India’s Election Body Raises Turnout Figures, Despite Criticism

(Bloomberg) -- India’s Election Commission on Friday raised voter turnout figures for the latest phase of polling, even as the government body draws scrutiny from opposition figures and other groups.

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The Election Commission said turnout in the fourth phase of India’s general election, which took place on May 13, was 69.16%, almost two percentage-points higher from its previous reading.

India’s main opposition party and advocacy groups have questioned the commission’s turnout figures, saying delays in releasing the data and the large revisions raises doubts about the quality and credibility of the figures.

Separately, India’s Supreme Court on Friday gave the Election Commission one week to respond to a petition by a pair of non-governmental organizations seeking the speedy upload of election data after voting.

Earlier this week, the commission said total turnout in the first four phases of voting was 66.95%, only slightly down from the record high 2019 turnout of 67.4%. About 451 million people have voted so far, the commission said.

Prior to the revisions, the turnout figures showed a dip in voter participation in the general election compared with five years ago, raising questions over whether the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party would be able to meet its ambitious election goals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had predicted the BJP and its allies would win 400 of the 543 seats in India’s lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha.

Pre-election polls widely showed Modi as likely to return to power, but analysts have said the dip in turnout suggests a lack of enthusiasm among the electorate as voting has gotten underway and the uncertainty has spread to financial markets. An unprecedented heat wave across the country has also impacted turnout.

The Election Commission has said it is required to collect data from a large number of polling stations and said there has been no unusual delay in releasing voting figures. Almost 1 billion Indians are eligible to vote in the six-week election, with the last phase of voting set for June 1 and the winner to be announced June 4.

Aiming to boost turnout, the commission said it is taking “targeted interventions to reach out to every eligible voter.” They include sending SMS messages urging voters to head to the polls, voting day alert messages sent over Facebook and voter awareness activities during Indian Premier League cricket matches.

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