Chamling set to return to power (Poll curtainraiser – Sikkim)

Gangtok, April 29 (Inditop) The Pawan Chamling-led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) seems set to return to power for the fourth time in Sikkim as the northeastern state goes to the polls to elect representatives to 32-member assembly simultaneously with elections to its lone Lok Sabha seat Thursday.

According to poll officials, 300,584 people – 157,361 men and 143,223 women – are eligible to cast their votes at the 493 polling stations across the state’s four districts.

They will decide the fate of 168 candidates in the fray for the assembly polls and five candidates for the Lok Sabha seat.

Of the 32 assembly constituencies, 12 have been reserved for the Bhutia-Lepcha community, two for Scheduled Castes and one for Buddhist clergy. Elections for this Sangha seat will be held at monasteries across the state – there are 3,058 monks and nuns eligible to vote.

Nine political parties, including four national parties – the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are fighting the elections.

However, political analysts say the SDF is most likely to return to power with a sweeping majority.

The chief minister has already predicted that his party will win all the 32 assembly seats as well as the Lok Sabha seat and form the government May 20.

The SDF had won 31 seats in the previous assembly elections, while the Congress had wrested the Sangha seat.

This time, Chamling is contesting the assembly polls from two constituencies – Poklok Kamrang and Namchi.

In Poklok Kamrang, he is facing opposition from Purna Kumari Rai of the Congress, Bhim Shila Rai of the Sikkim Himali Rajya Parishad (SHRP), and Jai Prakash Rai of the Sikkim National People’s Party (SNPP) and Sikkim Janmukti Party (SJP) alliance.

In Namchi, Chamling’s rivals are Khush Bahadur Rai of the Congress, Tika Rai of the SHRP, and Basant Rai of the SNPP-SJP alliance.

The chief minister is expected to win both seats.

The only constituency where the SDF faces a tough fight is Khandong Singtan, where it has fielded newcomer Am Prasad Sharma against Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who was the chief minister for 15 years. The other contestant for the seat is Arun Pradhan of the Sikkim Gorkha Prajatantrik Party.

There are 180 polling stations for the 12 constituencies in the district of East Sikkim, 130 for the eight constituencies in West Sikkim, 38 for the three constituencies in North Sikkim and 145 for the eight constituencies in South Sikkim.

The Chujachen constituency in East Sikkim has the highest number of voters at 12,902. The smallest number of voters is registered at Lachen-Mangshila constituency in North Sikkim, where only 5,699 people are eligible to exercise their franchise.

The remotest polling station is located at Pentong Primary School in Upper Dzongu in North Sikkim, where 143 people are eligible to cast their vote. The polling station is a three-hour walk from the nearest roadhead.

The Gnathang Primary School voting station for the Gnathang-Machong constituency is situated at the highest altitude in the state, at 11,000 feet. It has 741 registered voters.

Officials said eight election observers will man four constituencies each. Three companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), comprising over 300 men, have been deployed in the 11 sensitive areas of the state where there is a possibility of violence.