Signs of splintered result: unsteady coalition:
India flags off elections
INDIA: India kicks off month-long elections Thursday, with all signs
pointing to a splintered result and government by an unsteady coalition
that would struggle to see out a full term.
Neither of the two main national parties — the incumbent Congress and
the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — is seen as capable
of securing an absolute majority in the five-stage polls.
With a slew of regional and local parties expected to grab up to 50
percent of the 543 parliamentary seats on offer, the final result will
kick off an intense period of political horse-trading as the big players
rush to form a viable coalition.
The prospect of a patchwork government with no united policy is a
bleak one, with India facing a sharp economic downturn and increasing
domestic and regional security concerns.
“What we need is a government which will pull India through these
difficult times,” said political analyst Rasheed Kidwai.
“The tragedy is that the influence of the main national parties has
shrunk so much.
“The regional parties which are on the rise, are without the national
outlook needed at this stage,” Kidwai said.
More than 700 million Indians are eligible to vote in the world’s
largest democratic exercise, with around 143 million registered for the
first phase alone.
Thursday’s ballot will take in large swathes of northern and eastern
India, including areas beset by a range of violent insurgencies
involving tribal rebels, Maoist guerrillas and Muslim militants.
In order to ensure voter safety, more than two million security
personnel will be rotated around the country over the five phases of
balloting that end on May 13. Final results are to be announced on May
The leading candidates for prime minister are both veterans. The
incumbent, Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party, is 76, while his main
challenger, the BJP’s L.K. Advani, is even older at 81.
The only viable alternative to a Congress- or BJP-led coalition is
provided by a loose alliance of left-leaning and regional parties called
the “Third Front.”
Negotiations are ongoing, but the alliance may join forces with
Mayawati Kumari — the self-styled champion of the lower castes.
Yashwant Deshmukh, who heads a public polling agency, warned that a
shaky coalition would be unable to implement tough economic reforms for
fear of losing support.
“If you have an unstable government, chances are that the decisions
it takes will be populist and protectionist in nature, and that will
impact adversely on market reforms,” Deshmukh said.
Many voters are expected to make their choices along religious and
caste lines or on the basis of strictly regional issues that impact
their daily lives.
Any new government’s room to fix problems will be sharply curbed by
lavish spending in the past on a national jobs scheme, farm loan
waivers, civil service wages hikes, tax cuts to spur growth and other
India’s fiscal deficit for the last financial year was six percent of
GDP — more than double the target — and 11 percent if the states’
deficits are included. New Delhi, Thursday, AFP