Manipur Election Exit Poll Results 2017: Conflicting predictions keep BJP, Congress on the tenterhook

Polling in the second and final phase of the Manipur election ended at 3 pm on 8 March. Voter turnout was estimated at 83 percent. In the first phase on 4 March, Manipur witnessed a record turnout of 84 percent.

FP Staff March 09, 2017 18:11:01 IST
Manipur Election Exit Poll Results 2017: Conflicting predictions keep BJP, Congress on the tenterhook

On Thursday, as the major exit polls predict their results for Manipur Assembly Election, one clear takeaway is that BJP is enjoying an ascendancy in north-eastern states. The Congress party's 15-year rule Manipur seems to be coming to an end, as exit polls forecast the BJP will likely win the 60-strong Manipur Assembly election.

The CVoter exit poll predicted historic gains for the BJP in Manipur, giving them between 25 and 31 seats, while estimating that the Congress would nab between 17 and 23 seats.

The CVoter's projection about BJP's ascendancy proves to be correct, this would be a big win for the party which may still fall short of the magic figure of 31. The same party had failed to open its accounts in the 2012 elections.

However to form government in the state, the saffron unit might need the support of Naga People's Front (NPF). Though BJP chose contest solo in the polls and contest in all 60 seats, the party may just seek NPF help in forming a government and achieve the magic number of 31.

CVoter predictions for Manipur, based on a sample size of 1330, predicting a 36 percent positive swing in vote share compared to 2012 figures. According to the agency, while BJP may witness 33.6 per cent swing in its favour, Congress votes will witness a 12.9 per cent erosion. BJP's positive swing is likely to come at the expense of other politics parties whose combined vote share will go down by 20.6 per cent, according to CVoter.

Region wise, the BJP is expected to have swept Outer Manipur and the New Districts, and its inroads in the Inner Manipur constituencies has clearly cut into the Congress' seat share.

However the India Today - Axis My India poll estimates that the Congress will win 30 to 36 seats in Manipur and the BJP would win between 16 and 22 seats.

Today's Chanakya exit poll gives the Congress 15 seats. The Manipur Assembly term ends on 18 March. Twenty seats have been reserved for SC/ST aspirants.

Manipur Election Exit Poll Results 2017 Conflicting predictions keep BJP Congress on the tenterhook

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. AFP

 Major parties who contested

Congress: Manipur has been a Congress stronghold for over a decade, thanks to the leadership of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, a savvy political operator. The previous Assembly election, held in 2012, resulted in a landslide victory for the Congress, giving them 42 seats and allowing Okram Ibobi Singh to be re-elected as chief minister for an unprecedented third consecutive term.

Bharatiya Janata Party: The BJP, buoyed undoubtedly by its success in last year's Assam elections, has been upbeat about its chances in Manipur. It has not officially declared a face for the state. The BJP has fielded former ministers N Biren Singh, Yumkham Erabot Singh and Francis Ngajokpa, and MLAs Dr Kh Loken, Z Kikhonbou Newmai and Nemcha Kipgen in the Assembly elections.

People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA): All eyes are also Irom Sharmila's PRJA, who, in their mission statement, aspired to build a "self-reliant economy for Manipur". The party, in its initial weeks, tried to cast itself in the mould of the Aam Aadmi Party. Just like Arvind Kejriwal had done with AAP five years ago, the PRJA also took up the cause of corruption.

To further cement its place as a whistleblower of Indian politics, the PRJA adopted the "whistle" symbol as well. In fact, its aspirations caught the eye of Kejriwal himself, and the Delhi chief minister even made a donation to Sharmila's party, and urged others to donate generously.

The party, with little money or organisation, has fielded five candidates, including two women. Sharmila contested against Chief Minister Singh in Thoubal, Erendro Leichombam in Thangmeibandh, rights activist Najima Bibi in Wabagai constituency in Thoubal district, Bowang Kho, a former student leader, in Karong constituency of the Naga-dominated district of Senapati, and Md Ilyash, a municipal councillor, in Lilong constituency in Thoubal district.

Trinamool Congress: The TMC is contesting in 24 seats. In the 2012 Assembly polls, the TMC had bagged seven seats, but later all of its MLAs switched sides joining either the Congress or the BJP.

Naga People's Front: The Naga People’s Front is a regional party which is in power in Nagaland with support from the BJP and is seen as a political force competing with Meitei and Kuki identity politics.

Key candidates

Okram Ibobi Singh: Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's reign has been marked by insurgency and turmoil. Running for his fourth consecutive term, Singh has been ruling the state since 2002, a feat made especially impressive considering that Manipur chief ministers usually do not serve out their full terms.

His first foray into politics took place in 1984 as an independent candidate from the Khangabok Assembly constituency after which he joined the Congress. In 1990, he won re-election from Khangabok on a Congress ticket and took up a position as the minister in-charge of municipal administration, housing and urban development in the RK Dorendo government. He has been a Congress stalwart ever since. He is running from Thoubal constituency.

Okram Surajkumar: Okram Surajkumar, who will be making his debut into politics, has an economics degree from London's Kingston University, is a polo player and a state-level badminton champion.

The 29-year-old has claimed he had no political ambitions until recently, and said he felt compelled to run for office after witnessing the difficulties faced by the underprivileged in his district.

Surajkumar, the youngest candidate in the state's history to fight Assembly elections, has stated that he would focus on digitisation for the northeast state if elected.

Irom Sharmila: The Iron Lady of Manipur shocked many political observers by giving up her 16-year fast against the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa), and decided to enter politics. She took on chief minister in his own den — Thoubal constituency — only time will tell if this is a masterstroke or a blunder. Sharmila's popularity in the state could have won her a lot of support, however, her decision to end her hunger strike in 2016 turned a lot of people against her. She is also not viewed as a serious career politician by the people of Manipur.

Erendro Leichombam: Trained in Economics at the Soka University of America and in Mathematics at the University of California, Irvine, this 33-year-old Manipuri man refused to live the life of an NRI. He decided to take the plunge into politics after being inspired by Irom Sharmila's fight against Afspa and joined PRJA. The former World Bank Fellow has also served in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

TN Haokip: TN Haokip was appointed as Manipur Congress unit president by Sonia Gandhi in 2016. He is a sitting MLA from Saikot and the Congress is relying on him to carry the constituency.

Major constituencies

Thoubal: Thoubal is the home of Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. Two other candidates will attempt to capture it from him: Irom Sharmila and BJP nominee Th Jadumani. However, Singh has an impressive track record, emerging victorious in Thoubal in 2012 and 2007.

Political issues

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa): The controversial Afspa has been in force in Manipur since the 1950s. The Ibobi Singh government, responding to pressure from civil rights groups, in August 2004, removed Afspa from Imphal's municipal area. However, the controversial law still remains firmly entrenched in Manipur. But it was only recently that Afspa appeared as an election issue after Sharmila decided to contest the Assembly election. Singh's inability to get the act repealed may determine the electoral outcome.

He was quoted by The Times of India report as saying, "We've removed Afspa from Imphal municipal area covering seven Assembly constituencies in 2004. It was not easy. Everyone at the Centre was opposed to it. I managed to convince a very reluctant (then) prime minister Manmohan Singh that state police could handle the law and order of Imphal city. But it was not conducive to remove Afspa from the entire state."

Economic blockade: Manipur has been experiencing severe hardship in supply of essential items since 1 November, 2016 after United Naga Council (UNC) imposed an indefinite economic blockade on the two national highways that serve as lifeline for the state.

The blockade was imposed following the state government's announcement of formation of seven new districts, four of which have been formally inaugurated. The UNC claims that the creation of new districts in the Naga dominated hill areas will encroach upon and divide the traditional land holdings of Naga tribes.

The blockade, however, has not only crippled trade and normal life in the state, it also stoked up the existing divide between the valley and the hill populace.

The chief minister has laid the blame for the blockade on the Centre, saying the group the Modi government is holding talks with is holding Manipur to ransom. The blockade was thought to be a set back for the BJP, as it was gaining ground in Manipur and it is being identified with as close to the Naga groups.

Naga Peace Accord: On 3 August, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a peace deal with Nagaland insurgents which rests on a breakthrough formula not involving redrawing of the state’s borders.

This was touted as the Naga Peace Accord, the contents of which were not revealed to the media. The deal allegedly involves creating a mechanism which would create institutions like allowing autonomy to Naga tribes living in Manipur.

Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Ibobi criticised the deal made between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM), which is the largest Naga rebel group, and asked the government to reveal the contents of that draft.

A report by The Indian Express suggested that a degree of autonomy in Naga homelands would be part of the Naga Peace Accord that hopes to please all factions in the state. This includes a majority of the Meitei people, who are also sensitive about territorial integrity.

The BJP hopes to use the Naga Peace Accord as a means to prevail peace in the state and garner votes this election season.

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