18 candidates in the fray for 3 by-elections

Gangtok, 30 Sept:

The by-elections promise to be interesting this time around with some strong words being thrown around and last minute developments keeping the politics energized. All nomination papers for the bypolls were filed today, and on final count, where most had expected this to be an SDF versus BJP-SKM contest, there are now 18 candidates in the fray for the three constituencies which will see a by-election on 21 Oct.

Martam-Rumtek received the largest number of candidates at 8 while Poklok-Kamrang receiving only 4 nomination papers even with SKM fielding a dummy candidate as well and Gangtok sitting in the middle with six candidates.

The total number will definitely come down to 17 after the date for withdrawals since SKM has fielded a dummy candidate as well. Whether this number climbs down further after scrutiny and withdrawals, only the coming days will tell.

Interestingly, only two parties, both in the opposition – Sikkim Democratic Front and Sikkim Republican Party – are contesting from all three constituencies, while the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha is contesting only from one constituency and BJP from two.

SKM and BJP, it may be recalled, announced a seat-sharing arrangement on Saturday and as a result, SKM president, Chief Minister PS Tamang [Golay], filed his nomination papers from Poklok-Kamrang today. This is the only general seat go to by-polls, the other two being BL-reserved constituencies.

While the stakes are probably highest at Poklok-Kamrang where Mr Tamang’s continuation as the Chief Minister is at stake, the contest can be expected to be keen and confusing at the other two constituencies as well both of which have former MLAs in the hunt.

Poklok Kamrang is the SDF president, former CM Pawan Chamling’s traditional constituency and had posted a comfortable victory for him in April earlier this year when he received 60% of the votes cast. Kharka Bdr Rai, fielded by SKM as the dummy candidate this time, was the party candidate in the April elections has received 36% of the votes while the SRP, HSP and Congress candidates had to make do with slivers.

How the equations change now that SKM is in government and has Mr Tamang contesting, will be interesting to watch.

Martam-Rumtek, meanwhile, was among the most narrow victories for SDF earlier this year with Sonam Tshering Venchungpa, the SKM candidate at the time, losing to DT Lepcha, then an SDF candidate, by a mere 73 votes. Postal ballots were the deciding factor at the time since the EVMs had counted out nearly equal votes between the two with Mr Venchungpa in fact polling one more vote than Mr Lepcha in the EVMs. This time around, both the victor and the runner-up are wearing BJP colours with Mr Lepcha having defected to BJP earlier this year and Mr Venchungpa having joined the saffron party on Saturday.

For the by-elections, Dr Mechung Bhutia who represented the constituency in the last term has also thrown his hat in as an Independent candidate.

This is also the constituency where BJP has put in its best performance in April 2019 polling 5.85% of the votes polled.

Gangtok will be the prestige constituency and a former Minister in SDF’s Ringzing Ongmu Bhutia and two party presidents in Bhaichung Bhutia [HSP] and Delay Namgyal Bhutia [SNPP] in the fray. BJP’s YT Lepcha had also turned out one of BJP’s better performances in April 2019 when he polled 5.28% of the votes.

Of course, BJP will have to do much better to win and must be hoping that the handsome margin with with SKM’s Kunga Nima Lepcha had won earlier this year will come to it.