Commission puts in place a system to curb unfair practices
There may be variations in degrees in the use of strong-arm tactics by some political parties in their pocket boroughs in the State to intimidate voters in different ways to make poll outcome in their favour. But it is inaccurate to deny that muscle power is simply absent in the elections in the State, even though its sway has waned over the years.
The muscle power in play in the electoral arena in the State can hardly be expected to be blatant these days when the Election Commission has put in place mechanisms to ensure a free and fair poll. Electoral malpractices of different varieties, which are a major form of muscle power, can still be done in subtle ways.
History of violence
No past elections in the State, especially in politically volatile districts such as Kannur, were free from complaints about such malpractices.
Though this general election may not be wholly different, one has to wait till the elections are over to see if there is improvement in the behaviour of the parties in their stronghold areas.
If one looks at the past elections in the State, especially in the northern districts, it becomes obvious that there have been some improvements in making elections fairer.
But it is not basically due to change in the behaviour of political parties in their strongholds but due to deployment of additional police forces, including Central paramilitary forces in the sensitive areas. “The Election Commission has succeeded in controlling the muscle power in the elections with enforcement of special security measures in areas and booths identified as sensitive,” says a leader of a prominent political party here.
To indulge in election malpractices such as bogus voting and impersonation was nowadays viewed as shameful acts, he adds.
The experience in Kannur district, which has the largest number of sensitive booths, shows that additional security arrangements in the sensitive booths and areas can instil confidence among voters.
Deployment of videographers in the sensitive booths has made electoral malpractices in polling booths by intimidating polling officials difficult.
The fact that there is hardly any complaint about enrolment of voters in the electoral roll in the district ahead of this election cannot go unnoticed.
In the past elections, such complaints set the stage for the fierce and often violent campaign.
At least in the Assembly and Parliament elections, instances of intimidation of voters, impersonation and bogus voting have come down over the years.
“Increased surveillance and monitoring have certainly worked to bring down the number of such malpractices,” says T. Ravindran, State coordinator of Election Watch Kerala (EWK), the State-wing of the National Election Watch under the Association of Democratic Reforms.
Though the influence of muscle power in the polling process in the State has weakened because of the security measures, the whole political process is still not free from the influence of criminality and money power, he notes.
This fact, he says, has been highlighted by EWK’s report ‘Analysis of Criminal and Financial Details of Candidates and MLAs from Kerala Based on 2011 Assembly Elections’ based on the affidavits submitted by candidates themselves.
2,000 sensitive booths
Over 2,000 polling booths in the State have been identified as sensitive. Kannur tops the list with 538 sensitive booths, followed by Thiruvananthapuram (425), Kozhikode (343), Kasaragod (240), Malappuram (159), Palakkad (150), Kollam (125) and Thrissur (108). Some of the sensitive booths are treated as critically sensitive. Critically sensitive booths are those that record a polling percentage of 90 per cent and above with one party securing 70 per cent and above votes.
An estimated 25,000 police personnel will be deployed for ensuring free and fair elections in the State. Kannur will get special security arrangements this time as well.
In addition to 3,500 police personnel and 700 special police officers, 1,000 Central forces will be deployed in the district, especially in sensitive areas.