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Meghalaya all set to vote for a new Assembly tomorrow

The polling will start at 7 a.m. and end at 4 p.m., with over 21.4 lakh voters eligible to mark their choice for electing 59 members of the House on February 27.

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Raymond Kharmujai

Shillong: Will the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) be able to retain power or will other political parties forge an alliance to lead the next government in Meghalaya – that seems like a moot question as the picturesque North Eastern state gears up to elect a new Assembly on Monday.

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The polling will start at 7 a.m. and end at 4 p.m., with over 21.4 lakh voters eligible to mark their choice for electing 59 members of the House on February 27.

Election to one of the seats (Sohiong) has been deferred with the death of a contesting candidate, H.D.R. Lyngdoh, on February 21. He was a former Home Minister and a candidate of the United Democratic Party (UDP).

NPP national president and Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma has exuded confidence about his party’s poll prospects, saying it has the firepower to repeat the feat of All Party Hill Leaders Conference, which was the only political outfit in Meghalaya to secure an absolute majority under the mercurial leadership of late Chief Minister Captain Williamson A. Sangma in 1972. The party had won 32 seats by then.

“What the APHLC did in 1972, the NPP can do in 2023 due to the performance of the current government and the successful implementation of multiple schemes,” Sangma said. The NPP is, incidentally, the first from the northeastern region to be recognised as a national party.

However, former Assembly Speaker and Trinamool Congress leader Charles Pyngrope predicted a hung assembly with no political party getting an absolute majority. In the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly, the magic number is 31.

“I don’t see any single political party hitting the 31 percent mark. It will be a coalition government again. People on the ground are not bothered by which party forms the government. They look for the individual and vote, and that’s the reason it has become difficult for any party to get an absolute majority,” Pyngrope explained.

Echoing the TMC leader, United Democratic Party chief Metbah Lyngdoh predicted a fractured mandate and said the UDP will be the kingmaker after the votes are counted on March 2.

“But this time around we are hopeful of winning a good number of seats and be the kingmaker,” Lyngdoh said.

However, political observers felt that smaller political parties like the Hills State People’s Democratic Front, the People’s Democratic Front, and the new entrant Voice of the People Party would play a key role in the formation of a new government in Meghalaya.

“With the Congress being decimated ahead of the Meghalaya polls, smaller parties may play a key role in government formation as most of the political parties, be it the national parties or regional parties, don’t have that much presence in all parts of the state and across all communities,” said H. Srikanth, who teaches political science at North Eastern Hill University (NEHU).

In 2018, the Congress won 21 seats, but was unseated from power after smaller political parties, including the BJP, which won two assembly seats, came together to support the NPP for the formation of the incumbent Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government.

Altogether 369 candidates, including 36 women, are in the fray for the assembly elections. There are 10.8 lakh more eligible women voters than men.

The BJP and the Congress are contesting all the seats, opposition Trinamool Congress has 56 candidates, while the NPP has fielded 57 nominees.

Among other parties in the race are UDP (46 candidates), HSPDP (11), PDF (nine), Gana Suraksha Party (one), Garo National Council (two), Janata Dal- United (three), Republican Party of India (two), Republican Party of India – Athawale (six), and VPP (18). Also, 44 independent candidates are vying for seats in different constituencies. 

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