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Indian President Dissolves Parliament - 2004-02-06

India's president dissolved parliament Friday, paving the way for general elections six months ahead of schedule. The move is widely seen as an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads India's ruling coalition, to capitalize on the country's economic growth and the recent improvement in relations with Pakistan.

Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam signed the proclamation dissolving parliament Friday, thereby shifting focus to the national election commission, which will decide on a date for the polls.

The move was widely expected. Parliament proposed an interim budget on Tuesday, a strategic move indicating that its dissolution was imminent.

With more than 650 million eligible voters, India is the world's largest democracy and organizing an election to fill the 545 seats in parliament's lower house is no easy task. Voting is staggered from place to place around the country over several weeks, to accommodate the movement of polling stations and security personnel.

Leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which heads India's ruling coalition, have said they would like a new government put in place by the end of April. But Subhash Kashyap, an analyst with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, says that might not be possible.

"The prime minister had expected the new government can be installed in April," he said. "I believe the election process will take more time, and the new government will be in place only in May."

Analysts say the BJP wants to capitalize on its recent surge in popularity, which has come in part thanks to India's thriving economy, and recent steps it has made toward peace with Pakistan.

Mr. Kashyap says the National Democratic Alliance, the coalition headed by the BJP, has a good chance of dominating the polls.

"Everywhere it seems that there is more hope for the NDA than for any other alliance or party," said Subhash Kashyap.

The election commission is expected to announce a date for the start of the polls by the end of next week.