Counting of votes polled for the May 10 Karnataka Assembly polls, which witnessed a fierce fight between archrivals Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, will be taken up on Saturday as parties including the Janata Dal-Secular wait with bated breath to know the outcome as hung assembly is a possibility.
The electoral fortunes of top leaders-- Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai of the BJP, Congress heavyweights Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar and JD-S' H D Kumaraswamy, among many others will be known on Saturday.
The counting will begin at 8 am in 36 centres across the state, and poll officials expect a clear picture about the outcome is likely to emerge by mid-day.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made across the state, especially in and around the counting centres, to avoid any untoward incidents, official sources said.
The state registered a 'record' turnout of 73.19 per cent in the voting on May 10, to elect representatives to the 224 member assembly.
With most exit polls predicting a tight contest between the Congress and the BJP, leaders of the two parties seem 'jittery' over the outcome, while the JD-S appears to be expecting a hung verdict, which would enable it to play a role in government formation.
Most pollsters have given an edge to the Congress over the ruling BJP, while also indicating the possibility of a hung assembly in the state.
Having banked on the Modi juggernaut, the ruling BJP is looking to break a 38-year-old poll jinx where the people have never voted the incumbent party to power, while the Congress is hoping for a morale booster victory to give it a much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
It also remains to be seen whether former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led JD-S will emerge as a 'kingmaker' or a 'king' by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past.
Like it has been the trend for about the last two decades, Karnataka witnessed a three-cornered contest, with a direct fight between the said parties in most of the constituencies.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi and Punjab, has also fielded its candidates. Also there were some smaller parties in the fray in a few constituencies.
'A government with full majority' was the strong pitch of the leaders of all the political parties during the high-decibel, no holds barred campaigning that ended on Monday, as they stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government, unlike what happened after the 2018 polls.
The BJP had then emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress with 80 seats and JD-S 37.
There was also one independent member, while the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) got one legislator each elected.
In the 2018 elections, the Congress garnered a vote-share of 38.04 per cent, followed by the BJP (36.22 per cent) and the JD-S (18.36 per cent).
With no party getting a clear majority at the time and as the Congress and the JD-S were trying to forge an alliance, B S Yediyurappa of the BJP, which was the single largest party, staked claim and formed the government.
However, it was dissolved within three days, ahead of a trust vote, as the saffron party strongman was unable to muster the required numbers.
Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as CM, but the wobbly dispensation collapsed in 14 months, triggered by the resignation of 17 ruling coalition legislators and their subsequent defection to the BJP.
This enabled the BJP's return to power. In the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party won 12 out of 15 seats.
In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress 69, the JD-S 29, the BSP one, independents two, speaker one and vacant six (following deaths and resignations to join other parties ahead of the polls).