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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid