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World’s Largest Democracy at Work in India’s Elections

April 09, 2014

Over the next five weeks, 814.5 million people—almost three times the population of the United States—will vote to elect India’s 16th Lok Sabha, or Lower House of Parliament, in the largest democratic exercise in the world. 

The Constitution of India, which came into effect three years after gaining independence from British rule in 1950, empowers every citizen, regardless of gender, caste or creed to vote.  The United States introduced universal franchise only 15 years later.  

Voters will choose 543 members to the house. The party that wins the greatest number of seats usually forms the government and chooses the prime minister. Getting a majority, or 272 seats, usually requires creating a coalition with smaller parties.

In this election, voting will be conducted in nine phases, starting April 7 until May 12. It will span 28 states and seven union territories. The results are scheduled to be announced on May 16.

This year, roughly 100 million people will vote for the first time. In addition, more than half the electorate is young, aged between 18 and 40 years.

India has a multiparty system with more than 50 regional parties and six national parties. The two major national parties include the Indian National Congress, which leads the governing coalition, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Election Commission of India has mobilized more than 10 million polling officials and security personnel to carry out the election. There will be about 930,000 polling stations and electronic voting machines will be used widely. 

This also will be the longest and the most expensive general election in the history of the country with the Election Commission of India estimating a cost of INR 35 billion, excluding the expenses incurred for security and individual political parties.

During the elections, the Indian Constitution vests the Election Commission with powers of “superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.”

This is the first time that nonresident Indians are allowed to vote. It is also the first time voters will be able to exercise the option, “none of the above.”

—story by Mansi Choksi, a research associate in the Free Press Project at the Columbia Global Centers | South Asia

Related Links

Read ongoing blog posts from Columbia Global Centers | South Asia about India's elections, which take place during nine days spread out over a month's time.