Congress Seen Ahead As Voting Ends: Poll
Thursday, 14 May 2009

India's month-long general election ended on Wednesday with one exit poll suggesting that the ruling Congress-led coalition was ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance.

The poll showed the Congress to be way short of a majority, renewing concerns that a shaky coalition government will emerge at a time when Asia's third largest economy is faced with a slowdown and instability in neighbouring Pakistan.

Exit polls have had a mixed record in the past, given the difficulties of assessing an electorate of 714 million people, or more than twice the population of the United States. The polls were way off the mark in the last 2004 general election.

The poll by C-Voter polling agency showed the centre-left Congress-led alliance winning 189-201 seats with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance taking 183-195 seats of the 543 seats at stake. The poll was conducted for India TV and UTV Business.

A national projection by Headlines Today news channel also gave the Congress coalition a lead, but they did not give the basis of the forecast. More polls are expected late on Wednesday.

To rule a party or a coalition requires the support of 272 lawmakers forcing the Congress and the BJP to launch a frantic hunt for new allies.

The actual count of votes is scheduled for Saturday and results from all the races to the 543-member lower house of parliament will be known that day

The possibility of a hung parliament could mean the election is decided by backroom deals in the weeks after the election, perhaps leading to a short-lived and unstable government.

Indian shares fell 1.1 percent on Wednesday amid investor nervousness over the election outcome. Shares had rallied 4.1 percent in Tuesday's closing session on speculation the BJP would form the next government, traders said.


Voting in nine states including the swing state of Tamil Nadu in the south ended on Wednesday, the final round of a process that began on April 16 to allow security forces to move across the sprawling country to supervise the vote.

The vote also included Jammu and Kashmir where a former separatist and head of a faction of the regional People's Conference party, Sajjad Lone, has broken ranks to stand for election from Baramulla in the north of the state

Indian elections are notoriously hard to predict, but most polls had tipped Congress as the likely victor. Nonetheless, in the final stages of the vote, the pro-business BJP was seen as having gained late traction with some savvy alliance building.

Either party may have to depend on the parliamentary support of an unstable coalition of regional parties and the communists.

That scenario ould slow key reforms, such as relaxing labour laws, and rock investor confidence in an economy that faces a huge fiscal deficit.

A clue to which party may take power lies with Tamil Nadu, the southern swing state in 2004 election swept by Congress ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and which now rules the state.

But Congress this time has lost allies in the state, one of the biggest prizes in the national battle with 39 seats. The party faces the resurgence of the AIADMK party, led by former film star J. Jayalalithaa, a likely powerbroker after the polls.

"The Congress is suffering because of the DMK's unpopularity," said Cho S. Ramaswamy, a political commentator.

The BJP has no major ally in Tamil Nadu but could be supported by any of the two state parties if it is seen in a position to form a coalition government.


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