India’s Upper House Fails to Vote on Anti-Corruption Bill

Posted December 29th, 2011 at 9:35 pm (UTC-5)
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India's upper house of parliament broke for recess Thursday without voting on an anti-corruption bill before a deadline set by activist Anna Hazare, who has led a campaign for the measure using hunger strikes.

The lower house approved the so-called “Lokpal” bill earlier this week following hours of heated debate and a staunch defense of the legislation by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The draft law would create a new ombudsman tasked with investigating public officials.

The ruling Congress Party had extended parliament's winter session until December 29 to meet Hazare's deadline and pass the legislation by the end of the year. The next session is likely to start in March after the completion of five state elections.

Congress depends on unreliable coalition partners and independents for its majority. With a key ally objecting to certain sections of the bill and pressing for amendments, passage appears unlikely.

Hazare, whose fiery campaign forced lawmakers to confront rampant corruption, called off a three-day fast Wednesday when doctors warned the 74-year-old was running a fever and that he risked kidney failure.

He had hoped his protest in Mumbai would draw thousands of supporters but the turnout was much lower than his August campaign that put anti-graft legislation at the top of the country's agenda.

The anti-corruption bill has met with stiff resistance from India's main opposition party, which calls the measure “flawed.” The Congress Party-led government has argued the bill would be instrumental in fighting corruption.

Public frustration over a series of multi-billion-dollar scandals involving top politicians has been growing.

Hazare, who claims inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi, has called the government's bill “toothless” and has been urging supporters to help press for stricter legislation.

He held a similar 12-day fast in August to protest an earlier draft of the legislation. That strike stoked public anger against what is seen as widespread corruption in Indian society, and brought millions of Indians onto the streets nationwide.