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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs