After witnessing 22 governments since its formation in 1972, Meghalaya is going to poll for the ninth time on February 23 to elect a new batch of lawmakers.

Fractured mandates given by the electorate in the past polls had resulted in the election of hung assemblies and the failure of the parties to make their coalition politics work led to frequent changes of guard in this hill state.

The Congress, which has been at the helm of coalition governments most of the time, and is heading the incumbent Dr Mukul Sangma-led Congress-United Democratic Party (UDP) coalition government, has fielded candidates in all the 60 seats. In the past elections, the maximum seats the party won was 25 while the magic number is 31. This had made the Congress fall back on the regional parties, which it fights fiercely in the electoral battle, for their support at the time of government formation.

The major regional party of the State, UDP, after sharing power with the Congress, has taken the position of the opposition in the electoral battle and is reaching out to the people asking them to defeat the Congress and elect a UDP-led government. The UDP, which has strong influence in Khasi and Jaintia Hills region and a sizable presence in Garo Hills areas, has fielded 56 candidates.

The National People’s Party (NPP), a regional party recognised by the Election Commission in Manipur, which was launched in Meghalaya by political heavyweight and former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma after he lost the Presidential polls, has fielded 27 candidates, most of them in Garo Hills. Twelve of the 14 Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislators including two sons of Mr Sangma have shifted their loyalty to NPP. The NCP won 15 seats in 2008.

The spotlight this time is on the Garo Hills region with the incumbent Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who hails from that region, trying to pull out all the stops to win more seats here in a bid to reduce the dependence on regional parties. However, Dr Sangma has to cross a big hurdle posed by political heavyweight and former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma. This election is seen as a test of Mr. P.A. Sangma’s strength in the Garo Hills — a region he has nursed over decades.