Political slugfest and acrimony between the ruling AIADMK led coalition and the DMK headed alliance over the IT raids marked the campaigning for Tamil Nadu that goes to the polls Thursday. A good number out of the 5.98 crore voters are expected to brave the scorching summer heat for exercising their franchise to decide the fate of about 800 MP aspirants.
Of the entire electorate, over 12 lakh first-time voters and more than four lakh persons with disabilities have registered for the polls, a number which Chief Electoral officer Satyabrata Sahoo said had not been seen in previous elections. "We have not seen such high numbers in previous elections. All these indicate how much people are interested to vote," he said.
In the run-up to the polls, election authorities seized over Rs 129 crore cash, gold and other precious metals with a total value of over Rs 284 crore from all over the state. In an unsavoury incident, a poll flying squad was Tuesday prevented from entering an AMMK office in Theni to conduct checks on the information of money distribution there.
Police had to fire in the air to remove party workers who had blocked the entry of election officials there. However, none were injured in the incident.
Elections will be held for 38 Lok Sabha seats and 18 Assembly constituencies in a single phase. While the state has 39 Lok Sabha constituencies, the Election Commission of India (EC) on Tuesday had rescinded the polling to Vellore parliamentary segment.
This followed the seizure of crores of Rupees from an associate close to a DMK leader in the district. Of the 22 vacant Assembly seats, polling is being held for 18 of them. The rest will go to the polls on May 19.
The results of the bypolls to 22 vacant seats hold greater significance since the two-year-old Palaniswami government has to win a significant number to retain power in the state. The vacancies were created both by the death of sitting MLAs, including DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi, and the disqualification of ruling AIADMK members in August 2017.
The members had revolted against Chief Minister K Palaniswami after he merged his led faction with that of O Panneerselvam, then a rebel leader. As many as 18 MLAs were disqualified by Speaker P Dhanapal then which was later upheld by the Madras High Court.
All the disqualified AIADMK legislators owe allegiance to ousted party leaders V K Sasikala, since serving a jail term in Bengaluru in a graft case, and her nephew T T V Dhinakaran, who now heads the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. Poll officials are geared up to ensure smooth voting, with over 160 companies of paramilitary forces and one lakh state police personnel all set to keep a watch on polling day.
They will decide the fate of about 800 MP aspirants including a transgender. Tamil Nadu has a total of 67,720 polling stations and 7,780 booths have been categorised as critical and vulnerable where more Central Armed Police Forces personnel and micro observers will be deployed.
Measures like webcasting and videography of the proceedings will also be done. As many as 1,50,302 ballot units, 89,160 control units and 94,653 VVPAT which allows the electors to cross-check the votes they have cast for seven seconds are available.
Every constituency will have one all women polling station. While polling will be held between 7 AM to 6 PM in all 37 constituencies, it has been extended by two hours to 8 PM in Madurai Lok Sabha segment, following the Chithirai festival, which marks the grand entry of Lord Kallazhagar into Vaigai river.
Earlier, demands were made to extend the polling duration in Madurai Lok Sabha segment, as the date coincided with the popular festival, where lakhs of devotees throng the temple town for the grand event. The EC had subsequently extended the duration.
In the 234 member house, 117 is the simple majority number. In the absence of 22 legislators, the strength of the AIADMK stands at 113, excluding the Speaker.
(With inputs from agencies.)