NEW DELHI (AP) – Voters cast ballots in the Indian capital on Saturday in an election that is seen as a litmus test for the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party.
Opinion polls ahead of the vote to choose New Delhi’s 70-member assembly suggest that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is either locked in a close contest with the upstart Common Man’s Party or will come in second. The winning party selects the city’s chief executive, the most senior office.
The BJP has fielded Kiran Bedi, India’s first high-ranking woman police officer as its candidate for the top post.
She faces Arvind Kejriwal, a former income tax official turned popular anti-corruption activist.
Bedi was once a key Kejriwal ally and at the forefront of his anti-corruption movement. She later left and joined the BJP in January.
The New Delhi election is seen as the first tough political battle that Modi and the BJP have faced since sweeping the national elections in May and taking several state elections since then.
The party’s success is largely attributed Modi’s personal charisma and popularity and his key election promise to lift Asia’s third-largest economy from its slump.
The city has been run by the federal government since its elected government resigned last February. In elections late last year, no party had won enough seats to form a government. The BJP won 32 seats, four short of a majority, but no political group was willing support them to form a coalition government.
Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi, or Common Man’s Party, won 28 seats, a huge number for a brand new party contesting its first election. It formed a government with the support of the centrist Congress party but Kejriwal resigned after 49 days in office when no party supported his proposal to appoint an independent anti-corruption panel.
Kejriwal’s party was formed on the back of hugely popular street protests that galvanised India’s middle class against the culture of corruption that is endemic in this nation of 1.2 billion. Rooting out graft and creating the ombudsman position have been Kejriwal’s key aims.