Seven-phase Lok Sabha polls to begin April 11, counting on May 23

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NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha elections will begin on April 11 and polling would be held over seven phases through May 19, followed by counting of all votes on May 23, the Election Commission announced on Sunday.

Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Odisha and Sikkim will also be held simultaneously, the Election Commission (EC) said. However, elections for the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, which was dissolved after the ruling coalition between the BJP and the PDP fell apart, will not be held along with the Lok Sabha polls.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the model code of conduct would come into immediate effect from Sunday and 10 lakhs polling stations would be set up this time as against about nine lakhs in 2014. Nearly 90 crore voters would be eligible to vote for 543 Lok Sabha constituencies across the country.

The election will pit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance against several opposition parties, including the Congress, the Left and regional forces who are continuing to work out a grand alliance to minimise a division of votes against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led ruling combine.

The BJP has succeeded in working out seat-sharing formula with some new allies and several old partners, by even making concessions to them in states like Bihar. However, opposition parties are yet to arrive at a deal in several states.

While the NDA hopes to make history by coming back to power for a second full term, the Opposition wants to unseat the Modi government by raising questions on its performance on a host of issues, including economic growth, employment, corruption and social harmony.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had led the NDA to back to back Lok Sabha wins in 1998 and 1999 general elections but he was at the helm of only one full-term government.

Announcing the schedule for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission said the voter verifiable paper audit trail’ (VVPAT) will be used in all polling stations this time.

The first phase will be held on April 11, second on April 18, third on April 23 and fourth on April 29, fifth on May 6, sixth on May 12 and seventh phase on May 19.

Counting of votes for all seven phases covering 543 Lok Sabha constituencies would take place on May 23, Arora said.

In the first phase, 91 constituencies will to go for polls, 97 constituencies in the second phase, 115 constituencies in the third, 71 in fourth phase, 51 in fifth phase, 59 in sixth and 59 in the seventh phase.

With the model code of conduct for elections coming into immediate effect, the government cannot announce any policy move that may impact voters’ decision.

Arora said all political advertisements on social media will need pre-certification.

In 2014, when the BJP swept to power, the Lok Sabha elections were held across nine phases beginning April 7 and ending May 9. The counting of votes had taken place on May 16.

The total contestants in fray were 8,251, with an average of 15 candidates in each constituency. However, deposit was forfeited in case of 7,000 contestants.

A total of over 55 crore voters (66.3 per cent) exercised their vote, while there were 9.27 lakh polling stations. There were nearly 60 lakh NOTA’ votes.

Out of total 543 elected candidates, only 62 were women from 668 who had contested.

After suffering losses in assembly polls in three states recently, the BJP believes that its Lok Sabha poll campaign is back on track due to a host of decisions, including 10 per cent quota for the general category poor, money transfer to farmers and presentation of a populist budget.

What has injected further confidence into the NDA fold is the fronting of the nationalist plank in the poll campaign after the Pulwama terror attack, which killed 40 CRPF personnel, that was followed by the Indian Air Force’ strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan.

The BJP has been citing 2016 surgical strikes on terror launch pads and these air strikes to assert that only a government headed by Modi will be capable of taking on Pakistan over terrorism, as it has sought to corner the Congress on the issue.

Many political pundits feel the prime minister has already launched a full-fledged campaign accusing opposition parties of coming together for the sole purpose of removing him while he is working to “remove poverty, corruption and terrorism”.

He had led the NDA to a sweeping victory in 2014 as it won 336 of 543 Lok Sabha seats, reducing the incumbent Congress to its lowest total of 44 seats. The BJP on its own won a majority, a first for the party, by bagging 282 seats.

Source: Press Trust of India