Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Poll: no majority in India voting

ELECTIONS The party of the prime minister looks likely to hang on to power, but it will have to govern in a coalition as voting so far seems inconclusive

AP , NEW DELHI

Supporters flash victory signs during an election rally addressed by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Madras, Wednesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, flashing a V for victory sign, voted in his district Wednesday in parliamentary elections, as early exit polls predicted he would be returned to office for another five years.

The five-phase elections that began April 20 will end May 10. Exit polls in the seven states that voted in the fourth round Wednesday indicated Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was well ahead of the opposition Congress party, but unlikely to win a majority of Parliament's seats on its own.

That would force Vajpayee to continue governing through a coalition of about a dozen parties called the National Democratic Alliance.

Some of the country's most violent regions cast ballots Wednesday. Three deaths were reported by the time polls closed, but Deputy Election Commissioner A.N. Jha said voting was relatively peaceful.

Half of the 107 million eligible voters in the seven states participated, he said.

Vajpayee's coalition was strongly favored ahead of the start of the three-week elections on the strength of a booming economy and peace overtures with rival Pakistan. However, opinion and exit polls later showed his coalition losing seats overall.

But a respected New Delhi Television-Indian Express poll -- based on Wednesday's voting and the previous three phases -- showed the coalition now taking a comfortable lead.

"I am not nervous" about the exit polls, Vajpayee said before voting in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh state. He later displayed the ink on his finger that proved he had voted and flashed a V for victory sign.

Vajpayee, 79, was opposed in Lucknow by an old friend and former member of his Cabinet, Ram Jethmalani, 80, who questioned the prime minister's mental and physical fitness to lead the nation of 1 billion, and objected to the pro-Hindu agenda of Vajpayee's party.

The main opposition Congress party, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, argues that the government's prosperity drive has been limited to cities and hasn't touched the lives of people in villages, where most Indians live.

The New Delhi Television-Indian Express poll -- considered the most reliable and scientific by political observers -- said that with 66 percent of the votes now cast in the five-phased elections, the BJP looks likely to win 245 to 265 seats, short of the 272 seats needed for a clear majority in the 543-member Parliament. It projected 185 to 205 seats for the Congress party and its allies, with other parties and independents claiming the remaining seats.

More than 270,000 troops were deployed to guard voting booths in the seven states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu-Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

There were demonstrations Wednesday throughout the district that voted in Jammu-Kashmir, where Muslim separatists called for a poll boycott and threatened to kill anyone participating in the elections.

One man was killed in a grenade explosion in Jammu-Kashmir and more than 20 people were injured in election-related violence.

In eastern Bihar state, two men were shot dead outside polling stations. Election violence has killed 39 people since April 19, considerably below the 100 who died in 1999 elections.

Ballot-counting for the five-phase elections begins on May 13.

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