Imphal, Feb. 27: Manipur has given the Congress a mandate which even the most die-hard optimist in the party may not have expected from a fractured polity.
Winning exactly half the 60 seats at stake — 10 more than its 2002 tally — all that remains for the Congress to do is renew its alliance with the CPI (four seats) and form the next government. If there is any suspense, it is over whether Okram Ibobi Singh will be the chief minister again.
The first to complete a full term in office in this socially and politically volatile state, Ibobi may yet retain the hot seat, but PCC chief Gaikhangam is breathing down his neck.
“The Congress and the CPI will form the government. We are happy that people voted for peace and development. We fought the election on these issues,” Gaikhangam said after the tally was officially confirmed this afternoon.
Union minister Oscar Fernandez, also the AICC’s Northeast in-charge, was in town to savour the victory. He will return only after overseeing the election of the Congress Legislature Party leader.
“We will elect the leader very soon, maybe tomorrow,” he said.
If the Congress was pleasantly surprised by the election outcome — Gaikhangam appeared jittery about the results yesterday — the Manipur People’s Party (MPP) was clueless about the reason for its below-par performance.
Touted as a resurgent party capable of ousting the Congress, the MPP won a mere five seats.
The MPP leadership convened an emergency meeting to review the results. “People did not accept our commitment to resolving issues such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the territorial integrity of Manipur. If people do not want these issues to be taken up, what can we do'” asked party president L. Chandramani Singh, who lost from Patsoi constituency.
On the other hand, the Nationalist Congress Party was jubilant on winning five.
Independents became the second largest bloc in the Assembly with 10 of them emerging victorious. The remaining six seats were shared by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the National People’s Party.
Ibobi was clearly the happiest man around. The chief minister’s only remaining challenge is to get ahead of Gaikhangam, with whom his relationship has never been cordial.
The PCC chief, however, played down the issue. He did not say whether he was in the reckoning. Ibobi played the diplomat, too.
In the hills, the United Naga Council held sway with six of the 11 Independent candidates it had backed winning their seats. Their campaign was built around the demand for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas of the state with Nagaland. The only setback for the UNC was the victory of Khangthuanang Panmei, the Independent candidate who had been kidnapped by the NSCN (I-M) to force him to back out of the contest.
Panmei defeated Samuel Jendai, the UNC candidate and sitting MLA, in Tamenglong constituency.