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India's PM Calls for Early Elections - 2004-01-12


India's prime minister has called for early national elections, perhaps as soon as April. The move to call an election nearly six months ahead of schedule was widely expected as the prime minister's party has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity.

Officials from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants elections in April or May. The party endorsed that demand at the end of a two-day meeting in the southern city of Hyderabad.

The BJP heads India's ruling coalition. The National Election Commission will act on the party's recommendation for an early poll once the prime minister recommends the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament.

A national parliamentary election must be held by October.

The call for an early ballot comes as little surprise. Prime Minister Vajpayee has been riding a wave of popularity in recent weeks, thanks in part to strides made toward peace with India's rival Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Mr. Vajpayee held a surprise meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and announced a new round of talks to ease tensions between the two nations.

On top of that, India's economy is booming. Economists think the government hit its target of seven percent growth for year ending in March.

Analysts say India's tumultuous national politics are such that the BJP will want to capitalize on its popularity now - because it might not last.

“Elections were due in say, September, now they are advancing it to an earlier date shows that they are afraid, that by September, they will not be in a position to have the support of the people,” said Subhash Khasyap, an analyst with the New Delhi think-tank, the Center for Policy Research.

With a population of more than a billion people, India is the world's largest democracy - and a national election can take several weeks.

Voting day is staggered from state to state to allow poll workers and security personnel move around the country.

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