Three rounds of voting down, two to go in India
America may claim to be the world’s greatest democracy, but India is unchallenged as the world’s biggest – and countries that at first seem politically complex, such as Israel, Italy, or Switzerland, pale into elegant simplicity when compared to the behemoth that is Indian politics (the US by contrast seems almost laughably straightforward).
The sheer numbers involved in the Indian election are simply mind-boggling. Just two comparisons with Israel’s February election bear this out – there are more polling stations (828 thousand) than votes won by Kadima (758 thousand) and almost twice as many security personnel (over 6 million) than all votes cast in Israel (3.4 million). A massive electorate of over 700 million, and the security situation (17 killed on the first day of voting) mean that the election takes place over five phases of voting, the last being on 13th May, with the votes being (electronically) counted on 16th May.
One of the few simple things about India is the voting system, with a UK-style first-past-the-post. Unlike the UK though, India has a multiplicity of parties who are significant at a state level, as well as a handful of truly national parties. In common with many other polities, the party structure in India has gradually fragmented in recent times – gone are the days when Congress could win over 400 seats and almost half the votes, as it did after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984.
Indeed, it has been speculated that the 2009 election may mark a watershed in Indian politics, with the “big two” of Congress and the BJP (who themselves only politically came of age in the 90s) securing under half the seats combined, as the regional parties make their mark on the national stage. India is not unlike Italy at the time of the 2006 election, with the main parties organised into large and rather unwieldy alliances.
Congress leads the United Progressive Alliance, and the BJP the National Democratic Alliance. Then there is the Third Front, including the Left, which includes not one but two Communist Parties (one distinguished from the other by the “(Marxist)” suffix), and the Uttar Pradesh-based BSP led by Mayawati. There is even a so-called “Fourth Front”, the most prominent party here being the Samajwadi Party also from Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state. Note however that these groupings are somewhat fluid and the pre-election situation may change after the results come in.
Perhaps wisely, bookmakers have been shy about providing markets as to who the next Prime Minister will be, as it will depend not only on the performance of parties and alliances at the election itself, but on what deals emerge after the election in order to put a government together. Of the possible contenders, the 81-year-old LK Advani of the BJP may well be hampered by a disappointing showing from his party, while Mayawati of the BSP, despite her Uttar Pradesh powerbase and much publicity, may not have the numbers to secure the top job. So, when the dust settles, sitting PM Manmohan Singh of Congress (himself no spring chicken at 76, and sitting in the Upper House), could yet get to extend his premiership which began in 2004, the rumours of Rahul Gandhi being a possible intra-party replacement notwithstanding.
Author’s note – the fascinating but complex world of Indian politics is still relatively new to me, this being the first Lok Sabha election I’ve followed in depth. Contributions from posters knowledgeable on India would therefore be extremely welcome.
For Eurovision fans (and if you can’t stand the music there are plenty of good betting opportunities), don’t forget to read the guest article on PB2.