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Asia Minute: Coronavirus Concerns with India’s Election

AP Photo/Aftab Alam Siddiqui
Voters display their identity cards outside a polling station at Paliganj, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

Many voters across the country have been casting their ballots early in this election, but others will be going to the polls next week in some states. Overseas, there's a regional election going on in India where democracy and the coronavirus are on a collision course.


Voting is underway in one of India’s largest states — Bihar.

Its population of 122 million nearly matches the number of people who live in the entire country of Japan. It’s a poor state, with more than 200,000 reported cases of COVID-19.

Health officials are concerned about the potential further spread of the virus as people go to the polls — where local media showed closely packed lines of voters without face coverings.

India now has nearly 8-million confirmed cases of the virus, second only to the United States. Critics say the true number of cases is likely higher, because of inconsistent testing, especially in the country’s sprawling countryside and poor regions — such as Bihar.

There are three phases to the voting for the state’s legislative assembly, and the ballots won’t be counted until November 10th. Analysts say it’s a test of the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP.

Despite the health concerns, turnout on the first day was enthusiastic.

The Times of India says it’s already surpassed 54% of eligible voters — topping the turnout for the last election for the national parliament.

The BBC reports that in the early days of the campaign, candidates adhered to social distancing rules, but in recent weeks there has been a dramatic rise in the number of political rallies with large crowds, and few masks.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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