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All Eyes On 18 Assembly Bypolls In Tamil Nadu
2019 Polls

All Eyes On 18 Assembly Bypolls In Tamil Nadu

Sandhya Ravishankar

Sandhya Ravishankar

All parties in the southern state are focussed on the 18 MLA seats rather than on the 39 Lok Sabha seats

Tamil Nadu’s vacant assembly seats of Ottapidaram, Aravakurichi and Thiruparankundram will not go to polls on April 18, since these three seats are under litigation at the Madras High Court. Along with 39 seats to the Lok Sabha, Tamil Nadu will also vote in legislators for 18 other vacant assembly seats in the state.

“Due to election petitions pending in these three constituencies, they will not go for bypolls this time,” said Satyabrata Sahoo, Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu at a press conference in Chennai on March 10, shortly after the Election Commission of India announced that all pending assembly bypolls will be held alongside voting for the Lok Sabha.

These seats fell vacant as the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, C Dhanabal, had disqualified 18 MLAs in September 2017, who went over to the TTV Dhinakaran camp. TTV Dhinakaran is the nephew of VK Sasikala, close aide and confidante of the late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. After a protracted power struggle, Sasikala’s loyalists have been sidelined in the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The party and the two-leaves election symbol now belongs to the faction led by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam.

Later on Sunday night, the AIADMK announced an alliance with Captain Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK). The DMDK will contest four Lok Sabha seats as part of the alliance and will support the larger Dravidian party in the assembly bypolls.

“We will make an announcement soon regarding Tamil Maanila Congress,” said O Panneerselvam, when asked about the final ally the AIADMK was in talks with.

So the battle lines are drawn in Tamil Nadu. Take a look at the two coalitions that will vie in 2019. Here is the AIADMK-led NDA front:

Party No of seats contesting 2016 Assembly polls voteshare 2014 Lok Sabha polls voteshare
AIADMK 22 LS 40.77% 44.92%
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) 7 LS

1 RS

5.32% 4.4%
Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) 4 LS 2.41% 5.1%
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 5 LS 2.84% 5.56%
Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) 1 LS 0.51% 0.6%
Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) ? 0.54% Did not contest

And this is how the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front stacks up against the AIADMK-led front:

Party No of seats contesting 2016 Assembly polls voteshare 2014 Lok Sabha polls voteshare
DMK 20 LS 31.64% 23.91%
Congress 9 LS 6.42% 4.37%
Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) 1 LS 0.73% 0.5%
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) 2 LS 0.77% 1.5%
CPI 2 LS 0.79% 0.55%
CPM 2 LS 0.71% 0.55%
Kongunadu Desiya Makkal Katchi (KMDK) 1 LS 0.39% Not available (contested on BJP symbol)
Indiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) 1 LS 0.08% Not available (contested on BJP symbol)
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) 1 LS 0.87% 3.5%

Confusion though reigned over the date of polling in Tamil Nadu. The famous Madurai Alagar festival is held between April 17 to April 19. It is also the auspicious Tamil Chithirai Thirunaal festival. Every year, 5 to 10 lakh devotees throng the Madurai Alagar temple during this time from all over the state.

When quizzed about why the Election Commission had overlooked this important festival, CEO Sahoo said – “Now that you have raised this issue, we will look into it and see what can be done.”

Eye On Assembly Bypolls

For both the Dravidian parties – the AIADMK as well as the DMK – the 18 Assembly seats are likely to be far more important.

The ruling party currently has a slim majority in the Assembly – the dismissal of 18 rebel MLAs had allowed it to save the government from falling.

In order to hold on to power until 2021 when the state goes to polls, the AIADMK needs to work very hard to win a chunk of the assembly seats going to bypolls.

Take a look at the numbers.

Total strength of Assembly: 234 + 1 nominated member

Halfway mark for majority: 118

Originally the AIADMK had won 134 seats. The DMK-Congress-IUML combine won 98 seats. In two other constituencies where polls were postponed – Aravakurichi and Thanjavur – the AIADMK managed to win much later, taking its tally to 136.

AIADMK: 136

DMK: 89

Congress: 8

IUML: 1

Jayalalithaa passed away in 2016, leaving the RK Nagar seat vacant. Then came the rift within the AIADMK, with TTV Dhinakaran taking away 18 rebel MLAs. He also managed to sail through the RK Nagar bypoll.

The Speaker dismissed the 18 MLAs, reducing the size of the Assembly itself. The dismissal, which went to court, was upheld by the Madras High Court.

So now the math looks like this.

Total strength of Assembly: 216 + 1 nominated member

Halfway mark for majority: 108

AIADMK: 117

DMK: 89

Congress: 8

IUML: 1

Independent (TTV Dhinakaran): 1

Following this, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi passed away, leaving his Tiruvarur seat vacant. AIADMK MLA AK Bose passed away, leaving Tiruparankundram seat vacant. Minister Balakrishna Reddy had to resign as MLA after a court convicted him of rioting and sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment. His resignation prompted the Hosur seat to fall vacant, taking the total number of vacant seats to 21.

Now with bypolls for 18 constituencies, the election will decide the fate of the ruling AIADMK.

Total seats: 231

Halfway mark: 116

AIADMK: 115

DMK: 88

Congress: 8

IUML: 1

Independent (TTV Dhinakaran): 1

While it appears that the AIADMK only needs to win one seat, the politicking is not so simple. The figure of 115 includes 3 Independent MLAs – Karunaas, Thaniyarasu and Thamimun Ansari – who have all contested on the AIADMK symbol and won. Apart from these three, another 3 AIADMK MLAs have openly backed TTV Dhinakaran.

With this factor, the AIADMK will need to win at least 7 out of the 18 Assembly seats going to polls in April. This is a necessity if it is to save its government.

If the AIADMK does not manage to meet its target of at least 7 MLAs in April, it is highly probable that the Opposition would move a no confidence motion against the Chief Minister and the present dispensation could well fall.