Saturday, May 16, 2009

Congress heading for victory in Indian polls

NEW DELHI: India’s governing Congress party was headed to a resounding victory Saturday in the month-long national elections, media reports said, setting off celebrations and claims of success by party leaders, reported The Associated Press.

“We will sweep the election. The Congress and its allies will form the government,” Congress leader Motilal Vora told the Press Trust of India news agency.

News channels called the election in Congress’ favour based on more than 70% of votes counted.

The CNN-IBN channel indicated the Congress-led alliance could win more than 240 seats, and the alliance led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could take 160. The NDTV channel gave Congress 241 and the BJP 165. Other channels predicted similar results.

If the trends continue it would be a better than expected result for Congress and a clear victory, but still short of the 272 seats needed to govern on its own.

While not conceding, BJP spokesman Balbir Punj called the results “disappointing.” Congress “seems to have the upper hand,” said Venkaiah Naidu, another BJP leader.

As results came in, celebrations began outside the Congress party office. Party workers set off fireworks and were dancing in the streets carrying posters of party leader Sonia Gandhi.

The results would still require Congress to put together a coalition. India has been ruled by coalition governments for most of the last two decades, including the current coalition, led by the Congress party. According to the constitution, a new parliament has to be in place by June 2.

The long, gruelling campaign season produced few central issues that resonated across the wildly diverse nation of 1.2 billion people and 714 million eligible voters.

Total voter turnout was approximately 60%, the national election commission said, up slightly from 58% in the last national vote in 2004.

Meanwhile a Bernama report said that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to resign on Monday after declaration of the Lok Sabha results Saturday but will be asked to continue as caretaker PM by President Pratibha Patil till a new government assumes office.

The Prime Minister has convened a meeting of the Union Cabinet on Monday to consider the one-point agenda of tendering resignation of his council of ministers to the President, sources from PM’s Office said Friday, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

Manmohan is expected to call on the president the same day to submit the resignation of his council of ministers. It is the normal practice that the outgoing government steps down after the announcement of the poll verdict even if the same alliance gets majority, the sources said.

The Prime Minister is also likely to address the nation when he is expected to highlight the government’s achievements in the last five years and list the tasks ahead for the new government.

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