Agartala/Kohima/Shillong: Counting of votes will begin on Thursday in the Northeastern states of Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland amid tight security. Assembly elections in the three states, having 60 seats each, were held February 14 and February 23.
In Tripura, both the ruling CPI-M led Left Front as well as the Congress-led opposition alliance are optimistic of forming the next government. "As per the Election Commission directives, a three-tier security has been put in place around the vote counting centres," said Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ashutosh Jindal.
According to him, the paramilitary forces would be posted inside the counting centres while the state's armed and other security forces would guard the outer zone. "Several teams of experts from the Electronic Corporation of India will be ready at each counting centre to rectify snags in the electronic voting machines," the official told reporters.
The February 14 voting decided the fate of 249 candidates, including 15 women and many Independents, in 60 constituencies of the state assembly. Over 2,500 officials, including counting supervisors and counting assistants, have been deployed for counting ballots in 60 halls at 17 venues, an official said.
Orders prohibiting any gathering of five or more people have been imposed within 200 metres of each counting centre equipped with CCTV cameras. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary Bijan Dhar said: "We will win in more seats this time as compared to the last assembly elections and our vote share would increase substantially."
"We are happy with the record 93.57 percent of the 2,355,446 electorate casting their vote. In the 2008 and 2003 elections, the heavy turnout went in favour of the Left Front," he said.
State Congress chief Sudip Roy Barman said: "The Congress-Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura-Nationalist Conference of Tripura alliance will form the next government." In 2008, the Left Front registered a thumping victory. The CPI-M alone won 46 seats and partners Communist Party of India and Revolutionary Socialist Party secured respectively one and two seats. The Congress bagged 10 seats and the INPT one.
In Meghalaya, both the ruling Congress and non-Congress parties are confident of winning the elections. A whopping 88 percent of the 1.5 million voters exercised their franchise to pick a new 60-member house in the state bordering Bangladesh.
There were 345 candidates, including 25 women and 122 independents. But some experts fear that Meghalaya may be headed for a fractured mandate. "I have always believed that Meghalaya will never get a clear mandate since elections here are conducted based on the personality of the candidate and trivial issues," AK Baruah, a retired professor of political science who taught at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong.
Carved out of Assam in 1972, Meghalaya has seen 23 chief ministers in a span of 41 years. Captain Williamson Sangma, who led the government for the first time, was the only one to ever lead a single-party government in the state.
Since then, Meghalaya has seen fractured mandates, leading to volatile coalition governments. However, outgoing Chief Minster Mukul Sangma, 47, hopes to return to the assembly for a fifth consecutive time from Ampati constituency.
"We are close to half-way mark and we are hoping to get more," the Congress leader said. The Congress fielded candidates in all 60 constituencies while the United Democratic Party (UDP) contested 50 seats.
The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party (NPP) had 32 candidates, and the Nationalist Congress Party 21. The UDP is confident of ousting the Congress. "We will cross 15 seats and if luck favours we might even cross 20," UDP leader Bindo M Lanong said.
Lanong said UDP was in touch with "like-minded parties" for post-poll alliances. Predicting a Congress failure, Purno Sangma's son Conrad, leader of the opposition in the assembly, claimed that Chief Minister Mukul Sangma would bite the dust. "We are hopeful of increasing our tally," Conrad said.
Nagaland's Joint Chief Electoral Officer N Moa Aier said the counting would begin at 8 am Thursday at 60 counting halls. "Adequate security arrangements have been made to ensure there is no untoward situation in any of the halls," he said.
"The elections were peaceful and we hope there is no incident during the counting," he said. Political parties, meanwhile, are busy making calculations.
While Nagaland Peoples' Front (NPF) -- the main constituent of ruling Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) -- is confident of securing the required majority, the Congress is trying to secure the support of Independents and other parties to form the new government. The NPF expects to win over 32 seats and the Congress at least 25 seats.
The NPF has a pre-poll alliance with the BJP and JD-U and the strength of DAN in the outgoing assembly is 35. In the 2008 polls, the NPF won 26 seats on its own while the Congress won 23.
"There was a need for an alternative government in Nagaland and all like-minded legislators must come together to bring in the change," said Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee convener K Therie. He accused the NPF of pumping money into the polls.
Therie said the Congress would try to work it out with the NCP and other parties to secure their support once the results were declared. But NPF secretary Kru Zakie said they were confident of securing the majority.
"We also have the support of our long-time allies BJP and JD-U and some Independents," he said. A total of 1,193,438 voters, 589,505 of them women, February 23 sealed the fates of 188 candidates who contested the elections to the 60-member Nagaland assembly.
A total of 2,600 electronic voting machines were used to conduct the polls in 2,023 polling stations. Re-polling was held at nine polling stations.