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India goes to decisive polls on Thursday

  • Published at 07:37 pm April 9th, 2019
India polls
In this file photo taken on March 12, 2019 a supporter of the Indian Congress Party waves a large flag as the party president Rahul Gandhi speaks during a rally at Adalaj near Ahmedabad AFP

About 900 million citizens will be eligible to vote — with 15 million of them aged between 18 and 19 — in a mammoth exercise lasting more than a month

India will hold a general election in seven stages starting Thursday, in what will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise with Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to benefit from tensions with Pakistan.

About 900 million citizens will be eligible to vote — with 15 million of them aged between 18 and 19 — in a mammoth exercise lasting more than a month.

It is an election like no other. Those eligible to vote in India’s upcoming polls represent more than 10% of the world’s population and they will take part in the largest democratic exercise in history.

Voters will choose representatives for the Indian parliament, and in turn decide whether Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi will run the country for another five years.

What’s at stake?

Whoever wins these elections and forms a government will control the destiny of the world's largest democracy.

While they are in charge, India’s economy is likely to overtake the UK’s and become the world’s fifth-largest.

Its population meanwhile - at more than 1.34 billion people - is predicted to soon surpass China’s 1.39 billion.

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped poverty since the turn of the millennium, but huge challenges remain.

Unemployment is a major concern and is especially high among young people.

Millions of farmers are angry about low crop prices too.

How the nuclear-armed country engages with the outside world – and manages a tricky relationship with its neighbour Pakistan – is also of immense importance to international security.

Who is being elected?

Indians are voting for members of parliament and the job of prime minister which tends to go to the leader of the party or coalition with most seats.

The current prime minister is Modi’s main rival is opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

Parliament has two houses: the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

The lower house – Lok Sabha – is the one to watch. It has 543 seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

In the last election in 2014, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party had won 282 seats.

Gandhi’s Congress Party only took 44 seats in 2014 – down from 206 in 2009.

Why does voting take so long?

Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between April 11 and May 19.

The election dates are April 11, 18, 23, 29, and May 6, 12 and 19. Some states will also hold polls in several phases.

India's historic first election in 1951-52 had taken three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days.

The four-day elections in 1980 were the country's shortest ever.

Votes will be counted on May 23 and results are expected on the same day.

Who will win?

This election is being seen as a referendum on Modi, a polarizing figure adored by many, but also accused of stoking divisions between the country’s Hindu majority and 200 million Muslims.

Until a few months ago, Modi and BJP were seen as the overwhelming favourites. But their defeats at key states in December’s regional elections injected a sense of serious competition into the national vote.

Meanwhile, a recent escalation of tensions with Pakistan has given the BJP a new and popular issue to campaign on.

The party will be hoping that a focus on patriotism will help it to get past the serious challenge mounted by powerful regional parties and Congress.

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