Sikkim Votes! And the U-40 hold decisive share


Gangtok, 12 Apr:

Sikkim voted on Thursday. An electorate of 4.32 lakh received the opportunity to decide who forms the next government in Sikkim and who represents the State in Parliament. However, fewer voters than have traditionally shown up exercised their franchise this time with the State reporting a voter turn-out of 78.19%, noticeably lower than the 83% who voted in 2014. The districts, however, stayed true to past performances with North Sikkim reporting the highest turn-out and East the lowest. Gangtok was again the constituency to post the lowest voter turn-out.

And while this data will be interesting in its own right, a major factor to keep an eye out for is the youthfulness of the electorate. With 63% of the electorate under forty years of age, this segment now holds a decisive majority for the first time.

As per data collated by the Election office, the 18 to 40 year old voters number 2,74,200 which works out to 63.42% of the total electorate. Of these, the 18-19 year olds number 30,480.

The youth have never been in such a clear majority, and on 23 May, when the verdict locked in the EVMs is calculated, Sikkim will learn which party appealed most to this segment. It will also be interesting to see whether this bloc voted on issues which matter to their age-band or whether their vote was again decided by the traditional factors of community and family.

In the absence of any scientific data collection, there will be no clear answers even after the results are announced, but that should not mean that some speculation cannot be indulged in.

What the numbers confirm, for instance is that 64% of the electorate came of age with the present government already in office. Even the 40 year old now was but a teenager when SDF formed its first government twenty-five years back.

Building from that, it is also safe to believe that they have no real experience of previous governments to compare the present government with. Their support or rejection of the ruling Front is hence based completely on their perception of the current government’s performance.

Similarly, their image of the contenders, with SKM being the primary one, is also based solely on how SKM has conducted itself in the last five years.

The youth, one must also bear in mind, does not dwell in the past and looks more to the future. All parties in the electoral fray clearly recognized this much and directed much of their votes pitch to them. But the present day youth is also better informed and can be expected to also evaluate performance and delivery while deciding on which promises appear convincing and which reek of tokenism or are too superficial.

Principles and ideology also carry more resonance with the youth and the results will also reflect how the youth rate the parties on this parameter.

As for the parties in the fray, Sikkim almost always sees a quasi-presidential form of election with people voting for the party presidents with the hand-picked candidates having only limited contribution to the final result. When it comes to the youth, such absolute submission to the party will be rare and they can be expected to evaluate the candidates as well. This, if it happens, will be new for Sikkim.

That said, Election 2019 is still a Chamling versus Golay contest, which is unique in the sense that the latter cannot even contest the elections. In that sense, the SKM president, PS Tamang [Golay], to his credit, has made a fight of the elections despite his corruption conviction and the law not allowing him to contest for six years.

SKM remains the main opposition this time as well since no other party has fielded candidates for all 32 constituencies. Also, except SKM, all other opposition parties had forfeited their deposits in the 2014 elections.

And now that the Election officials, after a largely unimpressive organizational performance on polling day, have collated the voter turn-out details, its perhaps time to go over the data [see accompanying box for details].

Like has become the norm, North Sikkim posted the highest turn-out at 81.74% with West coming in a close second at 81.64%, South failing to impress at 78.07% and East bringing up the rear with 75.60. Among the constituencies, Gangtok was the least motivated with only 62% of the electorate showing up to vote.

Usually, a noticeably higher voter turn-out is seen as a sign of people voting for change. If that yardstick is applicable to Sikkim, the ruling Front will be breathing easy. But the law of such averages do not always apply on Sikkim. In 2014, for instance, the constituency [Gangtok] with the lowest voter turn-out also posted the highest winning margin for the Opposition.

These speculations aside, what the results will definitely prove is which party worked harder and better and mobilizing their base to come out and vote. The delays and confusions and inexcusably long waits for voters discouraged many voters. While people have complained of these delays, no official explanation has arrived as yet.