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DATE=4/15/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-248126 TITLE=INDIA / POLITICS / L BYLINE=JIM TEEPLE DATELINE=NEW DELHI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: DEBATE BEGAN IN INDIA'S PARLIAMENT THURSDAY OVER THE FATE OF PRIME MINISTER ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE'S 15-MONTH COALITION GOVERNMENT. INDIA'S PRESIDENT ASKED THE PRIME MINISTER TO SEEK A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE AFTER A KEY COALITION PARTNER WITHDREW FROM THE GOVERNMENT, WEDNESDAY. V-O-A'S JIM TEEPLE REPORTS A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE COULD COME AT ANY TIME, BUT IS NOT EXPECTED UNTIL SATURDAY. TEXT: A CONFIDENT PRIME MINISTER VAJPAYEE SAYS HIS GOVERNMENT WILL SURVIVE THE CONFIDENCE VOTE, WHICH IS EXPECTED MIDDAY SATURDAY. FOLLOWING THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE COALITION PARTNER, MR. VAJPAYEE WAS LEFT WITH ABOUT 245 SEATS -- WELL BELOW THE 272 SEATS HE NEEDS TO COMMAND A MAJORITY IN THE 545-SEAT LOK SABHA -- THE LOWER HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT. IN A SHIFT FROM ITS EARLIER POSITION, THE OPPOSITION CONGRESS PARTY SAYS IT IS NOW WILLING TO LEAD A COALITION, IF THE GOVERNMENT FALLS. MADHAVRAO SCINDHIA -- THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE CONGRESS PARTY AND A MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT -- SAYS THE NUMBERS DO NOT LOOK GOOD FOR MR. VAJPAYEE. // SCINDHIA ACTUALITY // OBVIOUSLY THE ARITHMETIC OF THE LOK SABHA (LOWER HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT) SEEMS TO BE AGAINST THE B-J-P COALITION GOVERNMENT. I THINK THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN VERY CORRECT IN ASKING THEM SEEK THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE AGAIN IN THE HOUSE. // END ACTUALITY // // OPT // LAST YEAR, MR. VAJPAYEE SURVIVED A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE BY 13 VOTES. NOW THE PRIME MINISTER IS SEEKING TO STAY IN POWER WITH THE HELP OF SMALLER REGIONAL POWERS. // OPT // THE VOTE IN THE LOK SABHA IS REGARDED AS TOO CLOSE TO CALL. IF THE PRIME MINISTER LOSES, HE MUST LEAVE OFFICE. IF HE LOSES AND NO GOVERNMENT CAN BE FORMED, NEW ELECTIONS WILL BE CALLED FOR THE THIRD TIME IN FOUR YEARS. GEORGE FERNANDEZ -- INDIA'S DEFENSE MINISTER AND THE LEADER OF THE SMALL SAMATA (EQUALITY) PARTY, A COALITION PARTNER OF MR. VAJPAYEE -- SAYS HE BELIEVES THE PRIME MINISTER WILL SURVIVE A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE AND THAT NEW ELECTIONS COULD ALSO BE WON BY THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT. // FERNANDEZ ACTUALITY // IF THERE IS GOING TO A POLL IT WILL BE BETTER FOR THE COUNTRY, BECAUSE YOU WILL THEN HAVE A MUCH STRONGER GOVERNMENT THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO GET. // END ACTUALITY // IF THE OPPOSITION CONGRESS PARTY FORMS THE NEXT GOVERNMENT, INDIA'S MOST-LIKELY PRIME MINISTER WOULD BE SONIA GANDHI -- THE ITALIAN-BORN WIDOW OF FORMER PRIME MINISTER RAJIV GANDHI. A NEW POLL RELEASED THURSDAY BY THE "TIMES OF INDIA" MEDIA GROUP, SAYS THREE-QUARTERS OF INDIANS SURVEYED BELIEVE SONIA GANDHI WOULD NOT MAKE A BETTER PRIME MINISTER THAN ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE. (SIGNED) NEB / JLT / WD / WD 15-Apr-99 6:02 AM EDT (1002 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .