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India praises vote conduct with Modi tipped to win

By AFP

June 3, 2024 06:18 PM


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India's election commission said Monday a staggering 642 million people voted in just-concluded six-week-long polls, a day ahead of the results which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to win.

Nearly all observers believe Modi's appeals to Hindu nationalist sentiment will give him a third term in power, a decade after he first took office.

Exit polls show 73-year-old Modi is well on track to triumph, with the premier saying he was confident that "the people of India have voted in record numbers" to re-elect his government.

Modi's opponents have been hamstrung by infighting and what they say are politically motivated criminal cases aimed at hobbling challengers to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday praised the complex logistical operation of the election, saying that the "voter is the real winner".

While total numbers of voters were up, turnout appeared to be slightly reduced from the last general elections.

Based on the commission's figure of an electorate of 968 million, 66.3 percent of eligible voters turned out so far, down roughly one percentage point on the 2019 vote, when turnout hit 67.4 percent.

Final voter turnout data will only be released after repolling in two stations in West Bengal state on Monday.

"We have created a world record of 642 million Indian voters, it is a historic moment for all of us," Kumar told reporters, adding that nearly half of those -- 312 million -- were women.

Kumar said that "voters chose action over apathy, belief over cynicism and in some cases, the ballot over the bullet", the commission said.

 'Incredible power of voters' 

"It shows the incredible power of voters of India," Kumar added, saying that there had been "no major incidents of violence".

Voting in the seventh and final staggered round ended on Saturday, and counting and results are due on Tuesday.

"People should know about the strength of Indian democracy", he added.

On Sunday, Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an alliance formed to compete against Modi, returned to prison.

Kejriwal, 55, was detained in March over a long-running corruption probe, but was later released and allowed to campaign as long as he returned to jail once voting ended.

"When power becomes dictatorship, then jail becomes a responsibility," Kejriwal said before surrendering himself, vowing to continue "fighting" from behind bars.

Modi's political opponents and international rights groups have long sounded the alarm about threats to India's democracy.

US think tank Freedom House said this year the BJP had "increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents".

 'So much heat' 

Analysts have partly blamed the drop in voter turnout on hotter-than-average temperatures heading into the Indian summer.

Tens of millions of people queued outside ballot stations during successive heatwaves across northern India that brought temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

At least 33 polling staff died from heatstroke on Saturday in Uttar Pradesh state alone, where temperatures hit 46.9C (116.4F), according to state election officials.

"We learnt from this election that polling should end earlier," Kumar said. "We should not have done it in so much heat".

India uses electronic voting machines that allow for faster counting of ballots.

"We have a robust counting process in place," Kumar said.

Counting will begin at 8:00 am (0230 GMT) in voting centres in each state, with the data fed into computers. Results are expected to be ready within hours.

The polls were also a gigantic logistical exercise. A total of 15 million people worked on the polls, including people temporarily assigned from elsewhere in the civil service.

Election officials travel by foot, road, trains, helicopters, boats, and occasionally camels and elephants, to set up polling stations in remote locations.


AFP


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