The nation of India and its 1.2 billion residents will start heading to the polls on Thursday to elect their new prime minister and members of Parliament. The elections are a monumental task, and a testament to the survival of democracy in a developing nation, writes The Daily Yomiuri.
The voting will continue over four weeks as people travel to their nearest polling place to cast their votes in the 15th Lok Sabha. The voting will take place at more than 800,000 polling places and in five stages, on April 16, April 22, April 23, April 30, May 7 and May 13. The election results will be announced on May 16, according to Global Voices.
The upcoming elections are particularly important in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks that ravaged the city in November, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Members of the ruling Congress Party feared voters would punish them in the upcoming elections to the Indian legislature. However, that appears increasingly unlikely. Congress notched surprise victories in three state elections in early December over the Hindu nationalist BJP.
Though the BJP tried to turn that election into a referendum on security, it appears that development issues such as access to clean water and electricity were foremost on voters' minds. India has been hit hard by the global economic slowdown - industrial production has fallen for the first time in 15 years - and it appears that these economic concerns may still trump fears of terrorism.
Global Voices reiterates that most of India's 714 million voters base their votes for the 543 representatives on smaller, more regional issues like water, crime and poverty rates.
That's exactly what Mayawati, leader of the state of Uttar Pradesh, is trying do to, reports the Associated Press. Mayawati is from the untouchable caste in India, the poorest of the poor. Though she grew up with next to nothing, the candidate for prime minister now boasts vast wealth and public support for her run with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the top position in the land. Her humble background has won her many followers.
"I brought so much change to Uttar Pradesh, and if I'm elected prime minister I can do the same to the whole country," she said at a recent campaign rally.
Mayawati, who has only one name, seldom looked up from her notes as she spoke, her words stiff and nasal. A short woman, she wore a matronly tunic and carried an outsized brown purse. It was hard to see her charisma. But thousands of voters applauded when she promised to bring jobs, clean water and an end to India's religious divides.
"She's from a poor family," said Abdul Rehman, an 82-year-old farmer. "She understands what people are going through here, because we are poor too."
Though the BSP is running an interesting campaign, news sources throughout India are mixed on who they think will win the prime minister position and the majority in the Parliament.
Global Voices has put together a comprehensive list on who is saying what in the lead up to the elections.
The Times of India predicts that the Congress will win 154 seats (198 with UPA allies), while the BJP will win 135 seats (176 with NDA allies).
Shreekant Sambrani at Business Standard predicts that BJP will emerge as the biggest party with 137 seats (184 seats with NDA allies), ahead of the Congress, which will win 119 seats (176 seats with UPA allies, including LJP/ RJD).
India TV also predicts that the BJP will emerge as the largest single party with 144 seats (187 seats with NDA allies), ahead of the Congress, which will win 133 seats (178 seats with UPA allies).
India Today expects the UPA to win 196-205 seats, far ahead of the 172-181 seats for the NDA.
It seems that the consensus opinion is that the Congress will emerge as the largest party with 150-160 seats, while the BJP will win 130-140 seats. In any case, fewer parties will ally with the BJP, and it will need 175+ seats to have a stab at building a majority coalition, so we can safely assume that the Congress will be a part of the coalition government. Most observers are predicting that a Congress-led UPA-Left coalition will form the government.
Meanwhile, Bollywood celebrities are jumping into the election season and endorsing candidates as well as filming Youtube videos that encourage Indians, and especially young people, to get out and vote, reports AFP.
Here is one with Sonam Kapoor: