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RPT-India elections may not see clear winner-poll
(Repeats story from Saturday)
By Matthias Williams
NEW DELHI Feb 21 (Reuters) - India's Congress party-led coalition could beat the Hindu-nationalist opposition in a general election but the balance of power may lie with small, regional parties, a national poll said on Saturday.
The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, headed by the left-of-centre Congress party, is predicted to win 36.6 percent of the votes, marginally up from 36.5 percent in the last elections in 2004, the CNN-IBN poll said.
The opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will see its share of the vote drop to 29.4 percent from 35.9 percent.
That would mean the winner would need to forge post-election alliances. In the last 2004 election, Congress won power by securing the backing of leftist parties, which helped lead to the stagnation of economic reforms.
"It's going to be a messy situation yet again. The smaller parties, the regional parties will again play a very important role," Vinay Tewari, the executive editor of the CNN-IBN told Reuters.
"We'll most likely see another very, very hard round of bargaining pre-poll and post-poll."
The survey, carried out by CNN-IBN news channel and the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), sampled around 20,000 people in every major state in the country.
Congress is expected to perform better than five years ago, the poll said, which may improve its bargaining power as it forges post-election alliances, but the BJP's share of the vote, without its allies, will stay almost the same. Both parties will likely be let down by dwindling support for some of their current allies, leaving the door open for regional parties outside the UPA and the NDA.
For example the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has its powerbase among the Dalits in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, will see its share of the vote increase to 5.8 percent from 5.3 percent.
The BSP's controversial leader, Mayawati, has been tipped as a possible kingmaker or prime minister if the UPA or NDA fail to form a government on their own.
Congress's former leftist allies, who ditched the UPA over India's landmark civilian nuclear deal with the United States last year, will see their vote slide to 6 percent from 8 percent.
But that is potentially still enough for them to tip the balance in favour of Congress if they choose to rejoin the UPA, Tewari said.
Opinion polls before Indian elections can be unreliable. Tewari said a lot can change before the world's largest democracy goes to the ballot box likely scheduled for April and May. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani)
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