Unlike in the past elections, there is no certainty about the poll outcome in Pala assembly constituency.
This is the first election after the demise of Kerala Congress (M) chief K M Mani, who represented the constituency for over 50 years.
The campaign ended on Saturday and polling is on September 23.
Voters, political leaders and observers see a tough fight this time in the bypoll.
The results could be determined by some strong undercurrents at play in the constituency.
These include the multi-layered rift in the KC(M) camp, the Sabarimala row and a perceived mood for a change.
Jose vs Joseph
After KM Mani's demise, the Kerala Congress (Mani) group has virtually split with his son Jose K Mani leading one faction and veteran P J Joseph heading the other.
UDF candidate Jose Tom is a nominee of the Jose K Mani camp and the miffed rival faction is just a nominal presence in the campaign front.
Pala is considered a stronghold of the Mani family and the Jose K Mani faction claims that Joseph is non-entity there. However, political observers warn that it could be a miscalculation.
Jose K Mani does not command the respect his father had earned in Pala.
There is also a feeling among a section of people that Jose ill-treated and insulted Joseph.
It is believed that Jose was the prime reason why Joseph was denied a chance to contest the Lok Sabha polls.
There could be a silent wave of support for Joseph against the arrogant nature of Jose, according to some observers.
It remains to be seen how this would reflect in the voting pattern.
Observers also point out the fact that Joseph has a lot of relatives in Pala, though his core constituency is neighbouring Thodupuzha.
Jose Tom was picked as the candidate after speculation that either Jose K Mani or his wife Nisha would contest.
Such a move was reportedly thwarted by stiff opposition from not only Joseph but from within the Mani family.
Jose Tom's candidature is seen as a stopgap arrangement.
In the next assembly polls due in 2021, the first family of Pala would like to take back the seat from Jose, if he wins the bypoll.
Another prominent leader of the Jose K Mani faction is also eyeing the seat.
He is said to have had a prominent role in orchestrating the rift between Jose and Joseph. He may also find Jose Tom as a hurdle.
Moreover, a couple of local leaders who had lobbied for the seat after it became clear that the Mani family was opting out of the contest are also not happy with the candidature of Jose Tom.
A prominent legislator from Idukki is also keen to contest from Pala in next assembly polls.
The legislator is wary of his chances in Idukki next time as he had antagonised Joseph during the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
The legislator, who hails from Kottayam, fears the Joseph faction will thwart his chances in Idukki in next assembly polls.
Opposition to Mani
Some political observers are of the view that Pala's obsession with K M Mani is a bloated story.
They back their claim with some statistics. Mani's winning margin steadily dipped in the past three elections (2006 – 7,759, 2011 – 5,259, 2016 – 4,703).
But the UDF's vote share in the assembly segment during the Lok Sabha polls was much higher.
LDF candidate Mani C Kappan is no less in stature when it comes to legacy. His father Cheriyan J Kappan is a former MP and the family is highly influential in Pala. Some influential families in the town have offered support to Kappan this time as per poll grapevine.
One reason that should worry the LDF is BJP's lacklustre campaign. Observers say that BJP was not as aggressive on the campaign front as they were last time. Infighting is also plaguing its campaign.
The dissident elements in the BJP see no chance to win in Pala and hence may help the UDF in a bid to stop its main opponent Left Democratic Front from winning.
Pala is only a two-hour drive from Sabarimala. The constituency also has a sizeable Nair population, who were irked by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government's aggressive stance to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women of child-bearing age to enter the temple. Observers say this anger has not subsided and they could vote against the LDF. The UDF is also keenly projecting Sabarimala as a key poll issue.