India votes from April 16 to May 13 (Lead)

March 2nd, 2009 - 6:47 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) India, the world’s largest democracy with 714 million voters, will pick a new government over five phases between April 16 and May 13, and the votes will be counted on May 16, it was announced Monday.
In what is often billed as the festival of democracy, over six million civil officials as well as police and paramilitary personnel will oversee the conduct of the elections, the 15th to the 545-seat Lok Sabha since India ended British colonial rule in 1947.

Making the much awaited announcement, Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami said that 124 Lok Sabha constituencies would go to the polls April 16, followed by 141 on April 23, 107 on April 30, 85 on May 7 and 86 constituencies on the final day on May 13.

The millions of votes cast in the mammoth exercise covering the length and breadth of the world’s seventh largest country would be counted May 16.

Political parties welcomed the declaration of the fresh election, which would take place exactly five years after voters delivered a verdict in April-May 2004 that unseated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and brought into power a Congress-led coalition.

Gopalaswami said elections to the Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim assemblies would also take place along with the Lok Sabha battle. Assembly by-elections would also be held in Mizoram, Jharkhand and Karnataka (one seat each) and Nagaland (four seats).

More than four million civil officials and 2.1 security personnel would be deployed in 828,800 polling stations, an increase of 20 percent over 2004, to ensure free and fair elections.

The strength of the Indian electorate, more than the combined population of Russia and the US, has gone up by 43 million in 2004 to 714 million now, Gopalaswami said.

A total of 1.36 million electronic voting machines would be used.

Troubled Jammu and Kashmir as well as Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, would see polling spread over five phases while Bihar would have four rounds of balloting.

Maharashtra and West Bengal would undergo polling over three phases. Eight states — Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Orissa and Punjab — would witness voting over two phases.

Fifteen states would end the exercise within a day, said Gopalaswami.

The Election Commission chief, who is set to retire April 20, hit out at the use of money power by politicians.

“We have taken serious note of illegal use of money power. The polling officers have been told to strictly monitor the expenditure (by candidates),” he said.

He said the election dates were decided after extensive discussions with political parties as well as chief secretaries, director generals of police and chief electoral officers of all states.

Election officials also studied local holidays, religious festivals and annual school examination before deciding the polling dates.

This would be the first general election after the delimitation of the Lok Sabha constituencies.

He said electoral rolls had been updated throughout the country and photo electoral rolls would be used in 522 of the 543 constituencies where polling would take place. In a house of 545, the president appoints two members of the Anglo-Indian community.

Gopalaswami was flanked at the press conference by Election Commissioners Navin Chawla and S.Y. Quraishi. Chawla will take over from Gopalaswami.

Monday’s announcement comes a day after President Pratibha Patil rejected Gopalaswami’s controversial suggestion to sack Chawla from the poll panel on grounds that he was biased towards the Congress.

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