Five states in India are set to go to the polls in the next two months, a key test for the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his controversial currency move.
Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said the states representing more than 160 million voters would elect new governments in the elections, which will begin on February 4. The polls will go on until March 8, with results due three days later.
“All five states will go to election in one go,” Zaidi told reporters on Wednesday, adding, “The commission and government machinery are in full readiness to conduct the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.”
The states include the most populous Uttar Pradesh, where Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to get back to power after performing well in national elections in 2014.
Voting in Uttar Pradesh will begin on February 11 and take place in seven stages. It is seen as the first major test for the prime minister.
The northern states of Punjab and Uttarakhand, Goa in the west and Manipur in the northeast are the other states where the elections will be held.
The BJP currently rules in Goa and Punjab while the opposition Congress is in power in Manipur and Uttarakhand. The BJP needs to win state elections to gain more seats in the upper house of parliament, which has blocked reforms seen as crucial to fuelling economic growth.
Most members of the upper house are indirectly elected by state legislature.
Nearly three months ago, the premier announced that he was scrapping nearly 86 percent of all Indian currency, a move aimed at curbing widespread tax evasion.
In recent weeks, people have lined up outside banks across the country to cash their savings after large bills were pulled out of circulation by the government in a bid to boost the economy and fight corruption.
Criticism is growing over the slow pace of rolling out the new currency, which is widely expected to hit economic growth.
The voting also follows a current Supreme Court ruling that politicians cannot use caste or religion to win votes. Most politicians, including from the BJP, have been accused of exploiting religious and caste sentiments to garner votes.
In addition, the Election Commission has also announced new rules designed to make campaign spending more transparent.
Political parties will only be allowed to use cash for campaign-related payments worth less than 20,000 rupees (USD 290). Candidates will have to take an oath that they have no unpaid public utility bills.
By Africafrique and agencies