Since morning, Kerala has been eagerly waiting to see the outcome of the three phases of state-local poll elections. For a long time, political parties and people have been wondering whether there would be an anti-government sentiment amongst voters against the LDF government. For weeks the government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office has been the centre of not one but four central agencies’ probe.
The CPM-led government is embroiled in many cases, including gold and dollar smuggling, illicit employment in the IT sector, corruption in government projects, and Benamidar dealings. The Congress and BJP made sure that this information was front and centre of the election campaigning. Yet, results, until now, have shown that the anti-government sentiment didn’t click. However, despite the victory, the LDF cannot take comfort in it.
The LDF has lost almost 40 seats in the Grama Panchayat segment, but not the massive majority. Moreover, while the LDF and UDF had a tight competition in the Municipalities in 2015, this year around, UDF established a stronger lead. From 44 Municipalities in 2015, the LDF fell to 35, giving UDF the advantage, as the latter gained four seats.
This year, local issues took precedence over allegations of corruption levelled by the UDF, much to Pinarayi Vijayan’s relief. Following tight polling, LDF has been able to gain the upper hand in Kochi and Thrissur and increased their seats in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. They lost advantage in Kannur, much like last time. Meanwhile, BJP has been playing to their advantage in specific pocket locations, mainly focussing on local issues. UDF lost almost 11 seats in the T’vpm Corporation race, which turned advantageous for BJP and the left.
On the other hand, political observers opine that while the victory comes as a relief to the party, it is nothing to rejoice over. Since state or national issues have never been a centre point of local polls. However, they can be a problem for the LDF when the assembly elections arrive. Since the Sabarimala issue and other problems resulted in the LDF lost 19 seats from 20 seats during the 2019 General Assembly elections. Thus, the LDF cannot assume that this victory means that they have escaped the people’s judgement.
The financial capacity of the parties was another important consideration. Judging by the sheer size of local campaigning, experts note that the LDF and BJP had pumped more cash into the election than the UDF. This cash flow gave them momentum, but BJP didn’t perform as intended. BJP state president K Surendran had hoped to get power in at least the T’vpm Corporation, only to have gained only one extra seat in the last five years. Meanwhile, the UDF couldn’t match the others with the financial infusion, often having not enough people to even hang posters.
Another advantage the left had in the T’vpm Corporation was the Christian votes Pinarayi Vijayan had salvaged from the Kothamangalam Church issue. They had made sure to safeguard the Jacobite votes by not handing the church over to the Orthodox faction. Meanwhile, the other factions fearing a growing BJP, and its Hindutva policies, voted for the left since they were the more prominent player in the district. Minority voters, including Muslims, also went to the left, adding to their majority in Thiruvananthapuram.
UDF didn’t lose much this time around, with the party leaders claiming that they have performed better than the 2015 elections. Even though they lost three District panchayats, the UDF has gained an advantage in the Municipalities. However, a major point of conflict had been the split of Jose K Mani from the UDF to the LDF. Political circles had been active with rumours and had claimed that this change of alliance would only hurt the left. However, with the latest results coming in, Jose and Kerala Congress (M) have proven to be an even stronger ally to CPM in Kottayam than CPI, the second largest group in the LDF.
The senior leaders’ names and popularity did not help with the election. The LDF’s victory in the four panchayats under former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s constituency Puthupalli has also added to the left’s confidence. However, on the other hand, Pinarayi Vijayan’s constituency Dharmadom was taken over by the UDF, with the latter winning Kadamboor, replacing the incumbent left. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party of India has won four wards under Dharmadom. In many instances during the campaigning, as well as before, Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala had waged a lonely war against the LDF. He often did not receive enough support from his very own party leaders, even when he had been making sure to maintain the fight against the LDF.
Another contentious issue during the campaigning period was the lack of presence of Pinarayi Vijayan. Political opponents had claimed that he was hiding and that his presence would have affected the election. Some had gone on to claim that his name would have decreased vote share for the LDF. In fact, it most surely did work seeing as how a lack of Pinarayi gave the left what was needed for the election.
If the Panchayat elections are about friends, family, and local issues, voters’ problems in an Assembly election are more akin to the Lok Sabha polls. If that is the case, then the people are waiting for the Kerala state elections next year.