Shillong, Feb 25: While all political parties in Meghalaya express confidence about winning the assembly elections held Saturday, experts fear this politically unstable state is headed for a hung assembly.
Of the 15,02,509 voters in the state, 88.06 percent exercised their franchise Saturday to elect their representatives to the 60-member house of this matrilineal state, bordering Bangladesh.
The voter turnout was 1.02 percent lesser than the assembly elections in 2008, when 89.04 percent of voters cast their votes.
Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik told journalists: "The elections were conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner with no report of major poll-related incidents."
The BJP, however, demanded re-polling at four polling stations in Wahiajer (Nartiang constituency) in Jaintia hills district, complaining that polling here could not be conducted fairly because of the "high-handedness of Congress workers".
Naik said the complaint was being examined, and re-polling would be held if that course of action was found necessary.
Even though political stability was a big slogan across party lines ahead of the polls this year, Meghalaya appears to be heading 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," A.K. Buruah, a retired professor of political science who taught at the North Eastern Hill University here, told IANS.
"The writing is on the wall: This time too, no party will get a clear mandate," Buruah said.
Carved out of Assam in 1972, Meghalaya has seen 23 chief ministers in a span of 41 years. Captain Williamson Sangma, who led the state 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, the 47-year-old Mukul Sangma, outgoing chief minister and Congressman, hopes to return to the assembly for a fifth consecutive time from Ampati constituency. He sounded optimistic that the Congress would cross the half-way mark this time, and return to power.
"We (Congress) have tried to reach out the people. They have responded and it is to be seen on the day of counting. I have reasons to believe that in the worst situation, we would be close to the half-way mark. In a good situation, we can cross 31," Sangma told IANS Sunday.
In the 60-member assembly, the ruling Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies; the United Democratic Party (UDP) has fielded candidates for 50 seats.
The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party (NPP) had 32 candidates, and the Nationalist Congress Party contested in 21 seats.
The smaller Hill State People's Democratic Party fielded 17 candidates.
The UDP, a key ally in the outgoing Congress-led coalition government, is confident of ousting the Congress and cobbling up a new government.
"We are expecting to cross 20 seats or more, as people desire a change in the state," UDP leader Bindo M. Lanong said, hinting at a post-poll alliance with non-Congress parties.
"Although, the parties have not discussed post-poll alliance, it would be better that the Congress sits in the opposition this time, since the party is a divided house with too many leaders. It will not be able to provide stability," said Lanong, deputy chief minister in the outgoing Congress-led coalition government.
Confident that the NPP will win over 15 seats, Purno Sangma's son Conrad, leader of the opposition in the assembly, predicted that Meghalaya was heading for another coalition government.
"We will maintain our seats in the assembly and we are also hopeful that we might increase our tally as we have worked very hard to defeat the money power of the Congress," Conrad told IANS.
The NPP is contesting in 32 seats; 11 of these candidates had won the 2008 assembly polls on Nationalist Congress Party tickets.
Conrad said discussions are on between the NPP and "like-minded parties" for post-poll alliance in the state. He said, however, that he would not jump the gun, but wait first to know the results of the polls.
The 2013 polls were held in newly formed constituencies; 18 members of the assembly thus saw themselves pitted against other MLAs.
Counting of votes will take place in 13 centres across Meghalaya Feb 28.