staff and a bigger stall,” Joachim Bund, sales manager of the German company Lewa, which produces industrial pump systems, said.

“We’ve seen extreme interest in our products from Iranian companies, both private and state owned,” said Alexandre Chtcherbakov, president of the Canadian Techno and Power Tools Inc., which produces advanced lithium batteries that are used in oilfield drilling. “This is very promising for the future.”

With the election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s President and the subsequent breakthrough in the nuclear talks in Geneva last year, many think that Iran’s oil and gas sector could soon once again be open to business with Western firms. “The world is realizing that a new government with a reasonable outlook is in power. There is an old hand back at the helm of Iran’s petroleum industry, and the westerners have got the message. Right now not only are we in talks with numerous European firms, but also three major oil companies from the United States have been in touch,” Nematollahi said, declining to name the American companies due to their request to remain unidentified at the present.

“There [are] nearly $90 billion of oil and petrochemical projects available for anyone who wants to participate. Should the sanction problem be solved, Iran’s Petroleum Ministry would welcome major European and American Oil Companies because they have higher technology and better management than Chinese or Indian firms.” Nematollahi added.

At the moment, Western firms can at the most do only limited business with Iran due to sanctions, but those that took part in the Tehran expo say they are positioning themselves for the possibility that things might change. “Focusing on the Iranian market is very important for us because we think with the new government in Iran, the sanctions are near the end,” said Juan Vicente Ortiz, a head engineer of Prematecnica, a Spanish firm which produces gas flares.

Even though the Geneva Interim Nuclear Agreement in November gave hope to a possible negotiated conclusion of Iran’s nuclear case, the hurdle of the sanctions regime means that none of the western firms are willing to commit beyond its bounds. The uncertainty will continue until—and unless—there is a lasting international deal on the country’s nuclear program.

“Iran is a big opportunity for us. We stand to triple our total business, but we are not selling anything to them right now,” said Chtcherbakov. “We are a Canadian company and we will not do anything to jeopardize our position. We will keep on abiding a 100% by the sanctions regime.”

“We’ve been working here in Iran from 20 years ago. However since the sanctions started we’ve had to leave the oil and gas sector completely, and the work in other fields has become the most complicated work we do all over the world,” said Bund, whose company is still selling equipment for power plants to Iran in spite of all the difficulties caused by the sanctions regime. “For every request we get, we have to first check with the German authorities which can take 8 weeks. Maybe one out of a hundred of these requests are approved,” Bund added. “Getting back into Iran’s oil sector after the sanctions are lifted is a number one priority for us, and we feel that something, some big steps are coming, but until it does, its business as usual, and it has never been as hard as it is right now.”

In spite of the positive signs from the ongoing nuclear talks, the outcome is far from certain. Should the negotiations ultimately fail, the opening both sides are anticipating will not materialize. “I hope that the nuclear diplomacy will get results, because only then will our energy diplomacy have a chance,” Nematollahi concluded.

TIME Fast Food

Photos: Fast Food Workers Launch Largest Strike Yet

Employees of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast food chains walked off the job today in 150 cities to advocate for a $15 per hour minimum wage and the right to unionize. The strikers are also receiving support from their fellow fast food workers abroad, who staged protests in more than 30 countries, according to union organizers

TIME China

China’s Hard Landing Is Coming, But It’s Not The One You Expect

The future of the world's second largest economy hinges on how the country's political elite responds to Xi Jinping's reforms

For years, people have worried whether China is headed for a hard landing. Those concerns are overstated—just like fears that the U.S. was going to default, or that the Eurozone was going to fall apart. But there is trouble coming in the long term: either many leaders and elites will have a hard landing, or far more troublingly, the country itself will.

Here’s why there is good reason to be confident that China will do well over the next year or so: The leadership under Xi Jinping has actually engaged in transformational economic reform without the specter of urgent crisis. Leaders rarely undertake difficult projects when circumstances don’t absolutely force their hand (and even then, those responses begin to recede along with the threat itself). That’s what we saw with the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, and with financial reform in the U.S.

By contrast, even in the absence of crisis, China’s leadership has been able to make methodical, significant change, dictating their own pace and priorities for economic reform. The most significant reforms have been around the environment, particularly air quality; Xi Jinping understands that these issues will take a long time to fix. There has been financial reform as well, which struck him as urgent because many of the leaders most committed to it will retire by 2018. And Xi is reforming state-owned enterprises, while loosening the rules for foreign direct investment.

Even as Xi slowly opens up the economy, he is clamping down politically to mitigate risk. Xi is surrounding himself with strong leaders, consolidating support at the top echelons of government. He’s taking firm control of the military, something he worked out with the former president and which typically takes longer to happen. He has managed to build institutions within the party that are focused on internal control, such as a national security council that focuses resources on internal stability. He has also waged a strong anti-corruption campaign to keep political leaders in lockstep with his economic reforms.

And it has all gone pretty smoothly thus far. China’s growth has actually remained quite strong; it’s tapered off slowly in recent years, but that’s part of the process of building a more sustainable economic model. And there has been very little political backlash. (The only example has been former President Jiang Zemin’s warning that “the footprint of this anti-corruption campaign cannot get too big”). When it comes to popular dissent, it hasn’t materialized in any acute way. (Yes, there are demonstrations in the country, but we’ve been reading Tom Friedman columns for decades claiming China is going to implode. He hasn’t written any of those lately.) In short, Xi has a well-considered plan, and he has sufficient internal support to pull it off. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this falls of the rails in the near future.

But there is a hard landing coming down the road. And it’s not economic, it’s political.

Xi’s reforms are not just cosmetic. Real changes to the economy will threaten the vested interests of all the Chinese leaders who have been making significant money for themselves and their allies through inefficient investment of state capital, protection for their preferred companies, and inappropriate promotion of growth over sustainability. If the reforms are going to work, then an entire class of Chinese leaders, who have enriched themselves for over 30 years, will suddenly be on the losing end. And that’s a problem.

The fact that Xi has gone as far as he has with no pushback—no civil disobedience, no willful obstruction by leaders—is extraordinary, but we can guarantee it won’t continue forever. When pushback comes, it’s going to be as strong as the powerful people that his reforms threaten. And that will be the moment of truth for China. When that moment comes, one of two things could happen. An entire cadre of Chinese leaders suffers a hard landing; this would be for the greater good of China, as Xi’s economic fixes continue and things improve. Or these powerful elites win, and Xi’s reform process stalls out. At that point, the country could experience a much more devastating hard landing, because the legitimacy that Xi has built up will collapse, and critical environmental and economic problems in China will go unfixed. That will all lead to public disenchantment. That’s when you’ll see the real instability on the streets.

Reforms are a tremendous undertaking and a great opportunity for China; Xi has performed as well as anyone could have hoped for thus far. If he can push on with reforms despite the political pushback, we could see a much more vibrant Chinese economy. But if powerful Chinese leaders can avoid a hard landing, it will come at the expense of China itself.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of “Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.” You can follow him on Twitter @ianbremmer.

TIME South Korea

Captain of Sunken South Korea Ferry Charged With Homicide

The captain of the sunken South Korean ferry and three other crew members face a possible death sentence after being indicted for homicide following the ship’s sinking.

Eleven other crew members were charged with negligence and abandoning passengers while in need. But Capt. Lee Joon-seok faces a harsher indictment after allegedly telling passengers to stay in their rooms while abandoning the ship himself.

Almost a month after the Sewol’s sinking, 23 bodies remain missing while 281 have been retrieved.

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