Democracy with Indian Characteristics

With a population of over 1.1 billion people, India is the world's largest democracy. This is all the more remarkable considering the country's profound ethnic and religious diversity. With India's general elections currently underway, we wonder: Which of the following facts about India's democracy are true?

A. The country has 714 million eligible voters
B. The current parliament consists of 35 political parties
C. One-quarter of the current parliament is facing criminal charges
D. All of the above

A. The country has 714 million eligible voters is correct.

There are 714 million eligible voters for the April/May 2009 elections in India. They will vote at 829,000 polling centers for 1,055 candidate political parties to elect 543 constituencies, with each one electing a member. The results are tabulated quickly and reliably via 1.4 million electronic voting machines.

India’s elections extend over one month, from April 16 to May 13, with the voting taking place on five separate days. The new government, which must be formed by June 2, will most certainly involve a coalition with smaller parties.

B. The current parliament consists of 35 political parties is correct.

In the current Indian parliament — elected in 2004 — the seats were divided among 35 political parties, which is 15 more than in 1984.

Uttar Pradesh — India’s most populous state — elects 80 of India’s 543 parliamentary seats. With more than 190 million people, that one state alone is about as populous as the entire nation of Brazil — which ranks fifth worldwide.

C. One-quarter of the current parliament is facing criminal charges is correct.

In the outgoing parliament, 125 members, 23% of the total, have faced criminal charges — including allegations of rape and murder. However, observers believe this share will drop in the future due to the negative publicity and enhanced scrutiny faced by these tainted politicians.

Nepotism is also rampant in Indian politics. In the outgoing lower house of parliament, 56% of the members under age 40 have no obvious credentials other than family connections.

D. All of the above is correct.

Since 1952, India has been the world's most populous democracy. Its electorate is larger than the population of every country in the world, aside from China. It is also more than double the total population of the United States, the world's second-largest democracy — and nearly three times larger than the population of Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy.

India's voter turnout usually averages above 60% — although in the 2004 elections, only about 55% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

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