As Malayalis get set to welcome the traditional new year (on April 14), there’s growing expectation that a change of government is on the anvil, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) replacing the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF). Elections in Kerala are slated for April 13 to elect new members to the 140-seat state assembly. Most pre-poll surveys indicate a lead for the UDF, with the coalition getting anywhere around 80 seats.
Reading the tea leaves in their cups, many LDF constituents switched camps in the last one year or so. This includes a strong faction of the Janata Dal (S) and Kerala Congress (J). Kerala University political science department head G. Gopakumar says, “Structurally, the UDF is much stronger now; the LDF is left with just the CPI(M) and the CPI to draw in votes. The UDF has over three vote-pulling parties and can exploit the anti-incumbency sentiment too.” (Since 1982, Kerala has been locked in an alternating cycle of LDF and UDF governments.)
But the LDF's electoral prospects, some say, have improved considerably of late after two major embarrassments tainted the UDF recently. The first one involves former minister R. Balakrishna Pillai, from the Kerala Congress (B), sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment after the SC found him guilty in a corruption case. The other major scandal involves allegations that IUML leader P.K. Kunhalikutty coerced witnesses and influenced judges to avoid prosecution in the infamous ice-cream parlour sex scandal that surfaced in the late 1990s. Given this, and CM V.S. Achuthanandan’s clean image and declared intent to deal strongly with the corrupt, the LDF can still hope for votes.
All this combines with growing discontent in the UDF camp over the Congress’s ‘big brother’ attitude towards the smaller parties. Then there’s rising factionalism, with the fear of ignored rebels contesting, and also the divide within the Congress on who will be the chief ministerial candidate. There are two frontrunners—Opposition leader Oommen Chandy and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala, both of whom are contesting the polls. But will all this help the LDF tide over anti-incumbency and the deep divide between VS and CPI(M) state secretary Pinayari Vijayan? Remember, the state unit had initially denied the chief minister a ticket!