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The huge logistical challenge of Indian elections

879 million voters are called to the polls from April 11 to May 19. The organization mobilizes 10 million people and 1.7 million voting machines.

By Julien Bouissou Posted today at 02:25

Time to Reading 3 min.

In a polling station in Majuli, in the Indian state of Assam, on April 11.
In a polling station in Majuli, in the Indian state of Assam, on April 11. Anupam Nath / AP

These are the largest elections in world history. 879 million voters are expected to vote in seven stages to designate the 543 deputies of the lower house of Parliament, which in turn will elect, from the end of May, the next Indian prime minister. The preparation of the electoral calendar was a headache: weather conditions, harvest days and festivals in each region had to be taken into account to divide the 543 constituencies into seven groups, each corresponding to one vote. This one-round, that is, the candidate who gets the most votes in his riding will be elected to Parliament. A quarter of the seats are reserved for members of the scheduled castes, in this case the Dalits (formerly called the untouchables) or members of the indigenous populations. In 2014, the 66% participation rate was much higher than in many other democracies.

Excess. The resources committed to the organization of these elections are unprecedented in size: 1.72 million electronic machines, 10 million recruits, 56 helicopters and 570 trains to route voting machines. Election officials will have to travel by elephant or camel, by boat or by helicopter to win votes in remote areas or insurgencies as in Chhattisgarh in central India. The vote will take place at an altitude between sea level and 4 800 meters, and at a temperature between -10 ° C and + 48 ° C.

No elector is forgotten. Indian law provides that every inhabitant must be able to vote within 2 kilometers of his home. A polling station will be set up specifically for the only resident of Gir National Park in Gujarat, a Hindu priest who lives on a shrine dedicated to Shiva. These six-week elections, which stretch from April 11 to May 19, will also be among the longest in the world. Secure rooms will be set up to house the electronic voting machines that won the vote, pending the counting of May 16. Each hall will have only one entrance door, guarded by the police, in front of which will be installed tents where the representatives of each party can monitor the comings and goings.

At a polling station in Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh, India, April 11.
At a polling station in Khatauli, Uttar Pradesh, India, April 11. MONEY SHARMA / AFP

Controls. The authorities will also have to ensure compliance with the electoral code. A titanic task since thousands of candidates will campaign. In the last general election of 2014, 1,709 political parties presented a candidate. But for the majority of them, elections were only a means of gaining visibility to convey a message or a claim, rather than winning a seat in parliament. Only 35 parties are currently represented in the current lower house of Parliament.

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The electoral code is very strict. No government official should attend an inauguration ceremony during the official campaign and the use of army symbols or photographs (very popular at the moment in the context of a nationalist fever rush) is prohibited. On Wednesday, April 10, the electoral commission postponed the release of a film to the glory of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the end of the elections and suspended NaMo TV (for "Narendra Modi" TV) which appeared on the satellite bouquets in early April. The electoral commission has deployed millions of agents all over the country to ensure the proper conduct of the campaign and the polls, and mobile brigades set up roadblocks to inspect vehicles and check that bundles of banknotes or bottles of alcohol are not hidden for distribution to voters. Members of the electoral commission also monitor each "road show", camcorders in hand, to count the number of vehicles and to identify the means deployed.

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Social networks. The use of signs and posters has decreased this year, which should significantly reduce the production of plastic waste. On the other hand, there is another election campaign that is harder to supervise: the one on the internet and the social media. The Indian electoral commission has merely stated that major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube had appointed officials responsible for verifying compliance with the electoral rules. With its 300 million monthly users on Facebook and almost as much on WhatsApp, Indian social networks are flooded with false information. Facebook announced on 1st April has withdrawn 687 fake pages and accounts engaged in propaganda and related to Congress, the main opposition party in India.

Julien Bouissou (New Delhi, correspondence)

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