COLOSSAL VOTE COULD DIVINE MODI’S FATE
The largest election of the year gets underway on Saturday – not in France or Germany but India. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to some 220 million people, will host marathon seven-phase state elections, which won’t wrap up until Mar. 8.
As well as being the wealthiest and most populous state, Uttar Pradesh is also key to political power. Indeed, Uttar Pradeshis played a key role in Mr Modi’s rise to power; his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clinched 71 of the 80 lower house seats on offer in 2014, solidifying its majority in New Delhi.
While the upcoming polls won’t directly affect the prime minister’s ability to maintain government, a decisive BJP victory will go some way to addressing its shortcomings in the upper house – where it holds just 73 of the 250 seats. In turn, this will help the government to push through much-needed economic reforms, currently hamstrung by political gridlock.
Saturday’s election will be a crucial test of Modi’s popularity. If the BJP do well, his chances of securing a second term in 2019 look promising. If not, the prime minister will have to buckle in for a difficult two years. Results are due on Mar. 11.
TENSIONS HIGH AHEAD OF KEY JAKARTA ELECTIONS
Security forces in Indonesia say they’ll do everything in their power to stop the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) from holding a political rally on Saturday. But tens of thousands of members of the hardline group are expected to defy authorities and march anyway.
The demonstration is aimed at Jakarta’s Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who’s standing trial over blasphemy allegations. Governor Ahok, a key ally of President Joko Widodo, is contesting next week’s gubernatorial elections amid increasing pressure from religiously conservative elements of Indonesian society to have him jailed.
Given the upcoming vote, Jakarta’s police chiefs are likely to allow the rally to take place to avoid inflaming already high tensions. Some 27,000 security personnel will be deployed in central Jakarta to maintain order.
Go deeper: Indonesia rises
Donald Trump and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe will hold talks in a more informal setting on Saturday – Mr Trump’s Florida estate.
The European Council says Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway can extend internal EU border controls for up to three months beginning on Saturday. The controls were enacted in late 2015 in response to a large influx of migrants.
Groups in the North Sinai have called for civil disobedience beginning on Saturday after the deaths of 10 people, allegedly at the hands of security services. Saturday is also the six-year anniversary of the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.