Gangtok, 29 Sept:
A day after Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and Bharatiya Janata Party entered into a pre-bypoll alliance and seat-sharing arrangement and a day before the last date to file nomination papers for the upcoming by-elections, the Election Commission of India reduced the period of disqualification to a duration which will allow SKM president, Chief Minister PS Tamang [Golay], to contest even the upcoming by-elections.
Deciding on Mr Tamang’s request that the ECI invoke powers invested in it to reduce the period for which politicians convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act are not allowed to contest elections, the ECI, in an order passed on 29 Sept, Sunday, "in exercise of the powers vested upon it under Section 11 of the RP Act, 1951" reduced the "disqualification attracted on the Applicant by virtue of Section 8 of the RP Act, 1951 to 1 year and 1 month."
This period of one year and one month since the date of his release from jail is almost exactly the time since when Mr Tamang completed his jail term in August last year.
What this latest order of the ECI means is that Mr Tamang can now contest elections. Since he had earlier announced that only one family member will sit in the Assembly at a time, it was believed that his son, Aditya Golay, would resign from Soreong-Chakung and Mr Tamang will contest from there. However, given the timing of the ECI relaxation, the nature of seat-sharing between SKM and BJP in which SKM has kept the only general seat going to polls for itself and the by-elections which have already been called, it is almost certain that Mr Tamang will file nomination papers to contest from Poklok-Kamrang.
The ECI order, signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra has been roundly criticized by a section of the political parties in Sikkim which are seeing this as a quid-pro-quo arrangement between SKM and BJP.
BJP, which despite having been convincingly rejected by the electorate here in the Assembly elections, has since become the second-largest party in the Assembly after 10 SDF MLAs defected to it recently. Now, with the party in office supporting its candidates in the Assembly elections, the move is being seen as a forced backdoor entry gifted to it despite the public mandate which conveyed otherwise.
Meanwhile, in his application seeking a reduction in his disqualification period submitted to the ECI in June 2019, Mr Tamang had argued that the stricter disqualification rules were not in place at the time when the offence for which he was eventually convicted were committed and that he should not be penalized for the delay in the Court case.
He had also supported his request by arguing an “implied pardon” by the Governor when the Governor administered him the oath of office as the Chief Minister.
Mr Tamang had also invoked Article 371F and Sikkim’s special status in his defence.