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India wraps up six weeks of voting in world's largest election

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-05-12

Millions of Indians wrapped up voting in the country’s six-week-long national election on Monday as Hindu nationalist challenger Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks set to become the new prime minister.

With 814 million eligible voters, the world’s biggest election has been taking place in a series of phases over six weeks with final results expected on Friday.

Modi’s Hindu opposition BJP went into the election with strong momentum on promises of economic growth but must face off competition from Arvind Kejriwal, the chief of India’s anti-corruption party, and Ajay Rai of the Congress party, which has engendered deep dissatisfaction after 10 years in power.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center said 63 percent of Indians prefer the BJP over the incumbent Congress party.

Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old vice president of the ruling party and scion of the Gandhi family, has hit the campaign trail to urge voters to stick with Congress.

Exit polls are expected Monday night after the final round of voting ends, but they are notoriously unreliable in such a vast and populous nation.

Indians turned out in large numbers to vote, with the Election Commission saying
turnout over the six weeks in 502 parliamentary constituencies up to May 8 was 66.27 percent, up from 58.13 percent in the 2009 elections.

Thousands lined up early Monday to vote in the revered Hindu holy city of Varanasi as the temperature was expected to soar to 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).

A clash erupted as voting opened in West Bengal state, where Ajay Dasgupta, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) spokesman, accused governing Trinamool Congress workers of firing at his party supporters, wounding four.

The clash was reported in a village 35 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of Calcutta, the state capital. The Trinamool Congress party denied the charge.

Elections in India are generally considered free and fair, with even the powerful often falling to defeat. But there are also challenges, with age-old traditions of caste loyalty, patriarchy and nepotism often influencing voting patterns.

This year’s election was bitterly fought, and often marred by religious divisions and personal attacks.

The BJP’s carefully crafted and well-financed campaign promises good governance at a time when the ruling Congress party has been plagued by repeated scandals.

Party leader Rahul Gandhi has generally failed to inspire the public, leaving many analysts to predict that the BJP will likely emerge with the largest number of seats in the 543-member parliament.

If Modi is successful in his political bid he will replace Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 81, a respected economist handpicked by Sonia Gandhi after she returned Congress to power. But Singh's reputation recently took a hit with the release of a new book by his former press aide, who portrays him as a powerless puppet.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

Date created : 2014-05-12

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