- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s monthlong election has ended, with tens of millions of Indians casting ballots in a vote widely expected to usher in a shaky coalition government. While results are not being announced until Saturday, Indian media polls indicate the Congress party-led ruling coalition could be narrowly ahead of the opposition Hindu-nationalist alliance.

But with the existing alliances deeply fragile, and both main parties set to launch their final quests for allies once the results were officially announced, little in the political scene was clear.

“We can only be certain about the uncertainty of it,” said Amitabh Mattoo, a political analyst. “You will naturally have a coalition,” he said. But the final form of that coalition was impossible to predict.

According to the constitution, a new parliament has to be in place by June 2.

Wednesday’s polling was the fifth and final phase of the elections in the nation of nearly 1.2 billion people, where voting is staggered for logistical and security reasons. The monthlong election has seen sporadic violence, especially in the Himalayan state of Jammu-Kashmir, where separatists called for a boycott of the polls.

The scale of the election is staggering, with 714 million voters eligible to cast their ballots at more than 828,000 polling stations scattered from the slopes of the Himalayas to the tropical southern coast.

But there was little to link those voters together. There were no resonant, central issues in the campaign, much of which was dominated by vague promises of prosperity. With neither of the two main parties expected to win an outright majority, many seats will go to a range of regional and caste-based parties. Their campaigns revolve around a vast range of issues — from farmers’ demands for cheap electricity to offers of free televisions for the poor.

Overall turnout was approximately 59 to 60 percent, the national election commission announced Wednesday, up slightly from 58 percent in the last national vote in 2004.

Media reports said the coalition led by the Congress, the left-of-center party that for years held an iron grip on Indian politics and which has long been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, held a slim lead over the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.

The news channel CNN-IBN gave the Congress and its allies anywhere from 185 to 205 seats, compared to 165 to 185 for the BJP and its partners. The other major political player — the so-called “Third Front” alliance of communist and regional parties — will win 110 to 130 seats, the station predicted. A party needs 272 seats in order to form a government on its own.

Other TV stations predicted similarly close results.

But poll predictions by Indian TV stations have proven unreliable in the past; most in the 2004 national election turned out to be wrong.

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