Govind Singh Kunjwal of the ruling Congress on Monday was elected as Speaker of the Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha, beating former Speaker Harbans Kapoor of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party by eight votes.

A three-time MLA, Mr. Kunjwal is a staunch supporter of Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Agriculture, Harish Rawat.

Ajay Bhatt of the BJP cried foul as the government opted for an open ballot instead of the secret ballot as sought by the Opposition. “The Congress was scared of some its own or supporting MLAs opting for the BJP nominee,” he said.

Earlier, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna appealed to the BJP to withdraw its candidate to pave the way for unanimous election of the Speaker as per the highest traditions of democracy. The BJP, however, remained adamant on voting as the ruling party had not taken it into confidence while appointing the pro-tem Speaker.

Voting began around 12.30 p.m. and after an hour, pro-tem Speaker S.S. Singhal declared Mr. Kunjwal the winner.

Mr. Kunjwal bagged 39 votes — 32 of the Congress, three of the Bahujan Samaj Party, one of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal ( P) and three independents, all of whom support the Bahuguna government. The BJP scored 31— its strength in the House.

The first ordeal over, it is now a test for the highly-divided BJP to appoint the Leader of the Opposition. A section of the party is supporting Mr. Ajay Bhatt, while others want a more pliable leader.

“We will decide on the Leader of Opposition soon,” State BJP president Mahendra Singh Chufal said.

Pokhriyal faces opposition

The former Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who is also the party's national vice-president, is reported to be manoeuvring to corner the job but faces stiff resistance from a section of the national leadership who feel that he was responsible not only for the rampant corruption during his rule but also for engineering the defeat of the former Chief Minister, B.C. Khanduri.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Bahuguna said Mr. Kunjwal's victory showed that the Congress was united and his government would perform well. The 67-year-old Mr. Kunjwal said he would uphold the high traditions of the ‘Chair' and respect all members as equals.

Mr. Harish Rawat said Mr. Kunjwal's victory was a victory for the State people.