India's anti-corruption party tested in Delhi polls

Voters line up in a queue outside a polling booth to cast their vote during the state assembly election in Delhi, on Dec 4, 2013. A new Indian political party rooted in an anti-corruption movement that swept the country in 2011 faced its first e
Voters line up in a queue outside a polling booth to cast their vote during the state assembly election in Delhi, on Dec 4, 2013. A new Indian political party rooted in an anti-corruption movement that swept the country in 2011 faced its first electoral test on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013, as voters in New Delhi headed to the polls. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A new Indian political party rooted in an anti-corruption movement that swept the country in 2011 faced its first electoral test on Wednesday as voters in New Delhi headed to the polls.

The Aam Aadmi ("Common Man") Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, is hoping for a victory in the New Delhi state election that would be a political earthquake ahead of national polls next year.

New Delhi, whose 16.8 million inhabitants elect their own assembly, has been run by the Congress party since 1998 but it is seen as struggling with voter fatigue, inflation and anger over crime against women and corruption.

Kejriwal cast his vote at a polling station in central Delhi early on Wednesday accompanied by about 100 supporters wearing white Gandhi caps which, along with a broom, has become the party's trademark.

"Broom! Broom! Broom!" said street food vendor Rajesh Sharma, 49, after casting his vote in the chaotic old city area. "Kejriwal deserves a chance to show what he's got." Turnout was approaching record levels of about 60 per cent shortly before voting ended at 5pm (1130 GMT), following a trend of unprecedented enthusiasm in four other state elections held over the last month.

All five polls are a litmus test for the Congress party, in power nationally for nearly a decade, and for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its hardline prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Modi has campaigned hard and will hope to see the BJP make gains when results are announced for all five state elections on Sunday.

Kejriwal, 44, believes his promise of clean politics, young candidates and he pursuit of black marketeers, whom he blames for soaring food prices, will see his party surge to victory.

"I believe that the people will vote against a corrupt establishment this time," he told reporters.

He formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) less than a year ago after a split from his one-time partner Anna Hazare, an elderly activist with whom he launched a nationwide protest movement in 2011 demanding a new anti-corruption law.

A survey on perceptions of corruption published on Tuesday by Transparency International showed India ranked at number 94 out of 177 countries.

Support for the AAP as detected by India's often unreliable pollsters fluctuates wildly, from an impressive six to eight seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly to an extraordinary 30 or more.

"This election will test the substance of a new force, the Aam Aadmi party, which despite lacking a seasoned organisation has expertly created a buzz about its presence," The Indian Express said in an editorial Wednesday.