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Modi’s party has early lead as Indian votes are counted

By Emily Schmall | The Associated Press
NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party had an early lead as votes were counted Thursday in India’s massive general elections.
Election Commission data at midmorning showed the Bharatiya Janata Party leading in contests for 229 seats, with its main rival, the Indian National Congress, ahead in 56 contests.
“Mr. Modi’s going to be the next prime minister, we are very assured of that,” said Meenakshi Lekhi, a member of Parliament running for re-election in New Delhi.
The count got underway in the morning and was expected to conclude by the evening. In the world’s largest democratic exercise, some 900 million people were registered to cast ballots for 542 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament in seven phases of voting staggered over six weeks.
A party or coalition needs a simple majority, or 272 seats, to govern.
The election has been seen as a referendum on Modi, whose economic reforms haven’t broadly succeeded but whose popularity as a social underdog in India’s highly stratified society has endured. Half a dozen exit polls released on Sunday showed Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party winning another five-year term.
Voters cast ballots on some 40 million electronic voting machines, a method India began using 15 years ago after complaints that the manual count of paper ballots was tainted by fraud and abuse, such as hired musclemen hired by political parties and stamping paper ballots at gunpoint while election officials looked the other way.
Losing candidates and political parties have raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the electronic method, however, noting the machines are not used in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
The issue hit the headlines again this week.
Top opposition leaders met with Election Commission officials on Tuesday after videos appeared on social media showing some electronic voting machines being moved. The party officials alleged that the machines were being moved in order to be altered, but the commission said the images showed unused machines being moved into storage.
AP journalists Rishabh R. Jain and Ashok Sharma contributed to this report.

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