Close on the heels of its worse-than-expected defeat in Gujarat, the Indian National Congress is bracing for a possible defeat in state assembly elections just completed in the northwestern state of Himachal Pradesh, reports Daily News & Analysis India (26 December). Votes will be counted Friday.
Congress fears anti-incumbent voting might emerge as a strong factor against the party in Himachal, reports DNA India (25 December). Congress currently rules the state. It won 43 of the 68 seats in the previous election, in 2003. The main rival, BJP, won only 16 seats in that election. However, the 2003 election was much closer than that seat result implies: Congress beat the BJP in votes only 41.0% to 35.4%.1 The Congress won 18 of those districts with less than 45% of the votes, 8 with less than 40%. It would not take much of a votes swing to give the BJP a plurality of seats.
In an odd twist, the current Himachal assembly and cabinet are due to remain in office until March. Commenting on what many have perceived to be an impending constitutional crisis, if the BJP wins, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy, said on 13 December:
The Constitution is very clear on this issue.Two assemblies can co-exist. After the elections, there will be no constitutional crisis in the state. (Indian Express, 14 December.)
The current government of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh can remain in power through this lengthy transition. The new assembly would not actually sit till 9 March, but its composition will be known by the end of this month. The Revenue Minister in the incumbent government has filed a petition with the high court demanding that counting be delayed until March, though national Congress officials have “distanced” themselves from the move (DNA India, 25 Dec.).
Why the long period of lame duckery?
Elections in Himachal Pradesh are being held about three months in advance to facilitate voting for three assembly seats of Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti and Bharmour along with the rest of the state. All high altitude passes that connect these areas to the rest of the state are official closed on November 15. Polling in these three constituencies were held on November 14. In the rest of the 65 assembly constituencies, elections are slated for December 19. (Indian Express.)
Himachal Pradesh borders Jammu & Kashmir in the western Himalaya.
When the election results are known, I will post them in a comment, an excerpt of which will then appear on the right sidebar.
- Both parties contested all 68 seats in 2003. There is a state party, the Himachal Vikas Congress that contested 49 (and won 1, on 5.9% of the statewide vote). No other party contested 30. This is significant, as it means that most districts featured something close to a straight fight between the two main national parties. So, while small, the state is something of a bellwether. There were also 110 independents, 6 of whom won; they combined for 12.6% of the statewide vote, and some might have been ‘spoilers’ in specific races. The electoral data cited here are based on the Statistical Report available from the Election Commission of India. [↩]