After 25 years of continous dominance over the Panaji assembly constituency, the Bharatiya Janata Party sans Manohar Parrikar is fighting a tough battle on Sunday to retain its winning streak.
One of the highlights of the Panaji by-poll is that Goa election authorities have tried to make the polling infrastructure 100% accessible, by getting the stakeholders into confidence over accessibility audit and a tie-up with EazyMov taxi operators to help persons with disability(PswD) voters to cast their votes smoothly. One of the 19 booths of the constituency would be entirely managed by PswD. Panaji has 115 such voters.
The stakes are high for the BJP as far as the by-election to four assembly seats, including Panaji, holds the key to the survival of the BJP-led coalition government headed by Pramod Sawant ho succeeded Parrikar after his death on March 17.
At present, the government has a thin majority of 20 in the truncated House of 36.
In addition to this, BJP has been facing internal bickerings after it denied ticket to Parrikar’s elder son Utpal after allowing him to be projected as a front-runner for the Panaji ticket.
The chances of a win for BJP candidate Siddarth Kuncaliekar, a former aide of Parrikar and two-time MLA (while Parrikar was away in Delhi in 2014-17 as Defence Minister) in Panaji hinge on the vote-splitting ability of former Goa RSS chief Subhash Velingkar, who is in the fray on Goa Suraksha Manch ticket. The regional outfit was floated and mentored by Mr. Velingkar after he was sacked as RSS chief in Goa following his fallout with Parrikar over the issue of medium of instruction at the primary school level.
As the election campaign came to an end on Friday evening, both Congress and BJP said that they are confident of winning.
CM Sawant dismissed claims made by the Congress about ousting his government soon.
“Congress should not dream of forming a government. The dream will never be fulfilled. Our alliance and independent MLAs are all together. There is no question of the government falling,” Mr. Sawant said on Friday.
Three assembly by-polls for the constituencies of Shiroda, Mapusa and Mandrem had been held on April 23.
Both BJP and the Congress are currently tied with 14 MLAs each in the State legislative assembly.
Meanwhile, Congress said that BJP would lose the by-polls 4-0, leading to the ouster of Mr. Sawant’s government.
“The BJP will have to bid goodbye to its government after results are declared. The people are tired of their lies and misgovernance,” State Congress president Girish Chodankar said.
The others in the fray include Aam Aadmi Party’s Valmiki Naik, who can play spoilsport for the Congress.
Knowing the importance of the Panaji by-poll for his government, Mr. Sawant has virtually camped there for last several days and tried to undo the damage done to the party over the Utpal Parrikar-ticket issue. Mr. Utpal and his younger brother Mr. Abhijat too had joined the campaign.
The month-long campaign was also marked with controversies which included a rape victim (who had accused Atanasio Monserrate, now the Congress candidate for the Panaji by-poll in 2016 when she was a minor) going missing and a mysterious assault on the BJP candidate Kuncalienkar. The campaign also saw the Congress attack Mr. Kuncalienkar, accusing of him of alleged scams in creating infrastructure for the Smart City project in Panaji, a charge which the BJP candidate has denied.
Panaji has total voters of 22,485 — 10,698 male and 11,787 female. The constituency has seen a voting average of 60-70%, except during 2012 Assembly election. In 2012, Parrikar, who won the seat for six terms, won with a record victory margin of 6,000. The voting was a record of 78.85%.
In the 2017 by-poll, Parrikar had defeated his Congress rival Girish Chodankar by 4,803 votes. Parrikar had won 63.47% of the total votes polled, while his opponent polled 32.56%.