NOIDA, India – General elections opened on Thursday in over 50 electoral districts of India, the world’s largest democracy, where almost 900 million voters are eligible to vote in seven phases spread out over six weeks.
The results of these elections are expected to be announced on May 23.
Some 130 million voters from almost 70 districts are eligible to vote in the first phase to decide the fate of 91 out of the 543 seats of the Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament – at play, according to India’s Election Commission.
Long lines could be seen at the polling stations since they opened at 7:00 am.
In Noida, a city near Delhi located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, there was a steady stream of voters – most of them accompanied by their families – wishing to cast their votes in the early morning.
Many of the Noida voters who spoke to EFE said that they hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, would win re-election for a second five-year term.
In the first phase, polling is being carried out in districts in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur and Meghalaya.
Also voting are constituencies in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and the union territories of the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep islands.
Among the most prominent figures contesting in the first phase are several members of the current BJP-led government, including the minister for road transport and highways, shipping, water resources and river development, Nitin Gadkari; external affairs minister V.K. Singh and the minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation, Mahesh Sharma.
Also running to keep their seats in the Lok Sabha are Gaurav Gogoi and Renuka Chowdhary of the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.
According to the country’s parliamentary system of government, a political party needs to secure, in total, the support of a simple majority (half the seats plus one) – that is, at least 272 lawmakers – to form a government.
Modi and his party, the BJP, are favorites to win the elections despite the recent surge in the polls seen by the Congress, which is led by Rahul Gandhi – the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most powerful and influential political dynasty.
The INC hopes to challenge the incumbent government by forging a series of alliances with other parties.
The multi-phase system has been employed to tackle the logistical challenges derived from the immense number of voters, which are four times those registered for the last presidential elections in the United States.
Adding to that are the geographical difficulties of the country, which is spread over 3.3 million square kilometers (1.27 million square miles), has a population of 1.21 billion and that – despite its rapid economic development – still has serious problems when it comes to infrastructure and transport, especially in the rural areas.
The second phase of the elections is scheduled to begin on April 18 in nearly 100 constituencies across 13 states.