Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US President Barack Obama re-elected in 2012 Presidential Election

It was a hard-won second victory for President Barack Obama, who was neck-and-neck in the polls as election season came down to the wire.
Obama had taken big strides with towards re-election today by blocking Mitt Romney's and grabbed key states in their bitter White House . Romney had made a late run at the solidly Democratic states, as his aides predicted a late wave would oust Obama, 51, from the Oval Office after one term as he struggled to deal with a slow economic recovery and high unemployment. A huge cheer rang out at Obama headquarters when television networks projected Obama would retain Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes.
Obama's Midwestern line of defense also appeared to be holding, as networks called Wisconsin, the first of a trio of Obama firewall states, also including Iowa and Ohio, in a blow to native son Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
In another blow to Romney, Obama also captured the northeastern swing state of New Hampshire, which was de-facto home ground for the Republican as he has a holiday home there, and was governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
Early in what was expected to be a long evening of vote-counting, Obama had 158 and Romney had 154 of the 270 votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College needed to claim the White House.
The results so far declared left Obama with a much easier path to the White House than his rival and Romney appeared to need at least five of the remaining seven swing states, possibly including Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.
Obama appeared to be performing well in the key counties in Florida, in some cases matching his showing of his stirring 2008 White House race, likely powered by African American and Hispanic voters.
At Romney headquarters in Boston, a stony silence greeted news that television projections had handed Michigan, the state of his birth and where his father George was governor, to Obama.
The president, who made history by becoming America's first black president after a euphoric victory, was aiming to carve new precedent on Tuesday, by defying the portents of a hurting economy to win a second term.
He awaited his fate in his hometown of Chicago, while Romney, a multi-millionaire former investment manager and Massachusetts governor was laying low in a hotel in Boston awaiting results.
Early results and evidence from key counties in swing states did not show any sign of the Republican wave that Romney had predicted, and rather appeared to confirm the predictions of the Obama campaign for high voter turnout.
As expected, television networks projected that Republicans would win the House of Representatives, and Democrats were favored to cling onto the Senate.
In early calls in the presidential race, television networks, handed the rivals the safe states they always knew would be in their column.
Both candidates had earlier marked time while voters dictated their fates.
Romney appeared caught up in the emotion of seeing his name on the ballot for President of the United States and also saw an omen in a huge crowd that showed up at a multi-story parking lot to see his plane land at Pittsburgh airport.
While Romney penned his victory speech, Obama took part in his election day tradition of playing a game of pick-up basketball with friends, including Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, after visiting a campaign office near his Chicago home.
The president, who like a third of Americans voted before Election Day, congratulated Romney on "a spirited campaign" despite their frequently hot tempered exchanges.
CBS News, quoting early exit polls, said 39% of people approached after they had voted said the economy, the key issue, was improving, while 31% said it was worse and 28 saw it as staying the same.
Voters were also choosing a third of the Democratic-led Senate and the entire Republican-run House of Representatives. But, with neither chamber expected to change hands, the current political gridlock will likely continue.
The US presidential election is not directly decided by the popular vote, but requires candidates to pile up a majority -- 270 -- of 538 electoral votes awarded state-by-state on the basis of population.
A candidate can therefore win the nationwide popular vote and still be deprived of the presidency by falling short in the Electoral College.
The election went ahead in New Jersey with thousands of people without power, and large areas devastated by superstorm Sandy which roared ashore last week killing more than 100 people.
Adora Agim, an immigrant from Nigeria, said the chaos shouldn't stop voting.
"I have lived in a Third World country where your vote does not matter. It's nice to be somewhere where it matters," she said, in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The central message of Obama's campaign has been that he saved America from a second Great Depression after the economy was on the brink of collapse when he took over from Republican president George W Bush in 2009.
He claims credit for ending the war in Iraq, saving the US auto industry, killing Osama bin Laden, offering almost every American health insurance, and passing the most sweeping Wall Street reform in decades.
Romney sought to mine frustration with the slow pace of the economic recovery and argued that the president was out of ideas and has no clue how to create jobs, with unemployment at 7.9% and millions out of work.
In early results, Obama and Romney piled up victories in the states they were expected to win easily.
Democrats were encouraged by early vote-counting in the swing states of Ohio and Florida that showed the president holding slight leads in each. Romney held an early lead in a third battleground state, Virginia.
Romney needs all three of those states to navigate a narrow path to the presidency, while Obama can afford to lose one or two of them and still win a second four-year term.
At least 120 million people were expected to render their judgment between the Democratic incumbent and Romney after a long, expensive and bitter presidential campaign that magnified the differences between Americans wanting to continue Obama's approach to fixing the ailing economy and those who want to try a new approach.
Although voting appeared to go smoothly in most places, complaints about procedures and possible irregularities surfaced sporadically across the electoral map.
But there were no immediate claims of anything widespread or systematic enough to cast doubt on the credibility of the election outcome.
Storm-weary residents across New York and New Jersey encountered long lines as they went to cast their ballots just over a week after the devastating storm Sandy caused havoc in the region. New Jersey granted a last-minute extension to the deadline for email voting.
The balance of power in the US Congress will also be at stake in races for the Senate and House of Representatives that could affect the outcome of "fiscal-cliff" negotiations on spending cuts and tax increases, which kick in at the end of the year unless a deal is reached.
Obama's Democrats are now expected to narrowly hold their Senate majority, while Romney's Republicans are favored to retain House control.
Gabe Gonzalez, the national campaigns director for the Campaign for Community Values at the Center for Community Change, agrees.
“I take President Obama at his word, with one caveat – we have to make sure that he does what he says he’ll do,” Gonzalez said. “If there is one thing we Latinos have learned, it’s that we get the respect and political power that we demand.”
Craig Romney, Mitt Romney’s son, told Fox News Latino just before the election: “We’ve seen what Barack Obama’s policies will do, we know those are not working, if he is reelected we can expect more of the same over the next four years."
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates for more lenient immigration policies, said: “Today our nation witnessed the strength of democracy in action. An extraordinary number of voters, including record numbers of Latino, Asian and New American voters, went to the polls clamoring for practical solutions that honor our values and move our nation forward."

“The message was clear: President Obama must fulfill his campaign promise and work with congressional leaders to create a common-sense immigration process that treats all people with dignity," Noorani said. "And Republicans must choose pragmatism over extremism on immigration, putting forward practical solutions that create a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans."
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Monday, November 5, 2012

President’s Speech at the inauguration of All India Lokayuktas Conference 2012

I am happy to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the Eleventh All India Lokayuktas Conference which brings together Lokayuktas of different States to discuss ways and means of enhancing effectiveness of Lokayuktas. These All India Lokayukta Conferences, bring different stakeholders together so that views can be shared on the challenges and best practices. With such a wide range of experienced participants, I am sure the discussions will bring forth concrete suggestions and initiatives for strengthening Lokayuktas and making them more effective.

In recent times, there has been concern over the need to ensure that the corridors of power remain untainted by corruption or nepotism and that there is optimum utilization of resources and funds for their intended purposes. This national conference is therefore timely. For the successful working of democracy, people should be confident that Government policies are formulated and implemented with honesty, transparency and fairness.

As all of you are aware, Lokayukta or the Ombudsman was originally conceived in Scandinavian countries as a watchdog of the administration as well as protector of the “common man”. Despite having minimal power to implement decisions, the Ombudsman played a very useful role in these countries by bringing humanism in governance. In India, Sh. M. C. Setalvad, the distinguished lawyer, in his speech at the All India Lawyer’s Conference held in 1962, suggested the idea of establishing an institution similar to that of an Ombudsman. This idea was extensively investigated by the First Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966 and while recommending setting up of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in the States, this Commission advocated ‘Ombudsmanic’ institutions as a means for redressal of citizens’ grievances, containing corruption and removing discontent amongst citizens.

Over the years, as India witnessed rapid growth, the extent of public spending has steadily increased. For example, the first Revenue Budget of independent India presented by then Finance Minister Shri Shanmukhom Chetty was of Rs. 197.39 crore comprising of Revenue receipts of Rs.171.15 crore and Revenue Expenditure of Rs.197.39 crore, thereby leaving a Deficit of Rs.26.24 crore. Whereas, the last budget presented by me in March of this year was nearly Rs. 12 lakh crore. The first five year plan outlay was Rs. 2000 crore while public investment during the 11th Plan period was around Rs. 11 lakh crore.

As the political economy grows in size and depth, institutions conceived and established under Constitution face unique challenges. Ensuring sustainable growth, eliminating poverty, raising the quality of life, promoting industrialization, providing jobs etc. requires quick decision making by the Executive on whom our Constitution vests the responsibility of governance. If the Executive has to deliver results and demonstrate efficient governance, it needs to have substantial financial powers. At the same time, provision of such financial powers and the use of administrative discretion in governance gives rise to opportunities for nepotism and corruption. It is in recognition of the need for a mechanism which would investigate corruption amongst public persons and help bring probity in governance that Lokayuktas have been set up across the country and a Lok Pal is under consideration at the center.

I understand at present 19 Lokayuktas have been set up by State Governments. I would urge the remaining states to also consider establishing similar institutions at the earliest and learn from the best practices of successful Lokayuktas within the country.

In the States where Lokayuktas have been set up, different Acts govern their establishment and the provisions relating to the eligibility of Lokayukta, its jurisdiction, procedures, powers and infrastructure widely vary. There is no uniformity in the functioning of Lokayuktas of different States and their effectiveness differs from State to State. The fact that Lokayuktas only have recommendatory powers and no power to enforce their decisions, what should be the extent of their jurisdiction, should government servants be under their ambit or only public persons, should they have independent investigation agencies of their own or should they use existing official agencies etc. all are issues which have engendered significant debate in society. I am sure this conference will discuss these issues threadbare.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, in its Fourth Report on “Ethics in Governance”, recommended uniformity in the general principles regarding the structure, power and functions of Lokayuktas in all the States. Justice Manmohan Sarin in his remarks has referred to the preparation of a Model Mukhya Lokayukta and Upalokayukta Bill for the reference of State Government. It is a welcome step. The Lokayuktas may also like to discuss this Model Bill with the Ministry of Law and Justice and see how the matter can be taken forward expeditiously.

It is imperative that Lokayuktas, who are currently in office inspire confidence of the people by conducting impartial and independent inquiries in pursuit of truth. State Governments must facilitate the Lokayuktas in the full implementation of the legislative mandate entrusted upon them and not see them as a nuisance or interfering in governance. Lokayuktas must be provided adequate financial and administrative autonomy.

The Lokayuktas must at the same time remember that their duty is not just to indict public functionaries when they are guilty but also to protect them when nothing is found wrong with their conduct and to correct wrong perceptions about them with equal force and earnestness. It must be ensured that in the name of checking corruption, vilification campaigns are not carried out to defame or destroy reputations. False allegations aimed at impugning reputations are bad. The institution of Lokayukta is an ally to good governance not an obstruction to development.

Finally, let me repeat what I said in my Independence Day address to the nation earlier this year. Anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate as is the protest against this plague. But, this should not become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions.

Institutions are the visible pillars of our Constitution, and if they crack then the idealism of our Constitution cannot hold. Our institutions may have suffered from the weariness of time. The answer is not to destroy what has been built, but to re-engineer them so that they become stronger than before. Institutions are the ultimate guardians of our liberty.

The judiciary of our country is the ultimate sentinel of justice and arbiter of truth and the Parliament is the custodian of the people’s aspirations and the architect for implementing their dreams. Over and above the Constitutional scheme of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, we have, in recent times, given ourselves the Right to Information, Legal Aid, Autonomous Investigation Agencies and a host of beneficial legislation. The Lok Pal Bill is before the Parliament. New laws for imposing sanctions for bribery by foreign agents, transparency in public procurement, citizens’ grievances redressal etc are also under consideration. All these must strengthen existing institutions of accountability not displace them or undermine them. We must also distinguish bonafide errors of judgment from graft and corruption, civil wrong from criminal intent and the need to have swift and effective sanctions against corruption from the imperative of protecting the innocent.

I am sure that the institution of Lokayuktas will emerge as a strong and an effective body in India making useful contribution to enhancing probity in governance and checking corruption as well as maladministration. I extend my best wishes for the success of this conference.