Delhi elections: Millions vote in crucial state polls

Indian voters wait in queues to cast their votes for the Delhi state election in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 Long lines of voters forced the Election Commission to extend voting hours

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Millions of voters lined up through the day to cast their ballots in the Indian capital, Delhi, and the Election Commission had to extend voting hours beyond the closing time.

Officials said the voter turnout was 66% - unusually high for the city.

The ruling Congress party - which is seeking a fourth consecutive term - and the main opposition BJP are the main rivals for the 70-seat assembly.

But the new Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party has emerged as a critical player.

Led by a former civil servant Arvind Kejriwal, the party was born out of a strong anti-corruption movement that swept India two years ago.

Though both the Congress party and BJP have dismissed talk about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) being a serious contender, a number of pre-election polls suggest that the new party could upset their calculations.

More than 10 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots at 11,753 polling stations in Wednesday's polls. Over 800 candidates are contesting seats.

At the scene

Delhi, which has traditionally seen low turnouts in local elections, seems to be in a rush to vote this time.

Polling stations saw huge crowds as soon as voting began.

There is a heavy police presence and numerous checkpoints on major roads.

Voters appear baffled by a new rule which bars them from carrying their mobile phones inside the polling booths.

Many of them are stranded outside the booths wondering what to do with their phones.

Some people who say they have voted for decades are complaining that their names are missing from the list.

Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers were deployed to help conduct a peaceful election.

'Good turnout'

Long lines of voters outside many polling booths forced the Election Commission to extend voting hours to 19:15 India time (13:45GMT) - the official closing time was 17:00.

"It has been a good turnout all over Delhi," the Press Trust of India quoted Delhi's Chief Electoral officer Vijay Dev as saying.

In the last assembly polls held in 2008, turnout was 57.58%.

Officials said the polling had been "peaceful and there were no reports of any untoward incident".

The AAP and the Congress party have fielded candidates in all 70 constituencies, while the BJP fielded candidates in 66 seats.

The Congress campaign has been led by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, 75, who is seeking a record fourth consecutive term in office promising "inclusive development".

The BJP's campaign has been led by the chief ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan, a doctor who has promised to cut electricity costs and bring down rising vegetable prices if voted to power.

'Hotly contested'

Mr Kejriwal's AAP, which drew big election crowds, has promised to set up a citizens' ombudsman, also known as the Jan Lokpal, cut electricity prices and supply free water, among other things.

Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the newly formed Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station in Delhi, 4 December2013 Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party has emerged as a critical player in Delhi

Both the Congress Party and BJP see Delhi as critical to its ambitions of winning next year's national elections.

Both the parties put up their top leaders, including the BJP's prime-ministerial candidate for next year's general elections Narendra Modi and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, to campaign in the Indian capital.

But a robust performance by the AAP could upset calculations and even lead to a hung assembly, experts say.

The Times of India has called this a "historic" poll and the "most interesting" election Delhi has ever seen.

Delhi's polls conclude key assembly elections in five Indian states - Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram - held between 11 November and 4 December. Votes will be counted on 8 December.

A total of 110 million voters were eligible to cast their votes in the five states.

Correspondents say the results will give a sense of how the electorate may vote in the general elections due in 2014.

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