Five states go to polls in April-May

March 2nd, 2011 - 1:53 am ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry will elect new assemblies in April-May in the biggest national referendum since the 2009 Lok Sabha election, it was announced Tuesday.

Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said some 150 million voters will be eligible to take part in the staggered elections that will begin in Assam April 4 and conclude in West Bengal May 10.

The vote count in all five states will take place May 13, Quraishi told reporters at his office.

While Tamil Nadu (234 seats), Kerala (140) and Puducherry (30) will have single-phase voting each April 13, Assam (126 seats) will see balloting on April 4 and 11.

Polling for the 294-member West Bengal assembly will be spread over six phases — April 18, 23 and 27 and May 3, 7 and 10.

West Bengal’s main opposition Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the announcement.

“We welcome the decision of the Election Commission to hold assembly polls in six phases. We are with the Election Commission’s decision. Since the birth of our party Trinamool Congress, we have always welcomed the decision of the EC,” Banerjee, whose party is a strong contender in the polls, told a media meet in Kolkata.

Assam’s main opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Tuesday voiced unhappiness over the two-phase poll schedule announced for the state, saying the party would have preferred four-phased assembly elections instead.

The April-May battle will dominantly involve the Left, the Congress and regional parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Asom Gana Parishad, the DMK and the AIADMK.

In an apparent reference to political violence that has left scores dead, Quraishi said the polling dates in West Bengal were decided “taking into account the ground reality”.

“We hope polling in the state will be very peaceful,” he said.

Political analysts said the battle will be a pointer to the people’s mood in the context of the raging corruption scandals and price rise that have hit hard the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

“There is a lot at stake for the Congress,” election expert G.V.L. Narasimha Rao told IANS. “If it is able to retain two states, it will be a good result for the party. If it fails, it will be bad news.”

Rao said the most significant result would be that of Tamil Nadu, whose ruling DMK is in the thick of the spectrum allocation scandal, with one of its leaders and former cabinet minister A. Raja now in prison.

“The Tamil Nadu outcome will be seen as a message of the electorate towards corruption scandals,” he said, referring to the state ruled by the DMK with the legislative backing of the Congress.

Pitted against the DMK, Congress and new found ally PMK will be the AIADMK of former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha.

Rao said he expected the once powerful Left Front to be dislodged in West Bengal — ending 34 years of uninterrupted Communist rule.

“Although West Bengal may be seen by many as a key state, by and large the result is already known,” he said. “The Marxists will be out.”

In West Bengal, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which rode to power in June 1977 and has since won every election, faces its most serious challenge.

The Left’s biggest threat comes from a resurgent Trinamool Congress of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has vowed to unseat the Marxists and form a non-Communist government.

In Kerala, the coalitions led by the Left and Congress will take on each other in a state notorious for ousting ruling parties every five years.

Assam’s ruling Congress faces a divided opposition while the Congress and DMK will take on the AIADMK in Puducherry.

According to Quraishi, West Bengal accounts for the maximum of 56 million voters — more than two-and-a-half times the population of Australia.

Tamil Nadu has 45.9 million voters, Kerala 22.9 million, Assam 18.1 million and Puducherry eight million voters.

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