CM calls all-party meet to see bypolls cancelled. UDF wants panchayat polls postponed

Pinarayi Vijayan calls all-party meeting to see Kuttanad, Chavara bypolls cancelled
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called an all-party meeting on Friday to reach a consensus on cancelling the by-election in the Kuttanad and Chavara assembly constituencies. 

The UDF, too, wants the byelection plans abandoned but opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has reportedly put forward another demand when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called him on Thursday to invite him for the all-party meet.

Chennithala wants the local body polls, which should take place next month in October, to be postponed by a few weeks or a month. According to the UDF, the panchayat elections should be held in such a way that the new councils would be in place either by the end of January or first week of February.

The UDF's logic is that if COVID can be cited as the reason for calling off the byelections, the same holds good for the local body polls that will witness a far greater turnout of voters. 

Ramesh Chennithala
Ramesh Chennithala

It is not clear whether Chennithala had made the UDF's support for the cancellation of the byelections conditional on the government agreeing to postpone the local body polls. Sources said Chennithala would not have to strike a hard bargain as the LDF, too, was not keen on conducting the local body polls in October. 

The government also fears that COVID control and surveillance activities could be hit once the local bodies enter poll-mode. Surveillance of those in quarantine and contact tracing is done mostly with the help of local body representatives.

An LDF-UDF consensus on both the issues, therefore, looks easy.

However, the BJP has opposed any moves to postpone the local body polls. "Cancelling the Chavara and Kuttanad byelections is understandable as electing MLAs for four just months is pointless," BJP state president K Surendran said. 

K Surendran named Kerala BJP President
K Surendran

"However, local body polls are very important and should be held on time. If COVID is the reason, is there any study that has scientifically said that COVID would taper after November or December. It looks like COVID will be here for some time and we can't keep postponing elections indefinitely fearing the virus," he added.

A decision on local body polls can be taken at the state level. However, if a consensus is reached on the two byelections at the all-party meet, the State can approach the Election Commission with a demand to cancel the bypoll.

Though the State Election Chief Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena had earlier sided with the government to see the bypolls cancelled stating the next assembly elections were in a matter of months, he admitted on Sunday that it was already too late to change it.

State CEO Teeka Ram Meena
State CEO Teeka Ram Meena

"The political parties should have approached the Election Commission (EC) earlier and submitted their reservations. That would have helped. Now, I think, it is too late," the CEO told Onmanorama on Sunday.

Now, with the guidelines already out, Meena said that he cannot speak to the EC on behalf of the state. “I have to function as part of the EC,” Meena added.

The Election Commission had on Friday announced that Kuttanad and Chavara bypolls will be conducted at the same time as Bihar Assembly elections. Though the dates are not confirmed yet, it is expected to be conducted before November 29, according to a recent statement.

Several bypolls were deferred recently due to excessive rains and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kuttanad and Chavara seats fell vacant following the deaths of Thomas Chandy and N Vijayan Pillai, both belonging to the ruling Left Democratic Front.

The outcome of the bypolls would not affect the composition of the state legislature, where the CPM-led LDF has a comfortable majority. The current Kerala Assembly's term would expire on May 19, 2021.

Kuttanad and Chavara are in Alappuzha and Kollam districts respectively.

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