Chengannur shows pro-incumbent tilt

Voters choosing ruling party candidates to continue development schemes.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Those days are gone when people voted in a by-election to deal a shocker to the ruling dispensation. The new electoral normal, perhaps, is to return the ruling front nominee instead of an Opposition legislator.
This sense of pragmatism is evident in the 20,956-vote majority secured by CPM Alappuzha district secretary Saji Cherian in the Chengannur by-election. Voters dumped Opposition nominee D Vijayakumar, sparing him of the struggle against the LDF government if he were elected.

This trend has played out since 2011 when Congress leader Oommen Chandy assumed office at the head of a shaky coalition, commanding a mere 72 MLAs as against 68 MLAs of the LDF and plunged into a roller-coaster ride till his term ended. The voter sense of ‘realism’ prevailed in Neyyatt-inkara early on in 2012 when CPM legislator R Selvaraj resigned, switched to Congress and was returned in the by-election. Much later, Aruvikkara stuck to a similar trend when K.S. Sabarinathan in maiden bout took over from his late father G. Karthikeyan in 2015.

Voters do not chide a government during its tenure, unless it is an extreme case.
It all started with Piravom, where the late T.M. Jacob’s son, Anoop Jacob, won by a margin of 10,000 votes against Mr M.J. Jacob, as against facile lead of 157 votes secured by late Jacob in 2012. The trend showed in Congress winning 12 of 20 seats in the Lok Sabha elections 2014. But equations reversed in subsequent local body and Assembly elections. One cannot pass a judgement on all future elections as many factors are at play at a later date. But the by-election psychology of Malayali voters seems to have undergone a paradigm shift. They do not consider posting a protest as the primary duty.

Kerala electoral history’s brilliant anti-incumbency shocker was the defeat of power minister K. Muraleedharan in Wadakkancherry by-election, held along with Lok Sabha elections in 2004. Congress drew a blank, scripting another landmark. In power was Chief Minister A.K. Antony. Another was former CPM leader S. Sivaraman’s record margin of 1,33,674 votes in Ottapalam by-election against Congress leader K.K. Balakrishnan in 1993. The seat was vacated by K.R. Narayanan after being nominated for the Vice-President. The Babri Masjid demolition fuelled the main campaign. K. Karunakaran was the Chief Minister.

If development can be reasonably expected, voters would support the incumbent government. In Piravom, the then ruling UDF promised a minister instead of an Opposition MLA. Pragmatism takes precedence over the natural choice of protesting and dissenting. Anti-incumbency also is not a hallmark of Kerala electorate in by-elections. They can be pro-incumbent, if the right menu is offered. The rightness of the menu is a matter of political discourse. That can continue, without ignoring the paradigm shift in by-election voting behaviour.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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