Karnataka has recorded a voter turnout of about 37.25 per cent till 1 PM on Wednesday in the polls to elect representatives to the 224-member State Legislative Assembly.
In the first six hours of polling, which began at 7 am and will go on till 6 pm, the coastal district of Udupi recorded the highest turnout of 47.79 per cent, with the the lowest polling in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) central limits (parts of Bengaluru city) at 29.41 per cent, election officials said.
The State is mainly witnessing a three-cornered contest between the ruling BJP, the Congress and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).
Deve Gowda, AICC president M Mallikarjun Kharge, state Congress chief D K Shivakumar and BJP State unit president Nalin Kumar Kateel were among those who cast their ballot.
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A total of 5.3 crore (5,31,33,054 to be precise) electors are eligible to cast their vote in 58,545 polling stations across the state, where 2,615 candidates are in the fray.
Karnataka had recorded a voter turnout of 72.36 per cent in the 2018 Assembly polls.
The BJP had then emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress 80 and JD(S) 37; there was one independent member, while the BSP and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) had one legislator each. With no party getting a clear majority at the time and as Congress and JD(S) were trying to forge an alliance, B S Yediyurappa of BJP, which was the single largest party, staked a claim and formed the government. However, the government was dissolved within three days ahead of a trust vote, as Yediyurappa was unable to muster the numbers.
Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as Chief Minister, but the wobbly dispensation collapsed in 14 months, as 17 legislators including independents resigned and came out of the ruling coalition, defecting to BJP and facilitating the party coming back to power. In the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party won 12 out of 15 seats.
In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress 69, JD(S) 29, BSP one, independents two, speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignations to join other parties ahead of the polls).
While the ruling BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, wants to break the 38-year jinx — the State has never voted back the incumbent party to power since 1985 — and retain its southern citadel, the Congress is seeking to wrest power to give the party much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Also what needs to be watched out for is whether the JD(S) will emerge as ”kingmaker” or ”king” by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past.
In a bid to check apathy among voters, the Election Commission decided to hold polling in the middle of the week to prevent people planning an outing by clubbing the poll-day holiday with the weekend break.
The votes polled will be counted on May 13.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Shiggaon), Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah (Varuna), JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy (Channapatna) and Shivakumar (Kanakapura) are the among the top candidates in the fray.
Besides Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy, Jagadish Shettar (Hubli-Dharwad Central) is the other former chief minister who is contesting this election. Shettar had recently joined the Congress, quitting BJP.
”A government with full majority” seemed to be the war cry of the leaders of all the political parties during campaigning that ended on Monday, as they stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government, unlike what happened after the 2018 polls.