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Starting 7 April till 12 May, 814 million voters will be eligible to cast votes to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. Photo: Hindustan Times
Starting 7 April till 12 May, 814 million voters will be eligible to cast votes to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. Photo: Hindustan Times

Lok Sabha elections find keen observers abroad

The election commission says new democracies in Africa, Asia and Middle East impacted by the Arab Spring want to be present when as observers

New Delhi: India’s election is seeing a lot of interest from new democracies and countries from Africa, Asia and the Middle East—particularly from those impacted by the Arab spring who want to be present as observers when the world’s largest democracy goes for polls in April.

These countries have shown their interest to the Election Commission of India to observe the elections to India’s 16th Lok Sabha that will be held from 7 April to 12 May in nine phases.

These include nations such as Thailand, said V.S. Sampath, chief  election commissioner. The Asian nation has been placed under a 60-day emergency.

Some of the countries that have been newly created include South Sudan (2011), Kosovo (2008), Serbia (2006), Montenegro (2006) and East Timor (2002). The interest in India’s democratic exercise comes in the backdrop of Russia’s military adventurism in Crimea, continuing violence in China’s Xinjiang region and impending referendums for Scotland, Catalonia and Quebec. “A large number of countries have evinced interest in observing our elections and many are still coming. They want to come and witness our elections. The new democracies have evinced a lot of interest," said Sampath, who declined to put a number or individually name the countries. “Most of the Middle East countries and African countries want to observe the process. Also, some Asian countries such as Thailand also want to be here. We have seen interest from those countries (impacted by Arab spring) and others as well."

While protests in Thailand are aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Arab spring that spread across the Arabic-speaking world saw wide changes in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and a continuing civil war in Syria. While Turkey is witnessing a political turmoil, the Arab world also saw the West’s re-engagement with Iran. Also, Saudi Arabia hasn’t been left untouched, with it declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

“India has been and continues to be a unique experiment in democracy. We gave universal franchise much before many other countries did. While Africa and other Latin American countries have gone through military dictatorship or coup, India has not," said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms. “All over the world, Indian democracy is a beacon of hope and other countries look up to us. Therefore, global interest in Indian democracy and elections is understandable."

Starting 7 April, over nine days spread across a little over a month till 12 May, 814 million voters will be eligible to cast votes to elect the 16th Lok Sabha.

The elections will be conducted in 930,000 polling stations —100,000 more than in 2009.

“The very scale of our elections makes them a huge exercise of logistics and planning," said Sampath.

It will cost around 6,000 crore to conduct the polls in the world’s largest democracy. India’s electoral base is almost thrice the population of the US, the world’s oldest democracy. Of this, 388 million, or almost 47.6%, are women.

“We are prepared," said Sampath. A total of 1.4 million electronic voting machines will be used to fill 543 seats in the Lok Sabha. The preparations will also see the involvement of close to 200,000 security personnel. The counting of votes for parliamentary constituencies, along with the three assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, which go to polls simultaneously, will be on 16 May. The term of the current Lok Sabha expires on 1 June and a new House has to be constituted by 31 May.

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