A turnout of 60.65% was recorded in the bye-elections to 15 constituencies in Karnataka on Thursday.
They were held to fill 15 of the 17 vacancies created by the mass resignations of rebel Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs in July. Elections to two constituencies – Muski in Raichur district, and RR Nagar in Bengaluru – are not being held because of ongoing cases in the Karnataka High Court challenging the results in the May 2018 elections. Twelve of the 15 constituencies were earlier held by the Congress and three by the Janata Dal (Secular).
The bye-elections are crucial to the survival of the Bharatiya Janata Party government that replaced that coalition. The current strength of the Assembly is 208, with the Bharatiya Janata Party having the support of 106 MLAs, including one independent legislator. The Congress has 66 MLAs and the Janata Dal (Secular) has 34 legislators.
The BS Yediyurappa government has a narrow lead at present and needs to win at least six of the 15 seats to retain majority. It fielded 13 of the disqualified MLAs from the seats they had won in 2018. They joined the BJP on November 14, a day after the Supreme Court allowed them to contest the bye-elections. R Roshan Baig, who was earlier in the Congress, was the only one who did not move to the ruling party.
Though there were no reports of any massive irregularities, the state BJP wrote the Election Commission, urging it to initiate action against Jevargi Congress MLA Ajay Singh. The Congress leader allegedly campaigned in Shivaji Nagar constituency in Bengaluru, ANI reported.
The saffron party sounded confident of winning all the 15 seats. “The BJP government has been doing pro-people work in the state,” The Indian Express quoted Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi as saying. “The people here want Yediyurappa to continue as chief minister...”
Minister KS Eshwarappa took a dig at the Congress, saying it was early for the Opposition party to discuss which of its leaders would become the chief minister. “Let Siddaramaiah save his designation as the Leader of Opposition first before thinking about becoming the CM,” he added. “Such discussions taking place in Congress and JD(S) camps are nothing but laughable.”
Siddaramaiah, the former chief minister, said the BJP did not have the moral right to continue in power, reported PTI. He accused the saffron party of buying the 17 disqualified MLAs and coming back to power “through the backdoor”. Chief Minister Yediyurappa has threatened to file a defamation suit against the Congress leader and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy for accusing him of forming the government illegally.
Earlier in the day, Yediyurappa urged voters to come out in large numbers. “Only if there is 80% to 85% voter turnout it will give a meaning to democratic system,” he said. “As there is holiday in 15 constituencies going for polls, I request the electorate to come out and vote.”
Polling began at 7 am and concluded at 6 pm. A total of 37.78 lakh electors were eligible to cast their votes, and 165 candidates were in the fray. The BJP and the Congress fielded candidates in all 15 seats, and the JD(S) contested 12. The results will be declared on December 9.
The constituency of Krishnarajpet in Mandya district saw the highest turnout of 80%, while only 37.5% of the electorate voted in KR Puram seat near Bengaluru. The other constituencies in the capital city also recorded low turnouts.
The Election Commission and police made elaborate arrangements. Over 19,000 polling personnel were deployed across the 15 constituencies. More than 11,000 personnel from the state police were also on duty. Central Armed Police Forces personnel manned 414 polling stations.