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Congress coalition claims victory in Indian vote

INDIAN Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared victory in India's national elections yesterday, saying voters had given the Congress party-led coalition a "massive mandate."

Singh spoke as results indicated his alliance achieved a sweeping - and surprising - success in the monthlong polls that will keep Singh in power for another term.

"I express my deep sense of gratitude to the people of the country for the massive mandate they have given," he said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the country's other main party, failed to convince voters to change the national leadership during a time of global economic uncertainty.

"We accept the people's verdict," said Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP official. "Certainly something did go wrong."

News channels called the election in Congress' favor based on more than 70 percent of votes counted.

The CNN-IBN channel said the Congress-led alliance could win 258 seats in the 543-seat Parliament, and the BJP-led alliance could take 162. It projected that the Congress party alone - without the support of its coalition allies - would take 198 seats, putting it far ahead of all other parties. Other channels predicted similar results in the massive vote - the largest in the democratic world - which for logistical and security reasons was held in five phases between April 16 and May 13.

If counting trends continue, it would be a clear victory for the Congress coalition - but would still leave it short of the 272 seats needed to govern alone and it would require the support of other parties. India has been ruled by coalition governments for most of the past two decades.

However, the results appeared far better for Congress than nearly everyone expected. For months, polls and political observers have predicted that neither of the country's two main parties would emerge a clear winner, forcing an unstable and unwieldy coalition that could have conceivably included dozens of smaller parties.

Things now appear far clearer: Congress "seems to have the upper hand," said Venkaiah Naidu, a BJP leader.

As results came in, celebrations erupted outside the Congress party headquarters. Party workers set off fireworks and danced in the streets carrying posters of party leader Sonia Gandhi.

"We have won a thumping majority," Congress activist Parag Jain said outside the party offices in New Delhi. "Successful rule begins and ends with Congress and the Gandhi family."


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