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India Counts the Votes

India Counts the Votes

Residents of Dharavi, Mumbai's largest poor neighborhood, lining up to vote in May 2009. (Asia Society India Centre)

MUMBAI, May 8, 2009 - With tens of millions of ballots cast in
India's month-long election, officials are now sorting the results that
will determine the country's next government.

The world's largest democracy, and second most populous country,
needs to choose a new parliament by June 2. The main fight is between
the ruling Congress party and its allies, and the opposition Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP). Experts say an outright majority is unlikely for
any party and a coalition is expected—but right now it's a game of wait
and see.

Following the devastating attacks in Mumbai last November, thousands
took to the streets here demanding change and accountability. What was
surprising is that the demonstrators included many people from South
Mumbai's middle and upper class, who are historically apolitical.
Analysts expected this momentum would translate into high voting
numbers some five months later in this election. But what actually
happened is that Mumbai failed to sustain its momentum—instead voter
turnout was only 41 percent, down from 47 percent in 2004, and among
the lowest in the nation.

According to the Associated Press, overall turnout was approximately
59 to 60 percent. Meanwhile, New Delhi, the nation's capital and
another large metropolitan city, registered a 53 percent turnout, its
highest in 20 years.

Experts say one reason for Mumbai's low numbers is because balloting
took place at the end of April during a holiday weekend when many left
town. April and May are traditionally the hottest months in the year
and humidity on voting day, April 30, was at 88 percent—another factor.
In fact, most voting took place in the morning hours after polls opened
at 7:00 am.

Here in Mumbai, there is an email and text message making the rounds
that says it all. Asked, why the poor turnout? The joke gives its top
reasons, including: voting clashed with salsa class, no valet parking,
or says no real issues were on the ballot—like gym membership rates.

I guess we'll find out soon when the ballots are done being counted.

Editor's note: India's election resulted in a resounding victory for the Congress Party. See related content: A New Indian Government.

May 8, 2009
by Stephanie Valera