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Stage set for trial of strength

V. Jayanth

Byelections are seen as a prelude to the Assembly poll


CHENNAI: As expected, the Election Commission has announced the schedule for byelections to the Kancheepuram and Gummidipoondi Assembly constituencies. They will go to the polls on May 14 — less than a month from now. Both these seats were held by the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. While one legislator died, the other was shot dead by a group of dacoits.

The byelections, even if they are not significant by themselves, have a special interest now because of the run-up to the regular elections to the Assembly, which are due by May 2006. Political circles see it as prelude to and a dry run for the Assembly election itself. The countdown has already started, with the model code of conduct coming into force today and the nominations set to open on April 18.

EC directive

The EC has made it clear that all Ministers, Central or State, shall not combine their official tours with election work. In case the Minister transits through the district where the byelection is being held, he or she shall not halt in the district nor attend to any political work. Officials too should not attend any meeting of a Minister, nor meet him or her while on a private visit. Such officials would be guilty of "misconduct under the relevant service rules." Though the State administration and the two districts are not too keen in holding the election now as they feel it may divert the attention of the district authorities from the tsunami rehabilitation work, the opposition parties view the byelection as an opportunity to try and defeat the AIADMK.

Regional conference

The main opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is holding its next regional conference in Thanjavur this weekend and will use the platform to launch its campaign against the ruling party. Leaders of the alliance parties are scheduled to address a public rally there on Sunday and drive home the message of opposition unity.

According to political sources, Kancheepuram may be a "sensitive seat." The Sankararaman murder case, in which the two Kanchi Sankaracharyas are prime accused, has just been committed to the sessions. It remains to be seen if either the ruling party or the opposition will want to raise this issue, though it has several local overtones. But the people of the temple town and the seat of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam are bound to express their view through the ballot — or the Electronic Voting Machine now.

Retaining seats

Byelections tend to go against the ruling party in the normal course. But the AIADMK is likely to put its best foot forward this time so that it can try to retain the seats, if possible. A defeat at this juncture could be interpreted by the opposition combine as the "continuing vote against the ruling party," taking off from the verdict handed down in last year's Lok Sabha elections.

DMK sources indicate that on his return from the Thanjavur conference, the party leader, M. Karunanidhi, is likely to convene a meeting of the alliance and decide on the sharing of seats. "We expect to fight one of them and leave the other to one of the allies, unless the front wants us to contest both constituencies. We will decide early next week," a senior party functionary explains.

AIADMK list

The AIADMK leader and Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, who returned from her one-day visit to New Delhi, is also expected to decide on the candidates soon. She is expected to release the names of her party candidates even before the opposition, party sources say, insisting "We are fully prepared for it."

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