GOVERNMENT FALLS, ELECTIONS IMMINENT

Vol 3, PW 7 (28 Apr 99) People & Policy
     

Indias reputation as a country where nothing moves will be greatly enhanced by the current political turmoil.

On Monday, 26 April, President KR Narayanan, dissolved the countrys parliament and announced general elections, the third in three years. Under Indian law, these must be held six months from the date of dissolution.

ie, before 26 October 1999. The interim BJP government, bruised by narrow defeat in a no-confidence motion on 17 April, wants snap elections now, hoping to benefit from a wave of public sympathy at the way it was robbed of power by just one vote.

However, soaring summer heat (temperatures touching 44 degrees Celsius) and the onset of monsoons in late June make elections unlikely until September, when the monsoon ends and cooler weather begins. Manohar Singh Gill, Chief Election Commissioner, will announce an exact date in the next few days.

"The Indian election is the mother of all elections", says Gill, "Six hundred million people, it's not a joke, it worries and frightens us". Another factor working against early elections is the lack of up to date electoral rolls.

Indias last election 13 months ago cost the country $189m. No-one wants elections now, but Sonia Gandhis inability to form a replacement Congress government, plus a fractured opposition, left President Narayanan, Indias constitutional head of state, no choice.

Indian business is jittery, the Bombay Stock Exchange is sliding, and the Rupee is losing value against the Dollar. Key parliamentary legislation has been left unattended and the administrative machinery will now slowly begin grinding to a halt.

Add the fact that it will take a new administration two months to settle into the job, and you are looking at 6 months of gridlock ahead.

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