Mizoram Assembly polls: Congress govt faces stiff challenge as issues of prohibition, refugees dominate election

Mizoram went to polls on Wednesday with 7.7 lakh names in the electoral rolls, including 3.9 lakh women and 32,545 first-time voters. The overall voter turnout in the state until 6 pm was 73 percent. In 2013, when the turnout was over 83 percent.

With 209 candidates in the fray, Mizoram is likely to witness a closely fought battle. While the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Mizo National Front (MNF) have 40 candidates each, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 39, the Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) has 36, and Zoram Thar has 22 candidates vying for a win.

The People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM), former Aizawl-based anti-corruption watchdog which launched a political party last year, has fielded 13 candidates. The National People’s Party, which launched its Mizoram unit in late September this year, has nine candidates while the National Congress Party (NCP) has five candidates. Five independents have also thrown their hats in the ring this time.

Glimpses of D-Day

Members and volunteers of the Mizoram People’s Forum (MPF) were spotted on election duty in Mizoram. MPF was founded in Mizoram in 2007 to ensure free and fair elections, says Joe RZ Thanga, an MPF volunteer. The initiative is active only during the elections and is supported by the Young Mizo Association (YMA), which is in turn backed by the Presbyterian Church in Mizoram.

The turnout in Mizoram polls was around 73 percent at 6 pm. PTI

The turnout in Mizoram polls was around 73 percent at 6 pm. PTI

The volunteers were seen helping the elderly, the differently-abled and others in need of assistance. Lalthanfela, a differently-abled first-time voter, was casting his vote at Zarkawt-II in Aizawl. Lalthanfela was quite candid about his pick for the government. “I hope the Congress retains power in Mizoram. The focus should be on infrastructure development, improvement of roads and education,” he said.

The election day also saw Brus arriving in large numbers from six refugee camps in Tripura to Kanhmun in the Mamit district to cast their votes amid tight security. The total number of Bru voters in the electoral rolls was 12,026, according to the Chief Election Officer (CEO). Fifteen polling booths had been arranged for Bru voters who were coming from Kanchanpur in Tripura. Up until 4 pm, the polling percentage was 52 percent in Kanhmun, as opposed to 11 percent in 2013.

Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) had also demanded setting up of a special polling station in a relief camp area in Kanchanpur in Tripura to help old, pregnant women and differently-abled voters cast their votes. Bruno Msha, the forum’s General Secretary, said that they had communicated their demand to the Election Commission on Tuesday.

The Brus and the Mizos have shared a complicated history in the state, with no love lost between the two communities. Sentiments against the minority Chakma community and Bru refugees had flared up once again ahead of the elections. Earlier this month, student associations and civil society groups had demanded the removal of former Chief Election Officer (CEO) SB Shashank for allegedly favouring the Brus and determining how to conduct the elections. Ashish Kundra is the current CEO who replaced SB Shashank.

But for some voters, this may just be the deciding factor. Lalrinawma Pachuau from Thentlang Village in the Serchhip district says that he is concerned about the Chakma and the Bru issue more than developmental issues in the state. “I want a government that is strong and capable to safeguard Mizoram from illegal voters and immigrants,” he says.

While the issue of ‘illegal immigrants’ is playing on the minds of some voters, there are others who want alcohol prohibition in the state.

Prohibition

Lalsiamliana, a voter from Thentlang village, says that he is against the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition and Control) Act (MLPC) 2014, which permits sale of liquor in the state. “I hope God-fearing people are elected this time to keep a check on alcohol in the state,” he says. The Congress government had lifted the ban on sale of alcohol in 2014, replacing Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition Act of 1995 with the MLPC Act, 2014. MNF has promised prohibition in the state if voted to power.

But Lalsiamliana’s sentiment is not shared by Thasiama from the same village, who says that Congress should come to power for a third term. “I don’t have to worry about drinking spurious alcohol because we are allowed to drink. I want Congress to win,” he says.

Key constituencies

The key constituencies in the state are Serchhip, Tawi, Aizawl East-I, Aizawl East-II, Palak, Tuichawng, Hachhek, Aizawl West- I & II, Chalfilh. According to political observers in the state, among leaders who stand a good chance of winning are Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla from Serchhip and Champhai South, Zoramthanga (MNF chief) from Aizawl East-I, Lalduhoma (ZPM CM candidate) from Serchhip and Aizawl West-I, JV Hluna (BJP chief) from Tawi, R.Lalzirliana (MNF, former home minister) from Tawi and Hiphei (BJP, former Assembly speaker) from Palak.

Lal Thanhawla cast his vote at Zarkawt at around 12.15 pm. He said he is hopeful that Congress would win by bagging more than 27 seats. He also ruled out Congress entering a post-poll alliance with the BJP.

Vice-president of BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Mizoram Vijay Lakshmi Rai admitted that chances of BJP winning more than five seats in the state were slim. “The BJP’s campaign was better this year but due to the Hindutva tag attached to the party, we are going to lose in many seats. But the BJP has never won a seat here, so winning even three seats is good for us.” She hinted that the BJP was open to lending support to other “like-minded” parties in forming the government.

Woman candidate from Aizawl South-III constituency, Mrs F Lalremsangi, says, "BJP is a new party in Mizoram and we fought well. Now, if the result doesn't come in our favour, we'll not feel disappointed. If we can reach out to such a large number of people with less than a year, the party will perform far well in the future." The BJP had six women candidates this time out of a total of 15.

Former chief minister of Mizoram Zoramthanga from the MNF cast his vote at Aizawl East-I constituency. Zoramthanga is also the MNF’s candidate from the Aizawl East-I constituency. He is confident of a landslide victory this time.

Congress spokesperson Lallianchhunga says that the party was confident of winning in five constituencies within Aizawl district. “In Kolasib district, we will win Kolasib and Tuirial seats. In Champhai district, we will win at least one seat while we are expecting to win two out of three seats in Serchhip,” he says, adding that Congress was likely to win Hachhek and Mamit seats in Mamit district. “Congress has 50 percent chance of winning Dampa while West and East Lawngtlai will also fall in Congress’ kitty,” he says.

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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2018 21:46:27 IST

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