The country has a longstanding democratic parliamentary system of government, with representatives elected in multiparty elections. The parliament sits for five years unless it is dissolved earlier for new elections, except under constitutionally defined emergency situations. The country held a five-phase national election in April and May 2009 that included 714 million eligible voters. National and local security forces helped to ensure a relatively smooth election, although 65 persons were killed in voting-related violence. The Congress-led United Progress Alliance government, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, returned to power for a second term in May 2009.
Citizens elected state governments and local municipal or village council governments at regular intervals. During the year free and fair assembly elections were held in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Haryana. During the elections seven civilians were killed in election-related violence.
Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference. On May 7 in West Bengal, there were reports of political violence. According to media reports, 11 persons were killed as a result of postpolling violence. Communist Party of India-Marxist activists fought with Trinamool Congress supporters using bombs, firearms, and weapons in several Bengali districts. Hundreds of houses were set ablaze or otherwise damaged in Howrah, Burdwan, East Midnapore, and Murshidabad districts. Sporadic politically motivated violence continued through August.
The May general elections were largely peaceful in Jammu and Kashmir. Average turnout of the five-phase elections in the state reached a historic high of 40 percent. There was no significant violence in spite of threats by militant groups and boycott calls by separatists. On April 24, Abdul Sattar Ganaie, bloc president of the National Conference party, was shot and killed by militants in Baramulla District. Ganaie was the only political leader killed by militants during the election process.
On April 29, the government imposed an undeclared curfew in the Kashmir valley to prevent antipoll protests, and 21 persons were injured when police used tear gas against curfew violators. Many separatist leaders were put under house arrest to prevent their participation.
The elections brought 78 female members to the Lok Sabha (lower house), which can have up to 552 members. Women held many high-level political offices, including President Pratibha Patil, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. Women remained active in politics throughout the country at all levels.
On August 29, the central government approved a proposed amendment to the constitution to increase reservations in elected village councils (panchayats) from 33 percent to 50 percent for women. Parliament approved the amendment, and implementation across states was ongoing at year's end.
The constitution stipulates that to protect historically marginalized groups and to ensure representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups can contest elections in reserved constituencies. In the 2009 elections, 84 seats for candidates from scheduled castes and 47 seats for scheduled tribes members were reserved, representing 24 percent of the total seats in parliament's lower house.
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