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Monday, November 30, 2020

Explained: Here’s a look at how Kerala has planned its three-tier local body elections

Kerala Local Body Election 2020 dates, schedule: The contest that's likely to get the most eyeballs is undoubtedly the 100-seat Thiruvananthapuram municipal corporation. That's because in 2015, it witnessed a fiercely-fought triangular contest between LDF, UDF and BJP.

Written by Vishnu Varma , Edited by Explained Desk | Kochi | Updated: November 30, 2020 11:16:08 am
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Kerala Local Body Election 2020 dates, schedule: The state election commission of Kerala Friday announced the schedule for elections to the three-tier local body system to be held in three phases in December. The day of polling in the first phase will be December 8, followed by second phase on December 10 and the final phase on December 14. Votes will be counted on December 16.

Is the schedule as originally planned?

No. The polls were originally scheduled to take place in October as the tenure of elected representatives to the local bodies is set to end on November 12. The new councils were expected to take oath before that date. However, an alarming rise in coronavirus infections in the state through August and September forced a rethink among officials. An all-party meeting was convened by the state government where almost all political parties agreed on requesting the state election commission to defer the polls by a couple of months, if not indefinitely. After due consultations with heads of political parties and the health department, the election commission agreed to postpone the polls till December when the situation is expected to normalise.

What’s the schedule of the polls as decided by the election commission?

Voters in the five southern districts of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Idukki will head to the polling stations in the first phase on December 8. The districts of Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad have been included in the second phase of polling on December 10. The final phase of polling is on December 14 in the districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod in northern Kerala. The votes will be counted on December 16. State election commissioner V Bhaskaran said the polls will be held adhering to strict protocols of Covid-19 by usage of masks, gloves, sanitisers and maintaining physical distancing at polling stations. A total of 2.71 crore voters are eligible to vote across 34,744 polling stations. The commission will bear the expenses for safety equipment to be used by election officials manning polling stations.

How many seats are up for grabs in these polls?

Kerala has a total of 1200 self-government institutions that are categorised into village panchayats, block panchayats, district panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations across 14 districts. However, the elections in December will be held to 1199 local bodies as the tenure of the Mattannur municipal council follows a separate calendar. The seats that are up for grabs include 15,962 wards in 941 village panchayats, 2080 seats in 152 block panchayats, 331 seats in 14 district panchayats, 3078 wards in 86 municipalities and 414 wards in six municipal corporations. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Are the polls fought along political lines?

Largely yes. Kerala’s three principal political coalitions — CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — are in the fray. Many seats are also routinely won by Independents and by individuals backed by local citizen groups. The party/coalition with a majority of seats in the council gets to govern the body and nominate its choice of president/vice-president/mayor. In case of hung councils, leadership posts are shared between ruling and opposition parties.

Are seats reserved for women?

Yes. In 2009, the Kerala Assembly passed landmark bills enabling 50 per cent of the seats in self-government institutions to be reserved for women. The reserved seats as well as women-only posts for president, vice-president and mayor rotate every five years. Seats are also reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

What’s the current standing of political parties among local bodies in Kerala?

In the 2015 polls, the CPM-led LDF won big by taking control of 551 of the 941 village panchayats, 42 of 86 municipalities, 7 of 14 district panchayats, 88 of 152 block panchayats and 4 out of the 6 corporations.

The UDF came second by getting reins of 362 panchayats, 7 district panchayats, 2 corporations, 40 municipalities and 63 block panchayats.

The BJP could come to power only in 14 panchayats and 1 municipality.

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Which are the keenly-watched contests this time?

The contest that’s likely to get the most eyeballs is undoubtedly the 100-seat Thiruvananthapuram municipal corporation. That’s because in 2015, it witnessed a fiercely-fought triangular contest between LDF, UDF and BJP. In fact, the BJP shocked everyone by winning 34 of the 100 seats, closely following the LDF which won 42 seats. The UDF was pushed to third position with wins in just 21 seats. This time, the BJP will be hoping to better its performance and even win control of the corporation. If it manages to do that, it will be a national talking-point for a party that has failed to register a sustained growth in Kerala.

The Thrissur corporation, which saw the LDF and UDF neck and neck last time, and the Palakkad municipality, the only one BJP controls on its own, will also be keenly-watched.

What’s the significance of the local body polls?

The polls are a valuable barometer of the direction of the political winds in the state, five months ahead of crucial Assembly elections. Like in 2010 and 2015, the coalition winning a majority of the local bodies have gone on to register victories in the subsequent Assembly polls. Having representation at the grassroot level is also key for political parties to effectively implement their agenda for development once they come to power in the state.

With a slew of welfare schemes, navigating the state through back-to-back floods and controlling the pandemic in the initial months, the LDF had a clear edge. But the political ramifications of the gold smuggling case, the arrest of CPM state secretary’s son in a money laundering case and the pandemic going out of control has troubled the LDF. The UDF also suffers from the lack of a popular, charismatic face as well as rampant factionalism within. For the BJP, an improvement on its past performance is a must to satisfy its central leadership. In short, the local body polls and the Assembly polls are anyone’s game.

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