With the Election Commission announcing dates for the Elections in 5 states; Punjab, along with Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa has started the final phase for its competition for the 2017 Assembly Elections.
Punjab will go for polls in a single phase on 4 February 2017 (Saturday) for a contest on 117 constituencies. The notification for the same will come out on 11 January for filing the nominations, 18 January being the last date and 21 January being the date to withdraw nomination. The result will be declared on 11 March 2017. Also, with the announcement of dates on 4 January, the Model Code of Conduct has come into effect in the 5 states. This is the first time that the EC has given such a short duration of less than 30 days for parties to prepare for their elections.
Model Code of Conduct:
- The Punjab Government can NOT take any small or big decision now. It will work as a caretaker for the state, with the responsibility of maintaining basic facilities and Law & Order till the results are declared. The Cabinet does not hold any power to present a bill in the Vidhan Sabha.
- The Ministers and MLAs can NOT use any government facilities bestowed to them, as their terms have formally ended. These facilities like government vehicles, residences, exemption from toll are henceforth withdrawn. However, the Ministers and MLAs can keep the security that has been provided to them.
- The ruling party can NOT use its seat of power for the campaign purposes. It can NOT direct the government employees to canvass votes for them, directly or indirectly.
- Transfer of Punjab government employees will take place ONLY on the orders of Central and State Election Officials.
- The government can NOT start or lay foundation stones of the new development projects like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc. or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies. However, the work of the already started projects will not be stopped.
- Government bodies can NOT participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
- Before using loud speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the District Administration for conducting election rallies.
New Rules by Election Commission for Punjab:
- The candidates contesting elections have to provide an affidavit stating that they have no bills pending on them, which include those of Electricity, Water & Sewerage, House rent and Taxes.
- The limit on expense for a candidate to contest an election will be ₹28 lakhs.
- Apart from the names and symbols of the candidates contesting elections, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will also have their photograph opposite their names.
- The height of the voting compartment will be increased by 30 inches to maintain secrecy of the casted votes.
- The voters can demand a coloured voter slip which can confirm the vote given by them.
- Separate polling booths for Men and Women in sensitive areas.
- The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) will deploy its 43 officers across the state for drug law enforcement and intelligence to fight drug trafficking and the abuse of illegal substances.
The present situation of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha is: the Akali Dal-BJP coalition has a total of 71 seats, Congress has 43 seats, while others occupy 3 seats. Out of the total 117 seats, 59 seats are required to form a government. Of the 1.9 crore voters in Punjab, 50.2% (1.1 crore) are from the age group 18-39 years, meaning that the government to be formed will be decided by the youth. The General category voters constitute to 41%, Dalits constitute 32.9% and the rest 26.1% are OBCs.
Parties in the contest:
Around 35 parties are set to fight the Punjab elections. The prominent names being Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India-ML (CPI-ML), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Punjab Front and Apna Punjab Party (APP).
The 2017 Assembly elections will witness a triangular contest between the ruling SAD-BJP coalition, the opposition INC and the new entrant AAP. The usual bilateral contest between Akali Dal and Congress was challenged by Manpreet Singh Badal-led People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) in 2012 Assembly Elections, but it failed to win even a single seat. PPP has now been merged in Congress.
Riding on the development plank and fighting the anti-incumbency wave is the Chief Minister for the past 9 years, S. Parkash Singh Badal of SAD-BJP coalition. This election might be the last for him, where his son and Akali Dal president S. Sukhbir Singh Badal will lead the campaigning. Being a part of the NDA alliance at Centre, BJP will be asked to bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi for conducting rallies. Challenging the issues of lawlessness, farmer issues and demonetisation is the ex-Chief Minister from Congress, Capt. Amarinder Singh. He has already announced that this will be the last term of five years, after which, he will retire from active politics. He will be assisted by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who needs to desperately win a state, after being on a losing spree since 2012. And fighting the two arch-rivals will be Aam Aadmi Party, which has raised issues of corruption, drugs and nepotism. Though AAP has not announced its formal CM candidate as of now, yet Bhagwant Mann, MP from Sangrur, has been fiercely campaigning for the party. He is joined by Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi CM and AAP National Convenor, who is eying the only state that gave his party 4 seats in Lok Sabha elections of 2014. It will be a make or break election for him, as this defeat will dent the future of his party.
Even though the contest is mainly between the three parties, yet smaller ones will try to make their presence felt by taking a prominent amount of vote share. These include Mayawati-led BSP, Jagmeet Brar-led TMC, Dr. Dharamvira Gandhi-led Punjab Front and Apna Punjab Party (APP), floated by Sucha Singh Chottepur, after he was sacked from the post of AAP state-convenor.
Punjab will witness a contest which will decide the fate of Congress and AAP in national politics and that of S. Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab. Congress lost elections in 2012, General Elections in 2014 and State elections in 2015. With their chances looking bleak in rest 4 states, the party is banking heavily on Punjab for its revival. AAP will want to increase its tally with Punjab as a second state after Delhi, which will help it in becoming a major force in General Elections of 2019. Finally, with his father retiring and slated to take the bastion of the party in his hands, Badal Junior will want to become the new face of the traditional party of Punjab.
Come 4 February, the mood of the Punjabi voters, will be clear!