Chennai: “When our parents (AIADMK and DMK) have failed, how do you expect us to trust a third person (DMDK and others)?" asked Nachiappan, a 56-year old trader from Chengalpattu district, 50km from Chennai, a week before Tamil Nadu went to the polls.

Nachiappan was probably echoing the voices of the 43 million people who voted in the assembly election in the state on 16 May.

Previously, the state had only seen two-sided fights, between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). This assembly election was hyped as a multi cornered contest with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)—People Welfare Front (PWF) alliance, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the untested Naam Tamilar Katchi all supposed to eat into the share of the two main parties.

Sure, the main contest would still be between the DMK and the AIADMK, psephologists said, but the others could play spoiler. As things turned out, that wasn’t to be.

The PMK managed to get 5.3% of votes, Vijayakanth’s DMDK, only 2.4%.

What happened to the DMDK?

The DMDK was wooed by every other party and ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth decided he would rather be ‘king’ than ‘kingmaker’ and settled down with PWF—a coalition of Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Vaiko-led Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and T. Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. The alliance was later joined by former union minister GK Vasan’s Tamil Manila Congress.

The DMDK formally launched in September 2005 at Madurai as an alternative to the AIADMK and DMK, contested in all 234 seats in the May 2006 assembly elections and Vijayakanth emerged as the sole winner for his party. But the party garnered about 10% vote share.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, it won no seats. The party allied with AIADMK in the 2011 assembly elections and won 29 of the 41 seats it contested, with an 8% vote share. The DMDK fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections along with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and won no seats.

In 2016, candidates of the DMDK including its founder Vijayakanth, ended up losing their deposit in 103 of the 104 seats contested by the party. Vijayakanth could manage only 34,447 votes from Ulundurpettai constituency and finished a distant third. His party drew a blank.

The coalition ended up with a 6.1% vote share with DMDK contributing 2.4%.

“Two months before the elections, PWF was looking like it could take a reasonable percentage of votes until Vijayakanth was roped in and projected as the chief ministerial candidate and started making his speeches," said Sumanth Raman, a political analyst from Chennai.

“While people may not have been over enthusiastic about AIADMK and DMK, they became even less enthusiastic with the third front," he added.

Another party to end up with no seats was the PMK, whose chief ministerial candidate was another former union minister, Anbumani Ramadoss. The party contested all 234 seats, and managed a 5.3% vote share. In 2011 it won three of the contested 30 seats and had a vote share of 5.2%.

“In spite of high-tech campaigns, PMK still had that tag of a ‘caste party’," said Raman.

The BJP which was trying to make inroads in the southern state got a 2.8% vote share across the 134 seats it contested. In 2011, the party’s vote share was 2.4%.

Indeed, the 2016 election proved once again that Tamil Nadu still continuous to be a stronghold of the two Dravidian parties, a trend that has played out since 1967. The AIADMK and the DMK groupings took a combined 80.5% share of the vote.

There was a narrow 1.1% difference between the ruling AIADMK and the DMK. Indeed, if “contested vote share" were to be considered, the DMK with 41.05% from 176 seats it contested edges out the AIADMK which won 40.78% of the votes in the 232 constituencies it contested. In the 172 constituencies that saw a direct clash between AIADMK and DMK, the latter emerged as winners in 89 seats and former in 83.

A partnership with the Congress may have well cost the DMK. It won just 8 of the 41 seats it contested.

The alliance’s vote share stood at 39.7%.

“AIADMK won in 51 out of the 60 seats contested by the allies of DMK including the Congress and IUML (Indian Union Muslim League)," said DMK chief M Karunanidhi, after the election results.

DMK with 89 seats has become the largest ever opposition party in the history of the Tamil Nadu’s assembly and clearly has its task cut out.

“In 2011 we just had 23 seats. Now with 89 seats we can clearly strive to be an effective opposition," says Thangam Thennarasu, former school education minister and DMK’s MLA from the Tiruchuli constituency.

“Just because the experiment failed this time, we can’t say that an alternative party is out of question. An alternative party will emerge sooner than later," said Raman. “There is still a huge yearning for change. People felt that the alternatives that were present this time were not even as trustful as the traditional parties," he added.

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