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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK

World: South Asia

Call to end poll mudslinging

A poster plays on the name of Sonia Gandhi's opponent, Sushma Swaraj

India's Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill has appealed for a "ceasefire" in personal attacks during campaigning for the forthcoming elections.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
The appeal comes after a series of remarks by political leaders from the BJP and Congress parties.

"What is needed is to clearly call a halt," said Mr Gill.

The main target of the attacks has been Sonia Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party.

Senior government members have compared her to Monica Lewinsky, and said the only thing she contributed to India was to have her two children there.

But Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has also been drawn into the fray after comments by a senior Congress leader reportedly criticised his personal life.

Mr Gill said what was needed was a serious debate on real issues.

"Give the people this and the rest they will sort out for themselves," he said.

Poll ban announced

In another development, the Election Commission - an independent body - has ordered a ban on opinion polls with effect from Friday.

The ban means there should be no polls for more than a month before voting begins, and has prompted objections from newspapers and media organisations.

Opinion polls in India usually have a margin of error of about 10%, whereas in the West it is usually three to four per cent.

Despite that, the polls in the 1998 election accurately predicted a hung parliament with the advantage to the BJP and its allies.

Most polling is done by international companies who also do market research for manufacturers.

BBC Delhi correspondent Daniel Lak says that although this time the polls predict significant gains for the BJP-led alliance, Indian voters probably have some surprises in store for both the politicians and the pollsters.

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