Home / Elections 2019 / Lok Sabha Elections 2019 /  Lok Sabha Elections 2019: How to make sense of Kerala's high polling numbers?

Bengaluru: It was an unusual scene in Kerala on Tuesday as voters were lining up in front of several polling booths until late night to cast votes, despite problems ranging from rains to sweltering sun to finding a snake in a voting machine in Kannur to the machines itself turning faulty in many pockets. In some corners of Vadakara, people had to stand as long as seven hours, local reports said.

But despite such odds, Kerala had its highest voter turnout in recent history on Tuesday, thanks to the enthusiasm of voters across districts, especially women voters, to come out and mark their choices, no matter how long they had to wait.

According to the final polling figures issued by the Chief Electoral Officer, Kerala's turnout, from 2.62 crore total voters, stood at 77.68%, narrowly higher than the 77.35% recorded during the 2016 State Assembly Elections, and substantially higher than the 74.02% recorded in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.

The 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in all 20 Kerala constituencies were held in a single phase on Tuesday. Only Assam, at 74.05%, came close to Kerala's turnout in the third phase of general elections.

How to make sense of this high turnout?

Historically, a high voter turnout has usually benefited the main local opposition front in Kerala. Hence if the voters wanted to mark their anti-incumbency against the state-ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM leader and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan or the center-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the high turnout would mean a surge in the votes for the main opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front or UDF.

However, this might vary from one constituency to another. In 12 out 20 seats, the voters are voting for or against a sitting Congress MP, hence if it is local incumbency that matters, it might favour the CPM.

In any case, political parties and analysts see the turnout as a reflection of strong fight between the three fronts, which became more high profile than usual this time.

The Congress had fielded their national president Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad and expected a favourable wave across the state, especially in North Kerala regions including Wayanad. The BJP wanted to expand its vote base banking on the Sabarimala agitations, and pitched a lot of effort to open its account for the first time in Kerala by fielding former state president and Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan against heavyweight Congress politician Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front or LDF did not make it easier for any of the opposition, by fielding their strongest local faces, as many as six MLAs, in the fray.

The constituencies which received a high turnout are indicative. Wayanad for instance marked a record polling at 80.31%, probably a result of a minority consolidation behind Congress based on the candidature of Rahul Gandhi.

“The record voter turnout in Kerala today is the proof of a strong Rahul wave. This wave created by Shri @RahulGandhi’s candidacy will gift a big win for the UDF in all 20 constituencies in Kerala. @INCIndia will deliver a glittering performance in the previous election phases too," tweeted All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary K C Venugopal.

However, the pattern was uneven. Not too far away from Wayanad is Ponnani seat, where Muslim League's heavyweight politician ET Muhammed Basheer was expected to be also benefitted by the Rahul wave. But the turnout was only 74.96%.

The Sabarimala issue may be key to understand why some South Kerala constituencies polled higher than usual. More than 10 lakh people voted for the first time in history at Pathanamthitta (74.19% turnout), the ground zero of Sabarimala protests, clearly a reflection of the high profile tri-corner contest between the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPM, candidate Veena George, Congress’ Anto Antony and BJP's K Surendran.

The Sabarimala factor, related to pro-and-against forces rallying behind a faithful ban for menstrual age women in the temple, may have also influenced a large number of women voters to come out and vote.

Both Left and Right wing leaders Mint spoke to claimed that the women voters, who visibly populated in unusually large numbers in the voting queues in southern districts where Sabarimala is influential, voted for them. It should be recalled that while the right wing was successful in bringing lakhs of women to the street agitations over the Sabarimala issue, the left wing was successful in creating a million-women strong rally, which they called a women's wall, symbolically agaisnd the Sabarimala protestors.

But here again, the pattern is uneven. Pathanamthitta’s turnout is actually one of the lowest when compared to other districts. The BJP's biggest bet, Thiruvananthapuram seat, witnessed the lowest voting percentage at 73.45. Provisional estimates say pro-BJP areas in the district such as Vattiyurkavu and the main town showed a slide in turnout, while it raised marginally in their other turfs such as Nemom and Kazhakkuttam. Some areas where both Congress and BJP have been making inroads, such as Neyyattinkara, Kovalam and Parassala, have shown some rise. The coastal and minority Christian dominated areas, where Tharoor and CPM strongman and local MLA C Divakaran have been making progress have seen a sharp rise.

“Two waves are clear in Thiruvananthapuram, based on the voter turnout. Voting has picked up in traditional Nair belts, supposed to benefit the BJP, and in the coastal and minority areas which have previously helped Tharoor to win," said analyst and veteran journalist Jacob George.

The CPM leaders Mint spoke said the higher voter turnout is a result of their concentration on flexing the cadres in full swing to ensure the victory of communist candidates. One leader pointed out to Kannur and Vadakara as examples, both prestigious fights for the CPM and marked two of the highest pollings, at 83.05% and 82.48% in that order.

Kannur, a traditional red bastion, is facing a high profile battle this time between former Congress MP, who has been the forefront of Sabarimala agitations too, K Sudhakaran and sitting MP from CPM P K Sreemathi. Congress fielded none less K Muraleedharan in Vadakara to defeat CPM's P Jayarajan. Jayarajan is an accused in a political murder case under CBI probe, even as he claims the charges are framed. The Congress thinks the defeat of Jayarajan will vindicate the charges of political murders against the CPM. The party discussed for weeks who should be their candidate and finally picked Muraleedharan, sitting MLA, son of former chief minister K Karunakaran and one of the most recognisable faces of Congress in Kerala.

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