Meghalaya voters search for political stability (Curtain Raiser)

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 11:40 hrs

Shillong, Feb 21 (IANS) Political stability is the chosen slogan for all parties in Meghalaya as the hill state braces for assembly elections Saturday.

Carved out of Assam in 1972, Meghalaya has seen 23 chief ministers in a span of 41 years barring the first government of Captain Williamson Sangma which completed its full term.

Williamson Sangma was the first and last to head a single-party government. Since then, Meghalaya has seen fractured mandates, leading to volatile coalition governments.

A total of 345 candidates, including 122 independents, are in the fray Saturday.

In the 60-member assembly, the ruling Congress has fielded candidates in all constituencies followed by the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 50 seats.

The Purno Sangma-led Nationalist People's Party (NPP) has 32 candidates while the Nationalist Congress Party will contest in 21 seats.

Smaller parties like the Hill State People's Democratic Party have fielded 17 candidates.

"I am confident the people will give a clear mandate to the Congress," Chief Minister Mukul Sangma told IANS.

Not only the Congress but major regional groupings are also harping on the need for political stability to ensure economic development.

The UDP, a key ally in the outgoing Congress-led coalition government, is confident of ousting the Congress and cobbling up a new 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.

"No party will even get a one-third majority. Meghalaya will continue with its age-old coalition politics," he said, adding his party was in touch with like-minded parties to keep Congress out of power.

Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, besides three of his predecessors -- Salseng C. Marak, D.D. Lapang and Donkupar Roy -- are among those whose fate would be sealed Saturday.

Others include opposition leader Conrad K. Sangma, Home Minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh and former Rajya Sabha member Thomas Sangma.

The 2013 polls will be held in the newly formed constituencies where 16 outgoing legislators are pitted against each other.

Ninety-one companies of paramilitary troopers have been deployed across Meghalaya.

Authorities are not taking any chances following the 36-hour shutdown called by the outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council protesting against the elections.

"The government will ensure that everyone casts the ballot in a free, fair and secure environment," Principal Secretary Home K.S. Kropha said.

Counting of votes will take place Feb 28.

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