Goa goes to polls, 301 candidates in fray for 40-member assembly
As many as 301 candidates representing 12 political parties and independents are in the fray for the polls -- nearly 21% higher than in 2014 and nearly 50% higher than the 213 candidates who were contesting back in 2012.
The stage is set for elections to decide who will represent the people of Goa in the 40-member state legislative assembly.
Polling officials began heading out to their respective polling booths on Sunday afternoon onwards as they prepared to receive the 11.64-lakh voters who are eligible to cast their vote.
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A total of 301 candidates representing 12 political parties and independents are in the fray for the polls -- nearly 21% higher than in 2014 and nearly 50% higher than the 213 candidates who were contesting back in 2012.
Besides traditional contestants like the Congress, BJP and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa has also seen new entrants like the Trinamool Congress which is making its second attempt at contesting Goa assembly elections having previously contested the 2012 elections without any success. The Aam Aadmi Party and the Goa Forward Party too are in the fray having also contested the 2017 elections. Goa has also seen the rise of another political party the Revolutionary Goans Party that has promised to keep Goa for Goans and pass a law to that effect.
The BJP is hoping to retain power for a third consecutive term while the Congress that is in alliance with the Goa Forward Party is hoping to return to power while simultaneously keeping the threat posed by the AAP and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) at bay. The TMC which re-entered Goa’s political scene after the party’s success in keeping the BJP at bay in the Bengal elections in 2021 has entered into an alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa’s oldest political party which gave the then union territory its first chief minister.
The election campaign has been dominated by demands to restart Goa’s stalled mining industry, the high rate of unemployment only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown grounding the state’s tourism industry, while frequent defections to keep the BJP in power over the last five years have left the voter disillusioned.
These are the first polls that the BJP is campaigning without its stalwart Manohar Parrikar who passed away while in office in 2019 and is having to battle anti-incumbency of being in power for two terms. The Congress that was once thought to be too weak to take on the BJP having lost many of its leaders to the BJP has rebuilt itself to emerge as the prime contender to take on the BJP despite the AAP and parties like the TMC basing their campaign pitch on the Congress being inadequate to take on the BJP.
Elections officials have said that they have pulled out all stops to ensure a free and fair election as well as to promote voting among otherwise neglected communities like transgenders, sex workers, persons with disability and senior citizens.
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A total of 41 sex workers and nine transgenders have come forward to enroll themselves as new voters, the commission revealed.
There are a total of 1722 polling stations in Goa. “Their upgradation is completed, quality water supply, toilets have been provided. Ramps are built and wherever there are no ramps temporary ramps are being built. On an average there are 676 voters per polling station. We are hopeful that this is a manageable number,” Chief Electoral Officer Kunal (he doesn’t use a surname) said.
Voting will open at 7 am and will continue till 6 pm as the election commission has added an extra hour of voting in order to ensure that adequate arrangements and social distancing is maintained.
Goa witnessed an initially subdued campaign as Covid-19 restrictions meant that rallies and roadshows weren’t permitted forcing political parties to use digital modes of campaigning. However, during the later stages, the campaign saw national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi as well as several national leaders including P Chidambaram, who was appointed senior observer for Goa and state level leaders from other states like Arvind Kejriwal make multiple visits to the state, as the BJP seeks to retain power for an unprecedented third time while the Congress which is fighting the polls in alliance with the Goa Forward Party is eager to unseat the ruling BJP having failed to do so back in 2017 despite emerging as the single largest party.
Defections and lack of loyalty and the possibility of post poll defections have remained largely on the minds of the voter and have prompted the Congress, which has suffered on account of defection to publicly pledge that they will not switch parties after the polls.
The AAP which is making its second attempt at securing a foothold in the state has been trying to target the Congress claiming that a vote for the Congress is a vote for the BJP. The Congress on the other hand has accused parties like the AAP and the Trinamool Congress, who they said launched an “aggressive and lavish” campaign for the polls of benefitting the BJP by splitting the anti-BJP vote.
Attempts at securing an umbrella alliance of anti-BJP parties in the state failed despite initial talks taking place.
Fifty-seven polling stations in North Goa and 50 in south Goa have been declared as women polling stations and will be staffed entirely by women polling officers. Similarly 13 polling stations across the state have been declared as persons with disability (PwD) and green polling booths that will be staffed with officers with locomotor disability and will be using eco-friendly material in signages and other paraphernalia.
Similarly twenty-one polling booths in North Goa and 35 have been declared as model polling booths across the state.
The campaign also witnessed complaints and cross complaints of parties violating the poll of conduct as well as social distancing norms in the run up to the campaign.
Complicating matters was the use of deep fakes, technology that has been prominently used by the Aam Aadmi Party to show national convener Arvind Kejriwal as individually addressing each voter by their name, pre-recorded voice calls with no control on who was sending calls in whose name as well as fake letters, doctored videos and use of social media for voting.
The elections have also witnessed the seizure of cash, liquor as the authorities cracked down on distribution of freebies ahead of the polls.