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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Politics: Election Commission Announces Maharashtra Assembly Election Schedule!

Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath


The Election Commission of India (EC) on Friday, the 12th of September 13, 2014, has announced the poll schedule for Maharashtra Assembly Elections. It is a single-phase polling on Wednesday, the 15th October covering whole of Maharashtra including the Naxal affected Gadchiroli region. This means more than 80 million voters will exercise their democratic right in more than 90,000 polling booths spread across 288 constituencies of the state on a single day which reminds us of the single day polling done in the long past when the whole nation voted. With a gap of just 3 days the counting will be taken up on Sunday, the 19th of October which is set to reveal if the opposition alliance of Mahayuti (BJP+Shiv Sena+others)  could finally end the 15-year-old rule of the Democratic Front (Congress+NCP). This will be the first major election for the new Modi Government formed on 26th May, 2014 after BJP thundered to victory in the Lok Sabha General Elections-2014 reducing Congress to its worst ever performance in history. In Maharashtra too the Mahayuti made a clear sweep and it is eagerly awaited if the General Election anti-incumbency trend and the Modi wave would continue to impact the Maharashtra Assembly Elections. The EC also announced a single phase polling and counting for the state of Haryana on the same dates.

The EC notification will be on 20th September and the last date of filing nominations for candidates is 27th while the last date for withdrawal of candidature is 1st of October. This effectively means that the number of days for registration of new voters is greatly reduced. The electoral rolls close 10 days before the last date of filing nominations and therefore in Maharashtra new registration will be over on 17th September. Potential voters thus have just 5 more days to register themselves. The NOTA option will be available on all EVMs and a new experiment called VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) system is to be tried this time in some selected constituencies where the voters can confirm if their votes have been cast correctly. This system thus could also detect and eliminate possible election fraud or malfunction.

This Maharashtra Election has been the much awaited one both in terms of ultimate winners and announcement of dates. The ruling alliance here has a scam infested background of 15 years like their counterpart UPA alliance at the centre which was finally thrown out of power after its rule for 10 years. Analysts rate this election as a golden chance for the Mahayuti to come into power. On the flip side both alliances irrespective of their chances are still fighting for an elusive seat sharing formula. The Congress-NCP fight over seats has led to a few of their leaders and former ministers shifting loyalty by joining the opposition alliance. The ruling alliance rates their chances high sticking to the development agenda and also has several Chief Ministerial aspirants.  

The BJP-Shiv Sena bickering over seats has several basic reasons: Shiv Sena has been the main regional party in Maharashtra and so it wants to be treated like the major partner; however the results in General Elections-2014 and Maharashtra Assembly Elections-2009 show that the surging BJP had won more seats than the Sena by contesting less number of seats; Shiv Sena was considerably weakened by the formation of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) by Raj Thackeray prior to 2009 and was almost marginalized before sort of being rescued by the BJP in 2014 riding on the Modi wave with the MNS now getting marginalized due to confused stands; so BJP wants more or at least equal number of seats; both parties have Chief Ministerial aspirants and therefore  have to have more seats than the other so that their respective aspirants could eventually   become the Chief Minister.

The EC announcements had been expected since the last week of August. Maybe due to the festive season with the biggest event of the state—the 11-day Ganesh Festival—concluding only on 8th September or maybe due to more festivals coming up in the near future or maybe due to the political indecisiveness regarding declaration of candidates the EC perhaps had a tough time scheduling the most important event. At the moment there are still no official lists of candidates declared by any of the major political parties. Interestingly it is also speculated widely that the on-going fortnight of Pitru Paksha  when funeral rites are performed for the souls of ancestors and which is considered inauspicious for any new initiative is playing its part in confounding the indecisiveness of the political parties.

Finally, the winners would emerge before Diwali festival and if there is a clear majority the new government could even be formed before the big festival of lights. In all eventuality this Diwali is all set to illuminate a whole lot of people.
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