India to kick off world’s biggest election on 7 April

Thursday, 6 March 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

REUTERS: India’s mammoth parliamentary election will start on 7 April, the Election Commission announced on Wednesday, kicking off a race that will pit BJP leader Narendra Modi against the unpopular Nehru-Gandhi family’s ruling Congress party. Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath said 814 million people will be eligible to vote, a number larger than the population of Europe, making this the biggest election the world has ever seen. Results are due to be announced on 16 May. Voting will be held in nine stages, staggered until 12 May to allow security forces to focus their strength during an exercise that, for decades after independence from Britain in 1947, has often been marred by violence and ballot-rigging. Running on his strong economic track record as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi has emerged in opinion polls as the favourite, reflecting popular anger over corruption and a sense that the centre-left Congress government frittered away opportunities for rapid growth after coming to power in 2004. However, India’s fragmented political landscape and first-past-the-post system for parliamentary seats makes results notoriously hard to predict, and that means a victory is by no means assured for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Recent polls show the BJP well short of a majority of the 543 Lok Sabha seats at stake, but widening its lead over the ruling Congress party, which has ruled for more than two-thirds of the 67 years since independence but may now be headed for its worst-ever electoral defeat.