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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Mizoram Assembly polls: Estimating the likely outcome a tough nut to crack

The refrain among the voters is that the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) may win the most seats, followed by the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM)

Umanand Jaiswal Guwahati Published 07.11.23, 06:01 AM
A model polling station in Kolasib district of Mizoram, where Assembly polls will be held on Tuesday.

A model polling station in Kolasib district of Mizoram, where Assembly polls will be held on Tuesday. Sourced by The Telegraph

Mizoram is poised for one of its most riveting electoral contests on Tuesday, with even officials with their ear to the ground unable to estimate the likely outcome.

Politicians, despite their public assertions of victory, admit in private that the election to the 40-member Assembly is too close to call.

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The refrain among the voters is that the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) may win the most seats, followed by the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM). But nobody is sure whether the MNF will have enough seats to secure a second successive term.

Mizoram has 857,063 voters, a rise of 82,306 from 2018. It has 439,026 women voters.

Of the 174 candidates, 112 are crorepatis, 18 are women (two of them contesting from two constituencies each) and 27 are Independents. In 2018, there were 209 candidates. Of the 1,276 polling stations, 149 are in remote areas.

The voter turnout in 2018 was 81.11 per cent, slightly higher than in 2013.

Chief electoral officer M. Vyas told this newspaper that no incidents had been reported in the run-up to the polls and that the authorities were hopeful of peaceful polling with an adequate security apparatus in place.

The MNF faces the challenges of unfulfilled promises and a lack of development. It is hoping that the steps taken by its government to help refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh and the internally displaced from neighbouring Manipur would see it through.

The Manipur unrest has also revived the sentiments of Zo nationalism in Mizoram, and the MNF has flagged the idea of the reunification of the Zo people scattered across Myanmar.

Political observers, however, believe that the Manipur unrest would not have much impact on the polling because the other parties would have extended similar help to the 35,000-odd refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh and the more than 12,000 from Manipur who have taken shelter in Mizoram.

They, however, admit there is unhappiness at the way the BJP government has handled the Manipur violence between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zo. The Mizos and the Kuki-Zo share the same ethnicity.

The Manipur unrest has directly and indirectly dominated the discourse, more so after Rahul Gandhi’s visit last month when he accused the MNF and the ZPM of being “entry points” for the BJP to Mizoram, and the BJP of being a threat to the Mizo way of life.

A few days later, chief minister and MNF president Zoramthanga said in an interview that he wouldn’t share a stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited the state to campaign. The ZPM said it wouldn’t enter into a post-poll alliance with the BJP.

The BJP’s star campaigners -- Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah --- did not visit Mizoram to campaign. Modi has released a video message promising to turn Mizoram into a “marvellous” state.

A small player in Mizoram politics, the BJP is trying to improve its tally so it can be in a position to be part of the government, led by either the MNF or the ZPM, in case of a hung House that many believe is a possibility. There are no pre-poll alliances among the five parties – the MNF, ZPM, Congress, BJP and the AAP, which is contesting four seats.

The ZPM, which won 8 seats to the MNF’s 26 and the Congress’s 5 in 2018, has created a buzz among urban voters since its debut in 2018. It swept the Lunglei civic body polls early this year, winning all the 11 seats. It is now pushing hard for a change of guard.

However, its organisational weaknesses in the rural areas, allegations of an understanding with the BJP, and questions over the source of its funding -- as flagged by the Congress routinely --- are the challenges before it.

The MNF, ZPM and the Congress are contesting all the 40 seats while the BJP is contesting 23, which is 16 less than it did in 2018. BJP insiders said the party was focusing on seven seats that have significant minority tribal voters from the Chakma, Bru, Mara and Lai communities.

A lot is at stake for three chief ministerial candidates -- Zoramthanga (MNF), Congress president Lalsawta and ZPM leader Lalduhoma --- as well as former Assembly Speaker Lalrinliana Sailo, who left the MNF for the BJP in the run-up to the polls.

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