News / Asia

India's Weak Congress Ponders Early Elections

Supporters of India's ruling Congress party use color crackers during election celebrations outside party headquarters in Ahmedabad on May 8, 2013.
Supporters of India's ruling Congress party use color crackers during election celebrations outside party headquarters in Ahmedabad on May 8, 2013.
Reuters
India's Congress party is debating holding a general election in November, six months ahead of schedule, senior party leaders said, reflecting an internal discussion over whether to pull the plug on the shaky ruling coalition or have it serve a full term.
 
Officially, the Congress party says the government - which has been battered by a series of corruption scandals and now governs as a minority after two allies withdrew from the ruling coalition - will limp on until elections are due in May 2014.
 
But there is no consensus in the upper echelons of Congress on when to call elections, according to interviews with more than a dozen party leaders. There is a split between those who say the sluggish economy needs more time to recover and those who worry that waiting until 2014 could be a tactical mistake.
 
If the Congress party gets the timing wrong, it could cost it a third straight term in power and put a question mark over the future of India's recently launched economic reform drive.
 
“The government has a commitment to the people,'' said one senior Congress party official when asked why the coalition should continue if it was struggling to pass legislation. “A lame duck is fine if it can paddle through water.''
 
Other party leaders say things may get worse by next year and Congress should capitalize on a win in local elections in the southern state of Karnataka earlier this month that has brought much-needed cheer to its cadres.
 
Elections by year-end would also be welcomed by investors hoping a more stable government will lessen political risk. “Right now there is far too much uncertainty. Many businesses do not want to commit,'' said economist Rajeev Malik of CLSA Singapore.
 
Early elections could be forced on the party if a fickle ally, the Samajwadi Party, suddenly withdraws support or if the minority government loses a confidence vote in parliament.
 
The latter is seen as a possible but unlikely scenario because the leadership of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is consumed by infighting and needs time before it can face a fresh election. It could abstain in any confidence vote, allowing the Congress coalition to stay in power.
 
Speculation about the timing of an election has intensified after signs that there may already be preparations afoot.
 
The government this week launched an advertising blitz, placing front-page advertisements in national newspapers that lauded its achievements over the past nine years. The timing and size of the “India Story'' campaign, which also includes television and Internet promotions, is unusual if elections really are a year away, said veteran Indian election watchers.
 
“Many of the cadres and some from the second-level leadership (regional party leaders) want early elections,'' said a party general secretary, who is close to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.
 
The final decision on the election date will rest with Gandhi, Congress party officials said.
 
An election is unlikely to be called until after the month-long monsoon session of parliament, which will probably start in the last week of July, they said. The Congress party will make one final effort to pass its populist food security bill, which aims to give cheap food to nearly 70 percent of the population.
 
It was to pass the bill at a session which ended early on May 8, but the plan was derailed by a furore over two ministers embroiled in corruption scandals who were forced to resign.
 
Another key factor in the Congress's decision-making is the outcome of four state elections due at the end of this year. The party, which has ruled for most of India's 65 years of independence from Britain, is not expected to do well in the states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
 
“Congress is not in a very good position in those states. If we hold Lok Sabha (parliamentary) elections after losing some assembly elections our morale may be low. In my view, November-December Lok Sabha elections would be good for the party,'' said a member of the party's election strategy committee.
 
India's former chief election commissioner, S.Y. Qurashi, told Reuters it would make sense for the government to hold the general election at the same time as the state polls to avoid duplication of effort.
 
Indian elections are a massive logistical exercise. Nearly 780 million people are registered to vote in the poll, which will be staggered over five weeks. The election commission generally needs between three to six months to prepare.
 
The optimal time to hold elections would be either in October-November or February-March because monsoon rains will lash India between June and September, and winter snows will blanket much of mountainous northern India in the months of December and January.
 
It gets hotter later in the year, but the last two elections were held in April-May, in 2004 and 2009.
 
Congress leaders who want the government to stay on until 2014 say that holding the elections on schedule will allow time for the further easing of inflation, which has been a major concern for voters. Headline inflation fell to an annual 4.89 percent in April, its lowest level in three years.
 
But there is a big spoiler who could upset the Congress party's best-laid plans - Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, who helps keep the government in power by providing crucial voting support in parliament.
 
Yadav, whose party rules in the state of Uttar Pradesh, could withdraw support and force early elections if he calculates that waiting too long could cost him votes, said Yashwant Deshmukh, chief editor of the CVoter polling agency.
 
At the Congress party's run-down national headquarters in New Delhi, some party workers think that, like their office, the party is in urgent need of some renovation.
 
“The worker on the ground is demoralized with the government,'' lamented one party worker, who said early elections would give Congress a fresh mandate and make it less reliant on other parties to govern.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid