The future of the four-month-old B S Yedyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka will be clear today when the counting of votes in the crucial byelections to 15 assembly constituencies is taken up. The counting of votes polled in the December 5 polls, which saw a voter turnout of 67.91 per cent, will begin at 8 am in 11 centres and all the results were most likely to be out by the afternoon.
The bypolls were held to fill the vacancies caused by the disqualification of 17 rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs, whose revolt led to collapse of the H D Kumaraswamy-led coalition government in July and paved the way for BJP to come to power. Twelve of the 15 seats were held by the Congress and three by JD(S).
The outcome of the bypoll, which recorded 67.91 per cent polling, is crucial for BJP, which needs to win at least six seats to remain in majority.
Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa had won the confidence motion on July 29 after the effective strength of the 225-member assembly (including the Speaker who has a casting vote) came down to 208 and the majority mark to 105, equivalent of BJP's current strength, following the disqualifications.
The assembly will still have two vacant seats, where bypolls were not due to pending litigations in high court. As of now, the BJP has 105 MLAs (including an independent), the Congress 66 and the JD(S) 34. Besides, there is one BSP member, a nominated MLA and the Speaker.
All arrangements, including security, have been made for the counting of votes. Prohibitory orders restricting assembly of people around the counting centre and activities that could disturb law and order have been clamped, police said.
With exit polls by local news channels and agencies predicting BJP getting a clear majority winning 9-12 of the 15 seats, the ruling party leaders are confident the government would complete its term.
On the eve of counting, Yediyurappa told reporters here that his party would win at least 13 seats. "We will complete our term. Even people have the same expectations from us, he said. While the BJP has exuded confidence that the people would have voted in favour of the party for stability and development, the Congress and JD(S) were optimistic that the defectors, who have been disqualified and are now the ruling
party candidates, would be rejected by the electorate.
BJP had fielded 13 of the 16 disqualified legislators, who joined the party after the Supreme Court allowed them to contest the bypolls, as its candidates from their respective constituencies from where they had won in the 2018 assembly elections on Congress and JD(S) tickets.
BJP and Congress were pitted in direct contest in most of the constituencies that went for the bypolls, in the southern parts of the state JD(S) was also in the fray, making it a triangular fight. In Hosakote, BJP rebel and independent supported by JD(S) Sharth Bachegowda is a key factor. In case the BJP fails to garner the required number of seats to retain majority, the state may witness another bout of political drama.
Speculations were rife about Congress and JD(S), which had parted ways on a bitter note after the collapse of the Kumaraswamy government, coming together and form a coalition ministry again, though leaders of the two parties have sent mixed signals on such a possibility ahead of the polls.
The bypoll results are also crucial for Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah who faced growing discontent against his unilateral style of functioning and selection of candidates for the polls. The poll outcome is also keenly awaited by JD(S)' Kumaraswamy who aims to keep his flock together amid threats of further internal bickering.
If the ruling BJP cruises to majority, Yediyurappa has a tough task of cabinet expansion ahead of him. He will have to strike a balance by accommodating the victorious disqualified legislators in his ministry as promised by him and also make place for old-guards, who have been upset over being "neglected" in the first round. Including the Chief Minister, currently there are 18 ministers in the cabinet, whose sanctioned strength is 34.
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