Thursday, March 6, 2014

General Elections 2014: Country’s Biggest Ever Democratic Exercise Sees Five-Week Process

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath announced on March 5 that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will be held in five weeks. Voting for the 543-member Parliament is set to take place in nine phases until May 12 with counting scheduled four days later on May 16.

The 2014 polls will see 814 million adults eligible to vote, from the remote Himalayas in the north to India's tropical southern tip -- 100 million more than last time in 2009. The coming country’s biggest ever democratic exercise is expected to be fought largely on a platform of economic revival.

Long-Ardent Process

Elections will be conducted in phases on April 7, April 9, April 10, April 12, April 17, April 24, April 30, May 7 and May 12. The biggest phase will be on April 17 when 122 constituencies across 13 states go to the elections.

With the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, states in North India will go to the polls in separate yet single phases. While April 30 will be election day in Punjab, people in Haryana, Chandigarh and the National Capital of Delhi will vote on April 10. The hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand will see voting on May 7.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the polls will be held in five phases on April 10 (Jammu), April 17 (Udhampur), April 24 (Anantnag), April 30 (Srinagar) and May 7 (Baramulla and Ladakh). It is believed that multi-phase polling was needed in Jammu and Kashmir due to security considerations. While Ladakh borders China and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the constituencies of Jammu and Baramulla abut PoK. Andhra Pradesh will have both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls as an undivided state and candidates elected will automatically become legislators of their respective states after Telangana comes into being on June 2.

Sampath said the nine-phase polling and the entire process -- from today to counting of votes on May 16 -- will be over in 72 days, three days less than the previous election. The number of voters will be almost 10 crore more than the 2009 Lok Sabha election. More than 2.3 crore enlisted voters are in the 18-19 age group.

Model Code of Conduct
The model code of conduct, a set of legally binding dos and don’ts, became operational with immediate effect with the announcement of the 16th Lok Sabha election schedule.

The model code of conduct bars the government from using public money to announce new schemes and projects, came into force following the announcement of the schedule for elections to the 16th Lok Sabha and simultaneous Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha.

The code bars ministers from combining official visits with electioneering work and bans the use of official machinery for electioneering and advertisements at the cost of the exchequer for partisan coverage of political news.

There can be no announcement of financial grants or promise of roads and water supply. Transfer of officials is banned.

Parties’ Efforts
The ruling Congress and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are making efforts to woo host of smaller parties. Leaders of 11 regional parties have come together to form a Third Front against the Congress and BJP.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made a spectacular debut in the recent Delhi assembly polls, will also contest the Lok Sabha polls. Opinion polls tip Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, as frontrunner to be the country's prime minister. However, opinion polls show Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat when anti-Muslim riots left more than 1,000 dead in 2002, holds a large advantage over his bitter rival.

Highlights of the General Elections 2014
* The Election Commission is mandated to finish the election process before May 31
* 2014 Lok Sabha polls likely to be conducted in 9 phases
* Prime requisite of general polls is up to date electoral rolls, final rolls have been published
* People voting these general elections is 814 million; 10 crore more than 2009 elections
* Special camps will be set up across country to give electorate final chance to enroll
* There will be approx 9.3 lakh polling stations in country, an increase of 12 percent from last time
* EPIC distribution which was 82 percent last time has already reached 96 percent this time
* Model code of conduct comes into force with immediate effect
* Photo voter slips will be introduced these elections
* Use of money power matter of concern for poll panel; there will be sufficient checking mechanism
* First date of poll shall be on April 7, in 2 states
* Second election date is April 9, in 5 states
* Third election date: April 10, in 14 states
* Fourth election date: April 12, in 3 states
* Fifth election day: April 17, in 13 states and Union Territories
* Sixth election date: April 24, in 12 states
* Seventh election date: April 30, in 9 states
* Eighth election date: May 7, in 7 states
* Ninth election date: May 12, in 3 states
* Counting of general elections is in one day on May 16
* Polling in 543 constituencies to be covered in 9 election dates from April 7 to May 12

Naxal-Hit Areas
* All naxal-hit areas will be covered in a single day across India
* Andhra Pradesh: April 30 and  May 7
* Arunachal Pradesh: April 9
* Assam: April 7, 12, and 24
* Bihar: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7 and 12
* Chhattisgarh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Goa: April 17
* Gujarat: April 30
* Haryana: April 10
* Himachal Pradesh: May 7
* Jammu and Kashmir: April 10, 17, 24, 30; May 7
* Jharkhand: April 10, 17, and 24
* Karnataka: April 17
* Kerala: April 10
* Madhya Pradesh: April 10, 17, and 24
* Mahrashtra: April 24
* Manipur: April 9 and 17
* Meghalaya: April 9
* Mizoram: April 9
* Nagaland: April 9
* Odisha: April 10 and 17
* Punjab: April 30
* Rajasthan: April 17 and 24
* Sikkim: April 12

To sum up, it can be said that the 2014 general elections will be remembered not for the logistic difficulties and the sheer size and magnitude of the exercise. After ten years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), this election will see corruption and governance as major issues, along with livelihood and safety concerns. The BJP, by announcing Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, is seeking to turn this election into a vote for a strong, able government that does not waver in decision-making. Unmistakably, the UPA coalition, with many of the allies pulling in different directions, and some of the ministers caught in corruption cases, has come to be seen as weak and ineffectual.

The BJP holds an edge, if one were to go by the recent findings of various opinion surveys. The party's prime ministerial candidate, Modi, appears to be a firm favorite, as most young and first-time voters are said to be inclined to his brand of assertive governance and, therefore, to the BJP. However, the Congress is also hoping to garner the support of young voters on the strength of the party’s projection of Rahul Gandhi as its youth mascot.

What we can expect now is a renewed and frenzied attempt by the parties and their leaders to strike pre-poll alliances, finalize their candidates accordingly, and hit the ground running. There is no more time to lose. Every political party will be eyeing not just its traditional vote-bank but also the new voters, a substantial 10 crore in number, according to the poll panel. Poll pundits agree that the first-time voters hold the key, which is why parties are going overboard to woo them. In addition,  also tapping into the voter fatigue with the UPA would be the new entrant, the AAP, with its focus on institutionalized responses to ending corruption and delivering services.

Nevertheless, the 16th Lok Sabha elections will provide an opportunity for the people to discard the discredited and endorse the performers. However, Indian elections have been known to throw up surprises. Time will better tell the story.

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