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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs