India votes: more than 700 million voters to choose new parliament
A five-phase election race begins tomorrow to end in mid-May. Some 800,000 polling stations dot the country. voting is taking under tight security. PM Singh’s Congress Party is expected to come first. But nothing is decided as to what coalition government will come out.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India votes tomorrow. The great race to renew the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament, is on and will unfold in five phases between 16 April and 13 May. An estimated 714 millions of people are eligible to vote.

For the “biggest democracy in the world” this is a huge organisational undertaking. Some 800,000 polling stations dot the country, 200,000 more than in the 2004 elections. Electronic voting is also available. In 25 of 28 states the Photo Electoral Rolls will also be in operation.

Tight security is in place, especially in Assam, Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir and Andra Pradesh, states where revolutionary groups and movements are operating, and where attacks and clashes have recently taken place, including anti-Christian pogroms by Hindu fanatics.

Voting will start at 7 am in 124 ridings for a total of 143 million voters in 15 states, including Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu e Kashmir, Maharashtra as well as two Union territories: Lakshadweep and Nicobar and Andaman Islands.

In Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Meghalaya voting will be done in just one round. In other states voting will take place in different districts on 23 and 30 April and 7 and 13 May.

Final results will not be known until on 16 May after the last ballot is cast. Official results will then be announced. At that point Indians will know who will be in a position to negotiate to form the next coalition govern.

Surveys suggest that the Congress Party is likely to come out on top with 140 seats out of 543 lower house seats. But for outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan that would represent a loss compared to 2004 when his party won 145 seats.

His main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is also expected to lose seats, getting no more than 130 MPs.

At the same time, national coalition-making will be complicated by the interaction of federal and state politics, and asymmetrical representation per state. Alliances will thus play a key role in the post-election phase.

In fact, beside seven India-wide parties, about a thousand parties are vying for support in individual states, some even in individual districts.

Several local parties gravitate around Congress; others are close to the BJP. Both groupings have a chance to form a coalition government, and are known respectively as the United progressive alliance (UPA), and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

But a Third Front has emerged in this election cycle in opposition to the two historic coalitions. Its support comes, among others, from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the Communist Party of India (CPI), and the Janata Dal Secular (JD), a party that vies for the support of secular forces that do not recognise themselves in the policies of the Congress Party.

According to some surveys the UPA is in the best position to form the next government but it will have two rely on CPM and CPI support. Conversely, a BJP-led coalition is given few chances.

An outside chance is given to Kumari Mayawati, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, head of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Known as the ‘Dalit Queen’ because of her low caste origins, she governs a state that will send 80 MPs to New Delhi.

In 2004 she sent a 19-member delegation to the Lok Sabha.

Analysts now predict that she might double that number and thus become the king-maker in the negotiations to form the new government.