Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared victory in India’s general election, after early results showed his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead in 300 of the 543 seats up for grabs.
Modi’s BJP is on track to increase its share of seats in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament. It won 282 seats at the last election in 2014, pushing out the Congress party, which had ruled India for 54 of its 67 years since independence.
“Together we grow. Together we prosper. Together we will build a strong and inclusive India,” Modi tweeted on Thursday as it became clear his party was on track for a landslide that would lend him another five years in power.
The elections, in which some 900 million people were eligible to vote, played out in seven phases set over five and a half weeks, finally coming to a close on Sunday. Counting to determine the winner in the world’s largest democratic election began at 8 a.m. local time on Thursday morning, and results have been trickling out since then — with electronic voting machines meaning the process is faster than in previous years.
Here’s what you need to know:
Preliminary results favor Modi
As of around 5.30 p.m. local time on Thursday, the Election Commission reported Modi’s BJP party ahead in votes for 303 out of 542 constituencies, and the opposition Congress party ahead in 50 seats.
BJP leaders were already celebrating on Thursday afternoon. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj called the election a “massive victory” for the party on Twitter, according to Reuters.
Opposition leaders acknowledged that the BJP looked to be in the lead. “It’s obviously not in our favor at all,” Salman Soz, a Congress spokesman said, according to Reuters. “We need to wait for the full results but right now it doesn’t look good.”
The BJP’s main opposition came in the form of the Indian National Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi. He hails from a long line of successful politicians – his great-grandfather was the first Prime Minister of India, his grandmother was the first woman to take on the role and his father also served a term in the office.
Congress was contesting the elections from a historic low watermark of just 44 seats. Since 2014 the party was unable to even claim the mantle of “official opposition,” as a party must have 55 seats (10%) to earn the title. On the current trajectory, it is uncertain whether Gandhi’s Congress will even be able to call themselves the official opposition in the next parliament, let alone run the country as they had hoped.
Foreign leaders congratulate Modi
The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka sent his congratulations to Modi on Twitter.
Congratulatory messages from other world leaders have also started to come in. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter that India and Israel’s friendship would strengthen.
What were the key issues?
The economy was perhaps the biggest issue confronting Indian voters this year. Modi ran on a platform of job creation and economic development in 2014, but his promises did not quite materialize. Unemployment is rising, with 11 million jobs lost in 2018 alone, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.
The farming industry is in crisis as price controls Modi enacted have hurt farming incomes.
Gandhi’s party promised voters that if elected, he will implement a minimum basic income.
But national security became an arguably greater issue over the course of the campaign, following a suicide attack in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir in February which killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops.
Modi flexed his military might in the months leading up to the election, portraying himself as a ‘chowkidar’, or watchman, protecting India. Modi sent Indian jets into Pakistani airspace for the first time since 1971 and bombed what it said was a training camp. It was a dangerous escalation of tensions between the two nuclear states.
Sectarian tensions have also been increasing in recent years, with hostility growing towards the country’s Muslim minority of almost 200 million people. Modi has remained largely silent as the incidence of Hindu mob attacks on Muslims have become increasingly frequent, many premised on defending cows, which are worshipped in the Hindu religion.
About 900 million people were eligible to vote this year, making it the world’s largest democratic election.
More than half the population is under the age of 30, so the youth vote, faced with rising unemployment, matters.
Female voter participation has also increased in recent elections as women seek to have their concerns about safety and welfare addressed, and this year’s election is also believed to have a seen record turnout of women at the polls.
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