Third round of Indian election ends amid coalition talk
Samaylive By Noor Khan
New Delhi: The third round of India's general elections concluded Thursday with the searing summer heat affecting voter turnout in several places even as the key contenders for power admitted that the country was irrevocably headed for another coalition government. Millions braved the heat in most parts of the country while Kashmiris defied death threats from Pakistan-based terrorists as 107 Lok Sabha seats across nine states and two union territories saw intense voting.
A total of 1,567 candidates were in the fray including Congress president Sonia Gandhi and L.K. Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) choice of prime minister.
Polling also took place for the 32-member legislature in Sikkim, bordering China, which sends a single member to the Lok Sabha.
"The entire poll process was absolutely peaceful and extremely satisfactory," Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan told reporters after the 10-hour exercise.
He said many voters stood in queues even after the scheduled close of polling at 5 p.m., patiently waiting for their turn. In the Gir forests of Gujarat, home to the majestic Asiatic lion, two officials trekked 20 km to reach a polling station where its only voter cast his ballot.
Initial estimates said nearly 50 percent of the 107 million electorate voted Thursday, taking the total number who have exercised their franchise in three rounds covering 372 Lok Sabha seats to 246 million. The rest of the 543 constituencies would see voting May 7 and 13 and the results would be declared May 16.
But despite the weather, the poor, the middle class and the rich trooped to polling centres in large numbers in Mumbai, India's financial and movie capital, to keep their date with democracy. Early voters included actors Sonam Kapoor, Rahul Bose, Sushma Reddy, Amrita Rao, Sonali Bendre as well as Aamir Khan.
Aamir Khan, who broke his holiday in the US with his children, said: "I have travelled 48 hours to cast my vote. If you love your country, this is the day to show it. I'm happy to see so many senior citizens casting their vote. I appeal to the youngsters to come out and vote."
The polling was lowest at just over 26 percent in the Kashmir Valley's Anantnag constituency, once a militant stronghold, but it was nevertheless more than the 15 percent recorded in 2004.
Compared to Anantnag's towns and cities, rural areas also saw large-scale voting, delivering another blow to the separatist Hurriyat Conference that had called for an election boycott.
A paramilitary trooper was injured when Maoists exploded a landmine in Purulia district in West Bengal, which the Marxists have ruled continously since 1977.
Even as the polling progressed, both the BJP and the ruling Congress -- the country's two main parties but lacking the strength to govern on their own -- said the election would lead to another splintered Lok Sabha.
"It is going to be a coalition. It is very clear," BJP's M. Venkaiah Naidu declared, echoing a point made by political pundits even before the start of campaigning in March.
But that did not deter Advani from claiming that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was confident of ending five years of governance by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
"I am sure the BJP will emerge as the single largest party and NDA as the biggest coalition in the Lok Sabha and will form the government," he said after voting at Shahpur in Gujarat's Ahmedabad (West) constituency.
The third round of polling covers the whole or part of Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati was among the first voters in Lucknow, the state capital, and she claimed her party would bag most of the state's 80 Lok Sabha seats.
With two rounds of polling yet to be completed, BJP and Congress strategists are already engaged in efforts to mop up possible allies in the event they emerge as the single largest party in parliament.
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