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Counting starts in India elections

(Delhi) India’s main Hindu nationalist party was making early gains as officials began counting votes following the country’s massive national election. The opposition is looking to end the ruling Congress party’s decade-long reign. The Election Commission was expected to announce the results later today.

There was a record turnout in this year’s election, with 66.38% of India’s 814 million eligible voters casting ballots during the six-week contest, which began on April 7 and was held in stages across the country. Turnout in the 2009 elections was 58.13%.

Campaigning on promises of a revival in economic growth, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, were looking to take advantage of widespread dissatisfaction with the Congress party.

The BJP’s slick and well-financed campaign also promised better governance. The Congress-led ruling alliance has been plagued by repeated corruption scandals, and the Congress party’s 43-year-old leader, Rahul Gandhi, appeared to have failed to inspire public confidence.

Exit polls by at least six major Indian TV stations predicted a BJP-led coalition would win between 249 and 289 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament. A party or coalition needs at least 272 seats to form a government.

According to the Election Commission, early trends for 150 seats showed the BJP ahead in 79 seats and the Congress in 26. The rest were split between a handful of smaller parties.

By early afternoon, a clear picture was expected to emerge on what India’s next Parliament would look like.

If the results are in line with the exit polls and the BJP and its allies win a clear majority, India’s stock markets are likely to see an upswing.

At the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi, workers were already anticipating victory and preparing sweets to be distributed among the party’s supporters and allies.

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