A number nightmare for Congress in Kerala? What history says about lower voter turnout

People are queuing up across polling booths in Kerala to cast their votes for the Lok Sabha Elections 2024. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: A sharp drop in the voting percentage in Kerala in the Lok Sabha polls this time compared to the previous general elections in 2019 could be something the Congress and its allies have to worry about. A quick inference from the numbers could be that there was no wave in the state in favour of the opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) as it had expected with too much confidence.

In 2019, when the UDF performed its best winning 19 out of 20 seats the state had witnessed a massive turnout of voters – 77.84%. This time, the voting percentage stands at a little over 70 per cent, though the final figures are yet to be out. The drop seems to have dampened the spirits of the opposition camp which kept claiming that it would win all 20 seats in the state this time. The UDF had largely pinned its hopes on a perceived anti-incumbency wave against the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government. Going by history, the lower turnout suggests that the Congress hopes might not have been translated into votes.

The Congress and its allies performed impressively in Kerala often when the voting percentage went near or above 75 per cent. Every time it was around 70 per cent, it was almost a tie for the UDF and the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF).

A common analysis is that a higher voter turnout often reflects a wave which clearly gives an upper hand to one front over the other. In Kerala, it has often favoured the UDF while the LDF mostly manages to keep its voter base intact. In 2019, two factors – the anger against the Pinarayi government over the handling of the Sabarimala Supreme Court verdict and the excitement over Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad – had contributed much to the pro-UDF wave which reflected in the nearly 78 per cent voter turnout.

The 2019 turnout was close to the 1984 figure (77.10%) when the Congress won 13 seats and its ally IUML 2. The 1984 elections were held after the Indira Gandhi assassination and the public sentiments gave the Congress its largest mandate in history with 404 seats.

The next elections, held in 1989, too witnessed a massive turnout in Kerala with the number going up to 79.3%. Again, the mandate proved to be in favour of the UDF with it winning 17 seats; 14 for Congress.

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Photo: Onmanorama/Canva

In 1991, the voting percentage fell to 73.3 but the mandate was still in favour of the UDF with 16 seats. Thirteen of it went to Congress.

The voter turnout stood around 70 per cent in the next three elections and the polls threw some sort of split verdicts with neither the UDF nor the LDF in a position to claim a clear mandate in favour of them.

In 1996, Kerala recorded 71.10% of polling and both the UDF and LDF ended up winning 10 seats each. The 1998 polls witnessed 70.70 per cent of voter turnout and the results were UDF 11, LDF 9. The nation went to the polls again the next year in 1999 and Kerala recorded a turnout of 70.20%. This time, again, 11 seats went to the UDF and the remaining nine to the LDF.

In 2004, the voter turnout remained almost static compared to the previous polls at 71.20%. However, the mandate was largely in favour of the LDF with the alliance winning 19 out of 20 seats. The Congress drew a blank with its ally IUML winning the remaining one seat.

In 2009, the voter turnout went up slightly to 73.5% and the beneficiary was the UDF. It won 16 seats with 13 in Congress’ kitty. In 2014, the voter turnout stood at 73.90 and the UDF’s seats fell to 12, leaving only eight with Congress.

An overview of the data suggests that the near 70 per cent mark does not give Congress the confidence to remain hopeful of a 2019 repeat. A Congress leader, who appears on TV debates frequently, admitted that the reactions to the lower turnout exposed the lack of confidence within his camp.

While Opposition Leader V D Satheesan has sought a probe into the alleged official apathy which delayed polling in several constituencies, a couple of Congress candidates have raised complaints about rigging attempts.

A mandate without a clear upper hand would be a nightmare for the Congress leadership in the state as it is the first major election happening since the UDF’s defeat in the 2021 assembly polls. The results of the polls will be declared only on June 4.

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