Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Indian government survives vote

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flashes a victory sign as he arrives at parliament for the second day of debate, 22 July
Mr Singh has promised the government will prove its majority

India's Congress party-led government has survived a vote of confidence over a civilian nuclear deal with the US.

The vote came after the government's left-wing allies withdrew their support in protest at the controversial accord.

The government motion received 275 votes with 256 against, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said, hours after adjourning the debate amid claims of vote buying.

If the government had lost the vote, India would have faced early elections, casting the nuclear deal in doubt.

There was brief confusion over the counting process. Most voting was electronic, but about 50 votes were cast on paper which delayed the count.

Whether the government stays in power or not, it has lost the credibility and confidence of people at large
Rakesh Punia, Delhi

At least four MPs were too ill to vote from the chamber of the 543-seat house itself, but it is still not clear why so many MPs cast paper ballots.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says until Tuesday morning, the vote had looked too close to call.

But the government managed to scrape through with the support of smaller parties and independent members.

India faces a general election next year and many political parties have used the debate over the nuclear deal to stake out their positions ahead of the polls, our correspondent says.

Tight vote

Two days of debate on the nuclear accord ended in uproar amid opposition allegations of vote buying.

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members waved fistfuls of money in the air, alleging that they had been offered bribes to abstain.

A nuclear reactor in India
Approval needed from IAEA, expected to meet on 1 August
Consent also required from 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group
Congress to approve deal before President Bush signs it into law
All this to happen before Mr Bush's tenure expires on 19 January 2009

Mr Chatterjee adjourned proceedings for several hours. He called it a "very sad day" for the Indian parliament, adding: "Nobody will be spared if found guilty."

Under the accord, India, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, would gain access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel.

In return its civilian nuclear facilities would be opened to inspection. Nuclear weapons sites would remain off-limits.

The communists fear the accord could give the US too much influence over Indian foreign and nuclear policy.

The main opposition Hindu nationalist BJP fears that the deal could compromise India's ability to test nuclear weapons in the future.

With the left withdrawing support, the government could rely on only 226 members in the 543-seat parliament, and needed 46 more to be absolutely sure of a majority.

The Congress party hoped to get the backing of the regional Samajwadi party and other smaller parties to help it win.

India's media was awash with reports of alleged defections and desertions among MPs ahead of the vote.

India is under pressure from Washington to sign the accord before the US presidential election in November.

Last week, Indian officials met members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world nuclear regulatory body, in Vienna to discuss plans to safeguard India's civilian nuclear facilities.

The IAEA's approval of the plan is a key condition for enacting the deal.

If the IAEA signs the agreement, the deal will go to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates global civilian nuclear trade, for approval.

It must then be approved by the US Congress before President Bush can sign it into law.

Critics of the deal fear assistance to India's civil programme could free-up additional radioactive material for bomb-making purposes.


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