Afghanistan to introduce electoral reforms

On Wednesday, the electoral oversight institutions of Afghanistan, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), briefed Afghan political parties and representatives of civil society institutions about the draft amendments to Afghanistan’s electoral system.

The commissions expressed hope to further strengthen the electoral process in Afghanistan and make the democratic process more credible for future elections by introducing reforms. 

According to the draft plan, the electoral bodies have recommended reforms which include the introduction of an electronic voting system, a limit to the number of candidates, changes to curb electoral violations and the use of electronic ID cards during voting. 

“There was a significant amount of violations, only 10,000 Afghanis were levied as a fine, this cannot address the needs of the current time,” said Mohammad Qasim Elyasi, a member of the IECC, while talking about previous elections and the need to bring electoral reforms. 

Faizan-ul-Haq, a representative of the Peace and Development Party, informed the media that the political parties had requested the electoral bodies for a few days to thoroughly study the proposed amendments.  

“The challenges and the massive irregularities that we saw in the past elections—these challenges and violations need to be dealt for future elections,” said Khan Zaman Mudaber, a representative of the Harakat-e-Islami party.

The draft amendments are likely to be referred to the Afghan Ministry of Justice once the political parties and the civil society institutions complete their debate on the document.


Andhra Pradesh High Court quashes corruption cases on opposition leaders

In the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP), the AP High Court struck down the government’s prosecution of the “insider trading in capital land deals” case. Filed by the ruling government of the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (not to be confused with the Indian National Congress), the accused in the case included members of the opposition; former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, his kin and some members of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

The court ruling is being termed a setback to the Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government, the case that pertains to the sale of land in the capital city of the state was being prosecuted by the Crime Investigation Department (CID). 

The opposition had alleged that the ruling party was using accountability and corruption as a front to crackdown on political opposition, a stance that was affirmed by the High Court ruling. 

“It is really beyond the comprehension of this Court as to how the said private sale transactions can be criminalised on the said flimsy grounds and criminal liability can be attributed to the buyers of the lands to prosecute them under criminal law,” a single judge bench remarked.

The state government as a respondent in the case alleged that collaboration exists between the petitioners who purchased the lands and the top government officials working in the government at that time and the political leaders relating to unauthorised disclosure of the information relating to the location of the capital.


Tajikistan-Iran agreement to complete construction of Esteghlal tunnel

On Monday, Iran and Tajikistan agreed to complete the Esteghlal (also known as Istiqlol)  Tunnel, which connects the Tajik capital to the northern provinces of Iran. The news came from the Chief Executive of Iran Water & Power Resources Development Company Behrouz Moradi who told the press that the Islamic Republic will complete the construction of ‘Esteghlal’ Tunnel in Tajikistan.

Esteghlal Tunnel links the capital of Tajikistan to the northern part of the country, he said, adding, “this tunnel was constructed by the Islamic Republic of Iran in three years, costing $60 million.”

The tunnel project began in the Soviet era, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, the project was halted. The project for the tunnel was renewed and constructed by Iranian engineers in 2006, but parts of the construction were left unfinished. The new contract marks the second phase of the project, which was signed by the Ministry of Transportation of Tajikistan and Farab, an Iran specialist engineering company. 

The second phase of the project includes the commissioning of a lighting system, air purification, firefighting and the installation of CCTV cameras, which is important to ensure the safety of movement inside the tunnel.

The construction of the Esteghlal Tunnel, or Enzab Tunnel, which is more than five kilometres long and 80 kilometres north of Dushanbe, began during the Soviet era and stopped with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The move highlights Tehran’s efforts to consolidate its support in the region by renewing commitment to its neighbours and allies. 


State Council of China to help small to medium enterprises

Earlier this week Beijing moved to provide additional support for small and medium business enterprises (SMEs). The State Council of China, the name for the country’s cabinet, demanded small businesses be helped by local governments and financial institutions. 

The SMEs constitute the largest part of employment in the country and have been hit the hardest due to the pandemic. Small businesses accounted for about 80 per cent of the nation’s non-government employment at the end of 2019.

“The resilience of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the foundation of the national economy. They, often privately owned, are the main part of government initiatives to protect market entities and employment,” said a statement issued after a small business work conference chaired by the Chinese Vice-Premier (equivalent to a Federal Minister) Liu He on Thursday. Liu He is the top economic aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping and has led trade negotiations with the US during the Donald Trump era.

“SMEs still face insufficient demand, rising raw material and labour costs, and are in urgent need of targeted support,” the government statement said.

On Wednesday, while speaking at the State Council’s executive meeting, Premier and leader of the State Council Li Keqiang ordered ministries to bring forward measures to address the existing problems in the economy. “Currently, China is facing huge challenges and uncertainties. We must reserve policies to tackle the major concerns of the people and market entities,” he said.

The 20 million SMEs and 90 million self-employed individuals remain a weak link in the Chinese economy, despite the country reporting a year-on-year economic growth rate of 6.5 per cent in the fourth quarter – equivalent to the pre-pandemic growth rate a year earlier.

Saudi Arabia

Cultural overhaul of KSA continues with new project

In the Eastern Province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the first phase of the “Pulse of Alkhobar” project was launched as part of plans to develop an integrated cultural centre in the heart of the city of Al-Khobar. 

The project is a part of the massive cultural overhaul that the Kingdom is going through under the leadership of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, which aims to change the image and culture of the Saudi society.

Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan said that the project, centred on the site of the city’s old market, “is the fruit of a partnership between the ministry and its municipal and rural affairs counterpart.” The project will help define the region’s culture and enhance its position as a tourist destination, he added.

“The new project will also improve services at municipal facilities while preserving Saudi heritage and culture,” commented Abdulhadi Al-Shammari, the province’s municipal chairman, while talking to local media. 

Al-Shammari said that the project will boost the city’s finances, driving sustainable development and growth as well an improvement in the quality of life. “It will create new investment opportunities for the private sector, and encourage small and medium-scale enterprises, which have an excellent and effective social impact,” he said.


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