Asia-Pacific News

Indian elections: What to expect

The most predictable elements of India's elections are that they are a) long and b) unpredictable.

While this year's voting will kick off on April 7, it will not finish until May 12, as over 800 million eligible voters are polled in the world's largest democratic election.

Surveys suggest that the ruling Congress Party, the party of Mahatma Gandhi, will be unseated by a coalition led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Yet, "history suggests that Indian election outcomes are difficult to forecast confidently," as Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, wrote recently.

Harish Tyagi | AFP | Getty Images

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Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist BJP, currently chief minister of Gujarat, is known for his pro-business stance, but his party have an uneasy relationship with India's Muslims. Modi was in power during the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat which resulted in over 1,000 people being killed in 2002.

"The prospect of a Modi-led government is already helping to buoy market sentiment," Newton said.

For most of the 21st century, India earned its place as one of the world's most important fast-growing economies, grouped under the BRICS acronym with Brazil, Russia and China.

The past couple of years have been dogged by slowing growth and manufacturing, inflation, declining foreign investment and the tumbling value of the rupee. The Indian economy grew by 5.3 percent in 2013, according to government estimates, compared to 10.5 percent at its peak in 2010. Recent data suggests that growth has fallen to sub-5 percent.

"Whatever the make-up of the incoming government it will face stiff challenges pushing through structural reforms and attracting inward FDI," Newton warned.

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The real surprise on the horizon could be the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has emerged from a discontented urban middle class in the wake of corruption allegations barely a year ago. It won 28 seats, a much better result than expected, in December's Delhi election, and its leader is now Chief Minister of the territory.

"The rise of the AAP is consistent with the phenomenon we call NEAP's, new, extreme or alternative political parties, often anti-establishment, which have proliferated in the post-global financial crisis environment," political analysts at Citi wrote in a research note.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which constitute 120 out of 543 available seats in India's Lok Sabha, its lower house of parliament, will be the most important states to watch, according to Citi.

Whoever gains power will have a difficult task on their hands.

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