April 16, 2009

India votes, largest election ever

POLITICS - India, the world's most populated democracy has begun voting today, destined to set a new record for the most votes ever cast in a democratic country. The voting process will last 4 weeks.

It is also said to be one of its messiest elections in recent years, with no reliable forecast of who would prevail in campaigns that stressed hyper-local issues rather than the overall direction of India.

The two largest parties, the governing Indian National Congress and the opposition party Bharatiya Janata are both making deals with a host of ambitious smaller parties, who are expected to drive hard bargains for a shot at power.

714 million people are eligible to vote in India and voting turnout is typically high (the Central Election Commission estimates turnout this year will be as high as 86%). The elections over the next four weeks will determine the selection of 543 members of Parliament and results are to be announced on May 16th.

Pro-China Maoists disrupted the electoral process today, killing 18 people including 11 security officers in three separate attacks. More than two million election security officers have been deployed nationwide across India to protect against terrorist attacks.

The hot button topic in Indian politics is the caste system, wherein people grow up to fulfill whatever job their parents did before them. The antiquated notion still has many supporters in India, but the idea has become controversial and there is now a push to get rid of the caste system entirely.

When the poll results come in, at least 6 smaller parties, representing India’s many regions and castes, are likely to jockey for government portfolios. There is even a small chance that one of their leaders could vie to be India’s next prime minister.

The political uncertainty comes as a once-booming India also reels from a growing recession that has cost millions of jobs in India. A clear win by either of the two main parties could see a rally on India's stock markets, but the emergence of a weak coalition of regional and communist parties could see stocks fall by as much as 30 per cent, market watchers say.

Unlike American elections, the elephants in India's election process are real and are used by election officials patrolling the different polling stations.

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