Will Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan make his Left Democratic Front's tally in the Kerala assembly a prestigious 100 or will the Congress-led United Democratic Front restrict the number to the existing 99? The voters of the Thrikkakara assembly constituency in Ernakulam district have decided the answer to these questions on Tuesday.
Voting for the Thrikkakara bypoll, the first during the second term of the Vijayan-led LDF government, got under way from 7 am. Voters exercised their franchise till 6pm.
The voter turnout was at 68.75 per cent when polling time ended in Thrikkakara. This is the lowest turnout in the history of the constituency. The corresponding figures for 2021 Assembly elections, 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2016 Assembly elections are 70.36, 76.03 and 74.65 per cent respectively.
There are a total of 1,96,805 voters in the constituency. Of them, 1,01,530 are women and one identifies as transgender. Most booths reported a healthy turnout since morning.
UDF, LDF candidates cast their vote
UDF candidate Uma Thomas and LDF candidate Dr Jo Joseph were among the first to cast their vote from their respective booths on Tuesday. While Uma Thomas voted in booth number 50 at Pipeline Junction in Palarivattom, Jo Joseph cast his vote at booth number 140 in Vazhakkala, near Padamugal.
Talking to the media after voting, Uma said she believes the people of Thrikkakara constituency will vote for her. "PT's (P T Thomas) spirit is with me today. The favourable weather condition is proof," said Uma.
Dr Jo Joseph, talking to reporters, said: "I am 100 per cent confident that the LDF will bag its hundredth seat in Thrikkakara. Victory will be ours."
Meanwhile, BJP candidate A N Radhakrishnan alleged foul play in the Thrikkakara bypolls. At the same time, he expressed confidence that he will be the first NDA member to reach the Kerala Assembly after O Rajagopal.
The leader also engaged in an altercation with the cops after they warned him for speaking to the media near the polling booth.
Radhakrishnan does not have a vote in the Thrikkakara constituency.
Actors Mammootty, Lal, Harisree Ashokan, Janardhanan and Renji Panicker were among those who cast their vote in the first three hours of polling. Hibi Eden, MP, and wife Anna too cast their vote at booth number 20 at Mamangalam. Ernakulam MLA T J Vinodh and family also cast their vote in the morning.
The presiding officer of Marottichodu polling station was removed after he turned up for duty in an inebriated state.
A man was arrested from the Vyttila Ponnuruni booth for trying to cast a fraudulent vote. The complaint was lodged by UDF booth agents.
The bypoll was necessitated by the death of Congress legislator P T Thomas.
Though there are eight candidates in the fray, the fight was between the UDF's Uma Thomas and the LDF's Dr Jo Joseph. The BJP which ended up in a distant third in all the three assembly polls in the constituency claims it would emerge victorious this time. Formed in 2011, Thrikkakara has elected only Congress MLAs so far.
Though none of the polling booths have been classified as sensitive, fool-proof security was arranged everywhere, district collector Jafer Malik had said.
On the poll eve, all the three major contestants exuded confidence of winning. Dr Joseph, whose selection as the CPM candidate has caused a controversy, on Monday reiterated that Thrikkakara will elect a ruling MLA this time. "Ernakulam is an economic hub of Kerala and Thrikkakara is one of the most important constituencies here. But Thrikkakara does not have proportionate development. Since its formation, the constituency has been held by the UDF. The Left government got a second term because of the developmental agenda. The people of Thrikkakara have understood this and will vote for the Left," Joseph said.
Uma Thomas, widow of former MLA P T Thomas, told PTI that she would like to carry forward the development dreams of her late husband.
"First of all, this is a UDF constituency. Secondly, this constituency was well looked after by PT (Thomas). This byelection was necessitated by his untimely death. He used to meet the people and used to take proactive steps for them. PT was like a family member for the people here. It's a huge factor," Uma said.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate A N Radhakrishnan is confident that with the support of senior politician P C George, who was recently arrested and released on bail in two hate speech cases, the National Democratic Front will win the polls.
The constituency, which was formed in 2011, had elected senior Congress leader Benny Behanan as its first MLA.
In the 2016 assembly election, P T Thomas secured 61,268 votes, which was 45.42 per cent of the electorate, while CPM's Sebastian Paul bagged 49,455 votes. That year, BJP's S Saji secured 21,247 votes.
However, in 2021, Thomas won with a slightly reduced margin bagging 59,839 votes, while CPM-backed Dr J Jacob got 45,510 votes. BJP had bagged 15,483 in the 2021 polls.
Meanwhile, Twenty20, a political party backed by industrial group Kitex, had fielded a candidate in 2021 and secured 13,897 votes.
Even though Twenty20 had entered into an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party this time, they have not fielded a candidate but asked the people to vote judiciously.
A prestigious contest for LDF
The Left party has deployed all its party mechanisms in the constituency which the Congress considers as its impregnable fortress. Several Left front leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his cabinet colleagues, and other MLAs were camping in the constituency to wrest back the seat from the Congress.
The Congress leaders, however, are confident that its traditional seat that stood strong with it even when there was a Left wave in 2021 would elect Uma Thomas to the state Assembly.
The vote counting is on June 3.