India Capital Votes in 3rd Phase of World’s Biggest Election

Voters in India’s capital headed to polling booths today in the third phase of the biggest election in world history, with Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party set to win the most seats and grab power after a decade.

About 13 million voters spread across seven constituencies in Delhi will elect representatives along with voters in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Orissa and Kerala. Ninety-two seats will be decided today, although results from all 543 constituencies will be announced together on May 16.

Modi’s opposition BJP leads in opinion polls as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party has seen its popularity fall due to graft cases, Asia’s second-fastest inflation and slowing economic growth. Today’s elections will test support for the year-old Aam Aadmi Party, which swept to power in the capital last year and is seeking a role in national politics.

“This phase will determine the relevance of the Aam Aadmi Party based on percentage of votes it gets,” said A.S. Narang who teaches political science at New Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Open University. “The anti-incumbency vote may not necessarily go to AAP in many seats in Delhi as the BJP has emerged as a strong contender making it a three-cornered fight.”

The BJP will win four seats in Delhi, with two going to AAP and one to Congress, according to a nationwide opinion poll of 200,000 voters conducted in February and published by NDTV television channel. It had a sampling error of 2 percent. Congress took all seats in Delhi during the 2009 elections.

Kejriwal Slapped

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, who resigned as Delhi leader in February after 49 days in office following the rejection of an anti-corruption bill, is challenging directly Modi in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Kejriwal was slapped in the face while greeting voters on April 8, the last day of the campaign.

Modi, 63, is promoting his image as a magnet for investment and a record of stronger-than-average growth in the state of Gujarat, which he’s ruled for 13 years. Congress party leaders say he’s an autocrat who failed to control anti-Muslim rioting in the state in 2002. He’s denied wrongdoing.

Candidates running in Delhi range from telecom minister Kapil Sibal to S. George of the Bahujan Samaj Party, who took out an advertisement in the Hindustan Times yesterday telling voters he took a vow to be celibate and will remain single.

“I’m sure you aren’t prejudiced and biased,” the ad said. “One day history will end and you will be remembered as one who believed in fairness and gave a chance to every party.”

Stocks Rally

India’s stocks and currency have rallied in recent weeks on the prospect that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will form a stable coalition and revive Asia’s third-biggest economy. The government forecasts economic growth of 4.9 percent in the year ended March 31, up from 4.5 percent in the previous 12 months, which was the slowest in a decade.

The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex index has gained 11 percent since the end of January and surged to a record yesterday.

A Modi-led coalition will accelerate moves to build infrastructure and bolster state finances, Nomura International Plc said in a report dated April 8. It will also prompt a “further positive knee-jerk reaction” in Indian stocks, analysts led by Alastair Newton wrote in the report.

The election will be the most expensive in Indian history, with the government, political parties and candidates spending 300 billion rupees ($5 billion), according to estimates from the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. While the election commission caps spending for each candidate at 7 million rupees per constituency, often much more is spent.

In the nine-phased national poll, nearly 815 million registered voters will cast ballots, including 23 million who are aged between 18 and 19 years, constituting 2.8 percent of the national electorate. Since 2009, about 100 million new voters have been added to the electoral rolls.

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