Polling has closed for byelections to 15 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka. The results of Thursday’s (December 5) byelections could end up determining whether the BJP government in the state survives. This is why the elections happened, and why they are important. Follow live updates on the results
Why are the bye-elections happening?
The by-elections are the result of a chain of events that began with the results of the 2018 Assembly elections in Karnataka. The BJP won 104 seats, the Congress 80, and the JD-S 37 seats in the 224-member House. Three seats were won by others.
After the BJP failed to muster a majority after three days of BS Yediyurappa being Chief Minister, the Congress and JD-S, whose leaders had forged an alliance soon after the results, formed the government with H D Kumaraswamy of the JD-S as CM.
In July 2019, 14 MLAs from the Congress and three from the JD-S quit the Assembly. The resignations were seen as linked to an attempt by the BJP to topple the state government.
As the 17 rebels stayed away from the Assembly, the Congress-JD-S government collapsed during a trust vote on July 23. The BJP staked claim to form a new government under Yediyurappa on July 26.
In the interim, however, on July 25 and 28, then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar issued two separate orders under the anti-defection law, disqualifying the 17 MLAs from the House and barring them from contesting elections during the tenure of the current Assembly (which is until 2023).
The MLAs moved the Supreme Court asking that the Speaker’s orders be quashed. The Congress and JD-S too approached the court, seeking enforcement of the disqualifications.
On September 27, the Election Commission announced by-elections to 15 of the 17 vacant seats.
Elections were not announced in the Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Maski seats, where separate election petitions challenging the results of the 2018 elections continue to be pending in Karnataka High Court.
On November 13, the Supreme Court passed an order upholding the disqualification of the 17 rebel MLAs by then Speaker Ramesh Kumar, but allowed them to contest the byelections.
What impact can the result of the bypolls have on Yediyurappa’s government?
Yediyurappa currently has the support of 106 MLAs in the Assembly, including one Independent, while the Opposition combine of the Congress and JD-S has 101. The Karnataka House has 224 seats, with 17 vacancies. Fifteen of these vacancies will now be filled.
The BJP will have to win a minimum six out of the 15 seats that have gone to polls on Thursday — and ultimately, seven out of 17 to keep its majority. (It will, however, still be dependent on the support of the Independent — and would like, therefore, to win at least one extra seat in both situations for a clear majority of its own.)
Thirteen of the disqualified MLAs are fighting the byelections on BJP tickets from the same constituencies from where they had won in 2018 as candidates of the Congress/JD-S. Of the 15 constituencies where polling has been held, 12 were held by the Congress and three by the JD-S after the 2018 elections.
However, even if the BJP does not win these seats, it is far from certain that the JD-S and Congress will stay together to push the BJP into a corner. The two parties have been traditional rivals in South Karnataka, and their coming together to thwart the BJP in 2018 was an unnatural alliance that did not, ultimately, last.
With frictions between the Congress and JD-S rising after the collapse of their coalition government, the BJP could have the alternative choice of tying up with the JD-S in case it needs the numbers.
The JD-S, whose leaders face CBI cases, has in recent days shown the inclination to back the BJP if necessary.
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