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Advantage India in tied battle for international court

India’s candidate Dalveer Bhandari extended his lead in the general assembly, but his British rival clung on to a majority in the elite Security Council voting

world Updated: Nov 14, 2017 09:39 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
icj,The Hague,international court of justice
United Nations Security Council members cast their vote during a meeting on the election of five members of the International Court of Justice, at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday.(AFP photo)

The election for the fifth vacancy on the International Court of Justice remained deadlocked for the second day on Monday after neither candidate managed to wrap up the requisite numbers of votes in three hours of polling. But India’s Dalveer Bhandari ended the day in a much better place than his rival, Britain’s Christopher Greenwood.

Bhandari won 121 votes in the fifth and final round in the UN General Assembly, which was merely 7 short of what is called a “moral majority” of 128. The number represents two-thirds of the 193-member assembly, used as a yardstick before, according to UN watchers, to break a deadlocked vote such as this.

The logic, an Indian official explained on background, is that if a candidate was unable to secure the support of two-thirds of the body, he or she had lost the moral authority to stay in the race, and must, therefore, withdraw. While the British could, or not, take that line, the Indians seemed clear they were not quitting.

Winner must secure an absolute majority in the general assembly, which is 97 or more votes, as well the Security Council, where the magic mark is 8.

Bhandari won the general assembly in all five rounds, starting with 110 in the first. And Greenwood clung to the Security Council with an unchanging 9-5 lead.

Much is at stake in this election, and not just another term for the two candidates. India needs a victory in order to have Bhandari on the bench when the 15-member International Court of Justice hears in December its appeal in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been accused by Pakistan of being an Indian spy and faces the death penalty.

For Britain, it’s a test of its ability to stem its shrinking global influence and power, hastened lately by its decision to leave the European Union, also known as Brexit. Its failure to end this contest early, and easily, has already aroused consternation at home, where commentators are speaking of humiliation.

Britain has always had a representative on the court, which is based in The Hague, since 1946, as have other permanent members of the UN Security Council under an unwritten arrangement. The understanding is not dissimilar in nature to the one that has allowed the United States and Europe to lead World Bank and the International Monetary fund respectively.

From India’s perspective “that’s an important given that needs to be challenged”. One official, who spoke only on background, said the battle was about “prestige” and once this “matter of prestige” was changed, others would follow. Such as the permanent membership of the Security Council.

Indians were generally pleased with the way the contest turned out not only on Monday, the second day of a deadlock that started last week, but over all, “despite all that has been thrown at us” by the rival and cohorts, especially other members of the permanent club that could be hard to pin in a secret ballot.

Bhandari began the Monday contest winning the general assembly 110-79, 113-76, 111-79, 118-72 and, finally, 121-68, clearly showing which way the general body, and the world, was going and decisively. But he dropped one vote in the Security Council from last week to lose 5-9, but kept the line there.

With neither candidate, who are both seeking their second term, winning an absolute majority in both bodies, the election was adjourned to be resumed at a later date to be announced in consultation with the candidates, prolonging an election that started last week with the election to four of the five vacancies.

First Published: Nov 14, 2017 09:39 IST