Polls put Congress ahead as India’s vote marathon ends

NEW DELHI, May 13, 2009 (AFP) – Voting in India’s marathon elections ended Wednesday, with exit polls giving the ruling Congress party and its allies a slight edge over the opposition bloc led by the Hindu nationalist BJP. Neither grouping was seen as getting close to the 272 seats required to secure a parliamentary majority.

Exit polls have proved notoriously inaccurate in previous Indian elections, and the official result will only be announced by the Election Commission on Saturday.

Surveys carried by three news channels put the Congress-led coalition ahead, with CNN-IBN predicting a final tally of between 185 and 205 seats, against 165 to 185 seats for the alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

A similar result was forecast by other networks.

Saturday’s count is expected to trigger a frantic round of political horse-trading as both alliances scrabble among a multitude of regional parties for the extra partners needed to form a viable government.

“Everything will depend on numbers,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged at a press briefing this week.

After polls closed in the fifth and final phase of the month-long ballot, the official turnout was calculated at 60