The sixth phase of India’s protracted general election took place on April 24th. Voters trooped to polling stations in 117 constituencies in various states including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As with other rounds there was much to cheer: first-time voters, enthusiasm in cities and villages, determination to take part despite the heat. Momentum seems to be with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi. A late surge of support for the BJP is reported even in places—West Bengal, Odisha—where the party has traditionally not done well. If true, its prospects of forming the next government look stronger by the day. Three more rounds of voting are due, the last on May 12th, before results are published on May 16th. It constitutes a marathon election. The voting period is eight days longer than last time, in 2009. Count in all the official campaigning and India will have been busy with its general election for a whopping 72 days. The local devotion to voting looks more remarkable with each successive election. As the population grows, and so the electorate, the process will presumably get more protracted yet. The next national poll is likely in 2019, by when more days of voting, and further rounds, may be needed to accommodate many more tens of millions of new voters. Are long elections a problem? They can certainly grow tedious, as some rightly point out that other big countries hold elections much quicker. Brazil, Indonesia and America can all get it done in a single day. The European parliamentary elections next month, across the whole of the European Union, will wrap up within four days. One of the reasons Thailand’s recent general election was annulled was because of a failure to abide by its constitution and hold it in a single day.
The Election Commission in Delhi retorts that India is different. Its electorate is massive at some 815m people, spread across some difficult areas (mountains, islands, forests, slums) and in many places there are worries about security. Though the poll is generally clean and well run, there are examples of attempted rigging, of terrorist attacks (left-wing Naxalites or Maoists have struck in this campaign) and other meddling. To preserve legitimacy, all voting booths must be guarded by police under the control of the central government, not states. It takes time to shift these central forces between constituencies, especially while respecting national holidays and schools that double as exam halls for students and polling stations. In any case, 2014 is likely to see a decent turn-out, perhaps not far short of 70%. That can be taken as evidence of satisfaction with the process.
Yet a protracted vote does look problematic. Devoting two or three months almost exclusively to elections—the government in limbo, many businesses holding off investment decisions to see who rules next—seems an unnecessarily long distraction. Prolonged campaigning is presumably a lot more expensive than the shorter sort: all those additional helicopter rides for politicians, rallies, TV and newspaper ads mean a bigger final bill ($3 billion? more?) for the election.
Full Article: India’s protracted election: Speed it up | The Economist.