70 million hold key in three states Wednesday (Curtain Raiser)

April 12th, 2011 - 5:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Chennai/Thiruvananthapuram/Puducherry, April 12 (IANS) Nearly 70 million people will be eligible to vote Wednesday in assembly elections in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry where ruling parties are facing a stiff challenge from a determined opposition.

The elections, pundits say, could unseat at least two ruling coalitions - the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala.

Perhaps the most politically significant election will be in Tamil Nadu, where the main battle is between two Dravidian giants - the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK.

Around 4.59 crore voters can pick 234 legislators from 2,748 candidates, including 141 women. There will be 54,016 polling booths spread all across the sprawling state.

The Tamil Nadu outcome is bound to cast a shadow on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition in New Delhi in which the DMK is a key ally.

Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi is seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th time and as chief minster for the sixth time.

The DMK is seeking mandate for another term saying it fulfilled its 2006 electoral promises — such as giving free colour televisions and providing welfare measures like free medical insurance, ambulance service, rice at Re.1 a kg and free houses to the needy.

“The fulfilment of promises made in 2006 will see us through comfortably. At least one welfare scheme implemented by us has reached every home,” DMK spokesperson and MP T.K.S. Elangovan told IANS.

The DMK is, however, on the defensive over the 2G spectrum scandal, which has led to the jailing of its leader and former communication minister A. Raja on corruption charges.

AIADMK leader and former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa is exuding confidence after pre-election surveys predicted a win for her alliance. She has harped on rising prices, power cuts, the spectrum scandal and the law and order in Tamil Nadu.

The DMK is contesting in 119 of the 234 constituencies after allocating 115 seats to the Congress (63), PMK (30) and smaller groups. The AIADMK has put up candidates in 160 constituencies. It has allotted 74 seats to 10 allies including actor Vijayakant’s DMDK and the two Communist parties.

Interestingly, the DMK has shifted its top leaders — Karunanidhi and his son and Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin — to the “safer” constituencies of Thiruvarur and Kolathur. Jayalalithaa, a former actress, will contest from Srirangam.

In Kerala, which has the tradition of catapulting the opposition to office in every election, the ruling LDF faces an aggressive challenge from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).

The 2.2 crore electorate, including 1.19 crore women, will pick from among 971 candidates including 78 women. There are 20,758 polling stations.

Two pre-election surveys have indicated a victory for the UDF in the battle for the 140-member legislature.

One man who is still posing the biggest hurdle to the Congress is Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who at 87 is one of the oldest candidates and a crowd puller.

But the UDF is confident. “There is no doubt we will win with ease,” Congress veteran and union Defence Minister A.K. Antony said.

The CPI-M has put up candidates in 84 constituencies, leaving the rest to its allies. In the UDF, the Congress is contesting from 84 constituencies.

In Puducherry, the ruling Congress is eyeing a hat-trick of victories.

The choice in the union territory will be mainly between incumbent Congress Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam and former Congress chief minister N. Rangasamy, who now heads the All India NR Congress (AINRC).

Around 810,500 voters are eligible to vote in 30 constituencies.

There are 187 candidates and several parties in the fray. But the contest is mainly between the Congress-led front comprising the DMK and the AINRC-led front including the AIADMK.

Both in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, rival parties have promised voters a litany of freebies — if they win. Just who wins will be known only May 13 when votes polled in these three states as well as Assam and West Bengal are counted.

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