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Ruling Congress coalition secures election victory

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Latest update : 2009-05-17

India's ruling Congress party alliance swept to a commanding victory in general election results released on Saturday, securing a base for further reform and a second term for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

AFP - India's ruling Congress-led alliance surged to a commanding election victory Saturday, defying predictions to secure a strong mandate and a stable base for reform amid an economic downturn.
While exit polls had all forecast a fractured result and a shaky coalition government, the Congress grouping came close to winning an absolute majority as it crushed the main opposition bloc headed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With results still coming in from the Election Commission, the ruling alliance was on track to win as many as 260 seats against 160 for the BJP coalition.
"The people of India have spoken and they have spoken with great clarity," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a joint press conference with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Although the alliance was still expected to fall short of the 272 seats required for a majority in the 543-seat parliament, analysts said it would easily pick up the necessary support from regional parties.
"I would expect all secular parties ... to come together to give this country a stable, strong, purposeful government," Singh said, adding that it was time for India to show the world that it "stands as one as a nation".
Congress was expected to pick up as many as 200 seats in its own right -- the party's best showing since 1991.
Gandhi stressed that Singh, 76, would remain prime minister amid widespread speculation that he could step down in favour of Sonia's 38-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, who was the star campaigner for the Congress.
Conceding defeat, the BJP admitted that the results were "far below" expectations.
"We accept this verdict of the people," senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, adding that the party would have to take "collective responsibility" for the poor result.
It was a personal blow for the veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani, 81, for whom this election was almost certainly the last chance to become prime minister.
Outside the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi, supporters celebrated into the evening, banging drums and dancing in the street.
Political analyst Neerja Choudhury said India's 714-million electorate had voted for stability.
"I feel that people did not want anything divisive in these times of uncertainty," Choudhury said.
US President Barack Obama congratulated India on its "historic" national elections, saying they had strengthened the country's "vibrant democracy".
He said he looked forward to continuing to work with the Indian government "to enhance the warm partnership between our two countries".
The two nations have pursued much closer ties, concluding a landmark nuclear cooperation deal, after being on opposite sides of the fence during the Cold War.
With results still coming in from the Election Commission, the Congress grouping was on track to win as many as 260 seats compared to 160 for the main opposition bloc headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The election set up a second term for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
After five successive years of near-double digit growth that lent the country the international clout it has long sought, the Indian economy has been badly hit by the global downturn.
And there are major security concerns over growing instability in South Asia, particularly in arch-rival Pakistan, with whom relations plunged to a new low following last year's bloody militant attack on Mumbai.
Rahul Gandhi said the Indian people had "rejected the politics of caste and religion and voted for development".
Exit polls had predicted that only a handful of seats would separate the Congress and BJP alliances -- a scenario that had prompted gloomy forecasts of a badly hung parliament that would throw up an ineffective patchwork coalition.
The picture that emerged Saturday was of a far more stable government that would be less vulnerable to the whims of its coalition partners.
"The people of India know what is good for them and they always make the right choice," Sonia Gandhi said.
The size of the Congress victory means there will be no compulsion to offer key ministries in exchange for allies and will allow the party to pursue its own policies from a position of strength.
According to the constitution, a new government must be in place by June 2.

Date created : 2009-05-17