Shillong (Meghalaya) [India], February 26 (ANI): The countdown has begun for the Meghalaya Assembly polls, which will see over 21 lakh electorates will decide the fate of 369 candidates on Monday.
Polling will be held at 3,419 polling stations across 59 Assembly constituencies in the state. The voting will begin at 7 am and continue till 4 pm, on Monday.
Of the 60 Assembly constituencies in Meghalaya, 36 fall in Khasi, Jaintia Hills region while 24 are in Garo Hills region.
However, polling for the Sohiong Assembly constituency was postponed following the demise of the state's former Home minister and United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate from the seat, HDR Lyngdoh.
There are over 21 lakh (21,75,236) registered and eligible voters this year of which 10.99 lakh are women and 10.68 lakh are men. In Meghalaya, the women voters number more than their male counterparts. There are about 81,000 first-time voters in the state.
As many as 369 candidates are in the fray of which 36 are women. Of the total candidates, 44 are contesting as Independents.
The ruling National People's Party (NPP), which is seeking to return to power, might have to contend with the anti-incumbency factor this time. The lack of Infrastructure development in remote and hilly regions remains one of the core poll issues this time. Further, allegations of corruption are also haunting the NPP government.
Another factor that might have a bearing on the outcome of this year's polls is illegal coal mining in Jaintia and Khasi Hills.
When it comes to key poll issues, unemployment is a pet grouse and demand of the youth. All the parties promised jobs and the creation of election opportunities in their manifesto.
NPP attacked the BJP with the long-pending issue of demanding an Inner Line Permit (ILP) for Meghalaya.
An Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by a state government to allow inward travel of a national into a protected area for a limited time.
Another important in the Meghalaya polls is the Christian and Non-Christian, especially in the Khasi Hills region.
Meghalaya BJP chief Ernest Mawrie on Friday said if BJP comes to power in the poll-bound state, they would not impose any restrictions on the people consuming beef.
Ernest Mawrie told ANI that Meghalaya is a Christian-majority state and if BJP comes to power, it would provide more security to the Christians.
"We will not impose any restriction on consuming beef in Meghalaya. If we will form the government, then it will be better for Meghalaya. We will give full protection to the Christians of Meghalaya. Eating habit is our culture, BJP will not impose any restrictions on them. Many of us eat pork, beef, chicken, and fish. There is no problem with our party. We have not held any discussions on this. There will be no restriction," Mawrie said.
The current term of the 60-seat Meghalaya Legislative Assembly will conclude on March 15.
The majority mark to form government in the state is 31.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, the ruling National People's Party (NPP) got 19 seats, Congress bagged 21 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to win two seats. The United Democratic Party (UDP) grabbed six seats.
Though Congress emerged as the single largest party, the government was formed by the NPP-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) with support of the UDP, BJP and other regional parties.
This time, the BJP and NPP have not stitched any prepoll alliance and are going solo. BJP and Congress have fielded candidates in all the seats. The Trinamool Congress (TMC), which became the main opposition party in Meghalaya in 2021 following the defection of 12 Congress MLAs, became a formidable force, especially after former chief minister Mukul Sangma joined its ranks. TMC fielded candidates in 58 seats.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma is contesting from South Tura constituency while the BJP fielded Bernard N Marak against the NPP chief. In Dadenggre, Congress candidate Chesterfield Sangma is contesting against NPP's James Sangma.
Former CM Mukul Sangma is contesting from two seats -- Tikrikilla and Songsak on Trinamool's ticket. UDP leader Metbah Lyngdoh is contesting from Mairang. Further, NPP pitted Prestone Tynsong from Pynursla. UDP candidate Titosstar Well Chyne is contesting from Sohra.
The TMC has fielded Charles Pyngrope from Nongthymmai. BJP fielded Sanbor Shullai in South Shillong and Ernest Mawrie in West Shillong. Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh is the NPP's candidate from East Shillong.
In Pynthorumkhrah, BJP fielded Alexander Laloo Hek. UDP leader Lahkmen Rymbui is contesting from Amlarem. In Sutnga Saipung, Congress fielded Vincent H Pala. UDP candidate Kyrmen Shylla is contesting from Khliehriat.
The campaigning for Meghalaya polls ended on Saturday.
From NPP to BJP and Congress to Trinamool, parties showcased all might when it comes to campaigning. Be it poll promises or attacking contending forces with slogans, none remained on the back foot.
BJP showed its strength with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, party president JP Nadda and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma holding rallies. PM Modi also held a roadshow in Shillong on Friday.
Rahul Gandhi, who was missing from the campaign scene in Tripura, held a rally in Shillong. Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee held public meetings in Meghalaya. TMC MP Mahua Moitra also ran campaigning for the party in the state.
The Election Commission has deployed 119 companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in Meghalaya.
Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya FR Kharkongor said 640 polling stations are identified as 'vulnerable', 323 are 'critical' and 84 are identified as both.
Election Commission on Saturday ordered the sealing of Meghalaya's International border with Bangladesh till March 2.
Meghalaya has shared a 443 km border with Bangladesh and 885 km with Assam.
Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya FR Kharkongor, told ANI that Meghalaya's international border with Myanmar and the state border with Assam have been sealed.
"We have taken preventive measures to ensure a free and fair election in the State. Section 144 of CrPC has been imposed along the international bordering areas in the state," Kharkongor said.
Meanwhile, the district magistrate of East Khasi Hills district on Friday issued an order that movement of individuals will remain strictly prohibited within a one km radius of the India-Bangladesh border of East Khasi Hills district between February 24 and March 2.
The district administration of East Khasi Hills district has also imposed Section 144 of CrPC along the bordering areas.
To ensure a free and fair election, Election Commission has banned exit polls in Meghalaya from 7 am on Friday to 7 pm on the polling day ie February 27.
The counting of votes will be done on March 2. (ANI)