The Power Of SMS

Local Ambitions Erode India’s Election-Season Alliances

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 24, 2009

The Wall Street Journal

NEW DELHI — The likely result of India’s monthlong national elections is becoming muddier, not clearer, as more votes are cast.

Exit polls are prohibited and the choices made by the country’s 714 million eligible voters won’t be announced until May 16. What has become apparent since polling began on April 16 is just how much the two top parties could struggle to form a government, as alliances each established with smaller parties before polls opened begin to break down.

Neither the ruling Congress party nor the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party had been expected to win a majority of Parliament’s 545 seats. Each was expected to rely on a coalition of regional parties in its pursuit of a governing majority. As part of those alliances, the national parties made agreements with their local allies not to field candidates against each other in key constituencies.

But as Indians voted Thursday, the second of five voting days, many of those alliances had ruptured, and more regional parties are insisting they want to garner as many votes as they can rather than play second fiddle to the goals of Congress or the BJP.


A woman walks past policemen after casting her vote at a polling center during the second phase of Indian elections in Panvel.

By law, a government must be formed by June 2. If no lasting majority alliance is formed, India could see a revolving door of weak governments and possibly another election. That could significantly hurt the economy and investor confidence just as India is hoping its slowdown will be shorter and shallower than most of the world’s other major nations because it has a large domestic market and doesn’t rely as much on exports as others do.

In many of the 141 districts that voted Thursday, candidates once seen as teammates were suddenly competing. In Orissa state, which wrapped up voting Thursday, the BJP faced off against former ally Naveen Patnaik. This month, his regional party, the Biju Janata Dal, broke off an 11-year partnership with the BJP, contesting the state’s 21 seats on its own for the first time since Mr. Patnaik created the party in 1998.

In the last national vote five years ago, Congress and its two regional allies won 39 of 42 seats in the large southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Those alliances have since crumbled, and Congress went to polls alone Thursday — in a state that Congress needs to win big if it hopes to shape a coalition.

If independent-minded regional parties poll sufficiently well, they could potentially form a government that excludes both Congress and the BJP.

Some of them could also quickly repair alliances if they had the prospect of being part of a coalition government, says Sanjeer Alam, a political researcher at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. At least some of the hostile rhetoric between the national parties and their erstwhile allies represents the staking out of negotiating positions.

Meanwhile, in West Bengal state, which starts voting April 30, Congress’s leftist allies have already broken off to form a “Third Front” alliance unaligned with either national bloc.

And in the northern state of Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, headed by Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former railways minister, split from Congress after the two couldn’t come to an agreement on which party would contest which districts. Mr. Yadav has since teamed up with two other parties in northern India, forming what they call the “Fourth Front.”

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