India announces national election from April 11, results on May 23
Updated 11:24, 11-Mar-2019
CGTN

India announced on Sunday that a general election will be held over nearly six weeks starting on April 11, when hundreds of millions of voters will cast ballots in the world's second-most populous nation.

From April 11 to May 19, voters will elect 543 lawmakers to India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, which governs the Asian nation of 1.25 billion people from the capital New Delhi, the electoral commission said Sunday.

About 900 million voters would be eligible for the polls, about 15 million between the ages of 18 and 19 years. Votes will be counted on May 23, said Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora.

Sunil Arora, India's chief election commissioner (C) speaks during a news conference in New Delhi, India, March 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

Sunil Arora, India's chief election commissioner (C) speaks during a news conference in New Delhi, India, March 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

Arora also said an election commission team had visited the state to speak to stakeholders and has decided to appoint three special observers to the region to monitor the polling.

He said assembly elections that are due to be held in the state, where the assembly was dissolved last year, won't take place simultaneously with the general election.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi's Indian National Congress are the two strongest challengers among hundreds of political parties from across the culturally and geographically diverse country.

Until a few weeks ago, a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices were seen denting Modi's popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Party (BJP) now has a clear advantage after India's armed forces clashed with those of arch-rival Pakistan last month, triggering a wave of patriotic fervor across the country of 1.3 billion.

Of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs, 241 could go to Modi's ruling alliance, compared with 141 to the Congress party-led opposition alliance, according to a nationwide survey of 50,000 people by the CVoter polling agency conducted over the past four weeks.

"The Hindi heartland – barring Uttar Pradesh – has charged up due to the Pakistan issue," said Yashwant Deshmukh, founder of CVoter, referring to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh that sends the largest number of lawmakers to India's lower house of parliament and is a key battleground for the election.

Earlier surveys released in January, before the most recent tension with Pakistan, showed the BJP and its allies emerging as the largest group in the election but falling short of a majority.

Election staff checks Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) ahead of India's general election at a warehouse in Ahmedabad, India, March 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

Election staff checks Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) ahead of India's general election at a warehouse in Ahmedabad, India, March 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

In 2014's general election, the BJP won 282 out of 543 contested seats – the strongest showing for any political party in three decades.

However, the main opposition Congress party, which late last year ousted the BJP from power in three largely rural states, is trying to band together with regional and caste-based parties to oust Modi.

Congress, controlled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for most of its post-independence history, is banking on voter resentment to propel the opposition alliance to victory.

Political gains

The recent clashes between India and Pakistan were triggered after a February 14 suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the northern region of Kashmir claimed by both countries. A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for the attack and India accused Pakistan of complicity – a charge Pakistan denies.

Aerial confrontations between the nuclear-armed nations ensued and, although questions have been raised about how effective the Indian military action actually was, Modi's approval rating soared.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) gestures along with Indian Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu Edappadi Palanisamy (R), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S. Ramadoss (R) and other party leaders during a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rally in Chennai, India, March 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) gestures along with Indian Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu Edappadi Palanisamy (R), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S. Ramadoss (R) and other party leaders during a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rally in Chennai, India, March 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

HSBC Securities and Capital Markets said in a note that national security and nationalism could trump economic issues in determining voters preferences.

Arora, the chief election commissioner, said three special observers would be deployed in the northern Jammu and Kashmir state, where India is battling multiple insurgencies and where elections are usually marred by violence. Votes will be counted on May 23, he said.

He also said Facebook, Twitter, Google and WhatsApp have committed to cracking down on fake news by deploying fact checkers and grievance officers.

There has been mounting concern in India that political party workers could spread false news on the social media platforms to sway voters. WhatsApp has in particular become a key campaign tool used widely by both leading parties.

The commission has also set up a separate team to monitor expenditure of political parties after a record spend in the 2014 election. Many parties understate their expenses and monitoring has been difficult in the past.

(Cover: Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, arrives for the India Korea-Business Symposium in Seoul, South Korea, February. 21, 2019. /VCG Photo)

(With input from AFP, Reuters)

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