Mumbai: Nearly 10 crore voters will exercise their franchise in a two-phased election to 10 municipal corporations, 26 zilla parishads and 283 panchayat samitis across the state, Maharashtra State Election Commissioner (SEC) Jageshwar S Saharia announced on Wednesday.
Polling for 15 zilla parishads and 165 panchayat samitis will be held on 16 February and elections to the remaining 11 zilla parishads, 118 panchayat samitis and 10 municipal corporations will be held on 21 February, the SEC said.
The counting for all the elections will take place simultaneously on 23 February and the results are likely to be declared the same day, Saharia added.
Elections due to the Nagpur zilla parishad and panchayat samitis under its jurisdiction will not be conducted due to a Bombay High Court stay.
The much anticipated, high-stakes elections will cover 25 of the state's 36 districts with the participation of nearly 85 percent of the electorate spread across 246 out of 288 Assembly segments.
The code of conduct for all the elections came into effect immediately on Wednesday, Saharia declared.
Coming in the wake of the 8 November demonetisation, the elections are being touted as a virtual referendum on the decision to spike the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes and the performance of the state government led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, which has completed a little over two years in office.
Sounding the poll bugle, Saharia said polling in the first phase shall be held on 16 February for zilla parishads of Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli, Beed, Nanded, Osmanabad, Latur, Buldhana, Yavatmal, Wardha, Chandrapur and parts of Gadchiroli, including the 165 panchayat samitis under their jurisdiction.
This would be followed by the second phase of elections on 21 February to zilla parishads of Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Pune, Solapur, Nashik, Amravati and parts of Gadchiroli, including the 188 panchayats in their jurisdiction.
The second phase (21 February), will also see the elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Asia's biggest and India's richest civic body, neighbouring municipal corporations of Thane and Ulhasnagar, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik, Solapur, Akola, Amravati and Nagpur.
As many as 205 political parties, including 15 major recognised and registered parties, and the remaining 190 unrecognised parties, will be in the fray for the elections.
Till date, the SEC has cancelled the registrations of a whopping 220 parties which were contesting various local elections, Saharia said.
The main contests are expected between two major fronts — the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena and the Opposition Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, besides the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
In the past four phases of elections conducted in recent months, the BJP has emerged as the top entity, followed by Congress with NCP and Shiv Sena trailing behind.
Till date (11 January), neither the BJP-Sena nor the INC-NCP have announced plans to contest the elections in alliance, while the MNS is prepared to ally with any group, if invited.
Interestingly, in the 2014 assembly elections, all the (above) parties had contested the elections separately; the BJP formed a minority government and a month later the Shiv Sena crossed over from the Opposition benches to join the ministry as an ally.
Out-of-state parties like the Samajwadi Party, BSP, both headquartered in Uttar Pradesh, and the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen are also likely to put up candidates in a big way in most civic bodies and corporations to capture significant chunks of north Indian and Muslim minority votes.