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Polling begins in Kerala’s Malappuram in first electoral test for Vijayan govt

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-04-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: Polling to Kerala’s Malappuram Lok Sabha constituency began at 7am on Wednesday. The bypoll, necessitated by the death of a veteran Muslim League parliamentarian E. Ahamed, is the first electoral test the Left Democratic Front government under Pinarayi Vijayan is facing after assuming office last year.

Until 10am, the voter turnout was 16.5%, regional media reported. Malappuram has about 13.12 lakh voters.

Both the ruling front and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have fielded fresh faces, M.B. Faisal and N. Sreeprakash, respectively, against the region’s dominant figure, the League strongman and opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate P.K. Kunhalikutty.

A good turnout will benefit UDF, Kunhalikutty told reporters. Senior Communist leader from the region T.K. Hamsa said the Left could manage to put up a strong fight and that whoever wins will do so only with a small margin.

Historically, the overwhelming population of Muslims (roughly 70%) have favoured the Muslim League in Malappuram.

Before Malappuram was carved out of Manjeri constituency in 2004, the League candidates won from the region in 11 of the 13 elections since 1957. In 2009, Ahamed won the first election after the formation of the present constituency. In 2014, he won a second term with the highest victory margin among all candidates, a record 194,739 votes.

The election battleground saw friends turning into foes in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP.

BJP ally Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) expressed dissatisfaction over not being consulted by the alliance leader in choosing N. Sreeprakash as the NDA candidate.

Meanwhile, the UDF saw Kerala Congress (Mani) group head K.M. Mani, the estranged friend who quit UDF over differences last year, readily accepting an offer to campaign for Kunhalikutty, raising rumours of his possible return to the UDF.

The campaign also saw Sreeprakash kicking up a storm at one point on the beef issue, an attempt to woo Muslim voters which backfired for the party. He first promised to ensure the supply of quality beef if voted to power, but later said his words were distorted as the matter became controversial within the BJP.

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