2018 elections: Counting day in Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya; BJP eyes major gains
Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura will get new Assemblies today after the election results are declared later in the day. Initial trends show a close contest between the Left Front and BJP-led alliance in Tripura. In Nagaland BJP and its allies have already taken a slender lead and in Meghalaya Congress and BJP are in a neck and neck fight.
Agartala/Kohima/Shillong: The stage is set for the counting of votes in the 2018 Assembly elections in the three Northeastern states - Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura. The election has turned into a heated fight in all three states, each of which have seen 59 of their 60 seats go to the polls.
Counting began at 8 am on Saturday, with the counting of the postal ballots first. Initial trends show a close contest between the Left Front and BJP-led alliance in Tripura. In Nagaland BJP and its allies have already taken a slender lead and in Meghalaya Congress and BJP are in a neck and neck fight.
The BJP is looking to make gains in all three states. In each of these states, it is looking to dislodge government that have ruled for a long period. While it will look to snatch power from the Congress and the Left in Meghalaya and Tripura, in Nagaland it is making a bid to take power from its former ally, the Nagaland People's Front.
Victories in these states would come as a major boost to the BJP. It has made a concerted effort to expand its footprint in the Northeast in recent years. At present, it either rules or is part of the ruling coalition in five of the eight states in the region.
That includes grabbing power from the 25-year government of CPM in Tripura and dislodging the two-term government of Congress's Mukul Sangma. In Nagaland, the saffron party is aligned with the recently formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and fighting its old ally, the Naga People's Front.
Each of three states saw 59 of their 60 constituencies go to the polls. Elections were not held in one constituency in each state for different reasons -a CPM candidate in Tripura died and an NCP candidate was killed in a blast in Meghalaya, while Nagaland Chief Minister hopeful has already been declared the winner in his constituency because he was unopposed.
Congress's Mukul Sangma faces a tough task in a bid for his third consecutive term as Chief Minister. The state is seeing what has turned out to be a four-cornered contest, with the Congress, NPP, BJP and the UDP-HSPDP alliance in the fray.
Exit polls indicate big gains for the BJP, not just in terms of seats or vote share but that it is likely to acquire the ability to dictate terms. The JanKiBaat-NewsX exit poll predicted 23-27 seats for the NPP, 8-12 for the BJP, 13-17 for Congress and 2-6 for the others. The CVoter exit poll expected an even more indecisive race, giving 17-23 seats to NPP, 13-19 for Congress, 8-12 for UDP-HSPDP and 4-8 to the BJP.
With the NPP widely seen to make gains, it could fall to the BJP to play kingmaker. A post-poll tie up with the NPP should not be a problem since the NPP is already part of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP Regional Political Front (NERPF) which backed the NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Meghalaya has a history of hung verdicts. Only one non-Congress government has completed its five-year term.
Tripura could well be the BJP's biggest gain in these elections if the exit polls are anything to go by. Manik Sarkar has been Chief Minister for 20 years, and the BJP seems to have smelt victory. It is allied with the Indigenous Peoples Front of Twipra (IPFT), and has contested 51 of the 60 seats.
The CVoter exit poll is the only major survey that predicts a CPM victory. It sees the Left Front winning 26-34 seats, while BJP+ gets 24-32. That is still a big fall for the Left, which won 49 of the 60 seats in the 2013 election. The other two major exit polls see the BJP alliance storming to power. The JanKiBaat-NewsX exit poll put BJP+ firmly in power, with 35-45 seats to the 14-23 it saw the CPM winning. The AxisMyIndia exit poll saw the BJP alliance winning and even bigger mandate, with 44-50 seats to the vastly decreased 9-15 for the Left.
The BJP headed into these elections with an old ally in a new party, against an old ally. Chief Minister TR Zeliang Naga People's Front (NPF) has been bleeding support and leaders for months now. The gainer in the run-up to the polls was Zeliang's rival and leader of the newly formed Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).
The NDPP-BJP alliance has already gotten off to a start by winning one seat, even before the election. Former CM Neiphiu Rio has already been declared the winner uncontested in the Northern Angami II constituency.
The JanKiBaat-NewsX exit poll predicts 27-32 seats for the NDPP-BJP combine, 20-25 for the NPF, 0-2 for Congress and 5-7 for others. The CVoter exit poll also sees a similar result, with 25-31 seats for the NDPP-BJP, 19-25 for NPF, 0-4 for Congress and 6-10 for others.