Polls test India’s anti-corruption party

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iol news pic DEL27_INDIA-ELECTIONS_1204_11


A woman (L) casts her vote inside a polling booth during the state assembly election in Delhi. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

New Delhi - A new Indian party rooted in an anti-graft movement that swept the country in 2011 faced its first electoral test Wednesday as millions voted in New Delhi state polls.

The Aam Aadmi ( “Common Man”) Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, is hoping for a victory in the Delhi election that would be a political earthquake ahead of national polls next year.

The turnout broke all records and polling was allowed to continue until the last voter inside many of the city's nearly 12,000 poll stations stamped his choice, Delhi chief electoral officer Vijay Dev said.

“Nearly 66 percent of Delhi's 11-million electorate voted until 6:30 pm (1300 GMT)... There is no limit to voting time,” Dev told a late Wednesday news conference.

He credited the unprecedented turnout on Delhi's burgeoning young voters.

“The youth has broken all old stereotypes and have voted with enthusiasm,” Dev added.

New Delhi has been run by the Congress party since 1998 but it is seen as struggling with inflation and anger over crime against women and corruption.

Kejriwal cast his vote at a polling station in central Delhi early Wednesday accompanied by about 100 supporters wearing white Gandhi caps which, along with a broom, has become the party's trademark.

“Broom! Broom! Broom!” said street food vendor Rajesh Sharma, 49, after casting his vote in the chaotic old city area. “Kejriwal deserves a chance to show what he's got.”

Four other states where staggered elections were held since last month too have reported a trend of unprecedented voter enthusiasm.

All five polls are a litmus test for the Congress, in power nationally for nearly a decade, and for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its hardline prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Modi has campaigned hard and will hope to see the BJP make gains when results are announced for all five state elections on Sunday.

NDTV citing separate exit polls predicted a clear win for the Hindu nationalist BJP in three states and said it will be just one short of the half-way mark in the 70-seat Delhi assembly.

The pollsters predicted the ruling Congress would bag 20 Delhi seats, down from its present 43 and said Kejriwal's party would come third with 13, while three others will go to independent contestants.

Kejriwal, 44, believes his promise of clean politics, young candidates and the pursuit of black marketeers, whom he blames for soaring food prices, will see his party surge to victory.

He formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) less than a year ago after a split from his one-time partner Anna Hazare, an elderly activist with whom he launched a nationwide protest movement in 2011 demanding a new anti-corruption law.

A survey on perceptions of corruption published on Tuesday by Transparency International showed India ranked at number 94 out of 177 countries.

In the general elections next year, the left-leaning Congress is predicted to struggle to win a third term in power, with Modi and the BJP making headway but without enough support to win a majority.

Delhi's three-times Congress Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was criticised for her handling of the Delhi Commonwealth Games and related infrastructure projects in 2010 which were late, often badly built and riddled with corruption, according to auditors.

She has also been under pressure to improve safety in the capital after the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus last December brought simmering anger about widespread sex crime in India to the boil.

Turnout in elections in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, western Rajasthan and northeastern Mizoram has been between 70-80 percent, breaking previous records.


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