Kerala steps out in high numbers to vote despite COVID-19 threat

Kerala voters stepped out in large numbers at the end of a highly contested campaign to record 73.58% voting percentage despite Covid-19 threat

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Ashlin Mathew

Kerala voters stepped out in large numbers following a high-decibel election campaign this year to record a voting percentage of 73.58% despite the COVID-19 threat. Queues were seen in all parts of the state in the morning amidst complaints of bogus voting coming in from several districts. Voting had dipped in the afternoon, but picked up in districts other than Pathanamthitta, which saw moderate rain in the afternoon.

The highest polling percentage was recorded in Kozhikode at 78.2% and the lowest at Pathanamthitta at 67.1%. Thrissur recorded 73.2%, Palakkad 76.1%, Malappuram witnessed 74%, Wayanad 74.6%, Kannur 77.7%, Kasargode 74.7%, Thiruvananthapuram 70%, Kollam at 73%, Alappuzha 74.4%, Kottayam 72%, Idukki 70.3% and Ernakulam 74%. The final numbers are likely to be close to the 2016 polling percentage. The counting is on May 2.

There are 957 candidates in the fray in the 140 assembly constituencies. As per the Election Commission, there are 2,74,46,039 voters, of which 1,32,83,724 are men, 1,41,62,025 women and 290 transgender voters.

In 2016, when LDF swept the state election with 91 seats, UDF 47 seats and BJP 1, the state recorded a voting percentage of 77.35%, with the highest being in Kozhikode at 81.89% and the lowest at Pathanamthitta at 71.66%. This was higher than the 2011 voter turnout of 75.12% when UDF won the Assembly elections.

Thrissur saw 77.74%, Palakkad 78.37%, Malappuram 75.83%, Kannur 80.63%, Wayanad 78.37%, Thiruvananthapuram 72.53%, Kollam 75.07%, Alappuzha 79.88%, Kottayam 79.9%, Idukki 73.59% and Ernakulam 79.77%.

In 2016, Wayanad witnessed 80.31%, Chalakudy 80.44%, Alappuzha 80.09%, Alathur 80.33%, and Kasaragod at 80.57% saw high voter turnout too. At Pathanamthitta, the voting percentage was 74.19%, Idukki recorded 76.01%, Kottayam 75.29% and Malappuram witnessed a polling percentage of 75.43%.

However, in 2019 when UDF won 19 Lok Sabha seats and CPI(M) 1, the state registered a voter turnout of 77.68% with a total of 2,03,13,833 votes polled. Kannur in north Kerala saw the highest voter turnout at 83.05%, while Thiruvananthapuram witnessed the lowest voting percentage at 73.45.

In all the highly contested constituencies such as Nemom and Kazhakootam in Thiruvananthapuram district polling percentages stood at 70% and 74% respectively. In Nemom, where BJP had won its sole Assembly seat in 2016, UDF’s K Muraleedharan is taking on BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan and CPI(M)’s V Sivankutty. Here, BJP is mostly out of contention and the contest is between Muraleedharan and Sivankutty. In Kazhakootam, LDF’s incumbent MLA Kadakampally Surendran is taking on BJP’s Shobha Surendran and UDF’s Dr SS Lal. The contest here is mostly between LDF and BJP.

In Pathanamthitta’s Konni, UDF’s Robin Peter is taking on incumbent MLA KU Jenish and BJP state president K Surendran. Here too, Surendran is as good as out of the race with the contest between Peter and Jenish taking centre stage.

In Manjeshwar, where BJP’s K Surendran is contesting against UDF’s AKM Ashraf and LDF’s V V Rameshan, LDF’s presence is hardly felt. The constituency saw voting percentage of 76.76%, which is marginally higher than the 2016 voting percentage of 76.19%.

This would have just been a regular election, with UDF expected to win. However, LDF has been campaigning for a continuation in power and UDF which was initially playing catch-up, took a lead in campaigning towards the end. UDF’s manifesto was a hit with many voters, and rallies held by Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor saw huge numbers.

The BJP is hoping to improve its seat count of one this time, especially because it was campaigning on the basis of the Sabarimala issue. It didn’t have much else to tout. Even its so-called star campaigners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath were ridiculed for the lies spouted. Brisk polling suggested that the party will be a washout.

Seeking to play on the Sabarimala issue, after voting Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said Lord Ayyappa and all other gods were with the LDF because the government protected the people.

Congress leaders were quick to counter this with former Chief minister Oommen Chandy stating that the CM’s comments were because he fears people, but no one would believe him if he raised Ayyappan now.

Ridiculing the CM for his religious metaphor, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said, “Vijayan stares at a sure defeat. He was fearful of Lord Ayyappa’s wrath and invoked gods in desperation. He will face the wrath of Ayyappan, the gods and the people.”

Vatakkara MP and Nemom candidate K Muraleedharan said, “When the Left leaders had to chant in the name of Ayyappa, they did not; now they are because they are afraid.”

In multiple places in Thiruvananthapuram’s Parassala, Palakkad, Kottayam and Idukki districts, there were reports of instances of postal ballot fraud, with voters finding that their votes had been cast as postal votes even though they had not opted for it. In two instances, postal votes had been cast for middle-aged men and women who are not eligible for postal ballots.

Congress candidate VP Ahmed Rasheed caught a young man who had come to vote for a 70-year-old man in Taliparamba constituency. Fourteen people were taken into custody on allegations that they had come from Tamil Nadu to cast bogus votes.

In Kazhakootam, a fight broke out between CPI(M) and BJP workers in which four people were injured on the issue of pasting posters near a booth. Two cars with BJP and RSS goons came back and reportedly attacked CPI(M) supporters. People in the vicinity then took custody of the cars, drove away the goons and damaged one of the cars. The police then baton-charged workers to remove them from the polling site.

In Balussery, UDF candidate Dharmajan Bolgatty was not allowed to enter the booth after DYFI workers objected to his presence. In Trikaripur, UDF candidate MP Joseph demanded stopping of the election process at booth no. 127 at Vellachal in Pilicode Panchayat after his booth agent James Maroor was allegedly assaulted by CPI(M) workers. He said the polling agent didn’t pay heed to Maroor, who has been admitted in a hospital.

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