The crucial byelections to 15 assembly constituencies in Karnataka that will determine the fate of Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa led BJP government began on Thursday at 7 am amid concerns of political parties of a possible low voter turn out. A total of 37.78 lakh electors are eligible to cast their votes and all arrangements have been made for the exercise, officials said. The byelections are being held to fill the vacancies caused by the disqualification of 17 rebel Congress and JDS MLAs, whose rebellion led to the collapse of the H D Kumaraswamy-led coalition government in July and paved the way for the BJP to come to power.
The BJP needs to win at least six of the seats to remain in majority in the 225-member assembly (including the Speaker, who has a casting vote), which would still have two vacant seats—Maski and R R Nagar.
In the assembly with the current strength of 208 after the disqualifications, the BJP has 105 MLAs (including an independent), the Congress 66 and the JD(S) has 34 MLAs. There is also one BSP member, a nominated member and the Speaker.
Thirteen of the disqualified MLAs have been fielded by the BJP after they joined the party last month following the Supreme Court allowing them to contest the bypolls.
During the campaign, the BJP sought votes for “stability”, while the Congress and JD(S) urged the electorate to defeat the disqualified legislators responsible for the collapse of their coalition government in July.
Among 15 constituencies going to the bypolls, 12 were held by Congress and three by JD(S).
BJP has fielded 13 of the 16 disqualified legislators as its candidates from their respective constituencies from where they had won in the 2018 assembly elections on Congress and JDS tickets.
A total number of 165 candidates -- 156 men and 9 women
are in the fray.
Among the major political parties, while BJP and Congress are contesting all the 15 seats while the JD(S) has fielded candidates in 12.
The going to bypolls are: Athani, Kagwad, Gokak, Yellapur, Hirekerur, Ranibennur, Vijayanagar, Chikballapur, KR Puram, Yeshwanthpur, Mahalakshmi Layout, Shivajinagar, Hoskote, KR Pet and Hunsur.
Speculations are rife about Congress and JD(S) not being averse to joining hands once again to form a coalition government in case the BJP fails to garner the required number of seats to stay in majority.
Political parties and officials were of the view that there is a general feeling among public at large against the bypolls and political developments that led to it and this might affect the turnout.
In any by-election voter turn out will be low, it is not surprising but it cannot be said it will affect or benefit any particular party, because, if the turnout is low, across the constituencies it will be low, a senior BJP functionary said.
A senior Congress office-bearer too said the voter turn out was expected to be low according to the party’s internal analysis.
However, he said, despite low voter turn out, it would be advantage Congress as most of those who will come to vote this time will be those who want to defeat the disqualified.
The voice and sentiments are against the disqualified, so it will benefit us,” he claimed.
He also said there were chances of core BJP supporters ‘displeased’ with tickets being given to outsiders (the disqualified MLAs) staying away from mobilising voters and this would also help the Congress.
Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has urged the voters to come out and vote in large numbers as it was their right.
Only if there is 80-85 per cent voter turnout it will give a meaning to democratic system. As there is holiday in 15 constituencies going for polls, I request the electorate to come out and vote, he said.
The Election Commission and police have made elaborate arrangements for the smooth conduct of the bypolls in all the 15 constituencies.
According to election officials, a total of 37,77,970 electors, including 18,42,027 women, are eligible to cast their votes in 4,185 polling stations in the bypolls. There are also 4,711 service voters.
Out of total 42,509 personnel deployed for election management, 19,299 are polling personnel. As many as 11,241 personnel from state police and 2,511 Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) would be on security duty.
Polling officials said 884 polling stations have been marked critical and 414 stations will be manned by CAPF.
The bypolls were earlier slated for October 21, but the EC had deferred them to December 5 after the apex court decided to hear the petitions of the disqualified MLAs.