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|November 11, 1998||
Tribal parties likely to hold the balance of power
With Congress president Sonia Gandhi kicking off her party's campaign for the November 25 assembly election in Mizoram, the stage is set for an electoral race that may see the emergence of smaller ethnic parties in the role of power-brokers.
While the ruling Congress and the main opposition Mizo National Front slug it out to gain control of the forty-member assembly, the ethnic parties are likely to play a key role in deciding who forms the new government, political observers say.
The Mara Democratic Front in Chhimtuipui East district, the Lai People's Party of Chhimtuipui West, the Paite National Council and Hmar People's Convention in the north-eastern part of the state, and the Bru National Union in the western belt could influence the results in at least 10 constituencies.
Gandhi's speeches at Saiha, Lawngtlai and Lunglei indicated that the Congress would run its campaign on the twin planks of development and peace in the north-eastern state.
She also cautioned the people against the "BJP's frightening communal mindset and its insensitivity to the country's religions, and regional and linguistic diversity".
But the issue of Reang tribal refugees, which has become a flashpoint between the state government and the Centre, may emerge as a poll issue that embarrasses the Congress.
The refugees are now housed in relief camps in north-eastern Tripura and the Centre insists that Mizoram take them all back.
A brief history of Mizoram electionsPeace in Mizoram is of recent vintage with the Mizos, who once wanted to secede, participating in parliamentary democracy after the MNF, under the leadership of the late Laldenga, signed a peace agreement with the Centre (during the late Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as prime minister) on June30, 1986.
In its 26 years of electoral history, much of it mired in insurgency, Mizoram has gone to the polls seven times.
Granted the status of a Union territory on January 21, 1973, Mizoram became a full-fledged state, the 23rd in the country, in 1987.
Peace returned to the state with Laldenga's installation as chief minister in 1986.
The first election to the Mizoram assembly in 1972, just three months after it became a Union territory, saw a little-known party -- the Mizo Union -- emerge victorious, winning 20 of the 30 seats in the house then.
In 1978, the People's Conference, a major regional party, swept the polls, winning 22 seats, and formed a government under the leadership of Brig T Sailo.
The Sailo government, however, was toppled by a no-confidence motion, leading to a mid-term poll in less than a year.
The People's Conference returned to power in 1979, with just 18 seats this time, but Sailo duly completed his full five-year term as chief minister.
The fourth electoral battle in 1984 saw a change in government with the electorate, for the first time, entrusting the reins of power to a national party -- the Indian National Congress.
The Congress, which won 20 seats, installed Lal Thanhawla as chief minister with a promise to restore peace in the state.
Following the agreement with the MNF, Lal Thanhawla stepped down to make way for an MNF-Congress coalition government.
Laldenga was sworn in as chief minister with Lal Thanhawla as his deputy. As part of the peace agreement, Mizoram was granted statehood and the strength of the assembly was increased by 10.
In the first election to the state assembly in 1987, the MNF was returned to power with 24 seats and formed a government led by Laldenga. But despite the advantage in the number of seats, the MNF at 36.7 per cent of the popular vote was only marginally ahead of the Congress, which bagged 33 per cent.
Conflicts within the ruling party and defections brought down the Laldenga government in 18 months, providing the Congress with an opening.
The state went through another round of voting in 1989 to elect another government, this time reposing faith in the Congress. Lal Thanhawla returned as chief minister for the second time after the Congress won 23 of the 40 seats.
The next election was held ahead of schedule in 1993 owing to the gospel centenary celebrations. The Congress won 16 seats while its ally, the erstwhile Mizo Janata Dal led by Brig Sailo, bagged eight. The opposition MNF finished second with 14 seats. Sailo has since split with the Congress.
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