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India's Ruling Congress Party Wins Election

  • Anjana Pasricha

In India, the ruling Congress-led coalition has secured a decisive victory in general elections, paving the way for a stable coalition government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. With most votes counted, the Congress party led alliance had led in 260 seats, while the bloc led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party trailed with about 160 seats.

The news that the Congress Party led coalition was racing to victory came within hours after vote counting began Saturday, surprising a country which had been bracing for a fractured verdict.

Even before the final results were in, a smiling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thanked people for a "massive mandate."

"It will be our effort to rise to the expectations of our people, to give them a government which is a caring government, which represents the best instincts of Indian polity, which works for sustained and equitable development, which protects the secular values," he said.

The Congress Party will head a coalition government. The alliance it heads is slightly short of a clear majority in the 543-seat parliament, but it can easily pick up support from small parties and independent lawmakers to bridge the gap.

This has set at rest fears that the country will have a weak, unstable coalition, dependent on a host of unreliable partners.

In fact the Congress Party has emerged hugely strengthened, winning more seats than the most optimistic projections. It has picked up about 190 seats on its own - it's best performance in nearly two decades. The Congress Party dominated Indian politics since the country's independence, but saw is share of votes slip in recent elections.

The president of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, who is credited with reviving the party's fortunes, said people have made "the right choice."

"People have appreciated the fact that we have worked hard, that we do think of them, that we work for them with sincerity and dedication," she said.

Congress party supporters celebrated through the country, setting off firecrackers and dancing in the streets.

The Congress Party attributed its showing in the polls to the work it has done for the rural poor, who make up the bulk of India's voters.

Good news for the Congress Party was bad news for its main rival, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which saw its share of seats slip compared to 2004. Few had expected the BJP to win, but the party had hoped to put up a good fight.

"It is a disappointment, but like all good matches, one loses, one wins, we have lost, but with the hope we will come back again strongly," said Siddharth Nath, spokesman for the party.

The elections also dealt a blow to leftist, regional parties and caste-based parties, which fared poorly, ending their hopes of playing a dominant role at the national level.

India's new parliament must be seated by June 2.