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Polls close in the largest democracy in the w -

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Reporter: Jennifer Macey

PETER CAVE: The polls have closed in India after a marathon one-month-long election season. Voter
turnout was high with more than 60 per cent of the country's 714-million voters going to the polls.

The Indian exit polls predict the race will be very close, with neither of the two major parties
winning an outright majority. The results will be announced on Saturday, but it could take another
two weeks to reach a deal with the smaller regional parties to form a coalition government.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: For a country like India with a voting population of 714-million people, a
month-long voting process is considered relatively quick. Voting ended on Wednesday in the final
nine states that will decide 86 seats in India's 543-seat lower house of parliament, and now
election officials are busily tallying the votes.

SY Qureshi, an election commissioner, says voter turnout was high.

SY QURESHI: Today's phase, phase five was 62 per cent, 62 per cent, and all five phases together
works out to 59 to 60 per cent.

JENNIFER MACEY: While the fifth and final phase of the general elections was largely peaceful the
democratic process left 37 people dead. Clashes between supporters of rival political parties and
attacks by Maoist rebels in the central and eastern parts of the country killed several election
officials and police.

India's chief election commissioner is Navin Chawla.

NAVIN CHAWLA: Total violence-related deaths was 23, and accidents, of which include bus accident
and heart attack and so on, was 14, making it a total of 37.

JENNIFER MACEY: In the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir separatists had called a boycott of the
polls and a two-day strike in the Muslim-majority region. But that didn't deter this voter.

VOTER (translated): I cast my vote today because it is my right and it's stupidity to waste this
precious vote. By casting a vote we can elect a government and our work will be completed.

JENNIFER MACEY: While individual voters can choose their parties at each of the 828,000 polling
stations, they won't be able to determine the make-up of the coalition Government. No single party
is expected to get an outright majority and has to negotiate with several smaller regional parties
to form government.

Media reports predict that the current ruling coalition led by the left-of-centre Indian National
Congress is slightly ahead of the opposition Hindu-nationalist BJP party.

But ANU Emeritus Professor Robin Jeffrey says it's too close to call.

ROBIN JEFFREY: You'd be a very foolish person to predict that Congress was going to be the largest
party, it's a real horse race, it won't be, I wouldn't have thought more than 10 seats between the
two big parties.

JENNIFER MACEY: He says the two major parties could win 140 to 160 seats and then may take up to
two weeks to make deals with the smaller regional parties.

ROBIN JEFFREY: One of course is the Bahujan Samaj Party, the BSP which is a party originally
founded on untouchables, people who were formally the very lowest status, now a much broader kind
of coalition, and it's led by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a big northern state which has a
huge population.

A woman called Mayawati, who's only in her fifties, she's an untouchable herself, she's imperious I
think is the word, and she aspires to be prime minister one day. And her group could come up with
something like 25 to 35 seats, that will make them a very important component in building up a
majority in the lower house.

JENNIFER MACEY: And how will that shape India's domestic and international policies?

ROBIN JEFFREY: If Congress does form the government, it will be largely steady as she goes, an
increasing liberalisation, freeing up of the economy, an increasing participation in international
economic activity, and probably a closer relationship with the United States based on the nuclear
deal that was engineered last year.

If the BJP emerges the largest party and form the government with their prime minister, one of the,
I think, consequences that is likely is an encouragement to the wilder elements in the various
Indian regions who are aligned with the BJP to be not very friendly to non-Hindus in the community.

So I think that's one of the domestic shifts that one would see, but in international policy and
economic policy, I don't think there'd be a huge difference between Congress or the BJP.

JENNIFER MACEY: The final tally will be announced on Saturday.

PETER CAVE: Jennifer Macey with that report.