11 April 2014

Polling For Lone Mizoram Lok Sabha Seat Today

Aizawl, Apr 11 : Polling for the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram which is witnessing a three-cornered contest, will be held today along with the by-poll to Hrangturzo Assembly seat.

The triangular contest is among ruling Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), which is an alliance of eight opposition parties.

UDF comprises the main oppisition party Mizo National Front (MNF) and BJP besides, Zoram Nationalist Party, Mizoram People's Conference, Maraland Democratic Front, Hmar People's Conference, Paite Tribal Council and NCP.

Congress has fielded its sitting MP C L Ruala, while UDF has nominated Robert Romawia Royte. AAP has put up Michael Lalmanzuala as its candidate for the seat.

Mizoram Lok Sabha seat has 7,02,189 voters, of whom 3,55,954 were women.

There are 1,126 polling stations of which 385, mainly in the urban areas, would use the VVPAT system.

Security arrangements have been made for the conduct of free and fair polls with the deployment of additional eight companies of central para-military forces apart from six state armed battalions and unarmed policemen.

International borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh and inter-state borders have been sealed, official sources said.

The polling was originally scheduled for April 9 but the Election Commission postponed it to tomorrow after Mizoram-based civil society bodies called a 72-hour bandh in the state from April 7 in protest against its move to allow Bru refugees to vote in Tripura.

The organisations had demanded that the EC should allow the refugees to cast their vote in Mizoram, which was turned down and the Bru voters, who are in camps in Tripura after being thrown out of Mizoram following ethnic violence with the Mizos in 1997, had exercised their franchise through postal ballot from April 1 to April 3.

Religion in Poll Worries Church

Ever watchful: A church in Aizawl
Aizawl, Apr 11 : Religious symbolism is up a few notches this election campaign in Mizoram following the birth of an Opposition alliance that includes the BJP.
The Church, whose watchful eyes have kept poll campaigns largely free from din, defacement and disruption in this predominantly Christian state, however, is concerned at the trend.
“The political parties must debate political and administrative issues. They must be more concerned about development and administration rather than try to be holier than each other,” the Rev. Lalzuithanga, senior executive secretary of the synod of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church, told The Telegraph.
The Presbyterian Church counts more than half the state’s population as its members.
Gegong Apang had set up the first BJP government in the Northeast in the 1990s, in Arunachal Pradesh. Now the party has ventured into the unlikeliest of territories —Christian-majority Nagaland and Mizoram.
If the BJP has gone with the ruling coalition in Nagaland, in Mizoram it is part of the nascent United Democratic Front (UDF), an alliance of eight Opposition parties. Both coalitions are supporting the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.
The UDF’s declared support for the NDA has heated up the rhetoric ahead of the vote for the lone Lok Sabha seat in Mizoram, where Christians make up nearly 90 per cent of the population.
It’s also given Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla, branded “un-Christian” by the Opposition before last November’s Assembly elections, a chance to hit back.
At a rally at Kawnpui in northern Mizoram’s Kolasib district on March 26, Thanhawla was quoted as saying that if the NDA returned to power at the Centre, the minority Christians would suffer the consequences. His alleged comments have prompted a BJP complaint to the Election Commission.
“Chief minister Lal Thanhawla’s remarks have violated the model code of conduct and were detrimental to national integrity and secularism in India,” the BJP has said.
Earlier, the Mizoram Congress had warned in a statement that if the NDA were voted to power, it might ban cow slaughter in the state.
The main Opposition Mizo National Front (MNF), which is part of the UDF, had earlier attacked Thanhawla for sporting a tilak during a ceremony in Mumbai, terming his action “un-Christian”.
Making it an issue ahead of last winter’s state elections, the party had organised an “anti-idol worship” rally in Aizawl.
The Congress had retaliated by printing images of Laldenga, the late founder-president of the MNF, at a place of worship.
Congress nominee C.L. Ruala, 79, now campaigning in southern Mizoram, too, has warned the people that “secularism and minorities” would face a “threat” under a BJP-led government.
A political analyst, however, said that what matters most to the voters is development and not sectarian issues.
“We have witnessed that election campaigning on religious lines does not translate into votes,” said Lallianchhunga, assistant professor (political science) at Mizoram University.
“The Congress, led by the tilak-sporting Lal Thanhawla, winning 34 of the 40 seats in the last Assembly elections is a clear example. The Congress government had done well during the previous term and the people gave them another mandate.”
Asked about his personal views on the BJP, Rev. Lalzuithanga, the Presbyterian Church leader, said: “I don’t see any anti-Christian attitude in the BJP. However, some radical Hindu groups have appeared to be calling the tune under BJP rule.”
Speaking to this newspaper, MNF president and former chief minister Zoramthanga defended the Opposition alliance’s decision to support the NDA. The MNF has historically been opposed to the Congress.
“Supporting a Congress-led alliance is out of the question for us. We don’t have any option other than to support the NDA,” he said.
“The NDA is not a party but a combination of various like-minded parties, just like the UDF is. India has a brighter future under the NDA than under the UPA in terms of development.”
During its 10-year rule in Mizoram from 1998 to 2008, the MNF had supported the NDA in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. “We have never supported the Congress,” Zoramthanga said.
One key feature of Mizoram elections is the “common platforms” held across the state, where the influential Mizoram People’s Forum (MPF), a citizens’ body that acts as the Church’s election watchdog, invites candidates to interact with voters.
Candidates from rival parties attend the platforms together, peacefully answering voters’ questions.
Before elections in the state, the MPF also issues guidelines to the contestants to curb defacement of walls, decibel levels, or disruptive rallies. The 20-point charter it had released before the November polls is still in place.
The UDF has fielded 47-year-old Robert Romawia Royte, a government employee turned successful entrepreneur, to take on Ruala. A retired IAS officer, M. Lalmanzuala, is contesting on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket, making the election a triangular fight.
• Mizoram votes on April 11

She’s Out To Break A 27-Year Jinx

By Adam Halliday

Aizawl, Apr 11 : In an assembly bypoll scheduled Friday in eastern Mizoram, the state’s Youth Congress president Lalawmpuii Chawngthu, 35, is fighting to become the first woman MLA since 1987 in a state where female voters consistently outnumber the males.

OP-i, as Chawngthu is better known, is the daughter of senior Congress leader C Chawngkunga. She is contesting from Hrangturzo against Lalduhawma, fielded by the seven-party opposition alliance United Democratic Front and who contested last November’s assembly elections for the Zoram Nationalist Party.  Hrangturzo was won by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla then, but he vacated it for his bastion Serchhip.

“I am not at all demoralised because of my gender. The support from women in the constituency has been immense. Women accompanied us during the house-to-house campaigns,” OP-i said over phone.

The apex Mizo women’s body, the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl, has come out in open support of the Congress candidate – it recently issued a public statement asking all women in the constituency to discard party affiliations and vote for OP-i.

“If I win, then one of my main aims would be to pave a wider path for women to occupy positions of power and governance in the future,” OP-i added.

Mizoram Votes Under The Spell Of The ‘Phantom’

By Adam Halliday
K Chhawnthuama

K Chhawnthuama

The “Phantom” is back to haunt elections in Mizoram.

Aizawl, Apr 11 : A video of him alleging the Congress rigged November’s assembly polls triggered protest marches last week, demanding CM Lal Thanhawla’s resignation. On Tuesday, police issued a statement (sources say it was ordered from the top of the command chain) declaring the man who has “worried the public and created a law and order situation” is the victim of a trickster. A defiant “Phantom” put up a second video on social media Wednesday, hinting at least three ministers may not have won those elections fairly.

All this comes ahead of Friday’s election to Mizoram’s sole Lok Sabha seat.

The “Phantom” episode had begun after the assembly election results when Lal Thanhawla got two text messages accusing him of rigging EVMs and bribing election officials. Both were signed “Phantom”.

Police arrested K Chhawnthuama, a residential school owner, church elder and a man with no apparent political affiliations. After much speculation, rumours, an ongoing court case and TV interviews, he confessed to being the “Phantom”.

Chhawnthuama, known for his school and a marble tomb he built for his wife on his 24-bigha hilltop compound overlooking Aizawl, has since amassed a large fan following. A “Mizo Phantom Fan Club” on Facebook has more than 35,000 members.

Chhawnthuama presented the first specific “evidence” in a video message aired by local channels on April 4. In the video, the “Phantom” says three computer experts, two of them Congress workers, had travelled from Aizawl to Lal Thanhawla’s bastion Serchhip, broken open the lock and programmed EVMs with a “radio-wave machine” manufactured by a Malaysia-based company called Alcatel.

Later in Aizawl, he says, these experts did more manipulations on the third floor of a college used as counting centre. The “Phantom” also produces what he says was the broken lock and alleges the Congress spent Rs 1.08 crore on the rigging.

After the telecast, more than 100 people marched towards the CM’s residence to demand his resignation. Police dispersed the marchers. The following day, the combined youth wing of opposition parties too staged a march in Aizawl.

In a press briefing, Home Minister R Lalzirliana said they would resign if the allegations were true, demanded that opposition leaders resign if they were not, and said Chhawnthuama appeared in need of psychiatric treatment.

From the opposition, Zoramthanga of the Mizo National Front alleged three elections (including the last assembly polls) had been rigged. And Lalduhawma of the Zoram Nationalist Party played on Chhawnthuama’s “church elder” tag and invoked the mass agitation spearheaded by a Catholic priest that overthrew Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s.

A statement from the Aizawl SP’s office Tuesday said ongoing investigations “appear to show” Chhawnthuama was tricked into believing false evidence by a serial trickster, Michael Chhakchhuak, for financial gain, a statement followed up by CM Lal Thanhawla in a press conference where he said he felt sorry for the “tricked” Chhawnthuama. Chhakchhuak’s wife has since registered an FIR against the police for defaming her husband.

In a taped video freshly uploaded on YouTube, with transcripts disseminated through Facebook, Chhawnthuama has dismissed the police statement as a “lie”.

A local editor has posted on Facebook, “Campaigning these days is more or less the song of the phantom.”
10 April 2014

Mizoram Campaiging For Lone Lok Sabha Seat Ends

Triangular contest will be witnessed among the ruling Congress, AAP and UDF including the Mizo National Front and BJP

Aizawl, Apr 10 : Campaigning for the lone Lok Sabha constituency in Mizoram, where polling would be held on April 11, ended at 5 pm today.

The lone Lok Sabha seat would witness a triangular contest among the ruling Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and United Democratic Front (UDF), an alliance of eight opposition parties including the Mizo National Front (MNF), the main opposition party, and BJP.

The UDF also comprises Zoram Nationalist party, Mizoram People's Conference, Maraland Democratic Front, Hmar People's Conference, Paite Tribal Council, and NCP.

Congress has fielded its sitting MP C L Ruala, while UDF nominated Robert Romawia Royte and AAP put up Michael Lalmanzuala as its candidate for the Lok Sabha seat.

Besides the Lok Sabha election, by-poll to Hrangturzo Assembly seat would also be held simultaneously on April 11.

With the absence of any major issue, the ruling Congress urged voters to elect Ruala to strengthen the party at the Centre saying a Congress-led government at the Centre would be helpful to the state.

UDF's Royte, on the other hand, is banking on the hype around BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. UDF was also thinking that Royte would be a minister if NDA comes to power at the Centre.

Mizoram Lok Sabha seat has 7,02,189 voters, of whom 3,55,954 were women.

There are 1,126 polling stations in the state of which 385 polling stations, mainly in the urban areas, would use the VVPAT system.

Elaborate security arrangements have been made for the conduct of free and fair polls with additional eight companies of central para-military forces being deployed apart from six state armed battalions and unarmed policemen.

International borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh and inter-state borders have been sealed.

Mizoram’s Peaceful Politics Faces Refugee Hurdle

By Urmi Bhattacharjee

The Election Commission of India (EC) had to bow down to the conglomerate of powerful civil society organisations in Mizoram who came together calling a 72-hour bandh to disrupt the elections for the lone Lok Sabha polls in the Northeastern state where the Congress is in power. Polling has been rescheduled for April 11 and the shut down has been called off.

The bandh has been called by three major civil society watch dogs which rule the roost in Mizoram: Young Mizo Association, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (women’s organisation) and Mizoram Upa Pawl (senior citizens’ organisation) besides two students’ organisations: Mizo Zirlai Pawl and Mizo Students’ Union supported them.

The shutdown was called as a mark of protest against the exercising of the right to vote by Bru refugees of Mizoram lodged in relief camps on the northern part of neighbouring Tripura since 1997.
The EC had to bow down after total response to the shutdown by the people of Mizoram. It also had to promise that from the next election, they would allow the Bru refugees to vote only inside Mizoram.

Before calling the bandh, Mizo community organisations had warned the EC, but the poll panel went forward with its plan of conducting postal ballot voting for the Bru refugees in their relief camps in Tripura on April 1. This irked the community organisations. Of the 35,000 refugees living in the relief camps, 11,243 are enrolled in Mizoram’s voter list, more than 70% has cast their votes through the postal ballot.

So what’s the fuss about the voting rights to Bru refugees who are in relief camps in Tripura for more than 17 years? The answer lies in the deep rooted ethnic divide between the majority tribe, the Mizos, and the minority tribe, the Brus, who are known as Reangs in Tripura and southern Assam , one of the most primitive tribes of the country.

The murder of a Mizo forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in 1997, otherwise seen as a normal case of murder, took on communal colour in 1997 and resulted in fierce ethnic clashes between the Brus and the Mizos of Mizoram. Over 50,000 people have left their homes since. More the 35,000 Brus sought refuge in neighbouring Tripura’s Kanchanpur subdivision. They were housed in six makeshift relief camps.

The then underground Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) was thought to be behind the killing of Mizos and so the Mizos chased out the Brus . The underground rebels at the time were involved in an insurgent movement inside Mizoram with a demand for the creation of an Autonomous District Council (ADC) in the Bru-dominated areas of western Mizoram; the Mizos were against any autonomy for the Brus.

For 17 years, the Brus have been languishing in relief camps, a life full of uncertainties. For long the Mizoram government never wanted to take them back, Tripura has always treated them as a burden and for Centre they were non-entities.

The Brus got help from the underground rebel groups of Tripura like the banned underground outfit United Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) formed the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) that surrendered in 2001 followed by Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM) that came above ground and surrendered en-masse in 2006.

Even then repatriation to Mizoram was not in sight.

New Delhi created pressure on the Mizoram government and conducted a fresh survey of inmates of the camp. They finalised the names of more than 27,000 refugees to be taken back in phases, but that process itself is stuck in limbo, with opposition from Mizo civil society groups. Even then refugees were reluctant to go back, they are still insecure about their lives. Between 1997 and 2012, some 17,000 Brus have returned to Mizoram, until the Mizo government stopped repatriation.

The Mizo civil societies allege the Brus are still involved in insurgent activities inside the state. Thus when the Brus were allowed to vote from relief camps the Mizos saw it as a process of giving them political upper hand and thus resorted to shut down.

This crisis is perhaps a classic example how ethnic divide rules politics in the Northeast and even the general elections have been affected by this.

Polling in 4 Northeast States Ends Peacefully

Kohima/Imphal/Shillong/Itanagar, Apr 10 : Polling was held today for six Lok Sabha seats in the four North Eastern States of Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, besides Arunachal Pradesh, where Assembly elections to the 60-member House were also held, reports PTI.

The Congress candidate in Konsa (W) Assembly constituency in troubled Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh was kidnapped by suspected militants, but was released unharmed later.

Polling was not held in a disputed area in Longleng district of Nagaland, bordering Assam.

Longleng Superintendent of Police James said armed Assam Police and CRPF personnel prohibited the entry of polling officials at Ladaigarh Polling Station (PS) No. 1 under Tamlu Assembly constituency in the district.

In Meghalaya, defying a 12-hour bandh called by a banned separatist group in the Khasi Jaintia Hills, voters turned out in large numbers in urban areas, State Chief Electoral Officer P Naik said.

In Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress, BJP, NCP and People’s Party of Arunachal, besides independents, were in the fray in the Western and Eastern parliamentary constituencies, which have been traditional Congress strongholds since 1975, except in 2004 when the BJP made a dent.

Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Ninong Ering of Congress was pitted against BJP nominee Tarir Gao and PPA’S Wangman Lowangcha in the Eastern parliamentary seat.

After casting his vote at Sagalee, about 137 km from Itanagar, Chief Minister Nabam Tuki said the party would emerge winner in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

Tuki was among 11 Congress candidates elected unopposed to the 60-member House.

In Manipur, 10 contestants from the BJP, Congress, Trinamool Congress, Naga People’s Front, NCP, JD(U) and Aam Admi Party, besides three independents, were in the fray.

The candidates whose electoral fate was decided were sitting Congress MP Thangso Baite, Gangmumei Kamei (BJP), C Doungel (NCP), Kim Gangte (TMC), Soso Lorho (Naga People’s Front), L Gangte (JD-U) and MK Zou (AAP).

Elections to the Inner Manipur seat would be held on April 17.

70% Votes Cast in Outer Manipur

By Sobhapati Samom

Imphal, Apr 10 : More than 70% of the 9,11,699 electorates cast their votes in its Outer Manipur parliamentary constituency seat as the second phase of the nine-stage Lok Sabha elections in the state today.

According to Manipur's Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)O Nabakishore. Repoll likely in a polling booth in Chandel district.

Speaking to newspersons here this afternoon,CEO Nabakishore, however, admitted that the exact polling percentage will be known once the final reports from the respective presiding officers come in."Though there was report of replacing 11 EVMs (3 each in Churachandpur,Thoubal and Ukhrul,1 each in Senapati and Jiribam) in view of its malfunctioning in all districts excluding Tamenglong, the polling was by and large peaceful,"he added.

The CEO also informed that they will recommend repolling at 41/21 Lambung Primary school in Chandel district as the EVM engineers could not retrieve the record after an unidentified miscreant damaged the machine around 12.30pm.

The day’s polling was held to elect a Lok Sabha member from among 10 candidates which includes sitting Congress MP Thangso Baite and ex-MPs Kim Gangte, and Mani Charenamei.

With the hope of getting a corruption-free and pro-people government after the poll, many voters mostly women folks came out in groups to cast their votes at their respective polling stations in the five hill districts and eight assembly segments in Thoubal and Imphal East district since early morning.

A student Disy M(23) of Yaikongpao village in Senapati district said they love to have a corruption, free government which can provide employment opportunity to the educated youths besides taking up infrastructure development.

Many voters were seen standing in long queues in front of polling booths when this reporter visited some of the important booths in Senapati district around 10 in the morning.

On the other hand, after casting his vote along with his MLA wife Landhoni at the Athokpam primary high school in Thoubal district, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh appeared confident that Congress will win both the Lok Sabha seats.

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