What is a coalition government?

After 12 years under the rule of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israelis woke up to a new government and a new prime minister on June 14. PM Naftali Bennett leads an unprecedented coalition of parties, which got together with a single aim to oust Netanyahu. The coalition comprises eight parties with deep ideological differences. What does a coalition government mean? Who are the new leaders?

What happened?

Legislative elections were held in Israel in March 2021 to elect the 120 members of the 24th Knesset (Israeli parliament). It was the fourth election since 2019. Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid party, and Naftali Bennett, leader of Yamina, announced they formed a rotation government on June 2, which was approved on June 13 in Knesset.

The coalition in Israel has a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59. However, it put an end to two-year period of political paralysis. The coalition spans the far-left to the far-right and includes for the first time a small Islamist faction representing Israel's Arab minority. The government is expected to focus mostly on economic and social issues rather than risk exposing internal rifts by trying to address major diplomatic issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Under the coalition deal, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years and will be replaced by Yair Lapid. It was Lapid who made a series of agreements with parties across the political spectrum to form the new coalition and his party won the most votes in the anti-Netanyahu camp.

What is a coalition government?

When two or more parties come together to form a government, it is called a coalition government. The alliance could happen pre or post poll. In the post poll alliance, parties come together to form a government when no single party enjoys absolute majority. Before agreeing to an alliance, the parties in the coalition negotiate on seat sharing, roles and responsibilities. Members of the parties in the coalition decide who among them will run the government as the head of the state.

Who is Benjamin Netanyahu?

  • Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving leader, who won a record four elections and held office five times more than any other prime minister in the country's 73-year history.
  • Netanyahu earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. He was appointed Israel's permanent representative at the UN in New York in 1984. In 1988, Netanyahu returned to Israel and entered Israeli politics. Winning a seat for the Likud Party in the Knesset, he became the deputy foreign minister. He later became party chairman and the prime minister in 1996. In 2009, he returned to power as the prime minister and retained the office till 2020. In 2019, he was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He now serves as the opposition leader.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu strengthened Israel's ties with world nations: held a harder line towards the Palestinians; criticised Iran's nuclear programme and highlighted its threat and managed to make peace with four Arab countries - the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco, and Bahrain, on the back of shared fears of Iran.
  • To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of leading the country through its many security challenges. But to his critics, he has become a polarising and autocratic leader who used divide-and-rule tactics to aggravate the many rifts in Israeli society. Those include tensions between Jews and Arabs, and within the Jewish majority between his religious and nationalist base and his more secular opponents.

How is the fragile coalition government expected to address conflicts?

With little in common, the patchwork coalition of right-wing, centrist, left wing and Arab parties largely plans to avoid sweeping moves on hot button issues such as policy towards the Palestinians, and to focus instead on domestic reforms

Israel-Palestinian issue: Bennett is an ultranationalist who supports settlement expansion and is opposed to a Palestinian state. But he risks losing his job if he alienates his coalition partners. That will likely mean a continuation of Netanyahu's approach of managing the decades-old Israel -Palestinian conflict without trying to end it. Annexing the occupied West Bank and invading Gaza are probably off the table, but so are any major concessions to the Palestinians.

On Iran nuclear deal: The new government is expected to maintain Netanyahu's hard-line stance on Iran and oppose U.S. President Joe Biden's efforts to revive its international nuclear deal. The new government will also likely work with Biden to strengthen ties with Arab states.

Domestic issues: The biggest change will likely be felt domestically, as the government struggles to heal the divisions in Israeli society that opened up during the Netanyahu years, between Jews and Arabs and between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis.

The United Arab List, a small party with Islamist roots led by Mansour Abbas, is the first Arab party to sit in a coalition. In return for helping to oust Netanyahu, he is expected to secure large budgets for housing, infrastructure and law enforcement in Arab communities.

Israel's Arab citizens' make up 20 % of the population and face widespread discrimination. They have close familial ties to the Palestinians and largely identify with their cause, leading many Jewish Israelis to view them with suspicion.

The new government already faces hostility from Israel's ultra-Orthodox community - staunch supporters of Netanyahu.

Who are Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid?

Naftali Bennett is a former ally of Netanyahu. His ultranationalist Yamina party won just seven seats in the Knesset in the March elections. But by refusing to commit to Netanyahu, Bennett positioned himself as kingmaker.

He is opposed to Palestinian independence and strongly supports Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians and much of the international community see as a major obstacle to peace.

He briefly served as head of the West Bank settlers council, Yesha, before entering the Knesset in 2013. Bennett served as Cabinet minister of diaspora affairs, education and defence in various Netanyahu-led governments.

Yair Lapid heads the centrist Yesh Atid party and was the architect behind the new government. His party is the biggest in the coalition but he agreed share power with Bennett to secure a parliamentary majority. He quit his job as a TV anchor in 2012 and formed his own party, running on the promise to ease financial pressures on the middle-class.

What is the Israel-Palestine issue?

The Israel-Palestine issue dates back to the 1910s when Jews and Arabs in Palestine laid claim to the British-controlled Palestine. Facing persecution, the Jews wanted to establish their state in their ancient homeland. They bought lands and started settling down there. However, with the rising influx of Jews from Europe and Russia, the native Palestine Arabs felt threatened which led to violent skirmishes between the two. When this issue was referred to the U.N. in 1947, it voted to split Palestine into two - a Jewish State and an Arab State. Following this, Israel declared independence in May 1948. The same year saw some Arab countries declare war on Israel. Israel emerged victorious and started expanding its territory. A large number of Palestine people fled Israel to settle down in refugee camps bordering the region. Again in 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on Syria, Jordan and Egypt which led to its seizure of key territories such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - these came to be referred to as occupied territories. Despite several accords signed to restore peace in the region, the Palestine issue remains unresolved. Palestinians have been seeking an independent state in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

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What is NOTA?

It was reported that the NOTA option had very few takers in the recent assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, and Puducherry. But what is NOTA? Let’s find out.

NOTA stands for “None of the above”. It is a ballot option in direct elections that allows the voter to indicate disapproval of all the candidates in the electoral fray. It enables the voter to cast a negative vote without compromising the secrecy of their decision. In other words, it encourages voters to express their dissent against all contestants in a democratic way, rather than boycotting elections altogether. It is based on the principle that when the citizens have the right to vote, they also have the right to reject. If a voter presses the NOTA button on the EVM, it means the individual has not voted for any party/candidate. Though NOTA votes are counted, they are considered invalid, and hence will not impact the results of an election. This, experts feel, renders and NOTA meaningless.

When was NOTA introduced?

The ‘NOTA’ option on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was introduced in our electoral system in the year 2013 on the directions of the Supreme Court which hoped that NOTA would force political parties to choose better candidates. NOTA has its own symbol - a ballot paper with a black cross across it. After the Supreme Court order in September 2013 the Election Commission of India, responsible for holding free and fair elections in the country, added the NOTA button on the EVMs as the last option on the voting panel.

What was the practice earlier?

Earlier when ballot papers were in use, voters had the choice of dropping the ballot box without marking their choice of candidate or marking against multiple options, indicating their rejection of all fielded candidates. These were regarded as null votes. Before the introduction of the NOTA option, those not inclined to vote for any candidate had the option of filling what is popularly called ‘Form 49–O’. But filling the form at the polling booth violated the secrecy of the ballot.

What happens if NOTA wins?

In India, if NOTA gets maximum votes in an election, the election is not cancelled; the next highest scorer wins. The Election Commission does not hold free polls if the majority of the electorate exercises the NOTA option.

Fact file

  • The NOTA option on the EVM has its own symbol - a ballot paper with a black cross across it.
  • The NOTA option was first used in the 2013 Assembly elections held in the states of Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, and the former Union Territory of Delhi.
  • Negative voting is in practice in countries such as France, Belgium, Brazil, Greece, Ukraine, Chile, Bangladesh, Finland, Colombia, Spain, and Sweden. India, by introducing NOTA in 2013, became the 14th country to adopt this practice.

 

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What is Central Vista Project?

Since March, Delhi, among other parts of India, has been reeling under the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortage of oxygen beds and Intensive Care Units led to a huge surge in Covid deaths. Amidst the crisis, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a lockdown, allowing only essential work to be continued. Meanwhile, the Government has brought the construction work for the Central Vista project under the ambit of “essential services”, a move that flayed by the opposition.

On May 12, in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a group of 76 public intellectuals and scholars from India and abroad called for a halt and reconsideration of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project.

The same day, leaders of 12 opposition parties, wrote to the Prime Minister seeking the suspension of the project and they divert the money to aid the fight against coronavirus. Environmentalists and conservationists too have expressed concern over the redevelopment of the power corridor.

What is the Central Vista Project all about? Why does the Central government want to construct the project in the first place?

What does the Central Vista Project envision?

The Central Vista Redevelopment Project is a construction plan to go give India’s power corridor, also known as the Lutyen’s Delhi, a new look and identity. The landmark project, which was announced in 2019, involves constructing a Parliament building, a common central secretariat and revamping of the 3 km long stretch from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate known as the Central Vista. It will replace various offices of the central government, the residence of the prime minister and also the vice president‘s house. The entire project is estimated to cost Rs.20,000 crore and is expected to be completed before the general elections in 2024.

What is the plan for a new parliament?

A new parliament building will be constructed close to the existing Parliament building in the Parliament House Estate, under the Central Vista Redevelopment Project. It is expected to be completed by 2022 in time for the commemoration of the 75th year of India’s Independence. The triangular-shaped Parliament will have four storeys and will come up in an area of 64,500 m² at an estimated cost of Rs.971 crore.

In the new building, the Lok Sabha chamber will have a seating capacity for 1,224 members, while the Rajya Sabha will have 384 seats. At present, the Lok Sabha has a strength of 543 members and the Rajya Sabha 245. It all will also have a Central Constitution Hall to showcase the country‘s democratic heritage, a library, committee rooms and dining areas. The existing circular Parliament House building will be refurbished for use along with the new one. The North and South blocks will be converted into museums.

Why is the revamp needed?

According to the Government, the existing Parliament building built by the British in the 1920s is structurally unsafe. Most of the buildings along the Central Vista have outlived their structural lives. Inadequate infrastructure, lack of safety features and offices spread over different locations are also cited as the reasons for the revamp. It is said that the proposed Secretariat buildings will bring all offices in one place.

When did the construction start?

The construction of the new Parliament building started in January 2021. The Central Government allocated Rs.20,000 crore to the project in March 2021 when the country was in the grip of the pandemic.

Proposed deadlines: The construction of the prime minister’s residence under the ambitious Central Vista project will be completed by December 2022, the Central Public Works Development (CPWD), which is overseeing the project has informed the government-appointed expert panel recently. The new residential complex will have 10 four-storey buildings and will be built on a 15-acre plot. The common Central Secretariat is likely to be built by 2024 under the project.

Why is the project being opposed?

The Central Vista Redevelopment Project is criticised for being pursued by the Government when the country is reeling under the coronavirus pandemic. Opposition leaders, intellectuals, several civil society groups and environmental organisations have urged the government to scrap the project and divert the funds to effects dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

Some experts have raised concerns about the projects environmental impact, while conservationists are concerned about the revamp of the historically significant power buildings in the poor corridor. The Shram Shakti Bhavan, Transport Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan and Krishi Bhavan or some of the buildings likely to be demolished in Lutyens Delhi to pave way for the project.

How has the Centre reacted to criticism?

The Centre had argued that the project would “save money” which is paid as rent for housing central government ministers in the national capital. It had submitted that the decision to have a new parliament building has not been taken in haste and no law or norms have been violated in any manner for the project.

The Centre dismissed a PIL seeking stay on the construction of Central Vista amid the pandemic, saying that it was just another attempt to stall the project. The Centre claimed that the construction workers at the site were following Covid protocols.

 

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What are ballistic missiles?



North Korea last month fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions that ban such launches by the country. Some experts said North Korea's recent missile launches were aimed at laying pressure on the new Biden government in the U.S., which condemned the tests. The U.S. North Korea talks on curbing the latter's nuclear ambitions have been stalled for nearly two years due to disputes over the U.S. sanctions on the North. But what are ballistic missiles and why are their development condemned?



Capable of mass destruction



Ballistic missiles are short-, medium and long-range rocket-propelled weapon systems with the potential to carry and deliver weapons of mass destruction quickly and accurately. They follow a ballistic trajectory (a curved path) over most of their flight to deliver a payload (an explosive. weapon or nuclear device) intended to destroy a predetermined target. That means even after the missile burns up the fuel which propels it, it keeps moving and its direction remains unchanged. It follows a path determined by the speed of its launch and the influence of gravity on it which pulls it towards the Earth. So, it is gravity that eventually guides the missile to its target. Currently, over 30 countries are in possession of ballistic missiles.



Rules governing ballistic missiles



The proliferation of missiles has always been viewed as a threat to global peace and security. But, there is still no legally binding arrangement to deal with the issue of missiles. A number of multilateral regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) exist to prevent missile proliferation. The voluntary MTCR was initiated in April 1987 by the G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S.) with the aim of limiting the spread of ballistic missiles that could be used in chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks by keeping vigil over transfer of missile equipment and technologies. The MTCR currently has 35 member countries, including India which became a member in 2016. Its activities are in line with the U.N.'s non-proliferation efforts. Countries are deterred from pursuing missile programmes either through sanctions or diplomatic dialogues. Though not legally binding, the MTCR expects its member countries to act responsibly and practise restraint with regard to export of items that could lead to missile proliferation.



The HCOC launched in 2002, urges all countries to show greater restraint in their own development of ballistic missiles and to reduce their existing missile arsenal. It has over 140 member countries who are expected to annually exchange information about their ballistic missile launch programmes and provide advance notice of any such launches.



When was it first used?



The first-ever usage of ballistic missiles can be traced to World War II, when the Nazi Germany used the V-2 long-range guided ballistic missiles to attack London. When the war ended, the U.S. with the help of the captured German scientists built its own intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of unleashing nuclear destruction. Not surprisingly, other countries too got their hands on the new technology.



 



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What is the ECI?



In the midst of elections being held in several States of the country, let's look at the role of the Election Commission of India in the elections.



The Election Commission of India (ECI) is the authority responsible for conducting free and fair elections in the country. Operating under Article 324 of the Constitution, the ECI is empowered to administer elections to Parliament, State Legislatures and the offices of the President and Vice-President. Being a constitutional authority, the commission is among the few institutions that function independently.



When was it set up?



Established in January 1950, the commission originally had only a Chief Election Commissioner. It became a multi-member body in January 1990. Currently, the Election Commission consists of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two Election Commissioners (ECS). Though appointed by the President, the CEC is not answerable to the President or the government. The CEC and the ECS enjoy a tenure of six years, or up to 65 years of age, whichever is earlier. They can resign or be removed before the expiry of their term. They get salary and perks similar to the Supreme Court judges.



The Election Commission of India is headquartered in Delhi. Sunil Arora is currently the CEC, with Sushil Chandra and Rajiv Kumar as the two ECs. The Election Commissioners are assisted by Deputy Election Commissioners, Directors General, Principal Secretaries, and Secretaries. At the State level, the EC is assisted by the Chief Electoral Officer of the State.



Powers of the ECI



The ECI, which is regarded as the poll watchdog in the country, has wide-ranging powers. From the announcement of elections to the declaration of results, it controls every aspect of elections. It is the commission that prepares electoral rolls and updates the voters' list from time to time.



Soon after elections are announced, the ECI enforces the model code of conduct, which lays down guidelines for the conduct of political parties and candidates during an election period. It is also responsible for punishing any candidate or party violating the code. Besides notifying dates for filing of nominations by candidates, the commission allocates symbols to political parties. It sets limits on poll expenses to ensure a level-playing field and curb use of black money in elections. During the election period, the EC can order the incumbent government to desist from misusing its power and the official machinery to improve its chances at winning elections. It is significant to note that government officials and staff on election duty work under the EC and not the government.



QUICK FACTS




  • On February 26, 2021, the Election Commission announced the schedule for assembly elections to be held in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry.

  • Voting for the assembly elections began on March 27, with West Bengal having the maximum eight phases continuing till April 29. The counting of votes for the four States and one Union Territory will take place on May 2.

  • In the midst of the pandemic, all staff on poll duty have been declared "frontline workers" and inoculated against the disease, as per the directions of the ECI.

  • VIGIL is a mobile application launched by the ECI for citizens to report Model Code of Conduct and Expenditure violations during elections.



 



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