Monday, September 21, 2015

A Municipal Election of Challenges

The much awaited urban local body elections 2015 are now in the offing. The State Election Commission has declared 09 October as voting day, counting on 12th, and by 15 October the election process will be over. With that, all the four districts of Sikkim will have their respective urban representatives for the next five years. As expected earlier, there will be having two cornered contest between the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front and the opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha.
The SDF has fielded candidates from all the 53 wards in the seven municipal bodies of the State. On the other hand, SKM has concentrated primarily in areas where it had gained some hold in the general elections. SKM is contesting from all the 17 seats of the Gangtok Municipal Corporation as it had swept the assembly elections here with six of its nine MLAs, including party president PS Tamang having on from assembly constituencies comprising of areas within and around what is now the GMC. Similarly, the party is also contesting from all the seven seats of Nayabazar-Jorethang Municipal Council and five each seats of Singtam and Rangpo Nagar Panchayats.
Though it had fielded candidates for all seven seats of Namchi Municipal Council but its candidate from Upper Boomtar withdrew her nomination on 18 September leaving the seat uncontested for SDF candidate. SKM has also not shown its interest in contesting from Gyalshing Municipal Council as out of seven wards there, the party is contesting from only two seats i.e. Central Gyalshing and New Gyalshing wards leaving all other five seats uncontested to the SDF and having already conceded defeat there by awarding a majority to SDF. When it comes to Mangan Nagar Panchayat, SKM has handed over a complete walkover to SDF, bothering neither to field candidates there nor even bothering with any explanations.
As things stand then, out of the 53 municipal wards in Sikkim, the ruling SDF has already bagged nine without a contest and won two municipal bodies – Mangan and Gyalshing – unopposed. That said, the ensuing elections still carry huge challenges for both the parties and their respective candidates. For the ruling SDF, it had cent per cent hold over the urban bodies thus far, so the challenge for it is to maintain that hold. The challenge, despite being in government, is not minor since the party had not performed too well in the urban belts, especially Gangtok, in the last assembly elections. The party and its candidates will have to regain the faith of the voters in this segment and will have to work hard on that front since it has not really mended relations on that front thus far and now has less than a month to go before the people vote. The party has laid out an interesting strategy in revamping the candidates list, giving maximum chances to new and youthful faces.
For SKM, the challenge will be to retain its urban vote-bank gained in the last Assembly elections, and also proving that it is serious about sustained politics in Sikkim and not just drawn by assembly elections like other opposition parties. It surely realizes that it has to make its presence felt because a washout will be seen by the lay people as a sign of its irrelevance and dwindling appeal. If it fails to make a strong bid, it will face a tough time to win back support in the next general elections. This could be the reason, the party is concentrating on GMC, Rangpo and Singtam where it believes has more support from the public.
The municipal bodies, for whatever claims might be made by the departments and the government, do not have much power or influence. Winning or losing the elections is hence not so much about “power” as it is about “face” for both the SDF and the SKM. And more than presenting a strong face, it is about losing face for both sides which is why the campaigning styles will be interesting to watch.
Meanwhile, the candidates also have the challenge to prove to their leaders and the party that the choice was worthwhile. Both the parties are going through challenging times and it is the candidates who have to show his/ her ability to tackle such challenges by winning his/ her respective seat in order to gain better weight in the party. In that respect, the challenge is more exciting for the SDF candidates, at least in Gangtok, who must notice that since the party has no MLAs in office from this area, the victorious and popular councilors will stand a good chance of bagging the party ticket for the next assembly elections.
Now what after winning the elections? Till date only SDF has released a manifesto. Whether SKM comes out with such an agenda it is not known yet. Besides the party’s agenda, there are several challenges awaiting councilors. The conditions of almost all the link roads in urban areas are in a pathetic condition all over the state. More than 50% of urban footpaths are in need of maintenance and repairs and almost all the drainage systems need to be reworked. Urban infrastructure needs to be overhauled and some semblance of urban planning needs to be attempted.
Because of the continuous increase in urban population, water supply systems are in need of upgradation. Similarly, infrastructures development for schools, hospitals, PHCs and playgrounds need to be upgraded thoroughly by the urban representatives. As the cases of suicides and drugs abuse are increasing rapidly in the urban areas, a concrete step must be taken into consideration to handle it properly. Unemployment is growing as well. A big challenge for the urban heads in their five-year long term will be to come up with a concrete solution. Cases of theft, violence, law and order, parking and several other problems will definitely become severe headache for the new urban leaders.
Last but not the least, the 2019 general elections will happen during their term and to maintain people’s faith in their respective parties will be one of the most challenging jobs for the new councilors. The outcome of this challenge will decide their future political career. Anyway challenges always remain on the offing; I convey my best wishes to all the candidates and pray for peaceful and healthy elections so that the urban dwellers can elect the best of the best representatives to attend to their requirements.

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