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India to Hold General Elections Starting April 16


Election officials in India say the nation will hold a nearly month-long general election starting April 16. The main contenders for power will be the Congress Party which heads the ruling alliance, and the leading opposition bloc headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

India's Election Commission says the vote for a new parliament will be conducted in five stages from April 16 until May 13.

India holds a staggered election to allow millions of security forces and election personnel to move around the vast country.

Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami announced the details of the mammoth exercise, which is billed as the largest democratic exercise in the world. Nearly two-thirds of the country's more than one billion people are eligible to vote.

"The total electorate in this country after the revision is around 714 million, as compared to 671 million. That marks an increase an increase of 43 million voters between 2004 and now," Gopalaswami said.

Vote counting will begin on May 16. Although there are millions of votes to be counted, the process is completed quickly because voting is done electronically. A new government must be put in place before the end of May, when the five-year term of the present government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to end.

The frontrunners in the race for 543 parliamentary seats are likely to be the Congress Party, which heads the governing alliance, and a bloc of opposition parties headed by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

A number of regional parties will also play a crucial role. In recent elections, neither the Congress Party nor the BJP were able to win a majority on its own, but put together coalition governments with support from smaller parties.

Independent political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan says the issues that will dominate the election are the country's slowing economy and a series of terror attacks in major Indian cities such as Mumbai in the past year.

"Economic security, because India is going through a major slowdown even though it is the second fastest growing economy in the world, and the deteriorating security environment in the neighborhood….people will look for someone who can give assurance in these somewhat troubled times," Rangarajan said.

The two parties are expected to launch their official campaigns shortly, although many senior political leaders have already been traveling around the country with an eye on the upcoming elections.


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