Chennai: The stage is set for counting of votes polled during the single phase polling on April six to elect the 16th Tamil Nadu Assembly, adhering to strict COVID protocols and tight security.
Counting will also simultaneously take place for the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat where bypolls were held to fill the vacancy caused by the death of sitting Congress MP H Vasanth Kumar, who died due to COVID.
While AIADMK is eyeing for a hat-trick of wins, having won in 2011 and 2016 Assembly polls, the DMK, claiming to be banking on the anti-incumbency factor, is desperate to come back to power after being in the Opposition for ten years, in what was seen as a no-holds barred elections.
This is the first Assembly elections faced by the ruling AIADMK and the Opposition DMK in the absence of two tall leaders–both former Chief Ministers–J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, who have passed away.
Counting will be held in 75 centres across the state, including four in Chennai, with the Election Commission putting in place a three-tier security ring, with the deployment of cental para military forces, apart from the state police.
The entire counting process will be videographed and CCTV cameras were installed in all the counting centres.
As part of strict COVID guidelines, candidates, counting agents and others will be allowed entry into the counting centres only after producing a negative corona certificate or should have taken two doses of vaccines.
An estimated 72.81 per cent of the total 6.29 crore electorate, have cast their ballots during polling, sealing the fate of 3,998 candidates in a five-cornered contest in the Assembly elections.
The Lok Sabha bypoll witnessed a direct fight between former Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan of BJP and Vasanthakumar’s son Vijay Vasanth of Congress.
The counting process was preceded by some dramatic developments with the Madras High Court singularly holding the Election Commission of India (ECI) responsible for the second wave of corona virus spread, by allowing the political party leaders to hold rallies without following the COVID protocols during campaigning.
The Court also said it would be constrained to defer the counting process. However, accepting the ECI submissions, the court said it was satisfied with the arrangements made by it and gave the go ahead for the counting.
The counting process will start at 0800 hrs with the counting of postal ballots followed by the votes polled in the EVMs. The counting process will last from a minimum of 15 rounds to a maximum of of more than 30-35 rounds, depending upon the strength of the constituency.
Though early trends will be available by noon, the first results are expected around evening, as COVID norms has to be followed during counting.
Though various exit polls have predicted a landslide victory for the Opposition DMK-led Front, as the DMK was aiming to come back to power after ten years, the ruling AIADMK is confident that it will retain power for a record third successive term, proving the pre-poll predictions wrong as it did in 2016.
The elections witnessed a five-cornered contest as the fronts headed by the traditional dravidian rivals, the AIADMK and the DMK, vied with each other to win the confidence of the voters, apart from the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) of actor-politician Kamal Haasan, ousted AIADMK leader and late Jayalalithaa’s close aide V K Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran and actor- director Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi.
Going by the exit poll results, it was a five-cornered contest on paper, but it ended up with a two-horse race, with the main fight between the AIADMK and the DMK.
The AIADMK-led front, which has named Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami as the CM candidate, contested in 179 seats, while its ally the BJP in 20, PMK (23), Tamil Maanila Congress (6). Besides, Perunthalaivar Makkal Katchi, Tamilaga Makkal Munnetra Kazkagam, Puratchi Bharatham, Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Moovendar Munnani Kazhagam and Pasumpon Desiya Kazhagam had contested in one seat each under the AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.
In all, 185 candidates had contested the polls under the AIADMK symbol. The DMK, heading the Secular Progressive Alliance had faced the polls, projecting Stalin as the CM candidate, and had contested in 173 seats. Its ally the Congress had contested in 25 seats, CPI, CPI-M, MDMK and VCK (six each), Kongunaadu Makkal Desiya Katchi and IUML (three each), Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (two), All India Forward Bloc, Tamizhaga
Vazhvurimai Katchi, Makkal Viduthalai Katchi and Athi Thamizhar Peravai (one each).
In all, 187 candidates (including 14 of its allies) had contested on the DMK’s ‘Rising Sun’ symbol.
Key candidates, whose fate will be known tomorrow included Mr Palaniswami from his native Edappadi seat, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (Bodinayakkanur), BJP State Chief L Murugan (Dharapuram-R), actress-politician Khushbu Sundar (Thousand Lights), former IPS Officer and BJP Vice-President K Annamalai (Aravakurichi), former National Secretary H Raja (Karaikudi), Stalin (Kolathur), his son and debutant Udhayanidhi
Stalin (Chepauk-Tiruvallikeni), DMK General Secretary Duraimurugan (Katpadi), Dhinakaran (Kovilpatti), DMDK Treasurer and Vijayakanth’s wife Premalatha (Vridhachalam)–an ally of AMMK–Kamal Haasan, who entered the poll fray for the first time and BJP’s Women’s Wing Secretary Ms Vanathi Srinivasan in Coimbatore South, President of PMK G K Mani (Pennagaram) and Seeman (Tiruvottriyur).
This election is an acid test for the leadership of both the AIADMK and the DMK, who are testing the waters in the absence of Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Karunanidhi, notwithstanding the DMK sweeping the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.