Indian elections enter final stretch

NEW DELHI, May 7, 2009 (AFP) – India kicked off the penultimate round of its marathon general election on Thursday, with the two main parties going head to head in a series of key races that could swing the final outcome.

And with the finish line now in sight and no clear winner expected, attention has already turned to the political horse-trading to come when parties scrabble for coalition partners to govern India’s 1.1 billion people.

Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s most powerful political dynasty and the ruling Congress party’s star campaigner, set the tone on Tuesday when he extended an olive branch to his party’s estranged communist partners.

“The field is open to post-poll alliances,” Gandhi, 38, told a press conference at which he stressed common ground with the Left on income distribution, health and education.