Voting for the fifth and final phase of parliamentary elections in India began today.
More than 100 million people across nine states are registered to vote in this phase to elect 86 MPs for the 543-member parliament.
Voting is being held for all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, four seats in Himachal Pradesh, two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 11 in West Bengal, five in Uttarakhand and the one seat each in Chandigarh and Puducherry.
Uttar Pradesh, which sends the maximum number (80) of MPs to parliament, and Jammu and Kashmir are the only two states which have voted in all the five phases.
Controversial “hate politician” Varun Gandhi’s fate will be decided in this phase. Mr Gandhi is contesting the seat at Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh.
This phase marks an end to the month-long voting process in the world’s largest democracy. Results will be declared on Saturday.
The new government will be in place by June 2, under the rules of the constitution.
This election marks a surge of many regional parties and they are expected to play a crucial role in forming the new government.
Both Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati have projected themselves as prime ministerial candidates this year.
Another regional party – Nationalist Congress Party – has projected its chief Sharad Pawar as a prime ministerial candidate as well.
Political analysts expect a hung parliament with neither the ruling majority Congress Party nor the opposition BJP winning a clear majority.
The tussle for votes has been surrounded by parties jostling for allies, with regional parties holding sway over crucial vote banks.
A recent survey by the Times of India forecasts a close finish with the Congress predicted to win 195 seats and 187 seats for the BJP.
They would have to share the seats with regional parties and independent candidates, who are predicted to win 111 and 50 seats respectively.
The SP leader Mr Singh said: “The trend after three phases of polling shows that no government at the centre would be possible without SP’s support.”
Prominent politicians contesting in this phase include Congress Party’s P Chidambaram and Mohammad Azharuddin, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Maneka Gandhi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam’s T R Baalu, A Raja, Dayanidhi Maran and M K Azhagiri, Trinamool Congress Party’s chief Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party’s Jayaprada.
Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar, Sajjad Gani Lone of People’s Conference, BJP’s Vinod Khanna and Navjot Singh Sidhu are others who are prominent among the 1,432 candidates standing in this phase.
The country has voted a coalition government to power for the last three elections. The first two National Democratic Alliance coalitions were led by the BJP while the current United Progressive Alliance has a large number of Congress seats.
However, it will be difficult for both Congress’s PM candidate Manmohan Singh and BJP’s candidate L K Advani to form the government during this election.
The first two phases on April 16 and 20 respectively were marred by the Maoist violence. At least 20 people were killed across the country.
The third phase held on April 30 was largely peaceful except for a lone Maoist attack in the state of West Bengal. The fourth phase held on May 7 had ended on a peaceful note.