Referendum on discrimination

The Swiss voted to ban discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, and public displays of homophobia.  

The Swiss have an interesting system that enables almost any issue to be brought to a national vote.  Only 50,000 signatures are needed to create a referendum, including those that result in a constitutional amendment.  I’d recently seen a few signs around the city that appeared to be in support of (or in opposition to) some referendum or another, but few of the signs included enough context for me to discern the topic of the referendum. (There is no English-language newspaper in Switzerland, so I remain in the dark about local issues.)  I heard there was a referendum about a new road/rail tunnel to be built.  As it turns out, there was a far more interesting referendum underway.

Yesterday, the Swiss voted to ban discrimination against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, and public displays of homophobia.  From the New York Times story:

Swiss voters agreed on Sunday to penalize public homophobia, greenlighting an amendment to an antidiscrimination law that had not provided protection for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. …

Voters were asked in a referendum whether they wanted to extend Switzerland’s racism statutes to sexual orientation, and on Sunday 63.1 percent voted in favor of it. The extension was backed by the government and most of Switzerland’s political parties. …

In 2018, lawmakers voted to add sexual orientation to an existing law that penalized discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion. Under the amended law, homophobic comments made in public would be punishable with up to three years in prison. …

Yet, opponents argued that such an extension was counter to freedom of expression, and that they should be able to express their views on homosexuality publicly. They gathered the 50,000 signatures necessary to force a national referendum.

Election results

Results announced today.

India has been voting, in phases, over the past two months. This process is amazing – it is the largest democracy in the world, and it is conducted 100% with electronic voting machines. Turnout was high; indeed, more people in India voted than the entire population of the US.

Manmohan Singh will serve another term as Prime Minister. (Photo from the Times of India.)

The voting proceeded for weeks, during which exit polls indicated an extremely close race between the incumbent UPA coalition (led by the Congress party) and the NDA coalition (led by the BJP).  

Photo by Times of India.

Today, the election results were announced.  The results are surprising: not only did the UPA retain power, but the Congress party itself swept 201 seats – the most any party has received in over 25 years. Thus, it seems, Congress will be able to lead without needing to compromise so often with smaller coalition parties. It appears that India has chosen stability over change.

Manmohan Singh will return as Prime Minister, the first person since Nehru to return after completing a five-year term.  Singh, an economist and one-time professor, is widely credited as responsible for the 1991 reforms that led to India’s IT and BPO boom, and more recently, to its relative fiscal stability in the face of the world economic recession. 

Most of these details are from the lead story in the Times of India.


This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

An Indian Obama?

Could it happen in India?

Ever since the election, the media has been full of stories about Obama, and editorials about whether it might be possible to have such a thing happen here in India– a minority elected president.  Perhaps a Muslim, or a Dalit.

In today’s Times of India, there is a very interesting opinion piece by Ashutosh Varshney about why he thinks it won’t happen:

  • “First, party establishments cannot easily be challenged until there are open intra-party elections for the leadership of political parties.”
  • “Second, the US has a presidential system, India a parliamentary one. Since a US president is elected by the whole nation, a presidential system creates a national political arena.”
  • “Third, to mobilise citizens for vote, one has to speak in a language that the citizens can understand.” The India electorate is multilingual.


This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Post-election Obamania

Obamania has hit India, too.

Obamania is here in India, too.  There is much talk of it among my colleagues; even my taxi driver mentioned it and affirmed that Obama is a “good man”.  The Times of India gleefully noted the appointment of an Indian-American to his transition team, Sonal Shah from Google.   They have also reported on a group, though small, of African-Indians, largely from east Africa, who were celebrating in the streets.  

[photo credit: New York Times]

“There are two contrasting images of America abroad. One is that of a bullying superpower that undertakes bellicose military adventures abroad, epitomised by Iraq. The other is that of a land of hope and opportunity, an open society that welcomes migrants and where merit and talent matter for much more than ethnic background or kinship ties.” [Times of India]  There is general relief that America has recovered its senses. Furthermore, “Obama will be America’s first true multicultural president, with something of Asia and Africa in him.”  India, like other nations, looks forward to a multilateral approach with an increased awareness of Asia in general.  The New York Times noted that the “Election Unleashes a Flood of Hope Worldwide”.

More deeply, India is struck by the fact that the nation formally known as racist has remembered its core values and actually elected a black man to the presidency. “Yes, he can”, noted the Times of India in its editorial. India, the world’s largest democracy and an incredibly diverse one at that, still struggles with caste, religion, and regional differences in its politics. 

Obama’s trademark line, “Yes, we can” and the amazed recognition that someone of mixed race and an unusual background can actually become US President, are deeply resonant here.  I see India, as a country, deeply proud of its achievements in the past decades and with clear aspirations to become one of the leading countries of the world.  The reasonable are quick to recognize that the country is far from perfect, but there is a profound optimism that India will only become more important on the world stage.  Obama’s personal journey is inspirational to their national journey.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Anticipating the US election

Perspective from India.

It has been interesting to read what the Times of India — one of the leading English-language dailies — has to say about the election.  Today’s paper edition has a full-page spread with three interesting articles:

Obama Nation? and why do we care?

The United States of Indamerica in the making

US & us: United they stand, divided we fall

Their website has a special election-coverage page.

Their online poll asks “Will Obama make a better president than McCain?” and the answer (at this writing) is 83% yes, 15% no.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.