Exit polls predict win for upstart party in India's capital

AP News
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Posted: Feb 07, 2015 10:07 AM
Exit polls predict win for upstart party in India's capital

NEW DELHI (AP) — A slew of exit polls Saturday predicted an outright victory for an upstart anti-corruption party in elections to install a state government in India's capital, a potentially huge blow for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party was set to come in second place, behind the Aam Aadmi Party, the polls suggested.

Final results are expected Tuesday, and if the four exit polls are accurate, it would be a major disappointment for Modi and his party, who have been on a winning streak since sweeping national elections in May. In the past, some exit polls have proved to be unreliable in India.

The BJP fielded Kiran Bedi, India's first high-ranking female police officer, as its candidate for New Delhi's top post. She faced Arvind Kejriwal, a former income tax official turned popular anti-corruption activist.

Bedi was once a key Kejriwal ally and at the forefront of his anti-corruption movement. She later left and joined the BJP in January.

Saturday's election is viewed as the first tough political battle that Modi and the BJP have faced since coming to power.

The party's success is largely attributed to Modi's personal charisma and popularity and his key election promise to lift Asia's third-largest economy from its slump.

The party that wins at least 36 seats in Delhi's 70-member assembly selects the capital's chief minister, the city's most senior official.

The Indian capital has been run by the federal government since its elected government resigned last February. In elections late last year, no party won enough seats to form a government. The BJP won 32 seats, four short of a majority, but no political group was willing to support it to form a coalition government.

Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi, or Common Man's Party, won 28 seats in that election, a huge number for a brand new party contesting its first election. It formed a government with the support of the centrist Congress party, but Kejriwal resigned after 49 days in office when no party supported his proposal to appoint an independent anti-corruption panel.

Kejriwal's party was formed on the back of hugely popular street protests that galvanized India's middle class against the culture of corruption that is endemic in this nation of 1.2 billion. Rooting out graft and creating an ombudsman position have been Kejriwal's key aims.

Their detractors said Kejriwal and his party quit because they were eager to parlay their initial success into nationwide prominence.

The party won only four seats in India's 543-member lower house of Parliament, and Kejriwal himself ran against Modi and lost badly.

But the party appears to have regained lost ground in the capital, with Kejriwal's popularity largely restored.