The world's largest democratic elections began on Monday in India (Reuters), where some 815 million people are registered to vote over the next five weeks. Opinion polls forecast a strong lead for Hindu nationalist opposition candidate Narendra Modi, who has pledged economic revival (TimesofIndia), although his Bharatiya Janata Party is predicted to fall short of a parliamentary majority. The Aam Aadmi Party, campaigning on an anticorruption platform, has also seen success after securing strong results in local polls in Delhi last fall. After two years of economic woes (FT) and persistently high inflation, the Congress Party, which has been in power since 2004, faces tough electoral prospects, according to surveys. The nine-phase vote will conclude on May 12.
"For now, the Congress Party's platform puts into writing an approach to the region consistent with its years in government. It's the framing of India's role in the world, however, that officially presents some ideas that sit less comfortably alongside the notion of India as a rising global power," writes CFR's Alyssa Ayres.
"It is certainly possible that a Modi administration could be more effective. But there are many caveats. Even if the BJP wins, it will probably not earn enough votes to govern alone. That will put it at the head of a messy coalition," writes a Financial Times editorial.
"If the Left of Centre Congress and the Right-inclined BJP exchange places in 2014, it would reflect the ground level societal shifts now taking place, with a growing, assertive, urban, middle class wanting to engage politically," writes Neerja Chowdhury for Times of India.
Japan, Australia Close to Free Trade Deal
Japan and Australia are set to agree on a bilateral free-trade deal (JapanTimes) during a Monday summit after seven years of negotiations between the two countries. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is visiting Tokyo on the first stop during a northeast Asia trip.
CHINA: U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagel toured China's first aircraft carrier (AFP) at the start of a three-day visit to China, making him the first foreigner aboard the ship.
Afghan citizens cast their votes (WaPo) on Saturday in an election that drew a surprisingly large turnout despite threats from the Taliban. The election, which will see the replacement of President Hamid Karzai, coincides with the pullout of U.S-led coalition forces.
CFR's Gayle Lemmon discusses elections and troop withdrawal in Afghanistan in this op-ed.
Benghazi on Strike
Workers protested during a mass strike in the Libyan port city of Benghazi, demanding the resignation (al-Jazeera) of parliament for the city's increasing disorder since the 2011 NATO-backed toppling of Muammar al-Qaddafi. The government also reached a deal on Sunday to reopen two rebel-controlled oil ports in eastern Libya.
IRAN: Iran is hopeful for progress at a fresh round of nuclear talks (Reuters) with six world powers in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday. The talks aim to reach a comprehensive agreement by July 20.
Nigeria Becomes Africa's Largest Economy
Nigeria refigured its gross domestic product data, surpassing South Africa to become the continent's biggest economy (PremiumTimes). The news comes in the wake of the World Bank listing Nigeria among countries with the world's worst poverty—a rating the Nigerian government rejected.
MALI: Moussa Mara, a former presidential hopeful, was appointed as new Malian prime minister (BBC) to succeed Oumar Tatam Ly, who, along with his entire government, resigned from office.
Orbán Reelected in Hungary
Viktor Orbán, Hungary's conservative prime minister, won a reelection (FT) on Sunday after a resounding victory. Orbán promised to continue a "nationalist program" of economic and political reforms, including targeting alleged foreign-owned monopolies and ensuring domestic control of Hungarian banks.
IRELAND: Irish president Michael Higgins is due to arrive in London on Monday for a four-day trip (NYT), marking the first state visit to Britain by an Irish president.
Opposition Wins Costa Rica Election
Costa Rican opposition candidate and former professor Luis Guillermo Solís won Sunday's election (TicoTimes) with 78 percent of the vote. Solís and his Citizen Action Party displace the National Liberation Party, Costa Rica's oldest and most established political group, which has won the presidency the last two terms.
VENEZUELA: TheUN stated its "deep concern" (MercoPress) over the burgeoning violence in Venezuela, where antigovernment protests have left thirty-nine dead during two months of unrest.