India goes to the polls in April-May

The Election commission has announced the dates for the seven phases of India’s quinquennial General Elections, starting on April 11 and ending on May 21, 2019. 

Background 

India is a federation with a parliamentary system governed under the Constitution of India, which defines the power distribution between the union, or central, government and the states. The Prime Minister of India is the head of government and exercises most executive power. Appointed by the president, the prime minister is by convention supported by the party or political alliance having a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of parliament.

The Election Commission of India is an autonomous entity prescribed in the Constitution of India. It is the federal authority responsible for administering all the electoral processes of India and ensuring they are free and fair.

Analysis 

India will hold a general election in seven stages starting on April 11, the election commission said on Sunday, in what will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise with Prime Minister Narendra Modi actively seeking a second term in power. 

Around 900 million voters -- 84 million more than in 2014 -- will elect 543 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said. Voting will run in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and counting will take place on May 23, Arora said at a press conference in New Delhi on Sunday.

Until a few weeks ago, a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices were seen denting Modi’s popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata 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 fervour 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.

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.

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.

Voting in India does not take place on a single day. Because of the daunting logistics of overseeing the world’s largest electorate -- stretching from the Himalayas in the north to tropical jungles -- the voting is stretched out over several weeks. The Election commissioned announced that the election will be held over seven phases instead of nine phases, as was the case in 2014. 

State polls will also be held simultaneously with the general election for Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, Arora said. Security constraints mean there will be no state assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir for now, he said.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP is counting on his welfare programs to win votes, including the provision of toilets, electricity connections and cooking gas for the poor as well as small business loans, annual income support for farmers and lower taxes for the middle-class. Congress will pledge a one-time farm loan write off, minimum income guarantee to the poor and blame his government for alleged corruption in a defense contract.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that the Elections will more closely be contested than in 2014 which saw the BJP emerge victorious with a record margin amidst any resistance from the opposition parties. We believe that unlike last time, PM Modi’s charismatic speeches and talking points may not secure him a second term without a focus on the issues like lack of growth, unemployment and corruption. 

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