India, the world’s largest democracy, yesterday announced it would stage a five-week election from April 7 that is expected to bring Hindu nationalist and Gujarat State Chief Minister Narendra Modi to power on a platform of economic revival.
Voting for India’s 543-member parliament is set to take place in nine phases until May 12 and the counting is scheduled for four days later on May 16, with the ruling Indian National Congress party likely facing defeat.
In the biggest election in history, 814 million adults will be eligible to vote, 100 million more than the previous polls in 2009.
The Election Commission of India chose the dates taking into account the availability of security forces to guard the nearly 1 million polling booths, as well as the onset of India’s scorching summer.
Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath appealed for “high standards of political discourse and fair play in the course of the campaign,” as a model code of conduct came into force.
The contest is to pit Modi, the son of a tea stall owner from western Gujarat State, against Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, the Harvard and Cambridge University-educated scion of the dynasty that has dominated the country’s post-independence politics.
After two terms of coalition government led by Gandhi’s leftist Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi is widely forecast to emerge as the largest party in the new parliament.
Modi wrote on Twitter that the “poll bugle has been sounded” and urged voters to seize “a historic opportunity to lay [the] foundation of a developed India.”
Whoever wins the duel between the BJP and Congress will almost certainly have to stitch together a coalition of smaller regional parties. No single party has won a parliamentary majority since 1989 and the electorate has fractured in successive decades, giving often populist regional leaders immense power.