India's massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

May 26, 2024 3:35 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Indian voters braved temperatures of nearly 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in parts of the country as they headed to polling stations in the penultimate phase of the world’s largest election on Saturday.

More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote in the general election’s sixth phase, which recorded turnout of 49.2% at 3 p.m., with three hours of polling left.

The overall turnout in the same phase of the last election in 2019 was about 63%.

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Among those casting their ballots early on Saturday in the capital New Delhi were Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party and the main rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whose Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to win a third consecutive term.

Gandhi was accompanied by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, and sister, Priyanka Vadra.

Voting in the elections began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with results due on June 4.

Paramedics were on hand with oral hydration salts at polling stations in Delhi, where mist machines, shaded waiting areas and cold water dispensers have also been installed by the Election Commission due to concerns about the heat.

“We hope that people will overcome the fear of the heatwave and come and vote,” Delhi Chief Electoral Officer P. Krishnamurthy told Reuters.

Modi also urged people to “vote in large numbers” in a message on social media platform X on Saturday.

It was not clear which party would gain from a lower turnout.

The temperature in the capital hovered around 42C (107.6F) but felt like 49C (120.2F) at 2 p.m., the weather department said, prompting many voters to question why polls were not held when the weather was “more conducive”.