India: First Phase of World’s Longest, Most Impressive Democratic Election Ends

Abnormal heat did not prevent voter turnout, which averaged over 60%

INDIA

1,425,775,850 residents (2023)

Area 3,287,263 km2

28 states and 8 territories – Indian Union

India, a country of more than 1.4 billion people, has completed the so-called “first phase” of legislative elections to renew the Lok Sabha (People’s House), the lower house of the Indian parliament. New Delhi’s Central Election Commission said voter turnout was “high despite the abnormal heat wave.” According to preliminary data, average turnout exceeded 60% of registered voters in 21 Indian states and territories, which were the first to be able to vote on April 19. Bihar (47.5%) and Rajasthan (50.9%) recorded the lowest voter turnout, while Tripura and West Bengal recorded 79.9% and 77.6% voter turnout respectively.

The electoral process in India, which covers an area of about 3.3 million square kilometers, is divided into 7 phases, which in total – from start to finish – will last 44 days. Of India’s 28 states and 8 territories, 22 will vote in a single phase, and some states will take two or more days to complete the delicate electoral process. After kicking off the world’s longest and largest election on April 19, with 969 million voters eligible to cast their ballots, polling stations will reopen on April 26, when Karnataka and Kerala will vote for the first time, while Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu, and Kashmir will return to polling for the second phase. Subsequent phases will take place on May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25, and June 1, after which, with ballot counting scheduled for June 4-5, the entire process should conclude on June 6, when the results will be announced.

The vote for the 545-member People’s House is particularly important at the political level, as the Lok Sabha is the most powerful of the two houses that make up the Indian Parliament. The coalition that will be declared the winner on June 6 will be able to nominate one of its elected members for the post of prime minister, whose term of office is unlimited under the constitutional system.

The main favorite is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Indian People’s Party (BJP) that currently controls 346 seats in the Lok Sabha, of which 296 are held by the BJP. On the eve of the election, Modi said he wanted to take the majority to 400 parliamentary seats. The Indian National Congress (INC), the main opposition force and leader of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), is said to be the main rival to Modi’s coalition, which at best could win just over 100 seats.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that Indian electoral law provides for a quota of about 25% of seats reserved for the so-called Dalits (untouchables), belonging to the most marginalized groups, and the Adivasi, the indigenous tribes of the Indian subcontinent. In 2023, the Indian parliament approved a new measure to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women, but implementation of this rule, described by many political forces as blatantly “populist,” has been delayed until 2024.