2014, the year when Opposition impressed at the EVMs

Gangtok, 22 Mar: The last election saw the strongest challenge to the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front since it came to power, from Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, a party that was “recognised” but had not even been registered when the State went to polls.

The last time that the Opposition had impressed was way back in 1994 when the Sikkim Democratic Front formed its first government in Sikkim. That year, the combined votes of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad and the Congress were more than the votes polled by the SDF which formed the government with 42% of votes polled [translating into 19 seats]. Between themselves, SSP, with 35% of the votes, and Congress, with 15%, had cornered a shade over 50% votes. This gave them 12 seats – 10 to SSP and two to Cong – and in that lies the kernel of some of the inconsistencies of the first-past-the-post format of Indian elections, but we leave that discussion for some other time.

1994 was a three-cornered race, but 2014 was a head-on clash between SDF and SKM. With no other local parties in the fray and the “national” parties in organisation ennui, that election was only about SDF and the party born from dissidence in its ranks. 57 of the 121 contestants forfeited their deposits i.e. candidates from all other parties except SDF and SKM.

SKM offered ‘Parivartan’ [change] to the voters hoping to push and then ride an anti-incumbency wave in the State.One could argue that the party could have performed even better if it had been more consistent in its build-up and not confounded with its fits-and-start approach. Even though the then dissident SDF MLA, PS Tamang [Golay], was not the party president when SKM was eventually formed less than a year before the elections, it was always obvious that it was around him that the party was built. In retrospect, one can surmise that the party would have benefitted from better planning, more clear and consistent communication and an earlier start.

 

Eventually, when the EVMs were tabulated, SKM had won 10 Assembly seats out of 32 – a commendable feat for a party contesting elections for the first time. The 40% vote-share that the party had mopped up was only a shade lower than the best-ever performance by an Opposition party in Sikkim – the nearly 42% that had gone to SSP’s kitty in 1999 which had secured the Bhandari-led party seven seats.

So yes, 10 seats on debut was an impressive showing by SKM. However, these wins did not come easy with most of them being close calls.  Further, almost all the seats, save one in North Sikkim, were won in East district, a district which has traditionally sent Opposition MLAs to the Assembly, i.e. whenever voters here have decided to vote in Opposition members as well. One must bear in mind that of the eight legislative assemblies that Sikkim has elected, two have been absolute 32/32 victories [1989-94 and 2009-14], two near absolute 31/32 [1974-79, 2005-09], and one Assembly where the party in office had 30/32 presence. In effect then, five of the eight times that Sikkim voted, it did not feel the need to vote an Opposition into the Assembly. This track-record makes SKM’s success in resuscitating the Opposition even more significant even if too many of its wins were on the slimmest of margins.

All wins for SKM were close fights except Gangtok which saw the highest margin of 1,891 votes when Pintso Chopel Lepcha trounced the SDF candidate, sitting Rajya Sabha MP, Hishey Lachungpa.

The closest call for SKM was Upper Tadong where it won the seat by just 122 votes where the 3,333 votes polled by Timothy William Basnet had him edge past SDF’s Bhasker Basnet who received 3,211 votes, a slim 2% vote difference.

On the other hand, the closest loss for SKM was at Khamdong Singtam where Dr MK Sharma lost to SDF’s Somnath Paudyal by 270 votes.Dr Sharma has returned to the constituency as the SKM candidate, and this time his opponent in the SDF is GM Gurung [Jr].

Interestingly, SKM had campaigned hard in West and South districts, traditionally the more politically active districts of the State and from where the SKM “movement” had begun. Some incidents of violence were also reported in these districts between SKM and the ruling party.

Ironically, SKM did not win a single seat in these two districts with even the party president, PS Tamang [Golay], conceding to SDF’s Tilu Gurung at Namthang Rateypani [4,792/5,947].However, Mr Tamang did win from Upper Burtuk where he polled 50.73% of the votes against the 45.21% received by SDF candidate, DR Thapa.

In these two districts, the lowest margin was 639 votes at Gyalshing-Bermiok where SB Subedi of SDF defeated LN Sharma of SKM. Everywhere else in West and South district, SKM lost by substantial margins.

Apart from East district, SKM did score a seat in the North,from a constituency bordering Gangtok. North Sikkim has only three constituencies.The SKM candidate, Ugen Nidup Bhutia, who has since joined the SDF and has been fielded from there again by the party, won from Kabi-Lungchok by a margin of 126 votes fewer than the NOTA votes.

The Sangha seat was won by SKM by 125 votes.

This was an election which also saw two bye-elections. Chief Minister Pawan Chamling had contested from Rangang Yangang and Namchi Singithang winning in both constituencies. He chose to give up the Rangang-Yangang seat following which a bye-election was held in Sept 2014 which was won by RN Chamling, an Independent candidate. This was a substantial victory in that the party in office lost a bye-election while in office, and that too the CM’s constituency. Mr RN Chamling has since floated his own party and will be contesting from the constituency again.

Interestingly, SKM’s Bikash Basnet also contested the bye-election, but on a BJP ticket. The alliance fetched him only 352 votes. A big drop from the times only a few months earlier when he had contested on an SKM ticket against the Chief Minister when he polled 3,201 votes [32.22%] against the 6,343 bagged by the CM.

Another bye election was also held for Upper Burtuk in 2017 after the sitting MLA, the SKM  president, was disqualified following his conviction in a corruption case. Seven candidates contested this bye election with SKM boycotting it citing wrongful disqualification of their party president. SDF’s DR Thapa won Upper Burtuk with 8,406 of the total 9,428 votes polled.

Apart from SKM, Congress contested all 32 seats in the last elections while BJP contested 15 seats [including the bye elections]. Congress polled a total of 4,390 votes while BJP got 2,934 votes, both fetching lesser than the number of NOTA votes cast i.e. 4,460.

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