Vote counting began Thursday morning in India’s massive general elections, which have been forecast to keep Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party in power.
The count was expected to conclude by the evening, with strong trends visible by midday. 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.
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 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.