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Indians Complete Third Round of Elections; BJP, Allies in Lead - 2004-04-27


India's staggered general election has crossed the halfway mark, with exit polls projecting that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party coalition is in the lead - but is not doing as well as expected. The Bharatiya Janata Party's president Venkaiah Naidu Tuesday renewed an appeal to voters to give the governing alliance a decisive mandate in Parliament.

Mr. Naidu said the party needs a clear, two-thirds majority to fulfill the tasks before it.

The appeal came as exit polls aired by television news channels suggest the BJP-led coalition is not cruising to the easy victory that had been predicted before polling began. The exit polls were taken as voters left polling stations after three rounds of voting.

The polls say the BJP and its allies are ahead of all other parties. But the best projection for the BJP and its allies is that they will capture just about half the seats in Parliament. Several polls say the coalition will fall short of a majority, and the country could have a hung Parliament.

India's mammoth election is held in five phases, about half the country has voted so far. The voting ends on May 10, with results expected a few days later.

The latest exit polls were aired Monday after voting began in two populous states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, that hold the key to electoral success in India.

Mr. Naidu with the BJP was quick to dismiss the exit polls. Mr. Naidu said his party and its allies are confident of getting a clear majority, and the country will not have a hung Parliament.

The voter surveys indicate the opposition Congress Party will make gains and recover somewhat from its devastating defeat in the last election, but will not have the numbers needed to form a government.

Subhash Kashyap, a political analyst with New Delhi's independent Center for Policy Research, says even if the BJP coalition fell short of a majority, it is likely to retain power by courting new allies.

"The political scenario may not undergo much change and the present government led by the BJP may continue with some minor changes and allies," he said.

The BJP called elections about six months early hoping to ride back to power on the back of good economic growth in the past year.

Indian markets sank after exit polls projected that the country could have a hung Parliament, losing more than three percent Tuesday. Markets are hoping for a clear victory for the BJP, and a continuation of its pro-reform agenda.

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