Patna: Four Union ministers, a former Lok Sabha Speaker and an actor-turned-politician are among the 159 candidates left in the fray for eight Lok Sabha seats in Bihar after the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers for the seventh and final phase ended Thursday. The final phase of the election will be held on May 19. According to the Election Commission, a total of 227 candidates had filed their nomination papers for Patna Sahib, Patalputra, Arrah, Jehanabad, Karakat, Buxar, Sasaraam and Nalanda constituencies between April 22 and April 29. Out of which only 162 withstood scrutiny. Also Read – 2019 most peaceful festive season for J&K: Jitendra Singh Of those remaining, one candidate each withdrew nomination from Patna Sahib, Pataliputra and Buxar, leaving 159 in the fray. With 35, Nalanda has the highest number of candidates. The constituency is the home district of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has represented the Lok Sabha seat a number of times. His confidant Kaushalendra Kumar is seeking re-election for the third consecutive term. The JD(U) MP is locked in a straight contest with Mahagathbandhan candidate Ashok Kumar Azad who has been fielded by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM). Also Read – Personal life needs to be respected: Cong on reports of Rahul’s visit abroad Patna Sahib, which comprises a major part of the state capital and where 18 candidates are in the fray, will witness a clash of titans as Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seeks to win the seat for the BJP thwarting sitting MP Shatrughan Sinha’s bid to retain it for the third consecutive term but this time on a Congress ticket. In adjoining Pataliputra, 25 candidates are in the fray, though the contest is being seen primarily between Union minister and sitting BJP MP Ram Kripal Yadav who is pitted against RJD’s Misa Bharti daughter of his former mentor Lalu Prasad. The lowest number of 11 candidates, for the phase, are in Ara where sitting BJP MP and Union minister R K Singh’s bid to retain the seat has been challenged by young CPI(ML) candidate Raju Yadav whose chances have been bolstered by the Mahagathbandhan supporting his candidature. In Buxar, another Union minister and sitting BJP MP Ashwini Kumar Choubey is facing the challenge mainly from RJD’s Jagadanand Singh who had won the seat in 2009 although the total number of candidates in the fray is 15. An equal number of candidates are in the fray in Sasaram, a reserved seat which former Lok Sabha Speaker and veteran Congress leader Meira Kumar seeks to wrest back from BJP MP Chhedi Paswan. Karakat, which has 27 candidates, is represented by RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha who resigned from the Union council of ministers and quit the NDA in December last year before joining the Mahagathbandhan. His principal challenger is JD(U)’s Mahabali Singh. Jehanabad was won by RLSP’s Arun Kumar in 2014. He was, however, expelled from the party later on and he is in the fray as the candidate of the parallel outfit Rashtriya Samata Party (Secular). However, the main contest is being seen as between RJD’s Surendra Prasad Yadav who is the Mahagathbandhan candidate and JD(U)’s Chandreshwar Prasad who represents the NDA.
by Antoine LAMBROSCHINITUNIS – Tunisia’s sluggish economic recovery is spurring a growing number of strikes and protests, with the discontent compounding the ruling Islamist party’s woes amid a political crisis and growing insecurity.Public offices, businesses and entire regions have since the summer been staging walkouts and demanding pay rises, extra staff, hospitals and development projects — adding to a sense of growing turmoil in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring. The number of working hours lost through strikes rose by 71 percent in October compared with September, according to the social affairs ministry.In November, the situation appears to have gotten even worse. On Wednesday alone, workers unions and civil society groups called general strikes in three regions — Siliana, Gabes and Gafsa.“Clearly the economic situation today is very difficult and cannot support this level of strikes,” said Ezzedine Saidane, an independent economist.He attributed the economic difficulties primarily to the political crisis, which has dragged on for months in the absence of any agreement between the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its secular opponents on the formation of a non-partisan transitional government.Saidane argues that the current 3.0 percent growth rate is insufficient to bring down unemployment significantly or to launch major development projects, two pressing issues for young Tunisians.Joblessness and regional inequality were driving factors behind the popular uprising that unseated former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, inspiring protests across the Middle East and North Africa that toppledleaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.Meanwhile, the lack of functioning state institutions and a rise in attacks by Islamist militants continue to deter investors.For two years now, Ennahda has repeated promises of public spending and recruitment to meet the country’s social demands, constantly resorting to loans to fulfil its commitments, an option that is becoming increasingly difficult.On Monday, international ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Tunisia’s sovereign debt rating one notch, while maintaining a negative outlook.Moody’s cited the ongoing political uncertainty as the main factor, as well as increased external funding challenges, exacerbated by delayed economic reforms and the persistently large deficits in the country’s fiscal and external accounts.Saidane said the government’s policies had left it without any room for manoeuver next year.“When you look at the draft budget, you can see that 40 percent is allocated to salaries, 40 percent to debts and subsidies (on essential goods) and just 20 percent on social and economic development.”Union blames government ‘nonchalance’For the powerful UGTT workers union, which plays a key role in organising the strikes, the authorities who have been calling for months for a “social truce” are solely responsible for the current situation.In a statement this week, it slammed “the nonchalance of the government in implementing certain agreements, concluded but still not applied after nearly a year and a half,” saying that was why social movements were signing up for the strikes.Some reject this argument, however, like Nejib Mrabet, who heads the Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG).The state-run producer of the valuable mineral, which represented 10 percent of the budget in 2010, the year before Ben Ali’s ouster, is the main employer in the neglected central Gafsa region.Mrabet said that despite the company hiring 2,600 people since the revolution, it was paralysed by the disruptions that the social movements agitated for and was running at only 30 percent of capacity.“The company cannot afford another year of uncertainty and deficit,” he was quoted as saying by the official TAP news agency, adding that if the situation continued, managers and employees might have to take forced leave in 2014.Even Ennahda itself has not been immune to the growing social mistrust plaguing Tunisia, with some party members criticising certain government decisions, such as where to locate five new university-linked hospitals.That decision has provoked anger in Gafsa and Gabes.Lotfi Zitoune, who was an advisor to former Islamist prime minister Hamadi Jebali, called the failure to invest in those regions a “clear example of the dubious work of the government … in the context of political instability and difficult economic circumstances.”“It will revive accusations of nepotism and regional favouritism,” he wrote in a scathing article posted on his Facebook page.
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