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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More