With polling barely ten days away, the contending coalition fronts in Kerala look worn out at the last leg of the race. Poll managers of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), which got off the starting blocks ahead of its rival, appear to be struggling to sustain the tempo of the earlier rounds. The United Democratic Front (UDF) is convalescing after the recent bouts of factional conflict within the Congress.
The focus of the coming polls is more on personalities and less on issues. Will Karunakaran try to sabotage the prospects of A.K. Antony? Will the CITU torpedo the election of CPM politburo member and prospective chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan? Will the Congress rebels queer the pitch for the UDF in some constituencies? Who's sleeping with the BJP in this election -- the CPM, the Congress or both? Will the BJP open its account in the state legislature this time around? These are some of the questions that dominate the polls.
The star constituencies, of course, are Malampuzha in Palakkad district, and Cherthalla in Alappuzha where the two hopefuls for chief ministership -- Achuthanandan and Antony -- are contesting respectively. There are signs from both fronts that the selection of the Chief Minister nominees will not be smooth.
(In Malampuzha, which returned T. Sivadas Menon -- the LDF's minister of finance and excise in the outgoing ministry, Achuthanandan is fighting against the Congress (I)'s Satheesh Pacheni. In Cherthalla, from where Antony had won last time, the UDF chief minister prospect faces an uphill task against the CPI's C.K. Chandrappan though he had defeated him in 1996 by a margin of 8,385 votes.)
The Left coalition is fielding a larger number of youth candidates than its rival. But both fronts have given inadequate representation to women -- less than 10 per cent. Conservative parties like the Indian Union Muslim League, a partner in the UDF, does not have a single woman on its list of candidates.
The BJP has some star writers as candidates, including noted Muslim author Punathil Kunhabdulla.
The LDF is highlighting its achievements on the development front before the electorate, while the UDF is focusing on the Left Front's "misrule" over the last five years. In Kerala, where victory margins are slim, any shift in the voting pattern of a critical segment of the electorate such as caste or communal grouping can determine the final outcome.
In view of this fact, both fronts have selected candidates in accordance with the caste and communal profile of each constituency. The Nadar vote, for instance, is critical in the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, while the Christian vote is pivotal in central Kerala.
Over and above these bedrock considerations, elections in the state follow an alternating pattern. The incumbent regime is never given a second term by the voter. The LDF is hoping to rewrite the electoral history of the state in the coming polls.