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Tuesday , July 18 , 2017
 
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Party lines rule in presidential poll

- Northeastern states go by the book; healthy turnout recorded to elect Pranab successor

(Clockwise from top) Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar and Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu cast their votes for the presidential poll on Monday. Assam leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia and AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal and others  proceed to cast their votes

July 17: The presidential election was conducted smoothly in the northeastern states today and the voting took place as expected, mostly according to party lines. In Nagaland however, the event turned into a show of strength by NPF dissidents led by T.R. Zeliang, who has staked claim to form the government.

All the 126 legislators of Assam and 60 MLAs each of Manipur and Tripura cast their votes while in Meghalaya 52 (out of 60) turned up to cast their ballots. In Mizoram, 38 MLAs (out of 40) voted, in Arunachal Pradesh 59 MLAs (out of 60) voted while in the 60-member Nagaland House all the present 59 members voted.

BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, the convener of North East Democratic Alliance (Neda), a platform for the BJP and its allies in the region, claimed that a majority of the votes in the Northeast had gone in favour of NDA's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind. He said Kovind would register a decisive victory against the Opposition's nominee Meira Kumar but the margin of the victory couldn't be predicted at the moment since it was a secret ballot. "In Arunachal Pradesh, all the MLAs except one has voted for Kovind while in Tripura six Trinamul Congress MLAs and one Congress MLA have voted for him," he added.

In a presidential election, the value of an MLA's vote depends on the population of the state he or she represents but the value of the vote of an MP is same across the country, which is 708.

In Assam, where the value of an MLA's vote is 116, the highest in the Northeast, the BJP has 61 MLAs and seven MPs while the Congress has 25 MLAs and nine MPs. The AGP (14 MLAs) and the BPF (12 MLAs and one MP), both allies of the ruling BJP in Assam, had pledged their support for Kovind. The AIUDF with 13 MLAs and three Lok Sabha MPs supported Meira. The lone Independent MLA is also said to be supporting Kovind.

Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi stirred a controversy this morning before casting his vote in the Assembly in Dispur by saying that he was hopeful of cross-voting by some MLAs of the ruling coalition in favour of Meira. He claimed before mediapersons that he had spoken to a couple of AGP legislators, who had told him they would vote for Meira "following their conscience". AGP president Atul Bora refuted the claim as "baseless".

Political parties cannot issue a whip to their members to vote for a particular nominee in a presidential poll, which means that cross-voting is possible.

BPF legislator Maheswar Boro was the first to cast his vote when polling began at 10am while former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was the last to vote around 1.40pm. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal cast his vote at 10.20am. Sonowal said Kovind's victory is certain.

Assistant returning officer and principal secretary of Assam Assembly Mrigendra Kumar Deka said Deka said 124 MLAs and three MPs cast their votes in Assam while two MLAs cast their votes in Delhi. He said the ballot box would be taken to New Delhi tomorrow for counting on Thursday.

In Tripura, where the value of an MLA's vote is 26, the second highest in the Northeast, the six expelled Trinamul MLAs who are likely to join the BJP and the lone BJP-bound Congress MLA cast their ballots in favour of Kovind while all the 51 CPM legislators, two Congress MLAs Birajit Sinha and Gopal Roy, and three CPM MPs voted for Meira.

The total valuation of votes of the 60 Tripura MLAs stands at 1,560 votes. As such, Kovind got a valuation of 182 from Tripura Assembly while Meira's valuation was 1,378. All three CPM MPs, two in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha, voted for Meira, giving her a valuation of 2,124 votes.

Assembly secretary Bamdeb Mazumder said of the 60 MLAs, 59 cast their ballots in the Assembly. "Speaker Ramendra Debnath, who is undergoing treatment in Calcutta, cast his ballot in West Bengal Assembly lobby with permission from the Election Commission," he added.

The voting for the presidential election began at 10am and ended by 3pm. Sudhan Das, 55, CPM MLA from Rajnagar constituency in South Tripura, was the first to cast his ballot. Chief minister Manik Sarkar voted at 11am. He gazed at the ballot for over two minutes before putting it in the box.

Five of the six BJP-bound Tinamul MLAs, Sudip Roy Barman, Asish Saha, Pranjit Singha Roy, Diba Chandra Hrankhawal and Biswa Bandhu Sen, cast their ballots at noon.

The last to vote for Kovind were dissident Congress MLA and former leader of the Opposition Ratan Lal Nath and the sixth Trinamul MLA Dilip Sarkar who had reached Agartala by a flight from Calcutta well in time to cast ballots. "Officially, I will not say anything but you know I have cast my ballot in favour of Kovind ji," said Nath, who is also joining the BJP later this month.

Tapas De, a former MLA and Congress spokesperson, said, "Apart from the complex arithmetic of vote and value, today's presidential election marks a major change in the state politics. The BJP has never had an MLA in Tripura but still the party managed to secure seven votes valued at 182. The party has been growing rapidly in the state over the past year-and-a-half and it seems it will grow stronger and put up a major challenge to the ruling Left Front in the next Assembly election."

In Manipur, all the 60 legislators cast their votes by 1.30pm. After eight members joined the ruling BJP-led coalition, taking its strength to 30 in the Assembly, the Congress is left with 20 MLAs. The state also has two Congress members in the Lok Sabha and one BJP member in the Rajya Sabha. The value of an MLA's vote in Manipur is defined as 18 votes.

In Meghalaya, chief electoral officer Fredrick Roy Kharkongor said the overall polling percentage was 86.6 with 52 of the 60 legislators casting their vote. With the value of vote of each MLA in the state being 17, the total values of votes of the 52 MLAs is 884. The voting was held at the hall of the temporary building of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly from 10am till 5pm.

"Four MLAs of the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP), two Independents, and one each from the Congress and the United Democratic Party (UDP) did not come for voting," Kharkongor said.

The HSPDP MLAs, Ardent Miller Basaiwmoit, K.P. Pangniang, Witting Mawsor and D. Jyndiang, abstained from voting in protest against the candidature of both Kovind and Kumar. Jailed MLA Julius Dorphang, an Independent who has been accused of raping a minor, did not come for voting. Dorphang is supporting the Congress-led government which has 30 MLAs, including Speaker Abu Taher Mondal in the 60-member Assembly. The two NCP MLAs and the other Independent MLA, Justine Dkhar, are supporting the Congress.

Congress legislator Martin M. Danggo, who is also the PWD (roads) minister, could not vote as he is out of station for treatment. Dkhar and Opposition UDP MLA H. Brolding Nongsiej failed to turn up. Chief minister Mukul Sangma accused the BJP-led NDA government of pursuing RSS agendas. "In today's voting, the decision of each member of the electoral college in favour of anyone of the two candidates will indicate the endorsement of the agendas of the two groups (NDA and UPA)," he told reporters. He said the kind of concerns expressed across the nation was precisely because of the NDA's RSS-driven agenda. In the 60-member Nagaland Assembly, where the vote value of an MLA is nine, the intra-party crisis within the ruling Naga People's Front (NPF) played out during the presidential voting.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY
SEKHAR DATTA IN TRIPURA,
DAMIEN LEPCHA IN ITANAGAR,
RINING LYNGDOH IN SHILLONG


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