The Tamil Nadu election commission called for an all-party meeting on Thursday as it prepares to announce dates for the local body polls on December 2.
The all-party meet comes amid a controversy over the state government promulgating an ordinance approving indirect elections for the posts of corporation mayor and chairperson of municipal and town panchayats.
Defending the move, the Tamil Nadu Government reasoned that there will be better stability and collective responsibility amongst the elected representatives if the elections are conducted indirectly. “The volume of transaction of business in the councils is on a larger scale. For instance, the Chennai City Municipal Corporation council consists of 200 councilors and Madurai and Coimbatore city City Municipal Corporation consist of 100 councillors each. In such a scenario, the co-operation of the majority of the councillors is indispensable to have a smooth transaction of business in the council meeting. Hence, In order to ensure the support of the majority the councillors in taking a decision and to render effective basic civil services to the public. It is considered appropriate to revert back to the indirect method of election to the offices of the Mayor and Chairperson of the Urban Local Bodies,” the statement read.
Several opposition parties like DMK, Congress, Communist parties, and even the ruling party’s ally BJP expressed their discontent over the government’s decision to conduct indirect elections for the top positions.
Taking to Twitter, DMK leader Stalin wrote: “Due to fear of losing local body polls, the AIADMK governments have passed this emergency ordinance. To hide their corruption, they have killed democracy. A week ago, the Chief Minister said people will elect mayors of the corporation, and chairpersons of municipal and town panchayaths but now, he has changed his stance. The AIADMK cabinet is struggling with ‘Commission, Corruption and Collection’, so they are confused about how to conduct the local body election. Whether it’s direct or Indirect, DMK will emerge victoriously.”
Reacting to Stalin’s allegations, CM Edappadi said DMK was the party which brought indirect elections and now they are trying to oppose for their political mileage.
“When Stalin was the Minister for rural development and local administration, he brought the indirect election rule. He cited the examples of other states like Assam and Gujarat where indirect elections are practiced and moved the bill in the assembly. Till 1996, there were indirect elections only. We have taken this decision according to the present situation,” he said.
Tamil Nadu has been yo-yoing between direct and indirect elections since the 90s. In 1996, when the DMK was elected to the power, then Chief Minister late M Karunanidhi introduced direct elections for mayors of corporation mayors and chairpersons of municipal and town panchayats. But in 2006, when they came to power again, they revoked it to introduce indirect elections for the top-level posts.
While opting for direct elections in 2011, AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa changed her stand and organized indirect elections in 2016. In 2018, the Edappadi-led government again favoured direct elections. The ruling party cited the possibility of elected mayors favouring only their constituency for switching to direct elections. But in less than a year, the party changed its stand.
Meanwhile, political parties have distributed the application to party members who wish to contest in the local body elections. Both the Dravidian parties have decided to contest the election with their existing allies. The DMK has already thrashed out a seat-sharing arrangement with its allies while the AIADMK is still locked in negotiations.
Tamil Nadu BJP Secretary KT Raghavan told indianexpress.com the party hasn’t taken a decision on the seat-sharing and also stated that the indirect election method is a wrong move by the government. “In five years, the AIADMK government has changed its position thrice. During 2016 when J Jayalalithaa was in power, the government announced indirect elections. In 2018, the same government said the direct election method will be followed and now they have changed again. Just because we are in an alliance, we cannot be silent if the government keeps changing its stand. Horse-trading will take place with indirect elections, there will be no stability and there are chances of elected councillors threatening the mayor,” he said.
Raghavan added that the local body elections are different from the general elections and the elected members will not necessarily the party’s candidate . “The civic body elections are a different ball game. The councillors might be pretty close to each other despite being in opposition parties. The caste factor will play a huge role, they treat their friendship above parties. So, they won’t mind going against the mayor even if he belongs to their own party. In 2001 elections, we won around 850 seats alongside two municipal chairman seats without any alliance, now with AIADMK alliance, we are very confident that we will win a considerable amount of seats in this election,” he said.
There are a total of 15 municipal corporations, 152 municipalities, and 561 town panchayats. In Urban, there are 1,064 corporate councillors, 3,468 municipal councillors, and 8,288 town panchayat ward members. Similarly, in Rural there are 655 district ward panchayat members, 6,471 panchayat union ward members, 12,524 village panchayat presidents, and 99,324 village panchayat ward members. According to reports, the EC is trying to conduct the civic polls in two phases (Rural and Urban apiece)