India holds general election today in the world’s largest democratic exercise, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second straight term. The election will held in seven phases until May 19 and votes will be counted on May 23. Here are some facts and figures about the election in the country of 1.3 billion people.
About 900 million people are eligible to vote, nearly the combined population of Europe and Brazil, and 10 percent more than in the 2014 election. About 432 million eligible voters are women. There are 15 million voters between 18 and 19 years of age. In the first phase of the election, 1,279 candidates are contesting 91 constituencies, but only 7 percent of candidates are women. Of the 8,251 candidates in the last election, only 668 were women.
Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are seeking re-election after a landslide victory in 2014. The main national opposition party is the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s most influential political dynasty. Gandhi is the son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His grandmother Indira was India’s first female leader, and his grandfather, Jawarhlal Nehru, was the country’s founding prime minister. But numerous other regional parties also wield significant influence across the country, with some for and others against Modi -- all of which can help define the outcome.
In the 2014 contest, there were a total of 464 political parties and more than 8,000 candidates courting voters across the nation.
WHAT THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR
The fight is for 543 of the 545 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. The remaining two seats are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community. These members are nominated by India’s president.
Whichever party wins the majority of seats gets to choose the prime minister. If no one party wins a majority, a coalition of different parties can come together to form the next government.
THE MASSIVE TASK OF INDIAN EC
The Election Commission of India (ECI), an autonomous constitutional body, oversees the election with more than 300 full-time officials at its headquarters in New Delhi. The commission has set up about 1 million polling stations, 10 percent more than in 2014. No voter should be more than 2 km (1.2 miles) away from a polling station. More than 11 million government officials will travel by foot, road, special train, helicopter, boat, and sometimes elephant, to hold the election. Polling stations are often in remote areas. More than 80,000 stations lacked mobile connectivity and nearly 20,000 were in forest or semi-forest areas, a commission survey said last year. A polling station in the Gir forest of western Gujarat state will be set up for just one voter, a Hindu monk. Voting will take place over 39 days, in part to allow officials and security forces time to redeploy. Vote counting for all 543 constituencies is done in a single day. The 2014 election cost 38.7 billion rupees ($552 million), according to commission estimates.
CASH, DRUGS, LIQUOR
Some political parties and their supporters offer cash, drugs and liquor in exchange for votes. The commission has seized 5.1 billion rupees ($73.6 million) in cash, some 21,500 kg of drugs worth 7.2 billon rupees, and 8.8 million litres of liquor valued at 1.8 billion rupees. It seized 12 billion rupees in cash, liquor and drugs in the last election.
The commission used 1.8 million electronic voting machines in the last election. Opposition groups say the machines can be tampered with and they want the commission to tighten its security measures to cross check votes in this election.
WHAT ARE THE KEY BATTLEGROUNDS?
Voting is spread across India’s 29 states and seven additional, smaller territories, known as union territories. Some areas carry more weight than others because of the number of Lok Sabha constituencies in each state or union territory, something that’s based on how populous they are. The bigger the state, the more seats it has. And the biggest battleground by many miles is the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It’s India’s most populous state, with about 200 million inhabitants -- if it was a country, it would be the fifth largest on the planet. Uttar Pradesh accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, making it critical to the formation of any Indian government. Other key regions to watch will be western state of Maharashtra, which accounts for 48 Lok Sabha seats; West Bengal in the east with 42 seats; Bihar in the north, which accounts for 40; and in the south, Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats.
Source: Reuters, CNN