NOTA outnumbered victory margins in 4 constituencies


Gangtok, 31 May:

Assembly Election 2019 was a close contest with Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and Sikkim Democratic Front securing a near-identical vote-share even as SKM edged past SDF by a mere two seats to form the government. The victory margins were slim in most constituencies and nothing brings home how evenly the contest was set up than the fact that the NOTA votes were higher than the victory margins in as many as four constituencies this time. What is more, in one constituency, the EVM votes were separated by a single vote and the victor was eventually decided by the Postal Ballot collections.

The keenness of the ballot-battle was established by the very first constituency to get counted – Yoksum Tashiding in West Sikkim where SKM’s Sangay Lepcha beat SDF’s Dichen W. Bhutia by a mere 79 votes. In this constituency, the “None of The Above” option was taken by 132 voters.

SKM broke into the West Sikkim bastion of SDF with this constituency and Mr Lepcha has since been awarded for his hard-fought victory with the Pro-tem Speaker position. Where he received 48.52% of the votes, Ms Bhutia received 47.84%. And this has been another feature of the elections this time – as many as nine of the 32 elected legislators polled less than 50% of the votes, and a majority of the new MLAs who received more than half the votes stayed below 55%, these numbers further proving how close the contest was. 11,720 voters had exercised their franchise here.

Still in West Sikkim, Yangthang too saw a final count in which the NOTA votes were higher than the victory margin. Here, SKM’s Bhim Hang Limboo beat SDF’s Dal Bahadur Subba by 47 votes. By comparison, 74 voters [out of the 10,696 who voted] here had chosen the NOTA option. Mr Limboo has since been made the PHE Minister.

South Sikkim’s Barfung constituency was always expected to be a close contest because an SDF veteran, DD Bhutia, was stepping down to make way for debutante, TT Bhutia. Mr Bhutia retained the constituency for SDF, but only barely, edging past SKM’s Lobzang Bhutia by a mere 97 votes. The NOTA count in this constituency – 139. This was a reasonably big constituency with 12,083 voters having pressed the EVM buttons on 11 April.

Martam-Rumtek, a constituency which had gone to SKM in 2014, was wrested back for SDF this time, but again, barely so. Sitting Minister DT Lepcha was brought back to the constituency as the SDF candidate. This was his second constituency for 2019. Standing against him was SKM’s Sonam Tshering Venchungpa and a clutch of four other Opposition candidates.

Mr Venchungpa is not new to the constituency and had unsuccessfully contested from Martam-Rumtek in the past on a Congress ticket a few times. His chances were bright this time, but Mr Lepcha was also a popular candidate who had not only represented the constituency in the past but had also beaten Mr Venchungpa in a previous election.

This contest went down to the wire. When the EVMs were counted, Mr Venchungpa was one vote ahead with 5,965 votes against Mr Lepcha’s 5,964 votes. When the Postal Ballots were emptied out, Mr Lepcha received 280 votes against the 206 mailed for Mr Venchungpa and he won by 73 votes. The NOTA votes in this constituency where 13,753 people had voted – 118.

There has also been some talk of Postal Ballots having affected the results this time, but apart from Martam-Rumtek, they did not become the deciding factor anywhere. SKM won a higher number of postal ballots only in 10 of the 32 constituencies and went on to win seven of these constituencies by margins in which the postal ballots did not make much difference.

Interestingly, in one constituency, Namthang-Rateypani, the postal ballots were tied at 205-205 between the SDF and SKM.

Only in one constituency did anyone other than an SDF or SKM candidate poll higher postal ballots – Arithang – where the independent candidate, Ashis Rai, received 60 votes via postal ballot against the 56 and 48 received by SDF and SKM respectively.