Monday, February 23, 2015

On-your-marks for municipal elections

Scheduled for April 2015, the urban local body polls continue a rather extended run of election-related politics for Sikkim

Sikkim is having a rather extended run of election-related politics. The Assembly Elections of last year included a bye-election [for Rangang-Yangang], and now the State gears up for urban local body elections due in April if things proceed according to plan. The last urban local body elections, held in April 2010, had served up a walkover for the ruling party when Opposition parties boycott the elections and SDF cornered 44 of the 47 total wards in urban local bodies of Sikkim uncontested. This time, it is unlikely that such an easy walkover will happen because at least three political parties have decided to participate in the elections. The ruling SDF and Opposition SKM have already made formal announcements to contest, and the BJP too has confirmed that it will be in the fray. Meanwhile, although the official dates for the elections are not announced yet, the parties have taken their mark and begun their outreach programmes.
The State Election Commission has also begun preparing for the elections and recently announced dates for the preparation of electoral rolls for the ensuing election for the municipalities. The draft electoral rolls were prepared on 12 February and the segregation of ward-wise electoral rolls is currently underway. The process is underway full swing and District Returning Officers have been briefed and directed accordingly, informed Ambika Pradhan, Secretary, State Election Commission. The final publication of the electoral rolls for the municipal elections is scheduled for 26 March 2015.
Even as the official processes continue, the politics too has picked up, with both, the SDF and SKM having appointed committees to get party workers working on campaign mode. The SDF has stolen a march on others by having already appointed a manifesto drafting committee headed by former Speaker KT Gyaltsen and passing specific directions to its frontal organizations to hit the campaign trail in earnest.
Both parties are claiming to be “fully prepared” and “confident” for the municipal elections.
Former Gangtok Mayor, KN Topgay, who quit the ruling SDF virtually on the eve of the Assembly elections and now heads the SKM’s municipal election preparation committee, when contacted, affirmed that SKM was prepared for the elections and gradually building its campaign in urban areas. The party’s energies for the present appear centred around Gangtok.
“We are fully prepared and ready for the contest whenever the elections are called,” Mr. Topgay said, adding the party was also open to discussing alliance options with other political parties for the upcoming polls.
He also said that the party has not yet finalised whether it will contest in all the seven urban local bodies and their 47 wards or focus its energies only on Gangtok Municipal Corporation. As things stand, the party has decided to contest the GMC and a decision on other towns will be taken shortly, it is informed.
On the other hand, the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front has already kicked off its campaign with its frontal organizations having already been activated for campaigning and having begun approaching voters to reinstate their faith. The SDF lost to SKM in constituencies which form part of the GMC, it may be recalled.
The party president, Pawan Chamling, has directed party leaders to take the upcoming urban bodies election very seriously. The heavyweights in the manifesto-drafting committee of the SDF reveal how seriously the party is taking these elections. Headed by former Speaker KT Gyaltsen, the other members include Rajya Sabha MP, Hissey Lachungpa, former Education Minister NK Pradhan, who has represented Gangtok as MLA for 20 years, former Ministers Neeru Sewa and Am Prasad Sharma, Deputy Mayor Shakti Singh, Karma Ongmu Bhutia, IK Neopaney from Gyazing, West Sikkim, Tika Gurung and NH Ansari from South Sikkim. 
The party’s leaders and workers have begun work at the ward level for the elections, with a press release arriving almost everyday about the campaign efforts.  
As for the third prospective party in the fray – the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sikkim unit president, Palden Khangsharpa, informs that the party will definitely participate in the municipal elections and will decide the party modalities and other aspects of the polls shortly. He said that BJP has not yet decided whether or not it will contest in all the wards. A final call in this aspect is expected in be taken by the party’s executive body by next week.
The opposition parties, it may be recalled, had boycott the municipal elections in 2010 polls. In the total of 47 municipal wards in the State, apart from SDF candidates, there were only three independent candidates in the fray [Tadong, Ranipool and Burtuk in GMC], all of whom lost by substantial margins.
As of now, Singtam (East Sikkim), Mangan (North Sikkim), Rangpo (East Sikkim), Jorethang 9South Sikkim) and Gyalshing (West Sikkim) have a Nagar Panchayat ward each, Namchi has a Municipal Council with seven wards and Gangtok, a Municipal Corporation made up of 15 wards. Official sources inform that two wards are likely to be added to the GMC this time.
The delimitation committee to draw up the ward boundaries of urban local bodies was constituted on 17 October and has already submitted its report to the State government and the Urban Development & Housing Department is giving final touches to it, it is informed.
The Committee was headed by DP Sharma, Secretary Food & Civil Supplies, and included LB Chhetri, Special Secretary, UD&HD; HB Gurung, Director, Panchayati Raj, Rural Management & Development Department and MN Dhakal, Joint Chief Electoral Officer Election Department as Member Secretary.

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