Goa's Valentine's Day tryst with the ballot threw up almost 79% voter participation, a figure closely watched, expecting that it could have an impact on the results to be declared here only on March 10.
The final figure given by officials for the assembly elections was 78.94%, and it could be expected to cross 80% as postal ballots are yet to come in.
Both the major contenders for power, the ruling BJP facing an anti-incumbency sentiment, and the Opposition Congress, which has been eaten into by frequent defections to the ruling side, claimed they expected victory from the voter turnout.
BJP’s 2017 win was touch and go. In the 40-seat assembly, it won only 13 seats. The Congress got 17 seats, though with a lesser percentage of the votes. The BJP then cobbled together a government with support from smaller parties. It had this tenuous hold until 2019, when defectors from Congress gave BJP a stronger claim.
Is there anti-incumbency?
This election, 9 lakh of the 11.64 lakh voters cast their ballot. It is a high number and that usually indicates a mandate against the ruling party. But a prominent political observer, lawyer and former student activist Cleofato Almeida Coutinho told MoneyControl that it isn’t as simple as that.
Mostly because Goa has been reporting high voter turnout for three elections now–82.56% in 2017 and 82.94% in 2012. Earlier two elections, in 2007 and 2002, had voting percentages closer to the 70-mark.
Coutinho said, “Poll percentage in Goa has remained the same for three elections. Each time the incumbent is voted out. But this time the poll percentage should have been higher (to signal an anti-incumbency sentiment) since there are more parties in the fray.”
There is a rash of parties in the 2022 Goa assembly elections.
Besides the ruling BJP and the Congress, there is the AAP (which invested a lot in grassroot activism here for well over the past five years), the Kolkata-headquartered Trinamool Congress (which made a sudden arrival in Goa with a high blitz billboard campaign and seemingly flush with funding, guided by its IPAC team lead by psephologist Prashant Kishor) and Revolutionary Goans, a local party that has a nativist approach and is known to have some dent with support even coming in from Goan expat communities overseas.
But Prabhakar Timble, a close ally of Almeida Coutinho, differs in his opinion. Timble was the earlier State Election Commissioner (Goa) from 1999-2094.
He told MoneyControl: "The high voter turnout is an indicator of change. This turnout is much higher than expected. Much more major upsets for the ruling party in the pipeline on counting day. It could slide down to single digit. This is a confirmation that Congress-Goa Forward alliance will get a clear majority. It may not require a post-poll alliance with any additional outfit to form the government thereby nullifying power and pressures of Dhavlikar brothers [leaders of the local MGP regional party ] in a different scenario."
"The voting percentage in Sanquelim touches 90%. This should make CM Pramod Sawant nervous," Timble added. He was himself the President of the Goa Forward party prior to the 2017 elections, but quit after its leaders decided to join the BJP.
Congress contested in alliance with the Goa Forward, which was thought to be its former ally till it switched over to supporting the BJP in 2017.
Voting percentages were slightly higher in North Goa than in South Goa. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant's Sanquelim constituency showed the highest turnout of almost 90% (89.64), causing some surprise.
During the campaign, the widely held view among most was that the BJP would fare badly, and many suggested there would be a hung assembly.
This could mean advantage BJP, given that its party rules New Delhi, and its nominee is Governor of Goa taking the crucial decision of who gets to form the next government. But the actual results won't be known till March 10.
Exit polls have been disallowed till March 7 in Goa.
In the run-up to the polls, things seemed to be going against the ruling BJP. The Catholic Church, which is the religious guide to a quarter of the State's population (though not all accept its political perspectives), spoke out against attempts to divide votes. This was taken as a hint favouring the Opposition Congress, in part due to a strained relationship between the community and the ruling BJP.
The influential Saraswat Brahmin community, a small but influential community here, also seems to have moved away from the BJP, after the death of its former chief minister Manohar Parrikar. There has been a perception of the community being sidelined in the ruling party, including Parrikar's son, who contested as an Independent after he was not given the ticket to state-capital Panaji (Panjim) which he sought.
The election results will be seen as a test for Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Parrikar's handpicked successor, who took the slot after the latter died of pancreatic cancer in March 2019. His job has been tough as Parrikar was a larger-than-life politician, who dominated the State totally during his tenure, though Sawant does come across as overconfident at times.