The Assembly elections in Nagaland were held on February 27, and 79.4% of the electorate, or 9.46 lakh people, turned up to choose representatives for 59 of the state’s 60 seats. Former Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio won the election unopposed from the Northern Angami-2 constituency.

Violence and malfunctioning voting machines marred polling in some parts of the state. One person was shot dead during clashes in Akuluto in Zunheboto district and another person was injured in a grenade attack at a booth in Mon district. The Election Commission ordered re-polling to be held at 11 booths across eight constituencies on Friday.

The run-up to the elections was also plagued with incidents of violence – a curfew was imposed in Mokokchung district on February 25. Later, on polling day, prohibitory orders were imposed in the Dhansiripar subdivision of Dimapur district, the districts of Longleng and Phek, and in the Tseminyu subdivision of Kohima district.

Changing dynamics

The Naga People’s Front has been in power in the state since 2003. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) were other members of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland. However, the BJP ended the alliance in February and tied up with the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, which was formed last year. The NPF has also been bogged down by anti-incumbency, infighting, and the exodus of leaders such as Rio – to the NDPP – and former Home Minister Y Patton, who joined the BJP. The entry of former Chief Minister KL Chishi, one of the top leaders of the Congress, also boosted the BJP’s position. Meanwhile, the Congress, hamstrung by defections and a “cash crunch”, fielded only 18 candidates.

The campaign

The Naga political question was thrust on top of the political agenda in the run-up to the elections as tribal bodies and civil society groups demanded that the polls be postponed until a solution to the dispute is found. The Naga peace talks, held between the Centre and seven militant groups, is the shadow process that has run parallel to these elections.

Members of 11 parties had signed a bond saying they would boycott the Assembly elections. If the BJP had not backtracked, the election might never have been. The NDPP in its campaign promised voters that since the BJP is its ally, it would be in a better position than the NPF to bring up this matter at the Centre. The NPF, meanwhile, reminded voters that it was the first party to raise these demands within a democratic setup.

A campaign to end electoral malpractices also shaped this election. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council, which wields significant influence in the predominantly Christian state’s socio-political life, had launched the “Clean Election Campaign” in May 2017. However, there were varying accounts of whether it succeeded or not, with many people complaining of proxy voting on election day. Abhijit Sinha, the state’s electoral officer, attributed the decrease in voter turnout from 90% in 2013 to “the cleaning of electoral rolls”.

Exit polls

The NDPP and BJP alliance has the edge in Nagaland, according to the C-Voter exit poll. The alliance may win 25 to 31 seats, while the NPF may secure 19 to 25 seats. The Congress is predicted to win no more than two seats. The Jan Ki Baat-NewsX survey predicted that the NDPP and BJP alliance would secure 27 to 32 seats, while the ruling party would win 20 to 25 seats.

The 2013 elections

The Naga People’s Front won the 2013 Assembly elections, bagging 38 seats. Its then coalition partner BJP secured 4 seats. The Congress won only eight seats, 15 less than in 2008.