Kerala Assembly Elections: Why Candidate Selection Will Be The Key For NDA In About A Dozen Seats
The candidate selection in five seats with winnability, and the 20 or more where it could put up a strong show, will be critical.
It is likely to be a mix of strong party stalwarts as well as popular faces — we will know in a few days.
In a previous article, a summary of Kerala's political landscape was given and numbers were presented to argue that the slow but steady growth of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state may be worrying the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) more than the incumbent Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the communist parties.
The upcoming state assembly election should ideally be a ‘winning cycle’ for the UDF, but to their disappointment it has been increasingly believed that after more than 50 years of alternating governments, there may be a continuity in government with LDF expected to retain power in the April 2021 elections.
What Do The Opinion Polls Say?
Two main TV channels from Kerala — Asianet News and 24 News — in their pre-poll opinion surveys have given 72-78 and 68-78 seats respectively to LDF when what is needed for a simple majority is 71. Both these channels are considered pro-left in varying degrees. However, it must be noted that LDF eventually got more seats than what was predicted by Asianet pre-poll surveys of both 2011 and 2016 assembly elections — if that repeats, LDF may cross 80 seats.
ABP News-CVoter opinion poll result for 2021 election gives 83-91 seats to LDF. Their vote share numbers, however, are a bit hard to believe — they have given 40 per cent to LDF, 33 per cent to UDF and 13 per cent to BJP.
A big 15 per cent is being given to ‘others’ which is a highly unlikely scenario in Kerala. It is quite likely some small parties that they counted as others are part of UDF or LDF or the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). A 40-42 per cent, 35-37 per cent, 15-17 per cent split between LDF, UDF and NDA would have been more believable.
Are there any surveys predicting a UDF win? Well, there is one, from an agency constituted by the Congress high command and that gives 73 to UDF — which is just one more than what it got in the winning cycle of 2011, and the more than the halfway mark of 70.
It looks like no one now believes that UDF can get anywhere close to what it got in 1991 (90 seats) or 2001 (99 seats) — slow but steady loss of Hindu votes to BJP and Muslim votes to LDF may be the cause.
More Granular Analysis
Like in most elections, vote share to seat share conversion is always tricky and there is no ‘one size that fits all’ method. So, a study with more granularity is needed for further analysis, and this ‘Fate of Kerala’ survey was found to have constituency wise prediction of vote shares.
Here is the detailed pdf which says "Fate of Kerala (survey) was jointly conducted by MCV Network and Spick Media Network between 9 January 2021 and 27 January 2021 among 35,487 respondents across Kerala" and below is the summary predicted.
In this article, a deeper look will be taken at the predicted numbers for BJP. Let us start with the two seats where a win is predicted — Nemom where BJP won last time around and Manjeswaram, which the current state president of BJP Surendran lost by an ultra thin margin of 89 votes in 2016.
Interestingly, in Nemom, NDA is predicted to be in a close contest with LDF while in Manjeswaram it is neck to neck with the anticipated Muslim League candidate who is a part of the UDF.
Aggregate of the votes received during the recent local body election indicates that BJP's majority in Nemom may have reduced but may be able to hold on to it if a strong candidate contests. Manjeswaram will not be easy — the survey predicts 33.91 per cent for BJP and 33.66 per cent for UDF — that is too close a call. With the UDF trying to usurp power from the LDF this time, it will leave no stones unturned to make sure that a sitting seat is not lost.
Before we move on to the seats where BJP is predicted to be a clear second — sometimes even in a close fight for the first — let us take a quick look at what would be a winning percentage of vote share for BJP in the upcoming election.
In a case like in Manjeswaram, where the ‘expected to be third’ (in this case LDF) is predicted to get 31.5 per cent, a 34 per cent can be a winner.
However, in a case like Nemom, where the ‘expected to be third’ (UDF in this case) is weak and predicted to get only 16-17 per cent, BJP may need upwards of 41 per cent.
An extrapolated math would be that for every 2 per cent above 16 per cent that the third place front gets, 1 per cent less than the 42 per cent will be an assured winning vote share percentage.
For example, if the third place front is predicted to get 24 per cent (8 per cent more than 16 per cent), 38 per cent (4 per cent less than 42 per cent) will surely win — may be a bit less is needed depending on how much the ‘others’ poll.
As per the MCV network survey, the other constituencies that BJP is expected to poll more than 30 per cent votes, but not yet enough for a win, are as follows — note that in four seats, the contest is with the LDF, and in one, it is with the UDF.
It is also noteworthy that the gap is predicted to be 3 per cent or less in Vattiyoorkavu and Palakkad, between 4-5 per cent in Kazhakkoottam and Chathannoor and 8-9 per cent in Kozhikode North.
Vattiyoorkavu: NDA is predicted to get 35 per cent behind LDF's 38 per cent. UDF is predicted to get around 24.4 per cent.
Palakkad: NDA is predicted to get 32.4 per cent behind UDF's 35.2 per cent. LDF is predicted to get around 31 per cent.
Kazhakkoottam: NDA is predicted to get 34 per cent behind LDF's 38.6 per cent. UDF is predicted to get around 24.15 per cent.
Chathannoor: NDA is predicted to get 33.8 per cent behind LDF's 38.2 per cent. UDF is predicted to get around 26.2 per cent.
Kozhikode North: NDA is predicted to get 30.7 per cent behind LDF's 39.5 per cent. UDF is predicted to get around 27.7 per cent.
A 8-9 per cent gap is quite big to make up and the percentage predicted for Chathannoor seems a bit on the not-so-believable side, so the real hopeful ones for NDA this time are perhaps Nemom, Manjewaram, Vattiyoorkkavu, Palakkad, and Kazhakkoottam in that order.
The survey also predicts a strong performance (24 per cent or above, but less than 30 per cent) by the NDA in Thiruvananthapuram, Kattakkada, Nedumangad, Attingal, Varkala, Eeravipuram, Kollam, Kottarakkara, Chengannur, Kodungalloor, Puthukkad, Irinjalakuda, Nattika, Thrissur, Malampuzha, Shoranur, Ottappalam and Kasaragod.
It is interesting to note that out of these 18 seats LDF is predicted to win in 16 and UDF in two. If we include Chathannoor and Kozhikode North also in this set then it becomes ‘fighting LDF in 18 out of 20’ of the seats where NDA can put up a good show. So in some sense, NDA is slowly growing into the ‘opposition to LDF’ space.
Another Analysis Presented On Twitter
An anonymous twitter handle who goes by Tommy John Mathew (@SaffronTommy ) has posted an analysis based on performances from past elections. Below is a summary picture from his twitter post, the thread has many more points of analysis.
Indeed, this is not an official BJP Kerala study, but one of the many that may be done by enthusiasts and supporters.
The list of 15 given above includes Adoor, Aranmula and Konni — all of which were predicted to give only around 20 per cent votes to NDA in the MCV network's study and hence not among the 5+20 listed in the previous section but the other 12 seats listed by @SaffronTommy are also part of the 5+20 and some or all of those are likely to see a high profile campaigning from NDA side.
Thoughts On Some Swing Votes
In the past, any time the NDA gave signs of possibly winning, a good amount of anti-BJP votes consolidated to either the LDF or the UDF — whoever is in a better position to win. If that happens this time, NDA is likely to end up with as low as 0 or 1 as has been the case with the past.
There has also been a factor of some "pro-BJP votes moving to UDF or LDF purely to defeat either of the other fronts — whichever they don’t like or based on factors like anti-incumbency".
If this trend can be reduced or stopped this time, at least in the critical constituencies, NDA could end up with four-six seats also and breach the psychological ‘no winnability’ barrier
Someone who claims to be a Malayali psephologist with 14 years of experience in election surveys and a self-declared Modi supporter posted the following on Twitter recently.
If that is true, it is a very interesting point for BJP leaders to look into. Around 2.8 crore voters are expected this time and going by a 75 per cent voter turnout, an expected total number of votes to be cast is around 2.1 crore — divide that by 140 , it will be about 1.5 lakh votes per constituency.
Indeed it is not uniform, in some it may go up to nearly 1.8 lakh also, but for the average of 1.5 lakh, 60,000 votes means 40 per cent.
Among the five seats mentioned before, except Nemom where the third place front is quite weak, 40 per cent vote share should be good enough for NDA to win. Why is it that these ‘pro’ votes do not seem to materialise on the day of the elections? The following could be the key.
Winnability And The 'Strong Candidate' Factor
One, the psychological feeling of lack of winnability in the past — at the individual seat level as well as at the state level as winning one or two seats would not put NDA in the winning front, nor in the opposition, and neither was there any chance of a kingmaker role a la what JD(S) was in Karnataka after the 2018 election.
Some of these ‘pro-BJP’ voters may still feel a ‘need’ to vote for UDF in their ‘winning cycle’, just to see that LDF comes out of power at least for five years.
However, with an increasing feeling that LDF may anyway retain power this time — or in other words, some swing of votes to UDF will not be good enough to save it and a big swing is less likely — it will be interesting to see if this set of voters will ‘go with their heart’ and vote for BJP itself without worrying too much about the winnability.
Two, as the tweet above says, scarcity of strong candidates has been an issue with BJP. In the past, very few BJP candidates have been able to attract votes beyond what is generally considered as a NDA base — which all over Kerala may stand at around 15 per cent. To get to a 17 per cent or 18 per cent, NDA will need strong candidates.
With VIPs like ‘metro man’ E Sreedharan, former DGP (and considered to be an anti-corruption crusader) Jacob Thomas, and many more such retired high-ranking officials joining the BJP in the last couple of weeks and during the well received "Vijaya Yatra" by the state president K Surendran, BJP seems to be trying its best to break away from the perception of being unable to attract the voters who are willing to go beyond party politics and vote for good candidates.
The candidate selection in the five seats with winnability and the 20 or more where it could put up a strong show will be critical. It is likely to be a mix of strong party stalwarts as well as popular faces — we will know in a few days.
Given that the next ‘major’ election in Kerala is likely three years away — that is, the general election expected in 2024 — the results of the 2021 assembly elections will be critical for all parties. While for the LDF and UDF it will be about power or no power, for the BJP it will be about setting a strong base upon which strategies can be built to grow and breach the 25-30 per cent vote share mark in this decade.
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