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Last Updated : May 06, 2019 02:25 PM IST | Source:

Politics | What to make of Kerala’s high voter turnout

What gives the BJP hope in Kerala is the spike in polling percentage in the three Lok Sabha seats where the party is expecting to upset the apple cart.

Viju Cherian @VijuCherian

On April 23 Kerala voted to select its 20 Member of Parliaments for the 17th Lok Sabha. What has taken political parties and observers by surprise is the voter turnout and polling percentage in this election. According to figures published by the Chief Electoral Officer, Kerala, the state witnessed a record 77.68 per cent polling — this is a near rise of 3.6 per cent since 2014. Why has there been such a rise? Who will this favour?

While in most seats the contest has been between the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), in some seats it was a three-way fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) giving the two fronts a run for their money. This is a primary reason why this time the election in Kerala was closely followed by many, and is of immense interest at the national level. The question at the back of everyone’s mind is: Will the BJP win its first Lok Sabha seat? Another reason for the national-level interest in Kerala is because Congress President Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Wayanad.

In 2014, the UDF won 12 seats while the LDF won the remaining eight. The BJP drew a blank, as it has been doing in every previous election.

UDF leaders explain this rise in voter turnout as an effect of Gandhi’s focus on Kerala and the prevalent anti-Modi sentiment in the state; the LDF would want us to believe that the literate and socially-conscious voter in Kerala has come out in large numbers to back the Left parties, and the NDA feels that the electorate wants to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi another five years and that the Sabarimala sentiments has worked in its favour. In bits and pieces all three views are correct.

The high voter turnout in Wayanad, which saw a jump of more than 7 per cent, can be attributed to Gandhi’s candidature. After all, it is the first time a prime ministerial candidate is contesting from the state — that enthusiasm, added with the responsibility to ensure that the victory margin is greater than what the Congress candidate received in 2014, saw the UDF work overtime. Also, it is believed that Gandhi’s presence in Kerala has united the various factions within the Congress, albeit temporarily.

The Left has reason to be optimistic because the polling percentage this time is similar to the turnout witnessed during the 2016 assembly polls (77.5 per cent), which the LDF won in a convincing manner. Moreover, in most of its strongholds, the polling percentage is high, which could mean that the party’s rank and file has come out to vote.

What gives the BJP hope is the spike in polling percentage in the three seats where the party is expecting to upset the apple cart. The three constituencies are: the state’s capital Thiruvananthapuram; Pathanamthitta, the district in which Sabarimala is situated, and; Thrissur, which is considered the cultural capital of the state. The polling percentage in Thiruvananthapuram went up by about 4 per cent to 73.45; in Pathanamthitta it went up by about 8.5 per cent to 74.19 per cent, and; in Thrissur it went up by about 5 per cent to 77.86 per cent. Two major incidents took place in Kerala between 2014 and now: one, the floods in 2018 and two, the Sabarimala protests. The Left government’s response to both these have been wanting.

Whatever be the result, there is reason for Kerala to be proud about the high voter turnout. If one were to factor in the approximately 3 million NRIs from the state in West Asia and adjust that against the voter turnout, the poll percentage (assuming that 77 per cent of the 3 million voted) would be around 83 per cent — which is a respectable figure for any big state.

Now comes the question: If there was a provision for expats to register their vote (perhaps in Indian embassies) and if EVMs functioned without any glitch, would the polling percentage cross 90 per cent?

For more Opinion pieces, click here.

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First Published on Apr 24, 2019 07:33 pm
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